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Tag Archives: Wine Pairing

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).

02 Vino Noceto Menu

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.”

07 Andis OGP

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.)

09 Scott Harvey Menu

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!

10 1869 History

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.”

11 Scott Harvey OGP 1869 Vineyard

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.

12 SHW 2011

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.

13 SHW 2012

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.

14 SHW 2013

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.

15 SHW 2014

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

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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

Warm Reds for Cold Nights, Part 3

Well, we’ll admit that as we write this, it’s sunny and 72 degrees at our home in Northern California. Spring is definitely upon us here. However, other parts of the country as still in the harsh grip of winter. Besides, it was a couple of weeks ago when we opened and enjoyed this sample; on a cold, rainy, winter’s night. Plus, readers in the Southern Hemisphere are headed into winter, and will be needing some Warm Reds for their Cold Nights, soon.

For the third in our four part series of Warm Reds for Cold Nights, we travel to France. When most people think of big red wines from France, they think Bordeaux, Burgundy, or the Rhone. Yet in our ongoing quest for the lesser-known, our travels today take us to the Loire Valley, specifically to the communes that make up the region of Chinon.

The red wines of Chinon are crafted from Cabernet Franc grapes. Many of you may know Cabernet Franc as one of the two parents of Cabernet Sauvignon. (The other half of the greatest marriage in viticulture is Sauvignon Blanc.) Used as a blending grape in Bordeaux and other regions, Cabernet Franc stands, and shines, on its own in Chinon wines.

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

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Chateau Courday-Montpensier dates back to 1090 AD, though the current castle on the site was built in the 14th century. There are 30 hectares of vineyards at the chateau, all planted to Cabernet Franc. The Chateau du Courday-Montpensier Chinon Rouge 2016 is 100% Cabernet Franc, that spent between 6 and 12 months in barrel before bottling. It is a classic representation of Chinon, quite delicious and food friendly.

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Rather than going with a more traditional food pairing with this Cabernet Franc, we opted for more of a Franco-Asian fusion menu: homemade Thai Basil Beef. The pairing was exceptional, with the exotic, savory beef complementing the rich, hearty wine, and vice-versa.

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Inky purple color. Aromas of ripe blackberry, raspberry, and black cherry. On the palate, fruit forward with blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, and cherry, with secondary notes of licorice, black pepper, and vanilla. Tannins are big and chewy, but melt away with food. Brisk acidity livens the senses and further enhances the food pairing. Excellent this winter’s evening with Thai Basil Beef. Definitely warming and satisfying. Wine Searcher average price: $16.00.

Even if spring has sprung in your neighborhood, don’t overlook the opportunity to enjoy a big, warming red wine with your BBQ or other hearty meal. Until next time…

Cheers!

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

Warm Reds for Cold Nights, Part 1

While the East Coast is being blasted by yet another major winter storm, and the Pacific Northwest is experiencing record snowfall, here in Northern California, it’s, well, pouring rain. But I mean really pouring! We’re expecting 3-6 inches of rain in the next 48 hours. The winds are also howling, up to 40 mph. And it’s cold…by NorCal standards. Overnight lows in the 30’s, and highs only in the 50’s. Brrr. By NorCal standards. 

So in light of winter’s harsh punch to the Northern Hemisphere, what better way to stay warm than to enjoy some big, bold, warming red wines on these cold winter nights? This is the first of a four-part mini-series, featuring reds from around the world that were provided as media samples.

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

What better place to start this journey than South America? Afterall, there, it’s summer! From the Maule Valley in Chile, comes the Erasmo Barbera-Grenache 2016, a unique and delicious blend of 60% Barbera, 30% Grenache, and 10% Carignan. Using all organic grapes and wild yeast for fermentation, this wine captures the essence of the Maule Valley terroir.

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The original cellar at what is now Erasmo winery was built at the end of the 19th century. The mud-wall construction provided excellent insulation for maintaining a proper wine cellar temperature. In 2005, after years of neglect and inactivity,  Count Francesco Marone Cinzano set out to restore this historic building. Now complete, and filled with modern winemaking equipment, “La Reserva de Caliboro” lives on, and is the home to high quality, organic wines.

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Before…

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and After. Photo Credit Erasmo Organic Vineyard and Winery http://erasmo.bio/en/

On one particularly cold and stormy night, we paired this delightful, warming wine with a seared Garlic-Butter Brazilian Skirt Steak and Garden Salad. (You can’t forego your greens just because it’s cold out!) What an amazing pairing! Sheer perfection!

Deep purple color with brick rim. Aromas of ripe raspberry, blackberry, and clove. On the palate, there are flavors of blackberry, blueberry, cherry, and cranberry, with baking spice, cedar, and vanilla notes. Tannins are firm but balanced, with lively acidity and a long finish of black and red fruit and white pepper.

Vivino Average Price: $22.99

Stay tuned for the next in this Warming Reds for Cold Nights series. In the meantime, tell us, in the comments below, what you are enjoying to stay warm during these cold winter nights.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
  • Photo Credit, unless otherwise noted, Kent Reynolds

Odfjell Vineyards Organic Wines

What do a Norwegian ship owner, a verdant Chilean valley, and sustainable farming  have in common?

Wine!

What did you think we were going to say? This is a wine blog, afterall.

More than 25 years ago, Norwegian Armador (that’s “ship owner” in case you were wondering) Dan Odfjell discovered the Maipo Valley in Chile. Well, not discovered in the Viking explorer sense; he found it for himself. Dan fell in love with this little corner of the planet, far from home both in distance and climate. He settled in the valley, and began pursuing his passion for wine.

Today, sons Laurence and Dan Jr. are at the helm, managing 284 acres of 100% certified organic and biodynamic vineyards in the heart of the Chilean wine country. They carry on the family mission of  producing unique quality wines in a sustainable way.

Recently, we were given the opportunity to experience their craft. Odfjell Premium Organic Wines are offered in three different tiers, with labels representing Land, Water, and Fire. We were fortunate to receive samples of each.  

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

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I really don’t know what happened to our photos. Sorry, but it’s your loss. The marinated flat iron steak was delicious with this Cabernet!

2016 Odfjell Armador Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $15)

From the website: In the bygone days of sailing ships, wine was the drink of choice on long voyages. Today Dan Odfjell, a Norwegian shipowner, perpetuates his legacy by making wines to sail from Chile across the seven seas.

Winemaker’s Tasting Notes: Ruby-red in color with a hint of violet. Red-fruit aromas recall strawberries and plums, along with notes of licorice and anise. Perfectly balanced on the palate with ripe tannins and a long, refreshing nish.

Here’s what we thought:

Inky purple color in the glass. Aromas of blackberry, bramble, and cassis. On the palate, there are flavors of ripe blackberry, raspberry, bramble, black currant, and cherry, with oak, cedar, tobacco, and black pepper, with earthy notes mid-palate. Tannins are firm and chewy, balanced with bright acidity. Full bodied with a long, spicy finish of black fruit, earth, and smoke. Outstanding paired with balsamic marinated flat iron steak.

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2017 Odfjell Orzada Carignan (SRP $23)

From the website: When the Norwegian shipowner Dan Odfjell founded our winery, he embarked upon adventure filled with challenge and promise. Orzada is a nautical term for sailing up against the wind before setting a direction. Our Orzada wines reflect our staking a course in pursuit of a beautiful and memorable wine.

Winemaker’s Tasting Notes: Dark red in color. Intense and complex on the nose, with spices and ripe red fruits such as cherries, raspberries, and plums mixed with aromas of blackberries and anise. The palate is juicy and powerful with velvety-soft tannins and a long finish.

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Now we’re talking!

Here’s what we thought:

Deep purple color with a brick rim. Aromas of fresh-picked cherry, oak wood, and spice. On the palate there are flavors of raspberry, boysenberry, tart cherry, licorice, cedar, and black pepper. Soft tannins, medium body, and bright, lively acidity. The finish is long, with red and black fruit, oak, and spice. We paired this with grilled, chili-rubbed pork chops and it really complemented the meal nicely.

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2013 Odfjell Aliara (SRP $44)

From the website: In the age of sail ships, safe and healthy provisions were crucial for the success of the adventure. A “liara” was a tin cup measurement for the crew´s daily ration of wine. Our Aliara is an assemblage made in small and precios quantitites as a tribute to this tradition.

Winemaker’s Tasting Notes: Concentrated deep violet in color. The nose is attractive and intense with a range of aromas from the different varieties in the blend, including nuts such as hazelnuts, dates, and dried figs, as well as floral notes recalling jasmine and roses. The palate is sophisticated, intense, and juicy and complemented by chocolate, coffee, and tobacco leaves. The finish is long with ripe and velvety tannins. An unforgettable experience.

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That’s some dark, inky wine.

Here’s what we thought:

A blend of 65% Carignan, 20% Syrah, and 5% Malbec. Deep, inky purple color. Aromas of blackberry bramble and plum. On the palate, flavors of blackberry, cherry, blueberry, and plum, with white pepper and cedar. Tannins are big and chewy. Medium acidity. Long finish of black fruit and black pepper. Outstanding with spice-rubbed grilled steak tacos.

​The Odfjell is doing some remarkable things with organic, biodynamic wines in Chile. If you get the opportunity to try these wines, don’t let it pass you by!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds
  • Creative Inspiration by Robyn Raphael

Review: Toccata Classico 2015

I first learned about Toccata wines several years ago, when one of their sales reps was hosting a tasting at a wine bar near my home. I happened in, by happy coincidence, and was immediately impressed by the quality, complexity, and character of the wines. Alas, the wines are not widely distributed, so Toccata was difficult to find and enjoy regularly.

The Toccata label is owned by Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards, a family owned estate in Santa Barbara County. I’m fairly certain the Toccata tasting all those years ago was the first Santa Barbara wine I had experienced. Lucas & Lewellen is fairly well known to travellers along Highway 101 south of Paso Robles, as their large estate vineyards are adjacent to the highway, and are well marked with signs identifying ownership and often the variety of grape.

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Photo Credit: llwine.com

Years after that original Toccata tasting, my son started college at U.C. Santa Barbara; another happy coincidence. During the hours-long drives from Northern California to visit, as I passed the Lucas & Lewellen vineyards, I was reminded of the Toccata wines I had enjoyed. When I discovered that Toccata has a tasting room, just a few miles off Highway 101 in the quaint village of Solvang, I was thrilled to be able to enjoy these wines again while also enjoying time with my son, and the beauty of Santa Barbara. Still, once he graduated, and my regular trips to Santa Barbara came to an end, so did my ready access to Toccata.

To my sheer delight, I was recently offered a sample of the Toccata Classico 2015. There was no hesitation in my affirmative response to the offer!  

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Toccata wines are all Italian varieties and styles. Toccata Classico is a red blend made in the Super Tuscan style. The fruit comes from two estate vineyards; Los Alamos Vineyard in the Santa Barbara AVA and Valley View Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley AVA. The 2015 is composed of 50% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% each of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Freisa, and Petit Verdot. Here’s what we thought of it:

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

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Rich, deep purple with ruby rim. Initial nose is vanilla, with ripe red berry. On the palate, flavors of ripe raspberry, blackberry, and cassis, with baking spice, vanilla, tobacco, white pepper, and toasty oak. Firm, chewy tannins, with medium acidity. Rich and full bodied. The finish is long with red and black fruit, oak, and black pepper.

SRP $29.00 per bottle

Perfect for Italian cuisine, and also fantastic with other genres of food, too. We loved it with Pan Seared Filet Steaks with Gorgonzola and Caramelized Onions. Sheer delight! img_2349

If you are in the Santa Barbara area, be sure to take a detour out to Solvang and visit the Toccata tasting room. It’s well worth the trip!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds
  • Photo credit, except where noted, and inspiration by Robyn Raphael

Experience Alexander Valley, Day 1 – Medlock Ames and Stonestreet

It was with eager anticipation that we set off on our journey to the first annual Experience Alexander Valley. We’d been invited as guests of Alexander Valley Winegrowers*, and based on all we’d heard about this new event, we knew we were in for something special. We wrote a couple of preview pieces, which if you missed them and want to catch up, you can read here, and here. But the previews don’t come close to capturing the magic and adventure that Experience Alexander Valley delivered.

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* As guests, our event admission was complimentary. We received no other compensation or incentive. All descriptions, opinions, and reviews are our own.

Like many wine country events, this was a two-day adventure. Unlike many wine country events, rather than racing from winery to winery, guests got to choose two Experiences per day. Since we were invited as bloggers, to cover and promote the event, Robyn and I wanted to participate in as many Experiences as possible…to a point – we do enjoy each other’s company! So we decided “divide and conquer”, at least for a couple of Experiences. We each selected one Experience per day to fly solo, and one to attend together.

Saturday dawned clear and bright. And warm.  Weather forecasters predicted highs near 103F, and they weren’t far off. This meant that many outdoor Experiences had to be canceled or at least modified. Nevertheless, we were undaunted and headed from our hotel to Robyn’s first destination, deLorimier Winery. I’ll let Robyn tell the story of her Experience herself. Watch for her blog post in a few days.

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I had a bit of a drive to get to my first Experience, at the Medlock Ames Winery. Though they have a tasting room on the valley floor, they wanted to treat guests to a Sustainable Winemaking Experience at their vineyards and production facility. The drive was beautiful, along the east side of the valley, then up Chalk Hill Road. The thing that struck me most: No Traffic! I was virtually alone on a Saturday morning in Wine Country.

Turning onto a single lane road, I started to get a little nervous that my trusty Google Maps might have failed me. It was a paved, single lane road, so that was hopeful. Alas, my trust in Google ran out two hilly ridges in. I turned around, beginning what would be a 30 minute detour that ended up taking me right back where I was. Around a curve about 100 yards beyond where I’d turned around was the entrance to Medlock Ames. Sigh. I’d done it to myself, and was almost 45 minutes late!

Fortunately, friendly Isabella saw my plight and left her post in the tasting room to rescue me. She came out into the already 90+ degree day, and caught me up with the small group on the outdoor tour. Isabella handed me off to Chelsea, who was leading the two other guests, Jimmy and Maryanne, on a tour of the grounds.

Medlock Ames is a sustainable, organic winery, and includes a one-acre vegetable garden, and a one-acre fruit garden. Due to the heat, we were not able to walk to those gardens, but still got a brief overview of the property and history. Chelsea led us to the shade of a large tree at the edge of a vineyard. There she told us that the two acres of vines were looking at were nearly ripped out when owners Chris Medlock James and Ames Morison purchased the property in 1998. The vineyard had been planted by the previous owner, a sheep rancher, and nobody knew what variety they were. Ames, the head winemaker, was hesitant, however, and decided to walk the vines before excavation. He found a tag on a vine, from a nursery in New York. After a call to the nursery and some research, and they found the answer: Merlot. But not just any Merlot. These vines are Jefferson clones; descendants of vines that Founding Father Thomas Jefferson brought from France to his Virginia estate! With that kind of pedigree, the former Tulane University roommates decided to leave the vines in.

All Medlock Ames are made from 100% organic, estate grown fruit. The winery is fully solar powered. Of the 338 acres on the estate, only about 55 acres are farmed, leaving the rest of the land to its native flora and fauna. There are more than 800 olive trees, five retention ponds for irrigation, and at least 50 barn owl boxes on the property. To help conserve energy, the barrel room is underground, below the production facility.

Speaking of the barrel room, where better to continue the tour on such a hot day? After a brief visit among the fermentation tanks upstairs, we ventured down into the 55 degree cellar to meet Ames, and enjoy some barrel tasting.

The beauty of the Experience Alexander Valley event is that the three of us had about 30-45 minutes of interrupted time with the head winemaker. (I was enjoying myself too much to keep track of time.) We could ask whatever questions we wanted, and he took the time to answer in a way we could all understand. You don’t get that on a party bus tour!

Ames is clearly passionate about what he does, and is very knowledgeable. He thieved us samples of their 2017 Lower Slope Chardonnay, the 2017 50 Tons Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2017 Kate’s & B’s Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2017 Secret Ingredient Malbec. Each of the wines has a nick-name, and a story. The Kate’s and B’s is named after Chris and Ames’ wives; Kate is Ames’ wife, and B (stands for Bradley) is Chris’ wife. They chose the very best grapes from the very best vineyards to make the wine with their wives’ names on it. Smart men!

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From the cellar, we walked back up to the tasting room where Chelsea hosted us in a wine and cheese pairing. The cheeses are all local, Sonoma County artisan cheeses, and paired each of the wine amazingly! I’ll let the pictures tell the story here.

As we were finishing up, I got Robyn’s text letting me know her Experience was over, and she was ready for me to come get her. So I didn’t have time to explore the preserves, marmalades, and olive oils they make with estate fruit. No worries though; that gives me something to look forward to when I bring Robyn on our next visit!

After a quick lunch break, we headed to our next Experience, this time together. Turning up the tree-lined drive to Stonestreet Estate Vineyards, we were taken with the beauty of the property. Here, we were to enjoy a chocolate and Cabernet Sauvignon tasting. Originally scheduled outdoors on their beautiful patio overlooking the valley and nearby Mayacamas Mountain range, they thankfully relocated the tasting indoors, in their air conditioned tasting room.

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We were greeted by DTC (Direct to Consumer) Manager, Michelle, and our host and guide for the day, Tasting Room Manager, Samantha. Having never heard of Stonestreet before, we were in for a bit of a surprise.

Video credit: Stonestreet Estate Vineyards

Stonestreet Estate Vineyards owns a large chunk of the Mayacamas Mountains we had admired as we entered the property. 5500 acres, to be more specific. Yet of those 5500 acres, only 800 acres are planted to vines. Committed to sustainable and environmentally friendly winemaking, when the owners purchased the land in 1995, they conducted wildlife studies; migration patterns, breeding grounds, etc. and planted around those areas so as to not disturb the native wildlife. This also helps to keep the critters out of the vineyards. But that wasn’t the biggest surprise. Stonestreet Estate Vineyards is part of Stonestreet Farms, located in Kentucky. Stonestreet Farms breeds thoroughbred race horses, very successfully, including such standouts as Rachel Alexandra (depicted in the beautiful statue on the grounds.) The founder of Stonestreet Farms was Jess Stonestreet Jackson. Jess Jackson. Yes, the Kendall-Jackson Jess Jackson! Surprise! Who knew?

Now on to the chocolate and Cabernet pairing. Some might think that it is difficult to pair chocolate with Cabernet Sauvignon, and it can be. The wine is often too tannic to work well with the creaminess of the chocolate. But Stonestreet sent samples of the wines for the pairing to the local pastry chef they’d commissioned for the event. She, in turn, created the chocolate confections to match each of the wines. It was exquisite! While it was hard to select a favorite, if forced, I’d say mine was third from the left, the Chocolate Budino with huckleberry compote. Robyn fell in love with the Opera Cake (second from left) made with dark chocolate genoise, espresso cream, and topped with a sprig of lemon thyme. Each of the single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons paired perfectly with the chocolates.

Running a little ahead of schedule allowed Samantha to give us a brief tour of the barrel room, and some photo ops. We also had a chance to sample their Meritage, Bordeaux-style red blend. Made from all five of the noble grapes, it was amazing!

 

And that’s it. Just two Experiences per day. I’ve prattled on long enough for now, and we’ll cover Sunday later. Robyn will write about her solo Experiences in separate post, too. Oh sure, there was the fantastic blues concert at deLorimier Saturday evening, but Robyn will write about that in her first Experience post.

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The biggest takeaways for us on Saturday were these: One, Alexander Valley is a hidden gem; a peaceful wine oasis mere minutes from the crowds and bustle of Napa. There was virtually no traffic all weekend, and no crowds, either. Sure, the heat may have kept some away, but Sunday was much cooler and yet no more crowded.

The other takeaway was this: though the lack of crowds was nice, Experience Alexander Valley was noticeably under-attended. Experiences had capacity for up to 24 guests. Of the four I attended, two had only three guests, one had four, and one had seven. Intimate to be sure, but really, folks, come out next year and let’s make this an event, an Experience, worth repeating! You’ll remember your Experiences forever.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds, with Robyn Raphael
  • Photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael, unless otherwise noted.