Posts Tagged ‘Spring Mountain’

A Ridge Zinfandel retrospective and then some

Several weeks ago, my good friend Matthew suggested the following idea:  Hey, I have some bottles of wine that need opening, so how about if we do a tasting at your place and invite over some wine peeps? My answer: Hmm, O.K.!

The theme for the evening: A Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel retrospective, all pulled from M’s cellar.

In the wine world, Ridge is the stuff of legend. Located in the Santa Cruz mountains and about 1 hour 15 minutes from San Francisco, Ridge is world renowned for consistently producing some of the very best wines that the U.S.A has to offer. Along with a range of Zinfandel based wines from vineyards in Sonoma, Napa, and Paso Robles, Ridge also produces  Cabernet Sauvignon, a Bordeaux inspired red, and chardonnay from the Montebello vineyard located up in the Santa Cruz mountains.

The iconic 1971 Ridge Montebello Cabernet Sauvignon placed 5th (and above 9 other French and Califorina wines) at the 1976 Judgement of Paris blind tasting. On a more personal note, the 1978 Ridge Montebello Cabernet Sauvignon (purchased on a whim with my friend Eric)   is hands down the best California wine I have ever tasted. What a sublime and absolutely memorable experience.

Matthew has been a member of Ridge’s ATP (Advance Tasting Program)  for over a decade. Within that time Matthew has amassed a formidable collection of Ridge single vineyard wines, most of which include Zinfandel and Rhone based reds. So what’s a guy to do when the cellar is full and more wine is on the way? Open (more than) a few bottles and share them with your friends!

DB breakin' it down..Ridge style

Our tasting group that evening was comprised of myself, Matthew, Stephanie, Keelyn, Wolfgang and Wes. Serendipitously, one of the invitees that evening was my good friend Dan Buckler, Ridge’s Regional Sales manager and our special guest star. As we tasted through the lineup, Dan introduced each wine by detailing the history, geography, soil makeup and vinification practices of each wine.

A good student of the vine: Matthews' tasting notes

Below is list of wines that we uncorked, tasted and enjoyed that evening. My contribution to the evening involved an enormous crock pot of braised short ribs, mashed potatoes, and a garden salad to pair with this fine selection of hearty american Zins.



Flight # 1 Ridge Dusi Ranch Zinfandel (ATP)


Ridge’s Dusi Ranch bottling comes from a distance parcel of vines located on the estate vineyards in Paso Robles, California.

The Zinfandel vines here are approximately 87 years old, planted on original rootstock, and completely dry-farmed.

1998 Ridge Dusi Ranch California Zinfandel   14,9% abv

100% Zinfandel

1999 Ridge Dusi Ranch California Zinfandel    14,5% abv

100% Zinfandel

2000 Ridge Dusi Ranch California Zinfandel     14,6% abv

100% Zinfandel


Flight # 2 Ridge Pagani Ranch Zinfandel


The Pagani Ranch vineyard is planted to 30 acres of mostly 100 year old Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Mourvedre and Alicante Bouschet.

The gravely loam vineyard, situated along Highway 12 in the Sonoma Valley near Kenwood, experiences to cool, foggy mornings and warm days.

Pagani Ranch is generally cooler than either Geyserville or Lytton Springs.

1998 Ridge Pagani Ranch California Zinfandel  14,2% abv

88% Zinfandel, 9% Alicante Bouschet, 3% Petite Sirah

1999 Ridge Pagani Ranch California Zinfandel  14,1% abv

90% Zinfandel, 7% Alicante Bouschet, 3% Petite Sirah


Flight # 3 Mazzoni Home Ranch California Zinfandel  (ATP)


The Zinfandel, Carignane and Petite Sirah from the Mazzoni / Home Ranch Vineyard was originally planted by Italian immigrant Guiseppe Mazzoni and his fourteen year old brother in law Abramo Trusendi at the turn of the 20th century. The vineyard is situated on the west side of the Alexander Valley and just north of Geyserville. The head trained, spur pruned vines are planted in gravelly, clay loam soils and are dry farmed.

1999 Mazzoni Home Ranch California Zinfandel 13,7% abv

50% Zinfandel, 32% Carignane, 18% Petite Sirah

2000 Mazzoni Home Ranch California Zinfandel 13,7% abv

47% Zinfandel, 47% Carignane, 6% Petite Sirah


Flight # 4 Ridge Lytton Springs California Zinfandel


Ridge’s Lytton Springs vineyard lies just north of the town of Healdsburg in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley.  Here, 100+ year old Zinfandel vines, along with a smattering of Carignane, Petite Sirah, Mataro (Mourvedre) and Grenache are planted on benchland soils comprised of gravel and clay. Each varietal is fermented separately using only natural yeasts in order to preserve the individual characteristics of the fruit from the vineyards.

1999 Ridge Lytton Springs California Zinfandel  14,5% abv

70% Zinfandel, 17% Petite Sirah, 10% Carignane, 3% Mataro (Mourvedre)

2000 Ridge Lytton Springs California Zinfandel   14,8% abv

80% Zinfandel, 20% Petite Sirah



Flight # 5 Ridge Geyserville California Zinfandel


Ridge’s Geyserville estate vineyards are located on the western side of the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County.  Warm days, coupled with cool evening breezes and morning fog provide an ideal growing environment for Zinfandel. In fact, the Zinfandel vines grown at the Geyserville estate are the oldest that Ridge farms. A section of the vineyard known as the “Old Patch” is planted to vines that are 130+ years of age! Throughout the past century, Zinfandel, as well as other “mixed blacks” (Petite Sirah, Carignane, Mataro) have made the deep gravelly loam strewn with river rocks their home.

1998 Ridge Geyserville California Zinfandel   14,1% abv

74% Zinfandel, 15% Petite Sirah, 10% Carignane, 1% Mataro (Mourvedre)

1999 Ridge Geyserville California Zinfandel   14,8% abv

68% Zinfandel, 16% Carignane, 16% Petite Sirah

2000 Ridge Geyserville California Zinfandel    14,9% abv

66% Zinfandel, 17% Carignane, 17% Petite Sirah


Flight # 6 Ridge York Creek California Zinfandel


The York Creek vineyard represents Ridge’s sole Napa Valley vineyard site. The vineyard is located at the western edge of the Napa Valley on Spring Mountain and just north of the town of St. Helena. Amidst a plentiful forest of native Madrone oak, the vineyard lies at 1250-1800 feet above sea level.

The vineyard is named for a nearby creek which flows year round. The higher (than the Napa Valley floor) elevation and cooler temperatures allow the head trained and spur pruned vines to produce fruit with intensity, structure and longevity. Old vine Petite Sirah and Zinfandel excel on the gravelly loam soils of Spring Mountain.

1997 Ridge York Creek California Zinfandel  15,3% abv

95% Zinfandel, 5% Petite Sirah

1998 Ridge York Creek California Zinfandel   14,9% abv

88% Zinfandel, 12% Petite Sirah

1999 Ridge York Creek California Zinfandel (Late Harvest)   16% abv

98% Zinfandel, 2% Petite Sirah

2000 Ridge York Creek California Zinfandel    15% abv

88% Zinfandel, 9% Alicante Bouschet, 3% Petite Sirah


Many thanks to Matthew for providing these Ridge gems from his cellar, and to Dan for his insight and expertise!

Next: Mumu and Susan on la route du vin to Napa’s Howell Mountain.




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Birgitta Togni and Mumu tasting on a cold winter morning..

After a tour of the vineyards and winery, Birgitta Togni led me through a tasting of various cuvees and vintages as she and Lisa described winemaking practices at the domaine.

All of the hand-harvested grapes, which are generally picked with sugar levels at around 25 brix, are brought into the winery and de-stemmed. After a 3 day cold soak, the must is inoculated and the fermentation will commence in stainless steel tanks, with temperatures reaching a warm 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit. Fermentation generally takes between 10-12 days, with 2 daily pump overs (done by hand of course).

The barrel room @ Philip Togni

When fermentation is complete, the wine is pressed, and then racked several times off its gross lees before being placed into French oak barriques (Nadalie, Taransaud) for a period of 20 months.  Malo-lactic fermentation takes place in barrel, rather than in tank, as the Tognis believe that in that manner the wine flavors become more integrated. The press wine and free run juices are always aged separately, only to be re-blended just prior to bottling.  The wines are never filtered or fined. 

The lineup..

Here is list of the wines that I tasted with Birgitta Togni:


2007 Philip Togni Tanbark Hill Cabernet Sauvignon            $40

 2006 Philip Togni Tanbark Hill Cabernet Sauvignon            $52

 The Tanbark Hill cuvee is produced from a single plot of younger vines on the domaine. Both the 2006 and the 2007 vintages are composed of 100% free-run Cabernet Sauvignon. With its softer and more supple structure, this elegant red does not require as extensive ageing as the Cabernet lineup below.  


2007 Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon                   $90

 2005 Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon                   $95

 The vineyard source and winemaking have been discussed above.


1999 Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon –Library Release   $115      

1998 Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon –Library Release   $130     

 1991 Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon –Library Release   $250

 The Tognis also hold back a portion of their annual production and release such wines 10+ years down the road. On this particular day I had the good fortune to taste the three vintages above. Suffice to say that these wines have stood the test of time magnificently. In particular the 1991 was an absolute treasure. The more primary black currant fruit notes characteristic of ripe cabernet sauvignon have taken one step back to reveal nuances of black tea, dried herbs and cigar box.

Just  as we finished tasting our last still red wine, Philip Togni dropped in just in time to introduce us to perhaps the most unusual dessert wine currently being produced in California..

Ca' Togni..inspired by South Africa's Constantia

 2004 Philip Togni Ca’ Togni Sweet Wine  (375ml)             $55

Ca’ Togni is something truly special. Inspired by Constantia, the famous dessert wine from South Africa produced during the 18-19th centuries, this sweet red wine made from Black Hamburgh is harvested late in the season when the grapes have begun to shrivel and sugars become especially concentrated. This process is also known as “passerillage”.  At 14.2% abv, it  is wonderful lightly chilled and on its own at end a great meal, or it can be accompanied with chocolate truffles and a selection of blue and aged cheeses. Annually, only about 1 barrel of this unusual wine is produced.

What a fantastic way to top off our visit and tour of Spring Mountain. We will certainly be back up in these parts again soon..perhaps later in the spring (Stuart Smith recommends a picnic in the vineyards overlooking the valley)!

Good bye Spring Mountain..Next stop..Argentina!!


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Sly & the Family Stone says: (Togni is a..) FAMILY AFFAIR

Sly & the Family Stone sings..It's a (Philip Togni) Family Affair

The final stop on our Spring Mountain road trip brings us to Philip Togni Vineyard. This 25 acre domaine is discreetly tucked away from Spring Mountain Road. No signage alerts the visitor to this family owned and operated enterprise. After successfully locating the unmarked gate and entrance to the winery, Scott and I were warmly greeted by Lisa Togni. She proceeded to take us on a tour of the winery, before introducing us to her parents, Philip and Birgitta.

A view of the vineyards at Philip Togni

A view of the Philip Togni vineyards @ 2000ft above sea level

Up here at 1900-2000 feet elevation, Philip and Birgitta Togni planted their first Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon vines in 1981. Their first harvest occurred in 1983. Since then, the Togni’s have focused their energies towards the exclusive cultivation of Bordeaux red wine varietals. More specifically, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

Due to the vulnerability to phylloxera, the vineyards were re-planted in the early nineties. Today, the Togni vineyards are established over approximately 10 acres comprised of 20 separate blocks, all of which are dry farmed and hand harvested. The vineyards are comprised of the following:

 80% Cabernet Sauvignon

15% Merlot

3% Cabernet France

2%  Petit Verdot

 The total annual case production hovers at around 1500-2000. 50% of this is sold directly to clients via the domaine. 35% can be found in select restaurants and retail establishments. The remaining 15% makes its way abroad to countries like Germany and Japan.

"Sir" Philip Togni

Having studied under Emile Peynaud, while earning the Diplôme National d’Oenologie at the University of Bordeaux, Mr. Togni’s formative winemaking years are deeply rooted in France and traditional winemaking techniques. Philip also worked as the assistant Régisseur or manager at the venerable Château Lascombes. It is during this period that he developed a particular affinity and appreciation for the elegant and ageworthy wines of Margaux.  In addition to great Bordeaux, Mr. Togni also maintains a predilection for fine Italian wines from the Piedmonte.

Scott and Birgitta Togni

Philip Togni Vineyard is truly a small and tightly knit operation. Birgitta Togni is in charge of the vineyards throughout the growing season. Only at harvest will the domaine take on an additional 6-7 individuals. An exception to this family run enterprise is the indispensable Salvador Sanchez, whom we met on our visit.  Salvador can, and does do just about anything at the domaine. On this day he was busy sanitizing barrels old school style..

Salvador Sanchez at Philip Togni

Sulfur prep..

Philip and Birgitta’s daughter Lisa, whom you met at the beginning of this post, is also an integral piece to the Togni puzzle. In addition to living, breathing and drinking all that is wine for over 2 decades, Lisa has gained valuable experience over the years by working harvests at Chateau Leoville-Barton and in Australia. Lisa also holds a Masters degree in business administration with an emphasis in the wine trade. She is poised to take over the domaine within the next several years. When Philip and Birgitta are ready to turn over the reigns, it appears that this small domaine will remain in extremely capable hands.

The next generation -Lisa Togni

In my next post, I’ll cover my tasting and conversation with Birgitta Togni!

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Several miles up the road from Guilliams Vineyards, Scott and I took a right at a cluster of mailboxes, traveled a bit further, and found ourselves in front of this navigational masterpiece..

Which way to Smith Madrone?

The yellow arrow indicated, TURN RIGHT! So we did..and followed the bumpy road towards our next rendez-vous at Smith Madrone.

 After driving through a dense thicket of trees, we arrived at what seemed to be the top of the world. What an incredible place to grow and make wine. Smith Madrone sits on approximately 200 acres way high up on Spring Mountain. The winery was founded in 1971 by Stuart Smith, and joined soon thereafter (1973) by his brother Charles as head winemaker. The winery takes its name from the Smith family as well as the evergreen Madrone tree that thrives in this region.

On top of the world -at Smith Madrone

On these mostly steep mountainside vineyards, approximately 35 acres of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling have been planted, with a considerable portion of the vineyards dating back to 1972. Stuart Smith describes how certain slopes and exposures have been selected for each of the different varietals. More specifically, eastern exposures for Riesling, more western exposures and some of the flatter expanses for Cabernet Sauvignon, and the coolest, north-facing zones for Chardonnay.  Approximately 1000 cases of each varietal are produced each year, which does not amount to a whole lot of wine. 


One lucky dog -Curly of Smith Madrone

Just past this vineyard Scott and I were greeted by the Smith Madrone mascot, muse and welcoming committee Curly, who affectionately greeted us with abundant tail wagging and a big muddy paw. If I could come back to this earth as an animal, I sure hope that its to live the life that Curly does. What a lucky dog!

Charles and Stuart Smith (and Curly!) -of Smith Madrone

Spring Mountain men Charles and Stuart Smith (and Curly too!)

Curly made sure that Scott and I found our way to the winery entrance, where we got warm, (and not so muddy) handshake from Charles Smith. Whew, we made it! Shortly thereafter brother Stuart arrived and we began tasting through a selection of wines, which included the current release of Cabernet Sauvignon (2004) Chardonnay (2007) and Riesling (2008). We dipped into a bit of recently vinified 2009 Riesling from tank, which tasted like the freshness and promise of spring, no kidding!

Winemaking at Smith Madrone is very hands on and “artisanal” in the purest sense of the word. Barrel fermentation, sur lie ageing, open top fermenations..Yes! Micro-oxygenation, reverse osmosis, excessive fining and filtering..No!

Where were you in 1978..1979..1980..1981..1982


Beautiful mountain fruit, combined with judicious yet restrained winemaking practices make for a range of wines that not only showcase what they are-yes delicious, but more distinctly where they are from-Spring Mountain. And like the mountain upon which these vines grow, these wines can certainly stand the test of time.


For more photos taken at Smith Madrone, please check out “les photos”

For additional information on Smith Madrone, I highly suggest taking a look at the excellent winery website too.



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As promised, below you’ll find a list of  wines that Scott and I tasted with John Guilliams not too long ago. If you had the chance to read my earlier posts on Spring Mountain and Guilliams Vineyards, then you already know just how these wines are made and the specific terroir from which they derive.


2005 Guilliams Spring Mountain Merlot

2006 Guilliams Spring Mountain Cabernet Franc

2005 Guilliams Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

2005 Guilliams Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon “Reserve”

1992 Guilliams Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

I will spare you (and myself)  the cherry, berry tasting notes and instead mention that the common thread that I found in these wines was that they possessed a quietude or sense of calm to them…kind of like someone who is so comfortable “in their own skin” and with who they are that they can just be.

These wines don’t need to impress you with excessive amounts of ripe fruit, alcohol, glycerin or oak. Instead, they just seamlessly slip into where they are needed most (i.e. with your next filet mignon, pot roast or grilled game bird) and discreetly take the occasion to a higher level. More like a great conversationalist than a braggadocio, the Guilliams wines greatly impressed me with their elegance and Zen-like calm.

The art of being -Guilliams 1992 Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

Next up:  Smith Madrone and Curlie!

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Guilliams Vineyards -Artisanal Winemaking in the US of A

My photo montage of Guilliams Vineyards

Just up the road from Terra Valentine we found the sign and entrance to Guilliams, our next winery visit. If you’re not paying attention, you could blow right past it. Perched up on a hill, the house that John Guilliams built by hand over 30 years ago overlooks the winery’s modest 7 acres of vines at approximately 2000 ft. above sea level.

Guilliams Vineyards -About .25 miles up the hill from Terra Valentine

 Discovering this beautiful spot, as well as the desire to find a place of  great natural beauty and diversity was what led Shawn and John Guilliams to set down roots here on Spring Mountain in 1978. Prior to this, the young couple had “migrated” from the Bay Area, where John had recently graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Engineering and Conservation of Natural Resources.  With the magnanimous help and advice of several of their Spring Mountain neighbors (think Fred Aves of Terra Valentine), the Guilliams planted 7 acres in 1979 to 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. Seven different soil types were identified, which John studiously considered when deciding where and what to plant. The winery was bonded in 1983, and the first official Spring Mountain Estate wine release was off and running in 1985.


A view of the vineyards from the Guilliams house and winery 

Since that time not too much has changed at Guilliams, wine wise that is. The entire 7 acres of vines is generally harvested over a period of 3-4 weeks, in order to ensure the ideal ripeness of a particular group of vines. Fermentation takes place in small lots (often less than one ton) with punch downs done by hand. Elevage takes place for 20-24 months in French (mostly) Nevers barrique. 

At this winery, French oak is much preferred to American oak.  John adds, “With ripe, sweet  fruit, I much prefer to delicately season the wine with subtle notes of vanilla and buttescotch rather than dill and coconut.” Regarding fining and filtering of the wines, there are no hard or fast rules. Each wine and vintage has its distinct qualities, in which John’s cumulative years of experience will dictate how the wine is treated.

Elevage at Guilliams

The annual case production hovers at an artisanal 1000-1200 cases, most of which is dedicated to the Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon blend. A considerably smaller production of reserve Cabernet Sauvignon as well as estate Merlot and Cabernet Franc are also produced.

60% of Gulliams total sales are done at the cellar door, which goes to show how “connected” to the vineyard Guilliams customers are.  Boutique without being “cult”, old school and understated, visiting Guiliams felt like I was a heartbeat away from one of my favorite (and all time great) producers in France, Domaine de Trevallon. If you are of the mindset that that elegance and artisanal do not exist in the Napa Valley, I highly suggest that you get to know the “house” the Guilliams built. In my opinion it does not get more authentic than this.

 In my next post you’ll find out more about what we got to taste at Guilliams. Please stay tuned!

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After our tour of the vineyards and winery, and while sipping on glass of Terra Valentine viognier, Scottie and I sat down to a tasting of Terra Valentine’s current releases. Below you’ll find a list of exactly what the tasting entailed, however since the focus of this trip was the AVA of Spring Mountain, you’ll find that I covered the estate grown wines in more detail below:

Terra Valentine Tasting:

2008 Terra Valentine Viognier Russian River Valley

(fruit is sourced from one vineyard in the heart of the RRV: Sunny View Vineyard)

2006 Terra Valentine Pinot Noir Russian River Valley

(fruit is sourced from three vineyards: Freestone, Morelli Lane and Campbell)

2007 Terra Valentine Amoré Super-Tuscan Style Sangiovese

(90% Sangiovese sourced from Atlas Peak, 7% cabernet sauvignon the Wurtele Vineyard,  3% merlot from the Yverdon Vineyard.) 

Terra Valentine's entrée de gamme -Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

Terra Valentine’s 2006 Spring Mountain District Cabernet (note: the label shot is of the 2005) is a great place to start if you’ve never had wines from this domaine. Medium + bodied, with supple tannins and notes of blackcurrant, espresso nib and just the slightest touch of smoke and crushed violets this is a mountain cab that can be enjoyed tonight and over the next several years with perhaps a steak off the grill, pot roast or burgers slathered with sautéed mushrooms. It’s rich (without being too rich or over extracted) balanced, and very user friendly. The fruit here is sourced from 14 different blocks amongst both the Yverdon and Wurtele (81%) Vineyards. The wine is aged in 20 months in French oak barrels, of which 35% are new.

retail: $38

Terra Valentine's Wurtele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

Terra Valentine’s Cabernet Sauvignon from the  “Wurtele Vineyard” (pronounced wer-tul) is named after the winerys’ present owners Angus and Margaret Wurtele. Sitting at an elevation range of 600-1000 feet above sea level, this 35 acre vineyard was planted in 1990 exclusively to Cabernet Sauvignon. The layout of Wurtele is most unusual in that the vineyard is planted in a circular exposure around the knoll of the mountain. This circular planting allows for various exposures, and ultimately fruit characteristics depending upon where the vines are planted. The Wurtele Cabernet Sauvignon was aged for 22 months in 45% new and 55% once used French oak barrels. The wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered.

A bit more intense and structured than the Spring Mountain Cab, The 2005 Wurtele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is one for the cellar. Dark berried fruit, plum, tobacco and grilled bread definitely show promise, however I would tuck this one away, forget about it, and enjoy more of Spring Mountain Cab while I wait. I suspect that it will be more forthcoming in 3-10 years. Oh good, something to look forward to!

retail: $60

Named after a Swiss Merchant town -The Yverdon vineyard

 Terra Valentine’s Yverdon is the newest kid/vineyard on the block, but also the one that in my opinion shows the greatest potential. Not to say that this 25 acre vineyard doesn’t have deep historic roots, but it is this vineyard that the Wurteles and their vineyard team have dedicated a considerable amount of time towards restoring and improving. The Yverdon vineyards (the name of the winery before the Wurteles purchased the domaine in 1999) are planted at altitudes ranging from 1,800-2,100 feet above sea level. The Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Syrah and (miniscule amount of) Riesling mean that these vines produce true mountain fruit. The vines here are young, with re-planting having only started in 2001, however extensive research has been dedicated towards soil mapping and clonal selection give me great confidence that as these vines dig deep, establish their roots systems and hit their stride that wines from the Yverdon vineyard will produce great wine.

The 2005 Yverdon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon showed a bit less intense than the Wurtele. However what it lacked in comparative intensity it made up for in effusiveness. More open and silky than the Wurtele, with crushed red berries, cassis, and a touch of clove, I could certainly enjoy this wine now and over the next 5+ years with braised meats, or roasted leg of lamb.

retail: $70

Next up: Guilliams!

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