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Archive for the ‘la route du vin – travel’ Category

The following morning had us up early and out the door at 8:30.  Our focus today was on the appellation of Margaux, so we piled into the van and headed south, approximately 25 minutes to our 9 a.m. appointment at Château Margaux.

Steve G. and Mumu visit Chateaux Margaux

Rated as one of four first classed growths awarded in 1855, Château Margaux is the stuff of legend. The domaine produces its first wine or Grand Vin known simply as Château Margaux.  It also produces a second wine known as le Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux. A white wine, called Pavillon Blanc is also produced.

The domaine is rather large, encompassing approximately 650 acres. 200 acres are planted to (mostly) cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet france and petit verdot. 12 acres are devoted to sauvignon blanc, which is used to produce the Pavillon Blanc.

tasting at Chateaux Margaux

Our group was led into the central chai where we tasted through the 2010 vintage of all three wines.  Lots of note taking, scribbling..along with a few oohs and ahhs emitted from our group to be sure.

Bordeaux big guns: the MWB and Ralph S.

At one point I snapped this pic of K&L’s Bordeaux big guns, Clyde Beffa and Ralph Sands. 2011 marked Ralphs 41st trip to Bordeaux. Clyde has been coming and tasting the each new vintage in Bordeaux even longer than Ralph. Unbelievable. If anyone knows Bordeaux wine in terms of what to look and taste for it’s these two veterans.

Bordeaux over achieving Chateau Palmer

Our next tasting appointment brought us to Château Palmer.  Located in the communes of Margaux and Cantenac, this “super” third growth rated domaine is generally considered among the vinous elite of the left bank..right up there with the super seconds like Cos d’estournel, Pichon Lalande and Montrose.

The property’s approximately 125 acres of vineyards include 47% planted to cabernet sauvignon, 47% planted to merlot and 6% to petit verdot. And in rather atypical fashion, Château Palmer utilizes at least 40% (and sometimes as much as 60%) merlot in the final blends. Along with the meticulous vinification procedures one might expect in the production of a super premium wine like Palmer (hand harvesting, triage, temperature controlled fermentation, regular pigeage and (4)rackings) the wine spends 21 months in 45% new barriques.

Chateau Palmers' 2010s

In addition to the estate’s eponymous Grand Vin, Château Palmer produces a second wine known as the Alter Ego de Palmer. The first release of this second wine was in 1998. Like its big brother, it is comprised of a considerable portion of merlot, and sees around 17 months of elevage in 25-40% new barrique.

The annual production at Château Palmer stands at approximately 20,000 total cases.  The Grand Vin accounts for around 12,000 cases, while the Alter Ego de Palmer tops out at approximately 8,000 cases.

Jean-Luc Zuger of Malescot St. Exupery pours his 2010s

Another excellent third growth is Malescot St. Exupery, which is where we were headed next. Owner and winemaker Jean-Luc Zuger tasted us on both the 2009 and 2010 vintages.

Note: amongst the classed growths in Bordeaux, it seems almost atypical to have the owner of a domaine also be responsible for the vineyards and all vinification as Jean-Luc is. What is commonplace in just about every region in France seems to be the exception to the rule amongst the elite Bordeaux estates.

pick a vintage, any vintage...

Our final tasting appointment in Margaux included Château d’Angludet. We met up with James Sichel, on of five siblings who represent the sixth generation of the famille Sichel to be involved in the business of wine.

The estate is comprised of 81 hectares (197 acres), of which 32 (78 acres) are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. There are approximately 10,000 cases of the estate wine produced annually, and 3100 cases of the Angludet’s second wine, Moulin d’Angludet.

I have always had a real liking for the wines from d’Angludet. This domaine, rated a Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel, is never the biggest or the flashiest of the bunch, however to me they always exude elegance and refinement. Perhaps the Grace Kelly of Bordeaux. Pick a vintage..any vintage..and your sure to get a flash of old world elegance and finesse.

NEXT: the wines of St. Julien and lunch with Anthony Barton!

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gravel..gravel..gravel @ Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion

After lunch Clyde, Mark, Kerri, Ali and myself set off for an afternoon of tastings in the Graves region. We arrived at Château la Mission Haut-Brion just in time to meet up with the rest of the party fresh K&L Bordeaux contingent (Ralph, Trey, Alex and Steve) who had just flown in from Paris.

Originally constructed in the early 16th century amongst a pastoral setting, today the grand domaine of Château la Mission Haut-Brion is surrounded by the city of Bordeaux suburban sprawl.

On stony, gravelly soils, its approximately 21 hectares, (52 acres) are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc in the A.O.C. of Pessac Leognan.

The afternoon lineup..

Directly up the road from La Mission is the entrance to Château Haut-Brion, which is one of the 5 first class growths anointed in the 1855 classification. Similar to La Mission, the Château Haut-Brion vineyards also lie on gravelly soils interspersed with mounds of clay.  Approximately 48 hectares (119 acres) are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot,Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.  Just under 3 hectares (7.1 acres) are planted to white varietals, which include Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc.

As both Château Haut-Brion and Château la Mission Haut-Brion are presently owned by Domaine Clarence Dillon, our tasting that afternoon included the 2010 releases of wine from both of these domaines.

Clyde, Kerri, Mumu, Ali and Mark..

Here is a rundown of the wines that we tasted:

Château La Mission Haut-Brion

2010 La Chapelle de la Mission Haut-Brion

2010 La Mission Haut-Brion

2010 La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc    (formerly known as Laville Haut-Brion Blanc)

 

Château Haut-Brion

2010 Le Clarence de Haut-Brion (formerly known as Bahans Haut-Brion)

2010 Haut Brion

2010 La Clarté de Haut-Brion

2010 Haut-Brion Blanc (only 500 cases made!)

For a complete vintage report as well as tasting notes of all the 2010 Bordeaux that our team tasted, check out the 2010 K&L Bordeaux report!

Elevage at La Mission Haut-Brion

Our visit concluded with a brief tour of the grounds and chai, which includes this magnificent barrel room., which along with the formal tasting room, was completely renovated in 2007.

Team K&L strike a pose at Chateau Pape Clement

Our next scheduled tasting that afternoon was at Château Pape Clément . In addition to being ranked as a Premier Cru in the 1959 Classification of Graves, this venerable domaine also holds the title as the oldest wine estate in Bordeaux.

Le Pape des Vignes: Pope Clement V

Its vineyards were first planted in the year 1300, by Bertrand de Goth and perhaps more famously known as Pope Clement V. At the time, only red wine grapes were planted to the vineyards. In case you are wondering, this is the same (of French origin) pope who moved the papal court from Rome (actually he never left France) to Avignon for a period spanning 67 years (1309-1378).

During this period, also known as the “Babylonian Captivity”,  Pape Clement V’s successor John XXII erected the famous castle in the winegrowing region known as Chateauneuf-du-Pape (the pope’s new castle).

Tasting at Chateau Pape Clement

Fast forward about 8 centuries and Château Pape Clément is still going strong, this time under the ownership of Bernard Magrez, the French wine magnate who also owns also owns Château La Tour Carnet in the Haut-Médoc. In the photo above, Monsieur Magrez can be seen tasting wine in the far left corner of the room. The gentleman in the blue shirt next to him is the domaine’s consulting oenologist, Michel Rolland.

Our tasting here included not only the 2010 releases of Pape Clement but an introduction to many of the estates that Magrez has developed and owns across the globe which include Spain, Chile, Argentina and California.

For more photos of Château Pape Clément’s beautiful grounds and glorious past please check out Les Photos to the right.

Is there room at the inn? Chateau Ormes de Pez

As our first tasting day wound down, it was time to head north to our “crash pad” for the next several evenings.  About 45 minutes north of the Graves in the A.O.C. of Saint-Estèphe we arrived at Château Ormes de Pez.  This illustrious domaine is presently owned by the Cazes famille, who also own Château Lynch-Bages.

A toast to Bordeaux 2010!

This beautiful estate and its grounds are where we unpacked our bags, changed into something more comfortable, and toasted to our first day in Bordeaux!


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Bordeaux 2010 begins at Château Malartic- Lagravière

Over the river, through the woods, and across a roundabout is how myself and team K&L arrived in Bordeaux not too long ago.  The occasion? The Union des Grand Cru des Bordeaux was holding its annual en primeur week, where wine professionals and press from around the world descend upon the region to taste the newest vintage before the wine or prices are released.

From April 5-7th, tastings were held throughout the region and included the communes of Graves,  Pessac-Leognan, Listrac-Medoc, Haut-Medoc, Margaux, Pauillac, Saint-Estèphe, Sauternes & Barsac, Saint-Emilion and Pomerol. As you can already imagine, a lot of young, full-bodied 2010 Bordeaux was going to be tasted. And we were ready for it!

Bordeaux 2010: I will be filling you in on some of the highlights of this amazing, once in a lifetime trip. It was my first time to Bordeaux, and I am grateful to have been invited to participate with and learn from the best (this is a shout out to Clyde B. and Ralph S.).

Here is my tweet on the 2010 vintage: Bold, rich fruit, with a rich mid-palate. Ripe, yet tannic structure with impressive acidity. Built for the long haul. Prices will be off the hook for classed growths.

Let the tasting begin!

Our first stop was at Château Malartic-Lagravière, located in the commune of Pessac-Léognan.  Just beyond the magnificent chateau and estate vineyards, the tasting hall was in full swing with paticipants lining up to sign in and grab their i.d. badges.

Once inside, the best of Graves and Pessac-Leognan were in attendance.  At this first tasting I had the opportunity to taste approximately 40+ wines from throughout the region.

The vineyards of Château Malartic-Lagravière

Domaine de Chevalier, Château La Louviere, Château Haut-Bailly; these were several of my top picks for the region in 2010.  In the next few days and fresh off the press, K&L Wine Merchants  will release its annual Bordeaux vintage and tasting report which will include a detailed vintage report as well as tasting notes on the hundreds of wines that were tasted throughout this trip. I will be sure to include a link when it becomes available!

Hospitality by Barry Flanagan at Chateau Smith Haut-Lafitte

After knocking out this first tasting, our stomachs were grumbling. One cannot live on wine alone! So we hopped back into our 8 person passenger van and high-tailed it over to Château Smith Haut-Lafitte.

Displayed amongst the vines and throughout the estate are wonderfully evocative sculptures from artists around the world.  The gigantic rabbit/hare seen above and named “Hospitality” is the work of Welsh sculptor Barry Flanagan.

Clyde Beffa a.k.a. the MWB contemplating a stay at Les Sources de Caudalie..

In addition to a world winery, the grounds are home to Les Sources de Caudalie, a first class spa and retreat.  Les Sources also boasts two delicious dining venues. La Grand’Vigne, which presents the ultimate in fine dining spa cuisine, and La Table du Lavoir, a more casual bistro style restaurant where Clyde had reserved a table for lunch that day.

Enjoying a break in the action @ La Table du Lavoir

Clyde, Kerri, Mark, Alison sat down to casual an oh so civilized lunch before heading back out for a second round of tasting that afternoon.

And what to drink with such a delicious lunch? (I ordered the beef carpaccio with vegetables and hazelnut and the sea bream a la plancha). How about a bottle each of 2006 Château Malartic-Lagravière Blanc and 2007 Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge?

Believe it or not, our group tried to keep our lunch and wine consumption on the light side as a) we had to drive to our next destination b) there was indeed some great wine to be tasted, and we needed to be “on point” to do so. Our plan was to meet up with a second group of K&L folk who had just arrived from Paris.

We finished lunch with a delicious lemon tart, a couple of canelé. I fortified myself with a shot of espresso and then we were off to an afternoon of tastings at Château Pape Clement and Château Haut-Brion.

For more photos of lunch at La Table du Lavoir, please check out Les Photos on the right hand side bar.

 

More to come from Bordeaux 2010!

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The original gangsta: Dunn Vineyards

When I first asked my colleague Mike Jordan, our domestic wine specialist at K&L, for advice regarding whom I should visit up on Howell Mountain, Dunn Vineyards were the first words out of MJs mouth.

Along with Philip Togni across the way on Spring Mountain, MJ described Dunn as an “old school” family run winery that year in year out produces ageworthy and distinct wines that totally reflect the soils and environment from which they come.

No two vintages taste or age alike, and experiencing wines from Dunn is more akin to tasting through a retrospective of grand red burgundy (an exercise in vintage variation and terroir) than many Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

Mike Dunn, Susan, Mumu and Randy Dunn

Mike, Susan and I were met by Randy and Mike Dunn for a tour of the vineyards, winery and a retrospective tasting of cabernet sauvignon. Randy Dunn, who is also a UC Davis alum (1975), established the winery in 1979 with is wife Lori. 30 years later, Dunn Vineyards is very much a family affair, with son Mike coming on as cellar master and the assistant winemaker.

In 2003 Mike Dunn and his wife Kara also started their own project, Retro Cellars, which features petite sirah grown on the volcanic soils of Howell Mountain.

Enter at your own risk!

But before we dipped into the winery cave (literally, as you’ll see), Mike took us on a quick tour of the vineyards, located just a stone’s throw from the cellar door. Perhaps more effective than a no trespassing sign, this vineyard mascot (wild boar anyone?) captured my attention!

Way up and above the fogline: the vineyards of Dunn

In 1981 Dunn released it’s first vintage, which amounted to 660 cases of 100% Howell Mountain cabernet sauvignon. A year later, the winery released its first Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Today, Dunn farms 24 acres of cabernet sauvignon vineyards and an additional 6 acres of several other varietals, including these petite sirah vines shown above.

Currently Dunn produces around 2500 cases of Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and 1500 cases of Napa Valley bottling, which includes up to 15% cabernet sauvignon from the Napa Valley floor.

The Napa Valley Cabernet is generally considered more user friendly and approachable sooner than the more structured and tanninc 100% Howell Mountain bottling. However both wines can definitely stand several years in the cellar and then some before they really hit their stride.

Red wax for the Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvigon

Although both wines are robed in a no nonsense, no frill sash like label, the most obvious way to tell them apart is by their respective closures. The Napa Valley bottling is finished with a foil seal, while the Howell Mountain bottling is finished in red wax.  Mike provided us with a quick demo of how the waxing is done. When it’s time to wax the new release of Howell Mountain cabernet, about 100 cases worth (1200 bottles) can be hand dipped a day.

 

step into the Dunn wine portal..

Next we were off to Dunn’s winery cave, which was completed in 1989 and is used for wine storage and elevage. This cave, along with numerous others like it found on Howell Mountain, provide excellent natural temperature and humidity control for wine.

Dunn’s elevage regime includes approximately 75% new French oak every vintage, and over a period of 30 months. Ageing these bottles in a conventional above ground and temperature controlled cellar for 2.5 years would cost a small fortune in heating/cooling bills.

The ultimate earthwork at Dunn

At the end of the long cellar corridor, I spotted what appeared to be a relic of or portal to an ancient world. Mesopotamia? The Mayan Empire? This formidable relief was also seeping some type of primordial looking ooze.  Turns out, this end of the line marked the point where the enormous drill bit used to carve out these cave stopped and pulled out. Stumbling upon this dramatic earthwork is one of the coolest things I have ever seen at a winery.

After a tour of the vineyards and cellar, it was now time to taste some wine! Randy Dunn led us through the tasting and provided additional commentary on each wine. Additional wine tasting notes for each wine are available on the Dunn website too.

True to the varietal, this young 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon exhibits lots of deep, rich blackcurrant and blackberry fruit, along with notes of bittersweet chocolate and mineral notes. Full bodied and fairly tannic,  with a rich and lush mid palate that finishes with formidable tannins, I would give the wine a 3 year head start before opening.  Then try it with grilled steak or pork roast. 13.9% abv.

Bump up the structure and intensity one notch and you’ll arrive at the 2007 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. Along with black berried fruits, a distinct earthy minerality prevails, along with toasty nuances courtesy of barrel ageing in French oak. The tannins here are a bit more strident as well, providing the opportunity to age this mountain wine a good 5-7 years before enjoying. 13.9% abv.

Ah, now we’re talking! Open and let this 1997 take in a bit of air and stretch its vinous legs so to speak. Medium + bodied, this 13+ year old red is growing up just fine. Dried berry fruits, notes of violets, crushed autumn leaves and toasted nuts are still supported by a good spine of acidity and a fine tannic structure. 13.0% abv.

At 23+ years of age, this stately and mature Howell Mountain red is drinking beautifully.

The dark blackcurrant fruits of the young 2007 have over time given way to deep and spicy red fruit nuances. Dried hibiscus flowers, along with light dash of cedar make for a Howell Mountain red that exudes finesse and elegance. I would try this with some sort of game bird..perhaps squab or pigeon? What a lovely wine! 13.0% abv.

Many thanks to Randy and Mike Dunn for the tour and tasting of one of Howell Mountain’s true originals!

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Team K&L: Melissa, Mumu, Susan & (Theo)bromine

By the time Susan and I wrapped up our visit at O’Shaughnessy, lunch was calling..as was our friend Melissa, who was to meet us down the mountain in St. Helena. Melissa, who also works at K&L Wine Merchants, was up for the day visiting several wineries too.

After a quick lunch “in town”, the 3 of us headed back up Deer Park Road for our afternoon appointment at Ladera Vineyards.

After our initial photo op in front of the winery, we were greeted by Jerry Baker, Ladera’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing. Jerry’s 30+ years in the wine business, including 15+ here in Napa definitely qualified him as a resource and authority on the wines and history of Napa Valley.

The chai of Nouveau Medoc Vineyard: est. 1886

Speaking of history, this particular winery certainly has an illustrious one.  In 1877, two Frenchmen, Jean Brun and Jean V. Chaix, found themselves enchanted with the land and potential of Howell Mountain.  Brun & Chaix quickly set about planting Bordeaux varietals and named their winery Nouveau Medoc Vineyard. With approximately 115 acres under vine, Brun & Chaix became California’s 13th licensed winery.

Yes, the engraved stone above reads: 1886.. the year that the beautiful stone winery of Brun & Chaix was completed. By California / Napa Valley standards this domaine definitely qualifies as “Old School”.

A 19th century gravity flow winery in action

An Italian stonesman by the name of Frank Guigni, along with a team of Chinese workers (most of whom had immigrated to California during the state’s gold rush of the mid 19th century) built the Brun & Chaix winery with rock from a quarry located on Howell Mountain.

The sweat, determination and ingenuity that went in to completing the stone structure is very evident as we toured the building.  Not only are the stone walls a formidable 30 inches thick, (how’s that for sweat and determination) but the entire winery was constructed such that the entire winemaking process would utilize gravity flow.

More specifically, grapes would arrive by horse on the top level of the building. Vinification would take place on the second, or middle floor, and ageing would take place on the lower or first floor.  At every step of the winemaking process, the wine would naturally flow downwards to the next level, thereby avoiding the use of pumps to transfer wine from one vessel to another. Not only was this less damaging to the wine, but gravity flow also proved to more cost effective.

Same as it ever was: The Ladera chai in the 21st Century

Fast forward to 1980, when the property (which endured a tumultuous 100 years of social, viticultural and political history) was purchased by Francis and Francoise DeWavrin. As former owners of Bordeaux’s Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion, the DeWavrin’s knew a thing or two about wine.

They renamed the property Chateau Woltner, replanted much of the acreage, this time including Chardonnay, and released their first vintage in 1985. When the DeWavrin’s decided to retire at the turn of the century, the domaine was sold to it’s present day owners, Pat and Anne Stotesbery.

ENTER THE NEW SCHOOL:

Under this new ownership, the Stotesbery’s made several significant changes. First, the chardonnay vines were replaced with traditional Bordeaux varietals, most of which included cabernet sauvignon, along with merlot, petit verdot and malbec.

Second, the Stotesbery’s decided to both preserve and continue the tradition of the Howell Mountain property by giving the original Jean & Chaix cellar a complete renovation.  Today the building as been rightfully restored to its former magnificence, and looks pretty much just as it did 100+ years ago.

Third property was to be re-named Ladera, which translates to hillside or slope..naturally in reference to the topography of Howell Mountain itself.

 

Enlightened with this detailed history of the winery,  it was now time to taste some wine! Jerry took us through a selection of Ladera’s current releases.

First, Ladera’s 2009 Howell Mountain Sauvignon Blanc, which is grown on several of the cooler sites on the property, where red varietals such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot will not ripe adequately.

However these cooler sites are perfect for the production of crisp and brisk whites like this SB. Ladera practices about 15% barrel fermentation (the rest in stainless steel) in order to impart a bit of mid-palate richness to the wine.

Grapefruit, a bit of green melon and a hint of vanilla spice make this a great choice for folks in want of a crisp white that is not as stridently mineral or grassy as a Sancerre of New Zealand SB. $25

Next, Ladera’s entrée du gamme, or entry level so to speak, is their 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Although comprised of 100% estate grown fruit, the vineyard sources include the property’s Howell Mountain (57%) as well as their Lone Mountain (43%) vineyard down at the foot of Mt. Veeder.

Lots of rich dark berried fruits and plum shine here, along with hints of dark chocolate and spice. Fine, ripe tannins and only a modest amount of noticeable oak make this cuvee ideal for enjoyment now and over the next 4-5 years. At under $40 a bottle, I think that it represents on the top values in Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. .not trying to be too big for its britches (not over ripe, over oaked), just a delicious and balanced representation of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

 

 

Ladera’s two flagship wines come from two distinct locations at opposite ends of the Napa Valley. Tasted together, they represent a great exercise in the subtle differences that location or terroir will often impart to a finished wine.

The 2006 Ladera Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon comes from volcanic rich soils grown on gently sloping hillsides at an elevation of 1,600-1,800 feet above sea level. As they vineyards sit well above the fog line, the growing season is (relative to Napa Valley floor) a relatively long one. Fruit for the 2006 was harvested between late September and the first of November.

Ladera’s rendition of Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is big, deep and full-bodied. Described as such, I still found it to possess a fine elegance..perhaps even gracefulness about it.  Dark berried fruits, black tea, dried lavender and a very fine mineral note running through the wine are for me characteristics point to a mountain wine grown on igneous soils like volcanic or granitic rock. (like the northern Rhone). $70.

In contrast, the 2006 Ladera Lone Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon hails from a steep vineyard site approximately 15 miles south Howell Mountain. Here, largely sedimentary soils composed of clay and loam provide the backdrop for Lone Canyon’s 75 acres of vineyards. In addition, the steep vineyards lie at an elevation of 1,100 feet above seal level.

Bigger, broader and a bit brawnier than its Howell Mountain cousin is how I would describe the 2006 Lone Canyon. In addition to blackberries and plums galore, there’s a dried fig nuance to this wine as well. In addition, it’s structure is definitely more rough and tumble.  The texture/mouthfeel is not as refined as the Howell Mountain, and the tannins are more strident to boot. $65

I would suggest hanging on to both of these wines for several years before enjoying them. I suspect that at point the subtle differences that I picked up will be even more evident and enjoyable..hopefully with a beautiful herb grilled steak or roasted leg of lamb!

Thanks to Jerry Baker and Ladera Vineyards for the great tour and tasting!

NEXT: A visit to Dunn Vineyards

 

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The first official wine trip of 2011 took my colleague Susan Thornett and I up north to the Napa Valley. Some of you might recall that just about a year ago, Scott Beckerley and I braved the stormy weather and pouring rain for a trek up to Spring Mountain.

Well this time around the weather was much more amenable to our cause. Sunny skies (at least when we hit 1400 ft. above sea level) and a crisp 60 degrees F or so was just perfect for a wine adventure!

Howell at the Mountain..let's go!

So let’s get to it! In the next several weeks we’ll take a tour in, around and through the vineyards and wineries that make Howell Mountain such a unique place. We’ll be making visits to old school, new school and super new school (you’ll see what I mean) wineries:

O’Shaughnessy

Ladera Vineyards

Dunn

Cimarossa

CADE

I’ll also introduce you to the growers, winemakers and other Howell Mountain wine folk who so enthusiastically share their passion for the vines and wines of the region.

In order to get you up to speed so that we can hit the ground running, you’ll find a couple of handy maps below, as well as some key factoids on the region.

courtesy of Napa Valley Vintners

District: Howell Mountain

Region: Napa Valley

A.V.A. granted: 1983 (Napa Valley’s first sub-appellation)

Location: On the northeast side of Napa Valley in the Vaca Mountain Range and around the town of Angwin.

Latitude: 38.5 degrees

Elevation: Vineyards lie across the Napa Valley from and above the town of St. Helena. Virtually all of the vineyard sites lie above the fog line, between 1400- 2200 ft. above sea level. Most vineyards are planted at 1800 feet above sea level and on southwest facing slopes.

Climate: Cool days and warm nights, especially compared to the Napa Valley floor. Maritime with significant influence of winds from Pacific Ocean. Mornings are generally warmer than temperatures on the Napa Valley floor, however afternoon temperatures can be cooler due to Pacific maritime influences.

Annual rainfall: 40-50 inches (135cm)

Soil: Shallow soils composed of decomposed volcanic ash, volcanic rock and clay rich in iron provide poor fertility but very good drainage.

Chief Viticultural Hazards: spring frost, Pierce’s disease, phylloxera

 

courtesy of Howell Mountain Vintners and Growers Association

 

Principal Varieties:

Predominantly red: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Sirah, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Grenache

White: Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc

Total area under vine: 600 acres

Winemaking: Various, although leaning more towards traditional winemaking practices. Vinification mostly in stainless steel tanks for red and white wines. Most reds will age in barriques (225L) for 12-20 months. Many wineries do not fine or filter their red wine.

Number of wineries: approximately 30

Useful and important websites:

Napa Valley Vintners

Howell Mountain  Vintners and Growers Association

NEXT: A visit to O’Shaughnessy!

 

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This past Monday, I found myself wanting to refresh and energize my soul with a bit of high culture. For me movies, music and museums always seem to do the trick. A great film, soulful music and a well executed art exhibit always seem to give me a little boost,  a pick me up if you will, and a renewed faith in the human spirit. What can I say, surfing the internet and reading the latest celebrity gossip or breaking news can often leave me feeling very similar to after I’ve eaten a bad greasy donut. Why did I eat that? I feel fat and stupid.

How Wine Became Modern: Design + Wine 1976 to Now is an exhibit currently running at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Monday was my day to check it out!

Per the SFMOMA program guide, the objective of the exhibit was to present.. “An exploration of contemporary wine culture and the role of architecture, design and media have played in its recent evolution-a chance to discover wine as you’ve never seen it before.”

Of course, as I am nose deep in the ‘wine biz’  I was already familiar with many of the concepts and developments presented throughout the exhibit. HOWEVER, I have to say that I was extremely impressed by the works that were presented, as well as how the recent developments (1976 to present) in wine were so artfully conveyed to the viewer.

My first case in point, this re-creation of the famed 1976 “Judgement of Paris” wine tasting, wherein an English wine merchant by the name of Steven Spurrier conducted a blind tasting in Paris with a coterie of (mostly) French and British judges. A selection of french and american chardonnays (10) and cabernet/bordeaux (10)  wines were tasted blind and rated on their intrinsic qualities. After the tastings and critiques were made covered bottles were revealed.

The results sent shockwaves through the world of wine. The #1 wines in each category were not from the hallowed vineyards of Burgundy or Bordeaux, but from the sunny shores of California. 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay had run the gauntlet and beaten the big guns. As a result of this historic tasting, wine from the new world and more specifically California transcended to a whole new level of prestige and acceptance. A new world age in wine had officially begun.

In homage to this historic tasting (only one journalist was present), the design firm of Diller, Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) created this fictionalized mural depicting what perhaps the Judgement of Paris tasting entailed. From a visual standpoint, the mural was a striking piece and one of the first installations that the viewer enjoyed after reading up on the actual event.


From the Last Supper-esque Judgement of Paris mural, I entered the darkly lit “terroir” room. Here (I believe) 14 wineries from across the globe were showcased in the exhibit.  I’ve zero-ed in on Germany’s ambassador, the venerable J.J. Prum and the “Sundial” or Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard. In the circular glass case, crushed shards of mostly blue slate yield some of the most elegant and mineral laden wines of Germany’s Mosel wine region. Vines of 30-44-50+ years of age struggle to find their way through this metamorphic rock, and the results truly express the unique terroir (soil, aspect, climate) of the vineyard.

The concept of terroir really hit home when I rounded the corner and was presented with this stunning specimen of a vine. a cabernet vine: “Vine in two Parts” was comprised of an American 110R rootstock below and a cabernet sauvignon clone 7 vine grafted onto it above. The vine was planted in 1985 and uprooted in 2010. At 8+ feet, one really gets a sense of of how these vines root themselves to and then ultimately transmit the terroir or specific characteristics of their immediate environment.

This video presentation was being projected on the museum floor, thus simulating the viewpoint that one would experience if employing the high tech practices of precision viticulture. Utilizing global positioning systems (GPS), meteorologic stations and digital elevation models (DEM) wineries are able to fine tune their viticultural practices and increase yields, while mitigating environmental risks. This video is a 1 minute, edited version of the original. The music track (Crystal Castles II, Empathy) is my doing as well.

Wine and wine growing isn’t all science to be sure. A beautiful display of blown glass decanters were also showcased directly behind the PV video installation. This stunning “petit coeur” or little heart/aorta from artist Etienne Meneau is a new found object that I am coveting. As you can imagine, the production on this piece is extremely limited.

A third room revealed an impressive gallery of photographs. One instillation, which took up an entire wall, was a profile of approximately 30 wineries around the world exemplifying cutting edge, modern design. In particular, one winery profile that resonated with me is located right in my back yard, at least from a global perspective.

CADE winery is located in Napa Valley’s Howell Mountain district. In addition to it’s beautiful minimalist modern design, CADE is Napa Valley’s first organically farmed and LEED Gold certified winery. There aren’t too many of these wineries around (Stoller Vineyards in the Willamette Valley is another) and I am impressed with their commitment towards building a striking and environmentally sustainable winery.

In 2000, a 6L of 1992 Screaming Eagle sold at auction for the staggering price of $500,000. Such is the fame or infamy of cult wines.

How do these wine ultimately fetch such stratospheric prices and become such objects of desire? Some would quickly point out that critiques from publications like the Wine Advocate (Robert Parker) and The Wine Spectator are considerable factors.

Since its first publication in 1978, Robert Parker and his monthly publication the Wine Advocate has reviewed thousands upon thousands of wines and rated them using a 50-100 point scale. Over the past 30 years he himself has developed a cult-like following, with collectors waiting with bated breath to quickly scoop up wines that Parker anoints with 95-96-97 and once in a great while 100 point ratings.

Juxtapose Parker’s monthly publication (no pics, tons of tiny text) to Kami no Shizuku, the Japanese magna that moves and shakes the wine drinking world of Japan, Asia and beyond. Translated in english to “the drops of God”, this ongoing graphic series follows a young hero by the name of Shizuku Kanzaki as he must uncover the identity of 13 of the greatest wines (12 “apostles + the legendary Kami no Shizuku) as described in his late father’s will.

However time is of the essence, as the young wine neophyte must compete against his half brother, a gifted sommelier no less, in order to succeed and ultimately inherit the wine collection worth ¥20 billion.

To say that Kami no Shizuku influences the Asian wine world is an understatement. It rocks it. Whenever a particular wine is featured in the comic (and they’re not always cult or super pricey wines) sales go through the roof. Apparently, a feature in Kami no Shizuku is as good as a 95 point rating in the WA.

My friend Valerie, who lives in the Rhone Valley and represents the Cave de Rasteau, recently brought me two installments of Kami no Shizuku. The next time I am in France, I will be sure to seek out additional copies. They’re great fun, and for me a really refreshing and inventive way of presenting wine.

Much like this exhibit. I certainly didn’t cover all of the installations at How Wine Became Modern, but hopefully this synposis has peaked your interest. If you are in SF between now and April 17th 2011, I definitely suggest you stop by the SFMOMA for some vinous inspiration and education.

NEXT: A Ridge Retrospective

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