Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
October 8, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

New Stuff Happening in Paso Robles

What's New in Paso Robles

So, we’ve written about a few wineries in Paso Robles already but over the past few weeks and months a few interesting wineries have been introduced to us.  We thought our readers and eventually our customers, would enjoy these wines as we all continue to search for more great wine. Over the remainder of the week, we’ll be featuring three wineries from Paso that you should probably know, for a variety of reasons.

The wineries of Paso Robles are crafting incredible wines that are priced fairly for the quality and the area still offers a unique and a tasting atmosphere where the average consumer can enjoy themselves at a variety of vineyards.  Paso has been called everything from the “Next Napa” to “Like visiting Napa in the 1970’s” while I don’t want to comment on either of those statements, I know that it does seem that the cheaper land prices and great sense of working together in Paso pervades the wine industry and leads to really, really good wine especially given the price points involved.

In any case, there’s a lot of really interesting stuff going on in Paso from their continued focus on Rhone varietals, to increasingly high quality Cabernet Sauvignon and their continued, if sometimes futile search for vineyard sites cool enough for Pinot Noir.  Perhaps the most interesting group of wines being produced in Paso are white wines which are made from Rhone’s, but are dense and interesting enough to make even the most ardent “I don’t drink white’s” guy stand up and take notice.


Mark Aselstine
September 29, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

What is a Vigeron?

Vigeron is a French term for someone who not only grows grapes, but then makes wine with them.  We think of estate wineries in those terms here in California, but the French term means something smaller, usually a winery and farming operation run by a single individual, or by a family who not only owns the land, but plans on keeping it for generations to come.

Mark Aselstine
September 25, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

Lang & Reed Wine Company

Lang and Reed Wine CompanyEvery once in a while you end up running into a bottle of wine that you really like, even when it comes from an unexpected place.  I’ve already talked about the chagrin that often overtakes me when I have a friend, or a neighbor who suggests a friend’s wine, or a wine that they really like.  I mean, if I had a couple of bucks for every time someone suggested that we purchase some wine from their friend who was making it in their garage, or this great wine from a 1M+ case winery, well my wife and I would be choosing better restaurants.

Enter a bottle from Lang & Reed Wine Company.

I was blown away.

Lang & Reed fits the mold of a winery which would open, make some good wine and then rapidly scale up production before being sold.  But it hasn’t.  I thought that would be the model for Lang & Reed based on the founders having a long stretch of experience in the wine industry, which in this case seems to have made them sure that building a brand for themselves and theoretically their children, makes more sense. 

A husband and wife team of Tracey and John Skupny own Lang & Reed Wine Company. John’s resume in Napa Valley and beyond is longer than virtually any others than you could possibly find, but stops in the marketing departments of Caymus (in the 80’s no less!) and Coppola certainly would open the entire world of Napa to him in terms of grower relationships and the opportunities that help to create a world class wine.  His wife and business partner Tracey spent over a decade in the marketing & sales departments at Spotswoode (I warned you, good connections abound) before taking time off to raise their two sons (something I can greatly appreciate in terms of the amount of work, stress and the lack of genuine road map given I have my son a couple of afternoons a week) and as the kids have grown closer to adulthood, has focused more attention on the winery. She’s also the director of the Napa Valley Vintners Board of Directors, so it’s pretty clear that Lang & Reed are every bit of a partnership.

What really interested me about Lang & Reed was the fact that despite a St. Helena address, they have chosen to focus their winery project on Cabernet Franc.  There are a number of issues with Cabernet Franc, not the least of which is that the average consumer isn’t necessarily going to choose a bottle of it when a more familiar Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir is present.

North Coast Cabernet FrancThe winery offers two versions of the Cabernet Franc, an entry level more approachable bottle (the one I was able to taste) priced at $24 retail and a more structured and dense, single vineyard offering priced at $48. While the number of available varietal specific Cabernet Franc’s isn’t wide even here in the Bay Area, I’d have to say this was among my favorite versions of the varietal that I’ve tasted over the past three years (well right up there with Mark David).

Oh and as you’ll look around their website, you’ll notice their love for animals, especially a set of Saluki dogs.  We’re lucky to have neighbors who have a couple of them a few doors down and I can attest that the dogs really are intelligent and incredibly gentle with the variety of little kids trying to do everything short of ride them around the block.

Lastly, I can’t help but say that we need more wineries like this in Napa Valley, but elsewhere as well.  Focusing on a more obscure varietal like Cabernet Franc should be something that those of us in the industry respect and average consumers try to support when possible.  More choices in terms of wineries and types of wines is a good thing for consumers and Lang & Reed is a great example of a winery taking a chance of sorts, but crafting a really high quality wine at the same time.

Mark Aselstine
September 23, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

What is an Estate Wine?

What is an Estate Wine?

While Alcohol-Beverage-Control and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacoo and Firearms have their own distinct rules for an estate wine, really there are two important notes.  First an estate wine must have 100% of the grapes grown on a winery owned vineyard.  That happens less often than you think, but perhaps more importantly the wine must then be made in its entirety in a continuous process, on its own site.  Estate wines therefore are an expensive proposition with some estimates in Napa Valley showing minimum investments of $30 million needed to create an estate wine program.

Mark Aselstine
September 18, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

#WineChat 9/11 Wine Review Finger Lakes New York

It took me a while longer than I initially thought, but I do have plenty of thoughts on the wines and wineries that we encountered on the Finger Lakes Riesling Twitter #winechat last week.

Swedish Hill Winery 2012 Dry Riesling: Swedish Hill has one of the more extensive histories in the Finger Lakes region, with a winery dating back a quarter century and a history of grape cultivation on the property dating back at least two decades before that. The winery also seems to bring with a certain sense of humor.  We’ve seen, well let’s call it hundreds of wineries with pictures of their dogs or even their cats on their websites.  Heck, there’s even a calendar here in northern California devoted to Napa Valley’s dogs.  Swedish Hill has a miniature donkey, now that’s something worthy of a picture during a visit and also I think speaks to the winery not wanting to take itself too seriously.  Maybe they should take themselves more seriously though as Swedish Hill has grown to become one of the larger wineries in the Finger Lakes, now crafting about 60,000 cases per year.  Still family owned the winery is focused on delivering a variety of wines, suitable for every palate while keeping everything they produce as food friendly as possible.  I found their 2012 Dry Riesling to be the easiest of the bunch to pair with food and could imagine it being served well with a ton of different summer salad’s, including those focused on fruit just as easily as cheese and fish.

Standing Stone Vineyards Old West Block 2012 Riesling: The Standing Stone property has a history of cultivation going back to the early 70’s, although the current ownership group didn’t come into being until the early 1990’s.  The focus at Standing Stone is on Riesling and Gewurztaminer which isn’t surprising given the cooler climate that they inhabit in the Finger Lakes, but one thing that struck me as I was learning a bit more about Standing Stone was that they are actively planting and testing red wine grapes as well, with plantings as varied as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Sapaeravi.  The Sapaeravi planting caught my attention because it shows the winery is willing to experiment and is clearly trying to find the best fit in the vineyard, not at the table where marketing initiatives are creating.  Native grapes often make incredible wine, but they can be hard to sell because the average consumer isn’t aware of them.  I appreciate Standing Stone giving Sapaeravi a try and wish more wineries would do the same.

Red Newt Cellars Circle Riesling 2012: The Circle Riesling came in as the most decorated bottle by major wine critics with a range of scores encompassing 88 points from Wine Spectator and 90 points (and a Best Buy label) from Wine Enthusiast.  Frankly, it didn’t take long to see why everyone enjoys this wine so much and it was certainly my favorite of the night.  It was a refreshing, slightly sweet Riesling that would pair well with food, but also work well by itself.  Notes on the palate included apple, fig and other stone fruits with an overwhelming sense that the winery should be charging more the $12 listed on their website, which feels more like a misprint than a real price. The winery adds a Bistro on site and has existed since 1998 and has taken a rather quick path to being, perhaps the most recognized name in Finger Lakes wine. If you wanted to select your first bottle, or two of Finger Lake Riesling, this would be my choice.

Wagner Vineayrds 2012 Riesling Select: Perhaps it continues to date me, but Wagner Vineyards was established the same year that I was born, 1979.  With one of the most extensive histories in the region, Wagner also boasts that the current ownership group is the 5th generation of family growers involved in the direct operation of their vineyard.  As with many of the wineries that I talk about here in California their winemaker, Ann Raffetto has a degree from Winemakers U (UC Davis) and has been at Wagner for over a quarter century herself.  With a brewery and a café on site, it certainly seems like an interesting spot to stop in for a taste and the Riesling Select bottle that we received was one of the more interesting bottles of the night.  It was the bottle that I was willing to share with neighbors who are seasoned wine lovers, one of whom worked a Sonoma harvest himself at one point earlier in life.  The wine was the sweetest of the four standard bottles of the night and showed clear pineapple and honey overtones throughout both the nose as well as the palate. Given the sweetness involved and the ever increasing alcohol percentages at play here locally, I was almost amazed that the bottle came in at only 11.2% alcohol.

Fulkerson Winery 2012 Riesling Iced Wine: I almost feel badly about not having much to compare it to, but I’ve honestly never had another Riesling dessert wine as most of the local dessert offerings are Sauv Blanc or more often Viognier.  In any case, it was interesting and I can see how it would work as an end of the night aperitif. The winery also appears to be doing a brisk business supplying others yeast, bottling supplies and much more.

Overall, this was an interesting experience.  When I started Uncorked Ventures, I would have said that the hype surrounding wines from New York State was likely outreaching their quality.  I still that's the case in regard to other regions, which is probably to be expected given New York City's status as the media capital of the world and all.  That being said, the Red Newt wine in peculiar was a bit of eye opener.  While I think too many people want to compare their wines to California (that's certainly the case among many NY wine backers) the regions are different enough than to really make it a moot point.  There's some good wine being produced here, but we do need as an industry to keep expectations in line a bit in terms of the likely quality to be produced when a region is really out in front of all others in the United States.  As we've seen with California's Central Coast and the Rhone Rangers outfits in Paso Robles, starting from scratch can often take generations.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I was impressed moreso than I expected I might be.  Thank you again to the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance for organizing, it was an insightful and interesting evening.  While we might not be necessarily moving forward with a purchase of any of these sample wines today, the Red Newt in peculiar is on the radar for the future.