Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
 
November 3, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Veteran’s Spirit Gallant Few Proprietary Red Blend

Veterans' Proprietary Red WineI don’t like to have to talk about how stuff like this shows up in my email every so often, but a few weeks back I was approached by the folks behind Veteran’s Spirit to help with distribution of their new Proprietary Red Blend. Usually these wines suck, no matter how good the attached story.

The story here is that the company gives $1 per bottle sold back to veteran’s groups that help service members when they return home. Having grown up in San Diego, perhaps the quintessential military town, it didn’t come as a surprise that Marines get a 6 week boot camp and then any additional number of training units before deploying even in the worst of circumstances, but receive only a week of part time help to get acclimated to civilian life.

While I didn’t serve myself, I think we can all agree, that seems like it leaves a gaping hole for NGO’s to fill. Veteran’s Spirit works with some of the best around to do just that and it is a project that we were happy to support. Oh and I would have never included in your wine club, if I hadn’t felt that the quality was pretty incredible as well.

Here’s the back story and why I’ll continue to be involved, the Foundry is a winery and custom crush facility originally from Napa Valley and more recently relocated to Sonoma (cheaper, more industrial space etc) that’s behind this wine. I’ve been a pretty big proponent of their high end Cabernet’s, especially those from mountain growing regions, largely because winemaker Patrick Saboe (who learned the trade at venable names like Hanzell & Pezzi King) who is able to capture a mixture of fruit and acidity that pleases everyone who opens a bottle. What’s important to note here is that the guys behind the Foundry feel as strongly about this project as anyone and in essence what happened, was a collection of a bunch of extra barrels, most of which come from wine in price points significantly higher than this one. The wine was combined for a blend that’s pleasing to the palate, wallet and our better nature’s.

Mark Aselstine
 
November 2, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Kasauri Petite Sirah Napa Valley

About Kasuari: If there was ever a stealth and unknown label coming out of Napa Valley, this is it.

Kasuari is a relatively new project from winemaker Michael Peters, who spends his days helping to craft the critically acclaimed Sonoma wines of Quivira. Sourced from an area of Napa Valley called “The Terraces” this is an interesting Petite Sirah, perhaps more unique than I believe the major wine critics to believe.

I’ve run into Terraces abbreviations before and while there is a winery that uses the name as part of their nomenclature, when winemakers refer to the Terraces, they aren’t referring to a single vineyard and certainly not the entry level price point driven winery that is using the name these days. Instead, they’re referring to the hillsides on the eastern edges of Napa Valley, as wineries and vineyard sites off the Silverado Trail begin to climb into the foothills.

It’s an interesting region and one that didn’t come to the forefront of Napa Valley until the early 90’s when names like Signorello Estate & Darioush started espousing the virtues of Napa Valley grapes, grown with at least a bit of altitude. After all, not everyone was going to be able to find space on the valley floor and some of these vineyards were significantly older than what’s down there anyway, many planted in the 60’s, or even before.

For Petite Sirah when vine age is often capped at 25 years or so elsewhere in California, growers are risking yields anywhere past that point, in the old world they’ll often let a vine continue to be in ground until it goes 2 vintages without a harvest. In Napa though, other than Corison, I’ve never heard of another winery with a similar setup...especially when it comes to Petite Sirah which generally confuses consumers.

Even at our higher end wine club levels, have you ever bought a Petite Sirah at a wine store without prodding? Most of the other old Petite Sirah vineyards were long ago grafted onto Cabernet. For that reason alone, this is an interesting wine, to me at least. It’s also interesting because at 25 Brix, it’s about twice the sugar content as regular grape juice that my 3 year would enjoy drinking, alcohol content rises along with it of course.

Overall, it’s a good wine and a more complete and dense varietally specific Petite Sirah than others that I’ve run into of late.

Mark Aselstine
 
October 31, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Boony Doon Vineyards, History and Interesting Wines

Bonny Doon and Randall Grahm are among the biggest names in wine, here's a short history as well as some of the notes on their current offerings.

Video Transcription:

Hey Guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.  Over the last few days, we have been able to revisit some spots over the central coast, specifically Santa Barbara County and up in the  Paso Robles and some of the Rhône varietals that are being produced.  Quite frankly, in the State of California, you can't talk about Rhônes without mentioning Randall Grahm and Bonny Doon Vineyards.  Randall and Bonny Doon are in essence synonymous with each other.  He's the wine maker there and the owner.  The short history is that Bonny Doon started in '83.  Randall was on the cover of Wine Spectator in '89 where they titled him "The Rhône Ranger."  That's pretty appropriate given that at the time he was still making Syrah in the state of California and there was all of 200 acres or so still planted.  These days there is over 40,000.  Randall has been at the forefront both in crafting Rhône varietals that people with drink and enjoy but also working through the Rhône Rangers and other trade organizations to encourage other wine makers and winery's to craft Rhône varietals. 

We talk a lot in sports about coaching trees and such and such learn from him.  Locally, we have Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors who is a coaching tree from Phil Jackson who he played for or maybe even Gregg Popovich when he was in San Antonio.  We don't talk about winemaker trees quit as much.  In this case, my connection to Randall Grahm and to Bonny Doon started with William Allen who makes the wines at Two Shepherds that I think a lot of people know that I enjoy quite a bit.  They are some of the lightest in style in the state of California.  Randall has been instrumental with William both learning about how to make wine and helping him through the process.  I thought it was important to share some of the Bonny Doon wines, and why I think they are important, and why they continue to be important to this day.  I was four years old when the winery opened, so it's a weird sensation for me to be talking to folks that have been it for so long. 

One of the things that you should know about Bonny Doon is that it is located just outside of Santa Cruz, about ten miles north, in a small town called Davenport.  It is truly one of the great wine tasting environments that you are going to find.  You can literally walk across Highway 1 to the beach.  San Mateo County coastline is starting to turn into Santa Cruz County at that point.  Both coastlines are not like how I grew up in Southern California where it is developed and there are parking lots and freeways.  The Highway 1 is a one lane road in each direction, at that point, with a 45 mile an hour speed limit.  In essence you are parking in small dirt lots along the road and hiking down a couple hundred feet to the beach where there is literally hardly anyone else there.  It is a beautiful, beautiful spot.  If you are going to visit the bay area and you want to go to the beach, Davenport is a nice place to stay.  There are a couple of restaurants, a roadhouse, a hotel or two.  I am sure there is an Airbnb Rental floating around at this point, seeing that we are in the middle of the sharing economy.

Here's some stuff from Bonny Doon.  First, I want to talk about Black, White and Red Allover.  It's a Central Coast blend, 81% Syrah, 16% Viognier, 3% Grenache.  It also brings up an interesting thing.  I had a conversation with the folks at Bonny Doon about Grenache. (A note, I love Grenache in all it's forms which makes me strange, but gives me another solid choice along with Pinot Noir and Cabernet to sit as part of our wine clubs) None of us like a Grenache that you can see all the way through.  It reminds us too much like a rosé at that point.  You just get some of the experience of the industry from these folks.  They talked about how Grenache needs a cover, a canopy, the vines have to be grown a certain way.  You might not lose out on flavor if they grow them differently, but you are going to lose out in color.  I thought that was really interesting.  Black, White and Red Allover, it's become one of the Bonny Doon classic wines at this point.  The Syrah Viognier blended together is done in France, not done in America, it scares people a little bit, I still think.  Bonny Doon is fighting to change that.  It adds a bit of acidity interest and a different flavor profile than you might be used to.  At $25 this is just an absolute steal. 

One of the other ones I want to talk about that will fit well in an inexpensive wine club, I might add, The Heart Has Its Rieslings.  The Central New York and Western New York County, the Finger Lakes have talked a lot about Riesling and how they think it is going to be a great grape as time goes by in the United States.  Mainly because, as millennials, and I count myself among that group, as we get older... we all grew up drinking soda and other sweet beverages.  As we are drinking more wine, we're spending more on wine, we are drinking wine earlier than other groups have, at least other generations have, in the United States.  We are not at a French or Italian level by any means, but it is a heck of a lot closer than it ever has been before.  Riesling is the wine that wine makers feel strongly it is going to be a good intro. 

You will see a chart that shows how sweet these are.  This is moderately sweet.  What I like about this, San Benito County, Monterey county blend, is that it adds a touch of both, the acidity is still quite high but there is some minerality.  You can look at this and is it as good as the classic, classic Rieslings from Mosel in Germany that are both mineral driven, and salty almost, and still can be very sweet at the same time.  It's not at that level, but for $16 you don't expect it to be.  This is a really good wine though.  If you have people over with varying palates, you have some people that don't necessarily drink wine, this is a great choice.  Quite frankly, as an apéritif your house, this would work really well.

Another thing that I want to talk about, the most wine geeky among us are going to love visiting Randall Grahm and the folks at Bonny Doon because they are willing to do some stuff that quite frankly is just odd in the industry.  This is the [Cigare 00:05:34] Syrah from '09.  It's 83% Syrah, again it's 17% Viognier, as we talked about a moment ago.  What they will do for you that almost no one else will, is they will sit there, they will line up four Syrahs from four different vineyards in the same vintage and you get to see what you like and what do you find interesting about Syrah.  This is a crowd pleaser.  It's mid-palate, the whole nine yards.  It's classic California Syrah.  They make a different one in the valley, which is a much cooler climate and it is probably the most acidity driven Syrah I've ever had in my life.  There are just a lot of different things going on.  Of the interesting things going on, an apple pear cider fermented in bottle, champagne style, with how they make it.  They have a little bit of everything for everyone. 

That is my quick spiel.  If you are in the neighborhood, if you want to try some interesting Rhône varietals that are made a bunch of different ways from a bunch of different vineyards and really get to walk along the central coast and get some history about the industry itself too.  Randall Grahm and Bonny Doon, they make probably 25,000 or so cases right now, distributed at a lot of places, but at the same time many of the higher end Syrahs, once you get into the $30 and $40 range are only made a couple of hundred cases each.  They fit both levels of a winery that you can find locally but also a small enough production that it is interesting for us to find too.  In any case, Mark Aselstine, Uncorked Ventures.  I hope you have enjoyed it.  Have a good one. 

                                    

Mark Aselstine
 
October 20, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

The Ongoing Legacy of Robert Mondavi

Robert Mondavi is a name that brings a reaction no matter who you mention it to, for good reasons, without his work at both Krug and the winery which bears his name, Napa Valley would hardly be the same. Here's another part of his ongoing legacy, the people who grew up in the marketing departments of Mondavi and how they're continuing those good practices elsewhere.

Video Transcription:

Hey guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. So over the past couple weeks I've had a couple conversations with a few different people, and it's brought to mind the legacy of Robert Mondavi and kind of the Mondavi legacy, and what that means in Napa Valley and kind of throughout the wider wine industry. You know, it started with a conversation up at Canard Vineyard, where the owner (my insert here, Rich Czapleski whose name I didn't want to mispronounce) up there was telling me that the way it used to work in the valley, if they'd get a pest, as he said - and I pretty much quote here - you'd call Bob and say, "Hey, I'm having this problem, we're not really sure what it is." And later on in the afternoon the Mondavi farmers would show up and they'd - you know, in essence - figure it out, fix it, and they'd go along their way. So it was a really nice, kind of collegiate setup in the industry.

Over the past couple days I've met Stephanie Grubbs, who's at Benessere Vineyard, which is kind of at the northern reach of Saint Helena as it turns into Calistoga. They do a range of Italian varietals that's starting with Sangiovese and then these days,  a little more Cabernet. And then Tom Samuelson who met Stephanie and worked with her at Mondavi, and now Samuelson's up in the greater Pacific Northwest working with wineries to find larger distribution models for them. 

The thing that kind of strikes me is that all the folks that I continue to meet that worked in that period at Mondavi, when they went from the small family owned to growing, growing, growing, and eventually being sold into the market itself, is that there's a real kind of sense of calmness, openness, and just really, really good marketing. You can see in large part why Mondavi was as successful as it has been.

So there's a definite legacy of Robert Mondavi. You can still feel it, even me, who, you know - I'm relatively new to the industry still; this is year four for us. You feel Mondavi and his influence to this day, even well after he's gone. For me as someone without goals of selling a million cases of wine per year, there is still plenty to be interested in as the owner of a wine club.

Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. Thanks again.

Mark Aselstine
 
October 19, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

What Does an Early Vintage Mean for the Wine Industry?

It should be a simple enough question, what does an early vintage mean for the wine industry? The very short answer is that you're likely to see good, not memorable wine from 2014 in California.

Video Transcription:

Hey guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. One question that came up over the weekend was; "What does it mean with an earlier harvest? What does that mean for grapes? What does it mean for the Vintage in 2014 in Napa, Sonoma and kind of elsewhere in California which all ran earlier this year?"

The short answer is; wine makers would generally prefer earlier harvest especially in Napa and Sonoma where we traditionally see some rain in October. An earlier harvest means that they don't have to deal with rain, that they can let the fruit kind of hang on the vine as long as they want and they don't have to worry about it. So earlier harvest, generally speaking, leads to good vintages, sometimes not necessarily great vintages. Some of the best great vintages have hung on the vines long into October and this looks like it's going to be a very good vintage, but not necessarily a memorable or one of these vintages you write home about, thirty years from now. We pay attention to this stuff because we find that wineries, great wineries even, end up having some extra juice available for wine clubs like ourselves, if it's not a memorable vintage and if there's a large enough crop.

Once again, Mark Aselstine - Uncorked Ventures.