Monthly Archives: August 2018

Chilean Pinot Noir

 

Aside from Burgundy in France, we, in California, enjoy the finest pinot noir in the world, sourced from five major appellations: Russian River Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands, The Carneros, Santa Rita Hills and Anderson Valley.  Without borders, Oregon’s Willamette Valley, north to south, would be a fitting sixth.

Although imports from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have challenged the myth that all quality pinot noir must be

Casabalnca Valley Vineyard

expensive, the consistently luscious and textural releases from northern Oregon to northern Santa Barbara keep us loyal with resolved acceptance of their price points.

Another challenger, south of the Equator, may be on the horizon.  Chile, geographically, is a long, thin strip of land along the South Pacific Ocean coast and, in the past decade, there are a growing number of vineyard plantings of pinot noir in the central and northern regions, that offer similar cool-climate growing conditions as those in California and Oregon.

Regions like the San Antonio and Casablanca Valleys, west of Santiago and the Elqui Valley, 250 miles to the north, have generated some excitement with pinot noir releases that are complex, fruit forward and affordable.  

San Antonio and Casablanca are relatively small areas where vineyards are blessed with rocky soils and direct exposure to the cooling forces of the ocean. By contrast, the Elqui Valley lies at the southern end of the Atacama Desert and while enjoying maritime influences, is hotter and, in recent years, been in a drought.

San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Pinot Noir Elqui Valley

Known for producing pisco brandy and table grapes, the Elqui Valley vineyards are now focusing on certain varietals like the San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 ($17), an intense, fruit forward release that I recently tasted.

The color is lighter than most California pinots, but the bouquet was deep red fruit, earth and even had a forest-floor quality.  The flavors were acutely red fruit and earthy with clear, but balanced tannins.

I compared the 1865 with a 2014 Lemelson Vineyards “Thea’s Selection” Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, at three times the price, and found it elegant, but more restrained than the Chilean wine.

Among many Casablanca Valley releases, the Casas del Bosque Pinot Noir Gran Reserva 2016 ($18) offered typical intense aromas of red fruit, but it was more medium-bodied with refined fruit, spice and earth flavors with soft tannins.

With deep mushroom and forest floor tones in the aromas, the 

Cuvelier Atanea Pinot Noir 2015 Casablanca Valley ($15) bursts on the palate with dark fruit and a myriad of earth and savory impressions.  I would pair this wine with lamb as well as salmon.

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From an organic winery in the San Antonio Valley, the 2015 Matetic “Coralillo” Pinot Noir San Antonio Valley ($18) is a very accessible, balanced wine that most palates will enjoy. In awarding this release 90-points, critic James Suckling described it as “fruity and fun” with ample, but forgiving tannins.

 

I have not yet tasted the 2017 Apaltagua Pinot Noir Reserva San Antonio Valley ($15), but the winery has a reputation for brighter

Apaltagua Reserva Pinot Noir San Antonio Valley

fruit driven flavors and descriptions of “roasted coffee bean notes,” along with the price, has me intrigued.

For the price, I found the Ritual Casablanca Valley Pinot Noir 2015 Casablanca Valley ($20)to be an intriguing and delightful wine with pleasant floral hints on the nose, an extraordinary rich mouthfeel and some cranberry fruit on the palate. In addition to the full structure and fresh fruit, James suckling, after awarding it 93-points, aptly described a

Ritual Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley

light chocolate and berry aftertaste.

Most of the Chilean pinot noir releases are expressive and ready to drink now.  As production continues to grow and availability in wine shops and outlets increases, the wines can become an accepted, reasonably-priced alternative for those choosing to explore the alluring “Heartbreak Grape”  outside of the grand California and Oregon releases.

 

  

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Iconic Adelaida Cellars

 

I recently spent some time in Paso Robles visiting old favorites like Adelaida Cellars and Tablas Creek from the Adelaida appellation as well as TH Cellars, a new breed of Rhone producers in the nearby Willow Creek appellation. 

After inquiring about the availability of Tony Hermann, Resident Wine Educator, we started at Adelaida Cellars, with roots going back more than 50 years.  It began when Dr. Stanley Hoffman created the Hoffman Mountain Ranch Vineyard in 1964, after finding ideal

climate and limestone-laden soils to grow his beloved Burgundian and other French varietals. 

In the early 1970s, the neighboring Van Steenwyk Family followed Dr. Hoffman’s lead and began purchasing prime vineyard land like

Sunset over HMR Vineyard

the Viking Estate and, in 1994, the original Hoffman Ranch Vineyard.

Today, Adelaida is still owned by the Van Steenwyk Family and consists of 2,000 total acres, mostly natural hillsides, with 730 acres in walnuts and 180 acres of vineyards. They farm twenty different varietals, mostly Rhone and, recently have added some Portuguese grapes to the high elevation Bobcat Ranch Estate.  Their vineyards are all certified sustainable and yield 9,000 to 12,000 cases annually.

Since my last visit, Adelaida has added a very large, but elegantly appointed tasting facility that include’s member’s lounges, private tasting rooms and a space for wine dinners or wedding receptions. People can even get married on a hilltop bluff with 360-degree views.

Something that has not changed since my last visit is Tony Hermann, who is articulate and knowledgeable and makes any Adelaida tasting experience special.  He is in-demand, but request him anyway.

Winemaker Jeremy Weintraub arrived in 2012.  After receiving a political science degree in New York, he found himself making French

Jeremy Weintraub and Tony Hermann

varietals in Paso Robles, via a Master’s in Viticulture and Enology from UC Davis and some hands-on experience.

Adelaida has evolved in recent years. Their labels now pay homage to the landscape and Jeremy’s tenet to make wine that reflects the land in which it was grown  Some of their standard releases like cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and syrah remain while others are gone, and, to begin, Tony opened two new white Rhone varietals from Anna’s Vineyard: the Grenache Blanc 2016 ($35), aged ten months in neutral oak on its “chateau” yeast and the Picpoul Blanc 2016 ($35), a crisp,  flavorful release and fitting pair with shellfish.

The Adelaida Rose 2017 is also new and is as complex as any Rhone blend with 55% grenache, 14% mourvedre, 13% cinsault, 12% counoise and six percent carignane, except the grapes are picked earlier and the juice has little skin contact.

Pinot noir is extremely rare in Paso Robles, yet the 33-acre HMR Vineyard has some of the oldest low-yield vines on the Central Coast.  The Pinot Noir 2016 HMR Vineyard ($60) is partly whole-cluster fermented, spending 16 months in French oak.  It is Old World in its personality with

Adelaida HMR Pinot Noir

earthy aromas and flavors, spice hints and a nice mouthfeel.

Jeremy loves mourvedre and it is featured in his Anna’s Red 2015 Anna’s Estate Vineyard ($45), uniquely blended with cinsault, counoise, grenache and petit sirah after aging separately.  I found deep, balanced flavors of dark fruit and berry with peppery spice notes. This wine will evolve nicely, but is drinkable now.

In the Côte-Rôtie style, the Adelaida Syrah 2016 ($45), awarded 92-points from Wine Advocate, adds 10% viognier, a white varietal that surprisingly adds flavor and darkens the color of the wine. There is a forest floor quality to the aromas along with dark fruit and spice. Balanced, rich dark fruit, coffee and peppery flavors treat the palate through an extended finish.  

Shatter is something that occurs in grapes that experience some type of weather disturbance during budding, requiring the removal of damaged stock.  As a result, the yield of the Cabernet Sauvignon Adelaida District 2015($35), with added malbec and petit verdot was 50% of normal creating a concentrated wine that is drinkable now.

Adelaida Tasting Center

Most of the grapes for the Cabernet Sauvignon Barrel Select Adelaida District 2015 ($60) comes from the esteemed Viking Vineyard. Added malbec and petite verdot and 20 months aging in 50% new French oak build bold, full-bodied flavors that peak on the finish.    

Iconic in the history of Paso Robles wines, Adelaida Cellars remain on the cutting edge of the future and should not be overlooked on your next visit.


The Viader Story

 

The views are both serene and spectacular, overlooking much of the Napa Valley.  The vines below the outdoor deck seem to fall down the cliffs, quickly out of view. While it is known for producing limited amounts of fine Bordeaux-style wines, the real story behind Viader Vineyards and Winery lies within Winemother Delia Viader, Phd., her determination, persistence, sense of adventure and, of course, winemaking skills.

Armed with a PhD. in philosophy and a Master’s in Business, Delia arrived on Howell Mountain in the late 1980s determined to

Vineyards at Viader

become a farmer, something puzzling to her supportive parents.  She found this alluring, remote mountaintop property that was surrounded by steep cliffs with soil packed between rocks and boulders.

Luckily, she listened to her instincts rather than dozens of experts who told her that clearing the land and planting vineyards on the steepest, rockiest slopes in the Napa Valley was impossible.  It’s easy to say that Delia has carved out a piece of heaven, but she did it one stone at a time.

She has always had help from her son, Alan Viader, who remembers moving rocks from the future vineyards many afternoons after school.  He has worked with his mother ever since and with education and experience behind him, has become the winemaker who oversees all operations.  Delia has become the Wine Mother. She declares, “I’m the mother of the vines, the mother of the wines and the mother of the winemkaker.” 

Alan and I walked the extensive cave system where all the work is done after the grapes are harvested.  Everything at Viader is done in-house, from farming the estate vineyards through labeling the bottles.

The Viader Estate is 92 acres with 28 acres under vine. With the great Bordeaux blends in mind, they originally planted cabernet sauvignon, cabernet Franc and malbec, then later Rhone-style syrah.

Delia and Alan Viader

While the caves smelled of French oak, I noticed a variety of concrete options out near the crush pads. Delia was one of the first in the valley to introduce concrete aging and Viader has many concrete eggs, cones and large vats.  It is trend that is expanding everywhere and many winemakers are pleased with the enhancements that it provides.

I questioned who resolves disputes between Wine Mother and Winemaker.  Apparently, there are very few and those require little strategy to resolve.  Alan said they know what they want and he credits his fine palate to Delia. Both avoid making wines that punch you in the mouth, striving instead toward those that seduce you.

During the first eleven years of Viader, they made only one wine, a signature blend of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc.  Their largest production wine at a sparse 81 barrels, the 2015 Viader Signature ($175) represents the “best of the best” of the cabernet sauvignon (69%) and cabernet franc (31%), blended and aged 24 months in French oak plus another year in the bottle. The Bordeaux-style elegance is up-front, but I found potency in the aromas and rich texture throughout.  

The Bordeaux’s are superb, but it’s nice to make wines in California with the freedom to explore. Delia’s unscientific poll on the 2015 Viader Black Label ($125), with cabernet sauvignon (48%), cabernet franc (21%), malbec (10%) and syrah (21%) finds that it is preferred by the younger members of the family over the traditional Bordeaux-style releases.

Some years ago, eight acres of estate syrah were planted in a new hillside vineyard.  While Alan has led this new twist and the syrah is evident on the nose and palate, the Black Label is still elegantly structured and balanced. Only 30 barrels were produced.

Malbec is featured in the small production 2016 Viader Homenaje ($150), blended equally with cabernet sauvignon.  Homenaje is a tribute to many people as well as the Viader Argentinian roots.  Although it has not been officially released, this unique Bordeaux blend is already exuding the fine character of the other releases.

These are refined wines for discerning palates. However, those wanting to indulge themselves into a memorable Napa Valley wine experience should schedule a private tasting at the Viader’s Howell Mountain estate.  Sitting out on a deck, overlooking the vineyards with views of the valley below, tasting exquisite California wines paired with fine cheeses is where you want to be.  There may be a better way to spend an afternoon, but nothing is coming to mind.


Discover LaRue Wines

 

I wondered, as a drove to meet Katy Wilson at the secluded Emmaline Ann Vineyard in Sebastopol, what would motivate a young winemaker to join the fray of great pinot noir and cool-climate chardonnay production in Sonoma County.  Before I left the vineyard, ninety minutes later, I had my answer.

Katy Wilson, owner/winemaker of LaRue Wines, has had a strategy in place since she crafted a business plan for a small production

Katy Wilson

winery in Agricultural Business 101 at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.  Raised in farming, this could simply be a “she drove a tractor before a car” kind of story, but, a closer look reveals someone who, at a very young age, impressed her colleagues who, in turn encouraged and motivated her to make her own wines.

After stints in the Napa Valley and New Zealand, Katy settled at Flowers Vineyard and Winery on the Sonoma coast, then Kamen Estate Wines in Sonoma. Nine years ago, at age 26, Katy was offered some grapes and decided to launch LaRue Wines, vowing to limit production to 500 cases.  She named her new winery in honor of her great-grandmother, Veona LaRue Newell, who she described as inspirational and unique.

In addition to LaRue, Katy serves as a winemaker for Anaba Wine, Claypool Cellars, Reeve Wines and Smith Story Wine Cellars, all in Sonoma County.

Fine wines begin with great stock and Katy currently sources her grapes from five distinctive vineyards in the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations. Today’s tasting began with her chardonnay release from a known Green Valley of Russian River Valley vineyard that has sourced grapes to Sonoma County icons like William Selyem, Kosta Browne and DeLoach since the early eighties.

The 2016 LaRue “Heintz Vineyard” Chardonnay ($60) expressed floral and mineral notes on the nose with vibrant citrus and stone fruit flavors through the finish.  Aged 17 months in French oak with 50% malolactic fermentation, Katy follows her instincts here,

Heintz Vineyard

that it’s sometimes best to leave the wine alone and let it develop peacefully.  Only 50 cases were produced.

As we tasted, Katy explained that the 2015 LaRue Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($60) had just began to open up during the last few months. Aged 20 months in French oak, 25% new, I found classic aromas of cherry and spice and a very balanced flavor profile and rich mouthfeel. At 240 cases, it represents about 40% of their total production.

With an east facing vineyard located west of Sebastopol that enjoys morning sun, the 2014 LeRue “Thornridge Vineyard” Pinot Noir ($70) used pommard and 115 clone to produce a “powerful, yet elegant” wine with dark stone fruits, berry aromas and  complex, integrated classic flavors.  Production is limited to fifty cases.

I was impressed with all of Wilson’s releases, but thought of the 2014 LaRue “Coastlands Vineyard” Pinot Noir ($80) as special and

LaRue Coastlands Vineyard Pinot Noir

unique, from dirt to drink.  It is uniquely derived from some of the county’s oldest pinot noir vines, grown at 900-1,200 feet elevations, two miles from the Pacific Ocean. It is partly whole-cluster pressed and aged for 32 months in 50% new French oak, which is very unique.

The “Coastlands” bouquet is rustic and earthy, with notes of dark fruit and spice.  The palate is very textural and classically fruit-

forward while the finish hangs on. Only a few barrels of this wine were produced.

Grown on six-acres south of Sebastopol, the grapes sourced for the 2014 LaRue Rice-Spivak Vineyard Pinot Noir ($70) come from volcanic ash soil, rare to this region. This release expressed solid spice and mineral elements along with the classic structure and pinot fruit.

In all the releases, there was a balance that made them very approachable to drink now while understanding that they will continue to mature for years.

Coastlands Vineyard

Since we were sitting in a handsome garden overlooking the vineyard, we ended the tasting with the 2014 LaRue “Emmaline Ann Vineyard” Pinot Noir.  The aromas were spiced and heavy with a forest-floor quality, yet the flavors were crisp and toasted.

My first impressions of LaRue wines were aptly described by the Prince of Pinot, William “Rusty” Gaffney M.D. when he said, “Her wines have a certain transcendent aura that reminds you why you fell in love with Pinot Noir in the first place.”

I plan to explore each vintage of Katy Wilson’s LaRue wines.