Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
 
October 31, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Boony Doon Vineyards, History and Interesting Wines

Bonny Doon and Randall Grahm are among the biggest names in wine, here's a short history as well as some of the notes on their current offerings.

Video Transcription:

Hey Guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.  Over the last few days, we have been able to revisit some spots over the central coast, specifically Santa Barbara County and up in the  Paso Robles and some of the Rhône varietals that are being produced.  Quite frankly, in the State of California, you can't talk about Rhônes without mentioning Randall Grahm and Bonny Doon Vineyards.  Randall and Bonny Doon are in essence synonymous with each other.  He's the wine maker there and the owner.  The short history is that Bonny Doon started in '83.  Randall was on the cover of Wine Spectator in '89 where they titled him "The Rhône Ranger."  That's pretty appropriate given that at the time he was still making Syrah in the state of California and there was all of 200 acres or so still planted.  These days there is over 40,000.  Randall has been at the forefront both in crafting Rhône varietals that people with drink and enjoy but also working through the Rhône Rangers and other trade organizations to encourage other wine makers and winery's to craft Rhône varietals. 

We talk a lot in sports about coaching trees and such and such learn from him.  Locally, we have Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors who is a coaching tree from Phil Jackson who he played for or maybe even Gregg Popovich when he was in San Antonio.  We don't talk about winemaker trees quit as much.  In this case, my connection to Randall Grahm and to Bonny Doon started with William Allen who makes the wines at Two Shepherds that I think a lot of people know that I enjoy quite a bit.  They are some of the lightest in style in the state of California.  Randall has been instrumental with William both learning about how to make wine and helping him through the process.  I thought it was important to share some of the Bonny Doon wines, and why I think they are important, and why they continue to be important to this day.  I was four years old when the winery opened, so it's a weird sensation for me to be talking to folks that have been it for so long. 

One of the things that you should know about Bonny Doon is that it is located just outside of Santa Cruz, about ten miles north, in a small town called Davenport.  It is truly one of the great wine tasting environments that you are going to find.  You can literally walk across Highway 1 to the beach.  San Mateo County coastline is starting to turn into Santa Cruz County at that point.  Both coastlines are not like how I grew up in Southern California where it is developed and there are parking lots and freeways.  The Highway 1 is a one lane road in each direction, at that point, with a 45 mile an hour speed limit.  In essence you are parking in small dirt lots along the road and hiking down a couple hundred feet to the beach where there is literally hardly anyone else there.  It is a beautiful, beautiful spot.  If you are going to visit the bay area and you want to go to the beach, Davenport is a nice place to stay.  There are a couple of restaurants, a roadhouse, a hotel or two.  I am sure there is an Airbnb Rental floating around at this point, seeing that we are in the middle of the sharing economy.

Here's some stuff from Bonny Doon.  First, I want to talk about Black, White and Red Allover.  It's a Central Coast blend, 81% Syrah, 16% Viognier, 3% Grenache.  It also brings up an interesting thing.  I had a conversation with the folks at Bonny Doon about Grenache. (A note, I love Grenache in all it's forms which makes me strange, but gives me another solid choice along with Pinot Noir and Cabernet to sit as part of our wine clubs) None of us like a Grenache that you can see all the way through.  It reminds us too much like a rosé at that point.  You just get some of the experience of the industry from these folks.  They talked about how Grenache needs a cover, a canopy, the vines have to be grown a certain way.  You might not lose out on flavor if they grow them differently, but you are going to lose out in color.  I thought that was really interesting.  Black, White and Red Allover, it's become one of the Bonny Doon classic wines at this point.  The Syrah Viognier blended together is done in France, not done in America, it scares people a little bit, I still think.  Bonny Doon is fighting to change that.  It adds a bit of acidity interest and a different flavor profile than you might be used to.  At $25 this is just an absolute steal. 

One of the other ones I want to talk about that will fit well in an inexpensive wine club, I might add, The Heart Has Its Rieslings.  The Central New York and Western New York County, the Finger Lakes have talked a lot about Riesling and how they think it is going to be a great grape as time goes by in the United States.  Mainly because, as millennials, and I count myself among that group, as we get older... we all grew up drinking soda and other sweet beverages.  As we are drinking more wine, we're spending more on wine, we are drinking wine earlier than other groups have, at least other generations have, in the United States.  We are not at a French or Italian level by any means, but it is a heck of a lot closer than it ever has been before.  Riesling is the wine that wine makers feel strongly it is going to be a good intro. 

You will see a chart that shows how sweet these are.  This is moderately sweet.  What I like about this, San Benito County, Monterey county blend, is that it adds a touch of both, the acidity is still quite high but there is some minerality.  You can look at this and is it as good as the classic, classic Rieslings from Mosel in Germany that are both mineral driven, and salty almost, and still can be very sweet at the same time.  It's not at that level, but for $16 you don't expect it to be.  This is a really good wine though.  If you have people over with varying palates, you have some people that don't necessarily drink wine, this is a great choice.  Quite frankly, as an apéritif your house, this would work really well.

Another thing that I want to talk about, the most wine geeky among us are going to love visiting Randall Grahm and the folks at Bonny Doon because they are willing to do some stuff that quite frankly is just odd in the industry.  This is the [Cigare 00:05:34] Syrah from '09.  It's 83% Syrah, again it's 17% Viognier, as we talked about a moment ago.  What they will do for you that almost no one else will, is they will sit there, they will line up four Syrahs from four different vineyards in the same vintage and you get to see what you like and what do you find interesting about Syrah.  This is a crowd pleaser.  It's mid-palate, the whole nine yards.  It's classic California Syrah.  They make a different one in the valley, which is a much cooler climate and it is probably the most acidity driven Syrah I've ever had in my life.  There are just a lot of different things going on.  Of the interesting things going on, an apple pear cider fermented in bottle, champagne style, with how they make it.  They have a little bit of everything for everyone. 

That is my quick spiel.  If you are in the neighborhood, if you want to try some interesting Rhône varietals that are made a bunch of different ways from a bunch of different vineyards and really get to walk along the central coast and get some history about the industry itself too.  Randall Grahm and Bonny Doon, they make probably 25,000 or so cases right now, distributed at a lot of places, but at the same time many of the higher end Syrahs, once you get into the $30 and $40 range are only made a couple of hundred cases each.  They fit both levels of a winery that you can find locally but also a small enough production that it is interesting for us to find too.  In any case, Mark Aselstine, Uncorked Ventures.  I hope you have enjoyed it.  Have a good one. 

                                    

Mark Aselstine
 
October 20, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

The Ongoing Legacy of Robert Mondavi

Robert Mondavi is a name that brings a reaction no matter who you mention it to, for good reasons, without his work at both Krug and the winery which bears his name, Napa Valley would hardly be the same. Here's another part of his ongoing legacy, the people who grew up in the marketing departments of Mondavi and how they're continuing those good practices elsewhere.

Video Transcription:

Hey guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. So over the past couple weeks I've had a couple conversations with a few different people, and it's brought to mind the legacy of Robert Mondavi and kind of the Mondavi legacy, and what that means in Napa Valley and kind of throughout the wider wine industry. You know, it started with a conversation up at Canard Vineyard, where the owner (my insert here, Rich Czapleski whose name I didn't want to mispronounce) up there was telling me that the way it used to work in the valley, if they'd get a pest, as he said - and I pretty much quote here - you'd call Bob and say, "Hey, I'm having this problem, we're not really sure what it is." And later on in the afternoon the Mondavi farmers would show up and they'd - you know, in essence - figure it out, fix it, and they'd go along their way. So it was a really nice, kind of collegiate setup in the industry.

Over the past couple days I've met Stephanie Grubbs, who's at Benessere Vineyard, which is kind of at the northern reach of Saint Helena as it turns into Calistoga. They do a range of Italian varietals that's starting with Sangiovese and then these days,  a little more Cabernet. And then Tom Samuelson who met Stephanie and worked with her at Mondavi, and now Samuelson's up in the greater Pacific Northwest working with wineries to find larger distribution models for them. 

The thing that kind of strikes me is that all the folks that I continue to meet that worked in that period at Mondavi, when they went from the small family owned to growing, growing, growing, and eventually being sold into the market itself, is that there's a real kind of sense of calmness, openness, and just really, really good marketing. You can see in large part why Mondavi was as successful as it has been.

So there's a definite legacy of Robert Mondavi. You can still feel it, even me, who, you know - I'm relatively new to the industry still; this is year four for us. You feel Mondavi and his influence to this day, even well after he's gone. For me as someone without goals of selling a million cases of wine per year, there is still plenty to be interested in as the owner of a wine club.

Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. Thanks again.

Mark Aselstine
 
October 19, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

What Does an Early Vintage Mean for the Wine Industry?

It should be a simple enough question, what does an early vintage mean for the wine industry? The very short answer is that you're likely to see good, not memorable wine from 2014 in California.

Video Transcription:

Hey guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. One question that came up over the weekend was; "What does it mean with an earlier harvest? What does that mean for grapes? What does it mean for the Vintage in 2014 in Napa, Sonoma and kind of elsewhere in California which all ran earlier this year?"

The short answer is; wine makers would generally prefer earlier harvest especially in Napa and Sonoma where we traditionally see some rain in October. An earlier harvest means that they don't have to deal with rain, that they can let the fruit kind of hang on the vine as long as they want and they don't have to worry about it. So earlier harvest, generally speaking, leads to good vintages, sometimes not necessarily great vintages. Some of the best great vintages have hung on the vines long into October and this looks like it's going to be a very good vintage, but not necessarily a memorable or one of these vintages you write home about, thirty years from now. We pay attention to this stuff because we find that wineries, great wineries even, end up having some extra juice available for wine clubs like ourselves, if it's not a memorable vintage and if there's a large enough crop.

Once again, Mark Aselstine - Uncorked Ventures.

Mark Aselstine
 
October 18, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Amare Stoudemire and His Red Wine Bath

Every so often, wine finds its way into the popular discourse of sorts.  In this case, vinotherapy and a red wine bath gives me the opportunity to mention sports and more specifically the NBA.  Thanks Amare Stoudemire for providing the opportunity.

 

Video Transcrption:

Hey, guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. It's not very often in this space that I get to talk a little bit about my love for sports and basketball. In this case it's Amar'e Stoudemire. [inaudible 00:00:11] a rather large contract for New York Nicks, posted a picture of himself that evidently originally went on Instagram, and then blew up across social media, of himself taking a bath in red wine.

That brought up two things. First, there's a whole concept of vinotherapy that I'd never even heard of. Evidently there's a whole cottage industry of it, especially in France where they say that it can replace facelifts. According to an NBA player at least, it helps with circulation of red blood cells, so there's that. Not very often in this space can I talk about the NBA but I figured I should take the opportunity when it presented itself. Why does an online wine club bring up sports in this space, or even watch sports? Well, sometimes it's just fun and interesting. 

Mark Aselstine
 
October 12, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

The Rise of Processo

The rise of Processo has been interesting to watch here in San Francisco, I think there are price points where people vastly prefer Italian sparklers to Champagne....which is something that couldn't have been said five years ago, let alone a generation ago.

Video Transcription:

Hey, guys Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. A couple of interesting things have come up over the last 24, 48 hours. 

First, the Italian wine industry has announced two things that you would think didn't necessarily go together. First, imports are down, so there's less Italian wine coming into the United States. But second of all, which is probably more interesting, total sales, as far as total money coming in, has gone up. 

Clearly, two things have happened. First, people aren't drinking quite as much Italian wine, but when they do drink it they're spending more for it. The days of going to an Italian restaurant and getting the cheap bottle of Chianti sitting on the red checkered tablecloth maybe have not ended. Certainly I'll do that from time to time. The international organization of Italian wine with Cabernet coming in and some of the big Tuscan blends and that kind of stuff has driven price points up.

Second of all, as you can see there's a couple of sparklers sitting in front of me. We're actually sourcing for a new Champagne style of gift basket that'll include coffee and some other breakfast goodies since that's the time when we most drink champagne in my house, although there's nothing wrong with it in the evening either. Prosecco is the Italian version of Champagne. It's an Italian sparkling wine made from outside of Venice actually, which is one of their coolest regions. If you've ever been to Italy it's both hilly and cold, which is if you're going to grow Champagne or a kind of similar white wine grapes, that's kind of a good spot to do it. Even if you're using Pinot, like you do in the Champagne region of France, that's a good spot to do that too.

Even tasting through some stuff we have Spanish sparkler, which they refer to as Cava. We have a French sparkler. We can't call it Champagne because it's not from Champagne, it's just from a different part of France and not to be left out, Helwig's from Lodi, California, winery that focusses on Syrah, So that's a sparkling Syrah. We feel like we've been run off the rails with that one a little bit, but Helwig makes some interesting stuff.

In any case, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures, a couple of interesting things up, and I hope you guys are having a good week. Thanks again.