Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
August 3, 2012 | Mark Aselstine

The End of Crushpad

Crushpad was an incredible concept.  People who wanted to make wine, could with some professional help at a central facility.  For about $10k per barrel (no small expense to be sure) you could have fruit grown and then take as much of a lead in the winemaking process as you wanted. Now, it looks like Crushpad is going under.

It really was a great way to let those people who wanted to make wine, but didn't have millions of dollars to buy a vineyard get involved in the wine industry in a meaninful way.

Unfortunately, there were misteps along the way.  Personally, I think moving the facility from San Francisco to Napa in the first place was a mistake.  Weekend winemakers need something central, even if transporting the grapes when picked in August-October was a challenge.

It seems that there are now about 900 barrels of wine sitting at the Sonoma facility (relocated from Napa and probably an even worse idea than the initial move) and only little hope for them to be rescued by those people who have prepaid to have wine made.

It's incredibly unfortunate to say the least.  Personally, I'm disappointed to see the concept go under, although I'd venture a guess that new verions will spring up shortly.

Time Posted: Aug 3, 2012 at 12:31 PM
Mark Aselstine
August 2, 2012 | Mark Aselstine

Napa Valley is an Interesting Place

We like telling people that Napa Valley is an interesting place.  Of course, people think we're only talking about the wine, or maybe the wine and the food.

What has always fascinated me about Napa was the way the wine industry is completely and utterly integrated into the local community.  I guess it is probably to be expected and you certainly see something similar happening in some of the other world wine capitals (Bordeaux is a great example) but I don't think anywhere else in the United States offers the range of opportunities for either aspiring winemakers, or those of us who love great wine to learn and experience the entire winemaking process.

This weekend marks another year of the Napa Valley Wine Libraries, tasting series.  Founded in 1963, the Napa Valley Wine Library has a simple goal, to help people learn about winemaking and  the history of wine through local libraries.  Specifically, the St. Helena public library has an extensive collection of wine specific materials that really aren't found anywhere else in the country.  As you might expect, the organization found a willing partner with UC Davis and their viticulture program.

In any case, if you're planning a trip to Napa-joining the Wine Library is a great way to experience a side of exclusive Napa Valley which isn't available to everyone.

Time Posted: Aug 2, 2012 at 1:30 PM
Mark Aselstine
July 26, 2012 | Mark Aselstine

Horse and Plow Harvester Red 2010

In this month's Wine Exploration Wine Club shipment we're happy to feature the 2010 Harvester Red by Horse and Plow winery of Santa Rosa.

Opened by the husband and wife team of Chris Condos and Suzanne Hagins, both of whom have been making wine in Sonoma for more than a decade each, Horse and Plow focuses on organically grown grapes and using the most natural winemaking techniques possible.

The Harvester Red wine is an interesting blend for a few reasons, but we thought it was a nice introduction for our club members to a Carignane and Syrah blend (although there is also smaller amounts of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Charbono and Grenache).

Carignane is the interesting grape here for many people, since most wine drinkers aren't familiar with the grape.  The grape isn't often made into varietal specific wines, but instead is used in blends often to add the dark maroon color which is so evident in this wine.  Personally, I think this wine does a nice job at being drinkable and enjoyable even without food, which is often a challenge at this price point, with these grapes which can be overextracted and carry too much alcohol at times.


Time Posted: Jul 26, 2012 at 8:32 AM
Mark Aselstine
July 18, 2012 | Mark Aselstine

Sideways 2 Now Unlikely

An unfortunate article in Decanter to be sure, but it now appears that Sideways 2 is unlikely to be made.

Reasons are explained in the Decanter article, but it does appear that director Alexander Payne doesn't want a follow up effort out of fears of "selling out."  As might expect, others involved with the original Sideways project (the author Rex Pickett among them) would be ok feeling like sell outs to have another significant pay day, especially when the follow up book has been well received.

Since the follow up book, named Vertical, both brings the story back to Santa Barbara as well as taking the main characters to Paso Robles, I'm disapointed that the film isn't likely to get made at this point.  Santa Barbara continues to deserve the good press for what they produce and Paso Robles is the least appreciated wine producing area in the world, relative to the quality of wine being made.

Time Posted: Jul 18, 2012 at 1:01 PM
Mark Aselstine
July 17, 2012 | Mark Aselstine

Chronicle Pinot Noir Savoy Vineyard 2009

Coming in this month's Special Selections shipment is the 2009 Chronicle Pinot Noir from the famed Savoy Vineyard.  We thought our wine club customers might enjoy learning about what made us select this wine while also hearing a bit about the vineyard, winemaker and owner which wouldn't fit in our regular monthly newsletter.

Chronicle Wines has a relatively simple premise, show off the outstanding vineyards and terrior of the North Coast of California.  Many of these famed vnieyards are both sustainably and organically farmed.

Chronicle is owned by Mike Hengehold, himself a veteran of the wine industry both through birth (his dad owned a vineyard and he grew up in wine country) as well as pedigree, having run Luna Vineyards for close to a decade.  We've found that having supportive ownerhsip is incredibly important, but having a supportive owner who understands the wine industry creates an incredible environment.

The winemaker at Chronicle is James McPhail who is also a California native and boasts family ties in Marin County to before the turn of last century.  James has made a name for himself at previous wine stops including Sequana Vineyards which has produced a solid run of 90+ point Pinot Noir's many of which priced under $40.  What interested us about James wasn't as much as his pedigree in winemaking, but instead his varied set of life experiences.  Not to be too corny, but Pinot Noir moreso than any other varietal gives me a sense of place.  Having a winemaker who grew up in Sonoma County and who appreciates that sense of place based on years of travel, was an interesting combination.  Of course, the long history of producing great Pinot was pretty interesting as well.

Lastly, the most important part of the wine: The Savoy Vineyard. Originally planted in 1991, clone densities have needless to say changed some over the years, but there is about 30 acres of Pinot Noir currently planted. Located in Anderson Valley, the vineyard is slightly warmer than its neighbors because it is protected on two sides, one by a mountain and the other by a small naturally occuring rise. Littorai has made a name for itself as a wine label almost exclusively from this vineyard site, which many winemakers during our conversations count among the ten most important in California for Pinot Noir.

Overall, we simply thought that the 2009 Chronicle Pinot Noir Saovy Vineyard was an excellent, excellent wine.  It is heavier on darker fruit than many other Pinot Noir's you'll find in California, but keeps a sense of elegance and grace at the same time.

Why try and explain our tasting notes, when we can let the professionals at Wine Enthusiast do it instead:

"The grapes obviously were well grown, as this wine shows a particular intensity of red cherry fruit, as well as minerality. The acidity is just about perfect, the tannins brisk and fine. Yet it’s too young to offer full enjoyment. Cellar this polished Pinot Noir for 4–6 years to let it change in interesting ways." Cellar Selection

As a vintage, 2009 was an unqualified success. It was a year where we achieved physiological ripeness in Anderson Valley at lower brix and lower potential alcohols. This was the result of a moderate spring and summer, punctuated by a few stretches near harvest when temperatures hovered in the 90's.

Time Posted: Jul 17, 2012 at 1:54 PM