Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
March 4, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Anam Cara Heather’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2005

Every so often, we get the chance to feature what is an aged wine, directly from a winery cellar.  This Anam Cara Pinot Noir is a unique look into small production, single vineyard Pinot Noir if you have the patience to let it age for a decade.  I like shipping wines like this, at least occasionally, simply because, as I found during my first winery visit after opening Uncorked Ventures, that 98% of wines are consumed within 48 hours after purchase. Having dug into those numbers, because I think they’re important in terms of helping to decide what we should be shipping to wine club members, it’s also apparent at least according to industry watchdogs like Wine Business and Wines & Vines, that those stats hold up across most price points, including where our Reserve Wine Club falls.

    So about Anam Cara specifically: to start, this was their first vintage of their Heather’s Vineyard Pinot which is named after the founder’s daughter. The family story is actually pretty typical, Nick and Sheila met while working in London only to move back and start a business which brought them into Napa Valley and further into the wine business itself.  Sheila worked in public relations while Nick built the family fortune through a series of pizza restaurants around California.  Eventually, wanting a piece of land and a winery for themselves, they found a run down orchard in Oregon (given Napa land prices were close to 250k an acre a decade ago and have doubled since, especially considering you need at least 10 acres for a new winery...this is a story we’re going to hear with increasing regularity)

Heather’s Vineyard It isn’t really a separate vineyard from their estate vineyard itself, but a block of vines within the larger estate vineyard.  When Adam Cara Cellars spent a few years selling fruit to others, they noticed that a few rows of vines had two unique characteristics.  First, they ripened about a month later than blocks only a few yards away and also seemed to produce dramatically less fruit, about 1.5 tons per acre, which is about the smallest I’ve seen (to put it in perspective, I spent some time talking to winemakers about a 130+ year old, dry farmed Lodi vineyard of Cinsault this past week that produces about 2 tons per acre). There’s some sunlight issues with this part of their vineyard, namely that trees overhang part of the vines, which leads to another problem, any fruit that’s produced early in the season, gets eaten by birds since netting can’t really happen until well into the summer growing season (sunlight in Oregon is simply too valuable and blocking it too early, leads to underripe fruit, even in the Willamette, a cardinal sin). The results of all this, including using only a single clone of Pinot Noir, is a complex, yet remarkably light version of Pinot Noir. There’s plenty of cherry and wild berry flavors here, including finish, which to me, is a hallmark of Oregon Pinot, I find it earthy, others have called it slightly bitter….all the same, a classic Oregon Pinot flavor profile.

    Priced at between $60-$65 depending on when people have looked from the winery, other versions of Heather’s Vineyard Pinot Noir have scored into the mid 90 point range from major critics.  There isn’t, at least to my knowledge (I’ve also asked the winery) any major critics scores around the 2005 largely because it was both their first vintage and a scant 75 cases were produced.  While production hasn’t yet climbed beyond that level for the Heather’s Vineyard offering, critics have been more willing to score the wine based on past successes of the winery’s other offerings, but also because Oregon Pinot Noir is so much more mainstream at this point than it was only a decade ago.  I’ve told the story before, but anyone interested in taking a trip to wine country on the west coast, should really consider a few days in Oregon’s Mcminnville and the wide Willamette Valley.  Unlike any region I’ve been to in either California or frankly, Washington, there aren’t vines anywhere.  Penner Ash makes some of the most respected Pinot Noir in the new world with multiple estate offerings being priced above $100 and the guy across the street still grows wheat and pears.  There’s something about that which seems appealing to me and something that seems to come through with this wine as well.

    Since so many of you ask….how long does the winery, or do I think this can last? Conventional wisdom is a few more years in the cellar should be fine, but it’s ready now.  That being said the most memorable bottle I’ve ever had came from what amounts to a $5 Burgundy, that had been aged 40 years. I think these acidic Pinot Noir’s hold up better than most people give them credit for.

Mark Aselstine
February 23, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Wine Shipments Are Being Delivered & The Week At Hand

Hey guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

First a Happy Monday. Hope everybody's having a nice start to their week.

A couple of things, first, if you're in the midwest or on the east coast and you have a current wine club membership with us, or you received a wine club gift, it's likely that you're going to receive some wine in the next 24 to 48 hours, if you haven't already this morning with Fedex. The simple reason behind that is the weather has sucked. We've been trying to time shipments to get everything there so it doesn't sit in a warehouse in say New Jersey or New York where it could be exceedingly cold over the weekend. We try to time it so it stops somewhere that's a little more palatable. Hopefully, we've done that pretty well. If you're a wine club member, shipment should be there shortly.

Second of all, over the past week you'll see, or the next coming week at least, you'll see a couple of things from me on the written side of our Uncorked Ventures blog. That'll be largely about a couple of tasting events that I had on Friday. First, I got a chance to go to a Premiere Event for Atlas Peak Vineyards. Not the Valley Premiere, the wider wine auction that has been in the news the last couple of days, was two days ago on Saturday. They raised what is an ongoing record. It seems every year the amount of money raised for charity goes up. In this case they raised 6.1 million dollars. Last year it was 5.9. The year before that, if you remember when they first started to ramp up the program, was about 3 million. You're seeing a pretty quick ascension into a wider amount of money raised for charity.

Napa Valley Premiere is interesting because it's largely focused on both retail and wholesalers. The idea is as a wine club I could go and bid on some of these small lots of Cabernet. It's not largely happening. I could bid on some Cabernet. Then in turn resell that at a profit to my wine club customers. That's not something that we currently do. Although you've seen some astronomical prices paid. Last year there was in the Erickson lot of 260 basically Screaming Eagle bottles that sold for, I forget, $250,000 or something for a wine import house in Los Angeles. You can see all that stuff. It's kind of fun. It's a fun time in Napa. You have all these small scale private events. It's not a great time to visit. We saw some folks yesterday who were just trying to go and to view wines cellars in Yountville and found the place closed. Although much to the folks from Dos Lagos' credit, they found a glass for them and were able to turn what was going to be. These guy from Denver were going to go home and say Napa was difficult because we couldn't get anywhere, to wow that was really a lot of fun and the folks from Atlas Peak are really nice. I think that's something you see in the wine industry a lot. That's one of the reasons why I like the industry myself. Premiere happened. It's interesting because it's both a charity but a business event as well.

Thirdly, I had the chance to sit down with Matt Reid who makes the wine at PWR which is the People's Wine Revolution. I'm going to have a write up about that. I got a chance to actually sit and taste with Matt in his backyard. Met his dog who was a fun guest at the tasting, as well as taste through six of his wines. He does an amazing job given the price point of under $20. You can bet better than even money that People's Wine Revolution will show up in our Explorations Wine Club here in the coming months. Once again Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures, Wine Club [inaudible 00:03:40], coming your way in a couple of fun tasting events on our site that we'll write up a little bit more later. Hope everybody's off to a good week. Thanks again.

Mark Aselstine
February 11, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Amity Vineyards Pinot Noir Winemakers Reserve 2008

Members of our monthly wine club are receiving (at least some of you) this Amity Vineyards Pinot Noir, Winemakers Reserve 2008 in wine club shipments this month.  Here's why:



Hi guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

I wanted to do a quick video intro here on Monday morning about an Amity Vineyards Pinot Noir that we're shipping this month. We don't often get an opportunity to ship aged wines that come directly from the winery. I know there's a few folks out there that do it, but, in essence, I was told during my first meeting after starting Uncorked Ventures by Jean Hoefliger at Alpha Omega winery in Napa that 98% of wine is consumed within 48 hours of its purchase and I think from our conversations with wine club members and, frankly, with friends family and, quite honestly, with our own house as well, that seems to ring true.

Every once in a while, we ask, "Hey, do you guys have anything from an older vintage that's available?" and sometimes we'll taste through it and say, "You know, this is not holding up that well," or whatever the situation is... Amity vineyards was recently sold to Union Wine Company. Union Wine Company actually came from a box wine background and Amity is a high end producer in Oregon that's focused on their own single vineyard stuff, so we're shipping their wine makers reserve, they call it. In essence, they pick the vineyards, they go through, they find the best barrels and they throw them into a reserve program. Retail on this? 45-50 dollars.

Our special selection wine club members will get it and the reserve selection level, which is our premium wine club, you'll get it too. We were really excited about this because it's a 2008. We know we're well into 2015 at this point. You're starting to see '11 and '12 Pinot hit the market, hit your local wine store. Its aged 6 or 7 years beyond what you would typically see and its starting to get to the point where your average wine store is going to say "We don't really know what to do with that." Well, our customers do and we wanted to do an '08 for a simple reason: its been called the quote-unquote vintage of the century; it's been called outstanding; Wine Spectator gave it an "A" on the "A" to "F" scale. The '08 and the wine valley is... if you want to taste the best of Oregon, 2008 was a great year to do it. We often talk about how in great vintages you get great wine from everybody and then in bad vintages you get great wine from only the best and the brightest. I think this is a great example of the best and the brightest produce really great wine in all vintages, but really memorable stuff in great vintages, and I think that's what we have here from Amity Vineyards. You pour this in your glass ... the thing is, like I said, from '08 so its 7 years aged at this point ... there's still really bright fruit. I think it can easily go another 5 or 10 years after this. It just speaks completely of sour cherry and some of those classic Oregon Pinot notes that you'll notice with blackberry and cassis and some of those flavor profiles that fit along the wine, but the acidity is really the memorable thing here. Oregon often talks about how if you drink one of their Pinots, you want to have a piece of grilled salmon next to it, and that's really what comes through with this wine. We hope you enjoy it. I'm sure you will. It's quite honestly one of my favorite wines that we've shipped in the last few months in our wine clubs, so I think it's pretty simple. Enjoy.

Mark Aselstine
February 8, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Ponzi Vineyards Riesling

A brief intro to Ponzi Vineyards and their Oregon, Willamette Riesling.


Hi guys! Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

If you're looking for January wine club shipments, you might have noticed the national news for the East Coast and the Midwest has involved stuff like, "Frozen Disaster," or "Frost-quake in Kansas City," so shipments have been going out the last couple of days and you'll continue to see them go out over the next few days, into early next week, depending on where you live.

January shipments are coming, February weather looks a little bit nicer, so that will go out a couple weeks after, and we'll get everybody all caught up. I'm sorry about the delay, but like we tell people if they call or ask us via email, sending out wine popsicles doesn't do anybody a whole lot of good. In any case, part of our regular wine club shipments this month, includes a Ponzi Riesling from the Willamette Valley in Oregon.

Ponzi is kind of a known quantity, a known name if you are an Oregon wine fan, and while we might never ship a no-name from California, because we find it not very interesting, distribution for Oregon wines is still quite lacking in the wider marketplace. Even here in San Francisco, there's really only one or two folks who do Oregon, or do it very well. Most of the folks that we work with up in the Pacific Northwest would struggle to find a distributor or even a broker that would willing to represent them, both in terms of the amount of wines they make, which is usually quite small, then also there's a whole level of critical acceptance or consumer knowledge about Oregon wines that's just a little bit lacking.

We still feel comfortable serving Ponzi once in a while, depending on the vintage and the varietal because sometimes I think it still deserves some attention. The basic story is this: In the 1960's, a Ponzi family, husband and wife, moved to Oregon to make Pinot, they were influenced heavily by Burgundy, they wanted to find a cool-climate growing region. At that point, the Anderson Valley had not even been really discovered in California as far as a wine-growing region, so if you wanted to find true burgundy, you had to go further North. They staked out about 20 acres or so Southwest of Portland, and away they went. And Ponzi's kind of one of those great Oregon wine stories at this point, they've made a name for themselves with the brand, the family name, as well as Oregon Pinot in itself. So, we didn't ship a Ponzi Riesling because, you know, Oregon Pinot, we're finding small producers and club members seem to be liking that.

This is a Riesling. When you talk to folks in the Pacific Northwest, or even in California, they're kind of at a loss for what that secondary grape is going to be. I'm not sure Oregon's been able to come to a conclusion about what's their white wine grape going to be. You hear Pinot blanc from some people, you hear that they still think they're going to be able to pull off Chardonnay, but it's going to be a ... less fruit-driven and more acidic version of the grape than what's been popular in California. Riesling's popular even among Napa wine makers who think that maybe as Chardonnay has gone out, there's that whole "Anything but Chardonnay" movement, Sauvignon blanc has come in to take its place, in large part.

A lot of wine makers still feel like Riesling is maybe the correct answer. I think that you're starting to see more and more wine regions, if not singular wine makers or groups of wine makers, who think Riesling is a really great choice for their vineyard. If it's a warmer climate, like Napa, they feel like Riesling does really well. Oregon might be most traditional as far as ... you think of Riesling, you think of the Mosel Valley in Germany. It's one of my favorite parts of the wine industry. In Germany, when they harvest, we think of cellar rats or harvest hands. In California, it's either being, folks that are getting paid an hourly wage or, in the wine industry mostly, the cellar rat folks are, and that's a term of affection, more so than not, so let's be clear about that, are people who are still in college, or just out of college, and looking for their first job within the industry, and, just frankly trying to take it all in and learn a little something, to get their first regular paid gig. In Germany that's not the situation at all, employment ... being different in Europe kind of leads to some different things going on. Most of the harvest hands in Germany are actually retired folks. The Moselle Valley is kind of a really steep valley, and the river's at the bottom, as you might expect, and they carry the grapes on their backs, in backpacks, and they have these big slate rocks, and one of the only reasons why the Mosel Valley can exist at all as far as grape-growing is these big slate rocks take in the sun, and really keep the vineyard a little bit warmer at night than they would be otherwise. You'll often see these folks in their 60's and 70's trying to push these rocks back up into the vineyard as they are starting to fall down, because they need every little bit of ripeness they can get.

That's pretty similar to what happens in Oregon, and that's one of the reasons why we wanted to feature this Riesling. I also wanted to feature it personally because we've reviewed some Rieslings from New York State, and some from other folks, and they do a really nice job with this sweetness scale on the back, where, because a Riesling can go from not sweet at all to pretty sweet, like dessert wine style, and the New York folks will tell you exactly where it is. This Ponzi bottle doesn't do that at all, and one of the reasons why they don't do that is simply because it's not sweet, and they don't plan it to ever be sweet. It's a dry version of Riesling, it's a more mineral-driven than it is a sweetness-driven. I hope if you're not familiar with Ponzi, you'll take some time to have a look. When they have movies and stuff filmed in Oregon, typically at the premiere it's Ponzi that's poured. It's a well-known name, it's a really great wine-making story, and frankly I think they deserve all the credit in the world. They're on of the ones who have really driven the market to be accepting of Oregon wine, and I think that they deserve our attention still to this day. Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. We've been called one of the best wine clubs to join by Forbes magazine, and I think this is one of the reasons why. From big producers to small producers, as long as there's really high quality wine you can find stuff like this Riesling that's made in under 1,000 case increments that's really interesting and it's not at your local wine store, and that's one of the things that we really enjoy doing. So, once again, thanks for the time and for considering joining our wine club and we'll see you again soon. Thanks.

Mark Aselstine
January 29, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Champagne vs Sparkling Wine

Champagne vs Sparkling Wine. Why there is a difference between the two, even if the French and American governments can't exactly agree what the difference should be.

Hi guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

Couple of things today. I want to spend a couple minutes talking about the difference between champagne and basic sparkling wine. In essence, there's kind of one thing that happens here.

In California, there's been a large kind of ... not a fight, but an argument over can California vintners use the word champagne on their label. One of the examples that we have here is Korbel. Korbel's maybe the best-known kind of American producer of what is champagne or sparkling wine. In essence, they're the same thing.

Champagne is supposed to be made only in the Champagne region of France, but the French don't do us any favors here in using a, basically varietal name for something that they make with the growing region, making them one and the same. Yeah, from a marketing perspective in the 1800s, this probably made a lot of sense, but these days, it probably makes less sense. Just like although if there is a town in France called Napa, we wouldn't want Napa Cabernet Sauvignon or we wouldn't want a vintner in Sonoma using the Napa label. Just like, when I went to the Fancy Food Show, I wasn't thrilled to see a chocolate vendor from New Jersey using the Napa Chocolate Factory label. At the same time, there's got to be some influence of ... Dom Perignon basically invented this way to make wine, and there's got to be some way for people to be able to differentiate what's a sparkling wine in a champagne style, versus what's just a sparkler. Korbel uses the... Which is, at least in America what we're allowed to do is put California champagne.

It is what it is. I have 3 wines with me, none of which are technically champagne, all of which would love to call themselves champagne, and they're all not allowed to call themselves champagne for different reasons. First Korbel. Korbel is kind of a classic name in American wine. There's two brothers that came to, in essence, what is Sonoma in the late 1800s. They started producing champagne. Then they survived prohibition and everything that's come after. This is probably still served ... it came up I think in Obama's first inauguration, they served a California champagne, and the French government kinda threw a hissy about it. I think things have settled down enough for everybody to cool our heads for real. I think everyone realizes that if you want a champagne from France, buy champagne from France. If you want an American sparkling wine, calling it champagne is not going to kind convolute it enough for anybody to really be confused. [Inaudible 00:02:25] we've talked a little bit about in this space before. I think it's one of the truly up and coming names in California Wine.

They're from down in Monterey. The thing that people don't realize about the champagne region of France is it's pretty damn cold. I think that's why the kind of wine got made the way that it did. In essence, what happens with champagne when they're producing it is that when you have a normal fermentation ... and we have some pictures of this up on our site ... is that CO2 is produced. It goes up in to the sky. It goes away. Done, goodbye, thanks for coming. If it's cold enough, fermentation can stop midway, and the CO2 is trapped. One of the things that they figured out in the champagne region of France is that they were just cold enough that they weren't being able to finish fermentation before the cold really set in after harvest, so they were allowing fermentation to finish in the bottle. If you think about it, if you put everything into a bottle of wine and put the cork on, where's the CO2 go? It's trapped within the wine itself, and so then the only way for it to escape is in bubbles once you open the thing. That's how you end up with a sparkler. Jacques Pelvas, this is another French guy. They're from the Languedoc. I've talked about the Languedoc a little bit in this space before. The French, just like champagne, burgundy, Bordeaux, there's a lot of rules that go int o what can be grown, what can be made, how do you label your wine. They're certainly the most restrictive country in the world when it comes to wine labels and how to create them and even what you're allowed to plant in your vineyard. The one region in France that is truly open for anything, which reminds us a little bit of California, is the Languedoc. The Languedoc has done a little bit of everything. They'll remind you of the [Rhone Valley 00:04:09] in parts where they're Syrah and Grenache and doing a pretty good job of it. They'll remind you a teeny-tiny bit of Bordeaux in parts where they've growing [cab 00:04:17], and this is kind of a grower cooperative champagne from ... no, not a champagne. See? Now I've got myself doing it. From the Languedoc too. Three wines, none of which can actually be champagne but all of which are champagne, at least production-wise. I hope that over the long-term that they can come to some conclusion. I think putting an American champagne on the label is frankly ... it's fine. I think there's bigger things for everyone to worry about within the wine industry than simply how to label something, especially when you have two different countries and two different laws and much different laws going into it. BTW, I think there's a quick answer here, I talk about this stuff and pay attention to it because as a wine of the month club, I think it can be important to follow trends and fads within the wider wine industry.

The French definitely do a larger amount of rules and regulations than do American wine companies and American wine kind of oversight. I think there's going to be naturally some butting of head there. I think there's probably more than there should be right now. Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I hope you've enjoyed this short talk of what is champagne versus sparkling wine, and wine in California is technically all sparkling wine, but some folks if you had your label before 2006 are still allowed to use champagne on your label one way or another. Champagne versus sparkling wine.

Thanks again