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McCrea Cellars Grenache 2005

McCrea Cellars Grenache 2005

So I’ve worked with a few McCrea Cellars bottlings over the past five years and Doug McCrea’s work continues to be among my favorite’s in the state of Washington. Doug McCrea is an interesting guy, having had a full career as a musician in both New Orleans, as well as, San Francisco, before settling in Seattle and making Rhone varietals.

Founded in 1988, McCrea Cellars was the first winery in Washington dedicated to Rhone varietals.  At that point it’s been said you could buy Syrah grapes….from a guy, if you knew who to ask & you were nice about it.

Ok, I decided to circle back for yes, yet another Grenache (sorry….ok, not sorry) because this is one of the few that I could find with some bottle age.

We’ve talked about it some with wine club offerings at all of our club levels, but wine that’s stored correctly (pretty much the only organizations capable in the United States, are the wineries themselves….I’ve been to the warehouses of large retailers… isn’t the most pretty, or the most organized) takes on a set of qualities that aren’t entirely consistent with the initial offerings.

Take this Grenache as an example.  When you open it, please give it an hour or so to open up.  Like when you get off an airplane, the wine seems to need the chance to stretch its legs a little bit.

You’ll find it’s become almost dainty in its old age, much different than the almost 15% alcohol that is stated on the label.  Yakima Valley in Washington State was the Pacific Northwest’s first AVA and continues to be a trailblazer in many ways.  Not the least of which is the ability to try new things as the AVA has the most acres under vine in the Pacific Northwest, close to 20,000 acres in total.

To put that number in perspective, that’s about half of Napa Valley’s total and almost equal to Sonoma.

Lastly, a quick word on 2005 in the Yakima Valley.  Patience was helpful in a vintage where a scorching hot summer led some vintners to pick early, only to see cold temperatures pervade September and October-allowing grapes to hang almost indefinitely.  That’s part of the reason this wine is so darn dark in your glass, significantly darker than a Grenache from the same set of Yakima Valley vineyards might be during a different vintage.

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Troll Bridge Big Club 2010

I’ve worked with a Troll Bridge wine before, but thought that given our Reserve Selections members were receiving this wine shortly, that it deserved it’s own write up now.

Troll Bridge is at least as much about the owner, as it is the winemaker, which is a statement that I don’t get a chance to make very often.

Owner Allan Ezial is a graphic designer by trade, having formerly worked out of a space on Berkeley’s famed 4th street art and design district, he now works out of the north bay-which makes sense because he has a number of winery clients: many of which are names you’d recognize, namely Caymus.

His connections to the wine industry run pretty deep and over lunch & margaritas at Picante, a long time standout in Berkeley (also one of his favorite old lunch haunts….& since his office has moved, it seems he misses the place) we talked about his vision for his winery and why he decided to make wine in the first place.

A number of years back Allan told the story that he was having lunch with a group of growers in Napa and they were talking about how they wish their vineyards would perform like a couple of the rows or blocks that needed literally zero maintenance throughout the growing cycle.  The specific blocks changed every year, but these high end vineyards always had a few.

Allan wondered what could be done if someone bought only these small maintenance blocks and had a wine made with them?

Troll Bridge is the project that has made that happen.

Over the past month or two, the majority of you have received a bottle that I made.  I bring that up here, to highlight the spare no expense style of wine bottle that we’re looking at.  I paid about 50 cents per bottle and an additional 15 cents for the unbranded, completely generic corks. Those prices were lower than normal because I also piggybacked on a longer and larger bottling run, but you get the idea….I bought expensive fruit and then dealt with pricing elsewhere as best as I could.

While Allan didn’t want to share exactly what he paid here, I’m guessing that the etched bottle ran him into the $3 range and the cork a similar price step up from mine, perhaps close to $1.  I know you’re thinking, Mark that’s only a $3.50 difference from yours and this is a $100 bottle.  Ok. That being said though, he’s made similar choices throughout the winemaking and marketing process.

Talking to friends with similar projects, he might not be making a profit of more than a few dollars on his sale to me.  Partially, I bring that kind of stuff up to simply say, finding these incredibly high end Napa projects at this price point isn’t as easy as it initially sounds & yes, Troll Bridge prices are likely to increase as time goes on.

Apart from some great vineyard sources, the winemaker for Troll Bridge is Jon Engelskirger.  Jon’s one of those guys. who has been around the valley for quite some time (and since we seem to exist in 2 valley’s right now, I’ll clarify that I’m talking about Napa instead of Silicon) making wine for a litany of interesting and influential names such as: Silverado, Robert Pepi & Turnbull among others.

If you’re wondering why someone leaves the likes of Turnbull and shows up a smaller project, like Troll Bridge, Jon’s working on his own wine project based out of Contra Costa County.  Contra Costa’s an interesting place.  On one side of the hill that faces San Francisco, it’s damn cold.  On the other, an inland valley is hot enough that Italian and Portuguese immigrants found it among the best spots near SF to plant their native grapes. Jon’s making about 2,000 cases of an interesting mix of grapes in a town called Brentwood, out of a farm that he owns personally.  It seems that even winemakers whose names we recognize, can’t find land to buy on and make wine from any longer in Napa….which is unfortunate.

I think the 2010 Napa Valley vintage also deserves a mention at this point.  I’ve talked about vintage a ton in this space over the past few years.  Basically my argument boils down to this: if it’s a great year, buy wine from anyone.  Anyone can do a good job of making wine in a good year.  If it’s a bad year, taste wine from respected winemakers and choose what you like.  It’s bad practice for consumers, as well as, the industry as a whole to try and avoid entire vintages. If we all do that, the 1,000 case wineries we all love and want to support will simply cease to exist.

Ok, so the 2010 vintage. Was it 2009? No, not even close….it was a challenge.  So here’s the exact way that you get vintners and growers really worried about a vintage.  Start with rain or simply cold weather to get everything started late.  Have cooler than normal temperatures continue throughout much of the spring and into early summer.  Napa wines need to be ripe, so the natural reaction by most is to cut some fruit and make sure that they get opportune ripeness for what remains.

Then, have an extremely hot spell come through during the late summer and early fall. Sunburned grapes (yes it happens and it’s about as bad as you’re thinking it is) don’t make for good wine. But, vintners have to choose to risk the burn to get to the ripeness level that they want.

In 2010, there was some severe heat in late August, but for vintners who decided to hold off picking (most did, the one’s who were impatient ended up with substandard wine, better put into the bulk market) that was followed by what I’ve heard described as a “glorious” month of Indian summer where the grapes added sugar, without dropping much acidity.

All in all, most call it a challenging vintage, but most were also incredibly happy with the results, as long as the growers and winemakers were patient.

The folks growing the grapes for Troll Bridge, as a collective, have been doing this for some time.  It’s been said that farming is one of the most patient of professions and these are truly professionals.

They waited-plus, with the vineyard blocks needing little maintenance, all the more reason to let the grapes hang a couple of extra days right?

All in all, I’m happy to provide what I believe to be an absolutely prototypical Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon at a price point that I hesitate to call a good bargain.  But, at $95, this feels right.

Plus, Allan’s someone that deserves our support for swimming up stream here.


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Future of Zinfandel in California

Hi guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. Happy Monday to everybody from what is a cold, rainy, and wet San Francisco today. Late last week I talked about the feature of Grenache in the state of California and so today I wanted to talk a few minutes about the future of Zinfandel and kind of what we’re seeing in terms of plantings and what we can expect going into the future.

First, I think Zinfandel is a really interesting grape. If you go back and look at the history of Zinfandel, there’s always been a lot of conversation and talk about where did the grape come from, where is it native to. Is it native to California? Is it native to Italy where it’s called Primitivo? UC Davis, not surprisingly, has been at the forefront of a lot of the genetic research. In essence, what I think they’ve come to the conclusion of, along with some other research based in Europe, that Zinfandel and Primitivo are almost like different species of monkeys where they share a common ancestor but they were largely allowed to create genetic diversity on the two continents simultaneously. Common ancestor. Not one derived from the other in a lab like some other grapes would be,

Secondly, I also think it’s an interesting grape because it’s the one grape where here in California, if you were to ask somebody within the wine industry, “How do I pick a Zin?” Almost everybody would tell you, “Pick an old vine Zin.” The problem with that though is that old vine is a marketing term. There’s no legal ramifications for it and some vintners do a good job about saying this is what an old vine is and this is why we think it’s an old vine and some just slop it on the label after a few years.

Here’s kind of the way vines and the way I think of it usually works. It usually take about 5 years for a grape vine to start producing fruit in sufficient quality enough that it’s going to be anything but bulk wine. That’s in essence because the roots need to get established. You don’t want to have to be watering it so much so it’s not watered done et cetera, et cetera. A standard grape vine also only produces for about 30 years. Zinfandel, of course, can go significantly longer than that into the century, century and a half. I’ve had wine from grapes that are sitting on vines that are 125, 130 years old and they taste just great. There’s kind of that whole back and forth.

For me, if somebody’s going to be true about what an old vine is, I think if a Pinot vine can only last 30 years, to be an old vine, it has to be older than 30. There are some Sonoma vintners who are slopping on labels after 5 years which I think is doing a disservice to both the grape itself and to the general public who’s buying their product but that’s a story for another day. That’s the problem with Zinfandel though. If I wanted to plant a few acres of Zinfandel in Napa today, it would take me 35 years before I could realistically start to recoup the maximum amount of money from that vineyard, as opposed to say Cabernet, Pino, even Grenache, where you might be able to start recouping it after 5 years so there’s not a lot of incentive there.

That’s why you’re seeing … This is Black Rock and Black Rock is something that we’ve shipped both to our premium wine club members as well as to some folks on different wine club levels. Black Rock I think is interesting because it was made by Kirk Venge who his dad Nils Venge is famous in the wine making community in large part because Robert Parker gave Nils a bottle made by him at least the first hundred point score on Napa wine.

Kirk went through the UC Davis viticulture program and now he makes wine in a number of places himself, mostly high acclaimed. Including places like B Cellars and Venge Vineyards itself, the family namesake winery. They also own this, or at least they make the wine here, Black Rock which is up in Lake County. I think this is where you’re really going to see Zinfandel kind of gain exposure.

I talked to Mark Grenache and they’re kind of needing to be planted in not prime vineyard spots but slightly further away. I think that’s true with Zinfandel as well although Zinfandel can grow in kind of the same Bordeaux kind of climates that others can as well as hotter conditions. Lake County is a good example. You have a natural offshoot for Napa wineries and Napa winemakers who can no longer can afford to buy places in Napa for themselves. Kathy Corison quite famously bought herself a spot off Highway 29 for Corison Winery. An equivalent skilled winemaker, i.e. one of the 10 best winemakers in the world, may never make enough money these days to buy an equivalent site.

That’s kind of sad but that’s also driving people to other wine regions and Lake County is one of those regions that is benefiting now and will continue to benefit in the future. It’s also a place that has the largest fresh water lake in California so there’s kind of that ocean, not ocean breeze but there’s that cooling effect from the lake over the winter and that’s something that winemakers really like to see from their vineyard sites. I think that’s where you’re going to see Zinfandel. You’re going to see people who are industry veterans or people that have perhaps a little bit more patience than somebody who made a bunch of money in tech or silicon valley who wants a wine to give to their friends tomorrow. Instead, you’re going to see people who are part of the wine industry and they want to make Zinfandel because I think you do hear a lot about Zinfandel in the wine industry circles, perhaps more than other grapes, as far as compared to what you hear from the general public.

Places like Lake Country are even further off the beaten path than say Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, and even like the end of Valley. You’re going to see plantings there where people can say, “You know what? We’re building this business. We’re going to build a Zinfandel vineyard and the goal is my kid is going to make the wine there,” and he’s four kind of thing.

I think that’s where Zinfandel is going. You’re going to see a very small number of plantings with it. You will see … There are some projects that have old vines inNapa and elsewhere and I think those are going to continue to garner even more greater attention because it takes 35 years for it to really be an old vine, I think you’re going to see a greater emphasis on the ones that are truly old, past a century. They’re kind of a great vine to look at too. These old marled. They’re shorter, they’re thicker. They look like a grape vine kind of should look like, I think. I think you’re going to see more and more marketing plays on the ones that are older and for good reason.

Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. If you’re waiting for a shipment, please check your email and your spam. It’s probably out already. I look forward to speaking with you. If you have a few minutes, take a look at the gift baskets. We’re in the process of updating those. Thanks.