Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
June 10, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Amador County

Mark Aselstine from Uncorked Ventures. So the last couple of days, we've
had a couple of tasting bottles come in the front door from Amador County,
which if you're not familiar, if you leave Napa and Sonoma and head further
east into the Sierra Foothills, that's Amador County. Turley Wine Cellars
is based out there, and they're quite famous for single-vineyard Zinfandel.
And there is a Zinfandel focus. We're also starting to see more Rhones pop
up as far as stuff being grown and vinified both in Amador and kind of the
surrounding counties down in the Sierra Foothills.

I think what's most interesting, though, about Amador County is that it's
kind of home to a lot of really great value in the $20 per bottle range.
Then, in addition to that, because of lower prices and kind of easy access
to markets, like San Francisco, the vintners can be pretty creative with
what they grow. We saw a Semillon, which came out from Amador County, which
was pretty brand new. You'll see Barbera and some other kind of Italian
grape varietals out there. Then we even saw a Touriga a few weeks back,
which is a Portuguese grape that they use to make port, but you have only
seen maybe 200 or so acres planted in the entire state of California.

So if you're looking for something different, if you're looking for
something that's a good value in kind of the $20 and under price point,
Amador County is the spot to look. There are some professional winemakers
out there who are doing quite a nice job, and frankly they don't get enough

Mark Aselstine
June 9, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Atlas Peak Napa Valley

How you doing? Mark Aselstine. This is the base of Atlas Peak. It's one of
the largest AVAs in Napa by square footage, but one of the smallest, in
terms of production. Atlas Peak only produces about a third of 1% of the
total wine made in Napa every year. So, a couple of differences.

One, yes, it's Atlas Peak, so it's a mountain range, 700 to 1500, 2000
even, feet above sea level for the average vineyard. The other interesting
thing is that it sits at well above the fog line. So, in the mornings, it's
sunny, but in the afternoons, like right now, it's still relatively cool.
So, it leads to a much different brand of wine than you get from what you
expect in Napa.

Once again, Atlas Peak. It's an interesting set of vineyards. Stagecoach
has made the area a little bit famous, but most of the other guys are
producing 500, 1000, 2000 cases only. And it's some place that you have to
search out to find.

Mark Aselstine
June 8, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Exploding Corvain Systems, the Ballard Canyon AVA and the City of Sonoma Declines to Limit Tasting Rooms

How you doing? Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures once again. We had a
couple of interesting notes come across the desk this morning, first thing
in the morning. So first, the Sonoma City Council voted last evening about
a few different restrictions on tasting rooms and other kind of winery and
public venue kind of spots, Sonoma Square kind of being a particular sticky
point that they were talking about.

There were a few people who wanted to limit the number of tasting rooms in
and around the square. As you might expect, people in the industry, the
Grape Growers Association as well as the Vintner's Association in Sonoma,
both the city and the county, fought pretty hard against that. It seems
like they reached a middle ground where there's not going to be a limit on
tasting rooms, but with outside events and kind of other type of gathering
spots outside of regular business hours and that kind of stuff, they'll
need some permits.

It's a really kind of well-rounded decision, I think, by the city council
up in Sonoma. And I think it also goes to speak to the fact that Sonoma
continues to be kind of at the forefront of trying to find a way for the
wine industry to exist inside larger communities as we try to work out the
details, really, for wineries coming into urban areas for the first time,
really not only in the United States, but anywhere.

Secondly, Ballard Canyon. If you're familiar with Central Coast Wine and
Wineries, Ballard Canyon is just south-west of the town of Los Olivos. It's
one of our favorite spots for Syrah. It's kind of Northern Rome influence.
It's a cool climate region, it kind of will remind you a little bit of the
Petaluma Gap, where they get some really cool weather coming in off the
coast that doesn't hit all of the kind of land in Santa Ynez, but it does hit
Ballard Canyon.

So they're the newest AVA down in the central coast. They have a Facebook
page, now, so that kind of legitimizes things a little bit. If you're
looking for your first Ballard Canyon wine, Stolpman's a really good
producer. You'll see a number of wineries down there that do Stolpman
Vineyards Blend. Peter Stolpman does an especially good job I think.

And then Beckman Vineyards is another favorite, too. Michael Sanguine, the
wine maker down there, does a really nice job with everything that he

Covain Wine OpenerAnd lastly, Coravin, they're the wine opener system. We'll throw an image
up here so we can see it. In essence, it's a small needle that goes into a
bottle of wine and lets you... the theory was to pour a single glass
without having to kind of re-cork the bottle and finish it within a day or
two without losing the effectiveness of the cork. It looks like they're
going to be in full-scale recall, they've had a small handful of bottles
actually explode when people were using the system. I think that exploding
bottles of wine is probably a bad thing.

But the idea of the whole Coravin system is really a good one, and I hope
they can figure it out. But yeah, we'll try to skip the whole exploding
bottles of wine. Thanks again.

Mark Aselstine
June 7, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Corks or ScrewCaps?


Hi there, this is Mark Aselstine from Uncorked Ventures and we just wanted
to say a couple of words about corks versus screw-caps. So there's been a
lot of talk lately, as you probably already know, that Australian wine
makers, and you're starting to see it more in New Zealand as well, have
started going exclusively to screw caps, and that's something that's a
topic of conversation in the California wine industry a lot right now as

So, when you have cork, you have the positives that you definitely know
that the aging potential is there. There's a certain amount of romance with
opening a bottle of wine with a cork versus a screw cap, and I don't think
that the industry should be forgetting that the romance and the aspect of
the wine's a little bit different every time you open it and if you wait a
year or two it's changed inside the bottle, I don't think that's something
that you want to lose.

The big negative, of course, with cork is that cork taint, depending on who
you ask, they tell you that's one to three percent of all bottles. I think
that's getting a little overblown in the statistical side of things. I
think that when you have the professional testers, that might be true.

People have different amounts of cork taint that they pick up based on
their own unique pallet, and at one to three percent I just kind of don't
buy those statistics, in essence because when you talk to consumers and you
say, how many corked bottles have you ever had, when's the last time you've
opened a bottle and you've said, this is corked? Most of you will say, I've
never had one or I don't remember, and at one to three percent, they

Now that's not to say that screw-caps should be discounted entirely.
There's a really good reason for having a screw-cap instead of a cork. If
you have a wine that doesn't need to be aged or a wine that's being made
specifically sold at restaurants or to people that might not have an opener
at home, a screw-cap can be really important.

If I owned a restaurant and it takes 45 seconds to open a bottle of wine
that has a cork versus 7 seconds that has a screw-cap, there's a pretty
easy choice of what's going to be on by the glass list, especially if
you're really busy on a Friday or Saturday night. So, you know, I think
that anybody who says that it has to be one thing or it has to be another
is kind of kidding themselves. There's positives to both and that's without
even going into some of the environmental aspects which is really up for
debate right now.

Cork is a naturally occurring wood that, if they're harvested correctly and
trees are replanted, it's completely sustainable, while screw-cap is
certainly recyclable, but again, both of those have some assumptions built
in and I'm not sure that we are far enough along in either process to make
any of those assumptions.

In any case, Mark Aselstine on UnCorked Ventures, this is corks versus
screw-caps, and I hope everyone's doing well.

Mark Aselstine
May 19, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Hawk and Horse Vineyards

Hawk and Horse VineyardsBiodynamic and sustainable are perhaps the two words carrying around the biggest misconceptions within the wine industry these days, but at Hawk and Horse Vineyards in Lake County, they are principles that the winery was made to adhere to. I won’t go into a huge amount of detail in this space today about the benefits of being both biodynamic and organic at the same time, but organic farming is certainly the wave of the future in the wine industry.  Biodynamics is a tougher sell still, but these are principles that wineries are going to increasingly adhere to in the coming years and that's a good thing. Have you ever tried an organic peach from the Farmer's Market and compared to what's on sale at your average neighborhood grocery store?  It seems that difference in quality would make for better wine don't you agree?

At Hawk and Horse Vineyards owners Mitch and Tracey Hawkins combine with Tracey’s step dad David and his family to produce the wines at Hawk and Horse, while running the entire winery operation.  Given that my business partner is my brother in law, that’s something I can appreciate.

There is one thing I do want to point out about the property, these days we often see families and vineyard owners planting as many acres as allowable by law on their parcels, depending on location that percentage is often highly controlled by a select few variables.  Hawk and Horse Vineyards is clearly taking a different approach going completely biodynamic and sustainable, which also shines through when you consider that they have planted only 18 acres of the 1,300 or so that are found on the estate.  I’ve seen other land holdings of this size and they usually have at least 250 acres planted, if not more.

Of course, you can have all the classifications you want, but if the wine isn’t good, I’m simply not interested.  The focus at Hawk and Horse Vineyards is Cabernet Sauvignon, which makes perfect sense when we look at both the past and future of Lake County. What makes the Cabernet Sauvignon program unique at Hawk and Horse Vineyards though is that they feature both a table wine, as well as a late harvest dessert wine.  I think one of the things that continues to hold down dessert wine sales in America is the continued focus of winemakers on late harvest Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and other white wine grapes.  Speaking from my experience talking to customers, they simply don’t understand why California can’t focus on a sweet red wine, like Port, instead of the litany of sweet white wine choices that abound in the marketplace.

If you’re wondering what type of Cabernet is being produced on the property, the consulting winemaker on the project is Richard Grant Peterson.  Dr Peterson isn’t a household name in the wine industry like Michele Rolland or even Philippe Melka is these days, but he probably should be based on one of the most noble and varied careers that anyone has ever had in the world of California wine.  A midwesterner by birth Peterson has constantly helped bring new wines, wineries and innovations to market.  From his design of the steel barrel pallet, to making the first Botrytis Sauvignon Blanc (and Pinot Noir, for good measure) he’s been an innovator for a generation.  For a winery in Lake County to bring him aboard, it shows they’re willing to be innovative with their plantings and winemaking style, in addition to their new age vineyard practices.

I bring up all of this to simply say that yes, Hawk and Horse Vineyards is at the forefront of two important changes in California.  First, the rise of organic and perhaps over the longer term, biodynamic farming.  Secondly, they showcase the ability of wineries in lesser known regions to produce world class Cabernet Sauvignon.