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Fifty Years of Secco Bertani Amarone

When winemaker Andrea Lonardi took the stage at September’s Full Circle Beverage Conference in San Francisco to present a tasting of Bertani Amarone Classico, he had what amounted to a Sommelier Justice League by his side: Master Sommeliers Brian Cronin, Tim Gaiser and Peter Granoff, all of whom provided perspective and humor as they tasted through 50 years of Bertani winemaking prowess.

Born and raised in a vine-growing Veronese family, Lonardi began his tenure at Bertani in 2012. Although he didn’t personally make any of the wines that were tasted during the masterclass — the 2008 Amarone was bottled in 2016 — the pride he showed while presenting them was rather paternal. “The wines we are making today will be presented by another winemaker 50 years from now,” he told attendees.

The Birth of Bertani Amarone

Being both modern and ancient, Amarone is a paradoxical style; its rising popularity and commercialization in the 1950s gave the Valpolicella region a wine of true cult status; one that holds its own next to ageworthy Barolos and Brunellos.

Despite the well-worn anecdotes about the “accidental” discovery of the style, Lonardi contests that it was made quite intentionally at Bertani and, as such, the winery is the birthplace of the style. Amarone was first produced by Bertani after they purchased the Tenuta Novare estate in the heart of Valpolicella Classica in 1958. While the label has never changed, Londari credits climate with driving changes in wine style. “Climate change is a positive for the Valpolicella region,” said Lonardi. “But, I’m missing some of the traditional ‘greenness’ in the wines.”

Read the full article here – Bertani50122018

The breath of life

Oxidation is a garden-variety wine fault, one that’s easily recognized and, thankfully, rarely encountered in most commercial wines that are filtered and sulfured before they hit the shelves. Thanks in large part to the modern, reductive school of winemaking – one that follows the “less is more” rule of thumb, commercial wines are more likely to suffer from various forms of reduction rather than from oxidation.

When I’m tasting and evaluating wine for quality and style, wines that demonstrate a liveliness always seem to stand out. I know them when I taste them, they seem to be innervated by some intrinsic quality that’s not listed on any tasting rubric I’ve ever encountered. It’s more than acidity alone. Simply put, they seem “alive.”

Until now I’ve never attributed that superlative quality to anything in particular: it could be ideal vintage conditions, a particular approach to farming or type of soil, or more likely the whole (meaning the totality of the terroir) being greater than the sum of its parts.  Research is ongoing but until we find and demonstrate a direct link between soil and finished wine quality, attempts to quantify the influence these microbiomes have on wine is mere conjecture.

Read the full article here Breathoflife101118

 

Vinexpo Explorer shines global spotlight on Sonoma County, Calif.

Two years ago, the Bordeaux-based trade show Vinexpo, which now exhibits in Hong Kong, New York, and (soon) Paris, broadened its horizons and began touring with groups of influential buyers and press to lesser-known wine regions globally. The mobile version of the show, Vinexpo Explorer, was launched in Vienna last year, and organizers selected Sonoma County, Calif., as its 2018 destination.

Jackson Family Wines CEO Rick Tigner, who sits on the Vinexpo supervisory board, led the effort to bring the group to California, and the two-day showcase, produced by the Sonoma County Vintners, took place September 23 through 25. Events included a welcome reception at Buena Vista Winery, an industry update and global tasting presented by the Wine Institute, masterclasses at the Wine Spectator Learning Center at Sonoma State University, and myriad winery visits and dinners. Buyers also met one-on-one with wineries during fast-paced, “speed tasting” sessions.

Fresh Insights

Vinexpo Explorer presented the gathering of wine buyers and press from 27 countries with an opportunity to take a deep dive into the region and its terroir, personality, and the myriad wine styles produced in Sonoma County. Spirited interviewed some of these buyers, most of whom were first-time visitors to the region, to gather their firsthand impressions of Sonoma County wines.

What surprised Andrew Keaveney, wine buyer for Pembroke Wines (an importer, distributor, and retailer in Dublin, Ireland), was his discovery that, “It’s not just chardonnay!” Keaveney, who was on the hunt for ultra-premium cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir, already sells Schug Carneros Estate wines; he met with that winery along with Ramey Wine CellarsMacMurray Ranch andFrey Vineyards during the speed tasting sessions. With California wines making up 10 to 15 percent of Pembroke’s portfolio, Keaveney’s clientele can be price sensitive, he says, but sales of mid-range imports are performing well. He sees growing interest in Sonoma County when compared to even five years ago.

Heiko Schimeczek is director of fine wine at Carl Tesdorpf, a Hamburg, Germany-based retailer with a second shop in Lubeck. Currently, his company’s website lists only five selections from California, but it caters to an active online wine club of 2,000 members. “We’ve sold Ridge Vineyards and Littorai Wines for 15 years and are specifically looking for Sonoma County crus,” says Schimeczek, who was particularly keen on Vérité, the cabernet franc-dominant Bordeaux blend from winemaker Pierre Seillan, which has achieved cult status.

In contrast to the growing interest in organic and biodynamic wines in the U.S., Schimeczek was matter of fact in saying sustainable production practices are not a factor in ultra-premium and luxury purchase decisions. During the speed tasting session, he was particularly impressed with the quality of Senses Wines and the diversity across the county’s 18 distinct AVAs. “The German market is under the impression that California only produces commercial wines,” he says. “I believe we’ll see growth in demand for California wine—and Sonoma County wine, in particular—when there’s more focus on fine wine.”

Schimeczek pointed to moderate price points as the most challenging for the retailer, as it’s difficult for California to compete with France and Italy at €35 for Bordeaux-style blends. As such, he focuses on sourcing entry-level and luxury wines.

Patrick Andriessen is a wine buyer for Colruyt Group, a “values-driven, family-owned business that’s Germany’s number one wine retailer.” With 5 percent of Germany’s retail wine market, Colruyt owns 550 wine shops and serves both on- and off-premise accounts as well as a robust online wine club. Asked for his general impressions about California wine, Andriessen didn’t mince words: “[Producers] here live in a dream. The domestic market in California is very strong and prices, in general, are high. However, you can invest for quality.” This was his first visit to Sonoma County, and he was favorably impressed with overall wine quality. “The wines were clean and American in style—fruit driven with volume and alcohol—with oak being dominant in many, although less so than 10 years ago.”

According to Andriessen, who’s been with Colruyt for three years, the company has tried several times over the past decade to succeed with California imports; he quickly cites four attempts that dwindled when interest faded due to high cost. And though online wines sales in Germany are growing, he says, the channel is still in its infancy. In Andriessen’s perspective, due to the pressure to compete with online pricing, an online-only model isn’t sustainable. However, the company is placing more emphasis on e-commerce sales, where €30 would be the average price point.

At Dimatique Fine Wines in Jakarta, Indonesia, National Key Account Manager Anastasia Dewi Maweikere works with an impressive portfolio of ultra-premium and luxury brands. “Sonoma County wines are suitable for our market, and demand is growing,” she says. Given her country’s 90 percent import tax though, like Schimeczek, she sees market demand for entry-level wines destined for on-premise accounts and little price resistance in the luxury tier. She was delighted with the quality and style of the wines she tasted during meetings with Donelan Family WinesKosta-Brown WineryMauritson WinesSilver Oak Cellars, and St. Francis Winery & Vineyards.

Caribbean buyer Marian De Vertenil represents Vintage Imports in Trinidad and Tobago, a family-owned business founded in 1996 to serve a wholesale market that was both limited and overpriced. The company sells wholesale and retail, with Burgundy wines being 30 to 40 percent of its business. “Trinidad is very price-driven and Tobago not at all,” says De Vertenil. She was impressed with the wines she tasted from Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery, Alexander Valley Winery, and Seghesio Family Vineyards, calling them “excellent.”

Zinfandel impresses

Sonoma County zinfandel was the variety that took several buyers and Sydney, Australia-based journalist and educator Peter Bourne by surprise. “I began working with California wines as a retailer in the 1980s, and I always thought of zinfandel as a rustic, robust variety,” he says. “The zinfandel wines I’ve tasted during this trip turned my head.”

He was also delighted to find consistency and very high quality across several vintages of pinot noir, saying, “Pinot noir is the variety that’s attracted the Australian market back to California—and to Oregon, as well.” When asked to compare Sonoma County to a region in Australia, Bourne aligned it with the Mornington Peninsula, largely due to maritime influence and varietal diversity.

Canadian Rob Nellis is founder of buyersandcellars.com, a newly launched e-commerce site developed with sommeliers and chefs in mind. A Wine & Spirit Education Trust educator at Vendange Institute in Ottawa, Nellis discovered a work-around to the restrictive import regulations imposed by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO). According to Nellis, five cases of any given wine can bypass the lab tests and long wait times that larger shipments would otherwise spend in customs. When asked about the punitive import duties imposed by LCBO, Nellis, who’s shopping for ultra-premium wines, says, “Above $70 per bottle it simply doesn’t matter.”

“The Russian River Valley AVA has a stronger reputation in the UK fine wine market than Sonoma County as a whole,” says Patrick Schmitt, director of the London-based trade publication The Drinks Business. He also pointed to Seillan’s 2012 Vérité as a wake-up call, describing it as extraordinary. “If asked to name my desert island wine region, I’d have to go with Sonoma County,” he says. Schmitt was clearly smitten with his discoveries and, in particular, noted the wines made by David Ramey.

London-based Sarah Knowles, MW, wine buyer for the Wine Society, a members-only wine club that buys direct and imports, visits the California market every other year. With the Wine Society list focused on Old World regions, Sarah still has a lot of flexibility in making selections for the 25 percent of the list that’s devoted to New World producers.

Taipei, Taiwan resident and owner of Whitetable International, Powell Yang, who, like the majority of buyers, is also an importer, distributor, and retailer, had the final word: “Currently, 15 percent of our portfolio is devoted to wines from California, and we see that percentage growing.” Yang has adopted an event-driven model and hosts blind tastings and dinners to showcase and sell ultra-premium and luxury wines. With Burgundy wines accounting for 60 percent of sales, he was scouting for pinot noir wines above $75. “We’re not seeing much movement in the first growths, and I attribute that price sensitivity to websites like WineSearcher,” he says. “Consumers are now looking to pay a global average price for that caliber of wine, which makes it tough to compete.”

Yang lived in Napa Valley for several years before returning to Taiwan in 2009. During the speed tasting session, he met with Cruse Wine Co.Arista WineryMarcassin Wine Co., Senses Wines, and Three Sticks Wines, looking for wines that can demonstrate to his skeptical clientele that California wines have the ability to age.

As his 2012 Vérité was receiving rave reviews during a final dinner, winemaker Seillan spoke eloquently about his decision to make wine in Alexander Valley. “There’s no limit to the discovery in Sonoma County, a place where we can make the best wine in the world. We’re not competing with or copying Bordeaux, we’re transmitting the message of the terroir.” As a self-professed “servant of the soil,” his remarks struck an emotional chord with the global wine-buying audience, for whom expression of place is clearly a priority.

Until next time

As the Vinexpo Explorers gathered before their final dinner together of the trip, Beaujolais was announced as the location Vinexpo Explorer 2019, slated for late September.

Cabernet with a twist

The practice of finishing whiskey in wine barrels has been around since the 1860s, when scotch producers first utilized Sherry butts as a means of transporting their spirits. But, the tables have now turned and winemakers like James Foster of Stave & Steel currently seek out whiskey barrels – Kentucky bourbon barrels, specifically – as an alternative oak-aging regime for its wines.

This approach is hardly new: By the 1970s, Scotch producers had switched almost entirely from Sherry butts to bourbon barrels. They had also started experimenting with still-wine barrel finishes, although the practice didn’t become an established part of the single-malt market until 2004.  A short decade later, the first whiskey barrel-finished wines – primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Shiraz – hit the shelves.

While wine barrels can add fruitiness, body and even sweetness to whiskeys, it’s what bourbon casks can add to wine that intrigued Stave & Steel’s Foster. Foster who is Senior Director of Super Premium Wine for Livermore, Calif-based The Wine Group selected “freshly dumped” Kentucky bourbon barrels and ran trials with a number of different grape varieties before settling on Cabernet Sauvignon. Stave & Steel is California appellated and Foster sourced from sites in Paso Robles, Lodi and Clarksburg for the 2016 release.

“Even just a few drops of bourbon will kill a glass of wine,” said Foster who knew barrels were the key to achieving the style he was seeking. “There’s a tremendous amount of flavor left in these once used new oak barrels,” he said.  Early entries in the whiskey barrel-aged wine category met with some resistance largely because the flavors were really no different from wines that spent longer periods in standard oak barrels.  After a series of trials, Foster avoided that pitfall and dialed in the right length of time the wine should spend being aged. “There’s definitely a recipe that produces a wine with drinkability and Stave & Steel spends about four months in barrel,” he said.

To determine his ideal wine style, he spent time blind tasting through the category where he saw a wide range of styles – from weak to swamped by bourbon and with many wines unbalanced to alcohol.  “I start with a lower alcohol red wine because we’ll see a .5 to one percent increase in alcohol from even a very brief time in barrel.”  The resulting wine is crafted in a style that appeals to tolerant tasters – those who enjoy rich, round, bold but balanced flavors – many of whom are women.

As to why consumers find a bourbon barrel-aged wine so appealing, the bourbon category itself provides some answers. Since 2010 American enthusiasm for bourbon has grown by leaps and bounds; growth that is largely attributed to the renaissance of cocktail culture and Millennials who are keenly interested in home entertaining and amateur mixology.

With the female demographic of whiskey’s consumer base growing much faster than the male, the industry is scrambling to appeal to female consumers with flavored whiskey products. As such, whiskey flavored-wine is a natural fit for women who want bolder flavors.

According to Foster, what sets Stave & Steel apart is the fact that its 100 percent bourbon barrel aged which isn’t the case for brands that may rely on only a small percent of barrel-aged wine in their blend. This technique contributes aromas of vanilla, caramel, smoke and some wood tannins that add more structure to the wine. Vanilla is one of America’s favorite aromas and flavors. It’s one we never seem to tire of and it’s the biggest draw for lovers of oak aromas and flavors in wine.

Because it spends less time in barrel, there’s plenty of primary fruit like macerated cherries, dark plums and ripe blackberries apparent along with secondary notes of umami and brown spices. Quite intentionally it’s difficult to detect any burn from alcohol although the boost the wines gets from the barrel seems to amplify and extend the finish.

A native of Eufaula, Alabama, the picturesque town depicted in the movie Sweet Home Alabama, Foster grew up on the Roseland Plantation and spent his summers in California working alongside his father in a winery. As Head Winemaker at Concannon, Foster also oversees winemaking at historic winery in Livermore and knows his way around a Cabernet Sauvignon vine.  With an estimated 80 percent of California’s 90,000 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon planted to the Concannon Cabernet clones 7, 8 and 11 they form the backbone of the Cabernet industry in California.

Considering Foster’s upbringing, it’s no coincidence that he feels completely at home aging a Cabernet Sauvignon in a bourbon barrel. “I’ve made wine all over the world and I think there’s plenty of room for experimentation,” said Foster. “Bourbon barrel aging is a twist that can reinvent premium Cabernet Sauvignon.”

 

 

 

Big data supports expert wine tasters

In the course of developing software for predicting consumer wine preferences, a Houston-based start up, VineSleuth, shed new light on the abilities of expert wine tasters and the validity of blind tasting assessments. Contrary to popular belief, the company’s VineSleuth metrics, which are based on the work of Chief Science Officer Michael Tompkins and his team, reveal that tasters can consistently identify aroma and flavor characteristics in blind wine evaluations.

“We have extensive experimental data which support that expert evaluators have the capacity to precisely identify wine characteristics in blind repeat samples,” said Tompkins whose work spans thirteen years in the field of numerical methods. “During the course of our experiments, our vetted evaluators repeat sample characteristics about 90% of the time,” he says.

Michael Tompkins

VineSleuth’s data directly confronts the popular misconception that consistent sensory evaluation of wine is a random occurrence. In developing an algorithm designed to help consumers make wine selections based on personal preference, the company has established a benchmark based on the results of its top-performing tasters (including this author) and intends to use those data to vet future tasters who participate in ongoing research and product  development.

 

Amy Gross

CEO and co-founder Amy Gross stepped forward with the company’s findings in advance of a beta release of the Wine4.Me smartphone application, wine ranking engine and website in response to several blog posts which inferred a general lack of expert repeatability based on a study conducted by winery owner Robert Hodgson and published in the Journal of Wine Economics in 2009. Hodgson’s study which calls to light the inconsistencies between wine competition results has been widely misinterpreted casting doubt on the abilities of highly-trained wine professionals including those who participated in VineSleuth’s research.

The relevance of Hodgson’s 2009 study-one that relies on highly subjective data and the work of evaluators who are not equally qualified to the task-has been called into question by VineSleuth’s findings. “Just because panelists in wine competitions can’t repeat results doesn’t mean that individual experts are not able to repeatedly identify a wine’s aroma and flavor characteristics and their intensities in blind samples,” said Tompkins, who relied on experimental and statistical methodologies used in the field of sensory science as the basis for VineSleuth’s data acquisition and analyses. “We’re confident that our methodology is statistically valid and we’re eager to see it applied,” says Tompkins.

 

A tranquil moment with Didier Depond

In a rare tête-a-tête, The SOMM Journal joined Didier Depond, President of the Champagne houses Salon and Delamotte, for an effervescent lunch featuring their current releases at San Francisco’s Piperade.

We began with the superbly chalky 2008 Delamotte, which hails from just six Grand Cru villages. The 100 percent Blanc de Blanc brims with texture and ripe golden apple notes, and after observing the intensity of fruit on the mid-palate, I queried Depond on the risk climate change poses to the houses’ iconic style. He was quite circumspect in his response: “The culture of the vineyards in Champagne relies on balance, and we will balance them with this shift.”

Despite more extreme weather events like the freak hailstorms earlier this year, warming temperatures in this marginal growing region may in fact work to the advantage of Champagne producers. Addressing the elephant in the room, we discussed the hotly debated expansion of the Champagne AOP area by an additional 5 percent. “Historically, these approved areas were under vine,” Depond said. “And, despite what you’ve read, there is only minor dissent among the members of the CIVC [Le Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne]. I’m really very pleased.” The additional area gives the AOP some breathing room, as demand and supply previously ran neck and neck.

Depond and I then tasted the 2007 Salon: The wine exudes liquid minerals at first taste, showing notes of fresh dough and caramelized salted butter—described by Depond as “caramel au beurre salé”— with a thread of delicate white peach. There’s a singular sensation in the mouth that leaves lemon and lime zest clinging to the lips, lengthening an innervated finish. “The wine was decanted and held at temperature,” said Depond, who advocates for letting Salon catch its breath for up to two hours before service.

Caught off guard, I questioned his decision to forgo most of the bubbles, but he persisted and pointed out that I described the wine as “innervated” despite it being almost tranquil in the glass. “It was a very high compliment indeed when [Domaine de la Romanee-Conti co-director] Aubert de Villaine observed that we had made a very fine Burgundy,” he added.

Well-known as a man of his word, Depond says the 2008 Salon—a relatively small vintage produced only in magnum—will release in late 2019 after both of his highly allocated brands made their way to the fine dining scene in Malaysia earlier this year. Find the pdf here Depond Aug-Sept2018pdf

Natural cork, a scapegoat for wine defects

When wine professionals encounter a sensory deviation in wine and the offending molecule isn’t obvious, cork often takes the blame by default. While not every taster is capable of decoding a library of aromas at the molecular level, the ability to detect basic defects like Brettanomyces, volatile acidity, and Trichloroanisole (TCA) is fundamental to objectively assessing wine quality.

During a recent sensory exercise conducted by Ana Cristina Lopes Cardoso, Research and Development Manager at Cork Supply Portugal, a group of trained tasters among them top Irish sommelier Julie Dupouy-Young and myself—were tasked with identifying TCA in wine at levels of 1, 2, and 4 parts per trillion (ppt/ng/l).

Lopes Cardoso staged a series of Duo-Trio tests in which one of three samples acts as the control to be matched. Not surprisingly, all the tasters could detect TCA, which has a very low threshold of 3–5 ppt—though very few tasters could find it at 1 or 2 ppt.

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Ana Cristina Lopes Cardoso, Research and Development Manager at Cork Supply Portugal, leads a sensory training.

Things got even more interesting when the tasters were also confronted with samples that had been heavily doctored with five different molecules that emulate TCA, including 1-Octen-3-ol, which smells distinctly of mushroom; geosmin, which is associated with the smell after a rainstorm; and 2,4,6-Trichlorophenol (TCP), a TCA precursor with a specific but hard to-detect chemical odor.

“For example, when analysis shows the presence pentachloroanisole (PCA) and TCA occurring together in wine, TCA is the source of the sensory deviation but cork isn’t the source of the contamination,” said Lopes Cardoso who points to winery hygiene, insecticides and building materials like insulation as the culprits.

Despite the existence of research identifying contamination molecules from production and storage premises for the past 25 years, it’s easy to see why cork takes the rap when other moldy or earthy-smelling molecules are present at detection thresholds: The majority of tasters simply can’t identify or differentiate between them. As the cork industry rushes to employ automated sensing equipment designed to weed out TCA-contaminated natural corks, it’s rare to find technologies currently available that screen for TCA and other “off-aromas.”

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Cork Supply President/founder Jochen Michalski and author.

According to Cork Supply President/founder Jochen Michalski, this makes the Northern California–based company’s service the most rigorous available in the marketplace today. During a process Cork Supply has developed called Dry Soak 100 (DS100), which analyzes the headspace of heated cork, natural corks are subject to a rigorous round of sensory evaluation by at least three human sensors. “Although we’ve also developed an automated technology to screen corks called DS100+, I still have more confidence in our human sensory DS100 screening method,” Michalski says. “With DS100 we’re also able to remove any other off-aromas.”

But it’s the latest research on corklins—compounds found in cork that react with flavonoids in wine to protect color and reduce astringency over time—that’s shifting the cork industry’s focus on sensory neutrality. Researchers are using near-infrared spectroscopy to grade corks and oak staves from low to high according to the amount of phenols they will release into wine. Given the cork industry’s speedy adoption rate of technologies that add value to their products, winemakers may soon have another criterion—phenolic content—to consider when selecting grades of cork.  See the SOMM Journal pdf – S&A Aug-Sept2018

Micro-lot Cabernet from Napa’s rockiest site

Cobbles reminiscent of the kind you find in the Southern Rhône aren’t the first thing you typically encounter in a Napa Valley vineyard. At Game Farm vineyard, owned and managed by Alex Vyborny and son Ben, it’s what differentiates their site from many others in Oakville. That cobbled terroir drew Goosecross Cellars winemaker Bill Nancarrow who sources fruit for the independent C. Elizabeth brand to the site like a bee to honey.
A micro lot of Game Farm vineyard, Rock Pit’s cobbles are atypical for Napa Valley.
PHOTO: DEBORAH PARKER WONG
Nancarrow first discovered the Rock Pit Cabernet Sauvignon parcel, a micro lot within the 40-acre Game Farm vineyard that lies directly below the Rector Creek Dam, when he was making wine at neighboring Duckhorn. “The vineyard has two different soil types,” said Nancarrow. “It’s a mix of wash composed of large stones and ferrous volcanic soils with a high iron content.”  The vineyard takes its name from the State Bird Farm that once occupied the site and where thousands of pheasants, quail and partridges were raised annually and then “planted” throughout California.
Clone 7 Cabernet Sauvignon intended for C. Elizabeth 2017 just weeks from harvest.
PHOTO: DEBORAH PARKER WONG
The unique terroir of the Rock Pit is the result of both natural and manmade forces. The alluvial wash that was thrown down by Rector Creek over time as it flowed down the Vaca mountains and across the valley floor was revealed when top soil was scrapped from the site to construct the Rector Dam. Rector Creek was dammed in 1946 to provide a water source for the Napa State Hospital and the Veterans Home.
Rock Pit, also called the Lower Boulder Field, is the rockiest micro lot within the Vyborny’s Game Farm vineyard. It’s planted to Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 7 with vines that are now 20 to 25 years old.  Nancarrow began making C. Elizabeth for husband and wife vintners Christi Coors Ficeli and Dave Ficeli in 2014, and 200 cases have now been released directly from the winery through allocation at www.celizabeth.com.
C. Elizabeth vintners Christi Coors Ficeli and Dave Ficeli with their inaugural release.
PHOTO COURTESY OF C. ELIZABETH
For the C. Elizabeth “Game Farm” Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($125), Nancarrow selected water-bent barrels from two different American oak coopers and used 55 percent new oak. The bottling is a barrel selection and the finished wine shows dusty red and black currant, dark cherry, roasted walnuts, bittersweet cocoa and cinnamon with a black-fruited mid-palate and salty, black licorice finish.
C. Elizabeth Cabernet Sauvignon hails from Napa’s rockiest site.
PHOTO COURTESY OF C. ELIZABETH
“Wines from this site typically show more floral aromatics and have dense, creamy tannins that are attributed to the ferrous soils,” says  Nancarrow.
C. Elizabeth is a deeply personal labor-of-love collaboration for Christi and Dave. It’s a project that the wine industry veterans have dreamt about for more than a decade and one that came to fruition when they signed on Bill Nancarrow to produce the wine. “We’ve nurtured this project for many years and to see our first release being enjoyed by family and friends is so rewarding,” said Coors Ficeli.
With 2015, 2016 and 2017 C. Elizabeth Cabs in barrel there’s more Rock Pit in the pipe line.  According to Nancarrow, “2015 was a vintage for reds and the site showed its classical side with tobacco and more grip.” While it slumbers in the cellar, the 2016 is close behind with tangy, plumy fruit and a whiff of oregano. “This site responds very well to American oak; it frames but doesn’t mask the character of the vintage.”

Lodi home to California’s best wine value

Collier Creek 2016 Front Coach Chardonnay is, by all accounts, a first class
ticket for the price of coach. With a retail price of $9.99, you might assume that massive amounts of this wine are being produced but winemaker Susana Rodriguez Vasquez made just 5,000 cases.

This stand-alone brand resides under the umbrella of Lodi’s Peltier Winery and Vineyards which has a solid track record of over delivering in quality for value and this year’s Best Value Wine is no exception. According to Rodriguez Vasquez, Front Coach Chardonnay is deeply lemon-hued and very aromatic with pear, peach and pineapple aromas that indicate a riper style. She describes the wine as full-bodied with bright fruit flavors, a round mouthfeel and a crisp green apple and citrus finish. “This is a refreshing, fruit forward style that’s stainless steel fermented and because it hasn’t undergone malolactic fermentation it doesn’t have any buttery flavors,” she said.

In crafting Front Coach Chardonnay, Rodriguez Vasquez relies entirely on fruit quality and purity because she’s not using oak or manipulating the wine to mask or enhance flavors. She sources Chardonnay from the winery’s Lewis Ranch, an Elk Grove estate that lies in the northern-most part of Lodi’s Alta Mesa sub AVA. The site benefits from cooling delta winds that blow from the nearby Sacramento River creating what is deemed a perfect micro climate for growing wine.

Vineyard manager and proprietor, Rodney Schatz farms the estate according to the Lodi Rules for sustainable wine growing, a certification program that relies on no less than 120 standards and is being adopted by wine growing regions around the world. Rodriguez Vasquez believes the quality of the Collier Creek wines is “a clear reflection of a healthy vineyard and these agriculture practices.” While there’s no question that meticulous farming costs more, Peltier Winery is able to machine harvest the vineyard which helps keep costs down for consumers.

Working with such high quality fruit also means less intervention in the winery for Rodriguez Vasquez. Collier Creek Wine Co. was introduced in 2016 to honor the Lodi Appellation by third generation wine growers Rodney and Gayla Schatz. The brand includes five varietals: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and Merlot. The Schatz family farms over 1200 acres in Lodi and they made the leap from grower to vintner when they bottled their first wines in 2005.

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Winemaker Susana Rodriguez Vasquez

Bolivian-born Rodriguez Vasquez spent the previous ten years working with E & J Gallo and Constellation Brands working with fruit from all over California and New Zealand before joining the Peltier team as winemaker in 2016. She’s approaching her third harvest with the winery and couldn’t be happier with the reception the value brand is receiving, “We are very excited with the Collier Creek product line, and we are happy to see it grow so rapidly.” Collier Creek Front Coach Chardonnay is available at retailers across the United States.

Picchetti Winery scores big with 2017 Sauvignon Blanc

At first glance, this ethereal Sauvignon Blanc which is described by Mike Bruzus, associate winemaker at Picchetti Winery, as “almost color less, the palest straw” could be mistaken for water. But from the moment your nose comes within a few inches of the glass, there’s a rush of aromas, a jumble of fragrance that includes pink grapefruit, pineapple, gooseberry, honeydew melon, guava, lychee and mineral notes of wet rocks and saline. A precursor of what’s to come when you taste it and a certain indicator that this isn’t a “simple” wine.

picchetti ranch engagement session

Mike Bruzus, Picchetti winery

Consulting Winemaker, Craig Roemer sources the Picchetti Sauvignon Blanc from the Cedar Lane Vineyard in the Arroyo Secco AVA. He attributes the complexity and intensity of this wine to a combination of the perfect match between clone and the unique growing conditions there and to attentive winemaking.

The Cedar Lane vineyard began life in the 1980s as a rootstock nursery that was eventually grafted over to Sauvignon Musque, Pinot Noir and Syrah in 2000 when grower and winemaker Mark Chesebro and his partners took it in hand.

According to Chesebro, he and other growers have preserved the Sauvignon Musque clone in Arroyo Secco because, as evidenced by the Picchetti bottling, “it delivers more complex and exciting flavors at a lower brix level than other Sauvignon Blanc clones which are very vegetal until they are over ripe.” Reason enough to persevere with a clone deemed “virused” and unceremoniously removed from the Foundation Plant Services registry.

Flavors of the Best of Show White mirror its aromas but are dialed up, amplified and racy. The wine is instantly mouth coating with layers of acidity from key lime, gooseberry, tart pineapple, candied Meyer lemon, white peach, honeydew and a persistent, citrus-driven finish.

Having stellar raw materials to work with is certainly an advantage but a wine of this caliber can’t exist without the intention of the winemaker. In a serendipitous twist of fate, Bruzus who mowed the lawn and helped in the tasting room at Picchetti while he was in high school returned there as associate winemaker in 2015. A graduate of Cal Poly, San Louis Obispo, he was previously an assistant winemaker at Chamisal Vineyards and for Tooth & Nail Winery making wine from the  Murmur Vineyard in Santa Maria and vineyards in Paso Robles.

At Picchetti, The Pantling Family’s primary focus is organically-farmed Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and “Picchetti clone” head trained, dry farmed Zinfandel from vines planted in 1896 by the original Picchetti family on Montebello Road. “We specialize in diversity,” said Bruzus who sources a wide range of varieties from small vineyards in Arroyo Seco, Carneros, Paso Robles, Clements Hills, and Santa Clara Valley. “When our club members come to pick up their wine shipments on a quarterly basis, the wine list is almost completely different from the last time they visited.”

The winery makes 8,000 cases of wine a year and sells only from the website and tasting room which is housed in a historic cave and masonry barn nestled in the foothills of the Santa Cruz.