Uncorked Ventures Blog
It’s been an interesting week, moving 500+ miles has a way of eating up all of your free time. That being said, I’m now both relatively settled in and looking forward to continuing my work on this blog.
One thing which caught my attention this week was the fact that Champagne is allowing one of the earliest harvests on record this year. French wine tends to be among the most controlled in the entire world and the fact that there is a controlling body which decides when picking grapes can occur wouldn’t sit well with many American vintners, but it is a fact of life in France.
As it turns out, 2003 was the earliest picking date on record, happening only one day sooner than 2011. Given the amount of conversation going on currently within the wine community about the affects of global warming on old world regions which are more stringent on the types of grapes which can be planted and when they can be picked, earlier and earlier picking dates can be construed as an ominous sign by some and simply a small sample size according to others. How regions deal with even small changes in temperatures is going to have a dramatic effect on wine quality in the coming years, but we’ve heard a number of winemakers talk about the potential side effects of late. It’s not all doom and gloom though with the Champagne region. Farmers in the area increased production 20% year over year (thanks Decanter) to deal with world wide increases in demand.
Pinot Meunier is the first variety to be picked, followed by Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
In our last blog entry we mentioned that Family Winemakers of California has another tasting event in San Francisco coming up shortly. We thought a few of our readers might be interested in a couple of wineries that we’re looking forward to meeting and tasting with at the event. While some of our old favorites will be there including Audelssa, B Cellars, Carter, Demetria, Dranonette, Keenan, Pisoni (easily the most fun table in the place most years), Pride, Round Pond, Siduri, Sojourn and a few others….we wanted to mention three names which previously haven’t appeared at the event in this space.
Figge Cellars: A small production Pinot Noir house in Monterey, Figge is probably the first winery we’ve ever seen to proudly proclaim that they are neither Napa Valley, nor Sonoma County. Instead they grow their grapes in the cooler still environment of Monterey. Frankly, we appreciate a winery that simply says they aren’t mass marketed. Neither are we and the focus on authencity is something which makes us very interested in meeting the people behind Figge.
Patland Estate: We can certainly appreciate the thought that when you visit Napa Valley that it is easy to imagine yourself living the wine country lifestyle and making wine as well. We certainly did the same thing before starting Uncorked Ventures although I personally think the life isn’t quite as glamorous as many people make it out to be (winemakers spend as much time driving fork lifts as they do actually blending wine). All that being said the opportunity to taste and visit an owner/winemaker pouring the wine himself or herself is among the biggest thrills any avid wine drinker can have. We appreciate that the family has spared literally no expense by buying Cabernet Sauvignon from the famed Stagecoach Vineyard.
Von Holt Wines: If there ever was a unique story behind a winery, this might be it. We’ve seen plenty of Bay Area locals grow up to own vineyards after working in the wine industry for a while, or even making a fortune in high tech, but we’ve never seen a winery owned by a former secret service agent before. We’re sure that the attention to detail and selfless nature of the Secret Service lends itself well to owning a winery, albeit in a much less stressful environment. More than anything else we’re looking forward to trying another creation which counts Ed Kurtzman among its employees. Ed is easily one of the foremost winemakers of cool climate Pinot Noir in Sonoma County and his projects always offer something distinctive. As with any great winemaker, their assistant winemakers often pick up much of their experience and expertise and we’re excited to try our first bottle made by John Fones.
One of our favorite events every year is the Family Winemakers tasting. Matt and I have attended in the past few years both in San Francisco and Del Mar (San Diego). For wine distributors and retailers Family Winemakers offers a nice opportunity to get to say hello to people from a wide geographical area all in one place while tasting wines and making plans for either more extensive tasting trips, or purchases. As a consumer, it’s quite simply the best wine tasting event of the year.
2011 Family Winemakers Public Tasting
Sunday August 21st, 3:00 PM until 6:00 PM
Fort Mason Center
San Francisco, CA 94123-1382
We’ve often asked if we have any tips for consumers. While others have covered tasting etiquette and tips in great detail we’d offer the following suggestions.
• Don’t be afraid to spit. There is a lot of wine there, drinking too much usually doesn’t help you enjoy the event, especially when Ft Mason can get really warm.
• Find a safe ride home.
• Come with a plan. Know which wineries you’ll absolutely want to taste and which one’s you’ll taste if there is enough time. Tables are generally clustered in alphabetical order, so it makes it pretty simple to follow your list.
• Lastly, HAVE FUN!
We’re often asked by customers and of course friends and family about good places to taste wine. Depending on someone’s experience and budget, there are of course plenty of great choices in Napa Valley.
Napa Valley Vineyard (© Photographer: Tom Purcell | Agency: Dreamstime.com)
One of our favorites though is Pride Vineyards, which does a good job at making its tours easily available and appropriate if you are cellaring wine at home, or if you’re enjoying your first glass. While not a perfect fit for our wine clubs because they are both relatively large (at least in relation to the wineries we normally ship at 20,000 cases of wine per year) Pride does make some good wine.
One thing which we also love about Pride (and something which we think more wineries should do immediately) is having a more hands on area where guests can see vines up close and even try a grape off the vine. I know the first few times I are a grape directly off a vine I was incredibly surprised about sugar levels and how sweet the fruit could really become under the best growing conditions. It really is an eye opening experience for wine drinkers of all types, especially when they see the differences in sizes between grapes up close. It’s another step in the wine world demystifying itself and attempting to be more approachable. Given that virtually every winery owner and winemaker I’ve met are incredibly happy to share information about their process and are approachable, it’s good to see those same traits being passed more easily into tasting rooms.
With wine club shipments being delayed for our non-California customers this week, it wouldn’t be right to discuss the wines which are being included (suffice to say, there is a 97 point Pinot Noir included though for Special Selections Wine Club members) but we did have the opportunity to re-taste a Pinot Noir from a previous shipments that has done very well with re-orders. We talked about the Kenneth Crawford Babcock Vineyard Pinot Noir before in this space, but thought it might warrant another mention given how positive our customers reaction has been.
Kenneth Crawford is a collaboration between two winemakers in Santa Barbara. Focused not on farming, but on securing fruit from the top vineyards in the area, Kenneth Crawford now crafts only around 1,500 cases of wine per year. As with many wineries in the Santa Barbara area, there are two grapes of distinction being produced currently. Pinot Noir is famous due to the film Sideways and grows in the cooler vineyards closer to the Pacific Ocean and Syrah grows well in the inland vineyards, which experience warmer day time temperatures, but still have cool, coastal influenced fog and temperatures at night.
For our wine club we selected Kenneth Crawford’s Babcock Vineyard Pinot Noir for a few reasons. To start, it really is an incredible wine. Secondly, we thought it offered an opportunity to feature one of the most famous vineyards in Santa Barbara, at a reasonable price point. Babcock Vineyards is owned by Bryan Babcock, who was truly one of the pioneers in Santa Barbara wine production, opening his namesake winery back in 1984. Babcock was chosen as one of the top 10 small production winemakers in the world by the James Beard Foundation and bears another mention here because the founders of Kenneth Crawford both learned the trade working at Babcock Vineyards.
So why is this Pinot selling so well? I think it offers a good combination of mid palate flavors and although it is a bigger body Pinot than many on the market, that ripeness is well balanced by the acidity. In many ways, this is exactly what you want from a Santa Barbara Pinot Noir. Nuanced flavor, but an enjoyable wine to drink no matter if you’re having your first glass of wine, or if you’ve been drinking and collecting your entire life.
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