Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
August 27, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Cuda Ridge

Every so often, a bottle rolls through the house, or the warehouse and it surprises me so much that it makes me rethink everything I know about a growing region.  It's happened to me with high end bottles from Atlas Peak and much of Santa Barbara County, this time it was Livermore.

Enter Cuda Ridge and their 2012 Semillon.

People who read this blog regularly know one thing about my white wine drinking habits, well maybe two. First, not too much of it goes on, that's one of the reasons that we only offer white wine in one of our three wine clubs.  Secondly, I generally speaking am not a huge fan of Chardonnay, so it seems I am always on the lookout for interesting white wines.

In any case, I have been on the search for an interesting Semillon and as luck would have it, someone close had stopped by the Cuda Ridge winery a few weeks ago (Livermore has become something of a shopping must stop for those of us in the East Bay because it's the closest outlet mall) and brought home a bottle to share with their neighbors.

The best Semillon's made anywhere in the world offer an interesting combination of acidity, freshness and yet still bring a full mouthfeel to the table.  Almost universally, those are made in France. All of those positive aspects come at a bit of a price though, the grape tilts quite often to being sweeter rather than dryer, which is a challenge both in my house as well as with many main stream wine drinkers in America.

The Cuda Ridge Semillon strikes a nice balance throughout and priced at under $20, makes it one of the better versions of the grape that I've run into in some time.

Owned by Larry and Margie Dino, Cuda Ridge crafts approximately two thousand cases of wine per year, making it a small production winery by every sense of the word. Larry comes from a high tech background like so many winery owners in and around the Bay Area, having been the director of engineering at BAE Systems before opening Cuda Ridge. Margie is a RN focused on helping to educate the next wave of medical professionals.

The story of Cuda Ridge, I think helps to explain the upcoming story of the Livermore Valley in general.  Cuda Ridge has begun to receive attention from the main stream wine press including Wine Enthusiast which has rated a vast seletion of their wines between 88 and 90 points.  That's an impressive feat for a winery just now releasing its fifth vintage for a winery from any AVA, but it is especially impressive with a winery coming from Livermore.

We can talk some psychology here and selectivity bias, but generally speaking if you're a wine critic and you see a Texas wine sitting in front of you or a first growth Burgundy, which do you think is going to be a better wine before tasting them?

That's certainly an extreme example, but I think it helps to highlight some of the struggle that's going to come up for Livermore vintners as they begin to take more market share from established regions, like Napa and Sonoma.  Most people don't realize it, but in the days before Prohibition blighted the wine industry in California, Livermore was at least Napa's equal in terms of quality.  It also enjoys almost all of the same advantages, like being about an hour from the city of San Francisco and existing in a warm inland valley, almost the perfect setting for a wine region.

How Livermore continues to improve the quality of both their farms and their winemaking processes over the coming decade wil help to decide exactly where the region falls into the quality map of California wine.  At current, it isn't entirely clear if there's another region poised to join Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles and Santa Barbara among the wine elite.  Good arguments can be made for Lake County, Mendocino, Lodi and even Temecula in addition to Livermore, but Cuda Ridge is a clear example that Livermore deserves more attention from both wine consumers, but also from this wine club.

Mark Aselstine
August 27, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Downtown Napa Earthquake

In the days since I first recorded the video more information has come in and damage from the earthquake looks to be a bit more extensive than I initially thought.  Historic wineries like Ceja Vineyards lost much of their library, which is so unfortunate on so many levels.  That seems to be a common issue here, while the case goods (ie wine already bottled) made out just fine and overall, most of what's in barrel turned out just fine with a few exceptions, cellar's throughout the valley took a pretty bad hit.  I'm sorry to all those who lost anything in the earthquake and hope you find comfort from the wider wine community.

Hey, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. So biggest news of the day, obviously, for the wine industry, there was a 6.0 or 6.1 earthquake that shook Napa Valley over the weekend. There was extensive damage in downtown Napa. The Vintner's Collective on Second, the Hotel Andaz, and quite a few other businesses were either kind of completely shut down for a while while they cleanup or at least suffered some serious damage. There's a couple of high-end boutiques and antique shops that, it sounds like, 80% or so of their inventory was destroyed. 

In essence, you know, I grew up in California, so earthquakes aren't the scariest thing in the world to me, but you just know that anything above a 5.0 and you have breakable stuff and it's kind of located close to you, anything breakable is in trouble. The good news about it is that some of the custom crush facilities, Bin to Bottle... I heard from my friends at Vellum Wine Craft that everything there looks just fine. Most of the high-end wineries are well-enough made that they withstood everything just fine. Still a major problem in Napa, but it looks like everybody is cleaning up, and thanks for the time

Mark Aselstine
August 22, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Treasury Wine Estates and a 100M Loss

Every once in a while, you see or hear a shocking number.  In the wine industry, that's usually a sale price for a single bottle of wine, or the sale price of a winery that may, or may not, be profitable.  In this case, Treasury Wine Estates continues to report results, which have shocked a ton of people.


Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. So the big news of the day is that the guys at the Treasury Wine Estates, which owns Penfolds and Beringer, posted a financial loss of about one hundred million dollars for the fiscal year 13-14. It's a staggering number for the wine industry to be sure, and a lot of people are wondering how in the heck does that happen. Quite famously they had to destroy a lot of wine that they couldn't sell a few months back, because it had passed its usable life expectancy and the sell by date. 

What really happens in the industry is if you think about that $8 bottle of Beringer at the grocery store, the distributor that distributes that pays about 4, give or take. It might be a little less, it might be a little more, depending on if you're talking wholesale or FOB. But if you think about $4 for a bottle of wine, just the cork, the bottle itself run about $1.25 for most folks, even on the cheap end. And then you start getting into how much does it cost you to farm for the grapes, or buy the juice, or buy the grapes, pay your wine-maker, etc, etc. 

Long story short, there are razor-thin margins at play as the market in some places has deteriorated, and there's been better competition from other people. Grocery stores have cut pricing. That even further erodes profits. It's a mess, to be sure. I wish them the best of luck. It's not something that we deal with, as far as price point-wise. There's frankly a ton of other wine clubs, and a ton of other retailers from your local wine store to your local grocery store that would do a heck of a lot better job than we would, when you have to pay for shipping. You know, for us, we're focused more on high quality stuff. Although, Penfolds is quite good. But that's kind of what makes it disappointing and all, and I wish them the best of luck. But yeah, not good news from Treasury Wine Estates, and, you know, quite frankly, not great news for the industry in general.

Mark Aselstine
August 21, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Randall Grahm, Bonny Doon & What's Next for a Pioneer

As an industry, I think giving out what seem like lifetime achievement awards is a dangerous practice, after all for consumers, what someone has done in the past is only relevent in terms of what they might do in the future.  That being said, Randall Grahm has shown a pretty amazing ability to reinvent himself over the years both in terms of winemaking style, but also the very types of wines that he's making.  He also didn't locate himself in Napa, or Sonoma, instead he helped to put the Santa Cruz Mountains on the map and his tasting room location some ten miles north of Santa Cruz, helps to show that great wine anywhere, will be found.

Hi, I'm Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I think the most interesting
thing to come across my desk early on this morning was a Mercury News
which is up here in the Bay Area about Randall Graham who is quite
famously the wine maker and the owner of Bonny Doon Vineyards.

If you're not familiar the name, in some way you probably should be. He was
the original Rhone Ranger in many ways. He, in essence, has put the Santa
Cruz Mountains onto the map along with Reg and a few others, but he
was also one of the first to really believe in Syrah and to make a
conscious and concerted effort to find cool climate vineyards.

If you travel up the coast from Santa Cruz into the city of San Francisco,
you'll pass Bonny Doon Road. So, you know, everybody loves the guy. And so
he's talking now about creating some more customized plantings, even
working with people that you see, Davis and some other researchers, into
how grapes grow and how they multiply into creating some new grape

It's all really exciting stuff, and I think it's a good example of some
people no matter how long we've been in the industry if they're innovative
in 1980, they're oftentimes innovative in 2014. And frankly, it's something
that I'm really interested in.

And I also have a lot of respect for the guy because I know he's helped out
a lot of young wine makers. William Allen at Two Shepherds I know has gotten
a lot of help from Randall over the years both in selecting vineyard sites
to be as cool as possible. The Sara Lee Vineyard in Sonoma comes straight
to mind, but also kind of in his winemaking process and how do you really
truly go about making low alcohol wines in California. It's not the easiest
thing to do.

So in any case, that's kind of what's coming across the desk on Bonny Doon.
If you're interested in tasting a little bit of California history, it's a
good place to look.

Mark Aselstine
August 20, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Owner and Winemaker Michael Parmenter Talks About Vinroc, Napa Valley (Atlas Peak AVA)

Vinroc is one of our favorite project's on Atlas Peak in Napa Valley.  To say that visiting Atlas Peak is a bit like stepping back in time in Napa, is probably an understatement.  The first time we drove up Atlas Peak Road, the locals were waiving to us as they walked down the other side of the street, there's only a handful of wineries with tasting permits, so traffic is sparse.  What winemakers on the Valley floor have known for some time though is that the fruit being grown at Vinroc and other sites on Atlas Peak is among the highest quality mountain Cabernet in the world, from Dos Lagos Vineyards being able to trade their Cabernet grapes for Bob Foley's winemaking to the Red Table Wine project at Vinroc, there's some exciting things happening on Atlas Peak in terms of winemaking, in addition to what is really a long history of growing some of the best fruit in Napa.

Male voice: All right, you're on. Michael: Okay. I'm Michael Parmenter. I'm the owner and the winemaker for Vin Roc wine caves. We're in the Atlas Peak AVA of Napa Valley. Couple of unique things about where we're located, we're at 1700 foot elevation. This valley floor is about sea level, so obviously we're much higher than down on the valley floor. The rocks and soil around here are all volcanic, so we have a bit of uniqueness to our wines, from the volcanic soil. They tend to have a smoky minerality to the Cabernets and the other reds that are grown up here. We get very low yields, because it's not very fertile up here, but we produce some very intense red wines. We're sitting in our cave. We have rock everywhere, including the fact that the hillside above the vineyard is where we dug our cave into the rock. It works wonderful for production of wine and barrel storing. So the temperature here is constant, it's 63 degrees year round. Perfect environment. We do very small production. We do something kind of unique, in the sense that we produce all of our wines in one ton increments. So, we go through the vineyard in different times over the harvest period, and pick one or two tons at a time. We ferment in one ton bins. Each of those bins gives us two barrels, that we age as a separate lot, for two years, before we go through and blend the barrels together. We make three wines. We make a Cabernet, it's 100% Cabernet from our vineyards here on Atlas Peak. We make a red blend that's 50% Cabernet, blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc, that's purchased from . . . they're grapes purchased from other parts of the Napa Valley, to blend with our Cabernet. And then we make a Chardonnay, from grapes that are grown down in Carneros. So, the three wines, I think, are a nice complement to each other. Male Voice: Perfect. Thanks, Michael. That was awesome.