Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
August 21, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Randall Grahm, Bonny Doon & What's Next for a Pioneer

As an industry, I think giving out what seem like lifetime achievement awards is a dangerous practice, after all for consumers, what someone has done in the past is only relevent in terms of what they might do in the future.  That being said, Randall Grahm has shown a pretty amazing ability to reinvent himself over the years both in terms of winemaking style, but also the very types of wines that he's making.  He also didn't locate himself in Napa, or Sonoma, instead he helped to put the Santa Cruz Mountains on the map and his tasting room location some ten miles north of Santa Cruz, helps to show that great wine anywhere, will be found.

Hi, I'm Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I think the most interesting
thing to come across my desk early on this morning was a Mercury News
which is up here in the Bay Area about Randall Graham who is quite
famously the wine maker and the owner of Bonny Doon Vineyards.

If you're not familiar the name, in some way you probably should be. He was
the original Rhone Ranger in many ways. He, in essence, has put the Santa
Cruz Mountains onto the map along with Reg and a few others, but he
was also one of the first to really believe in Syrah and to make a
conscious and concerted effort to find cool climate vineyards.

If you travel up the coast from Santa Cruz into the city of San Francisco,
you'll pass Bonny Doon Road. So, you know, everybody loves the guy. And so
he's talking now about creating some more customized plantings, even
working with people that you see, Davis and some other researchers, into
how grapes grow and how they multiply into creating some new grape

It's all really exciting stuff, and I think it's a good example of some
people no matter how long we've been in the industry if they're innovative
in 1980, they're oftentimes innovative in 2014. And frankly, it's something
that I'm really interested in.

And I also have a lot of respect for the guy because I know he's helped out
a lot of young wine makers. William Allen at Two Shepherds I know has gotten
a lot of help from Randall over the years both in selecting vineyard sites
to be as cool as possible. The Sara Lee Vineyard in Sonoma comes straight
to mind, but also kind of in his winemaking process and how do you really
truly go about making low alcohol wines in California. It's not the easiest
thing to do.

So in any case, that's kind of what's coming across the desk on Bonny Doon.
If you're interested in tasting a little bit of California history, it's a
good place to look.

Mark Aselstine
August 20, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Owner and Winemaker Michael Parmenter Talks About Vinroc, Napa Valley (Atlas Peak AVA)

Vinroc is one of our favorite project's on Atlas Peak in Napa Valley.  To say that visiting Atlas Peak is a bit like stepping back in time in Napa, is probably an understatement.  The first time we drove up Atlas Peak Road, the locals were waiving to us as they walked down the other side of the street, there's only a handful of wineries with tasting permits, so traffic is sparse.  What winemakers on the Valley floor have known for some time though is that the fruit being grown at Vinroc and other sites on Atlas Peak is among the highest quality mountain Cabernet in the world, from Dos Lagos Vineyards being able to trade their Cabernet grapes for Bob Foley's winemaking to the Red Table Wine project at Vinroc, there's some exciting things happening on Atlas Peak in terms of winemaking, in addition to what is really a long history of growing some of the best fruit in Napa.

Male voice: All right, you're on. Michael: Okay. I'm Michael Parmenter. I'm the owner and the winemaker for Vin Roc wine caves. We're in the Atlas Peak AVA of Napa Valley. Couple of unique things about where we're located, we're at 1700 foot elevation. This valley floor is about sea level, so obviously we're much higher than down on the valley floor. The rocks and soil around here are all volcanic, so we have a bit of uniqueness to our wines, from the volcanic soil. They tend to have a smoky minerality to the Cabernets and the other reds that are grown up here. We get very low yields, because it's not very fertile up here, but we produce some very intense red wines. We're sitting in our cave. We have rock everywhere, including the fact that the hillside above the vineyard is where we dug our cave into the rock. It works wonderful for production of wine and barrel storing. So the temperature here is constant, it's 63 degrees year round. Perfect environment. We do very small production. We do something kind of unique, in the sense that we produce all of our wines in one ton increments. So, we go through the vineyard in different times over the harvest period, and pick one or two tons at a time. We ferment in one ton bins. Each of those bins gives us two barrels, that we age as a separate lot, for two years, before we go through and blend the barrels together. We make three wines. We make a Cabernet, it's 100% Cabernet from our vineyards here on Atlas Peak. We make a red blend that's 50% Cabernet, blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc, that's purchased from . . . they're grapes purchased from other parts of the Napa Valley, to blend with our Cabernet. And then we make a Chardonnay, from grapes that are grown down in Carneros. So, the three wines, I think, are a nice complement to each other. Male Voice: Perfect. Thanks, Michael. That was awesome.

Mark Aselstine
August 19, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Update on the Willow Creek AVA

The Willow Creek AVA is going to be interesting to watch on a number of levels.  Passionate people, are of course, a great place to start, I do personally wonder how David Winnette and his contemporaries are going to be able to differentiate themselves from some of the work being done in Mendocino and the well marketed Coro Mendocino program going on there.  I wish them all the best of luck and I am looking forward to trying some of the wines and getting our site updated to more accurately reflect what's going on in the Willow Creek AVA.



Hi there, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. So an interesting thing came up over the weekend. I got an email through our website, through just our random "Contact Us" form at the bottom, from a guy named David Winnett who makes wine up in the Willow Creek A.V.A. area of Mendocino County, kind of the absolute northern reaches of California, and he said that, quite simply, we had some wrong information on our website. A lot of people don't use it, but we do have an education section that talks a little bit about different A.V.A.s within California and really across the world. It's not something that's used very heavily or frankly updated very often.

On the Willow Creek section we have listed that there was no commercial wineries. As it turns out in the few years since we wrote that, there are three commercial wineries currently active, farming estate fruit and making wine, and there's a couple of other wineries in the region that buy and source fruit from outside and bring it up. So I'm guessing that over the next couple of years you are going to see kind of a greater number of wineries in the region making wine from their own estate fruit.

It's the Willow Creek A.V.A. It's one of the smallest in California at about 6,000 acres. Frankly, I've never had a wine from there. It's something that we're going to work with David over the coming weeks to make happen and we're going to see if there's anything that might fit our club. You know, we've had good success with Oregon wines and from a climate perspective, these wineries that are "behind the redwood curtain" in California could work very well as well. In any case, if you have a minute, check it out, both Willow Creek A.V.A. and Winnett Vineyards. Thanks again.

Mark Aselstine
August 13, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

An Outside Take on Corks vs ScrewCaps

Every month after our regular wine club shipments go out, we'll receive a handful of emails and phone calls about defective bottles.  For some, their wine just in essence was left out in the sun, placed under the heater in the warehouse or whatever, and turned to vinegar (thanks Fedex).  More often, the wine didn't ship well and either leaked slightly, or suffered some catastrophic failure along the route.  It happens in under 1% of our shipments and is simply part of the cost of doing business during both the warm summer months, as well as the cold winter months.  Heck, wineries choose to ship their wine club shipments in the fall and the spring for a reason.

In any case, I was interested to read a discussiion and article over at Wine Foot, about a busted screw capped wine.

First, yes the owner of the site Duane presents a good argument for simply being reasonable (I still believe, until I see some sort of irrefutable proof from an independent agency, no the Australian wine board does not count, they've already picked a winner, that there's room for cork, screw cap, and many more closure choices) please note the enthusiasm that the wine professional espouses for screw caps in the comment section. It's indicative of the type of writing and approach that pervades at Wine Foot.  Duane's both upfront about calling a spade a spade, like when a certain celebrity owned winery tries to sell their Cabernet as small production with 1600 cases produced, while also covering a large number of interesting topics in the world of wine-like Americans drinking more Champagne. It's a good read and also offers an interesting perspective being based out of the Pacific Northwest.

Back to corks and screw cap, the level of feeling articulated in the comments shows that this is going to continue being a topic in the wider wine industry, unfortunately we're far from any conclusion.

Oh and BTW, at Uncorked Ventures we'll always, without complaint replace bottles that we're told are cork'd. Any reasonable wine retailer would do the same and then simply turn around and ask their winery contact to do the same.

Mark Aselstine
August 13, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Arroyo Seco AVA

When it comes to wine and wine regions within California, it's getting expensive.  It seems that every year, there's an increasing number of AVA's and entire regions making wine that's commiserate in quality with Napa and Sonoma which have been the standard bearers for generations.  First it was Santa Barbara and Paso Robles joining the wine elite, increasingly the Sierra Foothills is making inroads into the $40 price point.

All that is to say, if you want to continually find flights of wines around $20-$25 which are imminently drinkable, you're left to look further afied.

Mendocino County and Lake County are good places to start for sure, but so is the relatively unknown Arroyo Seco AVA.

Located in Monterey County between the cities of Soledad and Greenfield, with the Santa Lucia Mountain range forming the western boundry, the Arroyo Seco AVA is one of the smallest AVA's within California at approximately 18,000 acres.  To put that number in some perspective, the famed Russian River Valley of Sonoma is close to 100,000 acres and the more well known Santa Lucia Highlands is about 25% larger.

We're featuring a couple of different Arroyo Seco wines in our wine clubs this month and after tasting through a wide range of wines made in the AVA over the past few years, I think I can attest to both the quality of the wine being produced, the fair prices being charged, as well as some of the unique aspects of what's happening.

At it's core the Arroyo Seco is going to known for its unique and interesting soil composition.  Literally meaning dry riverbed, that's exactly what you run into as soon as you exit the 101 and start to see vines growing.  At times, it just looks like a ridiculous idea that anything of value could grow, mostly because a large number of the vineyards that I toured included  stones about the size of a man's fist.  The locals call them Greenfield potatoes and yes, they're everywhere.  I've never visisted the Mosul in Germany, but the Arroyo Seco sounds pretty similar in terms of the presence of larger rocks, not much top soil and a continual challenge to achieve ripeness.

That challenge of finding ripeness led me to want to feature, as you're probably already suspecting, Pinot Noir.  Having been tasting Pinot Noir over these past few months from Sonoma, Santa Barbara County and the Willamette Valley, the Arroyo Seco version surprised me at first.  These are dense versions of the grape and one's that I felt an overwelming sense of tightness to the wines.  Yes, many of them are 2011's, meaning they could likely use some more time, but the 2011 vintage was among the coolest in memory within most of the well known California AVA sites. Arroyo Seco growers report the 2011 vintage as the coldest in at least a decade and under consideration as the coolest they have experienced since the AVA was first granted its status in 1983.  The good news about the vintage and the region in general is that, these are the types of wines that so many wine lovers and vintners are searching for these days-made in cooler vineyard sites that produce wines that are varietally correct in a more classical European sense.

Over the coming days and weeks we'll be sharing some of what we found in the Arroyo Seco.  If you can't wait quite that long, I've written about Mercy Wines previously and they are definitely a great example of what I am talking about here.