Tag Archives: Wine Blogger

Come Barrel Tasting With Us…In Livermore Valley!

When you think of California Cabernet Sauvignon, where does your mind go? If you’re like most people you probably think of Napa, maybe Sonoma. How about that nice, big, California Chardonnay you’re enjoying with dinner tonight? Carneros? Monterey? Napa? Would you be surprised to learn that both Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay have their California roots in Livermore Valley? I know I was surprised!

Livermore Valley Wine Country

Wait. You mean you’ve never heard of Livermore Valley? Don’t feel bad. Many people haven’t. Being from Northern California, I was aware of the area, but never really associated it with wine. Yet, as I started to learn more about this region, I learned that wine grapes have been grown in the Livermore Valley since the 1840’s, and the first Livermore Valley wineries were established in 1883!

Livermore Valley is located east of San Francisco Bay, roughly midway between San Francisco and Stockton, and an easy drive from Silicon Valley. The valley has an east-west orientation that allows coastal fog and marine breezed to roll in, tempering the interior valley’s heat. This results in ideal wine growing conditions, producing exceptional fruit. In fact, Livermore Valley is one of the first regions to receive American Viticulture Association (AVA) status, back in 1982.

Livermore Vineyards

With a long history of winemaking, and innovative pioneers leading the way, it is logical that the greatest wine grape varieties should be linked to the Livermore Valley. Perhaps you are aware that most Chardonnay grapes grown in California come from Wente clones. Well, Wente is a long-standing producer, located in the Livermore Valley. In fact, they were the first winery to produce a varietally-labeled Chardonnay, back in 1936. So you have the Wente family, now in their fourth generation of vineyard management and winemaking in Livermore Valley, to thank for that delicious Chardonnay.

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Similarly, Livermore Valley’s Concannon Vineyards produced the first ever Petite Sirah varietally-labeled wine in 1961. Concannon remains a large Petite Sirah producer; in fact, my first taste of Petite Sirah was a Concannon. What I didn’t know until recently, is that Concannon is more than Petite Sirah. The winery is credited with developing Cabernet Sauvignon clones, which represent approximately 80% of Cabernet grown in California today. In 1965, third-generation winemaker Jim Concannon collaborated with renowned U.C. Davis professor and viticulturist, Dr. Harold Olmo, to develop hearty Cabernet Sauvignon clones. Their work took California Cabernet from fewer than 1,000 acres, to more than 90,000 acres today. The clones they developed can be traced back to the “Concannon Mother Vine” which was imported from Château Margaux, by founder James Concannon in 1893.

Concannon Vineyards

Are you getting excited about Livermore Valley wines? I sure am!

In just a couple of weeks, on the weekend of March 10-11, the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association will host their 10th Annual Barrel Tasting Weekend. Robyn and I will be there, guests of the Association, and we would love to see you there! The event runs from noon to 4:30 p.m. each day. With more than 35 wineries participating, it will be an exciting weekend of samples, thieving, tasting, and eating. Barrel tasting is an exciting way to explore wine as it evolves over time, from vineyard to bottle. If you find something you like, many wineries will be offering futures sales, so you can reserve some exceptional wine at a pre-release discount. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Petite Sirah, you can taste varietals you may never have had the opportunity to sample before, such as Primitivo and Alicante Bouschet.

If wine isn’t your thing, there will also be Livermore-area breweries sampling beer, and distilleries offering tastes of their spirits. It’s all included with your wristband, so go out on a limb and try something different!

Want to start your day with something hearty to eat before you get to winetasting? Consider attending one of the Barrel Tasting Brunches at 11 a.m. Each day, two wineries will partner with local restaurants to host fabulous brunches on the winery grounds. On Saturday, you can choose from Garré Winery & Garré Café Brunch, or Las Positas Vineyards & Zephyr Grill & Bar Brunch. Sunday’s offerings are hosted by Retzlaff Vineyards & Salt Craft Brunch, and Ehrenberg Cellars, The Singing Winemaker & Liberation Foods Brunch. The choice is yours you cannot make a wrong decision wherever you go!

For the more artistic in your crew, enjoy the 15 hand-painted wine barrels that will be on display at participating wineries. If you see one you particularly like, you can buy raffle tickets for the chance to take it home.

Painted Barrel

Just one of 15! Photo Credit: lvwine.org

Whether you come for the wine, the beer, the spirits, the food, or just the scenery, the 10th Annual Livermore Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend will be an event to remember. You can get tickets at lvwine.org. We hope to see you there!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds

Review: Miriam Alexandra Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa County, 2015

By now you probably know that I am a long-time customer of NakedWines.com. One of the things I like about the NakedWines.com business model is that the company encourages employees, who have an interest in winemaking, to pursue their dream. A number of wines available through NakedWines.com are made by winemakers who also hold staff positions within the company. One such winemaker is Alexandra (Alex) Farber, who produces her wines under the Miriam Alexandra label. Alex’s first wine was a 2014 California Chenin Blanc. Prior to tasting that wine, my only knowledge of Chenin Blanc was my memory of the jugs of cheap wine my folks would drink when I was little. My first taste of Alex’s Chenin opened my eyes to the wonder of  today’s Chenin Blanc, and sparked an appreciation for this amazingly delicious wine! I’ve enjoyed three successive vintages of Alex’s Chenin Blanc, each one better than the last. This year, Alex released her first red wine, a 2015 Napa County Cabernet Sauvignon. When I saw it, I knew I had to try it.

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I have had the pleasure of meeting and visiting with Alex on several occasions. Recently I had the opportunity to ask her about her story, and her journey into winemaking. My first question was about the label name, Miriam Alexandra. The “Alexandra” is pretty obvious, but where does the “Miriam” name come from? Her response is interesting, and sheds some insight into her entry into the wine business.

Alex

Miriam Farber was my great-grandmother. She was an Art institute of Chicago graduate, and an incredible artist. She did lots of watercolor, and that is where the inspiration of my label comes from. Alexandra, was my mom’s first choice of first names for me, but didn’t like the way Alexandra Miriam sounded, and liked the idea that on a resume my name could be written as M. Alex Farber (gender neutral!), so I could go under the radar and be a successful female in business. Times have changed a little bit since then, so showcasing my full name was very important to me. Hence, Miriam Alexandra on my label.

How long have you been in the wine business, and how did you get your start?

I went to Davis for college and entered straight from high school into the V & E program. I worked my way through every quarter getting further away from all the pre-med pre-rec. classes and closer and closer to the wine classes. They were so interesting, challenging, and fun. So, I just kept going. Eventually graduating and getting an internship in Napa.

Do you have a family history in wine?

There is no family history in wine, other than lots of drinkers! I come from a family full of insurance brokers, bankers, lawyers, and accountants.

When did you bottle your first wine, and what varietal or style was it?

My first wine was bottled with NakedWines.com, my Chenin Blanc! I learned to make Chenin Blanc during my three year stint with Pine Ridge Vineyards as their Enologist. I spent those years in the Clarksburg Chenin Blanc vineyards and it is the wine I really wanted to make on my own with my own twist.

Have you worked at any wineries other than NakedWines.com?

Yes, I started as a harvest intern the summer/fall after I graduated from Davis at Trefethen Family Vineyards, I then went down to Chile and worked for Veramonte Wines, came back and was harvest enologist for Trefethen (for a year!), then did a very short time over the summer with Round Pond Estate, and finally took a full time job as Enologist for Pine Ridge Vineyards. Ultimately, I wanted to do something more than just be in the lab, I wanted to be in the vineyards, work with winemakers to learn more, and contribute more to the wine industry, that is when I found NakedWines.com, and I have been working here since then. Both as a winemaker and now as our Head of Planning.

What is your favorite grape varietal? Why?

This is such a tough question for me to answer. If you are asking me what I like to make the most, it’s probably Cabernet Sauvignon. It is so expressive of place, it tells its own story through the winemaking process, and I love the age-ability. If you’re asking me what I like to drink the most? It’s Grenache, Syrah, Rhone Varietals, Pinot Noir, Champagne – a variety of its own :).

When Alex isn’t busy making wine and fulfilling her staff duties at NakedWines.com, she is committed to giving back to the community. Two projects she is passionate about are Service Dogs, and empowering young girls to become strong, independent women. To further the first passion, Alex is raising Maui, an energetic and adorable Black Lab puppy. She told me how she got involved in this project:

Maui

Isn’t he cute?

I have been involved with puppy-raising for Guide Dogs for the Blind out of San Rafael for quite a few years now. I took a break after having shoulder surgery, and recently wanted to get back into it. An opportunity came up with a fellow guide dog raiser, who is now training diabetic alert dogs, to take Maui for a few months as a puppy. He is now about 8 months old, and is well on his way to becoming a canine diabetic alert dog for a type 1 diabetic child.

In Alex’s other project, she serves on the board of directors of the Napa and Solano County chapter of Girls on the Run. Alex said that she wanted to get involved in the non-profit world so she could give back to the community in a way that would provide life-changing impact on young peoples’ lives. She found Girls on the Run, an after school program for girls in grades 3 through 8, that teaches life skills and promotes individual identity. Through exercise, discussion, and teaching, the 10-week program empowers the girls, develops an appreciation for health and fitness, and provides important skill they will carry throughout their lives. Alex started as a volunteer Life Coach, meeting with girls twice per week. Once she started her job with NakedWines.com, she had fewer hours available to volunteer, so she became a board member. She’s been on the board for about three years now, and says the organization will impact more than 1,000 girls in 2017.

Finally, I asked Alex if she wanted to add anything else about her exciting journey into winemaking. Here’s what she had to say:

Because of NakedWines.com, I had the opportunity to become a winemaker much sooner than I had ever dreamed of, and it has been so incredible. I had four vintages of wine as a winemaker under 30! Without the support of Angels, and their trust in me as a winemaker, I wouldn’t have ever been able to make the wine I get to make today. It’s been such an honor and I can’t wait to continue making wine.

So now that you know a bit more about Alex, the winemaker, let’s explore Miriam Alexandra Cabernet Sauvignon Napa County 2015, the wine.

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The wine is a deep purple color with a brick colored rim. The nose is a delight of blackberry, cassis, and oak aromas. On the palate, I was greeted with flavors of fresh blackberry, cherry, cassis, oak, and vanilla, with some red currant and chocolate notes. As expected for such a big, yet young wine, the tannins are firm and edgy, providing a mouth-drying punch but offering a deep, pondering complexity. The tannins will soften with age, but if you can’t wait, I recommend at least an hour decant before tasting. With medium acidity and mouthfeel, the finish lingers long with black fruit, spice, and vanilla. With aging potential of 5-10 years, or longer, this is a spectacular value for a Napa Cab.

I brought this to a house party a few weekends ago, and we opened and tasted it sans food. Everybody enjoyed the wine, and commented on the solid fruit structure and compexity. Once we drained this bottle, the hosts opened a different Napa Cabernet, a 2012 from a small boutique winery in Napa. They boasted that their bottle set them back $80 (4x the Angel price for Alex’s offering.) While the 2012 was nice and had good fruit flavor, it lacked the oomph, complexity, and structure of the Miriam Alexandra. I can imagine that in a blind tasting, Miriam Alexandra would beat out the older boutique wine.

Though I didn’t get to taste this bottle with food, this is a wine that would pair exceptionally well with a marbled rib-eye or prime rib. The fat would help tame the tannins and the wine would enhance the deliciousness of the meat. Fortunately, I have a few more bottles, so I can experience the magic of the meal I just recommended.

If you would like to try one of Alex’s wines, click on this link, or the logo below, to receive a voucher worth $100 of a first-time order of $160 or more.

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Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds

Dinner in a Cave! #WBC17

Dinner in a wine cave. Check! One more thing off the bucket list!

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We had a lot of amazing experiences at this year’s Wine Blogger’s Conference in Santa Rosa, California. However, the unparalleled highlight was the Friday evening dinner at Thomas George Estates. When the list of dinner excursions was published several weeks earlier, we scanned the host wineries’ websites, and noticed that Thomas George Estates has a wine cave. A telephone call to the winery confirmed the WBC Dinner would be held in the cave. We made our reservation immediately!

With eager anticipation, we boarded the luxury wine-tour bus and settled into the plush leather seats. Under the soft mood lighting, we enjoyed the short ride to the winery. Upon arrival, we stepped off the bus and into the cavernous entryway of the cave.

There, we were warmly greeted by Thomas George Estates staff, who handed us each a glass of their 2014 Brut Blanc de Blancs. We sipped this delightful sparkler while visiting with our fellow diners, and nibbling on Hors D’Oeuvres including house-made cured meats, and roasted and marinated vegetables.

Soon enough, we were summoned to the dining table, located in a long corridor in the cave. The service was excellent, the wine free-flowing, and the food exquisitely prepared. We both agree this was among the top five meals we have ever experienced; and toward the top of that list, to boot! The first course was a roasted Brussels Sprouts salad with Black Pig Bacon, Asian pear, Marcona almonds, aged sherry vinegar, and Bohemian Creamery Capriago. This amazing salad was paired with the Thomas George Estates 2015 Chardonnay, Sons & Daughters Vineyard. It was during this course that we learned that all the pork served during the evening was hand-raised by our chef, Duskie Estes, of Zazu Kitchen & Farm in Sebastapol, California. Now that’s farm-to-fork, local food!

The main course was Cracklin’ Pork Belly (from our friendly neighborhood porker) with Star Anise Liberty Duck; a full leg quarter; served over black rice, with pomegranate and watercress. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the pork belly, but I was not disappointed! As much as I love duck, this crispy chunk of heaven was out of this world! Paired with the Thomas George Estate 2014 Pinot Noir, Baker Ridge Vineyard, this was an entrée and pairing worth writing home about!

Amid friendly conversation, ample refills, and boundless frivolity, I wondered if it could get any better. Leave it to the good folks at Thomas George Estate and Zazu Kitchen & Farm to up the ante with dessert. Backyard Quince & Apple Tartin with Bourbon Gelato. Why, yes, I believe I will. Paired with the most amazing 2012 Late Harvest Viognier from Baker Ridge Vineyard, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Just look at the color of that Viognier! Divine!

Even after dinner, the hospitable staff kept our glasses filled, until it was time to, sadly, re-board the bus for the ride back to the hotel. But first, swag bags! We each received a gift of a bottle of Thomas George Estates 2016 Rosé of Grenache, a numbered bottle of their Baker Ridge Vineyard Olive Oil (delicious), and for a longer-lasting keepsake, a Thomas George Estates t-shirt.

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Back on the bus, we basked in the afterglow of a magical, memorable evening. One we will not soon forget.

Cheers!

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

Organic & Biodynamic Wines and the Environment – #MWWC36

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Sometimes procrastination pays off. As I was pondering the topic for this month’s Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, Environment, and trying to determine what I would write, the Keystone Pipeline leaked some 210,000 gallons of oil. That’s about 5,000 barrels! Regardless of your opinion on the pipeline, I think we can all agree that spilling crude oil is not a positive event for the environment.  

What does this have to do with wine? Nothing, really. However, it got me thinking about how we can continue to function in the modern, industrialized world while being good stewards of the environment in which we live. Therein lies the connection to wine.  

Monthly Wine Writing Challenge

Modern agricultural operations, including vineyards, incorporate the use of things like chemical fertilizers and genetically modified organisms. Opinions vary on these topics, often passionately, and I am not here to argue any particular viewpoint. I simply want to lay a foundation and present some facts. “Just the facts, ma’am.” 

Just the Facts Ma'am

The use of fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides have had positive effects on farming over the years, by increasing yields, and reducing damage done by insects and other pests. However, these same chemicals can leach into water tables or run off into nearby waterways, which can cause damage to desirable plants and animals, and contaminate  food and water supplies for human consumption. In recent years, many farmers have become more environmentally conscious, and are turning to natural or organic methods to control pests and increase yields.  

In viticulture, organic and biodynamic farming practices have taken root (pun intended 🙂) and are becoming more and more popular. Both methods are chemical-free, and emphasize soil health to ensure optimum growing conditions. Increasingly, consumers are seeking out organic or biodynamic wines, which encourages farmers and producers to consider these practices from both an environmental and a social responsibility perspective.  

Organic farming is regulated in the United States by the Department of Agriculture, or USDA. In vineyard management, certified organic grapes are grown without the use of any synthetic additives, such as pesticides or fertilizers. All aspects of winemaking are included in certified organic wines, including yeast strains, fining agents, and any other materials used in the production of the wine. In the wine world, organic wines may have various degrees. From certified organic wines, to those made with organic grapes but may include non-organic additives. Biodynamic wines are, by their nature, also considered organic, but are taken to a higher level. Any and all of these farming techniques reduce the amount of harmful chemicals being used and released into the environment. 
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When I first heard of Biodynamic farming, I was a little skeptical. Well, that’s a bit of an understatement…I thought it was just weird. Hippie-dippie stuff. I mean, come on, planting and harvesting based on the phases of the moon and stars? Burying cows’ horns filled with manure? Seriously? However, the more I’ve learned about biodynamic vineyard management, the more I become a believer. Or at least accepting.  

Biodynamic Horns

Biodynamic farming embraces the idea that all things are interconnected in the universe. It takes the “Butterfly Effect” to the ultimate extreme. Applying this belief involves achieving balance between the vines, earth, moon, and stars. In practice, this holistic approach to farming includes such activities as adhering to a biodynamic calendar for farming activities, and yes, burying manure-filled cows’ horns (never a bull’s horn, apparently) in the ground over the winter, and then spreading the manure in the vineyards in the spring. The biodynamic calendar identifies four categories of days: Root, Fruit, Flower, and Leaf days. Fruit days are the best for harvesting grapes. Root days are for pruning. Flower days are rest days for the vineyard. And Leaf days are for watering. Some even extend the biodynamic calendar to the finished product, by drinking these wines only on Flower or Fruit days. Those ardent followers believe this is the reason the same wine may taste differently on different days.  

Do organic or biodynamic wines taste better? I’ve never noticed a difference. But then again, I’ve never done a blind tasting, comparing organic, biodynamic, and conventional wines. Perhaps I’ll do just that, and share my findings in a future blog post!  

Whether organic and biodynamic wines are better quality or not, the practices employed in producing them are arguably better for the environment. In my opinion, anything I can do to be a better steward of the planet on which we live is worthwhile. After all, it’s the only environment we have.  

Have you tried organic or biodynamic wines? Let me know, in the comments, what you thought of them. 

Cheers!  

  • By Kent Reynolds