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Couloir Pinot Noir Marin County Chileno Valley Vineyard 2014

Couloir Pinot Noir Marin County Chileno Valley Vineyard 2014 Front Label

As part of our high end wine clubs this month, I give you the: Couloir Pinot Noir Marin County Chileno Valley Vineyard 2014

Couloir Pinot Noir Marin County Chileno Valley Vineyard 2014 Front LabelOk, before I go any further….they do grow wine in Marin and Wine Spectator puts this at 94 points (which I’ll add likely throws into the top half of the top 100 for the upcoming year) but here we go.

I originally met winemaker Jon Grant largely by chance. Before I go on, Jon has worked at a number of name wineries in and around Napa Valley, including Plumpjack and Corison. Ok, so back to the story: I was helping every Tuesday at a custom crush facility called Vinifiy in Santa Rosa during harvest.  Basically, I’d drop my oldest at school, drive the hour north and walk in the front door to see who needed help.  The second time I was there, much like they treat the interns, I was asked to help with what the winemakers knew was a crappy job, but I didn’t.

Jon makes wine under a couple of different labels, this Couloir brand and a brand called Straight Line as well.  That day he had some fruit coming in for his Straight Line Tempranillo from Lodi. You don’t have to be socially gifted to notice the snickers coming from other winemakers, but it’s Tempranillo and this was Sonoma, so I thought it pretty normal.  Custom crush, reminds me an awful lot of a fraternity house, or a college dorm most of the time.

It turned out that they were laughing, at both of us, because they had gotten a quick glance at the truck as it was coming into the parking lot.  You see, grapes are often harvested when it is coolest, often at about 3-6am in the morning under huge lights that are dragged into the vineyard, or via miner lights worn on each pickers head. So the grapes show up at the winery around 10am, usually pretty cool.

What you have at a custom crush, where many winemakers work using the same equipment, is often a line of winemakers sitting outside, waiting for trucks to come in. While they often can tell the varietal that’s falling off the truck over the speed bumps, it is impossible to tell what vineyard it is.  So they chat, meanwhile everyone gives the grapes the eye test.  Is this fruit they’d want next vintage?

It turns out, this vintage of Tempranillo was problematic.  Tempranillo evidently doesn’t usually work well in the destemmer (the machine which separates the berries from the stems) because the bunches of fruit are so tight, but this looked especially bad.

It was.

Couloir Pinot Noir Marin County Chileno Valley Vineyard 2014 Back LabelThe destemmer basically did nothing.  Well, it got the long strands off, but the berries went into the destemmer in large bunches and came out of the other side much the same, although they were at least broken down into jacks (the small part of the stem which holds 4-6 berries together).

At a custom crush, you only have access to staff during the time you’re using the machines during harvest, so the 6 of so folks running the destemmer did the best that they could picking out berries.  But it was tough to see any real progress.

Eventually the next ton of fruit came in and everyone moved along.  Which left Jon, on his hands and knees picking out the jacks.  I ended up spending about 6 hours doing the same with him. This is the hard part about a small winery, especially one at a custom crush.  There’s no extra staff, there’s no way to put off tasks.  Sometimes winemakers simply have to roll up their sleeves and do about a day’s worth of manual labor, before the grapes heat up.

In any case, then and there I saw a winemaker truly interested in the craft.  A lot of people would have thrown up their hands and simply said, screw it.  This is hard. It’s pointless.  Plus I could just make the Tempranillo and say it was 100% whole cluster this year.  No one would know any better, or say anything and I’d be home for dinner.  But that wasn’t what Jon did, instead he picked out jacks until he got the Tempranillo down to 50% whole cluster, which was his target based on his experience and how he thought the vineyard had been shaping up during the growing season.

So there’s an attention to detail here.

So you’re wondering, why this wine?

Not just the score, although I think that’s commensurate with the quality of the offering.

Instead, I wanted to feature a wine from Marin County. I have yet to do so.  Marin is the small formerly agricultural region directly after you cross the golden gate bridge from San Francisco.  It was once the dairy belt for the Bay Area.  No longer.  Now, it’s multi million dollar houses, although they’ve kept much of the open space (something I still am amazed by growing up in the suburbs of San Diego where open space was basically non existent).

Over the years, the last few dairy farmers have made one discovery: grapes bring in, a crapload of money per acre.  Especially Pinot Noir, given Marin is a cold growing region. For a long time, people didn’t think they’d be able to grow grapes in large part because Marin is close to the beach. It’s darn close to the famed Petaluma Gap, just on the southern side as many of the famous vineyards in Sonoma are to its north.  In any case, it’s foggy and salty much of the time.  The soil, is more sandy than many want to admit, or want to admit can grow grapes.  Really, that’s because if we can grow Pinot Noir in sandy soil, than the entire spots that we choose vineyards in the state, might have to change.

There’s about 200 acres in total planted across Marin, so this is largely an undiscovered swatch of land.  Plus, the locals are wealthy, so the wines made here often don’t leave the local restaurant scene.

I figure that spending a day doing some back breaking labor might have helped my chances at bringing this one to you as part of my wine clubs. It also fits pretty much perfectly into what I want to do, as only 8 barrels were made, or 194 cases.

Ok, so there’s been a lot of talk from Sommelier’s about this wine and some of Jon’s others being incredibly close to Burgundy, or Bourgogne as they want us to call it. I don’t know if I buy that, largely because in Burgundy, grapes really do run the risk of not ripening.  I’ve yet to find a Pinot Noir grape grown in California that didn’t ripen. So that’s pretty different and those results do really end up in the bottle.

So here it is.  A ton of people have spilled more ink than me about the Sonoma Coast, what amounts to the Sonoma Coast and what doesn’t.  The AVA guidelines suck and don’t tell us much about the wine in the your glass, this is another good example of that phenomenon.  Marin east of the 101 is highly populated and warm.  West of the 101, it’s largely open space and cool.

I think for what I’m looking to do, this was the right place to start.

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When Vintage Matters and When It Doesn’t

easter island in Chile

One of the issues with being a small business…..sometimes you forget stuff. Like posting this from like 7 months ago.  Here’s some idea about when vintage matters and when it doesn’t.

Video Transcription:

Hi guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Adventures (edit: dear transcription folks, this seems like one you should get correct #justsaying), so I hope everybody’s having a good start to their week. Before we go any further, obviously, this is Chilean wine, it’s not the thing that’s going to show up in one of our wine club shipments, but I thought interesting … I’ve talked a lot about, I don’t think that it’s as important as some in the wine media and wine trade would tell you to focus exclusively on vintage when you’re buying wine, at least when it comes to domestic stuff. I think in large part, if you’re buying from smaller producers, there is something to be said as consumers that we accept that there is a sense of place that is inherent in the wine industry for vintages and for places where the stuff is grown.

If Napa has a cool year like 2011, does that mean that we avoid all Napa wines, no matter how small the guys are and no matter what that means for the long-term health and industry? I don’t believe that and I don’t think the average consumer believes that either. I think that good quality wine makers can make good wine with kind of substandard vintages, at least good enough that you’re not going to buy and put it in the cellar for thirty years, but that’s not how the average wine drinker drinks wine in the first place.

I think we have to get ourselves back into reality about how much vintage matters for the average person buying wine, and it’s frankly not as much as I think the wine trade will lead you to believe. That being said, I think when you’re dealing with international wine it is good to pick and choose. This is a 2013 Chilean Cabernet, I’m not the biggest Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon fan, I think they get too ripe and too overblown, it’s California Cabernet in the 80s which was kind of a wild, wild west of the more oak and the more ripeness you can get, the better. I think that the industry, thankfully, has moved away from that.

2013 though, in Chile was about the coldest growing year that they’ve ever had. At least in the past decade or two, it’s about the coldest it’s been. They said that even early ripening grapes, like Sauvignon Blanc didn’t actually get ripe all the way. That’s pretty much unheard of in most of South America, and it’s definitely unheard of in Chile, but when it comes for Cabernet Sauvignon, and if you’re somebody who likes a little bit more acidity, and a little bit more hang time on the vine, this was a vintage where you can buy a ten dollar bottle of Cabernet and you can say, “Wow, that was actually quite good,” and that was more as far as the style that I like, this was more consistent.

I think that’s where vintage matters and it doesn’t matter. I think we talk a lot about how as a wine trade we need to support smaller producers and everyone wants to know the story of the guy making the wine, but then again, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t want to support smaller producers but only in the best vintages. I think you have to choose to support your local winemaker, your local wine production facility, or wine region. Then I think when it comes to international stuff that’s being piped into the US market, and some of this stuff, Montes is definitely somebody who does this, wine made specifically for our market, I think it is okay to pick and choose and I think we should. I think we should hold international folks to a higher standard because the jobs aren’t staying here in the United States and they’re not supporting people that live down the street from you, or across the street, or next door.

I think, especially as we get to more and more urban tasting rooms, I think that becomes easier, but I think as a wine trade, and as a wine industry, and as consumers, we need to make smart, kind of reasonable choices about when we say, “Hey, vintage really matters and I can’t buy a 2011 Napa Cabernet,” but what does that mean for a Napa Cabernet producer that only produces five hundred cases? Do you want them to be able to produce a 2013? Then maybe we should … sure, buy less, and try it and see what it comes out. I bet you you’re going to be surprised. The average wine consumer does not sell their stuff for multiple, multiple years, the average bottle of wine is consumed … Or ninety-eight percent of wine is consumed within forty-eight hours of purchase and that probably sets up to what your habits are as a consumer in your household, I know it does mine.

Yeah, I think that’s about where we are as an industry. I think we can decide to treat international producers and our local stuff differently, and quite honestly I think that’s okay. Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Adventures, I hope you guys are having a good start to your week, and not a good fit for a wine club or a gift basket, but that’s okay too. I think it’s instructive to sometimes try stuff that’s out of our normal range. I never want to be somebody who, I end up with a case of confirmation bias and I think that wine should only taste like that that’s made in California or California and Washington, or California and Washington and Oregon, or what have you.

International folks produce good wine, this is an incredible value at ten dollars, and that’s kind of one of those things where I think knowing a little bit about the vintage helps a lot. This is a vintage that was panned internationally, but for most American wine consumers, this is going to be a better fit than what they get in the probably subsequent vintages from Montes. Mark Aselstine, Uncorked Adventures, hope that everybody’s having a good week so far and we’ll talk to you soon.


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Only the Educated Can Make Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon?

education and the wine industry

Perhaps a bit of a negative look at the increasing prices, as well as, the lack of space in Napa Valley as well as other high end wine regions.  Here’s what happens when only the fundamentally rich, or historic?

Video Transcription:

Hi, guys. Mark Aselstine, with Uncorked Ventures. So I’ll hold this up. This is a Singer Cellars, and I’m gonna flip it around for you. Hopefully, you don’t get too dizzy. One I think this interesting thing is, is you’re seeing this more and more now for these days. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. So right about there. I don’t think Singer … Well Singer is important. And we’ll talk about Singer in a few kind of upcoming minutes here, but there are a few other things that we should talk about in terms of Napa. I wrote a little about it yesterday.

And kind of … One of the interesting things happening in Napa is that Napa is becoming a monoculture. And not a monoculture as in there is only grapes being planted, because that’s been happening since kind of “the mid ’80s.” But only Cabernet Sauvignon is being planted. And most of it is due to price.

And it’s both price that people will pay, but also price that winemakers will then pay based on what they can sell bottles of wine for. So if you’re a grower, and you can sell Cabernet Sauvignon grapes for $7,000 per ton, you’re going to do that instead of say Cabernet Franc; which might get 25,000 at the high end. So there is a huge kind of difference. And so increasingly we’re seeing almost entire vineyards either grafted over to Cabernet. Or kind of stuffed, pulled out, and then planted the Cabernet. Or in essence you know everybody is migrating as quickly as they can to have only Cabernet in their vineyard.

Napa for a long time was much like Bordeaux, it was blends. It was always Carbernet based ed, and it wasn’t Merlot based. Kind of as much. And there wasn’t that much of this side of the river versus that side like they do in Bordeaux. But you know you would see 75% Cabernet, 20% Merlot; and 5% Petite Verdot, or something along those lines. You’re seeing less and less of that. And that’s both winemaker choice. That’s both what the vintages are giving them, but then there’s also you know kind of just a factual statement of, this is what is available. And so this is what we can make wine out of. As an industry, we don’t know what that means.

Personally, I get a little trepidation from it. Because I don’t feel like it’s necessarily a safe or a good growth mechanism for Napa, which is an area that I really do like. So it is kind of one of those things were it feels almost a little bit like an inflection point. And I think it feels a little bit like an inflection point for a couple of reasons.

First and foremost, I think the main inflection point is will people continue to buy 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Or at some point is this going to turn into Merlot where people are like, “Well I like it, but not like this other thing.” And then you’re stuck. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but I think there is a more interesting aspect to this too.

And the more interesting aspect to me is that … So Napa is so damn expensive, that to get grapes or land in Napa you’d have to have a lot of cash. And if you’re somebody whose made a lot of cash, you go through an entire hiring process when you hire your winemaker. And most of the time you end up with somebody who … If you think about how resumes are set up, the wine industry is no different. Unless if you’ve had a lot of experience as winemaker, and multiple high scoring ventures, etc., etc. If you’re looking to get your first job.

And your first job is really what’s important here. ‘Cause you move up. You’re you know assistant winemaker, or barrel master, or you know cellar master. And you kind of ding, ding, ding, ding up smaller winery. Medium sized winery. And then you know either exclusive winery, or a kind of larger production with folks. But the easiest way to get that first wine making job is with something on your resume being education. That’s like anything in life. Right?

So that first job … Almost all these folks come from UC Davis. Fresno State has a very nice viticultural program. Increasingly Cal Poly San Luis Obispo being thought of as Davis’s equal, perhaps down on the central coast. And you know there is a certainly quite a … There is a handful of other ones. In New York they have programs. Washington State has a handful of them themselves. Oregon as well. But you know you’re really talking about maybe 15 wine making programs, of which Davis is thought of as the Ivy League. And everybody else is probably a step down. And that’s just the God’s honest truth. At least what perception is.

So increasingly in Napa what you’re having is, you’re having only people educated at Davis are able to make Carbernet Sauvignon. Because if you’re a start up winery with some winemaker making your own label, you can’t make Cabernet because you can’t afford it. So that’s an interesting thing to me; is do we want the only takes on Cabernet to come from people that went through the most formalized wine education process. Or do we want it more open? And do we want people that have come into this as a second or third career?

Quite honestly those are the people that I usually work with the most. It’s how I got into the wine trade. It’s a second career for me. And so it’s people that I probably function better with, ’cause they remind me more of my own story like all of us. So in any case, so that’s the question. And I don’t think there is an answer. So once again, the Singer Cellar is something that’ll show up in a wine club shipment soon. Hope everyone is having a good one.

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Monoculture in American Wine Regions

Bud Break

My favorite industry source, Wines and Vines had an interesting article on Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon prices. Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon owns the entirety of the valley these days.

They’re high.  Really. Really. Damn. High.

Much along the same lines, in Sonoma, Pinot Noir drives the bus.  

I can’t help but think, what happens in a wine region that has become something of a monoculture.  Quite frankly, it’s foolhardy for anyone with a vineyard in Napa Valley to grow anything other than Cabernet.

Given a standard Cabernet vineyard, you might make $7,000 per ton selling Cabernet. If you grew Merlot, you might get $2,000 of that these days.

Who in their right mind would grow Merlot or really, anything other than Cabernet in that scenario?

Really the only group who might be able to handle keeping other grapes in the vineyard, would be a winery with an estate vineyard.  At times your estate wine program grows what they know damn well will be nothing other than blending grapes.  But, if your winemaker hits on their blends consistently and those tend to go for the highest prices and keep the most consistent style year to year, it behooves you to make very sure that there’s enough of those blending grapes sitting around.

But, if you’re just a grower?

You graft vines over. You pull older ones out.  You get your vineyard over to Cabernet as quickly as you’re able to (after all, it still does cost you about $50,000 to get a single acre of vines online, grape growing isn’t a cheap endeavor).

What happens to regions that become monocultures?

Frankly, we don’t know. In the wine industry, we tend to look at old world wine regions to see how they do things.  In Bordeaux and really the rest of France, there are strict laws governing what grapes are in the ground. Bordeaux is known for blends and most vineyards have at least 3 of the 5 main varietals planted in the vineyard.  In Italy, it’s much the same, with the added focus on keeping a wider array of varietals because Sangiovese and Barbera take a long time to mature, while Dolcetto matures immediately. In Spain, Portugal and Germany there are blends and ying and yang wine grapes, some that need time, others that can be released immediately.

If you ask me to guess? I think vintners in Napa Valley and their counterparts in western Sonoma county will be concerned over both the long and the short term.  There’s been plenty of recent examples of regions where a specific varietal got decimated during a specific event.  As an example, Walla Walla lost a complete crop of fruit because of hail very late in a warm spring.

Not all grapes have bud break at the same time. Cabernet has bud break later.  That’s generally a damn good thing, you don’t lose an entire vintage like Walla Walla did.

But, it also ripens later.  If it has bud break a week or two later, it might ripen 6 weeks later.

In Napa Valley, hanging on the vine is a good thing.  But, October brings something that can kill off both the amount of fruit, as well as, the quality. Rain. In some years, it’s pretty nice to have some over ripened Merlot to add to your under ripened Cabernet Sauvignon to get to your normal mix, right?

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Using Scores to Sell Wine: Hate It, But Here’s How To Do It

Using Scores to actually sell wine

Well, how do you sell wine? For many of us, we’d love for folks to have a conversation with someone knowledgeable about what they’re buying.  But, it’s the 21st century.  I’m a realist.  So that doesn’t happen, much, if ever.  So wineries use scores to sell wine.  Usually they don’t do a very good job of it though, luckily for those of us who really have an uneven relationship with scores themselves.  Here’s an example, if you wanted to grab some easy sales, of what you might do-branding be damned perhaps.

Video Transcription:

Using Scores to actually sell wineHi guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. So if you can see that little label there on the top it says 91 out of 100. That’s kind of what made this wine interesting to me. This is a French wine. It’s a combination of grenache and syrah. It was imported into Oakland. Quite honestly I don’t think many of the mechanisms here matter all that much, but I did think this little Robert Parker sticker that they flopped onto this was a good example of what happens when you have an international winery that has a very, very limited amount of space here on the label. How do you convince American wine consumers to drink your wine if you’re French but you’re not from one of the major regions that people are actually going to recognize. This sticker might be one of the reasons.

There’s a couple things that go on here. First, there’s a number of us that hate the fact that scores sell wine so much, but we also have to be realistic that we live in the 21st century. Most wine is sold on premise. It’s mostly consumed … Something like 98% of wine is consumed within 48 hours of its purchase. Almost all of it is sold without a face-to-face conversation between somebody who knows what’s in the bottle versus somebody who’s looking for something. Still, having a good local wine store and talking to people and getting some understanding about like, “Hey I really like that. Can you suggest something similar” is kind of in my opinion a good compliment to something like I do with my wine club where I’m trying to educate people about both individual bottles of wine that show up but also wine regions and styles and all that kind of stuff that goes into it. That’s why we write such lengthy Wine Club newsletters from scratch.

In any case, if you’re going to be realistic about it as a winery that people aren’t going to able to sell this for you, how do you sell it on the bottle? Unfortunately, one of the main … maybe the main reason or way that people buy wine is by points. A lot of our friends simply go down the wine aisle and they buy the first 90-point wine that they see for the cheapest, or a 98-point wine for 20 bucks or under kind of thing. That’s where this falls in, and I think it’s, if we’re being realistic about it, you need to sell wine to be able to stay in business, and so this is a French winery that in this case did this right. Although I don’t love the idea of flopping scores on every single bottle because I don’t think that’s necessarily the best way to do that, I do think it does give you some idea about what the quality in play is. There are at least a reasonable expectation of what’s in the bottle that’s going to be actually good and drinkable.

In any case, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I don’t love scores. We don’t post them for everything. I don’t think that all the scoring done is completely appropriate with how it’s done. I think spectator does the best job if you’re interested because it is blind and there is more than one person, but in any case, I think it’s something that consumers can learn a lot from. So once again, Mark Aselstine. Have a good one.

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Knez Winery Pinot Noir Cerise Vineyard 2014

Knez Winery Pinot Noir Cerise Vineyard 2014 Front Label

Knez Winery Pinot Noir Cerise Vineyard 2014 Front LabelThis Knez Winery Pinot Noir Cerise Vineyard 2014 was a fun one on a few levels.  Here’s what I told my wine club members about it:

I’ve handled a number of wines from the Cerise Vineyard over the years, for good reason, this might be the best Pinot Noir vineyard in the state, that you’ve never heard of.

Before I go on,  Antonio Galloni from Vinuous (he’d the dude who was suppose to take over for Robert Parker at Wine Advocate, before things got weird and he started his own site) has scored this single vineyard Pinot for the past three years: 94 points in 2012, 94 points in 2013 and finally, 95 points for what’s in your glass now.

It’s truly one of the best Pinot’s made anywhere for the 2014 vintage.

“Dark red and purplish hued fruits, wild flowers, mint, spices and rose petal notes meld together in the 2014 Pinot Noir Cerise Vineyard. The Cerise is deceptively medium in body, but it packs serious intensity. Expressive, floral-infused aromatics give the Cerise its inner sweetness and perfume, while beams of underlying tannin give the wine its shape. This is another superb wine from Knez. “

Ok, so let’s talk about where Cerise is located.  The Anderson Valley is technically Mendocino, but it’s a damn hike from my house.  Basically, you drive north past Healdsburg and the Russian River Valley, then cut across to the coast.  It’s a wild, wild spot.  Part of the allure for the locals is that you not only lose cell phone reception at points going across the valley, but you even lose the radio in its entirety.  Winemakers that I know whom live in Santa Rosa joke that when they source fruit from Anderson Valley, they buy themselves a few books on tape to help pass the time.  Podcasts are also popular.

2014 in many ways was when we started seeing the drought come into play in California vineyards for the first time.  Yields were down, but the nice thing for vintners, the quality was still consistent.  Vines were stressed from a lack of water, but Napa, much of Sonoma and certainly Mendocino weren’t as affected as say Paso Robles was.

In Anderson Valley, rain is always on everyone’s minds.  There is always concern that a long and unnecessarily cool growing season will lead Pinot Noir to be hanging on the vine into October-exactly when the rains start to show up in force, ruining crops and entailing so many late night emails to distribution lists, asking for any help that we can give to help pick.

Knez Winery Pinot Noir Cerise Vineyard 2014 Back LabelIn 2014 though, there was rain in February, the perfect time because it’s before bud break.  Then it was a long, warm growing season.  That warmer than average season allowed an early harvest, so literally vintners weren’t left with a care in the world.  Combined with lessening yields, it ensured that vintners sourcing fruit in the valley, had an outstanding set to work with.

Ok, so there’s one last piece of information here.  If you were to make a list of the most important names in California made Pinot Noir, you’d without a doubt have Kosta Browne on that list. The 38 acre Cerise Vineyard was purchased by Kosta Browne a few months ago.  Here’s what the Kosta Browne folks had to say about the purchase:

Scott Becker, president and CEO of Kosta Browne, told Wine Spectator the decision to purchase Cerise Vineyards was less about the zip code and more about the pedigree of quality. “What excited us was the energy of the place,” he said. “It checked all of our boxes for making wines that reflect the place they come from, from the extremely cool climate to the soil, elevation and southwest-facing exposure—it offers us something distinct.”

I’ll take a minute here and mention that you’ll read about how Cerise is either 38 acres, or 60 acres in size depending on the source.  As part of this shipment you’ll also be receiving a Knez Vineyard Pinot Noir, Knez is one of the other properties that sometimes gets included to add to the original 38 acres to get to 60.  It’s a different vineyard, not a different block and I think when you taste the two wines, you’ll see why I tend to keep them seperate.

In any case, for those of us that enjoy smaller producers, this is a bit of a hit.  Knez offered a slightly different look into Anderson Valley Pinot than some others.  Plus, it’s also a sign of the times.

Quite frankly, Anderson Valley has sprung into the mainstream wine consciousness faster than could have reasonably been expected.  There’s an entire range of perhaps a few thousand wineries based in Sonoma, clamoring for more fruit, better fruit etc.  Anderson Valley, if based on location alone, would be a logical starting point.  But, the quality and type of fruit fits into what people are looking for as well.

Larger plots in the valley are hard to come by.  It’s hard to build out vineyards with environmental restrictions, there’s plent of old growth California Redwood sitting around, which pretty much cannot be touched, ever, for any circumstances.  But really, one line sums up the entirety of this sale:

“Fine wine is fundamentally a land game and you must have the best sites.”

For smaller wineries, that’s an ominous assessment is it not?

For me, I’ll try and figure out what that might mean over the longer frame, while enjoying the last vintage I can get from what was one of my absolute favorite vineyards in California.

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Dolcetto in California

Relatively obscure Italian wine grape grown in California? Yes, of course I’m interested.  Especially when it seems the growing environment seems better suited for the grape in the first place.

Video Transcription:

Dolcetto in CaliforniaHey guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures, so I’m going to hold this up so you can see it, so the winery is called Portalupi, and this is a Dolcetto red wine. So as you can tell by the pronunciation, Dolcetto is a red wine grape from … Well, the debate of where grapes start versus where they’re end and where they’re known from is complicated, but we would say this is an Italian wine grape because the vast, vast majority of Dolcetto grown around the world is grown in the Piedmont region of Italy. So I found this interesting for two points. First, there’s just not a lot of Italian wine grapes grown in the state of California. This is Russian River Valley [inaudible 00:00:34]. And that’s interesting because Napa and Sonoma in large part it was … There’s this kind of offhand, secondary joke that people tell a lot of times, and they say that to own a winery in the 1800s in Napa or Sonoma, your last name had to end with a vowel, and the most common vowel was I, and that meant you’re an Italian immigrant. And mostly a lot of those folks had brought cuttings, or once they had decided that this was a good place to grow grapes, they asked a family member who was coming from the Old Word to bring some cuttings with them, and that’s really how the wine industry started in California.

There’s some times that we forget that, and there’s still this family history of some of this stuff, and while it’s interesting also, I find it interesting that Dolcetto, the oldest vines are not actually even in Italy. Australia had a similar kind of influx of immigrants in the 1800s, and there’s Dolcetto vines that date to 1860, so in Italy, this is a second or third tier grape in Piedmont. Barbera and a few others are considered much more age worthy and much more high quality as in terms of fruit, and so when a winery makes a Dolcetto in Italy, they make it to release the damn thing right away and to get some money coming in the front door while they wait for five or 10 years to release their Barbera. That’s not what happens in California, so we’re a warm weather climate. That’s 100% for sure, but we’re a little bit different than Italy in the stuff grapes tend to hang on the vine for a little bit longer. We have warm summers not hot, and we have hot falls not warm, so if that makes sense. The warmest month many times in Napa and Sonoma can be October.

So one of the reasons, one of the things that happens, is that changes the way that grapes progress, and so this Dolcetto instead of being a lighter style of red wine, and that’s in large part because the tannins can get really out of control if winemakers leave maceration process for too long. So they tend to make it almost like a rose where it just hits the skins and they get it off so you don’t have overwhelming tannins. Here in California, we don’t produce quite as many tannins as they do in the Old World. That’s true almost exclusively across the Old World from Spain to France into Italy, and so they can leave the juice in contact with the skins for longer. That leads to a darker style of wine, and we still have the generic tannin that comes with the varietal, but you also end up with this bone dry, thicker, almost a Cabernet replacement type wine instead of a lighter body thing where you would think was an easy drinker for summer months. So Dolcetto, there’s a very, very few wineries producing it here in California. There’s not that much in high quality growing regions like the Russian River, and so we’re going to explore this in an upcoming Wine of the Month Club shipment, so I hope everybody’s having a good one, and we’ll talk to you soon.

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Label Suggestions for Wine Imports Into America

the front label

It’s tough to get wine sold, anywhere, any time. But, it’s especially difficult as an import or export.  Here’s some suggestions if you’re looking to sell some wine in America.

Video Transcription:

the front labelHi guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I’m going to hold this up so you can get a fairly good look at it, so yeah. It’s a Chianti from Italy, and no, I don’t sell it in my wine clubs. One of the interesting things about the wine trade and one of the things that I try to really do a good job about is not falling into the confirmation bias trap. So confirmation bias, which I think most of you are probably familiar with, it’s if you do the same thing, and you say the same thing, and you experience the same thing over and over, you start to think that that is the experience and that is the way a certain thing is supposed to happen. And so when it comes to wine, if I only were to drink Napa Cab every day, then if I drank Cabernet Sauvignon from say Bordeaux or say from Washington state, I might say, “Wow. This isn’t very good, because this is not what I was used to.” They’re perfectly fine wines, and they’re great wines of course. Bordeaux especially is probably the trendsetter in the industry, but it’s different than Napa, so it really bad or worse, or is it just different? And so that’s confirmation bias.

the Chianti back labelAnd so one of the ways that I try to fight confirmation bias as somebody who buys wine for a living is that I try to experience wines from different regions both as far as different varietals but then also different winemaking styles and try to talk to people that have different opinions about wine than my own. And so I found myself drinking a bottle of Italian Chianti, and Chianti, if you’re not familiar, is made from Sangiovese most of the time. I’ve done a couple of Sangios in wine clubs over the last few months, so I wanted to check in on an Italian version of the varietal around the same price point as my entry level Explorations Wine Club. And so one of the things that comes out in some of this conversations when I meet vintners or winery owners or small winery owners from overseas when they’re here in the United States, especially in San Francisco, trying to hock some of their wine or trying to find distribution relationships is they often say, “Hey, can you come look at this bottle? What do you think? What do you think about this?” And maybe not quite as relevant for me as it would be for somebody who owned a physical wine store where you’d have to go in the front door et cetera, but I can make some suggestions.

So like the United States, Italy and most of the other wine producing countries in the world have very strict rules and regulations about what can be on the label et cetera et cetera, but one thing that I think a lot of international folks drop the ball on is that there’s not rules saying you can’t give them all this information. I’m going to flip this around, and I hope you can get a good look at it, so you can see on the back, so you’ve got on the top, there’s a little mission statement. It talks about the family. It gives the information on the winemaker. As you go down a little bit, you’ll see food pairing suggestions. You’ll see the exact type of grapes that are in the wine. I think that’s really important actually because most of these European wine labels, they’re Chianti … If you don’t know what Chianti means, and you don’t know that it means a certain percentage of Sangiovese involved, and they have got all this other information on the back, and I think this is really kind of [inaudible 00:02:45].

If I was going to show somebody a wine label and tell them, “This is something that was made well for the United States. Here it is.” So the front label, there’s not a whole lot they can do about it, but the back label, they give people a whole lot of information. It’s clearly been written in English not written in Italian and then translated, and it gives people everything that we would look for if I were to write a wine club newsletter about it, but it also gives people, if you’re going to grab this on the store, you would look at the back. You would know exactly what you were getting, and I think that’s the main problem that so many Americans run into is they don’t know enough about every single wine region across the entire world to know exactly what they’re getting just by the fact that it says Chianti and the smaller subregion.

And so here it is. Folks have done a nice job with this, and I think they’ll see sales, and they’ll see more placements because of that. So once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. Hope everybody’s having a good day.

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GSM Blend Differences California vs France

French GSM Front Label

GSM blends-in California we hardly think of these are the ultimate test of a winemaker, but in France, in some ways blending is still the ultimate calling.  We’ll explore some of the intrinsic differences between GSM blends in France (especially in the Languedoc where there aren’t as many archaic winemaking rules and those on California’s Central Coast, especially Paso Robles).

Video Transcription:

French GSM Front LabelHi guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I’m going to hold this up so you can see it. So this is Pontificis, but really the winery isn’t the issue here because this is a GSM blend from France and it brought up a couple interesting thoughts for me.

First, of all the kind of wines that we blend together in the wine industry, GSM is really the one thing that means something. That really, truly tells me about something that’s in your glass. And it happens in France, it happens here in California. Really anywhere where Rhone varietals are made, really the height of being a Rhone winemaker is often your GSM blend and how you put it together. So I think there’s a couple things that kind of stand out too.
First, in France, it’s almost always the actual GSM, Grenache is almost always the most important part of the blend. Increasingly in Paso Robles, it’s a GSM blend yes, but it’s almost always based on Syrah. So you get kind of a different style, little bit heavier here in Californian than you do in France. And second, I thought this was interesting because when we talk about the Rhone Valley, this is from Languedoc. And the Languedoc is one of those really unique areas of France where they don’t have as many archaic wine making laws as they do in the rest of the country.
If you were to buy a vineyard in Bordeaux or buy a piece of land in Bordeaux and you say, “I’m going to plant, this is what I want to plant.” In reality, they would tell you exactly what you could plant and how much of it. And Bordeaux is much the same, Champagne much the same. There are a list of approved grapes and you’re not allowed to go off of that list, if you are going to use the name of the village or the name of the region on your wine label.
The Languedoc is one of the few places in France where winemakers can truly experiment. They can experiment with what they put in the ground. They can experiment with how they blend things together, and I think the results kind of speak for themselves. It’s also one of the great ways for France to be able to produce these more entry level, ten to fifteen dollar wines. Which is the fastest growing segment in the wine industry.
So once again, it’s a GSM from France and I don’t necessarily think it’s all together relevant for wine club members because we don’t sell French wine. But I do think it’s always interesting to look and see, how are winemakers choosing to work with grapes in different regions of the world. Especially if it’s the same grapes that are planted. The Languedoc in Paso and Languedoc in much of the central coast is similar enough in climate that I think you can make some conclusions about, if it’s happening there and it hasn’t happened here yet, you can ask yourself why or you can ask yourself why not? But you can likely extrapolate what’s going to happen in the future.
I think one of the things that we’ll see increasingly in the central coast is you’re going to GSM blends, but you’re going to see a wider range of them. Some based on Syrah like there is currently, but more based on Grenache too.
So once again Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures, not a wine club wine but it’s interesting nonetheless, have a good one.

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Krater Cellars Cabernet Franc Review

Krater Cellars Cabernet Franc Front Label

Cabernet Franc continues to be among my favorite varietals.  I’m guilty of sneaking more of this into wine club shipments than many other folks do, that’s for sure.  But, it’s also a grape that seems to beg for smaller wine projects than does it’s better known offspring.

Video Transcription:

Krater Cellars Cabernet Franc Front LabelHi guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I’m going hold this up so you can see it, hopefully a little bit. So this is a Krater Cellars and this is definitely not one that you’ve seen before, so a couple things. So Krater Cellars is a two winemaker man team. Britt and David met in college, at St. John’s College, not the one in New York that you’re likely thinking of, but instead, one in New Mexico. They kept up a friendship and a relationship over the years, eventually both ending up in Sonoma to make wine. We had a chance to interview them for a different project yesterday, and I walked away pretty happy with not only the results, but seeing the kind of two-man winemaking team was interesting.

I always wonder when there’s two winemakers working on the same project, what if they’re at odds? And they said, “Basically they have the same philosophy in that, you know, if somebody feels really strongly about something, whoever feels more strongly about it, kind of wins.” So I think that’s a really healthy way for two folks, you know I had a business partner at the beginning of this and don’t any longer, so I can appreciate the ins and outs of having two people doing the same thing seemingly together, and trying to work through some of the issues that can come up. That was kind of fun.
So they make a Chenin Blanc and they make this Cabernet Franc, and so I think the Franc is interesting. First of all, if you’ve been a wine club member for any length of time you likely remember Franc actually is my favorite varietal, and it is grown in increasing amounts. It’s largely a blending grape here in California, but there are these newer wave of winemakers doing Franc in neutral oak with natural yeast, and the results I think are exemplary. You also end up with stuff like this is 12.7 alcohol, which in the state of California, is almost unheard of and it’s also even especially more unheard of when you find out that the grapes for this came from El Dorado County up in the Sierra foothills.
Krater Cellars Cabernet Franc Back LabelSo this is, I think, another good example, I’ve talked about the benefits of altitude on vineyard growth in warm climates and there’s been some really good successes in Arizona and the state of New Mexico. People make sparkling wine there, people growing white wine grapes, people growing Syrah at high altitudes. The mountains, if you’re not familiar and you’ve never been in a true mountainous region, it gets darn cold at night, and so that’s a really important thing because it allows the grapes to recover their acidity. So this stuff is grown at almost 3,000 feet in elevation, which they described as being basically the end of the line. You can’t go up any higher and actually get fruit on the vine. While the Chileans might argue that point as they have pinot planted at 10,000 feel in elevation down in South America, this is really as high as we’ve attempted to go in the state of California, at least in the foothills so far.
So Krater Cellars is two-man team. You’re going to see a lot more content with them. I’ll talk about their Chenin Blanc, but this is an acidic wine, there’s probably more acidity than there is tannin. I think that’s a good thing. This does though, there’s a fuller mouth feel that exists for this than you would think with 12.7% alcohol. I do think that you can, there’s a certain feel that you get from natural yeast in wine, I don’t know why, that were not all of the bricks, all the sugar doesn’t convert to alcohol, but you still get some of the mouth feel with the higher levels. So I think that comes out here. You get some really nice blackberry and boysenberry notes.
It’s an interesting project. They did less than one ton of fruit. They both have day jobs at other wineries. One ton of fruit gives you about two barrels of wine, so you’re talking maybe 700 bottles total, so I felt lucky just to have one as a take home. So in any case, I’d love to do them in a wine of the month club and we’ll probably see a Chenin Blanc, because I think that will a little bit more of that than the Franc, but the Franc’s one of the really, truly best versions of the varietal that I’ve come across in some time and quite honestly, that’s saying something. Hope everybody’s having a good week so far, and I will talk to you soon.