A Pinot Noir White Wine Made By A Sonoma Pinot Noir Specialist

The delectable aromas of orange blossom water, white peach and pure nectar drew the woman into the winery, where she quickly walked around trying to find the source of the incredible smells. Did someone bring in some special pastries for someone’s birthday? Was she going to miss out on the celebrations? Most importantly, miss out on these spectacular treats emanating heavenly smells? But there, she was stopped in her tracks to see a ring of people surrounding a tank fermenting one of their wines. As she came closer, she realized it was the tank giving off these exquisite aromas and everybody seemed glued to the vessel, deeply inhaling the delicious scents.  

The wine producer Emeritus Vineyards, known as a Pinot Noir specialist, only produces vineyard-specific Pinot Noir red and rosé wines from their dry-farmed estates in Russian River Valley and the Sonoma Coast.

Well, that is until recently, as they now make a white Pinot Noir wine from their Russian River Estate. That fermenting vessel was on its way to creating a Pinot Noir Blanc.

Emeritus Vineyards

Sunset over Hallberg Ranch
Photo Credit: Emeritus Vineyards

Emeritus Vineyards was started by Brice Cutrer Jones, best known for building the famous Sonoma-Cutrer winery, which made its foundation on Sonoma Chardonnay. But Brice’s childhood was not the typical background for a wine producer as he was an Air Force pilot who first learned about wine from a General he worked under in the Vietnam War. He decided to go to the Harvard Business School to learn how to start his own wine company and he established 1,000 acres of Chardonnay and made Sonoma-Cutrer a household name.

Yet Burgundy wine producers would have the most influence over him, and so, when he sold Sonoma-Cutrer in 1999, he took a serendipitous opportunity to buy Hallberg Ranch, a 115-acre apple orchard in Russian River Valley. He didn’t plant Chardonnay, but instead, Pinot Noir, taking all the wisdom that he had acquired from his friends in Burgundy, he planted Pinot Noir using the Burgundy wisdom that was gained over “1,300 years” of wine grape growing, guiding him. And this titan, who built a Chardonnay empire in the past, became laser-focused on setting a new benchmark for New World Pinot Noir. Brice would source seven different Pinot Noir clones from the revered Côte de Nuits area in Burgundy, with a selection coming from a good friend, Aubert de Villaine, co-owner of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and some of the most iconic vineyards in the world.

Roots shown deep within the dry-farmed vineyards of Hallberg Ranch
Photo Credit:
Emeritus Vineyards

When Russian River Valley first made a name for itself with plush Pinot Noirs, the superstar wines came from the sub-region, today called “neighborhood,” the Middle Reach. In contrast, Brice’s Hallberg Ranch is located in the Green Valley neighborhood, which has a much cooler climate. As warmer temperatures become part of climate change, the Green Valley has become a favorite among those who appreciate vibrant aromatics and refreshing acidity. Yet, nowadays, the tannins of Green Valley have mellowed with warmer weather patterns and juicy fruit has become more consistent. The top vineyards in the Green Valley have become like those top vineyards in Burgundy, and so, it has become the ideal place for Brice to show a new benchmark for Pinot Noir.

The Hallberg vineyards are dry-farmed to allow the roots of the vines to travel deep within the famous Goldridge soil, over 20 feet, and these vines today produce wines that display this sense of place, terroir, beautifully in the glass.

New Generation 

A new generation is taking over Emeritus, which helped become the impetus to experiment with a white Pinot Noir, as Brice was not interested in ever making white wine at Emeritus. Winemaker Dave Lattin is retiring to pursue his dream of renting out his home for 18 months, so he and his wife can travel the US in a big van. He will still do Emeritus wine dinners along the way on his van journey as his new title is winemaker emeritus and he will still be available to help out the new winemaker. 

Mari Jones
Photo Credit:
Emeritus Vineyards

Keith Hammond is the new winemaker, a Sonoma native, and Dave’s “work son,” as he has been his assistant winemaker for years. The vineyard manager will also retire after being with Brice for over 40 years, working for him at Sonoma-Cutrer and then moving to Emeritus. His real-life son will be taking over for him as vineyard manager.

And Brice has taken a step back from daily operations and handed the baton to his daughter Mari Jones. There was an embarrassing ceremony where he gave Mari a 15-pound scepter to mark the occasion. It was Mari’s idea to at least experiment with making a Pinot Noir white wine; the results are better than anyone could have imagined. Mari has led the project of designing and constructing the tasting room as well as founding the E-Club – Emeritus wine club.

But she knows that their wines’ greatness solely depends on their vineyards and that the best Pinot Noir comes from family wineries who have devoted many generations to caring for their vines. And in a way, laser-focusing on vineyard-designated Pinot Noir wines in a cooler climate was partly inspired by Mari herself. At the age of 12, she took her first trip to Burgundy with her father, where she discovered Pinot Noir. After tasting an outstanding glass of Burgundy, she said to her father, “This wine is better than yours, you should make wine like this.” Understandably, her father was speechless but was in complete agreement and it was nice to see that his daughter was just as passionate about wine as well as having great taste at such a young age.

As a grown woman, now running Emeritus Vineyards, she strives to make sure Emeritus outlives her for many generations to come, just like that first Burgundy estate she tasted all those years ago.

***Link to original article on Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2023/06/22/a-pinot-noir-white-wine-made-by-a-sonoma-pinot-noir-specialist/

Emeritus Vineyards wines
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd
Harvesting at night at Hallberg Ranch
Photo Credit:
Emeritus Vineyards

2021 Emeritus Vineyards, Hallberg Blanc, Russian River Valley, Estate Grown Pinot Noir Blanc: The white Pinot Noir a.k.a. Pinot Noir Blanc is made by only using the free run juice, which is the juice that flows freely from freshly picked grapes before they are pressed, and the grapes are picked at night so that they come into the winery very cool, keeping their aromatic complexity and not picking up anything significant from the skins and seeds; the skins of the Pinot Noir grapes are what gives it its color. Citrus blossom and lemon tart with hints of saline minerality with bright acidity balanced by good weight on the mid-palate and juicy white peach flavors with white flowers on the finish.

2020 Emeritus Vineyards, Hallberg Ranch, Russian River Valley, Estate Grown Pinot Noir: A wine that seduces from the first sip with lots of lush fruit such as strawberry candies balanced by fresh basil leaf that finishes with breathtaking pristine fruit – an elegant beauty.

2019 Emeritus Vineyards, Wesley’s Reserve and 2018 Emeritus Vineyards, La Combette
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2019 Emeritus Vineyards, Wesley’s Reserve, Hallberg Ranch, Russian River Valley, Estate Grown Pinot Noir: Year in and year out, the center blocks of Hallberg Ranch give the most powerful wines and so those blocks are sourced for Wesley’s Reserve, named after Brice’s father. Big, broad shoulders on this wine with sculpted tannins that are enhanced by rich, juicy fruit and hints of wild thyme that has an incredible overall vitality.

2018 Emeritus Vineyards, La Combette, Hallberg Ranch, Russian River Valley, Estate Grown Pinot Noir: La Combette is named for a gently sloping triangular block at one of the higher points at Hallberg Ranch. Smoky minerality on the nose with mulberry puff pastry Danish flavors with elderflower liqueur and almond oil that has fine silky tannins finishing with lots of fruit and spices that bring visions of spiced berry crumble.

Other side of Emeritus Vineyards wines’ labels Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

In 2007, Emeritus Vineyards acquired a second estate property named Pinot Hill, in the Sebastopol Hills, eight miles from Hallberg Ranch. The Pinot Hill vineyards are also dry-farmed and have the same Goldridge soils.

2020 Emeritus Vineyards, Pinot Hill, Sonoma Coast, Estate Grown Pinot Noir: Intriguing nose with broken rocks and crushed rose petals with zingy rhubarb that expands into more decadent flavors of dried red raspberries with round tannins and a mineral finish reminiscent of broken seashells.

2019 Emeritus Vineyards, Pinot Hill East, Sonoma Coast, Estate Grown Pinot Noir: Crisp, pristine cranberry and strawberry fruit with aromas so vivid that I could taste the cranberries bursting in my mouth with hints of rosebud and wet stones with lifted juicy red fruit on the palate with jasmine flower and fresh sage on the finish with finely etched tannins.

2019 Emeritus Vineyards, Pinot Hill West, Sonoma Coast, Estate Grown Pinot Noir: Black cherry and wild mulberries with candied violets and dried thyme with passion fruit and cardamom pods on the palate with these exotic flavors wrapped in lushly textured tannins.

2018 Emeritus, Pinot Hill Elite and 2018 Emeritus, Pinot Hill Cruz
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2018 Emeritus, Pinot Hill Cruz, Pinot Hill, Sonoma Coast, Estate Grown Pinot Noir: From the A Block of the eastern exposure of the vineyard planted with cuttings from the legendary Grand Cru Richebourg vineyard in Burgundy. The second I poured this wine, it immediately started singing to me with vibrant notes of ripe raspberry, zingy cranberry and orange zest with cherry sorbet flavors highlighted with hints of saline minerality with mouthwatering acidity and a long, lively finish.

2018 Emeritus, Pinot Hill Elite, Pinot Hill, Sonoma Coast, Estate Grown Pinot Noir: From the D Block steeply sloped to the west and planted with cuttings from the prestigious Grand Cru La Romanée vineyard in Burgundy. A completely different animal on the nose with deeper, darker aromas of forest floor, cigar box and broken gravel with wild blackberries and black cherry preserves on the palate with hints of cocoa nibs with a plush, textured body and a sustained, flavorful finish.

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Rioja Wine Producer Showcases Wine Vertical Going Back To 1970

Montecillo vertical at José Andrés’ Nubeluz Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

As the guests sporadically entered the space, there was a slight gasp and each had to remind themselves to continue to breathe, as the room was on the top floor of the 50 story Ritz-Carlton in the middle of Manhattan. Copper color fixtures gave the space an amber glow enhanced by the greenish-blue colors reminiscent of the Mediterranean Sea. The 270-degree views allowed one to take in New York City in all its glory with the mixture of dilapidated buildings intermixed with historic structures with golden ornamental tops and new construction of skinny, tall architectural feats that seemed to defy physics. The pulse of the city’s electricity seemed to find its way up, over 500 feet, to give this rooftop cocktail bar an otherworldly vibe that could only be created in a city that was this diverse.

Part of the view at Nubeluz by José Andrés
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

This jaw-dropping cocktail bar, called Nubeluz, is the creation of the award-winning chef José Andrés and it is a beacon of light in the sky which is fitting considering its name, a combination of the Spanish words “nube,” meaning cloud and “luz,” meaning light. It was an ideal place for the Spanish Rioja wine producer Bodegas Montecillo to showcase a vertical of their wines back to 1970.

Bodegas Montecillo 

Bodegas Montecillo is the third oldest winery in Rioja, Spain, and celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2020 by releasing a bottling of a special 150th anniversary Gran Reserva edition of 2005. Their wines greatly over-delivered for the price, especially considering their longevity. And to prove their wines’ ability to age, they have taken to releasing back vintages onto the market; in their 19th-century cellar, they have bottles that go back to 1926. 

Winemaker Mercedes García Rupérez
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

As one sat there, in the stunning beacon of light in the sky, tasting the Montecillo wine vertical that was led by winemaker Mercedes García Rupérez, tasting each vintage, telling its own story, a journey started to unravel that transported one to crucial points in Rioja’s history. Beginning with the 1970 wine, which was still vibrant and fresh, representing a time when the dictator Franco was still ruling Spain since 1939 and then the 1982 vintage, “one of the most important vintages in Rioja,” according to Mercedes, taking place seven years after the death of Franco, when Spain was traveling the bumpy road to democracy.

Before 1979, Montecillo worked with their own vineyards, around 170 acres, as an unstable economy took hold; Spain was trying to build a foundation for their democracy and they were forced to sell a part of their vineyards to survive. Yet it allowed them to work with some of the local growers, who may have lost everything if they didn’t have a winery buying their grapes and today, many of these old bush-trained vineyards are still owned by the same family due to Bodegas Montecillo.   

2005 Bodegas Montecillo, 150 Aniversario Gran Reserva Selección Especial
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

Mercedes said that the 1994 vintage was “one of the most recognized” – the beginning of modern Rioja and it is when the world realized that Rioja could make wines that could rival the greatest in the world. The wines are intensely concentrated as the region only harvested half of the yield compared to an average year. And the excellent 2005 vintage was released to celebrate the 150th anniversary, which was supposed to be released in 2020 but was delayed due to Covid. 2005 has a special bottling that displays a green label that goes back to the original label from 1870 and it has a green wax top to provide it with even more aging potential.

Life in the Bottle 

“The bottle has life!” exclaimed Mercedes with a passionate voice that struck a cord within the wine tasters in the room as it gave a deep meaning to how sacred each bottle is; each one ages slightly differently, even if all are kept in optimum conditions. Each vintage is like a set of friends that were born, raised and evolved in the same place, in the same way, yet there are differences between each friend; all the subtle nuances that differ are an expression of how various stages of life were uniquely processed.

The 1970 Montecillo Gran Reserva showed its age in its color with a garnet hue and a compelling complexity of layered aromas such as leather, cigar and tar. It had a silky texture as all the rough edges of its youthful structure had melted away yet it was every bit as fresh and vibrant as its much younger counterpart. It had all the wonderful characteristics of age, with nothing to prove, so it is not in one’s face with structure and flavor but it is still optimistic in its vibrancy. A wine that has seen so much: Franco, the collapse of an economy, the uncertainty of whether Rioja could survive as a wine region, worldwide success and glory and the celebration of 150 years. Maybe some other bottles would not be as optimistic but this one certainly was at that moment. It was profound to taste something that had survived such horrible times to come out the other end still filled with life.

When one tastes such a wine, it is a humbling moment filled with gratitude as that bottle will never exist again and there was no better place to honor those seven different vintages that were tasted that day. As Nubeluz is not only a monument inspired by the greatness of the US, it also speaks to that same greatness of Spain; both countries married together in an extraordinary space.  

Link to original Forbes article: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2023/06/21/rioja-wine-producer-showcases-wine-vertical-going-back-to-1970/

Lineup of Bodegas Montecillo wines
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

Bodegas Montecillo has been releasing back vintages onto the US market so that consumers can experience the incredible ageability of their wines. 

1970 Bodegas Montecillo, Gran Reserva Selección Especial: 80% Tempranillo, 15% Mazuelo and 5% Graciano. Garnet color with a light rim that had layers of complexity with new leather, grated nutmeg, cigar and tar with a silky texture and rich blackberry flavors with tobacco leaf and coconut shavings with a bright acidity. 

1973 Bodegas Montecillo, Gran Reserva Selección Especial: 70% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha and 15% Mazuelo. Brick color with dusty earth on the nose, hints of grilled bacon, and juicy black cherry fruit on the palate with soft tannins balanced by crisp acidity. 

1982 Bodegas Montecillo, Gran Reserva Selección Especial: 100% Tempranillo. It was one of the most important vintages for Rioja, even though there were some exceptions for conscientious producers but much of the 1970s was considered mediocre, so it was the first great vintage since 1964. A spicy nose with aniseed and coriander with sandalwood in the background, very fine tannins, and a touch of zingy sour cherries on the palate balanced by strawberry preserves and a long, savory, spicy finish. 

1985 Bodegas Montecillo, Gran Reserva Selección Especial: 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano. A pale color with an intense smoky minerality on the nose and bright cranberry flavors on the palate layered with baking spices and underbrush, a nimble wine with lots of verve. 

1994 Bodegas Montecillo, Gran Reserva Selección Especial: 100% Tempranillo. One of the most recognized vintages worldwide as it is considered when modern Rioja started. Smoldering earth, cloves and wildflowers are enchanting on the nose, with lush red fruit on the palate, such as cherry pie and strawberry compote with plush tannins balanced by fresh acidity with a long, flavorful finish. 

2001 Bodegas Montecillo, Gran Reserva Selección Especial: 100% Tempranillo. From the very first sip, this wine is all elegance and finesse with an excellent balance between concentration and aromatic lift; rich cassis flavors that have complex notes such as forest floor and wild sage with good mid-body weight, velvety texture and an expressive finish with a saline minerality mixed with juicy fruit. 

2005 Bodegas Montecillo, 150 Aniversario Gran Reserva Selección Especial
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2005 Bodegas Montecillo, 150 Aniversario Gran Reserva Selección Especial: 70% Tempranillo, 20% Graciano and 10% Maturana Tinta. This bottling celebrates the 150th anniversary of Bodegas Montecillo and the green label brings back the color used for the early labels over 150 years ago. Only a little over 2,800 bottles were made with 80 exported to the US. This wine had a deep color with ruby highlights that had a lifted black pepper note on the nose with black tea leaves that had juicy black cherry and mulberry flavors with intriguing notes of balsamic vinegar and freshly carved cedar with a nice amount of weight on the palate balanced by sculpted tannins.

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Special Champagne Wine, Clos Growing Six Different Grape Varieties, Launches Stunning Theo Faberge Edition For $5,400

As panic set in, the married couple who held titles of nobility ran around their well-appointed home as they tried to seek out their precious Fabergé creations that were priceless to both. As the Queen was making a last-minute visit to their estate, it was vital for them to find every piece of Fabergé and hide it from her possible line of sight. As the Queen was an avid Fabergé collector, it became known that she could spot a piece “from 30 paces away.” If she liked such a piece in someone else’s home, she would hold it in her hand, staring the owner in the face until he conceded, “Your Majesty, would you like it?” And so, as word got around of such instances, many would hide their Fabergé as they didn’t want to part with some of the most beautiful creations in their homes.

Such a delightful story was shared by Philip Birkenstein, CEO of Creations Theo Fabergé, who was illustrating the importance of Fabergé among many generations of the British Royal Family that goes back to Queen Victoria and fiercely continued with Queen Mary, who was the avid collector above, and is still alive today. And even though the Fabergé family, well-known jewelers who created the famous Fabergé egg, built their business in Saint Petersburg, Russia, the Fabergé family established a branch in London, in 1903, the only branch outside of Russia, as the Royal Family’s love for Fabergé made them some of the most sought luxury items in London as well as around the world.

In 1918, The House of Fabergé in Russia was taken over by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution, and everything was confiscated, ending The House of Fabergé. Yet one of the Fabergé family members stayed in London, even after the business was no more, to raise his family, which included a son named Theo, who was born in 1922. Theo would eventually continue the art of making these wonderful Fabergé eggs, not allowing an incredible legacy to die. Today, to honor the 100th anniversary of his birth, there is a Theo Fabergé Edition collaboration with a unique Champagne producer, as Theo loved Champagne.

Champagne Château de Bligny

Château de Bligny
Photo Credit: Michel Jolyot

But Theo Fabergé needed to find a Champagne house that was as uniquely beautiful as their stunning creations, and finally, Château de Bligny became the ideal choice for their Champagne collaboration.

First of all, Château de Bligny is the only Champagne house that is a château, as family owner Jean-Rémy Rapeneau explained that it was built in 1773 during feudal times, but would eventually be taken over by a nobleman who had a passion for making sparkling wine. Jean-Rémy’s family bought the château and its estate vineyards in 1999, as his family has been Champagne producers since 1901, and they were looking for a special grower Champagne to purchase in the southern part of the region. The estate has a Clos (walled vineyard), and with only 39 registered Clos existing in the Champagne appellation, it is a further aspect that makes this estate rare. But that is not it, when it comes to the uniqueness of this property, as even though most Champagne producers only use the grape varieties Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier in their Champagne blends, this Clos has six of the seven allowed grape varieties planted in it, so it includes Arbane, Petit Meslier and Pinot Blanc; Arbane and Petit Meslier being rare white varieties with Petit Meslier being a great asset during warm vintages as it retains its acidity even in hot weather.

And so, it is the only Champagne producer that is a château and the only one with a Clos planted to six of the allowed varieties. Just like the exquisite creations that Theo Fabergé crafted with his own hands when he was alive, the 2013 Château de Bligny ‘Clos du Château’ that is accompanied by the breathtaking Champagne Egg coaster by Creations Theo Fabergé, is on another level of beauty.

A Legacy Reborn 

Coaster on the Holtzapffel lathe from 1860
Photo Credit: Creations Theo Fabergé

Theo Fabergé was known as a great craftsman in his own right as he had won many awards for his talent as he excelled at the ornamental turning technique that was also used to create the Champagne Egg for Château de Bligny on a Holzapffel lathe built in 1860. The body of the coaster is made from brass, sterling silver and gold, and it is hand-faceted with six rubies, Theo’s favorite gemstone.

But what is interesting is that at the beginning of his career as a craftsman, he refused to make the eggs that made his family’s legacy so famous. It may have to do with the fact that he wanted to find his own way, or the idea that his grandfather died of a broken heart after the Russian Revolution destroyed everything his family built, and so, the eggs would be a painful reminder. One day, Theo, crafted a little object for a boy down the street, and a woman ran in after she saw this creation and thought he was finally making eggs. “It was a nothing,” Theo told the woman, and the woman retorted back, “Worse than that, it looks like a doorknob,” and she insisted he make an egg for her right there. Something about that exchange lit a fire under him, and he made his first egg. Still, it was going to be an extension of him as well as his family’s legacy. Hence, he designed a collection of ‘objet d’art’ that were each personally made by Theo himself, which was atypical as his grandfather rarely made his own designs.

Jean-Rémy Rapeneau, follows in the footsteps of his own legacy that goes back over 120 years in Champagne, and his family is going back to their century-old roots by buying a grower Champagne estate, all grapes coming from their own vineyards and reviving rare local grape varieties that have almost disappear, like Arbane and Petit Meslier, in some ways it was going back to the tradition centuries ago, yet today it is considered highly unorthodox.

Separately, both have given a rebirth to their respective heritage, and together they celebrate the glory of being descendants who continue a great legacy, taking the more challenging path in making that legacy awe-inspiring.

***Link to original article on Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2023/06/19/a-special-champagne-wine-a-clos-growing-six-different-grape-varieties-launches-stunning-faberge-edition-for-5400/

2013 Château de Bligny ‘Clos de Chateau’ 6 Cépages Millésime Brut Nature Champagne (Fabergé Edition) Photo Credit: Michel Jolyot
Photo Credit: Michel Jolyot

2013 Château de Bligny ‘Clos de Chateau’ 6 Cépages Millésime Brut Nature Champagne (Theo Fabergé Edition): Blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, Arbane, Petit Meslier and Pinot Blanc. This is the first vintage Champagne made by Château de Bligny, and the 2013 vintage is a great one. Lemon blossom with broken limestone and candied lilacs on the nose with creamy lemon curd on the palate with fine bubbles that caress and a very long, expressive finish. $5,400

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1st Female Winemaker In Argentina Survived Major Scam To Build Successful Winery

It was a mountain of difficulties that would break many people – a mother with a 2-year-old girl and a 4-year-old boy struggling daily to place food on the table during a time of  hyperinflation in Argentina, witnessing her husband’s clinical depression spiraling out of control. She had moved her family from her husband’s hometown of Salta, in Argentina, to her family’s hometown of Mendoza as she hadn’t been paid for almost a year at the Salta winery where she was employed. Since she was the only one able to work, she reached out to her father for a loan and moved back home to work for her parents. Depression was not understood back in the 1980s and even though she knew her husband was paralyzed by his mental illness, her family only saw him as lazy and not living up to his responsibilities. It was already like “climbing Mount Everest” to be upheaved from the only home he had ever known but further humiliation by his illness not being recognized threw him into the darkest mental hole his wife had ever witnessed.

She decided that the only way to protect her husband while also providing for her family was to stop working for her parents and to open her own winery, so out of desperation, they sold everything: apartment, car, tractor, cows and with the addition of a loan from her brother-in-law, she was able to gather $40,000 to buy an old winery. And because of her Italian heritage, she secured a loan from the Italian government that assisted small businesses which allowed her to purchase the newest technology. She was very aware that Argentina was behind the times when it came to modern winery equipment as she had worked several harvests in California early in her career, during Argentina’s off-season.

This woman, Susana Balbo, ended up starting her own winery, twice, helping to bring better practices and treatments into Argentina’s wine world, assisting other smaller wineries to establish export markets and revolutionizing the white wine Torrontés by unlocking its elegance and making stellar Malbec red wines. All of this would be extremely impressive on its own but considering that Susana had to come back from having nothing twice, while taking care of her husband and children, as well as accomplishing all of these milestones, makes her journey that much more extraordinary.

Wiped Out By Scam

Susana Balbo Photo Credit: Susana Balbo Wines
Susana Balbo
Photo Credit: Susana Balbo Wines

Once Susana started her first winery, around 1990, her family found some breathing room by selling 5,000 cases domestically. It was not a lot of money but enough to get by, so they didn’t have to worry about ending up on the street and it was worth it to create a mentally healthier environment for her husband. Since insurance was always needed regarding covering payments to suppliers, Susana got a type of business insurance that covered money lost if she didn’t get paid by a customer. And so, when a business organization came along and said that they would need 25,000 cases during summer months because all the restaurants and supermarkets they own on the coast would sell a lot during that time, she knew she could take the gamble of laying out a tremendous amount of money to significantly gear up her production as she had the insurance to protect herself.

The company agreed to pay her in installments of eight checks after each delivery yet after not receiving both the first and second checks, she contacted her agent at the insurance company and he said that she could not claim the money to cover her loss of revenue until after the eighth check wasn’t received. After she delivered all eight shipments and did not receive any of the eight payments, she called the insurance company and to her dismay, was told that no such insurance exists in Argentina (even though it did in other countries), so the policy was non-existent. Her agent no longer worked there and had only been employed at the company for four months. She ended up selling her winery to pay back her suppliers and swore she would never have her own business again.

“It was one of the most difficult times in my life,” said Susana, as her husband eventually passed away and she didn’t even have time to take care of her grief as she had to worry about her children’s education and future. So she started working for other wineries as a consultant and she was the first enologist from Argentina to be hired as a consultant in Europe. But every time she met wine buyers from the UK or US, they would always ask why she wasn’t making her own wines, and although she initially resisted following her own path again, she eventually succumbed, knowing if she could establish stable export market sales, that having her own winery might work.

Susana Balbo Wines

Susana Balbo with her daughter and son
Photo Credit: Susana Balbo Wines

In 1999, she started her company in the heart of Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, which today is called Susana Balbo Wines. And she noted that she has only had one unpaid invoice in over 23 years. She has been able to “double business” every few years to build an incredibly successful business that focuses on quality.

She says that “security” was the main reason she decided to give it another go at her own winery; as long as she had reliable customers in stable countries, it would build a better future for her kids and grandkids. She knew it was essential to build capital in Argentina as the economy was unpredictable. Also, she wanted that freedom back, the freedom to spend the money to make high-quality wine and the freedom to take risks, as that is how one “achieves something special” in a wine, according to Susana.

But even though she has established something extraordinary independently, she has done so much for Argentina. When working for California wineries early in her career, she realized that they were using fining agents to help with the balance of the wine that no one was using in Argentina. So when she was a young woman working as a winemaker at her first winery, she asked one of her suppliers to bring a particular fining agent into Argentina so all wineries could take advantage. Yet, when the supplier asked if Susana wanted a share of the profits, since she brought it to his attention, she thought that was silly as she intended to increase the quality of her wines and the wines of Argentina as a whole.

Concrete egg fermenters where the Sémillon is made that later is blended into the Susana Balbo ‘Signature’ White Blend
Photo Credit: Susana Balbo Wines

In 2006, Susana became the first female president of the promotional organization Wines of Argentina, staying three terms until 2016, helping small and medium size companies break into export markets by establishing offices of promotion all over the world as well as increasing Wines of Argentina worldwide events from seven a year to over 250 a year. She also helped many wineries understand pricing structures in key markets such as the UK and the US so they would know how to price their wines. “I realized we didn’t exist as a category,” noted Susana when she talked about seeing Argentina wines placed on the bottom shelf under the ‘Other Countries’ category in the 1990s. She also brought wine producers together to agree on a harmonious standard style for Malbec that displayed the ideal balance of fruit, structure and elegance. If Argentina was ever going to get its own category on a retail shelf, there would need to be many wineries making high-quality wines in the marketplace. Susana said that only around 10 to 15 wineries were exported in the late 1990s but today, over 300 are exported.

Bigger Picture

There is a long list of achievements that Susana has accomplished throughout her career and if one were to look at her resume, it would seem she lived a charmed life during her journey in the wine world. Yet there are moments and aspects of her personal life that were a hell on earth that many could never imagine and back then, there was no help, no support of any kind and so she was on her own to handle a tremendous amount of challenges while always being there for her kids.

Susana Balbo with her daughter and son
Photo Credit: Susana Balbo Wines

Although, she still uses the word “lucky” in some instances, as when she went to university, the first female to graduate in enology in Argentina, she had a teacher who was “amazing,” and he challenged her to expand her mind and creativity by thinking of various ways to handle all sorts of winemaking tasks and issues. Even her first boss, the owner of the winery where she worked after university in Salta, helped her to navigate some of her finances when that scam wiped out her first winery.

Susana does not come from money or privilege yet she has a strong work ethic, a sharp mind complemented by an abundance of creativity and a courageous spirit. But she knows what it feels like to have everything taken away, to be unsure about tomorrow and that desperate feeling that her kids only have her to look out for them and provide a better future; it is an awful feeling and she would not wish such a situation on anyone else. So when she speaks about her life and winery, she mainly focuses on Argentina as a whole, saying that it was important for small and medium-sized wineries to be given knowledge and access to technology to help increase the quality of wines and overall sales. Early on, it was only the wineries with lots of money that could afford expensive consultants to improve quality or to bring in business-savvy professionals to sell wines worldwide.

Either it was her early experiences that made her want to fight for the little wine owner or she was naturally born with a profound amount of compassion, or perhaps it was both. Ultimately, Argentina is much better for Susana’s ability to take tragic circumstances from her life to inspire her to create a more fair playing field for everyone in Argentina.

***Original article published on Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2023/06/16/1st-female-winemaker-in-argentina-survived-major-scam-and-husbands-depression-to-build-successful-winery/

2020 Susana Balbo ‘Signature’ White Blend Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

Today, Susana’s kids have joined the family business with her son, José, becoming an enologist and leader of the research and development department of the winery and her daughter, Ana, has become marketing manager and founder of Osadía de Crear – a restaurant at the Susana Balbo Wines estate. Also, Ana has teamed up with her mother to create Susana Balbo Unique Stays, luxury boutique hotels in uniquely stunning places in Argentina. It is impressive to see how far this family has come.

Susana Balbo makes many beautiful wines but carved a name for herself with Argentina’s white wine Torrontés. The wines of Torrontés have always had a lovely perfumed nose but there were issues with too much bitterness on the palate. So Susana was the first to use the fining agent casein (a milk-derived protein) on Torrontés, which reduces astringency while at the same time softens a white wine’s tannic structure helping to release aromas and flavors without the wine having to rely too much on extended skin contact. She was able to develop better innovative ways to work with Torrontés at the first winery she worked at that was located in Cafayate, Salta, as 75% of their production was Torrontés and the owner allowed her to experiment.

2022 Susana Balbo’ Crois’ Torrontés
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2022 Susana Balbo ‘Crios’ Torrontés, Argentina: 100% Torrontés grapes are sourced from Uco Valley in Mendoza and Cafayate in Salta in vineyards that average around 5,500 feet in altitude. The Crios line of wines focuses on the beautiful expression of the grape varieties grown in ideal areas of Argentina. Also, the Crios wines support local communities with various charity events. A delicious example of Torrontés with a floral nose and juicy mango and pineapple flavors on the palate with bright acidity and a round, fruit-driven finish.

2022 ‘Signature’ Barrel Fermented Torrontés Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2022 Susana Balbo ‘Signature’ Barrel Fermented Torrontés, Paraje Altamira, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina: 100% Torrontés grapes located at an average of 3,770 feet altitude in the famed wine area of Paraje Altamira. The ‘Signature’ line is focused on mastering classic varieties and taking on some of Susana’s most revolutionary projects of pushing the boundaries of winemaking. Enticing aromas of citrus blossom and a stony minerality with lychee flavors intermixed with delicate notes of flowers – perfectly balanced; a good amount of weight on the textured body that has a lovely silky quality across the long, expressive finish.

2020 Susana Balbo ‘Signature’ White Blend Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2020 Susana Balbo ‘Signature’ White Blend from La Delfina Estate in Paraje Altamira, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina: 42% Sémillon, 33% Sauvignon Blanc and 25% Torrontés from an elevation of around 3,770 on the La Delfina Estate. Multi-layered aromatics include honeysuckle, fresh herbs, orange peel with blanched almonds and subtle spice notes on the palate with white peach flavors and a long, flavorful finish.

2020 Susana Balbo ‘Signature’ Cabernet Sauvignon Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd
2020 ‘Signature’ Cabernet Sauvignon
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2020 Susana Balbo ‘Signature’ Cabernet Sauvignon, Gualtallary, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina: 94% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Malbec from an altitude of around 4,265 feet above sea level. There is broken earth, blackberry and tobacco leaf on the nose with a touch of cracked black pepper with hints of dried flowers and finely etched tannins.

2020 Susana Balbo ‘Signature’ Malbec, Paraje Altamira, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina: 96% Malbec and 4% Cabernet Franc. Pretty aromas of lilacs and blueberry tart with a touch of star anise with complex layers of blackcurrant leaves and fresh tree bark with a linear drive on the finish.

2020 Susana Balbo ‘Signature’ Malbec
Single Vineyard Agrelo
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2020 Susana Balbo ‘Signature’ Malbec Single Vineyard Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina: 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Malbec, 19% Cabernet Franc and 6% Petit Verdot. Multi-layered nose with black cherries, violets and pressed rose petals with turmeric spice and smoldering incense with a slightly firm structure, good weight on mid-palate that gives a touch of plush quality perfectly balanced by the exquisitely carved tannins with a tension that gives a fierce vitality to this wine; overall a wine that has a pedigree of greatness and longevity.

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A Napa Valley Wine Founder Releases $1,250 Rare Flagship Wine Of Exceptional Quality

BV Rarity and Georges de Latour Private Reserve Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

As the 19-year-old man enthusiastically drove a forklift, music blasted and hoses exploded with wine, spraying it all over the cellar. This was one of the best parts of this young man’s day yet a close second was his morning routine – driving around stunning Russian River Valley vineyards while smoking Cuban cigars that the vineyard manager generously shared. “Can’t believe this is a real job?” the young man would exclaim almost daily. Yes, his parents loved to collect wines, and he grew up in a household that always paired it with dinner but it seemed something only to be enjoyed during one’s downtime and not a viable path to gainful employment. Plus, this college kid already had a long-established intended plan as he would follow in the footsteps of his hero, his grandfather, a pilot in World War II and join the US Air Force Academy.

But when he was in high school the idea of having to spend six years minimum of service as well as the additional time at pilot school was an overwhelming commitment at such a young age and so, instead, of going to the United States Air Force Academy, he went to UC Davis for college as part of the ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) program. But he had every intention of graduating as a member of the ROTC program at UC Davis, which was commissioned by the US Air Force.

Lo and behold, to his surprise, UC Davis had an incredible winemaking program, one of the country’s best and top in the world. And so this young man, Trevor Durling, would pass on his typical summer job to work instead at a winery as he was fascinated by the idea that wine could be a career. Next thing he knows, he is smoking Cubans, driving an ATV in the vineyards to pick grapes as samples, driving a forklift in the cellar helping to move heavy loads, all while existing in the most creative and energetic environment he had ever experienced; it was sensory overload that made him feel more alive than he had ever felt. That summer changed his “entire trajectory” towards winemaking as the minute he returned to Davis, he changed his major to follow that path.

Trevor then worked at wineries worldwide and a handful in California to gain as much experience and knowledge in all aspects and styles of winemaking as he could until he found his place. Something clicked when he worked for a small, high-end Cabernet Sauvignon producer on the Sonoma side of Mount Veeder, and in 2009, when he first came to Rutherford in Napa, something really clicked as he was assisting the winemaking team at BV with a special project, and then became the assistant winemaker for the Rutherford producer Provenance Vineyards working with the renowned Hewitt Vineyard, in the Rutherford Bench. Today, BV makes special bottlings out of this stellar site to honor the legendary William A. Hewitt.

One day in 2016, he was given “the golden tap on the shoulder” to come to the Rutherford Bench to become the chief winemaker at BV (Beaulieu Vineyard) – one of the founding wineries of Napa Valley. And today, he is releasing the 2016 BV Rarity in magnum format, the flagship BV wine showcasing only stellar vintages of which 2016 is only the sixth vintage since the inaugural in 1968 that has been given such an honor.

Carving Out History 

BV chief winemaker Trevor Durling
Photo Credit: Beaulieu Vineyard

It seemed almost too good to be true to become the chief winemaker at BV, as Trevor loved these iconic wines but also, he is a huge history buff and BV is undoubtedly a big part of the incredibly successful history of Napa Valley. BV was founded in 1900 by Georges de Latour, a Frenchman from an area outside of Bordeaux. His family was a small grape grower who had their vineyard decimated by Phylloxera, a microscopic louse, in the 1860s but, through time, found a way to come back by grafting French grape vines onto American rootstock which were Phylloxera resistant. But Georges was a true entrepreneur at heart so the US, the land of opportunity, called to him. He ended up in California and quickly made friends with many of the wine producers.  Realizing that there was a great business opportunity with tartaric crystals lining many of his friends’ wine fermentation tanks, he decided to make a deal with them to clean their tanks so he could use the tartaric crystals to make cream of tartar, starting a very successful business that he would later sell.

He used the money to buy land on the Rutherford Bench and since it was the turn of the 20th century, one could have never known that it would possess what would become some of the most valuable vineyards in the world. When Georges’ wife saw the property for the first time, she exclaimed, “Beau lieu!” which means beautiful place in English, and that is how BV (Beaulieu Vineyard) got its name. Within a couple of years, he purchased an adjacent property that was 127 acres in size that was planted with plum and walnut trees. He ripped out those crops and planted 80 acres of the grape variety Petite Sirah, which was the most common during that time and for many years he would sell the grapes. Well, Phylloxera also came after the French grapes varieties planted in California and many wine grape growers were losing their vines to this pest. But since this same thing happened to Georges’ family back in Bordeaux, another business was born, importing French grape varieties already grafted onto American rootstock from France, and for a time, he acted as a nursery for all the wine grape growers in Napa Valley.

When Prohibition legally shut down the US wine industry between 1920 to 1933, the only couple of exceptions for legal winemaking was for sacramental wine and medicinal purposes, as doctors could prescribe wine as medicine. So Georges, seeing another opportunity, applied for licenses to do both and quadrupled his wine business during Prohibition. Once Prohibition ended, Georges turned the focus of his wine business from quantity to quality; as a man who was always two steps ahead, he could see that, one day, quality would be the future for Napa Valley wine. Then, a friend of Georges, a professor at UC Berkeley, which is where the current UC Davis winemaking department started, told him about a talented chemistry and agronomy student named André Tchelistcheff, who was conducting research at the Pasteur Institute in Paris.

André was a remarkable man by all accounts as he was born in Moscow in 1901 and fought in the Russian Civil War as an infantry officer in the White Army and was left for dead on the battlefield after his entire platoon was killed. After surviving in a foxhole for 38 hours with a broken back, a man on horseback picking dead bodies off the battlefield took him back to base. He made a reputation for himself as having a brilliant scientific mind at a Czechoslovakian university, so he was invited to do research at the Pasteur Institute and worked for the French National Agronomy Institute.

Georges de Latour went to Paris to convince André to come back with him and André started at BV in 1938 becoming technical director of winemaking until he retired in 1973; then he came out of retirement to come back in 1991 as a consultant at the age of 90 years old until he passed away a few years later. André Tchelistcheff is considered America’s most influential post-Prohibition winemaker and is often called “the Maestro.” 

Rarity 

BV Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard
Photo Credit: Beaulieu Vineyard

André Tchelistcheff was the first to produce Rarity in 1968, and at the time, it was called ‘Special Burgundy.’ It was not bottled in a magnum format like today but in a 750ml Burgundy-shaped bottle yet the current label still takes its inspiration from the original. Also, today Rarity is a Cabernet Sauvignon-based wine with a small amount of Petit Verdot. Yet, Rarity in its earliest vintages was an assortment of varieties planted on some of the most prime real estate in Rutherford, Napa Valley, such as the first vintage, 1968, was mainly made up of Gamay and the lesser known red grape variety Mondeuse from the Savoy wine region in France as well as a bunch of other unorthodox grapes. Cabernet Sauvignon was not really of significant acreage in the Napa Valley until the 1950’s, according to BV chief winemaker Trevor Durling.

As if BV didn’t already have a couple of iconic Napa legends as part of their story, another one, who is still a strong force today in the world of wine, is one of the most famous vineyard owners, Andy Beckstoffer. Through a series of different acquisitions, Andy was brought in as an executive for a company that bought BV in the late 1960s and his old office is the one that Trevor uses today.

After many ups and downs in the economy, Andy would buy some of the BV vineyards and other highly prized vineyards in the area, and started his own company Beckstoffer Vineyards. One of the most famous vineyards in Napa, named To Kalon, was one of those vineyards he purchased from BV, which was called BV4 at the time and an essential part of the first Rarity vintage. André Tchelistcheff was Andy’s first viticulturist and together, with André’s ability to attain greatness from those vineyards that possessed it, combined with Andy’s keen marketing and business prowess as well as an uncanny ability to see the future, they created a partnership that uplifted independent grape growers. Andy went on to establish a role where premium contract grape growers would be able to command high prices by bringing recognition to the importance of these vineyards and to who owned them.

At times, as Trevor walks through vineyards and rooms that held pivotal conversations among some of the Napa greats, he can’t believe he is part of continuing a legacy that has linked three extraordinary men. And today, he even finds himself joking with one of those greats, as he recently asked Andy Beckstoffer if he could place “BV4” on the label of the wine that was made from his To Kalon grapes, which quickly got a firm, “No” but also a big laugh from the icon himself, as such men appreciate a lively spirited.

There was no bigger hero to Trevor than his grandfather and he often thinks back to all those weekends he spent with him – a superhuman figure who shaped him into the man he is today. And even though he thought he would be part of something larger than himself, like his grandfather was a World War II pilot, it didn’t happen exactly as he thought it would. Still, there is no doubt, he is part of something larger than himself, and that larger something was a main factor in bringing into fruition the Napa Valley that everyone knows today.

***Link to original Forbes article: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2023/06/07/a-napa-valley-wine-founder-releases-1250-rare-flagship-wine-of-exceptional-quality/

BV Rarity and Georges de Latour Private Reserve Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

Rarity

2016 Beaulieu Vineyard (BV) ‘Rarity’ Rutherford, Napa Valley (magnum format): 95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot. 2016 was an excellent vintage for Napa, and Trevor says it is the “best one” he has seen in his career. The wine certainly leaves one speechless as it is something unique and rare. Multilayered nose with rich cocoa dust and uplifting violet notes with a lovely texture on the body that is reminiscent of delicate lace that is enhanced by delicious flavors of blueberry tart with a backbone of intense minerality and freshness on the long, expressive finish. Only 188 cases made. Price $1,250.

2013 Beaulieu Vineyard (BV) ‘Rarity’ Rutherford, Napa Valley (magnum format): 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot. 2013 is one of the “most powerful vintages” that Trevor has experienced and its bigger structure makes it seem more youthful than 2016. Fresh tobacco, graphite and dried sage create an enticing nose that draws one into the deep flavors of blackcurrant cordial with complex hints of tar and autumn leaves with broad tannic shoulders that are round and approachable yet suggest this will make great old bones. Only 125 cases made. Price $1,600.

‘Georges de Latour’ Private Reserve

2016 Beaulieu Vineyard (BV) ‘Georges de Latour’ Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2016 Beaulieu Vineyard (BV), ‘Georges de Latour’ Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve, Napa Valley: 97% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Petit Verdot. A multifaceted wine when it comes to aromas, flavors and textures, with a nose that commands attention with cigar box, dried red cherries and pressed rose petals with warming fruit that envelopes the drinker with delectable flavors of kirsch and plum tart with hints of river rocks that has finely etched tannins giving it lift and bright acidity bringing vitality to the finish that leaves mineral aromas in one’s head. 

2008 Beaulieu Vineyard (BV) ‘Georges de Latour’ Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve, Napa Valley: 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec. This was the first vintage made in the new winery built by BV exclusively dedicated to the Georges de Latour Private Reserve. This wine has an absolutely stunning purity that grabs one’s heart and brings such a tremendous amount of delight with fresh mulberries and pretty wildflowers with a hint of jasmine oil and freshly baked blueberry muffins with incredibly stunning fruit on the long, flavorful finish.

1981 Beaulieu Vineyard (BV) ‘Georges de Latour’ Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve, Napa Valley: Mainly Cabernet Sauvignon from a drought year. Delightful aromas of smoldering earth and baking spices with bright cranberry flavors on the palate with lots of vibrant acidity and energy with a fierce focus.

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New California Wine Producer From Punjab, India, Carried By 3-Star Michelin Restaurant

Pure and joyous laughter traveled from the near distance as the wind started to kick up on a warm afternoon. Rays of sunlight hitting the lance-shaped dark green leaves on the olive trees revealed a silver underside that glimmered in the light. And a husband and wife were sitting outside on a beautiful olive oil estate tucked away in the region of Provence in France. All the wine and food that graced the plates of this food and wine-loving couple came from the area. As their kids seemed so happy playing on the property, it became apparent that mom and dad didn’t have to explain the importance of spending time outside and soaking in nature while having a deeply cultural experience.

“We need to make this an actual part of our life,” whispered the wife as the golden sunset cast a glowing light onto the lavender.

This moment was a life-changing trip for Raghni Naidu and her family as they made their way from Barcelona, Spain, where they eventually found their heart in Provence. Even though those words were spoken from a profound truth within Raghni, she knew that the reality of finding that wine country life for her family was complicated and perhaps impractical. Yet she wanted to at least look into the idea when they returned home to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Journey of Four Continents

Raghni was born and raised in the northern Indian state of Punjab in a town known for its food, where her mother is a famous local cook. Her father is a very gregarious man, so the combination of her mother’s great food and her father’s incredible charm made their home a popular place for many friends and family. Also, her parents are adventurous people who love to travel far and wide, bringing back seeds for new herbs to add to the garden or different types of spices, so Raghni’s home was filled with smells and tastes from all over the world.

View from the Home on the Naidu Estate
Photo Credit: CHERI TRAN SNAPS

She went to Australia for university, explored the diverse world of Melbourne, which has various neighborhoods representing many different cultures. She ended up meeting her husband there, who lived in an opposite area of India in the South, and in many ways, it was like they were from different countries. Yet their love for exploring various cultures worldwide by trying food in countless neighborhoods, each representing a different region across the globe, bonded them together and those memorable early experiences made their love blossom and led to them getting married.

After they both graduated from school, they decided to move to the United States as her husband worked in tech and after living in a couple of different U.S. states, they ended up in the San Francisco Bay Area, where they still live today.  

Willed It To Happen

Raghni Naidu
Photo Credit: CHERI TRAN SNAPS

In 2018, Raghni’s husband had a work trip in Monaco, and so, they decided to make a family trip out of it, with most of their time spent in Provence. After three months of acknowledging her intentional dream during that trip, she closed on a beautiful vineyard in the Sonoma Coast, which included a gorgeous home with a pool that could be used as a retreat for guests, sharing their wine country dream with others. At first, Raghni was just compelled to search for properties to see what was out there, and one day, she drove up to a beautiful home on the top of a knoll that had exceptional views of the vineyards below, and she said to herself, “If I am looking to be in wine country, this is it!” This would be a space where she could show her daughter and son a cultured life among nature within a wonderful community where visitors would come from far and wide.

Living room at guest house on the Naidu estate Photo Credit: Darren Loveland

But being a woman who was raised to appreciate smells, tastes, textures and the quality of food and wine from a very early age, she needed to try the wine that was made from the Pinot Noir grapes on the estate vineyard – and the wine told her that these were “exceptional quality grapes.” And today, she is making sparkling, Pinot Noir rosé, Grenache Blanc and Viognier wines from purchased fruit as well as her Estate Pinot Noir.

No expense was spared as she only wanted excellence in the bottle as well as the packaging to reflect that excellence from the outside, and hence, from her first vintage, she used a high-quality wax to seal the top. That drive for only accepting the highest standards of quality finds itself in the guest house on the property that she has remodeled to create a luxurious experience for those wanting to have a secluded Sonoma wine experience surrounded by the Naidu Wines vineyard – the name given to the wines Raghni produces.

Aerial view of guest house on the Naidu estate Photo Credit: Darren Loveland

Raghni launched her Naidu Wines during the pandemic as it was slated for a 2020 release and she went back and forth on whether to wait but in the end she decided to go for it. She refused to cut corners in any way and even though she had never been afraid of hard work, she had never worked so hard in her life to create a wine and a space that lived up to her extremely high standards. Her 2019 Naidu Pinot Noir wine made the wine list at a 3-Star Michelin Restaurant called SingleThread in the heart of Sonoma wine country.

Seeds of Creating Extraordinary Experiences

The incredible smells and tastes of the food and wine was coursed out to the guests, encouraging lively conversation of a beautiful conviviality that fed the soul and senses in the haven-like place. A young girl and boy run in and out of the space yet take in the incredible energy that showed them how to live a life based on a generosity of spirit. Yet this was not the Naidu Wines estate, it was Raghni’s childhood home and as she now looks back on that time in her life, she realizes that that is where it all started and deep down inside she was looking for a space where she could create the same experiences from her childhood.

Raghni hosting Holi (Festival of Colors) event Photo Credit: CHERI TRAN SNAPS

Sonoma has become an ideal setting for everything Raghni and her husband desired for a happy existence as it is a place rooted in a local wine and food history with stunning vineyard views but even better, it is globally diverse with a rich multi-cultural community that has welcomed Raghni and her family with open arms. As a family, they love to celebrate every holiday as it represents their love for delving into different cultures and experiences. In turn, they welcome all to join them in their own cultural celebrations, such as celebrating the Festival of Colors (Holi) at their estate.

Raghni and her husband don’t have the big biological family that each has back home in India; still, they have made their own extended wine family in Sonoma and instilled in their children that a life filled with sharing the best things in life is a life well lived.

***Link to original article on Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2023/05/25/new-california-wine-producer-from-punjab-india-carried-by-3-star-michelin-restaurant/

2021 Naidu, Pinot Noir
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd
2021 Naidu, Rosé of Pinot Noir
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

NV Naidu, Brut Sparkling Wine, North Coast, California: Blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Nose of toast with citrus flowers and white strawberries with lemon meringue flavors that has fine bubbles that caress the palate with crisp acidity.

2021 Naidu, Rosé of Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California: 75% of the Pinot Noir comes from Naidu Estate Vineyard and the rest of the Pinot Noir comes from the Marshall Ranch Vineyard, less than a mile away. Pretty nose with jasmine oil and cherry blossoms with a stony minerality and juicy red cherry and zingy cranberry flavors with a vibrant floral finish.

2021 Naidu, Grenache Blanc
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2021 Naidu, Grenache Blanc, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California: 100% Grenache Blanc from Catie’s Corner Vineyard. Delicious nose with honeysuckle and white peach aromas that has tropical notes on the palate of green mango fleshed out with ripe Bosc pear flavors on the full body with a zingy lemon zest note lifting the finish.

2021 Naidu, Pinot Noir with wax cap
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2021 Naidu, Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California: 100% Pinot Noir showcasing two vineyards: Naidu Estate and Marshall Ranch Vineyard with both having sandy loam soil of Goldridge and they are both sustainably farmed. This vintage is made up of the Dijon clone as well as clones 23, 115 and 777. An extremely elegant and harmonious Pinot Noir with juicy black cherry flavors enhanced by notes of violets and crushed rocks that has a silky texture with hints of plum tart and cardamom pods and a touch of grated nutmeg that finishes with a pristine red cherry flavor.

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Oldest Champagne House Releasing New Champagne Wine That Is Shaped By Climate Change

It seemed almost impossible how the narrow stairs could transport people to a seemingly endless journey that took one to and from over 100 feet below ground. And that mystical feeling was enhanced by the walls and ceiling as they had undulating designs that created a cathedral-like aura with a sacred electric energy pulsating through the air. One simultaneously felt sucked into this otherworld and transported to a place 3,700 miles away.

Stairs carved into the chalk going down to Ruinart cellars
Photo Credit: Maison Ruinart

An art piece located in New York City’s Manhattan that French artist Eva Jospin created was transporting New Yorkers as her piece perfectly emulated a miniature version of the magnificent caves dug below Champagne houses, in the wine region of Champagne, France; caves that were carved deep below the chalk soil. In this instance, it gave the impression of one of the caves of the oldest Champagne house, Maison Ruinart, which was initially excavated well over a millennium ago by the Romans for chalk mines yet resourceful Champagne producers, such as Nicolas Ruinart, used these caves to store their Champagne bottles for aging, starting in the mid-1700s. 

Yet this work of art was made from cardboard! Astonishing considering how it enchanted those who gazed upon it and temporarily made the viewer forget that it was in a bustling city instead of the magical world of the “Crayères” (a.k.a. vertical chalk pits) as they are known in the Champagne sparkling wine region. 

Also, this pop-up NYC art gallery brought thrilling news as Ruinart plans to release its first new Champagne cuvée in 20 years. 

Maison 1729

One of Eva Jospin’s pieces for Ruinart which also has a forest she created in the background to connect their commitment to biodiversity
Photo Credit: @FLAVIEN PRIOREAU

Such art pieces showcased at the High Line in NYC illustrated Ruinart’s commitment to art and sustainability and how both can form a symbiotic relationship. As Ruinart has had a mission over recent years of finding innovative ways to promote biodiversity, such as planting 25,000 trees and shrubs within their vineyards and even commissioning land art pioneer Nils-Udo to build three tall birds’ nests to bring many feathered creatures to come to the Ruinart Taissy vineyard. And considering how creative Ruinart has been with encouraging biodiversity, it makes sense that they would partner up with the High Line as it is also an entity that has pushed boundaries in regards to how global cities can create more biodiversity by saving a historic, elevated freight rail line from being demolished by turning it into a public park with various species of plants.

This partnership is called Maison 1729: From the Vineyards of Champagne to the High Line, as it represents the initial establishment of Maison Ruinart in 1729 to today’s exciting relationship with a relatively new initiative, the High Line, which has become one of the most visited sites in all of New York City.

Ruinart Blanc Singulier

But Ruinart is not only making changes in the vineyards, as previously mentioned, it is also releasing its first new Champagne cuvée in 20 years called Blanc Singulier. As climate change has brought warmer vintages among the cooler vintages, Ruinart has decided to make a 100% Chardonnay cuvée that has low-to-no dosage that is made during the warmest vintages from the Chardonnay vineyards that get the most ripeness. 

Showing the “birds’ nests”
Photo Credit: ROMMEL DEMANO/BFA.COM

The first is called Blanc Singulier ‘Edition 18’ as it is made from 80% of the 2018 vintage and the rest is made from older reserve wines that all come from warmer vintages with a 0 g/l dosage, making it a Brut Nature Champagne with no sugar added during dosage. Brut Nature Champagnes have become very trendy in some circles and many Brut Nature Champagnes have come onto the market, with some being great examples and others being off-balanced as they lack the ripeness to balance the extreme acidity on their own, and so, some needed that small amount of sugar to help create a balanced wine; there is a reason why most Champagnes need a little bit of sugar.

Creatively Resourceful

Ruinart’s Blanc Singulier ‘Edition 18’ Photo Credit: ROMMEL DEMANO/BFA.COM

Ruinart President & CEO Frederic DuFour spoke about never releasing a new cuvée to satisfy a trend, as Ruinart’s reputation is based on excellence by adhering to values established almost 300 years ago. One of those values is always to be faithful to the terroir, the sense of place of the vineyards and over time, they noticed that part of the terroir in some recent years gives a bit of a richer expression that does not require added sugar to help take the edge off the acidity to allow the fruit to shine.

The Champagne wine region has had a long history of being creatively resourceful, beginning with using the deep chalk pits as the ideal places to age Champagne bottles gracefully and using sugar to balance the high acidity. Today, the oldest Champagne house, which has been an essential part of this resourcefulness from the beginning, is now finding the benefit within the difficult times of climate change by releasing Blanc Singulier, a Champagne that expresses the terroir in modern times that lives up to values that are several centuries old.

******Clink here to read original article published on Forbes.

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Winery Pays Top Dollar To Harvest Grapes, Making One Of The Greatest Wines In The World

The sun lit up golden highlights in the light brown hair piled up in a bun at the top of the young woman’s head. She was fiercely focused on her task as she wore dark gardening gloves that went up to her narrow wrists. She was hand harvesting some of the most iconic wine grapes and with one wrong move, she could end up damaging the Tempranillo vine, one of the most valuable Tempranillo vines on the planet; it would take several decades for a newly planted vine to reach the level of quality as the one she was harvesting – she would be middle-aged by that time. One would think she would be in a panic before each snip, her hands shaking, yet that was not the case as she was like a skilled surgeon with steady hands and a confident demeanor as she moved from one vine to the other with swift accuracy.

Oldest vineyard at Vegas Sicilia planted in 1890
Photo Credit: Tempos Vega Sicilia

The Vega Sicilia vineyards in Spain’s Ribera del Duero wine region are legendary. The first vineyard was planted in 1890 with that original vineyard, with its over 130-year-old vines, still part of the Vega Sicilia estate today. Some of the first French varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that were grafted onto American rootstocks were planted in this vineyard as the grafted vines were sent to the founder of Vega Sicilia to be part of that original planting as Bordeaux varieties made up a small amount of the blend.

The main red grape is Tempranillo – a native Spanish variety that has evolved to become a thicker-skinned variety than its counterpart in the more famous neighboring wine region of Rioja. The climate in Ribera del Duero is believed to have created the evolution of the grape as the extreme weather can rapidly jump from hot to cold to sunny to frost to hailstorms.

The young woman harvesting is an enology student who made it through the strict selection process to be chosen as a harvester at this grand estate. It is a highly competitive position as for two weeks, each harvester will make 800 Euros a day plus housing and food, as well as having the experience of working in some of the top vineyards in the world. Vega Sicilia is undoubtedly an outlier when it comes to paying so much for harvesters as many times there is much discussion about some wine producers taking advantage of desperate people by paying them an unfair wage. But Vega Sicilia is legendary among those in the know to go to extremes for every step of their wine production process and if they want enology students with a keen mind and steady surgeon hands – the best of the best, then they are going to pay for it.

Reaching for Excellence 

Wine cellars at Vegas Sicilia
Photo Credit: Tempos Vega Sicilia

The original owner of Vega Sicilia, a Spanish winemaker trained in Bordeaux, certainly pushed the boundaries when striving to make fine wines in Ribera del Duero over a century ago. Still, the estate’s second visionary, owner and general manager Pablo Álvarez, has taken the founder’s original goal to new levels that are still extraordinary by today’s standards. First, Pablo shocked his neighbors by banning herbicides and chemicals on the estate in the mid-80s as sustainability and organic farming were far from the norm at that time. And through the years, he has lost a significant amount of money by not releasing certain vintages for his most sought-after wines as he felt they did not measure up to their high standards. 

Never resting on his laurels, he is always thinking of how to strive for a greater level of excellence than what they have already achieved. Hence why there is always research into the best clones of Tempranillo within their historic vineyards that will be more disease resistant and more adaptable to climate change. Also, they use frost towers that help to combat freezing temperatures damaging the crop as it is an area that fights the cold as well as the heat; in the winery, testing wine in different types of vessels to constantly improve the preservation and expression of their outstanding terroir as well as trials with non-Saccharomyces yeasts (Saccharomyces yeasts are typical for wine ferments) to see which ones bring out more freshness as temperatures are increasing for the area; and in the cellar, a project that even outdoes anything Vega Sicilia has done itself, planting 50,000 cork trees in 1998 so they can make their own cork closures one day as well as them currently making their own oak barrels on the estate with their cooperage, where now, they source 1/3 of all the oak barrels they use to age their Spanish wines.

Oak aging outside of the Vegas Sicilia
Photo Credit: Tempos Vega Sicilia

It is taking the idea of terroir, a sense of place, to another level with the oak barrels for aging and the cork closures all coming from the Vega Sicilia estate. The idea is to have everything 100% sourced and made from Vega Sicilia.

Keep the Fire Burning

Through the past couple of decades, Ribera del Duero has built a solid reputation for stellar wines and it is no longer overshadowed by Rioja when it comes to fine wine drinkers. Undoubtedly, Vega Sicilia is one of the wine producers in the area that has helped with its reputation yet the company is even beyond the wine region or any wine region as it is an icon of mythical proportions. It stands on its own as having no equal. Pablo Álvarez understands the tremendous responsibility of balancing preserving its magic and bringing it to the next level every year, hence what one experiences in its illustrious Unico wine.

Wine barrels containing Unico
Photo Credit: Tempos Vega Sicilia

Undoubtedly, many would look at how Vega Sicilia is run as a business and be shocked by its practices, as it doesn’t make sense when trying to make a profit. But Vega Sicilia is Pablo’s life work, an obsession to have something so precious live up to the highest ideals.

After the end of each work day, the exhausted female harvester, an enology student, would wait until everyone left the vineyards so she could stand there in silence with the vines, taking down her hair to allow it to blow in the breeze as she lifted her sun-kissed face to the sky. She knew she was part of something so much bigger than herself, part of creating a great wine that was never content with only greatness and that not only did Vega Sicilia live up to the fantasies she had at university but it exceeded them.

“That doesn’t exist,” was a typical response when she would talk to those in the wine business about a winery living up to her ideals at professional trade shows she attended. But it did exist and she was a part of it for two beautiful weeks. Although she knew she would never work at another winery that would live up to such a vision, she would always be able to keep that fire lit within her, always to strive to do better even when those around her think she is wasting her time. 

It becomes lonely when one is trying to reach for the stars in her work, which also happens to be her passion and is met by co-workers who find such striving to be a little ridiculous, chastising her for wanting something that isn’t possible. “But it is possible,” she will tell them, “because I experienced it.”  

***Link to original article on Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2023/04/27/winery-pays-top-dollar-to-harvest-grapes-making-one-of-the-greatest-wines-in-the-world/

2013 Unico
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2013 Vega Sicilia, Unico, Ribera del Duero, Spain: 97% Tempranillo (Tinto Fino) and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. Unico is aged for at least ten years before it is released onto the market. 2013 was a challenging vintage as it was cooler with more rain than usual. Immediately fresh and vibrant with an intense energy and drive on the palate with silky tannins with flavors of blackcurrants, wild sage, broken rocks and a fierce minerality on the long, expressive finish. The purity of its expression is quite impressive considering it was a rainy year.

Unico Reserva Especial 2023 Release
Photo Credit:
Cathrine Todd

NV Vega Sicilia, Unico Reserva Especial 2023 Release, Ribera del Duero, Spain: A blend of the 2009, 2011 and 2012 Unico vintages. Much more of an ethereal quality to this release. Lifted floral notes with bright red cherries and a richer background of blackberry compote yet it prances and dances along the palate, giving a lightness of being among the richness and multi-layered complexity that includes chalky minerality, spice box and sweet tobacco – a very long, polished finish. Extremely elegant! 

2018 Vega Sicilia, Valbuena 5º, Ribera del Duero, Spain: 96% Tempranillo (Tinto Fino) and 4% Merlot. The 5 in the name of the wine represents the fact that this wine is always aged five years in the cellar before being released onto the market. The wine from the Vega Sicilia estate that doesn’t reach the level of Unico icon status is used to make Valbuena 5º, which has become a star in its own right. Another cooler vintage but there is an immediate approachability to this wine that is very inviting with rose oil notes and blueberry pie flavors that has hints of cardamom pods and finely etched tannins on the palate that has lots of acidity with a soft quality so the wine has finesse as well as early drinking appeal. It will be challenging to stop oneself from drinking the whole case of wine all at once!

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Tuscany Wine Producer Uses NASA Know-How To Combat Climate Change In The Vineyards

There was no greater view than that of the Earth from the International Space Station (ISS), as no other gave such a feeling of insignificance – the petty problems, the constant fears of the unknown, the overwhelming exhaustion of never living up to a grander purpose. All of it melted away as a feeling of peace, contentment, of utter awe overtook the astronauts. For the newbies, it was the first time they had had such an experience and for those who had been on the station for a while, they had seen that view more times than they could count but it never lost its power, especially when someone knew that they were seeing it for the last time.  

Living on the ISS had its profound life-changing moments but most of the time, the crew kept to a strict schedule of tasks that would help NASA advance its knowledge of the effects of space on the human body. Also, keeping busy kept them from thinking about some terrifying aspects of being in a situation such as CO2 poisoning. The Apollo 13 mission, in 1970, which was supposed to be the third Apollo mission to land on the moon, went through such a nightmare as the CO2 expelled by the astronauts’ breathing started to rise to toxic levels.

There have been significant advances since Apollo 13 one of them is using zeolite to capture CO2 on the ISS so it can then be released once it is exposed to the vacuum of space. Some researchers are considering using zeolite to capture CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere, then compress it and store it in a nearby geological facility. Zeolites are crystalline aluminosilicates typically formed by a chemical reaction between volcanic glass and saline water.

But NASA is not the only place using zeolite, as one of the largest organic certified wine-producing farms in Tuscany, Italy, Col d’Orcia, has taken to using zeolite in their soil to combat climate change.

Col d’Orcia Wine Estate in Tuscany

Francesco walking in
Poggio al Vento vineyard
Photo Credit: Col d’Orcia

Family owner and chairman, Count Francesco Marone Cinzano, discussed how sustainable farming and encouraging biodiversity had always been important to his father (who bought this centuries-old historic farming estate in 1973) even before such terms were even discussed in the wine world.

And it is a place of pride for Francesco that his family owns the fantastic wine estate of Col d’Orcia in the highly regarded area of Montalcino, in the stunning region of Tuscany. When he speaks about Montalcino, one quickly forgets that he is there to represent one estate as his utter reverence for Montalcino as a whole is evident in the amount of time and passion he devotes to explaining why it is one of the most incredible places on Earth. One cannot help but believe him as he describes how 50% of the land is covered by natural woodland and Mediterranean scrub while the rest is vineyards and farms that include olive trees, grains, honey and truffles. Its magnificent beauty was one of the reasons his father, who was from another prestigious Italian wine region called Piedmont, fell so deeply in love that he invested tons of resources and time into an area that was still unknown worldwide in the 1970s.

Harvesting the Poggio al Vento vineyard
Photo Credit: Bruno Bruchi
photobrunobruchi@gmail.com
www.brunobruchi.it

Francesco, who inherited the desire to keep balance and harmony with nature from his father, has made his own contributions to the estate by transforming the vineyards to organic farming in 2008, eventually becoming certified. He also notes that his estate is a working farm with chickens, sheep and goats, and much of the estate is preserved woodland where wild boar and deer roam. The sheep and goats graze on the forest, keeping it from getting too overgrown and the chickens are used for eggs and meat for the families living and working on the estate.

Yet when it comes to the philosophy of sustainability, Francesco says that it can only truly exist at any company if the employees have good working conditions. “In Italy, unfortunately, 70% of the work contracts in agriculture do not comply with workers’ security and workers’ rights,” noted Francesco, and he feels an obligation as someone who is “lucky” to produce high-end wines to “show the way.”

Nature & Technology 

Francesco under oak tree with son
Photo Credit: Col d’Orcia

There are some biodynamic practices and preparations employed, but Francesco admits that they cannot be completely biodynamic as it is impossible to strictly follow the biodynamic calendar with such a big estate as they cannot prune all the vineyards only on specific days – they just have too much to prune. Some of the biodynamic preparations Francesco uses contain zeolite in it, as zeolite is not only used by NASA to capture CO2 but there are experiments on the ISS that involve growing plants in zeolite-based substrates. As space travel advances in the future, astronauts will need to be able to grow their own food in space if they want to make the trip to Mars, for example. Since zeolite has a “special hydroponic quality,” it can retain humidity and water during the winter and release it during higher temperatures in the summer, improving the soil’s water retention capacity and combating drought years. As Brunello di Montalcino is experiencing warmer and drier vintages, water scarcity is becoming more common.

The Col d’Orcia label displays this commitment to both nature and technology that was first started with Francesco’s father, as three rows represent the hills overlooking the Orcia River – a commitment to Mother Nature. On top of those three rows is a hand pointing to the stars representing their relentless pursuit of finding better ways to protect her.

And it all started when Francesco’s father visited the estate 50 years ago. He was so taken by the paradise of Montalcino, an unknown area back then, because an abundance of produce grew there. During that first visit, he came upon an old oak tree that was stunning in its majestic appearance and as he stood underneath it, a unique energy pulsated through his body. Despite this tree being in an area where it was best to plant the vineyards, he spared this beauty as it would be the monument that would remind him to be true to the natural diversity that initially captured his heart. Yet he could have never imagined that many decades later, a natural substance that could one day make traveling to Mars possible would help his beloved farming estate continue to thrive during intense challenges as the climate changes.

**Link to original Forbes article: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2023/04/20/tuscany-wine-producer-uses-nasa-know-how-to-combat-climate-change-in-the-vineyards/

2015 Col d’Orcia, Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, 2016 and 2017 Brunello di Montalcino Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2017 Col d’Orcia, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG: 100% Sangiovese. The nose gives juicy, rich fruit such as cassis and black cherry preserves with notes of broken rocks and round tannins on the palate with hints of nutmeg and pressed flowers.

2016 Col d’Orcia, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Vigna Nastagio: 100% Sangiovese from a single vineyard cru. Deep, dark fruits on the nose with flavors of blackberry scones with an intense minerality; elegant on the palate with chiseled tannins that give structure to the pristine fruit with hints of spice and overall harmony and a very long finish.

2015 Col d’Orcia, Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG, Poggio al Vento: 100% Sangiovese from a single vineyard cru. The Poggio al Vento single vineyard is mainly sandy soil as opposed to clay which is dominant in the rest of the Col d’Orcia vineyards. Smoldering earth, cured meats, nutmeg with a slightly firm structure, black cherries and sandalwood incense with hints of tobacco leaf with a long, linear finish.

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Army Black Hawk Pilot Juggles Two Roles: 5th Generation Napa Valley Wine Grape Grower & Assisting Underdeveloped Nations

The gusts of winds jolting the hoist created a slight dread in the man’s heart as he hung from the end of it, reaching for a tiny hand of a six-year-old girl hysterically crying. The girl was positioned on the top of a palm tree keeping her head above the flood surge caused by the hurricane that had just passed. Only a few minutes had gone by but it seems like a lifetime as the man reached for the girl for the tenth time as he couldn’t get a good enough hold of her and there was no way she would make it if he was only able to grab her hand. A paralyzing fear started to creep into his body as he envisioned dropping the girl as he tried to pull her towards him – he is always ready to face his own death but the loss of a child he couldn’t bear. Suddenly, screams from inside the massive helicopter, to which the hoist is connected, travel down to the man – they are a slap in the face he desperately needed in this horrible situation. Time was running out – the winds were fiercely picking up and the hurricane could be shifting back and either he grabbed the girl now or they would have to leave without her. Using his weight, the man swung with one of the gusts of wind and decisively clutched the small child as the hoist lifted them into the Black Hawk helicopter.

This was just a typical day for the men and women in the National Guard stationed in the underdeveloped country of Honduras to assist with various humanitarian efforts needed. 

Chris, Melody, Gary Morisoli Courtesy of Chris Morisoli

One of those men, an Army Black Hawk pilot named Chris Morisoli, is also a fifth-generation wine grape grower in the famous Rutherford section of Napa Valley in California. His property is surrounded by such illustrious neighbors as Scarecrow, Inglenook and Phelps, to name a few. His great-great-grandpa, Rocco Morisoli, emigrated from then northern Italy (now part of Switzerland) in the later 1800s and planted vines in Rutherford, Napa Valley, in 1910. His great-grandpa, Plinio, ended up running the local general store as well as helped with the farm. It is interesting how Rutherford was considered one of the most booming places in Napa with the largest population as it was a big mining town. Today, Rutherford is much less populated but has  grandiose wineries and vineyards that are some of the most esteemed in the world.

Chris lives in that same house his great-great-grandpa put down roots in back in 1883 helping his father take care of their vineyards with only the assistance of a couple of full-time workers, all while juggling an extra part-time job in the National Guard, what he calls “Army Light,” still going to various places around the world that are in desperate need of humanitarian relief.

Morisoli Vineyard

The Morisoli vineyard first started as a Zinfandel field blend and so not only was Zinfandel planted – with some of those old Zinfandel vines still there – but there was also Mourvèdre, Alicante Bouschet, Syrah, Négrette and Black Muscat mixed in as well, a hodgepodge of sort. One of the top winemaking and viticulture universities, U.C. Davis, came out and took samples from that original Morisoli vineyard and found clones of grape varieties that weren’t in their database so they cataloged one of them as the “Morisoli” clone. Today, the vineyard is still dry-farmed and managed the “old way,” which includes Chris using their 1934 D2 tractor, or perhaps he will go with one of the “newer” tractors from the 1970s or earlier.

Today, Morisoli makes a small amount of wine from their highly prized vineyards under the winemaking leadership of Joel Aiken; the first release was their 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon. Joel was the winemaker for Beaulieu from 1985 until 2009, working with the great André Tchelistcheff, often known as the “Dean of American Winemaking.” But Morisoli cherishes their long-term relationships with eight other wineries who buy their grapes, one having a notable history in getting the Morisoli vineyard on the right track.

Elyse Winery 

Morisoli vineyard row
Courtesy of Elyse Winery

Ray Coursen, who founded Elyse Winery, convinced Chris Morisoli’s dad to plant more Cabernet Sauvignon in the early ’80s as they had a lot more Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc planted than Cab back in those days and today, most of the land is planted with Cabernet Sauvignon and only a few acres of Zinfandel. There was a partnership between Elyse Winery and Morisoli from the inception of Elyse and Morisoli’s “first vineyard designate” was for an Elyse bottling in 1987. But Ray’s relationship goes further back than his Elyse days as he had been using fruit from Morisoli as the previous winemaker at Whitehall Lane, which always used Morisoli Cabernet Sauvignon in their reserve bottling.

Ray got to the point where he wanted to retire but he didn’t want to sell to a hedge fund that would strip it for parts; he wanted his legacy to continue with Elyse Winery. One fateful night when wine producer Josh Peeples was having a typical casual dinner out in Napa Valley, he struck up a conversation with Ray, which had happened numerous times in the past as they shared bottles of wine to drink with dinner and Josh ended up being the ideal person to buy Elyse Winery. 

Bottle of Elyse Zinfandel
Courtesy of Elyse Winery

Josh was excited to add a winery such as Elyse with such a “great pedigree and great reputation” to his portfolio of wine projects that would not only give his winemaker, Russell Bevan, access to a top-notch winery facility but also some stellar vineyards… although securing the continuing relationship between Elyse and Morisoli was not guaranteed initially. And so, the first meeting between Josh and Russell with Chris’s father was the most important one, as although Russell has an impressive resume with being awarded 100-point scores as well as being picked as “The Wine Maker of the Year” a few years back, Chris’s father was more interested in a meeting of the minds when it came to character and intention. The meeting was successful as it was evident that Josh’s and Russell’s main priority was to keep Elyse’s legacy alive and keep Morisoli fruit an “important cornerstone” of that legacy.

Josh and his winemaker Russell certainly have had their hands full with Elyse Winery as despite only making a total of 10,000 cases, they work with 42 different vineyards yet no other vineyard is more important to them than Morisoli. And Josh even took their commitment to Morisoli to a greater level by making a reserve bottling of a vineyard-designated Zinfandel from Morisoli that comes from a section they call the ‘Zieger’ block.

Defining Moments

Elyse Lot Marker on Morisoli Estate Courtesy of Elyse Winery

As Chris Morisoli walks the vineyards on his family property and looks at the displays for the various rows that indicate which particular wine producer those grapes are designated for, he comes to the vines that are sold to Elyse Winery, which happens to be near the vineyards for the cult wine Scarecrow, known as the J.J. Cohn Estate, and a sound in the sky abruptly captures his attention. He looks up towards the distance and recognizes it as a Black Hawk helicopter helping to put out a fire and he lightly smiles to himself, knowing that is how juggling these two different worlds started with him. 

Years ago, he was a seasonal firefighter for Cal Fire and one day, he, with a couple of others, had to go down into a little valley to put out a “spot fire,” which was very dangerous as the fire came up as they were climbing down. Before he knew it, a Black Hawk with a big red cross on it came in and put the fire out and as Chris saw the helicopter fly away, he knew he wanted to be the pilot in that helicopter.

He went into the Army to attend flight school and deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. “That was the defining moment in my life,” noted Chris, and he continued, “absolutely crazy times but I got a lot of life experience there real quick.” When he looks back, he wonders, like so many others, what it was worth and why was he and many of his fellow Americans there yet he feels good about his job during that time as he was “helping folks in their worst hour” by flying his injured compatriots to the nearest medical facility. After his time at war, he continued to serve in the National Guard on humanitarian efforts such as the assignment in Honduras and after 12 years in the Army, he came back to his family’s vineyards. When things are slow in the vineyards, he can continue helping out in the National Guard but all year round, he volunteers at the local Rutherford fire department.

As it is getting harder and harder for parents to pass down family businesses as costs have increased a lot more than the revenue that most small family businesses bring in, especially farming, there is a horrible choice that needs to be made: either the family sells, adding to the unsettling reality that the U.S. is no longer a place where many family businesses can thrive or the children who take over have it worse off than their parents. A third option is to get a part-time job. Chris’s Army Light part-time job not only makes it possible for the line of multi-generational wine grape growers to continue in his family but his experiences in the National Guard have made him grateful for his lot in life, even when times are tough. In Honduras, Chris witnessed poverty that is unheard of back home with families walking eight hours with their six or seven kids to simply get some soap, dewormer and other essentials. 

Breaking the Cycle of Duality

Chris at Harvest
Photo Credit: Madison Scarlata

Sometimes it is hard to see how much one has until he experiences those who genuinely have nothing. As Chris walked around his vineyards taking it all in, he exclaimed how “lucky” he was to be there regardless of the backbreaking work and escalating costs – hopeful about the future. He is so optimistic that the Morisoli family is making their own wines for the first time in over 100 years. 

It is a lesson for many that one does not need to get caught in the duality of life, of having only two options with both being horrible. Finding a third option not only helps him to continue a family legacy while keeping a decent quality of life but he has gained experiences that make him appreciative instead of resentful of the responsibilities that he has taken on to continue the family business. 

Maybe the American dream hasn’t died but just shifted. It is time to stop being trapped in a mindset of thinking that there are only two options… the ideal path could be so outside the box that when it presents itself, it seems out of reach, such as that day fighting the dangerous fire in the little valley as that massive helicopter, like out of a movie, came and saved the day. At that moment, Chris decided to take his life in another direction for a time, returning to his family vineyards not only in a better position to handle the financial ups and downs of farming but as a better human being. 

***Link to original Forbes article: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2023/04/01/army-black-hawk-pilot-juggles-two-roles-5th-generation-napa-valley-wine-grape-grower–assisting-underdeveloped-nations/

2019 & 2018 Morisoli Vineyard,
Cabernet Sauvignon wines
Photos Credit: Cathrine Todd
2019 Elyse, Zinfandel, Morisoli Vineyard
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2019 Elyse, Zinfandel, Morisoli Vineyard, Rutherford, Napa Valley: 100% Zinfandel from Zieger block on the Morisoli estate. Rhubarb compote, red cherry tart and a touch of black pepper in the background with a lush texture and lovely balance between earthy and fruit-driven notes on the palate. Delicious!

2018 Morisoli Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa Valley: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Morisoli estate. The slowly sauntering aromas are elegantly captivating from the start with stony minerality, blackcurrant leaf and a faint touch of violets that enchants the palate with a beautiful texture reminiscent of delicate lace that gently caresses along the long, expressive finish.

2019 Morisoli Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa Valley: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Morisoli estate. An intriguing nose with crushed rocks, wildflowers and toasted anise seeds with a multifaceted palate that includes graphite and cigar box balanced by plush black cherry sauce flavors with velvety tannins that are finely sculpted to give an elegant shape to the long, flavorful finish.

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