Uncorked Ventures Blog
About Easton Wines: A standout among Sierra Nevada Foothills growers for well over a generation, Bill Easton is among the only growers in the region willing to take chances and produce wines that don’t encompass Zinfandel (the grape, which to this day, still will spring up wild among the hillsides). Splitting the winery between Rhone varietals and non Rhones helped Easton to keep things easy for wine sellers and has helped the winery grow in ways that a decade ago, no one thought was possible in the foothills. I will note that Easton put his name on the part of the winery that crafts the non Rhone varietals and calls this his wife’s favorite wine, so I’ll let you have a guess at the quality. With multiple wines during almost every vintage rated at 90 points and above Easton and its sister label (Tierre Rouge) deserves a look when you’re ready to branch out from the uncountable number of choices available in Napa Valley, Sonoma, Santa Barbara and Paso Robles.
H House Red Tasting Notes: A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah which originally came to the forefront of the wine industry from Languedoc France (virtually the only region of the country where new blends are legally possible) the Easton H House Red aims to be an easy drinking, easy choice for a wine any day of the week. I believe you’ll note the standard California Cabernet in play here, solid structure but not overly dramatic in a way that destroys everything around it (like many complain about South American wine) also you’ll note the zesty and spicy flavors that are reminiscent of Syrah very much at the forefront as you get through the bottle.
About Sierra Foothills Wine: When it comes to California wine, there isn’t an older growing region than the Sierra Foothills. When settlers first came looking for their fortunes in the gold covered hills of the Sierra Nevada, they found wild vines growing along their route from San Francisco into the foothills. Those vines encompassed Zinfandel to be sure, but also Petite Sirah and at least three other grapes.
How’d We Get Here? Ok, so yes, it’s French. I know, we typically feature only wines from America’s West Coast. Every so often, we end up having a few discussions and even sampling some international wine, tough job we realize. On even slimmer occasions, some of that wine, we think is important enough to include for our wine club members (if this is a major issue, just email us, we’ll send you a replacement, but we hope you’ll trust us and try this bottle once it is chilled).
First, this is a Picpoul. We think that’s important not only because it’s a great alternative to Chardonnay and especially Sauvignon Blanc, but also because it is one of the few grapes catching on in newer regions of France.
The French, as you might expect, have some of the most strict wine growing and winemaking laws in the world. You couldn’t grow this grape in Bordeaux, Burgundy or Champagne. Luckily for people who want affordable French wine, the Languedoc has avoided this type of labeling and rules thus far, allowing some vintners to actually experiment. Think of Sonoma without Pinot Noir, or California wine without Paso Robles to see examples of why we think, as Californians at least, that experimentation can be helpful to the long term health of the wine industry.
Secondly, both the setup of the winery association and the region itself are important. The Languedoc sits in the southwest corner of the country, along both the Mediterranean as well as the Spanish border. It’s home to much of the innovation in French wine, but is also the only growing region to actively grow every grape type from Cabernet Sauvignon to Syrah and Chardonnay. The winery itself isn’t a winery as much, as a cooperative of growers. It’s a unique set up for Americans to consider because the grapes and vineyards are under a sort of community control, but it’s an important one to recognize because it is both adept at creating a standard style of wine from vintage to vintage, but is also being copied by American growers and vintners in areas like Mendocino and Temecula among others in California.
Tasting Notes by Mark Aselstine: Plenty of grapefruit, citrus and honey. Lighter bodied, crisp and low alcohol make this a nice wine when chilled and served with seafood, chicken or salads. A staple in our house as opposed to Sauvignon Blanc, my wife and I find this a refreshing alternative to other wines.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to sit down with Alan Baker and Serena Lourie who are the husband and wife team behind Cartograph wines. Their story is an interesting one in itself, Alan came to California’s wine country via public radio in Minnesota, bitten by the wine bug like so many others, myself included. He met Serena during his time at a custom crush facility in San Francisco, where after a few vintages he was tasked with helping first time winemakers who were making wine as a fun side project. One of his projects was being the assistant winemaker for Serena who remembered the days of fresh locally grown food and wine from her family home outside of Prentrez France, a small town on the northwestern edge of the country. They came together to craft a single barrel of Pinot Noir for that vintage and reportedly, the idea behind Cartograph was planted.
Cartograph was a personal recommendation from William Allen at Two Shepherds and has come highly recommended from a handful of other sources as well. I was excited to get the chance to meet the people behind the wine and of course, to see if anything they make would be a fit in one of our wine clubs.
Cartograph is in the process of moving their tasting room from a shared facility to their own space, only a few blocks off the main square in Healdsburg. While we haven’t talked about Healdsburg much in this space before, it’s clearly the crown jewel of tourist sites in Sonoma County and offers a range of interesting and unique restaurants and shops. Additionally Alan mentioned that there are a number of other high end Pinot Noir producers opening tasting room’s in the area, making a sort of Pinot Noir alley in the middle of Healdsburg. We’re excited for it.
When I saw their tasting room, it was in essence a large empty space. The floor was marked for where the walls would be placed to create a wine club only tasting area as well as space to sell some additionally products in accordance with the city’s specifications. Seeing the marks on floor made me remember when I was a kid and my parents had found a space to open a Dairy Queen, the space they opened in had previously been occupied by a scrapbook store which had added an additional set of walls. Taking those extra walls down via sledgehammer is still one of the best times that any 9 year old could possibly have.
In any case, I had the opportunity to taste two of Cartograph’s wines: their Gewurztaminer which was shipped in our Exploration Wine Club this month as well as one of their Pinot Noir offerings.
Cartograph has an interesting and perhaps even an eclectic winemaking style at play. The Gewurztaminer is a dry version of the varietal, which isn’t often seen outside of the Alsace France. Alsace is located in the far eastern corner of the country, so the focus in this cooler climate are white wine’s, especially Gewurztaminer and Riesling. Unlike their nearby German neighbors though, Alsace crafts dry white wine’s while Germany’s are typically sweet. We mention all this to simply say that finding a dry Gewurztaminer isn’t exactly an easy proposition even in the old world, let alone in California where it is virtually unheard of.
The Pinot Noir had a similar old world style. It was among the most Burgundian I have tasted in California. As you probably realize, crafting a true Burgundian Pinot in Sonoma isn’t exactly the easiest task in the world. While vines in Burgundy consistently struggle to reach full ripeness, which is never an issue in our California sun.
There are some ways and choices of course, that a winemaker can make in order to get as close to Burgundian growing conditions as possible even on California’s coast. One of those choices means finding vineyards which are both close to the cooling influences of the Pacific Ocean, but when we’re talking about Sonoma, finding a vineyard in close proximity to the Russian River itself as well. The best example here is Cartograph’s Floogate Vineyard Pinot Noir, which comes from a vineyard which sits at the southern end of the river’s flood plane. Being situated in the flood plane means that the soil is incredible from centuries of natural irrigation, has an accessible water table, but more than anything else, is cooler than many vineyards in and around Sonoma. The vineyard also sits almost directly east of the famed Petaluma Gap which is one of the few breaks in the coastal mountains of Sonoma and allows fog and other maritime influences to help cool the vineyard even further. The end result from the coastal and river influences is a vineyard site, among the coolest in inland Sonoma. Unlike some coastal vineyards, ripeness is achieved, but without a higher than wanted acidity.
Other than the wine and the story behind Cartograph, we wanted to feature the winery both in this space as well as with our wine club members because they’re both willing and seem to enjoy interacting with people, both in the trade and outside of it in person and via social media. Alan was quoted in a USA Today article having said
"Good wine is simply the starting point," Baker says. "If you make good wine, you've got a shot. But this is about creating a relationship with people."
It’s the type of attitude that consumers wish was more prevalent in the wine industry. I can feel comfortable sending my friends who enjoy studying wine to Cartograph because there are plenty of interesting wine geeky things happening here, but my friends who are also more likely to have a beer at Russian River Brewing Company than to pay for corkage at Bistro Ralph, would also feel welcome in this tasting room. Creating a space and a winery which works for both sets of people isn’t easily done and I can applaude Cartograph for pulling it off.
Oh and a sense of humor is a good thing:
Vaughn Duffy Rose 2012
About Vaughn Duffy: We’ve been running Uncorked Ventures long enough now to know when we’re about to get a sales pitch. One thing that’s happening with increasing frequency are friends and acquaintances introducing us to their friends who make some wine on the side or want to sell us some other wine related product. For that reason, I was a bit worried when I heard from a friend/neighbor that a good friend of his “makes some wine in Sonoma”. Fortunately, it turns out his friend is Matt Duffy, an honest to goodness real winemaker who has a day job running a custom crush facility called Vinify. Vinify provides space for about 30 wineries to craft their wines, while also granting them access to a shared tasting room. That day job also allows Matt access to not only a group of accomplished winemakers with which to work, but also the vineyards that they own or source fruit from. Those relationships are increasingly showing up in his wines, with a number of incredibly popular high end vineyards now showing up under this start up label including the Stori Vineyard which you might not have heard of because of its small size, but it’s neighbors sound awfully familiar to those who love Sonoma wine: Merry Edwards, Keefer Ranch & the acclaimed Paul Hobbs. As we mentioned in our sidebar, his Rose was named one of the top 100 wines of the year by the San Francisco Chronicle and has been gaining quite a bit of traction in high end restaurants in and around San Francisco. Unfortunately for the average consumer, the city of San Francisco is about where the distribution of this wine ends, so we thought our customers would enjoy trying the first Rose that we’ve ever thought highly enough of, to ship. Duffy’s background is also interesting for a winemaker, he went to UC Berkeley and was the editor of the sports section of the Daily Californian, fashioning himself the next Peter Gammons before settling on making wine and a life for himself in Sonoma. He’s certainly an up and coming winemaker and we think you’ll enjoy his straight forward and crisp style, described by some as more old world than new.
Winemaker Tasting Notes: When tasting the wine we find layers of flavor that we attribute to the multiple Pinot Noir lots, as well as the Syrah. The finished wine shows tropical notes of melon and mango, and has a gentle way about it. The will be best consumed within one year of its release. We think it’s our best Rosé yet.
A Small Secret About Rose: One thing a lot of people notice about Rose, is that you generally don’t see much in terms of vineyard location or anything in terms of a listed AVA (this is listed as the very generic Sonoma County). In many cases, Rose is a byproduct of sorts of other red wine and is sourced as a sort of afterthought or run off. Not here, as one of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Top 100 wines of the year, Vaughn Duffy takes it’s Rose seriously. Grapes are picked at ripeness levels, specific to Rose and then pressed off their skins immediately. What you end up with is (in our opinion at least) a more complex Rose, which in reality is simply a light red wine and not an afterthought like so many others.
Sans Liege is the most recent project by winemaker Curt Schalchlin and we were so impressed with the winery and the price to quality ratio of the project that we decided to feature these wines in two of our wine clubs during May-more on the Grenache offering later, but for now, let’s focus on the Grenache Blanc.
Let’s start with why we were interested in featuring these wines in the first place. One of our favorite tasting trips since starting Uncorked Ventures was a trip to Paso Robles which included an early evening with Russel Fromm and McPrice Myers who make the wine together at Barrel 27 and each have their own personal label (McPrice Myers named it directly after himself, while Russell tried to confuse everyone by naming his Herman Story). We came away from those few hours with not only a good understanding of their wines, some greater understanding of palate fatigue having tasting close to 40 wines and of course with an appreciation for their winemaking styles as well as some of the tope vineyards on the Central Coast.
For some time we’ve been searching for another winemaker who fits squarely into their winemaking style and frankly their pricing, where I strongly believe they leave at least a few dollars on the table with each and every bottle they create.
Enter Curt and Sans Liege.
One of the things we’ve come to like quite a bit about the Central Coast, specifically Paso Robles and much of the Santa Ynez Valley is that the vineyards are relatively easy to keep straight. San Liege boasts a virtual who’s who of vineyard sources that we enjoy. Alta Colina, Bien Nacido, Alta Mesa, Larner and a few others (where’s the Tierra Alta inclusion though?). To us, as outside observes, it’s clear that there’s a serious effort at the highest quality wine here.
Ok, so enough about the background-what about the Grenache Blanc in your glass?
The wineries tasting notes read: Vibrant and cool, the 2012 Groundwork Grenache Blanc is like a English garden impossibly fully bloomed in winter. A fresh nose of tangerine, lemon grass, Bosch pear, white cherry and passion fruit leads to a brightly spiced, mineral laden palate of fresh thyme, star anise, orange blossom, wet flagstone and lemon oil, it finishes with pleasantly trill acidity much like nibbling a meyer lemon.
At our initial taste, we were impressed by the roundness of this Grenache Blanc. When we’ve tried to find other Grenache Blanc’s to ship, we’re often confronted with wines that have a level of acidity that many of our customers would find offputting. That acidity isn’t evident here, although you’re not going to confuse this wine with a class round Napa Valley Chardonnay either.
There is plenty of the traditional slightly spicy finish here as well, which makes Grenache Blanc one of the best pairings with roasted pork chops, or in my house-pork tenderloin
Overall we walked away thinking that this was simply a great summer wine and honestly, one our favorite Grenache Blanc’s that we’ve had in quite some time. We’ve seen quite a few quotes from Schalchlin talking about how he feels inspired by the Northern Rhone (who in Paso isn’t right?) but he goes the next step and creates a wine which the French would find familiar, it’s enjoyable with plenty of fruit but imminently in balance. We’d challenge anyone to find a comparable wine at this $16 price point.
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