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Monthly Archives: August 2017

A Visit to LangeTwins

What do you think of when you hear about a family owned winery? If you are like me, you envision a small, mom-and-pop operation, with a quaint, small tasting room, producing perhaps a few hundred cases of wine per year. What you probably don’t expect is a massive winery operation on the scale of LangeTwins. What? Never heard of LangeTwins? That may be because producing their own private label wine is just a portion of what they do here.

I recently visited LangeTwins Winery, located in Lodi, California, with friends Robyn, Anthony, and Kim. Despite living only about an hour from Lodi for 14 years, and being something of a wine guy (as suggested by this blog), this was my first tasting trip to Lodi. Yes, I am ashamed of myself and have no valid excuses. Anyway, as I rounded the bend and the facility came into view, I thought perhaps I had missed my turn and was arriving at a Gallo or Mondovi facility. Yet the monument sign that greeted us confirmed we were at the right place.
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We had arranged a winery tour with winemaker David Akiyoshi, who Anthony and I know though our mutual affiliation with NakedWines.com. In addition to his responsibilities and LangeTwins, David also produces wines under his own label that are sold by NakedWines.com. David has worked in the wine industry for more than 30 years. His tenure includes 25 years at Woodbridge. An interesting fact that David shared is that as children, during World War II, his parents were both sent to internment camps. As an adult, David’s father rose to success in the wine industry, including oenology research at U.C. Davis. David later followed his father in a wine career. David is a personable and engaging guide. He is clearly passionate about what he does, and gets great enjoyment in sharing his passion with guests. As a result, what was supposed to be a one-hour tour, stretched into nearly three hours!

The Lange family has been growing grapes in the Lodi area for five generations. In 2006, Brad and Randy Lange – the “Twins” of LangeTwins – started the winery operation. They brought David Akiyoshi in as winemaker and together, they built a state-of-the-art winemaking facility. The Langes gave David virtually free-reign in designing and constructing the operation. As David explained, when he asked for equipment or supplies, the Langes only wanted assurance that they were the best available for the production; they never asked about cost. The result is an impressive, sustainable, and continually expanding winery with the latest in technology and production equipment. The crush pad is topped with bifacial photovoltaic solar panels, capturing both direct sunlight and reflected light from below, while providing shade for workers below. They generate enough electricity to fully power their operation, and provide surplus energy back to the grid.

In addition to their own wines, LangeTwins offers a variety of services to other producers in the region. These include vineyard management, grape sales, winemaking, and bottling. They recently installed the most up-to-date bottling line, capable of churning out 120 bottles per minute, and provide bottling and labeling services to several wineries that you would readily recognize. (For proprietary reasons, those names could not be revealed, and photography in the bottling area is prohibited.)

David showed us around the grape hoppers (originally designed for pickling cucumbers but better suited for grapes); conveyers; four massive crushers; fermentation tanks ranging from small-lot to some of the largest, custom built tanks I’ve ever seen; and the barrel room, where we had some fun with barrel thieving.  

After the tour, David delivered us to the capable hands of the LangeTwins tasting room staff, where we enjoyed samples of the finished product. LangeTwins makes a large variety of wines, from light and lively whites, to a crisp, zesty Sangiovese Rosé, to big, bold red blends and varietal wines. Everything we tasted was exceptional. So much so that we decided to join the wine club, thus ensuring return visits, at least quarterly, for the foreseeable future.

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No trip to Lodi is complete without a stop at LangeTwins Winery. If you are in the area, I encourage you to stop in for a tasting. If time allows, click here to schedule a private tasting and winery tour. If you happen to run into David Akiyoshi while you’re there, tell him I said “hi.”

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PaZa Estate Winery – A Hidden Gem

Always on the prowl for hidden gems in the wine world, a few days ago we headed out to explore our own backyard on the nearby Placer County Wine Trail. Located east of Sacramento, along the Interstate 80 corridor on the way to Lake Tahoe, the Placer County Wine Trail features 19 wineries, and counting.

Placer County is part of the larger Sierra Foothills AVA. Wine grapes were first planted in here in 1848. If that year seems familiar, it could be because it is the same year gold was discovered in nearby Coloma, sparking the historic California Gold Rush. The miners who traveled to seek their fortunes also came with a mighty thirst. Enterprising European immigrants recognized that planting vineyards and making wine could be a lucrative way to quench the miners’ thirst. In the 1860’s, there were more vineyards and wineries in Placer County than in Napa and Sonoma counties combined! With warm days and cool nights, many Mediterranean varietals thrive in this area.

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With limited time available that day, we were only able to visit a couple of wineries. Consulting the Wine Trail map in the pamphlet we picked up, we set our coordinates for PaZa Estate Winery. Winding our way through the hilly, two-lane roads between Lincoln and Auburn, California, we were glad to have GPS on our phones! Over hill and dale, we carefully made our way. As instructed by Siri, we made a hard right in the middle of a 90-degree left turn, and continued on a paved, single lane road. The pavement soon gave way to gravel, and we started to think that Siri had gotten us lost. Cresting a hill, we saw the sign informing us we were approaching our destination. Rounding another curve, a paved parking lot welcomed us next to a residential home. Walking a short distance from the parking lot on a wide gravel path, we soon entered the shaded tasting…shed. Yes, you read that right…PaZa Estate Winery has an open-concept tasting shed, rather than a room. And for good reason! Why would they want to obscure the amazing vineyard and valley views with walls?

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Our host that day was Operations Manager, Cindy. She gave us some of the history of the PaZa story. The name, PaZa, is an amalgamation of the first letters of the owners’ names: Pamela and Zane Dobson. Sharing a love for wines, and having enjoyed fulfilling careers and hobbies, they decided to embark on a winemaking journey. They bought the property where the winery is now located in 2005. The first vines were planted in 2007. In 2009, they produced their first vintage, using grapes sourced from other vineyards. Finally, in 2011, the first vintage of estate wines was produced. Estate varietals include Barbera, Primitivo, Petite Sirah, Albariño, and Zinfandel. No fining materials are used, making PaZa wines suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

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The day of our visit was warm, but in the shade of the shed and with a cooling breeze through the trees and vines, we enjoyed our tastings of one white and three reds. The 2016 Chardarino, a blend of 60% Albariño and 40% Chardonnay, we delightfully refreshing, with a full mouthfeel and crisp tropical and citrus flavors. The reds included a 2102 Primitivo, a 2013 Barbera, and their LTD – Living the Dream red blend.  Aged three years in French oak, the Primitivo burst with dark berry and cherry flavors, and plenty of vanilla and spice. The Barbera was also aged in French oak for three years, and was soft and smooth, with dark cherry and blackberry flavors. The LTD – Living the Dream is a 50/50 blend of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, and was rich and delicious with ripe blackberry, cherry, and black pepper notes. Big and bold, with firm tannins, the LTD would make an excellent wine to pair with a steak or any other grilled meats.

img_0028img_0027If you are in the area, and would like to experience some true hidden gems while taking in some breathtaking views from the tasting shed, come visit PaZa Estate Winery. Set your GPS to 3357 Ayers Holmes Rd., Auburn, CA 95602, and enjoy the ride.

 

Want Great Wines? Head South.

For excellent wines at great values, head south. For interesting takes on your favorite varietals, head south. To expand your understanding of terroir and its influence on wine, head south. Wines from South America, specifically Chile and Argentina, define all these statements. I recently had the opportunity to experience three outstanding South American wines: Montes Limited Selection Pinot Noir 2014, Montes Twins Red Blend 2014, and KAIKEN Terroir Series Torrontés 2016.

The Three

For many years, right or wrong, Chile had the reputation of creating bulk wines of inferior quality. In 1988, Aurelio Montes, Sr. and Douglas Murray set out to challenge that notion, when they founded Viña Montes. These two pioneers believed that the unique conditions and terroir in Chile could produce world-class wines. Their first project was a Bordeaux-style red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. In 1998, the first vintage of Montes Alpha M was released. Subsequent lines, including Folly and Purple Angel, followed, with great success and popularity. Over the past 29 years, additional labels were introduced, at various price points, including Montes Limited Selection, the Classic Series, Cherub Rose, and the Montes Twins.

Montes Pantone

Those familiar with the Montes name will recognize the iconic angel on the label. That angel was inspired by Douglas Murray, who developed an abiding faith in angels after surviving two different near-fatal auto accidents. Montes adopted the angel icon to symbolize their commitment to be a positive force and influence. In keeping with that mission, Montes is a leader in environmental sustainability. Since 2009, Montes has implemented strategies to reduce fossil fuel consumption by 30%, and use of fertilizers by 50%. Sheep now help with weed control, and the winery has begun covering water reservoirs with geomembranes that reduce water leakage from two gallons per second to zero!

The Montes family of wines has certainly succeeded in breaking the mold and improving the quality and reputation of Chilean wines. So it follows that Aurelio Montes, Sr., would seek to expand his influence beyond the Chilean borders. In 2001, Montes, Sr., founded KAIKEN Winery on the other side of the Andes mountains, in Mendoza, Argentina. The Kaiken is a near-extinct bird, native to the region, known for soaring over the high, mountain peaks. Now run by son, Aurelio Montes, Jr., KAIKEN’s logo features a representation of “birds in flight” travelling over the Andes mountains. In keeping with the environmental commitment at Montes, in 2011 KAIKEN started managing its vineyards with biodynamic principles. They are pursuing a goal of being 100% biodynamic by the end of this year (2017.)

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Seeking to take Argentinian wines beyond just Malbec, the KAIKEN wine portfolio includes four labels: Mai, Ultra, Terroir Series, and Reserve. Malbec is featured in the Mai line, and is represented in others, but the Ultra, Terroir Series, and Reserve lines include reds composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Bonarda, along with Malbec. White wines are produced from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and the more Argentine-associated Torrontés.

So how do they taste? Well, here’s what I thought of them:

Montes Limited Selection Pinot Noir 2014 

100% Pinot Noir from the Acongagua Coast, aged 6-7 months in French Oak and Stainless Steel barrels.  

This is a complex, well-balanced Pinot Noir. Ruby red color with a slightly brick rim. On the nose there are aromas of soft earth and ripe raspberry. The complexity is evident from the initial sniff. On the palate, soft, supple tannins and light acidity dance on the tongue with earthy influences mingling with raspberry, cherry, plum, and red currant flavors. Medium body, with a lingering finish of red fruit and a hint of cola at the end.

I find some Pinot Noir to be too earthy, with the soil and mushroom flavors overpowering the fruit. The Montes Pinot Noir has just the right amount of earthiness, that enhances the fruit and makes this a very enjoyable wine. Paired with grilled salmon, it was truly delightful. It would also go nicely with other foods, including pork or mushroom risotto.

Average Price: $13 (Wine Searcher)

Montes Twins Red Blend 2014 

35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah, 25% Carmenère, 10% Tempranillo, from the Colchagua Valley. 50% of the wine was aged for 10 months in first, second, and third-use French Oak barrels. 

Very impressive red blend. Deep purple color in the glass. On the nose, aromas of Black Cherry, Raspberry, Blackberry, and a hint of soft vanilla. After several swirls and minutes to open up, the palate offers juicy flavors of Blackberry, Black Currant, Black Cherry, and Dark Chocolate, with soft oak and vanilla influences. Rich and full-bodied, with a complex character and soft, velvety tannins and fresh acidity, the wine finishes with a flourish of dark berry, chocolate, and hints of licorice and spice. This is an intriguing, sexy wine that pairs well with anything from the grill: beef, lamb, pork…we had it with grilled Sweet Italian Sausages and the pairing was spectacular!

Average Price: $12 (Wine Searcher)

KAIKEN Terroir Series Torrontés 2016 

100% Torrontés from Salta, Argentina. Fermented and aged 6 months on the lees.  

Pale golden color in the glass. There are aromas of lemon-lime and citrus, with a hint of elderflower. On the palate, there are flavors of lemon and lime, with grapefruit, quince, and mandarin. There is bright, lively acidity, but the wine has a soft, smooth mouthfeel – evidence of aging on the lees. On the finish, the citrus notes continue, and some pear joins the party.

This is a delightfully refreshing wine, especially on the blistering hot day we tasted it. It paired magically with grilled Mahi-Mahi tacos, taking our simple, mid-week meal to a whole new level.

Average Price: $13 (Wine Searcher)

 

Delicious, food-friendly, and budget-friendly, I highly recommend that you seek out and try these wines. They are widely distributed and available, so you won’t even have to go to South America to find them!

Cheers!

Disclaimer: These wines were submitted to me as samples for review. I received no other compensation or incentive. Technical information was provided with the samples. All opinions and descriptions are my own.