A Great Italian Wine’s Sibling Has Found Its Own Identity

The heat had sucked so much energy from the winemaker who was walking through the vineyards, surveying the grape bunches hanging from the vines. She was shocked how so many of the berries looked like blueberries as they were so tiny due to the sweltering conditions brought in by a hot spell that many in Europe had nicknamed “Lucifer.” The summer of 2017 had been a grueling growing season with the sun beating down like a fiery flame thrower, with no real reprieve from the hot punishment. Yet when one takes the oath to work for one of the greatest Italian wine producers, she knows that not only does the job need to be carried out under any circumstance but it has to have an even higher level of meticulous care as many of the grapes would have to be sorted out at various stages. And after the grapes have gone through the long and involved process of being turned into wine meant for an Italian iconic producer, it can still be sold off if it doesn’t make the cut, even if tons of sweat, blood and tears went into the creation of that barrel of wine; that is the life of one who works for one of the best.

Cabernet Sauvignon on the Ornellaia estate
Photo Credit: Ornellaia

And so, although the heat tried to suck all the energy from the workers on the ground with months of the unrelenting heat that enveloped every human body like a heavy blanket, making every task that much more laborious, the workers triumphed as even the most horrific of circumstances can’t completely drain the fierce passion in those who are dedicated to making fine wine. As the winemaker at Ornellaia, Olga Fusari remarked that 2017 was the “hottest and driest” in the history of this grand estate and it was one of her biggest surprises in the 18 years she had worked there.

It was a surprise because the 2017 wines were fresh with lots of acidity and pure fruit expression and Ornellaia’s second wine, Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, known as simply Le Serre Nuove, was especially fresh with uplifted fruit – a hallmark of this little brother of Ornellaia. 

Becoming the Aspiration for Others 

When Ornellaia decided to release the first vintage of Le Serre Nuove in 1997, it was very much following the steps of the great estates of Left Bank Bordeaux. It is a way to add an even stricter selection for the “grand vin,” the top wine of the estate, and make a less expensive version of that top selection that was only a few steps down in quality. 

The Ornellaia estate during sunrise
Photo Credit: Ornellaia

Ornellaia, like the other famous “Super Tuscans” tucked away in the village of Bolgheri along the Tuscan coast in Italy, had first crafted its foundation on the outstanding wines of Bordeaux, like Latour and Lafite, as the marriage between Bordeaux grape varieties and the prime vineyard areas of Bolgheri created an exquisite union yet with its own expression of terroir, aka sense of place. These wines were nicknamed “Super Tuscans” as they took the world by storm with their superior quality yet the prices were anything but super as compared to their contemporaries in Bordeaux; the pricing was, and remains today, relatively reasonable.

And so, as Olga notes, “Le Serre Nuove was born as a classical second wine,” following in the footsteps of the greatness of the Bordelais. But through time, Ornellaia started to make a name for themselves and even though they still don’t command First Growth Bordeaux wine prices, they certainly have their own strong following that prefers Ornellaia above all others. Hence, a new chapter of this great Italian wine estate started where Ornellaia found its own identity. Today, some wineries don’t emulate the top Bordeaux estates but aspire to be like Ornellaia. 

Amazingly, Ornellaia is a young estate – the first vintage was released in 1985 and so, through time, they have learned so much more about their precious vineyards. Over the past several decades there has been a deep dive into learning about all aspects of their soils which has informed them how to manage their vineyards better, significantly raising the quality and expression of a sense of place. 

Its Own Voice 

Holding the soils of Ornellaia
Photo Credit: Ornellaia

But according to Olga, through this long process of analyzing all the components of their soils, they realized that Le Serre Nuove shouldn’t just be made up of the youngest vines, which was the main original criteria but that the more sandy soils gave a lot more freshness and finesse which were qualities that formed the foundation of Le Serre Nuove’s identity. In the past, it was intended to be a more accessible version of Ornellaia at an earlier stage yet through time, it had become valued as expressing a particular quality of the vineyard. 

So, just like Ornellaia getting out of the shadow of the Bordeaux greats, Le Serre Nuove has gotten out of the shadow of Ornellaia. 

2020 was another vintage that Olga revisited and it was another challenging vintage but for different reasons than 2017. As the world has mostly gone back to embracing living life to the fullest, it is hard to completely remember how it felt during the fall of 2020 when COVID-19 took over the world. There was a mixture of sadness and fear balanced by gratitude and hope and not much came out regarding vintage reports in Tuscany during that time as people were overwhelmed with the new world of COVID forced upon them. The summer of 2020 growing season was hot and warm, still not to the degree experienced in 2017 and cool nights helped to retain a higher amount of acidity while developing an enchanting aromatic profile that is distinctive in the wines. Even though the 2020 Le Serre Nuove wines have plenty of concentration to give them longevity, the ripe tannins create a silky texture with the lovely aromas making the wine a great pleasure to consume now.

Looking back on those two difficult vintages of Le Serre Nuove, one cannot help when drinking the wines but to be amazed that something so refined, refreshing and stunning, wrapped in an overall quality of elegance, could have come from such nightmarish conditions. But, just like humans, wines will show what they are made of during the worst times and Le Serre Nuove has undoubtedly demonstrated that a ferocious heat wave cannot compromise its graceful quality, or even a worldwide pandemic.  

***Link to original article on Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2023/09/09/a-great-italian-wines-sibling-has-found-its-own-identity/

Vertical of Le Serre Nuove
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

The below is a vertical of Le Serre Nuove:

2020 Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Rosso DOC, Tuscany: 44% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc and 13% Petit Verdot. Intriguing aromas of granite, rosemary and tarragon with spices in the background with a stunning mouthfeel that has an ideal balance between plush, ripe red fruit and an overall brightness with subtle flavors that slowly reveal themselves over time.

2019 Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Rosso DOC, Tuscany: 54% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot. Charming nose with lifted aromatics of Mediterranean scrub, hints of lilacs and a slightly firm structure giving shape with a prolonged expression of forest floor on the finish.

2017 Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Rosso DOC, Tuscany: 54% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Cabernet Franc and 6% Petit Verdot. Ripe red cherries on the nose are laced with an intense minerality that has a touch of lushness along the palate’s texture, filling the mouth yet still keeping a reserved elegance as notes of fresh leather and cigar box slowly unravel.

2015 Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Rosso DOC, Tuscany: 64% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc and 9% Petit Verdot. Complex nose of tobacco leaf, broken earth and shaved black truffles that is a wine of all finesse on a generous body that gives lots of delicious fruit yet is still so refined and elegant that it is mesmerizing.

2014 Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Rosso DOC, Tuscany: 50% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc and 7% Petit Verdot. Pristine red fruit, such as strawberries and raspberries, with hints of savory spice, crisp acidity with fresh sage and very fine tannins that caress the palate.

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One Of The Biggest Misunderstandings In Champagne Wine Addressed By A Top Champagne House

It had taken five months of tasting 250 wine tanks and barrels to reach this final decision. Only a handful of wine samples made it to this all-important Champagne Billecart-Salmon blind tasting as all the backbreaking work in the vineyards, the immaculate winemaking practices and the work during several months of tasting the tanks and barrels while making exhaustive notes all come down to this moment. Eight people, representing all the essential decision makers of Billecart-Salmon – four family members that span three generations, the head of the vineyards, the assistant chief winemaker, the current chief winemaker and the former chief winemaker, come together to make a decision that will represent the highly regarded reputation of the Billecart name; a family that goes back to the ideally situated village Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, in the Champagne region in France, since the 16th century who started their own Champagne house in the 1800s.

The decision picked a key component of their Brut Réserve Champagne: the dosage. 

Champagne Billecart-Salmon 

A horse working in the vineyards
Photo Credit: Billecart-Salmon

Billecart-Salmon is no stranger to going beyond the call of duty to make high-quality Champagne as their long-standing meticulous practices are legendary among Champagne connoisseurs and it has given them an exceptional reputation for ages. Some of the key components that make Billecart great is their access to top vineyards within Champagne (1/3 of the vineyards they own, 1/3 they have a lease where they manage the vineyard directly and 1/3 from growers that they have worked with for decades) but some other key components in the winery and cellar make Billecart-Salmon a stellar house: fermenting in a combination of barrels and stainless steel as stainless preserves “fruit purity” as opposed to barrels which add “depth and concentration,” wines that are built to age and a “signature fermentation method” that is based on fermenting all the wines at a cold temperature that was implemented a couple of generations ago in the 1960s.

François Roland-Billecart, previous CEO of Billecart-Salmon and Mathieu Roland-Billecart
Photo Credit: Champagne Billecart-Salmon

According to the current CEO and 7th-generation family member of the Billecart-Salmon house, Mathieu Roland-Billecart, the cold fermentation is important as it preserves the “identity of the fruit character” as well as makes the actual fermenting process longer and hence, keeps the “identity of the region” with bringing out more of the sense of place, in his opinion. Also, it builds a strong “acidic backbone” in the wine and acidity with time equals “freshness and longevity.” After 60 years of employing this practice, over three generations as Mathieu’s great uncle started the cold ferment, the Billecart family has certainly perfected it.

Yet one more aspect of the Billecart process is a principal part of its excellence: the dosage.


Dosage1 is the tiny amount of wine that tops off the Champagne bottle after disgorgement – the ejection of the sediment deposit after the second fermentation has taken place in each bottle of Champagne.

Champagne Billecart Salmon cellars
Photo Credit: Champagne Billecart-Salmon

Much of the discussion around dosage surrounds the amount of sugar added in the dosage of wine as Champagne, with its traditionally cool climate, needed to take the edge off the fierce acidity. And so this is where there is a big misunderstanding, according to Mathieu Roland-Billecart. Even though Billecart-Salmon has always had a well-respected reputation when it comes to using a low amount of sugar in their dosage throughout the years (Brut Champagne allows anywhere from 0 to 12 grams per liter), there is a wide range of dosages out there, it is still a topic that Mathieu wanted to address.

 I think dosage is one of the least understood things in Champagne,” stated Mathieu as he further explained that it seems everyone makes it about sugar. And that all the Champagnes with high amounts of sugar are bad versus those with a low sugar dosage are good. But it is really about balance and the DNA of the Billecart-Salmon house is built on the foundation of finesse, elegance and balance; Mathieu said that relative to balance, finesse and elegance are easier to achieve, especially with a long legacy of prime vineyard locations and a refined approach that has been honed over centuries. He notes that despite the idea of a harmonious wine sounding like an easy task to achieve, in reality, even when one has all the outstanding components, if the right pieces are not chosen for the puzzle, then harmony and balance will not be achieved and each year there is a different puzzle to solve.

Champagne Billecart Salmon barrels
Photo Credit: Champagne Billecart-Salmon

Not only does the amount of sugar change from year to year but the wine chosen from all those 250 wine tanks and barrels has to bring balance. For example, if the Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve is mainly based on wines from the 2018 vintage, it is not just a matter of getting more 2018 to use as the dosage, as the final addition is the last chance to bring the wine to its ultimate harmony. And so Mathieu says that since he took over as CEO in 2018, they have spent just as much time on the dosage (which makes up around 20 milliliters of the bottle) as they have on the blend itself, which makes up 730 milliliters. 

For a Champagne house known to go to great lengths to achieve finesse, elegance and balance, it certainly adds so much more time and energy to their process. 

It’s In The DNA 

A bottle of Billecart from the 1950s
Photo Credit: Champagne Billecart-Salmon

Anytime one has a changing of the guard regarding another family member taking over the reins of a well-known wine legacy, it is certainly something to take notice of and to celebrate, as fewer and fewer family wine companies can pass it on to the next generation. So Mathieu thought it would be a great idea to release their 2008 vintage Champagne wines once he took over in 2018, a bicentenary year for Billecart, as it is a nice round number that represents a decade of the past in bottle that would be released on the 200th anniversary, signifying the dawn of a new era. 

But as the committee tasted the 2008 vintage Champagnes as they aged on their lees, it became clear that none were ready to be released in 2018. Then it was thought that even if they had to wait a year or two, perhaps releasing a few of the 2008s all together would still be significant as there is the 2008 vintage Rosé, Blanc de Blancs and special bottlings but the wines disagreed. And so, one was released in 2021, another in 2022 and now the Cuvée Nicolas François is released in 2023.

Even though it goes against all marketing sense to release these vintage wines only when they are ready, particularly during such a momentous time, it is not in the DNA of the house of Billecart-Salmon and especially not in the DNA of Mathieu Roland-Billecart to release them too early. He has contributed to adding more time to the process to achieve excellence. Mathieu noted about the dosage, “It is not particularly a clever process, but it is a very time-consuming artisan approach,” and his family has never had any interest in showing how clever they were when it came to tasting their Champagne wines; it is about giving that ultimate experience to the drinker of the incredible place that they have safeguarded for half a millennium.

***Link to original article published in Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2023/08/30/one-of-the-biggest-misunderstandings-in-champagne-wine-addressed-by-a-top-champagne-house/

NV Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

Today, each bottle of Billecart-Salmon can be traced with an origin code that shows everything about that particular Champagne bottle, starting from the vineyards to the winery and finally the cellar. One needs to look at the back of the label where “My Origin” will proceed a set of numbers that can then be placed into the web page myorigin.billecart.com to learn everything about that bottle. 

NV Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve (My Origin # 181105): The 2018 vintage makes up the base wine, with 46% reserve wines, and a blend of 36% Pinot Meunier, 32% Chardonnay and 32% Pinot Noir, with a dosage of 7.5 grams per liter. Pretty nose of lemon blossom and a saline minerality with white peach skin on the palate, hints of brioche and an incredible texture that has very fine bubbles, a touch of weight mid-palate and overall creaminess that is not too much or too little that finishes with a bright note of lemon confit.

1998 & 2008 Billecart-Salmon
Cuvée Nicolas François
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2008 Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Nicolas François (My Origin # 081078): 83% of wines came from stainless steel and 17% came from barrel, 83% Grand Cru vineyards and 17% Premier Cru vineyards, 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, with a dosage of 2.9 grams per liter. 2008 was considered a superstar year with a fantastic combination of beautiful fruit and high acidity and one can see why in this 2008 Nicolas François, named after the founder of Champagne Billecart-Salmon. The nose beckons with delicately enticing notes of honeysuckle and lemon pastry with hints of lilacs in the background that has marked acidity and an intense energy on the palate that is simply breathtaking, with a chalky minerality on the long, expressive finish.

1998 Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Nicolas François: Mathieu wanted to show a Champagne with a lot more age to display the incredible longevity that Billecart is known for yet he also wanted to show a vintage known for its ripeness and how the fresh style of Billecart keeps such a vintage still vibrant even at 25 years of age. The fruit is still vivid with juicy nectarine with touches of marzipan and lemon meringue that are intermixed with orange zest and toasted spices on the palate, concentrated with fresh fruit yet bright acidity and a broad, rich finish with lots of lift.


1 Dosage technically is the sugar added to the wine that tops off the Champagne bottle after disgorgement, and this additional wine with the added sugar is technically called liqueur d’expédition. But many in the wine business will just use the terms dosage liqueur or simply dosage (French pronunciation: do zaj) instead of liqueur d’expédition, and hence, it is referred to in this article as dosage.

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A Career Leap: From Working With A Large Wine Company To Co-Owning A Small Italian Wine Importer

Scott Ades has a very impressive resume that ranges from investment banker to overseeing human resources management software and services for corporate and brokerage businesses to being COO of a national fine wine and spirits distributor in the US. Scott had it all, both on his resume and in life, as he was “really happy” where he had ended up professionally and had no desire to leave. But sometimes, when one is comfortable, he doesn’t know what he misses out on until much later in life when it is too late.

A very unconventional small wine and spirits importer would end up taking Scott on another path that, in some ways, was much more challenging yet, in other ways, immensely more rewarding.

Dalla Terra Winery Direct 

Dalla Terra Winery Direct lineup of wines
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

The wine importer, Dalla Terra Winery Direct, specializes in small Italian wine producers and much of their portfolio includes esoteric wines that are well-respected by top sommeliers around the country.

A traditional importer buys the wines from the wineries and then sells them to a distributor that can make placements in restaurants and retail stores across the US. In this situation, the traditional importer will markup the wines’ wholesale price as high as possible to make the most money. In many cases, when a wine producer from another country sees the final retail price at a store or restaurant in the US, which can be a shock when comparing what the importer bought it for as opposed to the final price, the producer doesn’t know how much margin the importer added versus how much margin the distributor and then retail store added. It can deeply bother a small producer, who often is in the dark regarding their wines’ pricing, as they are often persuaded to sell their wines to the importer for a lot less, as they are desperate to get into the US market. In contrast, the importer could have added significantly more to their wines’ price.  

Dalla Terra is more of a “national agent” in the way they operate, according to Scott. They represent all of the wineries in the United States, like any other importer, except their business model is based on what he feels to be a much more symbiotic relationship.

The wineries sell directly to the distributors so they ultimately decide the price. Of course, Dalla Terra represents them in these agreements with these distribution companies as Dalla Terra not only has long-standing relationships with these companies, they can also advise the wine producers on reasonable pricing that doesn’t price the producers out of the market but allows them to make as much money as possible. Dalla Terra also works with the producers to promote their wines in the marketplace yet it is always the wine producers’ money paying for the promotion.

If the wine producers sell more wines, Dalla Terra makes more as they work on commission. And so, it is always in the best interest of Dalla Terra to ensure that the producers make the most money while also selling out their wines. Scott has worked the numbers and says that if a traditional importer brought in the wines in the Dalla Terra portfolio, the final prices for the wines in restaurants and retailers would be around 20% higher, and so, consumers are benefiting as well.

How did Scott, a man with top-level positions at big companies, end up at a small business?

Brian Larky
Photo Credit:
Dalla Terra Winery Direct

Dalla Terra was started in 1990 by Brian Larky, a man who is rooted in working in the wine cellars of Napa Valley wineries, as he fell hopelessly in love with Italy when he worked at a winery in the Italian wine region of Lombardy. For him, it was all about getting to know the people and living the Italian lifestyle of spending time with good people, drinking wonderful wine and eating delicious food. He wanted to spend a significant amount of time in Italy to be part of the Italian community so he started a wine import business that was entirely transparent for the wine producers. Also, Brian had ensured that there is no in-fighting between his wineries since they carry only one producer representing a specific wine-producing area of Italy.

Through time, Dalla Terra made a strong name with distributors and wine buyers looking for something different and unique in the Italian wine world. Scott Ades was Chief Operating Officer for a large distributor with a sizeable premium Italian wine portfolio that distributed wines from Dalla Terra and he knew Brian and the former president of Brian’s company. Once the former president retired, Scott was approached about coming to Dalla Terra to fill that role but he was happy where he was and it never occurred to him to ever leave. Yet he could not help but think there would be a day when he turned 60 and he might regret not taking that leap when he was still young enough to do so. He decided to join Dalla Terra if he could be a co-owner as well as president.

Symbiotic Relationship

Brian Larky and Scott Ades
Photo Credit: Dalla Terra Winery Direct

Although Scott had all of the sales and operations of a large wine and spirits company as part of his duties when he was COO yet during his first year of Dalla Terra, over six years ago, he worked twice as hard than at his previous job. And it is undoubtedly challenging times for small importers and small wine producers as Covid, transportation issues and the whole way people work has been turned on its head. But he wouldn’t change anything as working for Dalla Terra has brought more meaning to his work.

“We talk more about ourselves like a family,” noted Scott, regarding the employees at Dalla Terra and the wineries. Now, when he travels to Italy to visit with his wine producers, it is the best kind of family to visit as everything is above the board and any type of success is mutually beneficial. Scott proudly smiles, “The people we represent care about us, and we care about them.” And his previous journey of knowing the ins and outs of the realities of the fiercely competitive world is an excellent asset to his wine family and he gets to finally transition his career where he is making genuine relationships for life.

Link to original Forbes article: http://damewine.com/2023/09/a-career-leap-from-working-with-a-large-wine-company-to-co-owning-a-small-italian-wine-importer/

Lineup of Dalla Terra Winery Direct wines
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

Cleto Chiarli ‘Vecchia Modena Premium’ Lambrusco di Sorbara DOC, Emilia-Romagna, Italy: 100% Lambrusco di Sorbara. Undoubtedly, the Chiarli family is one of the most important producers of red sparkling wine in the world and they have made authentic Lambrusco wines a favorite among Italian wine geeks and lovers alike. This brut range sparkling red wine is seemingly dry on the palate with delicious flavors of pristine red cherries and raspberry sorbet with a stony minerality and gentle bubbles that caress the palate.

2021 Alois Lageder ‘Porer’ Pinot Grigio, Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy: 100% Pinot Grigio. The Lageder family has been involved in wine for over 200 years and they are one of the producers that can be counted on to make premium Pinot Grigio with a sense of place. This bottling called ‘Porer’ is considered a winemaker’s wine as it embraces experimentation with different techniques to produce a complex Pinot Grigio. One part of the grapes was pressed immediately after harvest to keep the fresh flavors and aromas. Another part was kept on the skins for 15 hours and the third part was in contact with stems and skins for about one year, absorbing color, some tannin and other rich flavor components. Complex nose with citrus blossom, candied apples and honey suckles and a touch of Brazil nut on the nose with good weight on the palate balanced by fresh acidity.

2020 Vietti ‘Derthona’ Timorasso, Colli Tortonesi DOC, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Timorasso. The Vietti family has been an essential pillar in the excellent quality that comes out of Piedmont, which was taken to the next level by current-generation winemaker Luca Currado Vietti. Even though they are known for their red wines that include some of the top vineyards in the Barolo and Barbaresco winegrowing areas of Piedmont, they have, in recent years, made an exciting wine from the white native variety Timorasso. Juicy nectarine with hints of saffron and blanched almonds with a saline minerality on the long finish.

2020 Tenuta Tascante ‘Ghiaia Nera’ Etna Rosso DOC, Sicily, Italy: 100% Nerello Mascalese. Extreme viticulture as this wine is sourced on one of the most active volcanoes in the world. The ‘Ghiaia Nera’ comes from the young vineyards of Nerello Mascalese and it gives some of the qualities of the old-vine vineyards that can be found in other bottlings of Tenuta Tascante yet it has softer tannins and overall freshness. Lovely nose of lilacs and rose petals with fresh tarragon and raspberry tart with silky tannins and lots of freshness on the palate.

2019 Poliziano, Asinone, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG, Tuscany, Italy: 95% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo and Merlot. From the single vineyard named Asinone, known for its poor soil, which is ideal for moderate vigor to produce high-quality Sangiovese. Dark fruit on the nose, such as black cherry and blackberry, with hints of crushed rose petals and upheaved earth with defined tannins and a lifted structure overall.

2017 Tenuta Scerscé ‘Essenza’ Valtellina Superiore DOCG, Lombardy, Italy: 100% Chiavennasca (Nebbiolo). For those who love the Nebbiolo grape, Valtellina is a must-try wine region; it is grown in tiny vineyards on extremely steep slopes within ancient terraces where it is called Chiavennasca. This property was saved by an international lawyer, Cristina Scarpellini, whose mission is to keep the old ways as she is part of an association that protects the ancient terraces. Brambly berries and forest floor with hints of violets on the nose, an elegant body and finely etched tannins.

2018 Marchesi di Grésy, Martinenga, Barbaresco DOCG, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Nebbiolo. The Martinenga vineyard is the largest single-owned “monopole” in the Langhe area and it has been owned by the di Grésy family since 1797. A real intensity to the red fruit that is beautifully expressed on the nose and palate with lots of vitality with a long, elegant finish that leaves notes of cherry compote and truffles in one’s head.

2006 Capezzana, Carmignano, Villa di Capezzana, Carmignano DOCG, Tuscany, Italy: 80% Sangiovese and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. The Capezzana estate goes back to the year 804, and vintages in the cellar go back to 1925. The Carmignano area is the smallest DOCG in Tuscany and the Cabernet Sauvignon planted on the Capezzana estate comes from the Château Lafite Rothschild vineyard as the Contini Bonacossi family bought the estate from a Rothschild family member back in 1920. This wine was incredibly generous even at this stage in life, with lots of blackcurrant and black cherry fruit with intoxicating aromas of fresh leather and smoldering earth; an absolute star of a wine.

2013 Capezzana, Carmignano Riserva ‘Trefiano’ Villa di Capezzana, Carmignano DOCG, Tuscany, Italy: 80% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Canaiolo. This Riserva is only made in the best vintages and the grapes are sourced from a 12-acre vineyard surrounding the historic Villa di Trefiano in Carmignano DOCG. Beautifully balanced with intriguing notes of freshly fallen autumn leaves intermixed with dark chocolate and baking spices, plenty of juicy fruit on the palate, lifted by a firm structure along the flavorful finish.

2019 Capezzana, Carmignano, Villa di Capezzana, Carmignano DOCG, Tuscany, Italy: 80% Sangiovese and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. Showing a graceful quality from the first sip with an enchanting purity of dark cherry fruit with a touch of tobacco and freshly grated nutmeg with an elegant texture and a long, expressive finish.

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Great Napa Valley Single Vineyard In Top Wine Area Of Rutherford Finds Its Voice

A much-appreciated breeze cooled her face on the warm day as she walked along a meandering path adorned with lovely flowers. These floral works of art created by Mother Nature herself proudly showed their vibrant colors as the sun’s rays lit them up. Preserving culture and art had been her life’s work and her mission of not intervening too much in the preservation process was an important rule she abided by, as art and culture needed to have their own voices. But at that moment, when she saw the purity of expression of nature, she knew she had to make sure a vineyard that she owned had its own voice – one of the first official single vineyards in Napa Valley.

Bottles of Heitz Cellars Bella Oaks Vineyard going back to 1976
Photo Credit: Bella Oaks

As many Napa Valley wine lovers know, the first vineyard-designated Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa is Martha’s Vineyard in the prestigious area of Rutherford. In 1962, the vineyard was bought by Martha and Tom May just a few years after Belle and Barney Rhodes had planted it; Barney was having issues commuting to work and overseeing the property hence why he sold it to the Mays. One might think he deeply regretted the sale, however, as a few years later, in 1968, he and his wife bought another single vineyard in Rutherford that they named Bella Oaks. It was a property that was first planted with vines as far back as 1875 and transitioned at some point to orchards. But the Rhodeses planted the property with Cabernet Sauvignon, foreseeing that Napa Cabernet, especially from Rutherford, was the future.

In 2010, Suzanne Deal Booth bought the “original 14-acre” Bella Oaks vineyard as she was taken by the history of the property yet dismayed by its state as it was far from its glory days. She hired viticulturist David Abreu as vineyard manager as he not only had an impressive resume of working with stellar vineyards but the idea that he was a true “Napa native son” with a familiarity with the Bella Oaks property sealed the deal. Hence, a complete overhaul of the vineyards included new vines (rootstocks and clones), canopy management and row orientation; they did everything and anything to assist the vineyard in expressing its true sense of place in the most elegant way possible.

In the beginning, Suzanne sold the fruit from Bella Oaks to Staglin to make a special bottling as she not only greatly admired this family winery but she also knew that Bella Oaks’ history consisted of a valuable relationship with another well-respected wine family – Heitz. And like any good preservationist, she was continuing this tradition for the property.

But one day, when she went on a walk in Napa Valley taking in the incredible natural beauty surrounding her, it hit her – Bella Oaks needed to have its own voice.

Bella Oaks Vineyard 

Yayoi Kusama’s Where the Lights in My Heart Go on the Bella Oaks estate
Photo Credit: ©SuzanneBeckerBronk

Regarding the conservation of visual arts and cultural heritage, Suzanne has a remarkable background spanning three decades. She has worked with many notable institutions and eventually started her own charitable organization called The Friends of Heritage Preservation (FOHP). The FOHP has contributed to over 80 preservation and conservation projects in 18 countries including an architectural retrofit of a Napoleonic coffee house on the Grand Canal in Venice. Her organization also addresses intangible cultural heritage such as a stone carving training program in Jordan for Syrian refugees and the documentation of the civil rights movement by the last participants in an Oral History project in Alabama with the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. And so, when a significant piece of history of Rutherford, Napa, which is physically represented by the Bella Oaks estate, started to fade into obscurity, she had to take action as “preservation is not passive, it is a very active endeavor,” noted Suzanne.

There is nothing like being the first of anything of significance and hence why, many times, Bella Oaks lived in the shadow of Martha’s Vineyard when the Heitz family was making both wines as they bought the Bella Oaks fruit from Belle and Barney Rhodes and the Martha’s Vineyard grapes from Martha and Tom May, both sets of couples being good friends of the Heitz family. A Bella Oaks Vineyard bottling was made by Heitz from the first vintage in 1976 until 2007 as the Rhodeses sold the vineyard to a cousin in 2008, until finally Suzanne bought the property. 

Suzanne Deal Booth
Photo Credit: Bella Oaks

Not only does Bella Oaks have a fantastic reputation due to being highly valued for its terroir (sense of place) by those in the know but it is a fitting living monument of the legacy of Belle and Barney Rhodes. They were champions of great food and fine wine in Napa Valley for many decades, hosted many wonderful dinners and wine tastings and for anyone seriously involved in fine wine or food, their home was the must-visit stop in Napa Valley. Suzanne has collected tons of notebooks left behind by Belle and Barney that talk about all the grand dinners, events and the running of Bella Oaks. She is determined to preserve every part of their life that she can find, as they shaped the enchanting world of Napa. Even when Suzanne speaks about the property, one would think she would only want to focus on the considerable investment and sacrifice she has made in bringing it back to its prime. Still, she often wants to return to the Rhodeses’ importance and that she is a steward who only wants to do justice to the property and their legacy.

Freeing The Voice of Bella Oaks

Again, Suzanne had a great relationship with the Staglin family winery, who made a Bella Oaks single vineyard bottling from 2011 until 2015. Still, after that walk where she realized that she needed to give Bella Oaks its own voice, she would have to make the wine herself, hence, assemble the ideal team to unlock the voice of Bella Oaks. Finally, a pivotal piece to the puzzle of how she would make Bella Oaks was when she found winemaker Nigel Kinsman. Originally from Australia and with a strong foundation in working in various top wine areas worldwide, Nigel and his family found their home in Napa. Even though the world is big, the wine world is relatively small and after Nigel made a name for himself, he was asked to become the winemaker at Eisele Vineyard Estate (known as Araujo Estate Wines at the time). From the beginning, he impressed many in the business with his first vintage of 2010 and stayed there until 2015; one day in 2017, he received a phone call that changed his direction.

Suzanne called Nigel and asked him if he was familiar with Bella Oaks and he quickly replied, “Yes!” Nigel is a true lover of Napa’s history and it is an obvious passion, so much so that sometimes one might think that he and his family have been in Napa for several generations. Serendipitously, he had just tasted a 1976 Bella Oaks, the first vintage, just a week before Suzanne’s call and of course, wines that are bought at auction are a gamble as one never knows the state of the bottle and so, initially, he had low expectations. “Oh my god, it was the most sublime Napa Cab I have had in a long time,” exclaimed Nigel. And so, it was meant to be; Nigel became the winemaker of Bella Oaks.

Nigel Kinsman and Suzanne Deal Booth
Photo Credit: Bella Oaks

Both Suzanne and Nigel prefer to talk about those who have come before them as they are true devotees of the history of Napa. Nigel has even found a way to bring back a Cabernet Sauvignon clone called Bella Oaks as its unique qualities were discovered at the vineyard. It was planted in other areas yet was not replanted at its original home. And so Nigel has become a conservationist in his own way.

Even though they have brought back the past with the Bella Oaks Cab clone, they still had the idea that the most important thing was to take any necessary steps to unlock the greatness of the site. Hence why, in certain sections, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc were planted and they were able to obtain Cabernet Franc clones from the outstanding VCC estate (Vieux Château Certan) located in Pomerol, Bordeaux. Also, they brought on Michel Rolland, who Nigel has worked with on another projects. Nigel knows that there are mixed feelings about Michel as he is the most well-known wine consultant in the world who has achieved success on a level unimaginable to others, therefore becoming a target for criticism yet his blending skills are legendary and he has become a true master of the art of blending.

But like so many other winemakers who have worked with Michel, Nigel can’t say enough wonderful things about how much he loves the guy, as Michel has an incredible amount of joy for his work that is infectious. “He helps me be a better winemaker,” said Nigel, as Michel doesn’t come with the same baggage that a winemaker who expects certain things with each plot would have and so when Michel tastes the wines for blending, there are no preconceptions.

The first launched vintage of the Bella Oaks bottling of the Bella Oaks Vineyard was in 2018, which received scores of 98 and above and the 2019 vintage received 100 points from Vinous.

Authentic Voice

Finding the authentic voice of a vineyard is much more of a challenge than preserving a piece of art, as the art is already expressing its voice, as opposed to a vineyard that has fallen into disrepair and needs help unleashing its true potential.    

During that fateful walk, Suzanne was grappling with a multitude of thoughts that created an overwhelming feeling that she needed to improve her relationship with this vineyard, a vineyard that should have become iconic a long time ago. It is a big responsibility for her to become the steward of such an important property and she felt that she wasn’t allowing it to speak for itself. Still, maybe it never had that opportunity and so, to the unpleasant surprise of her business manager, she wasn’t only going to stop with the massive investment in the vineyard, she would do everything in her power to make a wine that was worthy of an iconic piece of land.

As a conservationist and preservationist, her main goal is to do justice to those pieces of art, culture and history that she has had to be a guardian for when there was no one else willing to do the job. One would think that getting such high scores in the first two vintages being released would be more than enough but she is far from finished as there is a new winery on the horizon. Unlocking the voice of such an important vineyard goes beyond scores as no matter how great the wines are showing now, there could actually be a lot more potential for the expression of the property and Suzanne knows there is so much more, which makes the future of Bella Oaks that much more exciting.

***Link to original article published on Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2023/07/31/great-napa-valley-single-vineyard-in-top-wine-area-of-rutherford-finds-its-voice/

Vertical of Bella Oaks Vineyard wines ranging from 1976 until 2021 to celebrate 50th anniversary of Belle and Barney Rhodes in 1973 Photo Credit: Bella Oaks

Suzanne Deal Booth is one of the top advocates for culture, preservation and the arts in the world and so, it is not surprising that she shows that commitment at the Bella Oaks estate. The natural beauty of charming gardens, olive orchards and lovely grape vines surrounds several art pieces on the property. The art includes Yayoi Kusama’s Where the Lights in My Heart Go, Max Ernst’s Le Genie de La Bastille and an untitled site-specific work by Robert Irwin. Adjacent to the home is a meditation labyrinth inspired by Chartres Cathedral, which also inspired the primary design element on the Bella Oaks wine label.

They decided to change Bella Oaks from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon to adding a small amount of Cabernet Franc and/or Petit Verdot and so they have decided to label the wine as a ‘Red Wine’ instead of ‘Cabernet Sauvignon’ even though they have used enough Cabernet Sauvignon, 75% or more, to call it by that variety during the last few vintages. But they like the idea of keeping their options open as the Cabernet Franc is really doing well and they might add more in certain vintages so they want that freedom.

2021 Bella Oaks Proprietary Red Wine: 96% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet Franc. Winemaker Nigel Kinsman. This is a preview as the wine will not be released until Fall 2024. Deep ruby color with hints of purple that is juicy from the first sip with kirsch flavors and touches of blueberry scone that was concentrated yet feminine in its overall finesse of the delivery of the intensity of fruit married with the lace-like structure.

2019 Bella Oaks Proprietary Red Wine
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2019 Bella Oaks Proprietary Red Wine: 93% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Cabernet Franc. Winemaker Nigel Kinsman. This vintage is currently on the market. A wine that brings tears of joy; it is so good with pressed rose petals, orange peel and a dusting of cocoa powder on the intoxicating nose with a stunning purity of red and black fruit on the palate and complex notes of cigar box lingering for a long time in one’s head. Extremely impressive!

2018 Bella Oaks Proprietary Red Wine: 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petit Verdot and 8% Cabernet Franc. Winemaker Nigel Kinsman. Shocking how this could be Nigel’s and Suzanne’s debut wine as it is a knock-out with a compelling perfumed nose that has many layers that go beyond floral qualities as there is pepper, cardamom pods and fresh tarragon with lots of crushed rocks in the background that has a broad body with a silky texture that immediately seduces.

Bella Oaks made by Staglin Family Vineyard

2014 Staglin Family Vineyard, Booth Bella Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemaker Fredrik Johansson. A subtle nose with touches of dried wildflowers and broken slate with rich blackcurrant fruit on the palate.

2012 Staglin Family Vineyard, Booth Bella Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemaker Fredrik Johansson. More intensity on the nose with smoldering incense, anise seeds and wet stones with a round texture and sustained finish.

Bella Oaks made by Heitz Cellars

2007 Heitz Cellar, Bella Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemaker David Heitz. Violets and rose oil with flavors of chocolate and cinnamon sticks with blue fruit and elegant structure.

1999 Heitz Cellar, Bella Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemaker David Heitz. Savory nose of tobacco leaf and dried rosemary with more structure and grip than 2007 with plush boysenberry flavors.

1998 Heitz Cellar, Bella Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemaker Joe Heitz. A touch of bacon fat that blew off after some aeration with dried herbs dominating the nose with stewed red cherries.

1995 Heitz Cellar, Bella Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemaker Joe Heitz. Dried wildflowers with grilled toast and freshly grated nutmeg with upheaved earth and a slight angularity to the body of the wine.

1993 Heitz Cellar, Bella Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemaker Joe Heitz. Lots of vibrancy and finesse to this wine with bright red cranberries and an intense minerality but still lots of purity of fruit.

1986 Heitz Cellar, Bella Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemaker Joe Heitz. Cinnamon notes jump from the nose with hints of apple cider, dried cranberries and candied violets with a good amount of juicy fruit still left.

1985 Heitz Cellar, Bella Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemaker Joe Heitz. Sandalwood and smoldering earth with hints of dried flowers and a long finish with fleshy red fruit.

1984 Heitz Cellar, Bella Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemaker Joe Heitz. Shockingly, there is a lot of freshness on the nose with fresh mint and delicious cassis notes that still has lots of weight and intensity.

1978 Heitz Cellar, Bella Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemaker Joe Heitz. Multilayered nose with forest floor, sage and cured meats with a sweet fruit quality on the palate, such as raspberry pastries and cherry pie.

1976 Heitz Cellar, Bella Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemaker Joe Heitz. A wine that has a lightness of being to it, yet it has so much still to offer with bay leaf, black cherries and crunchy cranberries with an extremely silky texture and a long, delicate finish.

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New California Pinot Noir Winemaker With Mexican Heritage And Her Great Partnership With Renowned Pinot Noir Expert

A woman with an insatiable curiosity for all things involving wine and not shy about taking on the tremendous amount of work needed to tackle such an industry had her path altered by hearing the words, “it is not all about the formal education.” She was already working in wine public relations but the idea that she could be a winemaker was beyond what she thought was possible.

It was June 2020, when the world had been turned upside down due to Covid and Napa Valley wineries, which are known for their incredible hospitality and bringing wine lovers from all over the world to their vineyard paradise, not being allowed to have visitors. This was not only a blow to starting relationships with new customers but also threatened relationships with valued club members whose fierce loyalty allows a wine producer to continue with the highest quality practices even when it doesn’t equate to financial sense. And so Hall Wines, located in Napa Valley, under the leadership of their impressive owner Kathryn Hall with the help of her assistant, Morét Brealynn Chavez, was trying to pivot, like everyone else

Morét Brealynn
Photo Credit: Morét-Brealynn Wines

Morét had been initially brought on as an independent contractor to manage a book tour for Kathryn Hall, which included over 40 different stops around the U.S. with events and visits to media outlets, and so, when Kathryn’s previous personal assistant left due to family reasons, Morét became the ideal replacement as these women had really gotten to know each other over the tour. After Covid hit, Morét helped organize Hall Wines’ virtual “Happy Hour” that would often highlight Kathryn talking to celebrities such as Tina Fey and stars in the wine world too. One of those wine stars was Adam Lee, previous owner and co-founder of Siduri Wines, a winery that specialized in Pinot Noir wines from Oregon’s Willamette Valley to California’s Santa Barbara County and everywhere else in between, and today, makes tiny production Pinot Noir wines from two of the most iconic vineyards in Santa Lucia Highlands, California, under his new winery’s name Clarice Wine Company.  

The Beginning Of A Partnership 

After Morét heard Adam talk on the show and was already impressed by what he had accomplished in the wine world, she signed up to become a Clarice wine club member once a slot became available. She kept in contact with him and she would join him to check out a vineyard from time to time, as Adam consults with many wineries, she would tag along to soak up everything and anything she could learn. Before coming to Hall Wines, she worked for another Pinot Noir specialist, Kosta Browne. She says she was the “annoying little sister” at Kosta Browne because she would go into the winery and ask anyone who would give her the time every question under the sun and even though it would seem that she was meant to be in the winery, her aversion to waking up extremely early made the idea of getting into marketing the wines much more appealing.

Yet the vineyards and winery still held an undeniable draw for Morét and during those vineyard visits with Adam, she knew that her next step in finding her place in the wine world would be to work with him as he needed more help with his Clarice Wine Company as he started to take on major consulting projects.

Adam Lee
Photo Credit: Clarice Wine Company

Due to the August 2020 fires that affected Santa Lucia Highlands, Adam did not need a new employee and called Morét to tell her the bad news and was so happy to hear that she had kept her job at Hall Wines. ‘Yeah, totally,” Morét responded with a slight sink of her heart as something felt so right about joining Adam. But she didn’t give up; she followed up with calls asking him what he was doing and if they could meet up so she could pick his brain and through time, they started dating with the idea that she would join him at Clarice in 2021. Adam always wanted Morét’s opinion when it came to tasting barrels and he noticed a potential within her that was untapped so one day he said, “You have a really great palate, have you ever thought of becoming a winemaker?” She immediately thought that was impossible as she was a psychology major who initially did such important work as being a teen center director for the Boys & Girls Club until her visits to Sonoma tasting rooms ignited a serious passion for wine.

“I was a history major that focused on the comparisons of the French and American prison systems,” Adam said in response to her concerns and he certainly had already carved an impressive name for himself as a well-respected winemaker.

Morét-Brealynn Wines 

Morét Brealynn with her rescue dog
Photo Credit: Morét-Brealynn Wines

After Morét and Adam found some excellent Pinot Noir fruit in the Russian River Valley, her wine brand Morét-Brealynn Wines was born, even though she is proud of coming from a large Mexican family and her Chavez lineage, she only uses her first and middle name for her label. As she noted, “Sometimes last names change,” and she shared the great news that she and Adam were engaged. She is still unsure if she will change her last name at this time and Adam certainly supports her keeping it if she so chooses. Her first vintage, of 2021, is receiving praise; she is already sold out of her Russian River and her single vineyard Lakeview from the Green Valley area of Russian River is running low. In the future, she will also make a Heintz single vineyard Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley. 

Another project that Morét and Adam are starting is called ‘Stray Dogs’ and ‘Stray Cats’ that benefit stray animals, with proceeds going to local and national humane societies. The concept behind the wines is to take barrels that did not make the final blend for the wines of Clarice, Morét’s Russian River wines and Adam’s clients, which all include stellar vineyards, and create a Pinot Noir blend for ‘Stray Dogs’ as well as a Muscadelle white wine blend for ‘Stray Cats.’ Even though Morét jokes that they are the mutts of the lineup, it is more accurate to say they are like Goldendoodles because, for example, the ‘Stray Dogs’ Pinot Noir comes from top vineyards such as Garys’ and Soberanes, and so, it is blending the best of the best.

A New Venture 

Adam and Morét have started a new joint venture with a vineyard land owner named John Wagner, with no relationship to the Caymus’ Wagner family. John owns Peake Ranch Vineyard and John Sebastiano Vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills, a cool-climate wine region on the Central Coast of California, who has come onto the wine scene over the past five to eight years with some lovely vineyards. He already has some very impressive wineries such as Siduri, Foxen and Dragonette buying fruit from him but the business model of being a grape seller of premium fruit is maddening to John, especially considering he is a physicist who became a founder of a hedge fund who is now a grape grower and winemaker. John said to Adam that he felt that the business model made no sense – he had no idea how many tons of grapes he would sell because yields can significantly vary, pricing can drastically go up and down and the hype of a vintage, before wines are even made, can either make or break deals between wineries and growers in the premium wine world.

Adam had wanted to make a more affordable Pinot Noir from high-quality vineyards in California, just like the one he had when he first fell in love with Pinot Noir. Adam didn’t drink premium wine growing up in Texas, so during one of his college breaks, he visited a friend in California who had moved there. During that visit, he drank a wine that ultimately changed his life, a 1984 Rochioli Pinot Noir, the first red wine he ever liked. At the time, it cost a mere $13 which he figured would be priced at $35 in today’s money. Yet the cost of grapes, marketing, packaging and everything else would require the price to be over $100 and Adam himself has to price his minuscule production of his Clarice Pinot Noir at $95. But if it wasn’t for Adam’s ability to have such an outstanding Pinot Noir at such a young age, he might have never become passionate about wine and he worries that the young people of today will never get the opportunity to taste great Pinot Noir. 

Busy Signal and Dial Tone
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

And so Adam, Morét and John all came up with an idea that Adam and Morét would take any premium Pinot Noir grapes he couldn’t sell and handle the winemaking and selling of the wines with a guarantee on return as long as he took care of the cost of the packaging; any profits after the guaranteed return get split evenly. The wines are called Dial Tone and Busy Signal, with pricing around $29 and $39, respectively. Dial Tone doesn’t see new French oak, while Busy Signal gets around 10%. The labels are bold colors on drawings of old telephones that give a wonderful retro vibe and it has been so successful that they are working with John to get more fruit (not just leftovers) that will be earmarked for this project.

A Life That Isn’t Linear 

Life doesn’t always work linearly. Those who feel trapped within that linear mindset and feel they need to know their path from the very beginning to achieve anything significant can miss out on their true calling in life. Adam Lee proves that someone doesn’t have to check all the superficial boxes to become an important winemaker shaping the wine world. And such is true for Morét, whose insatiable appetite for knowledge and lack of ego about her own talents and brilliance made her an incredible sponge yet she was fortunate enough to meet someone who empowered her to see her own potential. As both Adam and Morét decide the blends for all their wine projects together; whoever comes up with the best blend for a particular wine or vintage will be the one to determine that blend.

There is no doubt that Adam Lee was a big part of helping to make Americans fall in love with premium Pinot Noir and now, with Morét, a new chapter begins where he is going back to his roots of making tiny production of outstanding wine as well as making Pinot more available to the next generation, possibly on a larger scale in the future.

Sometimes the best journeys have many ups and downs, twists and turns and a few surprises along the way. The next chapter seems exciting for Morét and Adam and it is only the beginning.

***Link to original article on Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2023/07/23/new-california-pinot-noir-winemaker-with-mexican-heritage-and-her-great-partnership-with-renowned-pinot-noir-expert/

Morét-Brealynn Wines
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

Morét-Brealynn Wines

2022 Morét-Brealynn, Rosé of Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, California: 100% Pinot Noir. A very pretty nose with red strawberries and lilacs with a nice amount of weight on the mid-palate, stony minerality and a lifted finish with bright acidity.

2021 Morét-Brealynn, Russian River Valley, California: 100% Pinot Noir. Deliciously delightful with plum tart, fresh blueberries and hints of jasmine with lots of energy and drive on the palate with tarragon and cherry compote.

2021 Morét-Brealynn, Lakeview Vineyard, Russian River Valley, California: 100% Pinot Noir. A lot more earthy with an intense minerality, crushed rocks and complex layers of forest floor and dried porcini mushrooms with a lovely purity of fruit and lots of vitality with a touch of lushness mid-palate with fine tannins.

Stray Dogs and Stray Cats
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2021 Morét-Brealynn ‘Stray Cats’ Sonoma County, California: 100% Muscadelle. Salty minerality and lemon zest with juicy peach flavors and citrus blossom.

2021 Morét-Brealynn ‘Stray Dogs’ Central Coast, California: 100% Pinot Noir. Broken earth, black cherries and warming baking spices on the nose with dried herbs and fine tannins on the palate with a floral finish.

Dial Tone and Busy Signal

2021 Dial Tone, Santa Barbara County, California: 100% Pinot Noir. Right off the bat, floral nose and fresh raspberries with lots of vibrant flavors on the palate, such as cranberry and fresh sage with silky tannins.

2021 Busy Signal, Sta. Rita Hills, California: 100% Pinot Noir. Intense concentration on the nose with strawberry preserves, crushed rose petals and cinnamon sticks with a broad palate and a soft texture that, through time, opens up with a multi-faceted aromatic and flavor profile.

Clarice Wine Company

Clarice Wines
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

For Adam Lee, much of the foundation of his wine career goes back to Rochioli, with the first red wine he loved, to advice that he got from Tom Rochioli himself. Tom told him to harvest young vines riper than normal as what one doesn’t get in complexity, one gets in big, ripe effusive fruit character. And that is why, earlier in his career, when he owned Siduri, he would pick wines riper as many of the vineyards were younger. Even though he never initially imagined selling Siduri, the business had become so big through its success that the winery began to run him. And so, when the vineyards he had been working with started to gain enough age to show complexity, he still felt he had to pick riper grapes, as Siduri’s loyal customers expected. And so, after he sold Siduri, he decided to start Clarice Wine Company in Santa Lucia Highlands. Today, he is making the wines he has always wanted to make from older vines that are picked earlier, as well as using a high amount of whole cluster during the winemaking process, around 75% whole cluster on the 2021s wines, to produce wines that have complexity, structure, elegance and longevity that are meant to be aged or have with food.

The below wines are either a blend of Garys’ Vineyard and Rosella’s Vineyard or a single vineyard bottling of one or the other. These vineyards are the top ‘grand cru’ vineyards of the area owned by two men, Gary Pisoni and Gary Franscioni, who are considered the founding fathers of the high-quality wine movement in the area while still keeping their multi-generational farming roots alive. Adam Lee is very close to both men and it is a partnership that goes beyond making wine.

2021 Clarice, Santa Lucia Highlands, California: 100% Pinot Noir and a blend of Rosella’s and Garys’ Vineyards. Perfumed nose with layers of floral qualities such as rose oil and lavender candy with ripe cherries and bright acidity. A lovely balance on the palate of weight, structure – silky yet with a subtle firmness that gives a nice framework to the wine and juiciness of red and black fruit on the palate.

2021 Clarice, Garys’ Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, California: 100% Pinot Noir. Lots of earthiness on this wine with dark, brooding fruit with a hint of star anise giving it an aromatic lift that is elegant on the palate with blackcurrant leaf and gravel that has a linear drive.

2021 Clarice, Rosella’s Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, California: 100% Pinot Noir. Multi-layered nose with tobacco leaf, savory spices and brambly fruit with a texture reminiscent of silk ribbons that gently caresses the palate with an extremely long, expressive finish.

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6.4 Million Wine Bottles Stored In One Of The Most Quality Conscious Winery Cellars In The World

La Rioja Alta S.A. estate
Photo Credit: La Rioja Alta S.A.

The excitement could be felt in the air as the winemaking team and the executive team started to taste wines that were aging in bottles for their Rioja Reserva wine as the release date onto the market was soon. It had aged three years in barrels and three years in bottles, much longer than local regulations require. Many devoted restaurants and retail stores around the world have been waiting in great anticipation for this wine as it is not made in every vintage; on average, six vintages are released in a decade. But as the group tasted the 2002 vintage, right before bottling the wine, the winemaker Julio Sáenz said, “I am not happy with this wine.” There was dead silence for what seemed to be an eternity. “My God, you had six years to tell us that, and you are just saying this now,” exclaimed the company president. 

La Rioja Alta S.A. estate with mountain range in background
Photo Credit: La Rioja Alta S.A.

This high bar is nothing new for the Rioja wine producer, La Rioja Alta, S.A., founded in 1890, as they have held wine back in barrels to age longer many times, or they would not make a wine – which has happened many times, or if a wine is not living up to expectations, such as an assessment made at the last minute, then sometimes all of the wine bottles have to wait in the cellar for a lot longer, even though the customers are expecting delivery of these bottles soon.

La Rioja Alta ensures they have plenty of wine barrels, around 50,000 at last count, so if a bottling needs to go back to cask, that is always an available option. And they have eight years’ worth of stock with 6.4 million bottles in their cellars; another vital part of high-quality traditional Rioja winemaking is aging in bottles to allow the wine to express all its multifaceted qualities. 

Good Enough Is Not An Option

Guillermo de Aranzábal Agudo, president of La Rioja Alta S.A.
Photo Credit: La Rioja Alta S.A.

“It was really risky,” said the president of La Rioja Alta, Guillermo de Aranzábal Agudo, regarding holding back the 2002 Viña Ardanza Reserva. The relationships they have with longtime restaurant and retail accounts that service Spanish wine lovers anxiously waiting for the next Viña Ardanza is one of the most important things and he would never want to jeopardize even one of those relationships, let alone all of them. But La Rioja Alta has such a devoted following because they would never release a wine that wasn’t ready. When someone buys a bottle, he knows he can drink it that night and have an excellent experience. So, even in the toughest of circumstances, when a wine is about to be released, they have to take the more challenging road of disappointing their customers with a delay so they never have to disappoint with quality.  

Guillermo de Aranzábal Agudo, president of La Rioja Alta S.A.
Photo Credit: La Rioja Alta S.A.

La Rioja Alta only uses their own vineyards to source grapes for their wines and they make their own oak barrels, too, using American oak that is exported from the US and ages at their La Rioja Alta winery for three years, located in the historic town of Haro in the Rioja wine region of Spain. American oak and Rioja wine have a beautiful relationship that goes way back; hence, La Rioja Alta only uses American oak to keep the traditional style alive. When it comes to racking their wines, siphoning the wine from one vessel to another to separate the sediment, they achieve this task by hand racking the wine by candlelight from barrel to barrel so they can see any fine particles or haze and only four workers have enough experience in the winery to be given this task. They rack all the barrels twice a year and if one of the workers finds anything odd about any barrel, Julio will come in and taste it with his team and run analysis on the wine; if any barrel is considered even slightly unfit for any reason, it is not used. Due to this diligent racking process, the wines do not need to be filtered and according to Guillermo, filtration takes some of the aromatics and flavors out of the wines. 

Winemaker Julio Sáenz in the winery
Photo Credit: La Rioja Alta S.A.

Yet La Rioja Alta is taking quality control practices to another level by installing sensors in wine cases shipped to various markets to collect real-time data about temperature, humidity, light and vibration. The wines can leave the winery in perfect condition but since the bottles are a long way from the final customer’s hand from the winery, there could still be issues during transportation and storage, so, they need to ensure that all countries where they export wines receive them in ideal conditions. 

Established From The Beginning 

Viña Ardanza vineyards
Photo Credit: La Rioja Alta S.A.

s Guillermo looked at a bottle of their excellent 2005 Gran Reserva 890, he noted that the ‘890’ on the label was to honor 1890, the year they were founded and when the mission to make great wines at all cost was conceived. During that first year, La Rioja Alta brought in a French winemaker who pushed for barrel aging as he wanted to make wines built to age. There were many ups and downs throughout the several decades as it took a while before Rioja was taken seriously as a fine wine region. But today, La Rioja Alta still keeps to that mission and seems to even become stricter with their quality control, as in over 130 years, they have only made four vintages of their very top wine, Viña Ardanza – ‘Selección Especial’ Reserva, which are 1964, 1973, 2001 and 2010.

But when someone says to Guillermo that he is ultimately in charge of the fate of the wine because he is the company’s president, he replies, “Yes, I am the president, but the boss is Julio.” Guillermo’s family has been involved with the La Rioja Alta winery for five generations and from the beginning, the priority was to have a great winemaker who would go to great lengths for the best wine possible and today, he is not only living up to that priority but every day brings in new tools to empower Julio to go even further. 

***Link to original article published on Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2023/06/23/64-million-wine-bottles-stored-in-one-of-the-most-quality-conscious-winery-cellars-in-the-world/

2016 La Rioja Alta S.A., Viña Ardanza Reserva
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd
2005 La Rioja Alta, Gran Reserva 890
Photo Credit:
Cathrine Todd

2016 La Rioja Alta, S.A., Viña Ardanza Reserva: 80% Tempranillo and 20% Garnacha. Guillermo calls this wine “the archetype of Rioja” as it blends Tempranillo from the sub-zone Rioja Alta and Garnacha from the sub-zone Rioja Alavesa, each from their classic home. Tons of freshness and vibrancy to this wine with ripe red raspberries and orange peel with a subtle underlying note of smoldering earth and dried bay leaves with a long, flavorful finish with hints of nutmeg and purity of fruit that is just stunning at the end. 

2005 La Rioja Alta, S.A., Gran Reserva 890: 95% Tempranillo, 3% Graciano and 2% Mazuelo. A very concentrated wine with succulent flavors of cassis and blackberry liqueur that has enticing hints of baking spice and toasted coconut, displaying the incredible heart of the marriage between American oak and Rioja wine with a silky texture and multilayered finish with new leather, truffles and still plenty of fruit to balance the complex notes perfectly. Fantastic!

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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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