Uncorked Ventures Blog
It’s been said by people much more intelligent than I, that life is what happens while you’re busy making plans.
That might sum up the past week or two around here. It’s been busy on a number of levels, but I haven’t forgotten my commitment to write about the wine industry’s growing connection with Stanford’s famed business school.
That Hand of God article is coming tomorrow, but before it gets too late in the week I also wanted to remind those of you in the San Francisco area that Family Winemakers takes place on Saturday and Sunday, at Ft. Mason of course.
Saturday 1-3pm is trade only, but the general public can enter from 3-6pm as well.
Sunday is a trade only tasting from 1-5pm and is the day I’ll be attending.
Plan on finding parking early and far away from Ft. Mason since parking is always a disaster during Family Winemakers and try to buy your ticket online, well before hand. Lines for ticketing and check-in can often eat up a significant amount of your time at the event at least partially because everyone is a volunteer.
I will freely admit that we love Paso Robles and the wines that are being produced there. It’s been called such romantic terms as “The Next Napa” and “Like visiting Napa in the 70’s” which I’m not sure I agree with simply because there is a real discernable start up culture which is apparent in the Paso Robles wine industry.
That start up culture has led Paso Robles to be a go to spot of sorts for us at Uncorked Ventures, with some of our favorite wineries being found there from Alta Colina, Denner, Herman Story, Kinero and many, many others.
Ok, since we said this was going to be about Stanford, here we go: You might be wondering about the winery name, it’s a take, or a take off on the nickname for Stanford (campus is simply referred to as the farm) and The Farm Winery is owned and operated by two Stanford MBA graduates.
The Farm Winery is a partnership between two couples, one from South America and one from California, that’s a setup that we can appreciate having family of our own in South America as well. Jim and Azmina Madsen took the pilgrimage to Napa Valley (anyone who lives in the Bay Area for any length of time, does the same) with friends from their Stanford MBA program, Santiago and Mercedes Achaval. If that Achaval name sounds familiar it should, it was during this trip to Napa Valley that Santiago decided to become a winemaker and eventually a winery carrying his name, Achaval-Ferrer would grow to become perhaps the most famous winery in South America.
Eventually fate and friendship brought the friends back together with the Madsen’s buying a piece of property in Paso Robles with the intention of starting a new winery. Given their friendship, I am willing to guess that their list of possible winemakers would be a short one. Located on the west side of Paso Robles, this is one of the more unique wine growing regions in the world for the complexity and levity it can add to wines. While it’s the quality of wines that makes us want to share these wines with our customers, but additionally, we thought that The Farm Winery was important for the simple reason that winemaker here, is among the most famous in the world. Achaval spends his days making wine in South America, so harvest and most of the hands on winemaking work takes place in the opposite season (harvest is in April instead of October allowing a winemaker to be hands on in both places). To us, that was an important point and a setup that we’re likely to see long into the future.
For the past few decades we’ve been firmly into the realm of the superstar consulting winemaker. Many wine drinkers recognize the name Michele Rolland, but don’t realize how busy the man truly is. A few years ago we realized he consulting on close to 30 wines in Napa alone, while making wine for his namesake winery in France during the same time periods.
Having famous winemakers from the Southern Hemisphere come to America isn’t new, but having them come while keeping the wineries which made them famous is. Frankly, it’s a better setup for a long term commitment than jet setting and not being able to be actively involved in some of the first decisions that have to be made during harvest and beyond.
Lastly, it is important to mention that The Farm Winery is crafting a range of wines that include the usual Westside Paso Robles standout Rhone varietals, but also a selection of Cabernet Sauvignon.
We have a great deal of respect for Steve Heimoff from Wine Enthusiast, so we’ll simply allow him to sell the quality of Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvingon:
“I’ve been saying for years that it was only a matter of time before this happened. No disrespect to Napa, but it never made much sense to me that one region, and one only, could excel at a particular varietal, in this case Cabernet Sauvignon. The temperature in the cooler parts of Paso Robles–notably those affected by the Templeton Gap, which sucks in maritime air from the Cambria coast–is ideal for ripening the grapes. Not all areas are exposed to the westerly breezes; the topography of these hills is complicated. But on the hottest days, when it’s well above 100 in Paso Robles town and to the east, it’s dependably cooler throughout the hills, and the higher the elevation, the more the temperature drops”
Lastly, we have a set of tasting notes available for the Touchy Feely Grenach/Syrah blend that we shipped a couple of months back:
Tasting Notes "Touchy-Feely" Rhone Varietal Red 2009: The Touch-Feely is a Rhone blend of 75% Grenache and 25% Syrah. It boasts very ripe aromas of huckleberry and plum with an earth/stem component. Full and lush on the palate, it is nicely structured and flavorful with lot of ripe plum fruit with hint of loam and cocoa powder. Aged in new French oak for 24 months, it is still young with firm ripe tannins, lots of alcohol with light bitterness (15% alc) and a persistent finish. A delicious wine that could use an additional 12 months of bottle aging.
When it comes to business schools across America, Stanford is undoubtedly near the top. When it comes to the wine industry though, you don’t run into many Stanford MBA’s.
Well, it seems that might be changing.
Over the past two month’s we’ve run into two outstanding new wineries, both owned by Stanford graduates. Most of the connection comes from Santiago Achaval who fell in love with the wine industry during his business school years, only to go on to feature incredibly prominently in the wine industry in South America.
As it turns out, if you’ve had a wine from Mendoz Argentina, it likely carried his name.
Now, he’s teamed with two separate business school colleagues to craft a Paso Robles project called the Farm Winery (extra points if you already see the Stanford connection) as well as a winery sourcing grapes from South America, but selling the wines directly from Napa Valley itself: Hand of God Wines.
Over the next three days we’re going to feature these three projects and the wines that they’re creating. In the new international wine industry that we’re living in, these are important wines and important relationships.
Given that we’re based just a stone’s throw south of San Francisco, people typically think that the closest wine regions to us are Napa Valley and Sonoma. While that might be right on some level, the Santa Cruz Mountains are certainly closer as the crow flies and when you count some of their tasting rooms at the foot of the mountains, we have easier access to these wines than any others.
Given that proximity and the lack of understanding about the Santa Cruz Mountain wine region, we thought this short guide would be helpful for our readers.
Let’s start at the beginning. The Santa Cruz Mountains, not unexpectedly is located on the coast, just outside of the beautiful college town of Santa Cruz. It has a couple of advantages when it comes to growing grapes. First, it is a warmer section of the northern California coast than most. In fact, depending on who you ask, some growers do consider Santa Cruz more Central Coast, than North Coast. Secondly, their location gives them unprecedented access to the city of San Francisco and the city of San Jose. For a year my wife and I lived in the city of Half Moon Bay, a short 40 mile jaunt up the coast from Santa Cruz and during the picking months of September through November, we frequently saw trucks carrying grapes from the Santa Cruz Mountains cross almost in front of our home. Of course, those grapes were headed elsewhere, but it speaks to the marketing potential of this wine region because within an hour you could have wine sitting in any number of tech companies in Silicon Valley, or at any home of the San Francisco Bay Area Peninsula, one of the most exclusive in the country.
When wine lovers first learn about the Santa Cruz Mountain AVA, they learn about two wineries.
First, they learn about Ridge. For good reason. Ridge is an institution both in the Santa Cruz Mountains, but also within the California wine scene. Back in the 1970’s when California pushed its way into the wine elite, Ridge was there for the “Judgment of Paris” in 1976. In fact Ridge finished 5th of the 10 wines which were included in the competition for their Monte Bello Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, which sits along their tasting room high in the Santa Cruz Mountain mountains. When most wine drinkers hear about the Judgment of Paris, they hear about how Napa Valley defeated Bordeaux. The story is a bit more complicated though, the Monte Bello Vineyard is in the Santa Cruz Mountains, that’s part of the story that is conveniently left out, it was a wide swatch of California wine growing regions which were considered at least the equal to Bordeaux, not only the ultra exclusive Napa Valley vineyards that we all see in wine stores across the world on a daily basis. More recently Ridge has expanded and now crafts a full range of wines, but the Monte Bello is still their most sought after offering. It offers an interesting combination of depth and in fact some finesse, which we don’t often see with other mountain fruit.
Secondly wine drinkers hear about the cult Pinot Noir producer Rhys. It’s quickly becoming the most sought after Pinot Noir producer in the new world and really is among the only Pinot producers in California that can realistically say there is a waiting list to receive its wines. Owned by venture capitalist Ken Harvey, who has been featured prominently on Forbes Midas List for close to a decade (that’s a Forbes list of folks able to take new companies to IPO and have them perform well)
Two Other World Class Wineries That Should Receive More Attention:
Mount Eden: In the 3+ years we’ve been in business, I don’t think we’ve ever run into an estate which had the same winemaker in place since the early 1980’s. Mount Eden has experienced unprecedented growth under the winemaking of Jeffrey Patterson. The Pinot Noir estate vineyard goes back even further, all the way to 1945. Mount Eden is perhaps the pantheon of the non interventionist Pinot Noir in America, natural yeast, open top fermentation in a true Bugundian style. The results are both dramatic as well as surprising given what we’ve all heard about how different wine from California is from France. Perhaps winemaker choices and vineyard select deserve more mention than some of the innate differences of the fruit, after all most people describe these as old world wines at first taste.
Sonnet: Admittedly one of my favorite producers, Sonnet Wine Cellars is known as a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay producer, but they also make a range of cool climate Syrah and Bordeaux blends. At this point, I'm sure there is much left to say about Sonnet and the quality of the Pinot being produced by the estate that hasn't already been said. These are cool climate, racy and intense Pinot Noir's that would be truly at home among the top Burgundian producers, although the difference in price points might make you blush.
What’s Old is New Again:
One of the common threads that you see in California wine are wineries which have existed since the 19th century, but only recently were purchased and rehabilitated by new ownership groups. That’s an interesting juxtaposition in that you have wineries inexorability linked to the land for well over a century, but under new and motivated ownership.
Hallcrest Vineyards: With a family history dating to the 19th century and an onsite wine history dating to the mid 1940’s, Hallcrest is one of the more historic vineyards in California. That being said, the current owner (John Schumacher) bought the site in the late 1980’s and it was only then that the estate was given the respect and attention that it needs and deserves. The results are a range of wines including Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Zinfandel and more. Among the youngest people to ever open their own winery, Schumacher has brought plenty of modern winemaking and frankly, modern marketing to the Santa Cruz Mountains. Always a big winner in terms of wine competition medals, it seems only a matter of time before Hallcrest takes its place among the more respected names in mountain wine.
Heart O’ The Mountain: Established by Pierre Conwell in 1881, the estate was revived after being purchased by Bob and Judy Bassfield in the late 1970’s. Stop us, if any of this sounds familiar. The results are an impressive Pinot Noir house. When I say they focus on Pinot Noir, I mean that completely. All they grow are Pinot grapes, which gives them a plethora of choices for varietal specific Pinot Noir, in addition to a Rose which always comes highly recommended. If you’re someone who enjoys Pinot and is willing to test your palate, Heart O’ The Mountain is a virtual must visit. You’ll be able to try and distinguish individual clones of Pinot Noir from each other or try and judge the differences from one vineyard block to another. It’s a fun process for most wine lovers and one which Heart O’ The Mountain is uniquely suited to provide. Plus, the Pinot Noir is good and fairly priced for the quality.
Sometimes You’re Simply New:
La Honda: We originally ran into their vineyard, certainly by mistake. Most parent’s have seen the scene, a 1 year old with an ear infection unwilling or unable to fall asleep for nap. Enter the car, a guaranteed fix. What I ran into while driving my son was a group of vines outside of the town of Woodside high among the Santa Cruz Mountains. It turns out those vines are used to produce the wine for La Honda, an urban warehouse winery based in Redwood City (about 5 miles up the road from Palo Alto and Stanford University). Personally, I find La Honda to be interesting largely due to their Exponent Red wine blend. It’s a Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sangiovese blend that simply isn’t made anywhere else. It’s complex to be sure, but there is a level of finesse that comes from the grapes place and the use of the Sangiovese, one of the lightest red wine grapes available. Multiple 90+ point scores from major wine critics have put La Honda and their winemaker Colin McNany on the wine map. As far as urban warehouse wineries go, this is still a unique project given its location and the relative ease it is likely see in marketing to Silicon Valley, which seems to be a bit of home base for the Santa Cruz Mountain wineries.
Loma Prieta: Loma Prieta is worthy of a mention here for a few reasons. To start, the winery boasts one of the most ridiculously gorgeous views that you’ll find anywhere. Looking out over the mountain to the ocean beyond is what many picture when they think of mountain wineries in California and it’s worth a trip to be sure. That being said, the wine produced at Loma Prieta is worthy of a mention as well. The winery does a really nice job at offering visitors a wide range of choices when it comes to the wines they produce. Few wineries in California attempt everything from a sparkling wine, through Bordeaux varietals, Rhone varietals and end at a Port styled dessert wine. They also make a Pinotage, which I especially like both in terms of its construction, but also their willingness to try something eclectic and unique for the Santa Cruz Mountains. That willingness to experiment I think says that they are going to continue to improve the quality of their wines over the coming years despite already being worth a visit the next time you’re in the area.
House Family Winery: Very rarely do we run into wineries that utilize 100% estate grapes any more. Bulk grapes and bulk wine are simply too cheap for most to turn away from. That’s where we have taken a liking to House Family Winery which sits high atop the eastern (and therefore warmer) ridges of the Santa Cruz Mountains above the town of Saratoga. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are all grown on their estate vineyard and then falls into the more than capable hands of Jeffrey Patterson. We didn’t mention Mount Eden’s winemaker because we knew Patterson would show up later on, he’s making a bit of a name for himself as one of the go to winemakers for Santa Cruz Mountain wineries.
I’ll admit to loving Viognier, it’s a Rhone varietal so that’s not surprising. I like the rounded edges that can come with it and find it to be a pleasurable food wine. While everyone else at my table typically drinks Chardonnay, I am usually content with a Viognier, although I tend to enjoy spicy food so it’s a natural fit. What I said:
#winechat oak is interesting here. Fun nose again. Nice and round to be sure. I always forget, I love Viognier— Mark Aselstine (@wineclubguy) July 18, 2013
What Others Said:
Sierra Madre Chardonnay: I will admit that Sierra Madre is an old favorite of ours, when we lived in Santa Barbara it was part of a by the glass program pretty close to where we lived. It was good then and it continues to be good now. What I said:
#winechat We've had this before...my wife was eyeing it last night with shrimp for dinner— Mark Aselstine (@wineclubguy) July 18, 2013
What Others Said:
I enjoyed the mid on the Summerland 2012 Sierra Madre Vineyard Chardonnay -> what was the oak or ML treatment - if any #winechat— WineCompass (@winecompass) July 18, 2013
Brewer Clifton Gnesa Chardonnay In many ways, this was a typical California Chardonnay. Rounder than some, but no so round that it was off-putting for those of us who enjoy more acidity in our wines, this was an inspired effort to showcase what the central coast does really well-simply produce great wine. Given that I typically enjoy my Chardonnay with bubbles included, I was happy to pour myself a glass of the Gnesa Chardonnay when the chat ended. What I said:
What Others Said:
'10 Brewer Clifton Gnesa Chardonnay has Staw golden hue w/aromoas of floral lemons ending w/a lemon tangy finish #WineChat— Eileen Gross (@WineEveryday) July 18, 2013
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