Uncorked Ventures Blog
Every once in a while, it's fun to taste something we have no intention of shipping. In this case, it's a Cotes Du Rhone blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah. Those who know me, also know that I love small local businesses. This bottle came from a small local grocery store (well, no meat, so I guess it is technically a produce market) which I felt compelled to buy after my preschooler needed to use the bathroom, which in essence is for their employees-hardly something they had to let us use. I wanted to buy something with a bit more margin than the peaches and scones that comprise our usual order.
Hi Guys. Mark Aselstine here with Uncorked Ventures. First we're digging out a little bit here. I was in Walla Walla last week to taste through some Washington wines and to source some wine for upcoming wine club shipments. Much of that won't be in the next month or two, it'll be a few months down the road. Being based outside of San Francisco, we tend to try to put together groups of wines and then ship down all at once as opposed to shipping a handful of cases from a few different wineries. Quite honestly it's more cost effective and it leads to better wine for all of our members.
Today I wanted to spend a couple of minutes talking about something that I don't do very often which is a French wine. This is a Chemin des Papes. You'll have to excuse, my French is not great. That's probably one of the ... Part of the backlash from growing up in Southern California where Spanish you hear almost exclusively when it comes to foreign languages and my Spanish isn't bad. My French is terrible. Chemin des Papes it's what's referred to as a Cotes du Rhone. When we hear Rhone, that's really clear, that's the Rhone Valley in France. People don't give the Rhone very much credit. When it comes to casual wine drinkers, when you think of France you think of Bordeaux first, you think of Burgundy second and some folks will think of Champagne region, too.
The Rhone Valley is actually the oldest wine growing region in France. The [Venetians 00:01:30] reportedly brought grape cuttings and started to grow wild vines there in the 12th Century. Much like California, it wasn't until the Catholic Church started to move in in great numbers and if you know the history of the Catholic Church at all, not to bore you, but the long story short is for a while the Pope was actually based in France as opposed to Vatican City in Italy or Rome. That's when cultivation of grapes really took off. That's when we see wide scale plantings of stuff in the Rhone Valley. That's really the 18th Century.
The Rhone is known for two things. First it's a warm growing region and south towards the Mediterranean sea. This is Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre. On the white side you see Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne. The one thing you will notice, not a lot of household names. A lot of people know about Syrah and recognize Syrah and then they think to themselves very quickly, "I don't like Syrah." One of the things we try to do is sometimes try something at random. This Chemin des Papes is made in, quite frankly, huge quantities. I picked it up for about 10 bucks at a local, I'd call it a grocery store but that oversells it. We have a local, a couple of blocks down from the house, produce market. They sell no meat inside but produce is great and they have a small wine and beer selection that's almost exclusively international. This is in wide scale distribution throughout not only the United States but I think they go out to something along the line of 50 countries or so. Certainly all over Europe and then most of Asia and then North America as well.
What this is is 60 per cent Grenache, 40 per cent Syrah. It's fairly typical for the region. It's a really nice wine though. It's nice if you're looking for a solid house wine at a really affordable price. Chemin des Papes should be literally everywhere in your local market. Wine store may or may not have it. I'd bet you that the small to go grocery stores carry it. I thought it was interesting and I thought it was also interesting to get to talk a little bit about the Rhone Valley here in this space, which we don't get to do quite often enough. Like I said, people don't give Syrah very much credit but if you find Syrah to be too dark, too dense, or you say, "I think I prefer a cab," which is most of the United States to be honest with you. Something that's a higher percentage Grenache rather than Syrah is probably something that's going to fit the bill a little bit better.
The Chemin des Papes, reportedly they make something along the lines of 2 million cases of this. It's quite clearly everywhere. This is a really good value at 10 bucks and I certainly wouldn't [bahoo 00:04:02] buying another bottle or two along the way. It's a nice intro to French wine and when people talk about French style versus California style, this bottle, I think, does a good job of doing it. I think really often on the California side of things you tend to have these big over ripe things at the $10 price point. France, the tend to have a lighter hand and it's also because it's simply a little bit cooler there. Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I hope you've enjoyed this short intro to the Rhone Valley of France and the Chemin des Papes Cotes du Rhone 10 bucks locally for wherever you sit and in any case have a good week. We certainly are. Thanks.
Ok, so let’s start with the elephant in the room. Yup, it’s a Lake County winery and yes, two of our monthly wine clubs are receiving the wine this month....it isn't likely the two that you expect though. But, before you start thinking this is a new project, or someone trying to make a go of it in unfamiliar territory, it’s owned by the Venge family.
If you drink a ton of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, or you find the history of wine and California wine in peculiar interesting, Nils Venge needs absolutely no introduction. He is famous in the industry for having the first 100 point Napa Valley wine according to Robert Parker and his other property, Saddleback Cellars has helped to continually grow the Oakville AVA to where it is today, behind perhaps only Rutherford in the pantheon of new world Cabernet Sauvignon.
We have a bit of a personal connection with Nils son Kirk, who attended UC Davis (like almost every other would be winemaker who grew up in the industry) along with my sister in law. Kirk makes highly acclaimed wines at B Cellars, which we’ve worked with in the past, as well as at Renteria Vineyards and his family's namesake project, Venge Vineyards (ok, so there’s 3 or 4 others at any given time, but I won’t bore you with the details, he’s good and knows anyone who is anyone in the industry). I also appreciate that while so many new winemakers and new wine projects have headed toward Pinot Noir, or obscure growing regions and colder conditions, the Venge’s seem happy to make these fruit forward and almost jammy wines….you know, the stuff that put California on the proverbial wine map in the first place. There’s still room for that and although this might not be my preferred style, it is summer and summer brings plenty of BBQ and time outside, which seems to fit exactly what’s being offered here.
I think you’ll be more interested, instead of a family history lesson of the Venge’s, to hear a bit about Lake County though. If you’ve been a wine club member since last Christmas, give or take you’ve received a Lake County wine or two along the way, newer members likely are seeing the AVA for the first time.
I’ve talked at length about how as prices continue to increase, wineries are forced to move increasingly to the prolifery of great growing regions. Napa and Sonoma sit right next to one and other, with Carneros and the city of San Francisco to the south. The only room for growth in the region generally referred to as the “North Coast” is to the north. Sure there's some room out east, but the only temperate regions are pretty much Berkeley and Oakland, other than that....it gets pretty darn hot in Contra Costa County, pretty quickly as you get away from the Bay. Thus, most wineries and winemakers look north for less expensive vineyard space and that's why you find Mendocino wines gaining ground, Anderson Valley and of course Lake County. As you drive up highway 29 through Napa Valley and especially once you hit Calistoga, you see signs for it, Lake County 50 miles...give or take.
Lake County is appropriately named, for Clear Lake, the largest freshwater lake in California. It also boasts more volcanic soil than other regions of the state because of the existence of a now dormant volcano.
Wineries of the region are largely clustered around Clear Lake, where nighttime temperatures fall precipitously giving winemakers that nice combination of acidity as well as fruit forwardness….after all, California continues to be damn hot and Clear Lake is inland.
What’s in your glass is also grown at altitude. That might be the least understood aspect of fine wine by the general public. We’re accustomed to hearing the word valley when it comes to great wine growing regions. Napa, the Rhone, Dry Creek, Barossa, Hunter, Willamette, etc etc. What we don’t talk about as much are the regions that are warmer and that winemakers use altitude to gain some extra moisture in the air, as well as some extra wind, which both help keep berry sizes smaller. Those smaller berry sizes help to give fruit the complexity that we all want, even in warmer climates where some of that complexity can be lost by idea conditions. Arizona and New Mexico have been pretty successful with the setup and we’re seeing an increasing number of warmer regions try to plant wine grapes at altitude to buffer some of those incredibly warm temperatures. Having grown up in Southern California I can attest that deserts, even coastal deserts get hot during the day, but during the summer they can be pretty darn cold at night. Thus the reason so many tourists end up walking around with those ever present “San Diego Lifeguard” hoodies every summer.
Lake County has seen its profile rise due to projects like this one and winemakers, especially those Napa folks that want a bit of land are being pushed increasingly north as the lower valley develops quickly. Downtown Napa was once little more than a home to a few streets around the river, a courthouse and a whole lot of empty storefronts. The action was in the upper valley. Things have changed a bit though, as San Francisco has become even more expensive and tourist dollars have continued to flow, developers have noticed and the lower Napa Valley has become increasingly up market in terms of accommodations, restaurants and yes, as you might expect, real estate prices.
The cheapest parts of Napa these days sit to the extreme north, far enough to not be convenient from a time or traffic standpoint for those who want a second home in wine country.
That’s helped the rise of Lake County as more winemakers live in Calistoga and even further afield, an hour’s drive up the 29 to Clear Lake doesn’t seem to bad, especially in comparison with the snarls of traffic that exist to the south.
With more attention winemakers and vineyard managers have been able to find plots around Clear Lake with their preferred make up. There’s much debate on the point by the way, if grapes should be slightly below the fog line, right at the fog line (which sits, reportedly at about 750 feet above sea level) or lastly, if the grapes should just be at the highest altitude possible.
The Venge’s have opted for the final choice here and 2500 feet in elevation, a generation ago was considered a fool’s errand. Books have been written about the chase for elevated vineyards (The Vineyard at the End of the World is a personal favorite about a South American vineyard at 10k feet above sea level, they’re trying for Pinot Noir)
Lastly, a short word about Zinfandel. There’s been a lot of debate about the genetics of Zin and where it came from originally. UC Davis, as with most things in California wine, is at the forefront of the research into grape genetics. They’re actually completing something along the lines of a grape genome in fact. So Zinfandel is usually compared to Primitivo, the Italian grape that seems oh so similar to so many people. California vineyard owners swear that Zin is the ancestor to Primitivo. Italians of course, think the inverse is true. As it turns out, there’s a Croatian grape that is the long lost relative of both of them. As an aside, most of the international varieties that we enjoy today.
Here’s the more interesting part of the Zinfandel story though-mainly that the genetics are still being written. There’s a grape that brings a lot of history into question. It’s also Croatian and is called Plavac Mali. Plavac Mali is generally thought of as the child of the original Zinfandel vines in Croatia and another native variety in a region that has given rise to any number of wine grapes that are now household names. There’s some new research though that shows that Zin from California likely contributed to the planting. Researchers didn’t previously believe that vines had gone back and forth between the two continents in the 17th century, but the exact way that Zin was born in California is now being debated some once again.
I think it’s an interesting question to ponder, maybe too serious for a wine newsletter, but Zin was definitely a part of California viticulture since the early 1800’s. That 200+ year period gave it plenty of time to genetically adapt to the climate of the Golden State and that’s why many Sommelier’s will tell you, it’s pretty easy to pick apart the differences in flavor profiles between Zinfandel and Primitivo. Those years also gave rise to the idea of a field blend which is unique to California. Zinfandel and other dark skinned grapes have largely been allowed to grow as they may within vineyards and genetic material seems to pass relatively freely between vines. Enough in fact that certain vineyards throughout the state are not called Zinfandel or Petite Sirah any longer, but simply field blend vineyards since the genetics no longer match either grape perfectly. The grapes are harvested at once and then fermented together, usually in and old world style of open top containers. It’s something to look out for, especially if you enjoy this fleshy, acidic Zinfandel that I hope makes you think, this would have been something good to drink after a day of mining for gold in the hot California sun.
Thank you for your continued membership. I hope you’re enjoying the wine!
Let’s spend a minute on Bardessono, if you haven’t been a wine club member for a year or so, this is certainly a new name. The pedigree is pretty clear, Bardessono is one of the larger vineyards in Yountville, which if you aren’t familiar, is the home to more Michelin starred restaurants per capita than any other city in the world. It’s a walkable destination in Napa Valley, where one can have breakfast at Bouchon bakery, lunch at Ad Hoc and dinner, if one is lucky enough to fall into a reservation at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry. Bardessono sells grapes to a few folks interested in what is a relatively unheard of Napa AVA designation: Yountville and they make about 200 cases of their own.
This wine is the result of a 3rd generation farmer, thinking that maybe, instead of focusing on the property itself, he’s try his hand as more of a winemaker. Then he decided to fully devote himself to the high end eco friendly 55 room inn on the property-so it ends up in your shipment instead of a wine list around the country.
About 2 barrels, 55 cases of this wine were made.
Tom Bardessono won’t tell us where in the Knight’s Valley this wine came from.
Let’s go back to Tom. 3rd generation farmer. Trained winemaker. Assistant winemaker at Miner Family Wines by day-home winemaker (if you can call an estate I’m estimate at being worth 30M+ just that) by night. If you Google Bardessono, you’ll find that the first result is the luxury inn and spa, about 55 guest rooms and running close to $1k per night. It’s an exclusive place and one of the best locations in Napa Valley from which to be based.
Suggested retail price for the wine that Tom makes from his estate vineyard is $75. Knight’s Valley is a better known AVA within Napa, so you’re likely looking at something similiar. Ok, probably more.
To give you some idea on the Knight’s Valley AVA. It sits to the west of Chalk Hill in Napa and to the east of Alexander Valley. It’s technically Sonoma and according to many, home to the Sonoma Cabernet industry. Although if you consider fruit only as good as its neighbors, then having Chalk Hill and Alexander for neighbors isn’t so bad right?
There’s about 30 growers in the region. It’s an interesting spot to visit and it reminds me so much more of the Willamette Valley of Oregon rather than Napa Valley simply because as you drive through the region, you’re as likely to run into an apple orchard (after all this is Sonoma, home to the Gravenstein apple) as you are grape vine after grape vine. Usually when we see growers come into some grapes from a different region, they’ve done something along the lines of either a trade (grapes for grapes) which is my best guess here, or they’re bartering grapes for something else, perhaps consulting winemaking.
In any case, we have a classically trained winemaker-something that you’re going to find is common in this shipment…..as well as an absolute top rate growing region.
You might be wondering where the name comes from and unlike the Medieval military connotation that you might be considering, it’s named after Thomas Knight who bought much of the original Spanish land grant back in the 1800’s after making a name for himself at the Bear Flag Revolt in Sonoma Square. Sonoma still has the original barracks and some interesting historical facts about the state’s time as a Republic (one story that gets so much less attention than the time Texas spent, which is interesting I think). That’s been one of the surprising things to me after living almost my entire life in Southern California, spending 5 years on the Central Coast (let’s be clear, from Santa Cruz south to Ventura is the central coast...give or take, yes it’s different) and now living in the Bay Area….people take this whole California Republic thing seriously. Not Texas seriously, but t-shirts and stuff.
There’s some real history here for both the state, as well as grape vines, which Knight planted shortly after purchasing the land, along with peaches, apples and wheat. He really did bring grapes to what is Sonoma’s most easternmost point and the warmest growing climate in one of America’s fastest growing wine regions.
Sonoma’s made a name for itself with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but much like Santa Barbara, the region is capable of growing Bordeaux varietals in its warmer regions even if most of the general wine drinking public, doesn’t appreciate that fact. There’s plenty of wineries bucking the trend of course and although I’ve talked about Knight’s Valley and other regions as warmer regions, they aren’t as warm as Napa Valley, there’s a greater amount of acidity inherent in these wines. I think part of the issue is a marketing one, more so than anything else. Who is the quality leader in deep and dark red wine from Sonoma? If I asked about Pinot Noir, we’d all have our individual favorites, be it Anthill Farms, Littorai, Williams Selyem, Kosta Browne or any number of newer producers like Cartograph & Thralls….but for Bordeaux blends, or straight Cabernet? Verite gets HUGE scores in most vintages, but the average buyer at a wine shop hasn’t ever seen a bottle. Rodney Strong and some of the single vineyard Kendall Jackson stuff get great scores, but the huge production levels and wide availability on the lower end cloud a ton of people’s perception of the high end (Mondavi suffers from the same bias, their To Kalon single vineyard Cabernet is still among the best wines produced in any single vintage).
Part of the issue is also that Knight’s Valley is among the 5 original Sonoma sub AVA’s and most of the growers in the region (during my conversations at least) are fiercely loyal to the wider Sonoma designation. They don’t as of yet have a single trade group for their wines, which are really quite different than many of their neighbors.
I'm going to bet that we see some of this change over the coming years. Knight's Valley deserves more attention and while the Napa folks move even more increasingly toward straight Cabernet Sauvignon, there's an opportunity for others to fill in a hole with blends and yes, even some higher acidity Cabernet.
Hi, guys! Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. It's been a while since I've done one of these. This is going to be a little bit different because this is a wine that we don't actively sell, but I thought it was kind of interesting. As we get ready for a trip to Walla Walla, Washington next week, and getting some wine club shipments for the month of July out over the next few days, I thought I'd take a minute and talk about what might be the most interesting wine I've had in a really long time. The winery's called Klinec. It is Slovenian. Slovenia, the European country since 2004, used to be part of Yugoslavia, and they've gone ahead and started importing small amounts of some of their higher-priced wines. This retails for about $30 and I believe it's the most expensive wine made in the country.
Long story short, country is only a stones throw from Italy, if you're not familiar. I know most Americans get a little discredit for their view of geography. I'm certainly included in that. Although, I can tell you where fifty states are that I don't think that most Europeans can do. The [inaudible 00:01:03] glass, it's from a wine region where they have a lot of native grapes but they don't have a large history of wine cultivation, at least not in an international sense. You're going to notice this, so, yes, that's orange. Ribolla is the grape. Ribolla is kind of an interesting one. It is one of their native grapes in the country. It's one of the ones that, as they do tastings and bring wines into new markets, and in this case, San Francisco, they tend to make it Ribolla. The story is, it's pretty acidic, but it's orange because, not because it's a different type of skin. It's a white wine grape. They make most of the wines by macerating the skins and allowing a longer kind of contact between grape, and juice, and skin than you would with most white wines, that's where the color comes from.
In essence, they're making a white wine in a style that's more typically made for red. We've seen that a few other places. There's definitely some up and coming wine regions that are attempting to do the kind of stuff like that, but Slovenians are the first ones to do it on this scale. They have a whole vibrant local food and wine industry and I just wanted to take a few minutes and talk about that. Klinec is not something that will show up in a wine club shipment anytime soon. We have shipped this to a few customer just to see what they think and we've gotten kind of ... Half the feedback has been, "We weren't quite sure what to do with that." The other half would be, "Hey, you suggested to put this with goat cheese and a prosciutto." Which is kind of relevant to the region of the world that they're in. If they were ten miles further to the east they'd be in Italy, so that makes a little more sense when you think of it that way. It held up pretty well.
It's highly acidic and it's also kind of an interesting ... I do think that there's an area of opportunity for a lot of wine makers if you're going to make whites that don't necessarily sell as well as reds. Especially for folks that are looking to gain market share in Asian markets, where 90% of sales are red wine, doing something like this where it's macerated skins and it gives it a little more of a fleshy texture that we don't get with a lot of white wines, while keeping the acidity that's native in these grapes, I think there's a chance for some people to do some pretty special things.
Klinec, it's worth a shot. If I went out to a wine bar tonight, would I suggest that my wife, who will have a glass or two a week, to order it, no. If you're somebody who really, really enjoys wine, likes both history and kind of supporting up-and-coming wine regions, it's something to look for. I don't know what the distribution model is at this point in the United States. I don't believe that they have any. They went through a larger distributor who had some issues moving the wine, but those are large accounts. For a smaller, local vendor, they might not have something like this but they might have something that is interesting from a different region of the world that you can check out. I encourage you to do so.
We've talked about the future of the wine a lot on this plate, on this blog, and kind of in the video segments. In large part, as land in established growing regions gets more and more expensive and the wine then being produced in those growing regions becomes more and more expensive, you're going to have an increasing number of competitors who are coming from regions that you wouldn't necessarily know had grapes. This is a good examples. Those regions won't necessarily make wine the exact way that you thought they might. This is a good example of that. After all, it's orange, and we're not quite sure what to do with that. It's an interesting take and I hope you've enjoyed this small talk and small macerated skins, in any case, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. Of course, we hope you'll consider a wine of the month club today as well. Have a good one.
Kiona Vineyards is a trailblazer in Washington wine, having planted what I believe to be the first grapes in what has become the Red Mountain AVA. It started with 12 acres and according to anyone that you ask, many times that number of people telling founder John Williams that he had completely lost his mind. Why would he think that planting grapes on 12 acres of sagebrush was a good idea? Well, Kiona is now on their 3rd generation and have about 250 acres under vine…..so it’s gone better than anyone, perhaps outside of John and his Ann, thought possible.
A short word on the name since, having grown up in Southern California, that sounds like a Hawaiian island to me-Kiona is the original Yakama Nation Native American name for the Red Mountain area that is literally translated to “Brown Hills”. The Red Mountain AVA designation is actually more important here than another AVA might be elsewhere, there’s only about 1400 acres under vine in the AVA. We can talk all we want about soil compositions (those are certainly important to be sure) as well as elevation and steepness of hillsides, but one thing that I think separates the Red Mountain AVA from others is that the average rainfall is only 7 inches. As happens here locally in the Bay Area near Half Moon Bay, the mountains in essence trap the clouds which would otherwise deliver rain. Seattle gets a lot of it and those folks on the other side of the mountains, don’t get much. They get even less during summer and fall, giving winemakers the ability to allow grapes to sit on the vine for as long as possible, without any real concern about rain coming along and ruining a large portion of the crop at the last minute.
So Kiona has been there quite a while, but the future is still coming for Washington wine, so they aren’t the household name that they would be, if say, those 12 acres were purchased in Napa. Of course, the wine is no worse, but the region will get there.
Kiona boasts a nice family story that almost everyone in the wine business aspires to: three generations working together, hopefully without killing each other, while living what many would call a dream life.
We wanted to feature a Chenin Blanc here for a few different reasons. First, the grape is native to the Loire Valley of France, one of the coldest growing climates in all of France. Washington isn’t cold though and the state’s success with this continues to show that there’s something a bit different about growing conditions in Washington that simply isn’t getting articulated by simple soil composition studies, or rainfall totals.
California vintners have always planted the grape, in large amounts, in the most generic vineyards around the state. A single vineyard Chenin Blanc like this? It doesn’t exist.
It’s often referred to as a workhouse variety, which really means that in the hot climate of the inland valley’s that cut down the state like a scar, the grape grows well, given enough water to produce those $5 wines that we all started drinking. The French, of course, are slightly aghast at the treatment of what they consider something of a noble variety.
A lot of the Washington folks that I’ve talked with have said that they think Chenin Blanc might end up being the white wine grape that the state is known for. Part of that is a certain mindset that comes from having to compete with so many regions in regard to Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet based blends on the red wine side, wouldn’t it be nice to have something a bit less complicated on the white wine side….at least from a marketing perspective?
Many wine regions have struggled with the transition from unknown and underappreciated to established and few have found a single red and a single white wine grape that they can be known for, without question. After all, travel to the Rhone Valley of France and tell me, what the white wine grape of choice? They’re 300+ years in and haven’t figured it out yet.
Washington though is onto something here and prices could easily jump for these low production versions of Chenin Blanc, if they can figure out the marketing. All the classic appeal is here, there’s plenty of acidity, but there is also a ton of fruit aroma that isn’t necessarily apparent in other white wine grapes around the state.
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