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Tag Archives: Wine Blog

Book Review: Root Cause

I’m not a big reader. I’ve gone through phases when I was; I’d curl up with a good Victorian detective novel and disappear into the fog-shrouded back alleys of Old London Town for hours on end. But these days, I’m busier with more live-action adventures, and have less time for the literary kind.

Not long ago, we were wine tasting, and the topic of this blog came up. Our server asked if I’d read this or that wine-related book. I told him I had not; that I’m really not much of a reader. He replied, with genuine and obvious disdain, “how can you be a writer if you don’t read?”

I pondered this for some time, and finally concluded that I write short articles, (usually fewer than 1,000 words) that readers can get through in a couple of minutes. Novels can take me weeks to get through, especially if their chapters are long. I prefer shorter, smaller bites when it comes to reading. Given today’s busy pace of life, I think a lot of readers agree.

About this same time, we were contacted by a publishing rep, offering us a complimentary copy of a new, wine-related novel. We read the excerpt and thought it sounded pretty good, so we agreed. I figured it’d be a good opportunity to read more, since it clearly will increase my street cred with judgy tasting room servers.

Root Cause is an action packed, entertaining story. Written by Steven Laine, it is his first published novel. I must say, it’s a pretty good debut!

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Root Cause tells the tale of flying winemaker, Corvina Guerra, and the associates she befriends during the adventure. While visiting a vineyard in Italy, Corvina discovers the pest that all vineyard owners fear the most: Phylloxera. The very louse that nearly wiped out wine production in Europe in the mid-19th century. Concerned that this new infestation may affect her own family vineyards in Italy, she begins an investigation. She soon discovers that this new strain of Phylloxera is actually genetically engineered. Someone is infesting the world’s vineyards intentionally!

Corvina soon connects with two unlikely allies; Bryan Lawless, a disgraced Master of Wine candidate, expelled for misconduct, and Malcomb Goldberg, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter who picked up the story, and through his trust in auto-correct, coined a humorous new name for this threatening pest.

Brian saw that by helping to stop the new outbreak, he could redeem his name in the wine community, and perhaps be allowed to take the Master of Wine exam. Corvina was motivated by her desire to save the family vineyard and the entire wine industry. While ——- saw this as an opportunity to make a name for himself in the journalism world. The three embark on a fast-paced, globe-trotting adventure, covering four continents in just a matter of days! (Oh, how I wish I had that kind of youthful energy again!)

Through highs and lows, danger and adventure, and often at odds with the Interpol detectives working the case, the trio must work to find out who is behind this, and how to stop it. Will they solve the mystery in time?

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Pick up a copy of Root Cause to find out. It’s available on Amazon.com in Kindle, paperback, or hardback, or at your favorite local bookstore.  Root Cause is a great summer read, especially paired with a refreshing glass of your favorite wine.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds
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Big, Bold Reds from De Angelis Wines

Paso Robles has come into its own as a wine region. It wasn’t too many years ago that hardly anybody had heard of this area. Now, the wines from “Paso” have gained notoriety and prestige. Recently, we were offered samples of some small batch, boutique red wines from De Angelis Wines. Naturally, we said YES!

The De Angelis Wines story began in 1999, when owners Jerry and Marsha De Angelis planted a small vineyard on their property. It started as a private venture, just to make wines to enjoy with family and friends. As their winemaking skill improved, a neighbor, who had a 30 acre vineyard, asked them to become his winemakers. So in 2004, Jerry and Marsha found themselves employed as full time winemakers.

In 2006, Jerry and Marsha participated in establishing, designing, and building a co-op winery. Once it opened, they were recruited as the chief winemakers, making wines for several growers. During that same year, they decided to launch their own brand, and De Angelis Wines, the label, was born. Even with all their success, Jerry and Marsha remain committed to hand-crafting very small lots each year. They have slowly increased production over the years, but will never make more than 1,200 cases per year.

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The De Angelis Wines portfolio includes some whites; Chardonnay and Viognier, but is predominantly red. We received samples of their 2007 Pinot Noir, San Luis Obispo County, 2009 Syrah, Santa Barbara County, 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, San Luis Obispo County, and the 2012 Elena Catherine, San Luis Obispo County, a red blend.

The Elena Catherine is homage to the family matriarch, to celebrate her 100th birthday! Here’s how Jerry and Marsha tell the story on the website:

“Who is Elena Catherine? Elena is our Mom, and this wine was developed for her 100th birthday.  (She passed away at 102 Years old!) We wanted a wine that reflects the feisty, peppery, Italian Mom that she was!  The 2012 Elena Catherine is a 13.6% alcohol wine blend containing 50% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Syrah. All of these wines are Estate fruit harvested from the Dry Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles, CA.”

The following wines were provided as a media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

2007 Pinot Noir

 

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Brick red color. The nose is bursting with bright cherry notes, with raspberry and smoke present, also. We decanted for several hours, as suggested by a colleague. Upon pouring, there are flavors of black cherry, and ripe raspberry, with clove, baking spice, and earth. Hints of mushroom and forest floor round out the complex profile of this wine. Soft tannins and bright, lively acidity. Rich flavors and medium body, with a bold finish of red fruit, smoke, and spice. Paired well with grilled pork sausage.

2008 Syrah

 

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Inky nearly black color. Aromas of blueberry, blackberry, and black plum, with hints of oak. On the palate, blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, with vanilla, tobacco, smoke, cedar, and oak, with baking spice and black pepper on the finish. Big, bold, and full bodied with chewy tannins and medium acidity. Long finish of black fruit and spice, with tertiary notes of worn leather, earth, and smoke. Drinking well now, and will continue to soften and improve for at least another 5 years. This wine would pair well with game and savory dishes.

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon

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Rich, inky purple color, with a brick rim. On the nose there is ripe blackberry, black cherry and plum, and clove. The aromas are rich, full, and inviting. Taking a sip, flavors of blackberry, black cherry, big cassis, and chocolate, with baking spice, tobacco smoke, and black pepper. The tannins are big, but soft, and soften even more with air. There is medium acidity. The finish is long with blackberry and mocha notes. Pick your meat; beef, lamb, pork…this one goes with all.

2012 Elena Catherine Red Blend

 

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Deep, brick red color. Aromas of ripe raspberry, cherry, and blackberry. On the palate, bright blueberry, cherry, blackberry, cassis, cedar, and tobacco. Huge tannins! Even after an hour in the decanter, but balanced and approachable. This wine deserves a slab of Prime Rib now, and could lay down for 10 more years. Medium acidity and a long, long finish of black and red fruit, cedar, and white pepper.

De Angelis Wines has discontinued online sales, but if these beauties sound like your kind of wine, drop Jerry and Marsha an email. As long as you are in a state to which they can ship, they’ll hook you up!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
  • Photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

Andis Wines – Block to Bottle Vineyard Tour

Full disclosure: Kent has been a big fan of Andis Wines, in Amador County, Sierra Foothills, for nearly 10 years. Their then-winemaker hosted a tasting at the local Total Wine & More store, and Andis quickly became one of Kent’s favorite wineries. Not just in the Foothills, but anywhere! We finally became members of Club Andis about a year and a half ago.  

Membership, as they say, has its privileges. Like complimentary admission to the monthly Block to Bottle Vineyard Tour. (Psst, it’s only $10 for non-members!) The tour starts just outside the tasting room, where Nick Pilatti, the Cellar Master himself, leads the group through the vineyards, tasting the wines produced from the vines right at your feet.

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Joining us on the excursion this fine, spring day, was co-founder, Janis Akuna. The name, Andis, is an amalgamation of the first names of the founders: Andy Friedlander and Janis Akuna. Clever, eh? 

Andy and Janis founded Andis Wines in 2009. The pair had lived part time in the Napa Valley in the 1990’s. While working in high-pressure careers, they had a vision of a winery as a new challenge, in a quieter setting. However, upon returning to Napa after several years away, they found it busier and more crowded than they had remembered. A friend invited them to Amador County, and they found the home for their winery.

Andis Wines is situated on approximately 25 acres, of which 21 are farmed. There are nine different grape varieties planted, including Zinfandel, Grenache, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Barbera, and Sauvignon Blanc. Other than irrigation for newly planted vines, Andis practices dry farming, as well as sustainable practices. They also source fruit from other vineyards in the area, including Semillon, and Zinfandel from the Original Grandpère Vineyard; planted in 1869, it is the oldest documented Zinfandel vineyard in the United States! (Read our blogs about the OGP Vineyard here, and here.) Andis Wines is one of only a small handful wineries with access to these grapes. 

In 2010, their modern, state-of-the-art winery was completed and opened to the public. A striking, modern edifice, perched atop a hill with an amazing view, the winery is like no other we’ve seen. When you get closer, you see that the front of the building is covered with grey barrel staves, engraved with the names of club members. (Ours will be up there soon!) The Andis winery is unpretentious and inviting, with an open, airy tasting room with plenty of windows to drink in the view as much as the wines.lrg_dsc00286-1

lrg_dsc00289-1On a sunny Sunday in late March, 2019, we gathered in the Andis Wines tasting room. The previous day had been cold and rainy, so there was much relief that this day dawned bright, clear, and warm. At noon, on the dot, Nick and his assistant, Vanessa, greeted us to begin the tour. As mentioned, Janis herself was to join in as well!

The first stop was the Sauvignon Blanc block. Vanessa poured each of us a taste of the 2018 vintage, and we sipped among the very vines from which the juice had come. One of our favorite domestic Sauvignon Blancs, it is crisp and fresh, with citrus, stone fruit, and honeysuckle. This is a great wine for sipping all summer.lrg_dsc00301-1Next we moved to the Grenache block. We have a particular fondness for Grenache, so we were excited to try this one. The 2016 Akuna Block Grenache is the first vintage from this vineyard block, which was planted in 2012. Elegant and restrained, this is everything we hope for in a quality Grenache; lighter bodied, with cherry, strawberry, and cranberry, bright acidity and grippy tannins. Nick suggests this wine as an alternative to Pinot Noir. 

Moving up the hill, off in the distance, we spotted the next stop: the Barbera block, where Andis grows the grapes for their Barbera d’Amador wine. Our favorite Barbera’s come from Amador County, and Andis’ selections are always at the top of our list. We tasted the 2016, the grapes harvested from vines planted in 2012. A lighter-bodied Barbera, this wine is bursting with fresh cherry and cranberry. It’d be so good with pizza or pasta! 

As we headed to our next tasting sample, we passed by another block that has really piqued our interest. All along the way thus far, all the vines had been pruned in preparation for the new season of growth. This block still had last year’s shoots. Nothing more than timing, Nick said. These would be pruned the following week. The interesting part is the variety of grape these vines produce: Schioppettino. Never heard of it? Neither had we! If you have read Appetite for Wine very long, you know Kent’s quest for unusual and obscure grape varieties. (He’s a proud member of the Century Wine Club, having tasted more than 100 different varieties!) 

Nick explained that Schioppettino is an obscure red grape, native to northwestern Italy. It produces light to medium bodied wines that are fruit forward and spicy. The first vintage is in barrel, not expected to be bottled for awhile. No, sadly there was no barrel tasting on this tour. Rest assured, however, when it is released and we get our hands on a bottle, we’ll be sure to tell you about it!

From there, we circled down the far side of the property, into one of the Zinfandel Blocks. Like the Barbera, Andis Wines Estate Zinfandel is always one of our favorites. The 2015 that we tasted this day is no exception. Rich, blackberry and black cherry fruit flavors, with chocolate, baking spice, and black pepper.

Making our way to the winery, we stopped on the crush pad for our final tour taste. Painted Fields is Andis Wines’ signature red blend. It is a field blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah, with a bit of Zinfandel and Mourvèdre to round it out. Velvety smooth, with bold fruit and soft oak influences, it is at home at a barbecue or fine dining table.  This wine is a perennial crowd favorite.

Our last stop was the barrel room (seriously, can you ever see too many barrel rooms? We think not!) before we returned to the tasting room where we started. After sampling a few more of Andis Wines portfolio, including their exquisite Semillon, Rosé of Barbera, Primitivo, and more, we made our selections and headed out. 

This was a fun and educational day at one of our all-time favorite wineries. We highly recommend the Block to Bottle Vineyard Walk. You can get more information or make reservations on the Andis Wines website.

Cheers!  

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
  • Photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

Small Plates and Vertical Tasting OGP Zinfandel

This is a repost of a project I published in 2017, in collaboration with Bri’s Glass of Wine. Sadly, I recently discovered that Bri has taken her site down. So I am posting this now on our site, because, frankly, I refer to it in a couple of subsequent blog posts, here and here. Plus, I happen to think it’s a pretty good post! Please enjoy!


Nestled in the heart of Sierra Foothills wine country lie what are reportedly America’s oldest producing Zinfandel vines. The Original Grandpère Vineyard (OGP for short) can trace its roots to the California Gold Rush era, with documentation dating back to 1869, and vines predating even that year. In keeping with Wild West tradition, the story of these vines is mixed with history, intrigue, and conflict.

Located in the beautiful, rolling hills of the Shenandoah Valley in Amador County, historical records identify the original owners of the vineyard as the Upton family. Over the years, ownership changed hands, Prohibition came and went, and White Zinfandel happened. In the 1970’s and early ’80s, the grapes produced in the vineyard were largely sold to make White Zin. In 1984, Scott and Terri Harvey purchased the land. At the time, Scott worked for Renwood winery. He named the vineyard Grandpere in honor of its age – Grand-père is French for Grandfather.

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OGP Vineyard, photo credit: Randy Caparoso

While working at Renwood, Scott Harvey produced wine from his Grandpère Vineyard for the Renwood label. Meanwhile, Renwood Winery trademarked the name “Grandpère”, and using cuttings from the original vineyard, started producing Grandpère Vineyard Zinfandel from their own vines in a different vineyard. Through a series of events, including disputes, lawsuits, settlements, and divorce, Scott Harvey and Renwood parted ways; the use of the name “Grandpère” is legally protected and limited; and Terri Harvey owns the 1869 vineyard on her own. That Gold Rush era vineyard, with its 1869 heritage, is now known as the Original Grandpère Vineyard. The terms of a settlement agreement require that vintners using these grapes must use that entire name, or nothing at all.

Fast forward to 2017, and the few producers who are fortunate enough to source fruit from the Original Grandpère Vineyard are making some outstanding, elegantly restrained, nearly 150-year-old, Old Vine Zinfandel wines. I recently attended a Small Plates & Vertical Tastings event, accompanied by my daughter and her friend, that was hosted by three of those wineries making Original Grandpère Vineyard Zinfandel: Vino Noceto, Andis Wines, and Scott Harvey Wines. By no small coincidence…OK, no coincidence at all…Zinfandel is one of my favorite grape varieties. According to my Vivino stats, Zin is second only to Cabernet Sauvignon as my favorite varietal wine.

Each of the wineries poured a number of their OGP Zinfandel wines, paired with small bites to complement each vintage. We started at Vino Noceto…

Our host, Bret, set us up at a cozy high-top bistro table, and got us started with the yet-to-be-released 2013 vintage, followed by the 2012 and 2008. The small bites for pairing included Genoa Salami with Sundried Tomato-Rosemary Fromage on Crostini (with the 2013), a Black Forest Ham and Cranberry Cream Cheese Spirals with Thyme Zinfandel Glazed Sweet Onions (with the 2012), and Dates Stuffed with Whipped Chevre & Cocoa Nibs (with the 2008).

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The bites were perfect pairings for each wine; drawing out the nuances of the tannins, acids, and flavors in the wines.

03 Vino Noceto OGP

Vino Noceto OGP Zinfandel 2013 ($32 retail)

Violet color in the glass. Aromas of blackberry and soft oak on the nose. Flavors of blackberry, boysenberry, cherry, and blueberry, with notes of spice and black pepper. Bright acidity with full, firm tannins. Long finish with dark berry, black pepper, and cherry notes.

04 VN 2013 in Glass

Vino Noceto OGP Zinfandel 2012 ($32 retail)

Ruby color with brick colored rim. Aromas and flavors of raspberry, cherry, and ripe strawberry. Very soft tannins with light acidity. Medium finish with red berry and spice notes. (It was very interesting to notice the contrast one year makes; from 2013 black fruit and firm tannins, to 2012 red fruit and soft tannins.)

05 VN 2008 in Glass

Vino Noceto OGP Zinfandel 2008 ($49 retail)

Brick red color. Nose of cherry and raspberry, with a hint of oak. Flavors of bing cherry, ripe raspberry, and spice. Tannins are soft and silky, balanced with bright acidity. Long, zesty finish with red fruit and spice.

06 VN 2012 in Glass

Next we traveled all the way across the road to Andis Wines. Here, we were seated at a large table in a private room with other guests, and treated to a detailed history lesson by our host, Art. He confirmed my earlier research, outlined above, and then poured us two samples and distributed the matching small bites to complement the wines. At Andis, we enjoyed the 2012 and 2013 vintages. Art explained that the 2012 vintage was made entirely by the original Andis winemaker, Mark McKenna; however, the 2013 was started by McKenna, but completed by Napa winemaker Doug Hackett.  McKenna used non-traditional methods; fermenting in stainless steel, then adding oak chips and dust to introduce the oak influences. Hackett is more traditional, aging in oak barrels. The contrast in winemaking styles was definitely apparent. With the 2012, we enjoyed a Crostini with Whipped Chevre and Rose-Raspberry Jelly. With the 2013, the pairing was Artisan Bread with Aged Gouda and Dried Cherry Tapenade. Again, the pairings were excellent.

06 Andis Menu

Andis Wines Original Grandpère Vineyard Zinfandel 2012 ($37.99 retail)

Ruby color. Nose of fresh raspberry and cherry, with a hint of soft oak. Flavors of sour cherry, raspberry, and ripe strawberry. Bright acidity with smooth tannins and a medium finish of red fruit flavors. My overall impression of this wine was “soft.”

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Andis Wines Original Grandpère Vineyard Zinfandel 2013 ($37.99 retail)

Deep purple color. Nose of blackberry and spice. Flavors of blackberry, ripe raspberry, black cherry, and toasty oak. Medium acidity with firm tannins and a long, spicy finish. My overall impression of this one was “bright.”

08 Andis Tastes

To finish out the day, we traveled the few hundred yards down the road to Scott Harvey Wines. Here, host Kelsey greeted us at the tasting bar as set up our tasting and small plates. Scott Harvey presented their vertical in the reverse of the traditional order, starting with 2011 and moving forward through 2014. Scott Harvey wines are aged in neutral French oak. The tastes included Potato Chips with Point Reyes Blue Cheese-Zin Glazed Onion Dip (2011), Sopressata & Gouda Palmier (2012), Chicken & Chimichurri Empanadas (2013, and Chard Pesto with Whipped Cream Cheese and Crostini (2014.)

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As an added bonus, Scott Harvey Wines compiled a “This Year in History” handout to highlight some other historical events that occurred in 1869. Did you know the Suez Canal opened the same year that the Original Grandpère Vineyard was recorded? Neither did I!

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Given that Scott Harvey was in the middle of the multiple lawsuits surrounding the Grandpère name, he has abandoned the name entirely, and has dubbed his wines “Vineyard 1869.”

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Scott Harvey Vineyard 1869 Zinfandel 2011 ($55 retail)

Bright ruby color. Aromas and flavors of raspberry, bing cherry, blackberry, and spice. Soft tannins with smooth acid, and a long finish with red fruit, spice, and black pepper.

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Scott Harvey Vineyard 1869 Zinfandel 2012 ($55 retail)

Bended with 6% Barbera. Ruby color. Bing cherry, raspberry, and stewed strawberry. Medium acidity and light, soft tannins. Long finish with red fruit flavors.

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Scott Harvey Vineyard 1869 Zinfandel 2013 ($50 retail)

Bright ruby color. Flavors of raspberry, cherry, and white pepper. Bright, lively acidity with medium tannins. Long finish with red fruit and black pepper.

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Scott Harvey Vineyard 1869 Zinfandel 2014 ($48 retail)

Brick red color. Blackberry and black pepper on the nose. Flavors of raspberry, blackberry, and baking spice. Lively acidity with medium tannins. Long finish of red fruit and spice.

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This was a fun, educational event, exploring the history and evolution of winemaking in the Sierra Foothills. The event weekend starts on Friday and includes a Prix-Fixe dinner with wine pairings, and a walking tour of the Original Grandpère Vineyard on Saturday afternoon. I was only able to attend the Small Plates and Vertical Tasting on Sunday, but I hope to go again next year to participate more fully. This is an annual event, so if you are in Northern California in January, look into getting tickets and enjoy a taste of California winemaking history.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds

Historical References:

http://randycaparoso.blogspot.com/2015/04/the-original-grandpere-vineyard.html

http://www.scottharveywines.com/americas-oldest-documented-zinfandel-vineyard-vineyard-1869/

http://palatepress.com/2012/04/wine/the-oldest-zinfandel-of-amador-county-original-grandpere-vineyard/

http://winecountrygetaways.com/1869-old-vine-zinfandel-vineyard-in-amador-wine-country/

http://www.sfgate.com/wine/article/DRAMA-IN-AMADOR-Great-grapes-hard-feelings-2617116.php

Review: Lucas & Lewellen Vineyard View Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

For a lot of people, Cabernet Sauvignon means Napa. Yet, as many people know, when you buy Napa, much of your dollar goes toward the name. There are many other regions producing high quality Cabernet Sauvignon at a fraction of the price of Napa. Recently, when we were offered a sample of the Lucas & Lewellen Vineyard View Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, from Santa Barbara County, we jumped at the chance!

 

The following wine was provided as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

Lucas & Lewellen started as a partnership between Louis Lucas and Royce Lewellen in 1975. Mr. Lucas was a third generation grape grower. Mr. Lewellen was a Superior Court Judge. The two met through the Santa Maria Wine & Food Society. The two men shared a passion for fine wine and the Santa Barbara wine industry. Through their partnership, Lucas & Lewellen has established itself as a highly respected winery, with more than 400 acres of estate vineyards in Santa Barbara County.

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We were not disappointed with this Cabernet Sauvignon! With a SRP of $27, this Santa Barbara wine is a QPR champion. We’d expect to pay as much as 3x this much for a comparable Napa Cabernet. Readers, let this serve as notice that Santa Barbara County produces stand-alone Cabernet Sauvignon, beyond comparison.

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Deep, inky color. Aromas of blackberry, black currant, and vanilla notes. On he palate, big, bold flavors of ripe blackberry, cassis, black cherry, black plum, vanilla, and hints of smoke and spice. Tannins are big and chewy, and the acidity is well balanced. The finish is long, with black fruit and pepper. Drinking very well now, and the tannin structure would allow this wine to cellar for another 10 years. Paired with New York steak, grilled asparagus, and caprese salad, it was pure perfection.

 

Next time you are looking for a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon that will “wow” your friends, neighbors, or dinner guests, consider Lucas & Lewellen Vineyard View Cabernet Sauvignon 2016. We are convinced that everyone will be impressed!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
  • Photo Credit: Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

A New Tradition at Harney Lane Winery

When a wine region captures the imagination, and worldwide attention, wineries seem to pop up from nowhere. Don’t get us wrong, We’re fully in favor of more wine! Still, there’s something special and intriguing about a multi-generational, family owned winery that has been growing wine grapes for more than 100 years. And so it is at Harney Lane Winery in Lodi, California.

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Recently, we had the opportunity accompany our friends and fellow bloggers, John and Irene Ingersoll, for a tour and tasting at Harney Lane Winery. On our arrival, we were greeted by Kyle Lerner. Kyle is an engaging and friendly man, with a wealth of knowledge, wit, and humor. A business major in college, with no farming background, he married into the family, and was mentored by Patriarch George Mettler. Now, Kyle calls the vineyard his office, and with more than 25 years of farming, couldn’t be happier.

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Harney Lane Winery is a 5th generation farm. The family originally purchased the farmhouse on the property in 1900, and started growing grapes in 1907. For 99 years, the family sold all the grapes they produced. In 2006, they decided to put their produce into their own line of wine. That year, they produced 1,000 cases of wine. Today, they produce between 8,000 and 9,000 cases. Their wines are produced from 100% estate grown fruit, and despite the increase in production in the past 13 years, they use only about 10% of the grapes they farm. The other 90% are sold to other wineries. The entire estate is 100% certified sustainable under the Lodi Rules.

After pouring us each a sample of their now sold-out Chardonnay, Kyle escorted us on a tour of the park-like grounds, into one of the vineyards, and then to the barrel room for more tasting. The Chardonnay was delightful; crisp and light, just the way we like it, with only a hint of oak influence. The front grounds of the property are amazing! It’s like wandering through a fairy tale, with centuries-old trees, manicured flower beds, and meandering paths. Fountains, benches, and tables with chairs punctuate the walk, giving visitors the opportunity to sit and really relax while enjoying the beauty.

 

Wandering from the garden to the vineyard, Kyle explained the family commitment to sustainability. As we were there in early spring, we got to see early bud break in the Primitivo vineyard. From the vineyard, Kyle led us to the barrel room and more tasting. We were met along the way by Jorja Lerner, Kyle’s wife and daughter of George and Kathy Mettler.

 

As Kyle led us through a flight of reds, he talked about the family history and commitment to crafting exceptional, estate wines, balancing winemaker vision with consumer demand. If you think of Lodi wines, specifically Zinfandel, as being big, jammy, fruit-bombs, think again. While definitely exhibiting the local terroir, Harney Lane wines are elegant, restrained, and delicious. These are wines that are at home at both a fine-dining restaurant, and a backyard barbecue.

 

We started with a taste of the 2016 Tempranillo. Here’s a grape that most people don’t associate with Lodi, but Harney Lane does it right. The grapes for this wine come from 20-year-old vines, and it is excellent. Next, we tasted the 2016 Zinfandel, a well-balanced example of what Lodi can do with this iconic grape. Moving on, we tasted the Primitivo, Lot 18. Kyle explained that the Primitvio is a Non-Vintage wine, blended from a number of recent vintages. Lot 18 is a rustic and tasty blend of the ‘14, ‘15, and ‘16 vintages. Next up was Harney Lane’s Old Vines Zinfandel offering, and their flagship wine. The name, Lizzie James Old Vines Zinfandel, conjures up images of the Wild West, and such heroines as Calamity Jane and the Unsinkable Molly Brown. In reality, though no less inspiring, Lizzie James comes from the middle names of Kyle and Jorja’s children, Kirsten Elizabeth and Ian James. They opted for Lizzie instead of Elizabeth, since the former sounded more rustic and adventurous than “Elizabeth James.” Don’t you agree?

Finally, Kyle shared with us the Patriarch’s Promise Red Blend. First released in 2012, this proprietary red wine is made to honor George Mettler. George was only able to enjoy the first vintage of this wine, before losing his battle with cancer in 2013. Today, 10% of sales from this wine are donated to the American Cancer Society. The recipe for this wine is a closely guarded family secret. Always up for a challenge, we each sipped, evaluated, and tried to determine the blend. My first guess was a right-bank Bordeaux-style blend; Merlot dominated, based on the cherry and pencil shaving notes. However, Kyle confided to us that the current vintage is, in fact, a single varietal wine, from a rather obscure grape. Despite our best efforts to guess, cajole, and entice Kyle to spill the beans, none of us could identify the source of this deep, rich, delicious wine. Or did we? Kyle would never tell.

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We returned to the tasting room for one final treat: a taste of the Lizzie James Old Vine Zinfandel dessert wine. For those of you in the know, you are aware that there are strict rules around the naming of wines, and that U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) must approve any wine names in the U.S. So, for example, with few exceptions, any wine called “Champagne” must come from Champagne, France, and any wine with “Port” in the name, can only come from Porto, Portugal. Wanting to stay compliant, while still letting consumers know what they were getting, Harney Lane designed their label in a unique way, that the TTB approved, thus ensuring that Port fans everywhere would know they were in for a treat! Bravo, Harney Lane!

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After the tasting and tour, the four of us returned to the garden where we found a comfortable table in the sun, and enjoyed a final glass of Harney Lane wine, while relaxing and enjoying the new tradition that is Harney Lane Winery.

Next time you’re in Lodi, be sure to stop by for some outstanding wine, the tradition of five generations, and the relaxing surroundings that invite you to relax and enjoy.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
  • Photo Credit: Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

Warm Reds for Cold Nights, Part 4

Will this winter never end? Just when it looks like spring weather may be here to stay, blam! Hit by another storm. Fortunately, there is no shortage of great red wine to keep you warm on these cold nights.This is the fourth and final edition of our series on Warm Reds for Cold Nights. Our global journey takes us, this time, to Italy. Italy is home to many wine regions, some famous, some obscure. All of them producing excellent, food-friendly wines. For our adventure to round out this series, we explore Valpolicella.

Valpolicella is one of those more obscure regions. Located in Veneto, in the northern part of Italy, Valpolicella is known both for easy drinking reds, and for the intense, concentrated wines known as Amarone. Regional grape varieties include Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella and Molinara. For this trip, our selection is the Bertani Valpolicella 2017.

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The following wine was provided as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

The Bertani winery was established in 1857, by brothers Giovan Battista and Gaetano Bertani. An innovator and early adopter of bottled wine, the Bertani winery invested in the technology of the day to produce, bottle, and export their wines. By the end of the 19th century,  the Bertani name was known in cities all across the United States. Today Bertani has more than 200 hectares under vine, and continues its reputation for fine wines across Europe and the New World.

The Bertani Valpolicella 2017 is made from 80% Corvina Veronese, and 20% Rondinella. The wine is fermented in wide, shallow steel tanks; this allows for more skin contact during fermentation. After fermentation, the wine is aged in concrete vats for about eight months, then bottle aged for at least three months.

Wishing spring upon us, we tried to will the weather by grilling ribeye steaks and zucchini to pair with this. While we didn’t have any influence on Mother Nature, we did find an amazing wine and food pairing, and enjoyed a delicious meal on a cold night, warmed by this spectacular wine. Read on for our tasting notes.

 

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Brick red color; lighter than we had anticipated. As it rests in the decanter, there are aromas of ripe raspberry, clove, and baking spice. On the palate, flavors of raspberry, cherry, plum, and cranberry with smoky overtones, and warm, oaky notes of vanilla, caramel, and spice. Medium body with bright acidity, making it the perfect food-pairing wine. Elegant and balanced, with deep complexity and smooth tannins, this was excellent with a ribeye and grilled zucchini. Vivino average price: $14.99.

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We hope you have enjoyed this journey ‘round the wine world in search of rich, robust red wines to make those long winter nights more cozy. While spring and summer are on the horizon, as the world turns, winter will be back before you know it. Stock up on some of these delicious warm reds for those upcoming cold nights.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael