Monthly Archives: June 2019

A new generation puts its stamp on Ramey Wine Cellars

 

Ramey Wine Cellars has established itself, over many years, as one of this country’s top wineries.  Founder David Ramey has been in Sonoma County for over 40 years and founded his iconic winery in 1996, focusing primarily of cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and syrah.  He is credited with using Old World methods such as sur lie aging and malolactic fermentation to create the California-style

David and Carla Ramey

chardonnay. 

The winery has recently transformed and a new family generation is working with the established team and winemaking staff to lead Ramey into the future. After graduating from college and being encouraged to pursue their own careers, David and Carla’s children, Claire (28) and Alan (26) were drawn to the family wine business. Today, Claire works with her father, Winemaker Cameron Frey and Associate Winemaker Lydia Cummins in pre-production while Alan handles marketing, trade, consumer tastings and the launch of a multi-tiered wine club. They both have earned the titles of “co-owner.”

I recently had a chance to sit down with the new winemaking team at 25 Lusk in San Francisco to taste their current releases and discuss the future of Ramey Wine Cellars. What better way to do that than to enjoy the pairings of extraordinary food and wine.

The evening opened with a glass of a Lodi-grown 100% kerner from Sidebar, Ramey’s sister label.  Lydia Cummins, who serves as the

2018 Sidebar Kerner Mokelumne River Lodi

winemaker for the sibling brand, explained that the Sidebar 2018 Kerner Mokelumne River ($25) originates from a sub-appellation in the Lodi region, the only planting in California. Its  German origins, where it is primarily blended with other grapes, are defined as a cross between riesling and trollinger, resulting in an aromatic, dry wine with spice overtones. This kerner is whole-cluster pressed, stainless steel aged and may be your best opportunity to experience what the grape has to offer. 

Lydia also spoke of what she called “a harvest spirit” that exists at Ramey, one that nurtures creativity and networking, usually over a glass of wine at the end of the day.  The camaraderie among the staff was obvious as we all enjoyed conversation and some laughs to pair with the kerner.

We assembled in the Ogden Room at 25 Lusk to enjoy dinner paired with two current Ramey chardonnay releases, a pinot noir and a syrah from the Rodgers Creek Vineyard in the Petaluma Gap.  As we were seated, it was pointed out by our server that then POTUS Barack Obama dined in this same room during his second term. 

Pairing caviar served with traditional blini, we enjoyed a 2015 Ramey Chardonnay Woolsey Vineyard ($65), from a Martinelli family owned vineyard, sourced exclusively by Ramey.  Winemaker Cameron Frey explained that sourcing the best grapes is the key to Ramey’s success. This wine is whole-cluster pressed, unfiltered with full malo-lactic fermentation and batonnage, resulting in a nice balance of richness and austerity

Not that it’s all about me, but my favorite wine of the evening was the expressive 2015 Ramey Chardonnay, Rochioli

Rochioli Vineyard

Vineyard Russian River Valley ($65), rich with a bright acidity.  Frey clarified that, although Ramey has been sourcing grapes from this known vineyard for ten years, this is their first single-vineyard release. 

Both white wines enhanced the Artic Char “with sun chokes, chiogga beets, tumeric-ginger kraut, ocean ribbon seaweed, chive sabayon”  as did the young and vibrant 2016 Ramey Pinot Noir Russian River Valley ($50), sourced primarily from the highly respected Bucher Vineyard.

The balance and mouthfeel of this pinot, according to Cameron Frey, is achieved through sur lie aging with monthly stirrings and a light fining with egg whites to soften the tannins. It deserves to be a fixture at the dinner table.

The evening concluded with a 2014 Ramey Syrah Rodgers Creek Vineyard Sonoma Coast ($65) from the cooler Petaluma Gap, co-fermented with 10% viognier and  described as “northern Rhonish” in style. 

Ramey Wines

The layered bouquet and flavors of this wine were best described last year by critic Antonio Galloni: “The Rodgers Creek offers a very appealing interplay of dense fruit and lifted aromatics, with enough structure to develop nicely in bottle for many years to come.”

On this evening, Claire, Alan, Cameron, Lydia and the current releases aptly represented David Ramey’s passion and left an impression that Ramey Wine Cellars will continue to evolve with the “harvest spirit” that founded it. 

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The Sonoma Distilling Company opens its doors to the public

 

Sonoma County, home to some of California’s finest wineries, is beginning to establish itself as a leader in creating premium craft beer and spirits. Stories of new emerging breweries and distilleries now share time and space with those from the vineyards.

One such story is the Sonoma Distilling Company, located in Rohnert Park, a few blocks east of Highway 101, a place that emerged from zeal and perseverance. Founder and Whiskey maker Adam Spiegel, after getting laid off in 2008, decided to become his own boss and pursue a passion for making beer, which evolved into wine, then grappa and, eventually, craft whiskey.

As the distillery has grown from a small building to the new, self-designed Rohnert Park space that includes beautiful stills imported

from Spain and Scotland, Adam has not veered from his original focus to make the best artisan-style whiskeys in the most sustainable

Adam Spiegel with the Forsyths copper still from Scotland

manner possible.

The new and expanded distillery is now complete and the affable Spiegel is ready to re-launch on June 21-23, offering eco-friendly public tours and tastings program.

At the Sonoma Distilling Company, Spiegel produces four craft whiskeys including rye, where he started, cherrywood rye, bourbon and wheat.

Spiegel’s Sonoma Rye Whiskey, aged up to two years, is composed of 80 percent rye grains from Dixon, CA near Sacramento and parts of Canada blended with 20 percent malted rye from the United Kingdom.

Through malting, grains are softened by first soaking in water, then heating them in an attempt to slow germination. Most malted grains are purchased by distillers and Adams spoke of his role in persuading a colleague to conveniently locate his malthouse next door.

Most rye whiskeys have hints of spice. This Sonoma Rye was dry, smooth and Adam suggests flavors of vanilla, allspice white pepper, dried apricot and walnut. He also recommends rye whiskey as the most accommodating in cooking and pairing with food.

Although the Sonoma Distilling Company has an on-site grain smoker, the Sonoma Cherrywood Smoked Bourbon Whiskey contains

Sonoma Cheerywood Smoked Bourbon Whiskey

13 percent cherrywood smoked barley from Wyoming, blended with corn and rye grains.

Smokey hints were evident, but not overpowering. The label on each bottle describes a flavor profile of maraschino cherry, smoke, allspice and vanilla and suggests it as a fine pair with Thanksgiving dinner.

Blending 70 percent corn, 25 percent wheat and some of that Wyoming grown malted barley, the Sonoma Bourbon Whiskey has a leather backbone and well-balanced oak flavors. Possibly my favorite, it had toasty overtones and a finish that slid across the palate like a slow moving slough.

Defined as “Scottish style,” the low-production Sonoma Wheat Whiskey adds 20 percent rye grains for balance. Wheated whiskey must contain at least 51 percent wheat grain and is usually aged in new American oak barrels. This whiskey is aged for three years in used oak followed by an additional four months in cognac barrels.

During the tour, Spiegel was quick to point out that sustainability is a key element to their identity. The

Sonoma Rye Whiskey

distillery is completely powered by wind energy and, it recycles water and uses local, non-GMO grains.

Although the 3,000 gallon custom-made Forsyths copper pot still, the largest in the area, comes from Scotland, his tanks were built in Healdsburg, there is an on-site grain smoker and, with expanded grain plantings in Sonoma County, everything, in time, will be local.

Since 2010, production has increased from 200 gallons to the current level of 1,500 gallons per month. A 9,000 square foot barrel room is under construction across the street from the distillery that will provide aging space to accommodate production levels of up to 25,000 gallons per month.

The Sonoma Distilling Company  is the only whiskey house in California  known to have a tasting room and a plan to bring people together for tours and pours. The $15 per person tasting will include a  tour of the distillery followed by four tasting options, all including three whiskey pours and one cocktail. Each visit will

be limited to 12  people and available, by appointment, at 11 am, 2 pm and 4 pm, Friday through Sunday of each week.

Founder and Whiskey maker Adam Spiegel

Spiegel also plans to re-launch his whiskey club that will provide periodic direct shipments of new releases to members.

In addition to the production of highly regarded whiskey, the Sonoma Distilling Company in Rohnert Park will soon open its doors and provide another  opportunity to taste craft wine and spirits in Sonoma County.

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