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Dragonette Seven 2014

Dragonette Seven

This is a Dragonette Seven from 2014.  Quite simply, it’s one of the best Syrah’s produced in the state every year. I originally met the Dragonette guys about 7 years ago (hold on a second, it’s hard for me to even take that one in…..it’s been a while!) in San Diego at Family Winemakers.

Dragonette is the story of 2 brothers and a family friend who came together to start a winery.  They also, have a long history of major dental care-at points that I’ve known them two of the owners have had their jaws wired shut and the 3rd underwent such major dental care that he was on a liquid diet for a time as well. Between teasing them over those continued misfortunes as well as my own proclivity to bring a burrito at the wrong time, I have long wondered when you have a partnership of three how this works.  Do the two brothers always side together? Does the friend hold all the power because the brothers always bicker?  It’s a testament to all three men that after about a decade together sharing both business and winemaking decisions communally that I’ve never seen them visibly annoyed at each other, or never had them turn down a meeting because they weren’t getting along.

Dragonette SevenOk so about the wine in your glass. It’s Syrah.  But it’s not “that” Syrah.  In fact it’s sourced from what some of the cooler vineyard sites around Santa Barbara County including some of my old favorites, like Stolpman.  Fermented in neutral oak barrels (neutral oak has been used for a number of years already, so it should either not impart any flavors at all, or impart only a minimum of flavor).  It’s also unfined and unfiltered, so if you have a Vegan friend this is fine to open.

Oh and Wine Enthusiast continues it’s love affair with this version of Syrah from Dragonette.  If you’ve been a wine club member for awhile, you know I don’t abide strictly by scores, after all I’ve seen how these actually happen.  In any case, here’s what the professionals at Wine Spectator had to say:

This bottling, from seven cool climate vineyards, makes a great intro into savory Syrah, showing all that peppery might without shoving it down the throat. Cracked peppercorn is redolent on the nose and palate, with the latter also showing raw lamb and beef char. The sip tends toward soy and leather, but with a core of dried blackberry fruit that’s familiar to most palates. The texture is tightly woven.

A short note, it no longer comes from seven vineyard sites.  Originally it did, but they didn’t change the name once they whittled down the sites.  If you’re wondering why not? Marketing wines is damn hard and they already had a few excellent scores from this blend.  They thought it was fine because the point of the wine hadn’t changed.  It’s still a cool climate Syrah from Santa Barbara County and it’s still sourced from a number of sites.

So why cut it down? Mostly because as Dragonette’s profile has gotten bigger, they both have access to better and better fruit but on the central coast there’s a lot of bigger vineyards.  Stolpman is about 250 acres and still feels tiny in fact.

But, the reality is that as Dragonette has had a series of these positive scores come in, they have access to the same vineyards, but those vineyards are more likely to make more of their best fruit available to them.  It’s a cycle that continues to repeat itself.  Good scores lead to better fruit.  Better fruit leads to better scores etc etc etc.  A positive feedback loop of sorts.

All in all, this along with Larner’s estate offering, continues to be among my favorite Syrah’s produced in this region of California. It’s nice to have the critics on board.

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Last Summer Grenache

This isn't sand

Last Summer Grenache 2015

So Jennifer Bartz is a new name to pretty much everyone, plus this is Grenache so there’s that…..those that have been wine club members for a while understand my appreciation for the varietal, especially on California’s Central Coast.

A few things.  First, I thought the name was a good one.  Largely it makes me consider what we were doing as a family at this time last year, a crawling baby around the park and beach isn’t necessarily as much as it sounds.  Additionally, the bottle made me consider that summer’s suppose to be warm and the one thing that I am always reminded of living in the Bay Area, on this side of the hill in the east bay, near the Bay and the city of SF, it’s foggy and cold until 2pm or so when it finally burns off.  Growing up in San Diego, the utter lack of warm sun along with decent beaches, is something to deal with.  Of course, it’s also exasperating that so many in the Bay Area don’t realize how much worse their beaches are.  After all, this isn’t sand:

This isn't sandSo about this wine.  Yes, it’s Grenache and this fits quite a few stereotypes happening on the Central Coast.  There’s perhaps a few good reasons for it, but the Central Coast has long been home to a larger number of female winemakers than has the state as a whole.  Let’s be clear, the lack of women in winemaking jobs is a major issue that the industry needs to deal with, the utter lack of minorities is another major issue.  Frankly, having too many people with the same background doesn’t lead to the diversity of choices and flavor profiles from winemaking choices that many of us might like. To put the whole thing in perspective, about 10% of winemakers in California are female.  But, Santa Barbara, depending on whom you ask, is somewhere between 20-30%. Still too low of course, but it’s a start.

Some of this is changing of course.  UC Davis is the preeminent educational institution for winemakers.  Basically, it’s the entire Ivy League plus the University of California system added together on a single campus in terms of influence, or more. Tracking the number of female winemakers graduating from the program is one thing that we can do quite easily.  In the late 90’s, about a third of Davis grads were women.  Today it’s roughly half. There’s a lower division class where it’s two thirds-which roughly matches college underclassman in general these days-itself another item of concern for those of us with boys at home.

I think finding and educating new female winemakers is important in large part because of the Central Coast’s example.  In Santa Barbara they aren’t doing anything differently in terms of hiring, there’s no special programs to train female winemakers.  But, there’s a history of female winemakers in charge of important and newsworthy projects.  That becomes a recruiting tool of sorts and it’s a draw for other younger female winemakers that are interested in having a complete set of mentors, an important part of making wine.

Jenifer’s experience is another great point in the simplicity of bringing in more people, gives us better wine.  Each label has an image of something she’s seen while traveling.  She’s young and has lived an interesting life already. I doubt there’s many people walking around California these days that boast a degree in Cellular Biology, but whom taught meditation and have spent significant time learning the practice in India. 

Oh and for this vintage she made all of 5 barrels of wine.  That’s of course, not to damn much.  It’s also a nice reminder that finding this stuff before major critics does actually help.  Spectator is going to feature her in September, along with a 91 point score on this-making it quickly impossible to come by. Lastly, monthly wine club members will see a bottle of this Last Summer Grenache soon!

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Myka Cellars Pinot Noir Central Coast 2014

Tondre Wines on the Central Coast of California

A month or so back, my wine club members received this Myka Cellars Pinot Noir Central Coast 2014

I’ve worked with winemaker Mica Ross a few times over the past couple of years, so I’ll let you in on some of the background before going any further.

First, Myka is a negociant.  That’s a label that’s really not thought of as a good thing often in California, which interestingly, is the opposite of what the general perception of it happens to be where the term was coined, in France.

I’ve talked about negociant style wines and how some vintages support their style of winemaking more so than others, but really it’s regionally focused as much as anything.  One of the reasons we don’t have more negociants here in America is that our most famous wine region, doesn’t produce enough wine to create any real secondary market. Napa Valley has a series of rules and regulations that simply don’t allow for anyone to over produce.

Myka is a bit different than many negociants as well.  Instead of looking for finished juice that cannot be sold, he looks for partially finished juice that he can blend.

That blending is a very, real skill. It’s also why you often end up with wines like this one from Myka Cellars: it’s labeled as the Central Coast AVA.

If you aren’t familiar, the Central Coast AVA is one of the largest in the state and in my opinion, tells you little about the wine in your glass. As an example, if you step foot one foot south of San Francisco Bay, that’s pretty much where the Central Coast AVA begins.  It runs south through the Santa Cruz Mountains, Paso Robles, Monterey, San Luis Obispo and finally ending as you pass through Santa Barbara and end up in Ventura.  If you’re scoring at home, driving that along the 101 takes about 5 hours in total, without traffic.

It’s a damn massive region.

In any case, if you’re interested in making wine from partially finished juice-you could theoretically grab some juice from Monterey for the acidity, some from Santa Barbara for the structure and finish with some from Santa Cruz for the broodishness. I don’t know where the component parts came from for this wine, but I do know that the Central Coast AVA designation does tell us something.  That something basically is that multiple regions are being put together because if I’m being honest, no one uses the wider Central Coast AVA designation if they don’t need to.

One more interesting part to this story. If you happen to live in London, you’d likely be more able to find this wine than we are here in California.  The story behind that is interesting and better told elsewhere than this space, but suffice to say that exporting wine has been good to the winery.

I’ve talked a lot in my blog space about the struggle for California vintners to hit that magical $15-$25 price point.  I should delve into it a bit here, which also I think helps to explain why more negociants would be good for the wine industry here in California.

First, let’s assume that we’re going to receive 4 tons per acre.  Some higher end vineyards get something closer to 2 tons (ancient vines, those over 100 years old might get a single ton) and the hot central valley likely gets 10 tons.  But, 4 tons is a pretty good bet for a Central Coast vineyard from which people are trying to craft quality grapes.

To plant that vineyard, it’ll cost you about $50,000 per acre to get that done. That’s spread over the course of 5 years and as you might expect, is the heaviest in year 1 (approximately 40% of the total investment).

Moving forward, vintners assume that if they’re doing basically zero work, it’ll cost them $8,000 per acre to farm, at an absolute minimum. Unfortunately, that’s largely driven by the price for water these days-another notch in the belt for dry farming.

Those 4 tons of fruit being produced on the property, in essence gives you 240 cases, or 2,880 bottles of wine.

So just the single year farming costs adds $2.78 to start. Let’s call it a $1 per bottle to service the debt on the initial costs. The cost of the bottle, cork, some of the other winemaking tools and more adds another $1.50.

I know what you’re thinking: that’s not getting us anywhere toward $20 yet.  I should also mention that the distributor that helps the winery sell the wine, pays only half of retail.  So the winery is only bringing in $10 per bottle-but we already have $5.28 in costs.

We haven’t talked about that single largest impediment toward hitting our price point: the cost of the vineyard land in the first place.

To hit our price point here, we’d need the land to be under $100,000 per acre to even consider it.  Again, that’s why we’re looking only at the Central Coast, you can’t touch anything in Napa or Sonoma for anything close to that.

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Field Recordings Foxie

Field Recordings

If you’re new to my wine clubs, or if you’ve been here for a while….don’t despair the white wine’s in your shipments won’t always be as esoteric as this Field Recordings Foxie.  I might even ship a Chardonnay next month to make up for this…..thing.

Ok, so Foxie is a collaboration between Field Records and Hoxie.  The initial makes wine.  The latter, wine spritzers in small square boxes.

First, a quick word on Paso Robles since that’s where Field Recordings is based.  It’s about half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles.  You’d think that the winemakers in the region might split their time trying to make sales in both cities then, but they generally don’t.  San Francisco’s wine marketplace is still largely controlled by Napa and Sonoma winemakers, with guys from the Santa Cruz Mountains, Livermore, Lodi and Lake County taking their turns vying for attention as well.  It’s a damn crowded market.

LA, is it’s own market and what works well in SF, doesn’t always work well in LA.  SF is hyper or uber focused on the small production, lighter side of the wine trade. That stuff plays well in LA, like it does in most big American cities, but isn’t the be all and end all that it is here.  LA is an easier Rose sell and is easier to sell your dense, jammy wine than is SF.

I bring that all up because Hoxie is based in LA, so a meeting or finding each other wasn’t quite as far fetched as you’re thinking it was.

In any case, winemakers like trying new things, especially things that they enjoy themselves.  No, they’re not making beer, although they drink plenty of it (after all, when your entire car and generally your being smell like grape must for months during harvest, you probably don’t want much to do with fermentation for as long as possible). But this outside the box stuff? Cool.  Most are cool with it and really interested.

Part of the reason they’re interested in it, is both mental, but also financial.  Mentally I know a few winemakers that just want to do something different every year.  Many scratch that proverbial itch by sourcing a couple of tons of a weird grape.  Others, by some other form of artistic endeavor.  But, then sales come into play as well.  

In most established wine regions there are hundreds of tasting rooms. What to grow in many of these regions, isn’t much up for debate any longer, we’ve long found a good general idea of what grows best where-with some small exceptions of course.  As an example, in western Sonoma County you better like Pinot.  In Napa, Cabernet.  In Paso Robles, Rhone’s.

Doing something like this Foxie, which really for our purposes is a take on Rose, gives you something different to offer.  It’s the same reason why wineries want their winemakers to make a dessert wine.  It sells pretty easily out of the tasting room. It’s also different and gives everyone something else to talk about.

Depending on your palate, this is along those same lines, or I’ve taken it one step too far.

Maybe.

Like I said, I’ll reign it back in the coming months.  But it’s summer.  You all always tell me when I ship a Rose, either “it’s not a red!” or “it’s not a white?”.

So I thought I’d challenge everyone a bit and try something new.

Oh, I think this is rather refreshing on a hot summer day.

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Vellum Wine Craft Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012

Vellum Wine Craft

This month, a few select members of our red wine clubs received a Vellum Wine Craft Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012

2011 in Napa Valley was the vintage that separated the men from the boys according to pretty much every winemaker I know.  It was cold.  Damp.  Those with young, active,  kids said it was annoying.

The good part? As we saw in the last few vintages, sometimes rain helps.  2012 didn’t have any, but it did have pretty much idyllic growing conditions.  Long and warm gives every winemaker the opportunity to take the fruit they’re given and decide on a direction.

At Vellum, Karl follows the lead of the folks that really taught him to make wine.  Not those at UC Davis, but instead his first true winemaking job in the industry: Storybrook Mountain.

Storybrook if you aren’t familiar with the history, is one of the couple of dozen Napa Valley wineries which date to a number starting with a 18.  IE, the 19th century.

Like many others, it was abandoned and finally rehabbed during the golden age of innovation in Napa, the 70’s. Known for Zinfandel, Storybrook was one of the first properties where acidity took precedence over structure.  Still does and that rings true at Vellum.

Karl’s winemaking journey is formed largely by his time at UC Davis.  Like every single graduate of the acclaimed viticulture program, Lehman produces wines that are structurally perfect. Davis though since it’s weight in the industry is something akin to the entirety of the Ivy League and UC systems put together onto a single campus, also opens a crapload of doors.  Almost every corporate door is open to its graduates, so I think it says something about a winemaker that decided to venture on his own so early in his career.  Most don’t and that leads to the fracture of those with viticulture education experience and those who learned to make wine as a second career.

So what do we have in your glass?

Most importantly, we need to talk about this vineyard.  It’s a single vineyard, but one without a name. Yes, those still do exist in Napa Valley.  Not Rutherford though. Plus, when you borrow money from friends and family using promissory notes like Vellum did to start, you’re not buying Rutherford fruit.

Back about a decade ago, if you wanted to start a Napa winery on a budget, there was only one spot to find fruit.  In southernmost and easternmost section of the valley was a smaller region that the locals called Coombsville.  For decades, winemakers said the region was too cold to grow good wine grapes.  Small landowners in the region grew grapes still, after all they were the closest to downtown Napa and why shouldn’t they be involved in their county’s namesake industry, but many, like this vineyard made them into jelly.

Over the years, yes, Napa’s a bit warmer….but consumer tastes have changed more quickly than our weather.  These days, what was considered light and overly acidic a decade ago, now is in the mainstream.

In 2011 the TTB made Coombsville it’s own AVA.  Fruit prices are now only surpassed by the old stand alone Napa names like Rutherford and Oakville. Things in the wine industry change slowly, but when they do change, they tend to take even longer to swing back in the other direction.

So this is classic Coombsville.  I’ve opened bottles of Vellum for other winemakers and they peg it immediately.  It’s the acidity, which is something that is an open debate among winemakers.  Karl Lehman here at Vellum strongly believes that wine ages well, based largely on its acidity.  Others think it’s the tannins.

Aging wine though, is an inexact science at best.  First, it’s damn near impossible to have a true double blind trial.  After all, does anyone really make wine from the same grapes during the same vintage, only encourage acidity in one barrel and tannins in another? What about the barrel differences though?  What about long term storage conditions?

Here’s the kicker-we’re, as an industry, only now starting to actually pay attention to which wines actually age better.  Napa vs Bordeaux is always a hot button topic and it’s imminently more complex than a simple question of acidity vs tannin.  

What Vellum is looking to do is to create something that’s more Bordeaux than Napa….at least in style.  In California that can be damn hard.

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Karah Pinot Noir Estate 2012

Karah Pinot Noir Estate 2012

A few wine club members have received this Karah Pinot Noir Estate 2012

If you ask any wine drinker about the best spots in Sonoma for cold climate Pinot Noir, many would tell you that being inside of, or next to the Petaluma Gap is the correct answer.

For much of that conversation, we owe a debt of gratitude to Karah because it was the first vineyard planted in the Petaluma Gap.

So the winery is technically in Cotati.  At first, when I heard that, I scoffed.  There aren’t any wineries in Cotati.  There’s little more than track homes and a master planned community, which I feel like I can recognize….after all I grew up in San Diego County, which I am pretty sure is where they send planners to see how to design the suburbs.

Then you show up at Karah and you ride up a small hill, look back over the 101 freeway and see….well, almost see the ocean, you feel a cool breeze and I thought, ok, I get it.

So when you hear incessantly about cool climate vineyard locations, people often think that means a lighter style of wine.  After all, less sun, less sugar.  Less sugar, less dense wine right?

In actuality, what ends up occurring is that grapevines end up seemingly soak up every spare  bit of sun.  You end up with something more dense, darker and more brooding than you do in the warmest regions, think the inland valleys of San Joaquin where the cheapest wine around is made.

That’s why the Pinot Noir in your glass is pretty darn dark.

Ok, so another point that I thought was interesting. I end up walking into about 15-20 wineries a month for a tasting, always with an appointment.  Many in Napa Valley as well as Sonoma, talk about how much they miss the old days.  Wine, perhaps much like wider society wishes for a simpler time.  Hell, buying a property on Howell Mountain isn’t that expensive, unless grapes were planted there in the 1800’s.

One thing that they don’t want to go back to…..free tastings.  At Karah, it’s still free.  If you watch Bottle Shock, which I think is a great movie btw, you’ll see free wine tastings.  It definitely feels like something from a bygone era.

Another aspect that I don’t know if I’ve given enough ink here.  We so typically think of Sonoma being only Pinot Noir, but it’s not.  It’s simply not. But, it’s still the tail that wags the dog so to speak.  Have a look at the plantings in Sonoma:

Karah Pinot Noir Estate 2012

So what do you think of Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa or Sonoma?

Of course, it’s Napa.

What about Zinfandel?

The Sierra Foothills, with the 4 oldest Zinfandel vineyards in existence, or Sonoma?

Does anyone care about Merlot any longer?

Will anyone buy Syrah?

I hope you see my point, as far as marketing dollars go, if you were in charge of Sonoma County’s marketing dollars, where would you spend it?

I bring that all up, because Sonoma perhaps more so than any other region, has to choose how to market itself. Pinot is going to take up the most space, largely because of bottles like this one, which I think stands up well to anything you’d get in this price point (sub $40) anywhere in the world…..but that still doesn’t make sales easy especially when you choose a spot for your winery that might be more commensurate with great grapes rather than an easy place to bring in hordes of visitors.

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Wonderwall Pinot Noir Edna Valley 2015

Wonderwall Pinot Noir

Wonderwall Pinot NoirSo I think the most interesting aspect of this Wonderwall Pinot Noir Edna Valley 2015, by far, is the location.

So I lived on the Central Coast for 5 years and I thought I knew the region pretty well.  After all, between Santa Barbara and Paso Robles, there’s a number of small towns, but with only one real way to get from one region to the other along the coast (the inland valley isn’t really relevant when you sell wine for more than $20 per bottle, so I can discount the 5 and stick to only spots off the 101).

Then I started seeing more and more Edna Valley Pinot Noir and I had to take a minute to find where the Edna Valley was on the map.

A couple of years ago, grapes grown in the Santa Lucia Highlands started getting sold for increasingly ridiculous price points, so many small vintners were forced to look for cooler climate Pinot Noir elsewhere.

Enter the Edna Valley which is located just to the east of the Santa Lucia mountains and the Pinot fruit that everyone started bidding up.  So it makes sense and it makes even more sense when you realize that this is a valley that runs east-west instead of North-South.  In wine grape growing that’s incredibly important because the cool winds off the ocean, the fog, get to take a straight shot into your vineyard.  The folks on the central coast would argue this is California’s coldest winegrowing region in large part because it’s 5 miles from the coast.  If I’m being honest about it, sure if you’re grading an entire AVA that’s likely true.  But, the true Sonoma Coast is significantly colder, like bring a jacket to the beach during the summer cold, borderline miserable during the winter.  Edna Valley isn’t miserable at any point, the central coast is too Mediterranean for that, but this is hardly Santa Monica, Del Mar or Coronado.

So what was the 2015 vintage like? This in many ways, thank God for vintners, was the peak of the drought. The vintage was considered to be both early and light.  For cooler climate varieties like the Pinot Noir and say Gewurztraminer, that’s quite ok. After all, most of the reason that people are looking toward these varietals and these spots, is for their acidity.

But, there was a very real problem: the general lack of fruit. For most of the folks that I work with, they’re too small to own their own vineyard, or if they do, it’s only a few acres and they’re still buying a significant portion of their fruit elsewhere.  While the big boys have largely changed from buying grapes by the ton, to buying them by the acre-for the smallest players growers aren’t making that change.  Quite honestly, they’ve been taught hard lessons, sometimes smaller wineries and winemakers don’t pay their bills on time, or at all.  So they’ll only sell them fruit by the ton, after all, at least they can still control the farming then and sell the fruit elsewhere if someone backs out at the last minute.  What this all means, if you’re buying fruit by the ton and if a vintage is down 50% from it’s normal levels, the biggest contracts get the fruit first and the little guys, might not get fruit at all.

All that is to say, these “entry” level Pinot Noir offerings (and yes, unfortunately entry level prices for Pinot are about $20 in California, we simply cannot grow all that much fruit on any given acre) may be tough to come by in 2015. As a sourcing issue for a wine club, that can be an issue, so I was happy to jump on this and get it out now.

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Singer Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon The Song 2014

Singer Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon The Song 2014 Front Label

Singer Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon The Song 2014 Front LabelAnother one from shipments this month, folks in our red wine clubs are receiving this Singer Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon The Song 2014

I’ll get to some information on the winemaker, but first, a word on where the wine comes from: Coombsville.

When I first opened Uncorked Ventures, about 6 years ago, Coombsville was just getting talked about as a destination for Cabernet Sauvignon.  It’s located in south-east Napa, really the end of the wider AVA.  The location puts it comfortably next to San Pablo Bay, perhaps the coldest spot associated with Napa Valley (largely the locals don’t count Los Carneros since its both shared with Sonoma and is largely dedicated to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay).

In any case, Coombsville became it’s own AVA officially in 2011, it’s a labor intensive practice that requires not only vintners and growers wanting the designation, but a multi step checklist to show how this specific region differs from others and its neighbors.  Stuff like soil samples are necessities and add to not only the cost of pursuing an AVA designation, but also the time it takes to receive it.

Singer Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon The Song 2014 Back LabelCoombsville showed up on our radar for two reasons originally.  First, it was painfully obvious that this is where the region was moving. Colder weather, darker fruit because of a longer more moderate growing season and higher acidity level in the resulting wine. Second, grape prices in the wider Napa Valley have gone crazy.  Not a little crazy, but really damn crazy.  So smaller wineries and winemakers were forced to get with this trend faster than perhaps they all would have wanted, after all a Rutherford designation still sells a lot of wine, but they were ahead of the curve and the results from critics and consumers has been overall, spectacular.

2014 was the first of the vintages where the drought really came to play.  This was a much, much faster growing season than the 2013 vintage and IMO, despite the continued hype surrounding every Napa vintage, these were a bit less intense in flavor profiles than we’re accustomed to because of the shorter growing season.  Of course, that’s not the worst case scenario and people will surely buy 2014’s without hesitation.  This is also where Coombsville’s longer hang time comes to bear and I think dramatically helps the end result.

Lastly, a word on the winery here.  Barry Singer started making wine the old fashioned way.  One of the things I love about the wine industry is that there are two separate and divergent ways to learn to make wine.  First, folks go through viticulture programs like the one at UC Davis.  Second, a lot of guys like Barry decide that they like wine an awful lot and get sucked into the industry one way or another.  For him, it was the want to learn about wine, so he took a job in a cellar in Napa.  Winemakers are a collaborative lot and there’s always help available.  In that way, a ton of winemakers learn to make wine in an internship or trade type fashion-something that we often bemoan not existing in American society any longer.  These are the folks I often end up working with have an interesting take on the industry as its their second career and are often not bound by the specific process they learned in school.  Instead, they’re more likely to consider themselves artists.  Barry falls into that category.

Over the years, production spaces and production levels have gotten bigger and better.  Production levels have increased to close to 500 cases and the wines are now made, instead of in a Napa Valley garage, at a different, larger, winery that rents some space like a custom crush facility might.

Lastly, there aren’t a lot of major critics scores on Singer Cellars wines.  After all, to have a review done in many publications-you have to have your wine in a majority of their markets.  If you’re making about 500 cases, that’s impossible.

Here’s the Sommelier Files review:

With a balanced mixture of red and black fruits, this playful yet stylish wine is loaded with attractive aromas and bright flavors of red cherry, fresh currants, blackberry, roasted espresso, vanilla, tobacco, and cedar. The luscious texture is further complemented with an admirable burst of vibrant acidity and a long dry finish. It’s a great wine to share with friends, family, and holds up well when opened for a few days too. 140 cases.

Food pairings: Gourmet pizzas, grilled veggies, pulled pork, lamb sliders, beef bourguignon. Overall, a fabulous food-friendly wine—especially for the price!

Lastly, one thing to note on this wine. There’s a certain depth on the finish, see if you can pick up the charcoal notes that I sense at the finish-it’s something that I sense in a lot of good Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a fun wine this Singer Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon The Song 2014.

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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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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.