Tag Archives: Winery Tour

Winning Big at Casino Mine Ranch

We have been big fans of Amador County wines for a long time. Awhile back, we connected on Instagram (@appetite_for_wine) with @casinomineranch, a relative newcomer in the wine landscape of the Sierra Foothills. During our early online chatter, we expressed an interest in visiting. We learned that visits to Casino Mine Ranch are by appointment only. Alas, our frequent trips to the area are often spontaneous, so, embarrassingly, we went several months without scheduling a visit. 

Thankfully, that negligence came to an end earlier this month. We were planning a trip to Amador County wine country, and Kent remembered Casino Mine Ranch. After a quick DM on Instagram, Chief of Staff Mackenzie Cecchi confirmed our reservation. 

It was a lovely November day when we arrived at Casino Mine Ranch. Rather spring-like weather, in fact. (Sorry, not sorry to our East Coast family and friends.) Up a winding, nondescript driveway (even with GPS, we missed it and had to turn around), past Lola’s vineyard, until we saw Casey’s tree fort, and we knew we had arrived.  

Mackenzie greeted us as we entered the house. Yes, house. Casino Mine Ranch’s current location is the owners’ second home. Mackenzie said they are in the planning stages of a tasting room down the road near some other tasting rooms, but for now, welcome to this beautiful home! 

Mackenzie poured us our first taste. There would be eight total during the hour-long tour and tasting. The 2017 Vermentino. Simply stellar! Plenty of pineapple and citrus, with bracing acidity. Just the way we like it. If the Vermentino was any indication, we were in for a very special, and tasty hour. (Spoiler alert: the Vermentino was definitely an indication!) 

All of the wines in Casino Mine Ranch’s portfolio are 100% estate fruit. The ranch is 60 acres, but currently there are only 14 acres under vine. However, they are planning to plant more vineyards so they can increase production.

The second tasting on the tour was the 2017 Grenache Blanc. Mackenzie said the 2016 wasn’t quite what they’d hoped for, and asked our opinion of the 2017. Ironically, Kent had taken a wine survey just the day before, and had to respond in the negative to the question: have you tasted a Grenache Blanc in the past six months. Timing, people. Timing is everything! And so is this Grenache Blanc. Straw color, aged in 30% new French oak, with flavors of apricot and peach, with hints of butter and caramel. Exquisite. 

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As we moved outside, and prepared to enter the mine, Mackenzie provided a history lesson. Casino Ranch Mine was founded in 1936 by Simone Shaw. Simone was born in Belgium, and with her family escaped the 1914 German invasion. Her father had a mining operation in Alaska, where Simone spent time in her younger days. Always stylish and worldly, Simone caught the eye of many a suitor. The family eventually moved to New York City, where Simone met Sam Shaw, Jr., hotelier and art patron. It was a match made in heaven, and the two were soon married. 

As socialites, the Shaws spent time in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and Paris. Somehow, they found their way to what was then the middle of nowhere…Amador County. (Let’s be real, Amador County may not be the middle of nowhere today, but it’s only just outside the border! We love it that way.) Simone bought the property, with the intention of mining for gold. Always the realist, she felt that striking it rich in gold mining was a gamble, hence the name: Casino Mine Ranch. 

Simone’s instincts were right. Nothing more than a modicum of gold was discovered in their mine. However, what they did find was as precious as gold in the remote Sierra Foothills: water. Under the lava caps on the property were reserves of water. The Shaw’s excavated and dammed the springs, and even today they are used for irrigation on the ranch. 

Into the mine we went. The water was located only a few yards beyond the entrance, so the tour does not go deep into the mine. Here, we tasted the 2018 Rosé, a blend of Grenache and Mourvèdre. Another exquisite wine. Three-for-three! Pale pink color, with flavors of strawberry and raspberry. Bone dry and zesty. 

From the mine, we went back through the house, and downstairs to a beautiful cellar room. Here we tasted the 2017 Grenache Noir; 100% Grenache, aged in 30% new French oak. This wine recently received a score of 90 points from Wine Spectator magazine. A luscious, spicy wine, with bold red fruit and licorice notes. There was an ashtray on the counter, crafted from a bear claw. (Not the pastry, but an actual claw from an actual bear!) Mackenzie said legend has it, that Simone herself shot that bear! 

Venturing outside through the back of the house, we made our way to the pool house. Pool house? Pool house. Not too many wineries have a pool and a pool house! But this was just the beginning. The two-story pool house is a home unto itself, complete with kitchen and entertainment. Upstairs there is a full-scale shuffleboard table, and down the spiral staircase to the lower level, you will find a pinball machine, video arcade game, and an air hockey table. In case you were wondering, as we were, the answer is yes. At wine club events, members have the opportunity to use these games! 

Back outside and down a grassy hill, Mackenzie continued the family tale. Shortly after World War II, Sam passed away. Sam’s brother, Hollis Shaw, came to stay on the property to help the widow with the ranch. Hollis initially lived in one of the small mining shacks on the property. However, after some time, he moved into the main house. Not long after, Simone and Hollis were married. 

During the 1960’s and 70’s, Simone’s grand-nephews, Rich, Jim, and Steve Marryman, would come to the ranch for visits. They were intrigued by their aunt, living in such a remote area but still being so glamorous, serving the children their meals off fine china, and dressing for dinner. In 1999, Rich Merryman bought Casino MIne Ranch. 

In 2011, Rich called brother Jim to tell him he is going to plant a vineyard on the property and wanted to make wine. Jim thought Rich was crazy, though he eventually joined the venture. They hired winemaker Andy Erickson, and in 2015, produced their first vintage. 

Mackenzie escorted us to a large, metal building at the bottom of the hill. She referred to it as the “midlife crisis building.” This, she said, was to be the Casino Mine Ranch winery production facility. However, their winemaking team is in Napa, and they didn’t want to have to come all the way out, almost to the border of nowhere, to produce the wine. With construction started, what is one to do with a massive building that now has no purpose? Turn it into an NBA regulation basketball court, of course! 

Several NBA stars have visited the ranch to play on the court. In addition, college flags adorned the back wall. These are the alma mater of wine club members. Joining the club earns one the right to display their school’s flag. Guests on tour are invited to go downstairs onto the court to shoot some hoops, but we decided to stay topside and just watch. 

Back up the hill to the house, and onto the patio with breathtaking views, where we enjoyed the rest of the wines. Next on the list was the 2017 Mourvèdre. Another 100% varietal wine, this medium bodied red has spicy red fruit, raspberry, cherry, and cranberry, with baking spice and a long finish. 

The 2016 Simone, obviously named in honor Great Aunt Simone, is a blend of 52% Grenache and 48% Mourvèdre. This is a big, powerhouse of a wine, with red fruit and spice on the nose, and flavors of raspberry, bing cherry, baking spice, and mineral notes. Big, chewy tannins and bright acidity lead to a very long finish. 

Next was the 2016 Tempranillo, one of only two non-Rhône style wines in the portfolio. This wine pours inky purple, and has flavors of blueberry, spice, and a bit of raspberry. The tannins are very soft and smooth, balanced with medium acidity. 

The final wine on the tour was the 2016 Marcel. Wait, we sense another story here. Marcel Tiquet moved to Casino Mine Ranch after World War II. He was just 19 years old at the time. Marcel and his wife didn’t intend on staying long, but raised their family there and they loved the place so much, they just never moved away. Making a life here, Marcel became the heart and soul of Casino Mine Ranch. Sadly, Marcel passed away in September 2018, at the age of 93. 

The wine in his honor is 80% Tempranillo and 20% Teroldego. Here is another big, bold red wine, worthy of such a man as Marcel. Inky purple color, with aromas and flavors of blueberry, raspberry, baking spice, and white pepper on the finish. Big, firm, chewy tannins mingle with medium acidity, leading to a long finish. This is a wine that wants a rib-eye or grilled lamb. 

Alas, the tour was over. Nevertheless, we were so impressed with the wines, the story, and the property, that we decided to join the wine club. So, as they say…we’ll be back! 

If you’d like to visit Casino Mine Ranch, and you know you do, you’ll need to make a reservation. You can do this on their website. They are open for guests Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, with appointment times at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. When you go, tell them Robyn and Kent sent you! 

Cheers! 

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

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

Wine Tasting in Paradise at MauiWine

Nestled on the southwestern slopes of the Haleakala volcano, just past a stretch of white-knuckle switchbacks, near the community of Ulupalakua, lies an oasis. A wine oasis. Yes, a wine oasis in Paradise!

We had been planning a trip to Hawaii, to include a few days on Oahu, then a week on Maui. Knowing that there are now wineries in all 50 states, we turned to Google to find out where might be the Hawaiian wineries. As luck would have it, right there on Maui, there is MauiWine. We contacted them in advance to arrange a tour and tasting, and General Manager Joe Hegele graciously offered to be our personal tour guide.

MauiWine’s story is rich in history and culture. The winery lies on a property formerly owned by Captain Makee, a whaling captain in the mid-1800’s. The story goes that Captain Makee spotted the land while passing by the south side of Maui on the way to Oahu. He committed to himself that one day he would live there.

Prior to Captain Makee owning the land, however, King Kamehameha III leased it to a rancher,  L.L. Torbet, who established a plantation and ranch. Torbet raised potatoes, and during the California Gold Rush, bought a boat to carry his crop to hungry gold miners on the mainland. Unfortunately, his boat sank, and he lost everything.

Meanwhile, Captain Makee was having his own challenges. A crewman aboard ship, upset at being denied leave, snuck into Captain Makee’s cabin at night, and attacked him with a hatchet. The attack failed, the crewman escaped, and Captain Makee decided it was time to retire. After settling in Honolulu, he eventually followed through on his commitment to settle on the land he had seen on Maui. In January 1856, he purchased the Torbetsville plantation, establishing a home and cattle ranch.

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Having survived the attempt on his life, Captain Makee came to understand that life is a gift, and devoted his days to celebrating life. He loved the local roses, Lokelani, and dubbed the property Rose Ranch. He soon became known for his hospitality and day’s long parties. Dignitaries, including Hawaiian King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani would visit for hula dancing, poker games, and relaxation.

Even today, the property is considered sacred ground. As you enter, in front of the King’s Cottage, you pass a hula circle, carved from cypress trees planted in the 1870’s for King Kalakaua, known as “the Merrie Monarch”, who would sit and watch hula dancers on that spot. The cypress trees stood for nearly 150 years, until a storm in 2012 brought two of them down. Local artist Tim Garcia, was brought in to carve the remaining trunks into representations of King Kalakaua, hula dancers, and vessels. Joe said that even to this day, ōlapa (hula dancers) from around the world will visit the MauiWine Hula Circle to perform their dances.

Joe has a long-standing connection to Rose Ranch. He was raised here from the age of five. Though he did head to the mainland to attend college and gain some work experience, he returned to Rose Ranch five years ago to manage winery operations.

Once known only for their pineapple wines, under Joe’s direction, MauiWine has undergone renaming, rebranding, and the expansion of their grape wine program. Though they do source juice from the mainland, their 16 acre vineyard is planted to several varieties, including Syrah, Grenache, Viognier, and Chenin Blanc.

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Unlike most vineyards, where sun exposure is paramount to encourage ripening, the MauiWine vineyards biggest threat is fruit rot. With the humid climate in Hawaii, the vines and grape clusters here are pruned to encourage air flow. This includes a canopy management program focused on leafing, rather than shade, and fruit drop to open up the clusters. From flower to fruit set, they have about a 40% conversion rate. They have also been experimenting with grape shattering, which further reduces rot risk. All of the vineyards are harvested, then field sorted to ensure only the best fruit comes in. No sorting tables are used in the winery.

At about 2,000 feet elevation, and relatively short sun exposure; just 11 to 12 hours per day, despite to the tropical location, MauiWine is considered a cool climate vineyard, with average temperatures in the mid-70’s. The grape growing season on Maui runs from about January through August. The early season helps to avoid hurricanes, which could – and have – damaged crops.

On August 8, 2014, Hurricane Iselle made landfall on Maui. Harvest had begun, but the entire 6 acre Syrah crop remained in the vine. Winds from the hurricane blew the vines over and there was fear the crop would be lost. However, MauiWine put out a call on Social Media, and volunteers arrived to help. The harvest came in, and production went on as normal. It turned out the the vines were not severely damaged, and they continue to produce today.

When most people think of wine from Hawaii, they think of pineapple wine. And they’re not necessarily wrong. Pineapple is a year-round crop, which enables MauiWIne to run it’s production year-round as well. More than 84,000 pounds of Maui Gold pineapple is processed at MauiWine each month, and turned into three different styles of wine. 

This may come as a surprise, MauiWine pineapple wine is NOT the syrupy sweet wine you may be expecting!We had the opportunity to sample all three pineapple wines offerings:

Hula o Maui – Pineapple Sparkling Wine

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A brut sparkling wine made entirely of Maui Gold pineapple. Pale straw color, with vigorous streams of bubbles. Dry and fruity, and quite tasty. Produced in the traditional champagne method, this is a serious bottle of bubbles, that also doubles as a playful mixer for mimosas!

Maui Blanc – Off-dry Still Wine

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Here’s a wine sure to please the Mosacto lovers in your party. Semi-dry but with plenty of character and depth. Also produced from 100% Maui Gold pineapple, this wine would pair nicely with spicy foods. This was the first wine produced by MauiWine, back in 1977, while waiting for their grape vineyards to mature. Don’t miss this one of a kind wine!

Maui Splash – Pineapple Wine infused with Passion Fruit

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The sweetest of the trio, and perhaps the most popular. It retains the pineapple character, but adds a splash of tropical sweetness on the palate and finish. It’s like a day at the beach, in a glass. Great on it’s own, or add a splash of soda for a refreshing spritzer. In production since 1992.

As good, and intriguing, as the pineapple wines were, the real treat of our visit was the personal tasting of the Rose Ranch Wine and Estate Wine lines. MauiWine is proud of their pineapple wine, and as we learned, there is good reason for that. Still, the vineyard is the passion project, and the one that intrigued us most. Joe hosted us in The Old Jail; an historic building on the property that was once, well, the local jail. MauiWine has updated the space nicely – no dank cells and bread & water here – this is as upscale a tasting venue as we’ve ever visited. While most guests enjoy tastings in the King’s Cottage tasting rooms, club members and others looking for a deeper experience may reserve personalized tastings in the Old Jail. Here, Joe poured us samples of the best that MauiWine has to offer.

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No. 001 – Traditional Method Sparkling Wine

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From the Estate Collection. A crisp, delicious wine, made from 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir. The juice is sourced from California, from a well known Napa producer (but who cannot be named for proprietary reasons.) Vigorous streams of fine bubbles rise in the glass. Flavors of almond, yeast, and fresh-baked bread, with apple and pear, and a nutty finish. If I didn’t know this was a MauiWIne, I’d swear it was from Champagne!  

LoKelani – Sparkling Rosé

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A Rose Ranch Wine Collection wine. A brut sparkling wine made from Syrah and Pinot Noir. Very pale pink. Honestly, neither of us would have known it was a Rosé if Joe hadn’t said so before pouring. Flavors of strawberry, cranberry, and some citrus notes. Quite a delight!

2017 Ulupalakua Vineyards Viognier

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Another from the Estate Wines collection. We are big fans of well-made Viognier. And we’re now big fans of the Ulupalakua Vineyards Viognier! Dry, with floral aromas and flavors of apricot, citrus, and mineral notes, with a spicy finish.

2017 Ulupalakua Vineyards Rosé

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Estate Collection. A blend of 90% Syrah and 10% Grenache, and an interesting blend it is. The Syrah from Block 2 is farmed specifically to be vinified into Rosé, in the maceration method; harvested early to preserve acidity, and left on the skins after harvest for a very short time, just to add some color. Meanwhile, the Grenache portion is made in the Saignée method, in which the grapes are pressed for red wine production, and a small portion is bled off (saignée in French) to intensify the color of the red wine. The bled off portion is then made into a Rosé wine, and in this case, added to the Syrah Rosé. The result is a delightful, dry, crisp Rosé wine with flavors of strawberry, cherry, raspberry, and tropical fruit.

2017 Ulupalakua Vineyards Grenache

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Estate Collection. You might think of Grenache as a full-throttle, big red. In this case, you couldn’t be more wrong. This Grenache is as elegant and restrained as we have ever had. Pale ruby color; crystal clear (look at that color in the photo!) But don’t let the pale color fool you. This beauty is bursting with flavors of black cherry, plum, licorice, and earthy notes. It is bone dry, with zippy acidity and a spicy finish. Joe recommends serving slightly chilled, and since that is how he served it to us, we absolutely agree!

2016  Ulupalakua Vineyards Syrah

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Estate Collection. This is the big, bold, meaty red you’ve been looking for! Inky purple color. Big flavors of crushed blackberry, chocolate-covered cherry, licorice, and earth. Big, chewy tannins balanced with medium acidity, On the finish there is kirsch and mineral. A stunning wine, indeed!

After we wrapped up our Old Jail tasting, Joe escorted us on a walking tour of the winery production area. MauiWine is a study in contrast; the vintage, plantation-style buildings housing the facility and cellar are juxtaposed with state-of-the-art winemaking equipment. Joe pointed out their new bottling line; a shiny stainless steel workhorse that has the capability to seal bottles with all four major wine closures: traditional cork, screwcap, crown caps (part of the sparkling wine production, for secondary fermentation), and the familiar sparkling wine cork, secured with a wire cage. The facility, view, and surroundings are all very impressive, and well worth a visit! Tours are complimentary, so come on up!

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Before delivering us into the capable hands of the tasting room staff, Joe had one more surprise for us. We followed him a couple of miles back up the road to the vineyards. Joe mentioned to us that the vineyard is greatly protected and generally reserved for staff and family. The views here are spectacular, and the photos we took simply cannot do them justice! On the slope of Haleakala, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the Kaho’olawe island, and the U-shaped volcanic crater that is Molokini, the views literally took our breath away. Rather than try to describe it, just enjoy the photos.

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With Hurricane Lane approaching, we asked Joe if any special precautions were necessary. Not very many vineyards or wineries have to contend with hurricanes! Joe said that all of this years’ harvest is in, so there is no worry about the fruit. The only concern is loss of power from winds and falling trees.

After we returned to the King’s Cottage tasting room, Joe introduced us to Denae and Tamara, two of the friendly and knowledgeable staff members. There, we sampled Pineapple Wines (described above), the rest of the Rose Ranch Collection, and a taste of the 2012 Syrah – the hurricane wine!

Kula – White Blend

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Photo Credit: MauiWine.com (not sure what happened to our photo!)

An enticing and delicious blend of 44% Sauvignon Blanc, 44% Viognier, and 12% Muscat. Lots of citrus and tropical fruit flavors. Dry, yet fruity with zesty acidity.

Mele – Red Blend

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Racy and delicious, this is a blend of 40% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, and 10% Sangiovese. Medium body with smooth tannins, flavors of blackberry, raspberry, and cherry, with hints of green bell pepper and black pepper spice.

Sway & Stride Blend

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An Aussie style blend with 80% Syrah (or Shiraz, if you prefer!) and 20% Viognier. Nicely balanced and delicious, with blackberry, cherry, and spice.

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Cool embossed label!

Ulupalakua Vineyards GSMV

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Photo Credit: MauiWine.com (another one we were so into we forgot to take a picture.)

Not your typical GSM! Grenache, Syrah, Malbec, and Viognier. Big and bold, yet elegant, with violet, blackberry, cranberry, and tobacco notes.

2014 Ulupalakua Vineyards Syrah

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The hurricane wine! Very few bottles remain, and are available only in the tasting room. This is an amazing wine of deep character and flavor. RIpe blackberry and plum, earth and tobacco. Big, bold tannins, with a long, satisfying finish.

We were honored that Joe hosted us as guests of MauiWine. Relatively small in production, with about 30,000 total cases annually, and their estate wine releases range from about 100 to 400 cases each, they are mighty and impressive. Although available for purchase online, they are well worth a visit if you happen to be in Hawaii.

In conclusion, Robyn would like to share her personal impressions:

As we planned for our trip to Maui and our visit to MauiWine, I envisioned that it would be beautiful and unlike any winery I had experienced thus far. I had no idea how understated my vision was. I may be back on the mainland, but I can assure you that my experience has left a lasting impression.

The rich legacy of culture, the majestic grounds, the sense of value for close relationships with staff and customers, and the passion behind how MauiWine came to be, is a hidden treasure.

When Joe explained how the climate is unlike any other traditional grape growing region and that even all the “experts” truly can’t predict the outcome of a crop, I said, “it’s like a big experiment every year?” To which he replied, “exactly”, with a smile on his face!

Like a biography, Joe described the triumph, heartbreak, and thrill, that is MauiWine. The common thread connecting all of them is passion!   

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Mahalo, MauiWine!

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

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

A Visit to LangeTwins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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