Uncorked Ventures Blog
Every so often we find a winery and think, if we could make wine, we’d want it to be like this.
Chronicle Wines is one of those wineries.
We had previously featured their Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir in our Special Selections Wine Club and the reaction to it was superb. I think we’ve received more positive comments about this wine than we have any other Pinot Noir that we’ve shipped in 3+ years. Matt and I enjoyed the wine enough to have a bit of a “discussion” about where our last bottle should go. To a paying customer? To me? To him? To be enjoyed the two of us? To be enjoyed with our wives?
In any case, I wish we could make the case that we found Chronicle through some great exploration, but 94 point scores don’t grow on trees, even when you’re considering one of the most famous Anderson Valley vineyards in existence, so there’s that. Plus, one of our favorite questions to ask winemaker and winery staff that we meet is quite simple: What are you drinking? After we heard Chronicle come out the mouth of the 5th person in Sonoma, we thought that it might be a good time to find a way to get some of the wine for our customers.
We were incredibly happy to have been selected to offer their Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir to our wine club customers this month. We said it in our newsletter and we’ll say it again in this space, but Chronicle did a better job explaining the Cerise Vineyard than we ever could, so we’ll share their work here:
Cerise Vineyard is located between 800 and 1200 feet above the floor of Anderson Valley looking down on the little town of Boonville. The vines are planted on a series of steep slopes facing south, and all farmed organically. There are 40 acres total, scattered on a series of small, clonal blocks, generally each no larger than a few acres. They are quite exposed to both fog and cooling breezes from the ocean. The soils here are thin, hard and quite marginal, a blend of sandstones and fractured shale. The property is full of sunken boulders and bedrock that fractures only under great stress. If the old adage that great wines come from poor soils is true, then this site is the real deal. The vines struggle to produce two tons per acre in the very best years.
In many ways what we have here (and what you hopefully have in your glass) is in many ways the quintessential Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. If you consider this part of Sonoma to be one of the predominant Pinot production regions in the world, this is why. The Pinot produced by excellent Anderson Valley vineyards aren’t the lighter versions valued by other regions around the world, but in many they are darker and more brooding than you can find elsewhere. Chronicle describes their Pinot’s as having dark fruit flavors, which even the mention of in Burgundy might be heresy.
The reasons for that darkness are certainly sketched out above, but vines forced to struggle as much as these tend to produce both smaller yields and also smaller fruit. Smaller fruit is a key consideration here and I think isn’t given enough attention for how flavors are imparted to wine. If you think about the amount of grape skins available to impart flavors into wine, there are more skins in a ton of these grapes than there are on from other vineyard sites in the Anderson Valley, or really anywhere else in the world. More skins produce more flavor and more skins also produce darker wine. After all, red wine isn’t really red until it spends some time in contact with the grape skins. Additionally, the Anderson Valley has darker versions of Pinot because of the fog and cold that happens on the Sonoma coast, but all of that struggle is accented by the vineyard itself here.
Going forward, we’re excited to see what happens at Chronicle. They have released an Anderson Valley Pinot blend, which we think is going to end up a nice addition for their lineup, especially at a more wallet friendly price of $44. That’s a significant discount from their single vineyard offerings and places them $11 short of what we see the average Pinot marked as Anderson Valley from other well known and respected producers.
There is also a Chardonnay this year for the first time ($35) which I will admit, to not having had the chance to taste myself as of yet. We’ve certainly moved out of the day of Chardonnay in California, but again it’s nice to have a white wine offering and frankly, the story will bring in plenty of customers by itself:
This marks my inaugural Chardonnay release under Chronicle. My Dad Jim first planted our home vineyard in 1982, on a 14-acre plateau nestled into the mountain in the cool southwest portion of Sonoma Valley. The vineyard thrived for twenty years under his guidance, until his passing in 2002.
"I've long wanted to produce a wine from that fruit, given the deep connection I have to that site and to my Dad."
Given that one of the reasons Matt and I wanted to get into the wine business was to create a business of value that we could eventually pass on to our children, I feel a certain attachment to the story of Chronicle’s Chardonnay.
So I hope I’ve done a good job extolling the virtues of Chronicle. At it’s core, this is pretty simple. This is exactly the type of small production winery that we’re all clamoring for.
No, we’re not talking about what happens when you take a fall.
When it comes to the wine industry a shiner, is a wine which has been bottled but has not had a label affixed.
There are a number of reasons why a winery might go this route with their wine, but it usually isn’t a great sign on the marketing side, or on the quality side
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.
Some information from our gourmet gift basket:
We selected olive oil from Olive Crush in San Carlos after seeing this small, local shop listed among only 30 stores in the entire country selling true, high quality olive oil according to the recently published book Extra Virginity. Depending on the time of year you receive your gift basket, you’ll receive olive oil from either the northern hemisphere (normally California, Italian or Spanish) or the southern hemisphere (Chilean, Australian or South African mostly) because at it’s core, olive oil is a fruit juice and needs to be as fresh as possible. The balsamic vinegar which is included is strictly sourced from one high quality Italian importer. There is a simple reason for that, most high end balsamic made elsewhere is aged for 6 years. The Olive Crush’s Italian importer ages theirs for 18 years, making it the same high quality that you’d see at a steakhouse or similar $50+ per plate restaurant. We love this stuff and everyone who tries it, finds it hard to go back to store bought balsamic.
Yesterday I was invited to a wine tasting and general introduction to Mendocino County and it’s restaurants, hotels and other tourist attractions.
Held in the Presidio of San Francisco at the Golden Gate Club, Mendocino County clearly spared no expense in the location that they chose and that attention held up throughout the day, as the event was the best organized trade tasting that I’ve attended in some time.
One request which I always make about these events, let’s find venue’s better accessible by public transportation outside of Muni-the fact is most of the people I meet at these events are forced to drive because venue choices aren’t accessible by either BART or Caltrain, which frankly seems silly. That isn’t an issue with Mendocino County’s event specifically, but a general complaint about how events are planned in San Francisco for the wine industry.
Ok, so the even itself was split up into three main areas. Two of the three were the standard set up with wineries having their own tables and the ability to pour their wines. One thing I noted was that for the consumer part of the event (5-7pm) they had clearly marked signs stating how you could purchase the wines-that’s a big improvement over many trade and consumer tastings, where you’re often left to guess.
The highlight and really the reason I decided to attend was an hour long tasting led by winemakers about their Coro Mendocino program. In essence winemakers and wineries in Mendocino have created a European style collective to try and increase sales as well as recognition of the wines being grown in their region.
In their case, they are focusing on blends based largely on Zinfandel (45-70%) but not so much that the wines can be labeled as varietal specific Zin. They allow a list of 9 secondary grapes, all Mediterrean in origin, although it seems like most winemakers seem to be happy to focus largely on Syrah, Petite Sirah, Primitivo and Sangiovese for their secondary set of grapes. Lastly, they are allowed 10% free run at the end of the vintage, putting in whatever the winemaker in question feels would benefit the wine the most.
I found two aspects especially interesting to the program. First, the wineries have agreed to use some common art work and design on the bottles. It’s the type of thing which I can’t even imagine happening elsewhere in the state. Secondly, there is a rather intense process of peer review before a wine can be accepted into the program. Every winemaker who wants to take part sits on a tasting panel four times before the wines are released, in an effort to make sure the quality is high enough, not to make the taste or profile more generic. One of the reasons the winemakers seem to like that set up is that they are in essence, able to expand their palate’s without hiring a range of consulting winemakers.
Our tasting featured wines from 6 of the previous 12 vintages of Coro Mendocino, with two wines being poured from each vintage. While I think many of the attendees would have enjoyed a wine from each vintage, it was interesting to see a rather stark contrast between two wines made in close proximity to each other, seeing how even with an extensive peer review process that winemaker choices are still shining through the wines rather brightly.
In any case, it was a really fun afternoon for me and an interesting and rather unusual way to learn about what might be the most innovative program in California wine.
Coro Mendocino, check it out if you can find the wines (it isn’t easy, they are all around 200 cases or so in production) and while ABC wouldn’t be happy about it, somehow they all seemed to be independently priced at $37.
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