Uncorked Ventures Blog
We like telling people that Napa Valley is an interesting place. Of course, people think we're only talking about the wine, or maybe the wine and the food.
What has always fascinated me about Napa was the way the wine industry is completely and utterly integrated into the local community. I guess it is probably to be expected and you certainly see something similar happening in some of the other world wine capitals (Bordeaux is a great example) but I don't think anywhere else in the United States offers the range of opportunities for either aspiring winemakers, or those of us who love great wine to learn and experience the entire winemaking process.
This weekend marks another year of the Napa Valley Wine Libraries, tasting series. Founded in 1963, the Napa Valley Wine Library has a simple goal, to help people learn about winemaking and the history of wine through local libraries. Specifically, the St. Helena public library has an extensive collection of wine specific materials that really aren't found anywhere else in the country. As you might expect, the organization found a willing partner with UC Davis and their viticulture program.
In any case, if you're planning a trip to Napa-joining the Wine Library is a great way to experience a side of exclusive Napa Valley which isn't available to everyone.
In this month's Wine Exploration Wine Club shipment we're happy to feature the 2010 Harvester Red by Horse and Plow winery of Santa Rosa.
Opened by the husband and wife team of Chris Condos and Suzanne Hagins, both of whom have been making wine in Sonoma for more than a decade each, Horse and Plow focuses on organically grown grapes and using the most natural winemaking techniques possible.
The Harvester Red wine is an interesting blend for a few reasons, but we thought it was a nice introduction for our club members to a Carignane and Syrah blend (although there is also smaller amounts of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Charbono and Grenache).
Carignane is the interesting grape here for many people, since most wine drinkers aren't familiar with the grape. The grape isn't often made into varietal specific wines, but instead is used in blends often to add the dark maroon color which is so evident in this wine. Personally, I think this wine does a nice job at being drinkable and enjoyable even without food, which is often a challenge at this price point, with these grapes which can be overextracted and carry too much alcohol at times.
An unfortunate article in Decanter to be sure, but it now appears that Sideways 2 is unlikely to be made.
Reasons are explained in the Decanter article, but it does appear that director Alexander Payne doesn't want a follow up effort out of fears of "selling out." As might expect, others involved with the original Sideways project (the author Rex Pickett among them) would be ok feeling like sell outs to have another significant pay day, especially when the follow up book has been well received.
Since the follow up book, named Vertical, both brings the story back to Santa Barbara as well as taking the main characters to Paso Robles, I'm disapointed that the film isn't likely to get made at this point. Santa Barbara continues to deserve the good press for what they produce and Paso Robles is the least appreciated wine producing area in the world, relative to the quality of wine being made.
Coming in this month's Special Selections shipment is the 2009 Chronicle Pinot Noir from the famed Savoy Vineyard. We thought our wine club customers might enjoy learning about what made us select this wine while also hearing a bit about the vineyard, winemaker and owner which wouldn't fit in our regular monthly newsletter.
Chronicle Wines has a relatively simple premise, show off the outstanding vineyards and terrior of the North Coast of California. Many of these famed vnieyards are both sustainably and organically farmed.
Chronicle is owned by Mike Hengehold, himself a veteran of the wine industry both through birth (his dad owned a vineyard and he grew up in wine country) as well as pedigree, having run Luna Vineyards for close to a decade. We've found that having supportive ownerhsip is incredibly important, but having a supportive owner who understands the wine industry creates an incredible environment.
The winemaker at Chronicle is James McPhail who is also a California native and boasts family ties in Marin County to before the turn of last century. James has made a name for himself at previous wine stops including Sequana Vineyards which has produced a solid run of 90+ point Pinot Noir's many of which priced under $40. What interested us about James wasn't as much as his pedigree in winemaking, but instead his varied set of life experiences. Not to be too corny, but Pinot Noir moreso than any other varietal gives me a sense of place. Having a winemaker who grew up in Sonoma County and who appreciates that sense of place based on years of travel, was an interesting combination. Of course, the long history of producing great Pinot was pretty interesting as well.
Lastly, the most important part of the wine: The Savoy Vineyard. Originally planted in 1991, clone densities have needless to say changed some over the years, but there is about 30 acres of Pinot Noir currently planted. Located in Anderson Valley, the vineyard is slightly warmer than its neighbors because it is protected on two sides, one by a mountain and the other by a small naturally occuring rise. Littorai has made a name for itself as a wine label almost exclusively from this vineyard site, which many winemakers during our conversations count among the ten most important in California for Pinot Noir.
Overall, we simply thought that the 2009 Chronicle Pinot Noir Saovy Vineyard was an excellent, excellent wine. It is heavier on darker fruit than many other Pinot Noir's you'll find in California, but keeps a sense of elegance and grace at the same time.
Why try and explain our tasting notes, when we can let the professionals at Wine Enthusiast do it instead:
"The grapes obviously were well grown, as this wine shows a particular intensity of red cherry fruit, as well as minerality. The acidity is just about perfect, the tannins brisk and fine. Yet it’s too young to offer full enjoyment. Cellar this polished Pinot Noir for 4–6 years to let it change in interesting ways." Cellar Selection
As a vintage, 2009 was an unqualified success. It was a year where we achieved physiological ripeness in Anderson Valley at lower brix and lower potential alcohols. This was the result of a moderate spring and summer, punctuated by a few stretches near harvest when temperatures hovered in the 90's.
Is that too direct?
I think anyone who orders wine from us, or has tried to send a wine gift basket to a friend has dealt with the alcohol shipping laws in the United States. Yes, they're a mess and yes they are constantly changing. Both of those pose their own unique set of challenges.
A recent Governor's veto stopped one of the most egregious over steps we've seen in a while.
The distributors argued that wineries should be, in effect treated as franchises.
Having grown up with my parents owning a Dairy Queen franchise, I can't exactly tell you what my response was to this, but let's just say that I don't see the two equally.
A winery is a supplier for a distributor. A franchise is an independently owned version of a larger store. I don't think the difference is hard to see.
In any case, the problem with the whole argument is that a winery would in essence be locked in to the first distributor that they work with.
I think most of us are glad that these type of laws are getting thrown out left and right. In this case, it took some independent thinking in the state capitol instead of a court case, but the result is just as satisfying.
I know I've talked about it before and I think distributors do a nice job in many markets, but the entire industry, including distributors themselves, would benefit from greater consumer choice.
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