Friday, October 9, 2015

Visiting Rodney Strong Vineyards

Our final winery visit was to Rodney Strong Vineyards. Social media manager, Laura Perret and her husband met my husband and I for a Sunday morning tour and tasting. We began in the winery. Our guide, Bill, started us off with a barrel sampling of the 2014 Symmetry and the 2013 Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon. He wanted to showcase both the terroir differences between the two and the different points in development between the two vintages. 

We viewed more of the production facility and learned about some innovations they have made to keep the wine more secure during earthquakes before heading out to the terrace to enjoy a tasting with a vineyard view. Bill served us two rosés to start, both from the 2014 vintage and both priced at $25, one made from Pinot Noir and the other from Malbec. The Pinot Noir's character was more raspberry and rose petals while the Malbec was more watermelon with a bit of vanilla and toast. Bill explained these were primarily sold at the winery for the summer concerts but they are both available on line. While I wouldn't reject either one as both were refreshing summer wines, if given a choice, I would pick the one made from Pinot Noir.

Bill brought out some plates of charcuterie and cheese for us to enjoy and he poured the 2013 Reserve Chardonnay which was rich and slightly creamy with an apple pie nuance. We followed this with four of the red wine current releases. All are recommended wines.
  • 2013 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $28)- Smooth, easy drinking, blackberry, black pepper
  • 2013 Knight's Valley Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $35)- Richer, more chocolate character, more structured
  • 2012 Symmetry Alexander Valley Meritage (SRP $55)- Rich, ripe blackberry, cassis, coffee
  • 2012 Rockaway (SRP $75)- Concentrated, rich, more minerality behind the plum and cassis with baking spice and tobacco.
The tasting room is open daily to the public from 10:00am-5:00pm with tastings ranging from free for two tastes from the Sonoma County line on up to $55 for a paired food and wine experience. A visit to Rodney Strong Vineyards is highly recommended when in Sonoma County, see large scale production with an artisanal touch while enjoying a wine tasting in a beautiful vineyard setting. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Visiting Quivira Vineyards

As originally seen in the 

Located in Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County, Quivira Vineyards and Winery takes its name from the mythical seven cities of gold that explorers sought throughout the sixteenth century. Upon a late afternoon visit...

Read the full story in the October 2015 issue of Galveston Monthly magazine Pg 57-59

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tasting and Touring at Sterling Vineyards

A visit to Sterling Vineyards was a recommendation from a marketing acquaintance. In addition to seeking new material for various articles, this trip was also a fact finding mission for a trip with a group of consumers being planned for this spring.

Sterling Vineyards is a larger operation making numerous styles of wine. They are set up to move large groups of people through the winery with a bit of a Wine 101 self-guided tasting tour. There is the sense of being at an amusement park when you arrive and get your ticket for the gondola ride up to the winery. You get to enjoy expansive views of the surrounding area during your ride to the top.

Guests are greeted and tagged in the portico after their ascension. We were treated to the "Silver Experience" which means that after the self guided walking tour, we would enjoy a seated tasting of some limited releases in the terrace tasting room. We received our first glass of wine and were directed to the next tasting area. Along the way, guests enjoy educational media, stunning views and an overview of the wine making process. Sauvignon Blanc grapes were waiting to become wine on the day that we visited. Following the winery tour, there is an art collection on display as you meander through to the tasting room.

The Tour Way featured wines:
2012 Winery Lake Chardonnay (SRP $30)- Served upon entry; soft, round, floral aromas, tropical flavors, creamy. 
2012 Napa Pinot Noir (SRP $30)- Served on the Diamond Mountain Ranch Plaza; wild berries, forest floor, caramel finish.
2012 Napa Merlot (SRP $26)- Served at the fermentation overlook; cherry/berry, spicy oak finish.
2014 Malvasia Bianca (SRP $30)- Served at the south view terrace; pronounced sweet orange and ginger aromas and flavors.

In the Tasting Room:
2013 Cellar Club Viognier (SRP $30)- light peach, melon, citrus
2012 Cellar Club Sangiovese (SRP $35)- earthy, cranberry, forest floor
2011 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $55)- blackberry cobbler, graphite, dusty tannins. 

A great place to tour and taste for couples on up to large groups. This tour is particularly recommended for anyone wanting to learn more about how wine is made. General admission with current release tasting is $29, the Silver Experience is $39. Cheese, charcuterie and wines by the glass are all available for an additional fee in the tasting room.  

Monday, September 28, 2015

Tasting at Chateau Montelena

For our final day in Napa Valley, we headed up to Calistoga for a 9:30AM tasting at Chateau Montelena. Kevin Jordan, our tasting room host, had a question for us, "Have you seen the movie?" [Bottleshock]. Of course, we've seen the movie. The next question, "Do you know how much was fiction?"

"I think I do," I replied, "I read the book, too," [Judgement of Paris-by George M. Taber]. I could tell this earned me a bit more respect in Kevin's eyes, he spends a lot of his time during tastings explaining the fictionalized moments in the movie's rendition of the story.  We would start our discussion closer to the present time.

Then, from my husband, "That wasn't all true?" I gave him the big eye roll while poor Kevin politely had to return to his usual routine. Many people that visit Chateau Montelena, like my husband, have seen the movie and believe they "know" the story of Bo and Jim Barrett, they are surprised to learn that the movie was not 100% accurate. The tasting room at the winery features some pictures from the movie along with some props and other mementos. These were fun to check out and it was interesting to learn more stories from behind the movie scenes.

The fortieth anniversary of the famed Paris tasting is fast approaching so I was very excited to visit this winery, see the Chateau and taste the new releases. Bo Barrett is still working at the winery, we caught a glimpse of him out in the field on a tractor as we were leaving.

Signed by
the cast of Bottleshock
We enjoyed all the wine that we tasted at Chateau Montelena. Kevin was entertaining and he had a lot of information to share about the winery's history and all the current releases. The grounds are absolutely stunning, we learned that club members are provided several different additional tasting options allowing them to enjoy the beautiful scenery at the lake along with their wine.

A must-do winery stop in Napa Valley, the tasting room is open to the public daily from 9:30-4:00. No reservations are required for the current release tasting which is priced at $25. For the more extensive tasting and tour experiences offered, reservations are required.

The Tasting:
2012 Napa Valley Chardonnay (SRP $50)- Citrus blossom, melon, ripe peach, fresh, delicious
2009 Napa Valley Chardonnay (SRP $50)- Very similar, more honeysuckle floral note.
2012 Calistoga-Napa Valley Estate Zinfandel (SRP $39)- Kevin says this is Bo's pizza wine. Mixed ripe berries, dried herbs, peppery finish
2012 Calistoga-Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $53)- Spicy, ripe berry aromas, chocolate, smooth
2010 Calistoga-Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $150)- Juicy dark berries, licorice, coffee, rich, mineral laced finish
2008 Calistoga-Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $170)- Berry jam, licorice, tobacco, spice, nice structure
2007 Calistoga-Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $180)- Earthier, dark berries, licorice

All were fantastic wines that I would happily accept more of at any time. I particularly loved the 2010 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon- a bit more elegant, beautifully balanced.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Visit to Matthiasson Vineyard

A visit to Matthiasson Wines was high on my list when I created my schedule for my harvest trip to Napa this year. I had discovered their Ribolla Gialla last spring and I was so struck by what a different wine it was for Napa Valley that I was curious to go and see what was happening there. 

Steve Matthiasson was off-site overseeing the impending harvest for one of the wineries for which he consults, a peril of visiting wine country during this time of year. His wife, Jill Klein Matthiasson, graciously received my husband and I at the family's homestead where she gave us a taste of the current releases out back at a picnic table overlooking the vineyards while she shared some of their story with us.

They started making wine together when they were in grad school at UC Davis. They got their grapes from the student vineyards. Both she and Steve had a background in agriculture and both had been promoting sustainability. Jill was involved in the local food movement and Steve was a vineyard consultant. By 2003, an encounter with the best Merlot grapes ever would convince Steve that it was time to put more focus on making wine and on their own family farm.

They immediately began making more wine using grapes from Steve's clients. By 2008, they were able to make their first vintage from their home vineyard. They still get grapes from some of Steve's clients but also lease land which they choose to farm organically themselves. When I asked Jill why they weren't certified organic, she replied that the paperwork is simply too overwhelming. They got into this because they loved farming and winemaking; sustainability and organics are important to them but hours of secretarial work is not.

She talked about recent issues they had faced. They had a problem with Pierce's Disease and had to replant part of the vineyard. They had hung shade cloths for the grapes that were taking high heat from the western sun causing some uneven ripening. They dealt with another insect issue that had destroyed any potential for an olive crop that year. She also felt that it was "crazy to be harvesting in August" and they were about a month ahead of where she expected. 

Koda, their vineyard dog stayed with us through the tasting. Jill told us that these dogs have the ultimate life, "it is what you hope to be reincarnated into..."

The tasting:

  • 2014 "Linda Vista Vineyard" Chardonnay Napa Valley (SRP $27)- This vineyard site is a neighboring property that the couple leases and farms themselves. Because of high acid levels of the vintage, almost half of this wine went through malolactic fermentation, all neutral oak. Fresh aromas and flavors of honeysuckle, apple and melon, medium body, slightly creamy, clean finish. 
  • 2012 "Michael Mara Vineyard" Chardonnay Sonoma Coast (SRP $55)- More intense aromas and rich flavors- fresh peach, orange peel, mineral finish. Produced from high acid clone 4 Chardonnay grapes, this wine underwent 100% malolactic fermentation with some new oak barrels used. The biggest difference between the two Chardonnays is the the soil, according to Jill who described this vineyard site as a "super rocky soil" and regaled us with the difficulty in planting that vineyard.
  • 2013 Napa Valley White Wine (SRP $40)- Jill calls this the wine they became known for, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillion, Ribolla Gialla and Friulano; Crisp yet weighty, citrusy, tropical, a bit creamy with a bit of nuttiness in the finish, concentrated, unique.
  • 2013 Ribolla Gialla "Matthiasson Vineyard" Napa Valley (SRP $45)- This was the wine for which I came here showing off a brand new label on the not yet released bottle. Fresh, balanced with aromas and flavors of baking spices, baked pear, toasted nuts; rich, structured, a bit more oxidized than the previous vintage due to some earthquake damage but delicious.
  • 2012 Refosco "Matthiasson Vineyard" Napa Valley (Sold-out)- Quite a treat to try this very limited production wine from three rows in their home vineyard grafted with this ancient Italian variety from Fruili. Aged primarily in neutral oak, this wine was intense, powerful, somewhat earthy with concentrated flavors of mixed berry jam, white pepper and a distinct mineral finish.
  • 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $60)- The 90% Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from the vineyards of three of Steve's clients and the 10% Merlot comes from their home vineyard. Intense aromas and flavors of mixed ripe berries, black plum with licorice and chocolate; medium body, balanced structure, long finish.
  • 2010 Napa Valley Red Wine (SRP $90)- This classic Bordeaux-styled blend was made for aging, cherry/berry aromas and flavors with a bit of chocolate and forest floor; structured, black tea tannins and a long finish.

All are highly recommended wines worthy of seeking out.

An intimate tasting and look at the vineyard with Jill Klein Matthiasson, great wine with a wonderful host in a picturesque setting, another fantastic Napa Valley experience. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Tasting at Franciscan

Day 2's second stop was at Franciscan Estate. This is a larger winery with a rather busy tasting room. My media tasting here was like a typical walk-in experience at the bar with a choice from their current releases of Napa Valley wines, their limited editions and their exclusives from Mt Veeder Winery, offered daily at $15 to $25 per person. Make advance reservations for tasting experiences like a 3 course lunch with wine pairings or a "create your own blend" class.

Wines have been produced by Franciscan Estate since 1973. Though a larger operation, winemaker Janet Myers and team focus on small lot production through regular evaluations and paying close attention to detail. Sustainability is important; they are certified Napa Green, California Sustainable and Fish Friendly and they continue to look for ways to improve and minimize environmental impact. 

I was able to sample several different wines here. 
A few favorites in the extensive line up were:

  • 2014 Napa Valley Rosé (SPR $24)- from 100% Syrah; juicy berries and melon with a creamy finish.
  • 2013 "Larsen Vineyard" Carneros Chardonnay (SPR $35)- exclusively at the winery; minerals, baked pear, smooth.
  • 2013 "Cuvee Sauvage" Carneros Napa Valley Chardonnay (SPR $40)- wild yeast fermented with extended hand stirred contact; creamy lemon custard character.
  • 2012 Mt Veeder Winery "Rosenquist" Cabernet Sauvignon (SPR $65)- ripe, dark berries, cherries and plums, roasted nuts, black pepper, smooth ripe tannins; complex and lingering.