Category Archives: Art and Sculpture

Donum Estate Pairs Wine With Art

 

A mid-week pinot noir tasting at Donum Estate, in the heart of the Carneros, quickly turned to an experience that exceeded all my expectations. Entering the property from Ramal Road, we were greeted by Sanna, Giant Head, a huge white sculpture by Jaume Plensa that was peaceful and welcoming. Today would be about pinot noir and art, the latter in the form of magnificent sculpture gardens. As

Sanna, Giant Head by Jaume Plensa

a special treat, we had the opportunity to walk the estate with President/Winegrower Anne Moller-Radke.

Mollar-Radke first arrived on this property in 1981 after German investors purchased what was then the Buena Vista Winery.  In 2001, she sold Buena Vista and began Donum Estate with the single focus of making extraordinary pinot noir and chardonnay in the Burgundian-style.  Since the purchase by investors in 2011, Donum Estate, with Anne still at the helm, has evolved to produce highly reviewed wines from vineyards in three distinct appellations and assemble sculptures by world-class artists like Yayoi Kusama, Ai Weiwei and Louise Bourgeois.

Anne Mollar-Radke, President and Winegrower

Before tasting the pinot noir, we were welcomed with a glass of 2015 Donum Estate Carneros Chardonnay to accompany our walk through the vineyards and grounds.  The only chardonnay produced, this vintage is aged in 40% new French oak with no malolactic fermentation, but stirred on lees regularly over four months. With citrus and floral hints on the nose, the rich stone fruit flavors finish with pleasant honey notes.

Glass in hand, we walked to the “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads” by Ai Weiwei, with the carved head of each symbol atop a pole in a circular ring of wild grasses and daffodils.

Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads by Ai Weiwei

Before entering the small building that solely housed Bourgeois’s haunting “Spider,” we passed by the compassionate “Care For Oneself,” a large stainless steel depiction of a strong, healthy man, holding his sick, weakened self.

“Care For Oneself” by

Inspired, we trekked up the hill to sculptor Richard Hudson’s “Love Me,” a huge stainless steel, three-dimensional heart that mirrors back alluring distorted images of the surrounding terrain. Returning to the modern, chic tasting center by way of the “Contemporary Terracotta Warriors” by Yeu Minjun, we met up with our host, Phillipe Herrarte, who would guide us through today’s pouring. The afternoon sun was warm after a light morning rain, so Phillipe opened the entire south-facing wall exposing a view of vineyards, outlaying marshlands and, in the distance, the new San Francisco skyline. I can get used to this.

All the Donum Estate pinot noir that we tasted was exceptional, but that would and should be expected from a team with this pedigree. Today was special.  At one sitting, we savored and

“Love Me” by Richard Hudson

compared flavors and nuance from three-fifths of California’s best pinot noir producing regions:  Carneros, the Russian River Valley and the Anderson Valley to the far north.

We began with two releases from the Carneros estate.  The 2014 Donum Estate Carneros Pinot Noir is blended from the best of three blocks while the earthy, single block 2014 Donum Estate Carneros West Block Pinot Noir, from arguably the best terroir in the appellation, delivered a spiced, red fruit and cherry bouquet with rich, layered flavors and a drawn-out finish.

Farmed by Anne since its inception in 1997, the Winside Vineyard is the source for the

Donum Estate pinot noir

2014 Donum Estate Russian River Reserve Pinot Noir, combining Pommard and Dijon 667 clones, aged in 71% new French oak.  Very aromatic, the red fruit flavors are acute, but nicely structured with a forest floor element through the finish.

Mendocino County’s Angels Camp Vineyard, near the Pacific Ocean, is planted with ten different clones, seven of which were used in the 2014 Donum Estate Angel Camp Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir.  Aged separately, the best barrels were selected and blended before bottling. The rich flavors were ripe and spirited with definite

Donum Estate vineyard

oak influences. I would definitely recommend all the wines, but when asked, I chose to re-visit the Russian River Valley Reserve.

Donum Estate is building a new production facility that will bring the entire operation on-site.  The experience here is rare; there is no other like it in the region.  It also brings the exclusivity that befits such a property.  Due diligence is required to decide if it’s all for you.  As for me, I want to go back soon.

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Pairing Imagery

 

Life is good. On a Tuesday evening, I explored the emerging Dogpath neighborhood in San Francisco, was introduced to young entrepreneurs and enjoyed a sublime dinner at Studio Table hosted by Jamie Benziger to introduce her new tier of Imagery wines.

After discovering that we were neighbors in Santa Rosa, Jamie, 29,  and I discussed her new endeavor.  She was passionate and articulate in describing  her wines and their target markets. Yes, she is the daughter of Joe Benziger who started the Benziger winery thirty-five years ago.  The children, however, don’t get special treatment and are expected to earn any role that they play in the business

New Tier of Imagery wines

Jamie’s story is one of a young woman who grew up in the wine industry, went off to study at Loyola Marymount University before transferring to Sonoma State to study wine marketing.  She has paid her dues inside and outside the family business, including a stint in New Zealand, and is now partnering with her dad to create tasteful, affordable, food-friendly wines intent on broadening the palates of the next generation or anyone seeking a good value enhancement to their next dinner party table.

By all accounts, she has succeeded. From my perspective, the pivotal needs of her market have been addressed:  artistic labels,(c’mon,

how many of us have purchased wine solely for the label art?), screw caps that fit the modern lifestyle better than corks, affordability

Jamie Benziger

($16.99 per bottle) and complex wines that leave you with that “big bang for my buck” feeling.  Let’s speak to the wine in the context of the food pairing with comments by me and Chef Ben Roche.

 

First Course

Wine: 2016 Imagery Sauvignon Blanc

Winter Nicoise — “a hearty salad of frisee, scallops, and potato cream to complement the minerality and citrusy acidity of the Sauvignon Blanc.”

The sauvignon blanc blends 20% muscat from Lake County.  In the New Zealand-style, I found floral notes on the nose and  balanced, fruit-forward flavors with hints of grapefruit and a soft mouthfeel.  I enjoyed it solo as an introductory wine and with the scallops in potato cream.

Second Course

Wine: 2016 Imagery Chardonnay

Butter-poached vegetables, buttermilk and Buddha’s Hand  — “a buttery-but light dish with a floral touch bring out the mineral-forward quality of this unusual Chardonnay.”

The blended chenin blanc adds to the crispness and citrus elements of this wine that paired well with the vegetables.

Third Course

Wine:  2016 Imagery Pinot Noir

Pancetta & Leek Quiche with cabbage and caviar — “rich, caramelized pancetta and eggs from the land and the sea make this Pinot Noir sing.”

The addition of 20% petit verdot to pinot noir is unusual, but here it adds structure and body while softening the tannins for an accessible wine.  A terrific value.

Pancetta ans Leek Quiche was cabbage and caviar

Fourth Course

Wine: 2016 Imagery Cabernet Sauvignon

Duck Breast with cherry, mushroom, spinach — “earthy, savory flavors, bright cherry puree and robust duck come together for this big Cabernet.”

The enhanced spice element from the blended 15% petit sirah is evident throughout and there are soft “code blue” and cherry notes on the palate.  It would be difficult to find a better cab under $20.

Fifth Course

Wine: Port

Hazelnut Brownie with goat cheese and raisins — “a rich and savory dessert, finished with olive oil and a sprinkle of flakey sea salt, help the chocolate and dried fruit notes of this delightful port shine”.

This is a Sonoma County non-vintage blend of zinfandel, petite sirah and touriga nacional that is shipped direct to consumer.  The high 18% alcohol level was balanced and paired well with both the sweet and savory aspect of the dessert.

Studio Table is located in the loft and working studio of artist Heather Day. She has partnered with Michelle Wei and Chef Ben Roche in creating a unique, artistic fine dining concept with stated goals “to challenge expectations and create conversations.”  Jamie’s wines, with the design representation of a drop of paint running

Imagery wines at Studio Table

down the label, matched the elegance of the table with Heather’s hand-painted menus.

These are the finest $16.99 food-friendly wines that I have tasted in a long while.  The new tier of Imagery releases will help to grow interest in wine through good taste, quality and value.  I recommend that you try them.


Hall Wines: A Sustainable Experience

 

Hall Wines from St. Helena in the Napa Valley is, without question, an upscale winery.  Most wines retail for well over $100.,the outdoor sculpture collection is exquisite and they offer  a variety of specialized tastings, tailored to individual preferences and pocketbooks.  This place is accessible, friendly and inviting to all guests, but for those who choose to invest in a membership, the entire estate becomes an oasis for serious wine drinkers who also

"Bunny Foo Foo" by Lawrence Argent

“Bunny Foo Foo” by

enjoy art, sculpture, stunning natural landscapes, surrounding vineyards and events that help pair extraordinary wines with culinary delights.  On a beautiful, late summer afternoon, we sought to discover the Hall experience that began with “Bunny Foo Foo,”  a 35-foot high stainless steel rabbit by artist Lawrence Argent, leading us, full stride to the old Bergfeld Winery property .

I first encountered Hall Wines in 2012, shortly after the buzz was created when Wine Spectator magazine awarded the Hall Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Kathryn Hall 2008 a 96-point rating, placing it #2 on their Top Wines of 2011 list.  Each vintage since, including the 2013 which is still in the barrel, has achieved ratings in the high 90s.  An extraordinary wine named for an extraordinary woman.

Vintner Kathryn Walt Hall, who owns Hall Wines with her husband, Craig, was first exposed to viticulture when her parents purchased a vineyard years ago, sourcing grapes to various vintners. Kathryn later managed the family vineyard and the Halls still produce wines under the WALT label

Outside of wine, Kathryn has had an esteemed personal and professional career beginning with an economics

Craig and Kathryn Hall

Craig and Kathryn Hall

degree and MBA from UC Berkeley, a JD from Hastings School of Law, stints in municipal and corporate law and, from 1997 to 2001 service as United States Ambassador to Austria under the Clinton Administration.  While working as an attorney and businesswoman in Dallas, TX, Kathryn carried on her passionate commitment to public office and community service with an extensive list of achievements.

Our first taste of “Kathryn’s Cab” since the noble vintage 2008 came in the barrel room with the 2013 HALL Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Kathryn Hall, a wine that is at least a year from release.

Although it will spend another six months in the barrel, still another six months in the bottle, this wine had the maturity of many wines already on outlet shelves.  The tannins were present but had softened considerably while young, complex flavors foreshadowed possible greatness

Described as a “hopeless entrepreneur,” Craig Hall has been forming businesses since he was a kid mowing lawns.  He

2012 HALL "Ellie's" Cabernet Sauvignon

2012 HALL “Ellie’s” Cabernet Sauvignon

parlayed an early investment in a small apartment complex into a real-estate empire and, eventually the Hall Financial Group.  Aside from their successful careers, the both Kathryn and Craig remain committed to a better community with multiple efforts and contributions recognized on a global scale.

With vision in hand, the Halls purchased the historic Bergfeld Winery (circa 1859) in 2003, intent on honoring

Historic Bergfeld Winery building

Historic Bergfeld Winery building

the land with an environmentally efficient operation, great art and architecture and, foremost, first-class wines. Through sensitivity and innovation, Hall became the first winery in California to attain a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification as a fully sustainable facility.  What is most impressive is that they have achieved it all without sacrificing design or quality in any aspect of the operation.

"Mouton Transhumandt

“Mouton Transhumant” by Francoise

Part of the Hall aesthetic is the art, both indoor and out. Carrying on the animal theme set by “Bunny Foo Foo’s entry way greeting, access to the tasting room/production facility requires passage by sculptors Francois-Xavier Lalanne’s whimsical sheep, “Mouton Transhumant” and John Baldessari’s recent, blue-eyed “Camel (Albino) Contemplating Needle,” both setting the mood to taste some exceptional wine.

Camel (Albino) Contemplating a Needle

Camel (Albino) Contemplating a Needle

 

Winemakers know that it all starts in the vineyards and at Hall, the best stock of all organic grapes sets the tone and precise viticulture delivers the result.  This was evident in the 2012 HALL “Ellie’s” Cabernet Sauvignon ($80), a Cabernet Sauvignon (79%)/Merlot (21%) blend named for Craig’s mother who was a WWII Navy veteran and navigator on a ship.  Merlot fosters softness to the young wine, with floral and herb influences that coexist with flavors of black currants, earning a 92-point rating from Wine Spectator’s James Laube.

 

The art and wine theme continues in a very unlikely fashion with the dense 2012 HALL “Jack’s Masterpiece” Cabernet Sauvignon ($125) which originates from several vineyards in the Napa Valley.

HALL Cabernet Sauvignon "Jack's Masterpiece" 2013

HALL Cabernet Sauvignon “Jack’s Masterpiece” 2013

The wine results from current HALL President Mike Reynolds’ annual honing of his winemaking skills.  With plenty of spice on the nose and palate, it delivers a creamy, chewy mouthfeel and rich flavors heavily influenced by 24 months in new French oak.  The label of this luscious, soft Cabernet adorns “Jack’s Masterpiece,” a drawing by Reynolds 18-month old son as a Father’s Day gift; a clear improvement over my plaster “hand print” wall hanging.

Taking a break from these alluring Cabernet Sauvignons, we tasted two pinot noir varietals from the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County, produced under their WALT label.

Offering very forward cherry and boysenberry flavors, the 2013 WALT Pinot Noir “Blue Jay” Anderson Valley ($40) has a rich mouthfeel with hints of baking spices.  Our host, Colin, suggested that this wine surprisingly pairs well with BBQ ribs.

2013 WALT "Blue Jay" Pinot Noir Anderson Valley

2013 WALT “Blue Jay” Pinot Noir Anderson Valley

Recently awarded 92-points by Wine Spectator, extraordinary bouquet and classic flavors reward those who taste the 2013 WALT Pinot Noir “The Corners” Anderson Valley ($75).  From a vineyard near Booneville, the complexity and depth of the aromas and distinctive flavors places

2013 WALT Pinot Noir "The Corners" Anderson Valley

2013 WALT Pinot Noir “The Corners” Anderson Valley

it among the higher echelon of the varietal in California.

Hall wines, mostly Bordeaux varietals, come from over 500 acres under vine among five unique estate vineyards ranging in location from the valley floor, the Pope Valley to the northeast, Sonoma County and the nearby Vaca Mountains.

Bergfeld Vineyard

Bergfeld Vineyard

The St. Helena Valley historic Bergfeld Vineyard that surrounds the winery was first planted in 1859 by sea-captain, William Peterson who later sold it to the Bergfeld family.  The hot valley floor with surrounding mountains as a gorgeous backdrop creates the perfect terroir for Cabernet Sauvignon and a testament to our final wine.

Just days before its release, we were able to experience the premium 2012 HALL “Kathryn Hall” Cabernet Sauvignon ($150), recently rated with 97-points by Wine Advocate’s Robert

2012 HALL "Kathryn Hall" Cabernet Sauvignon

2012 HALL “Kathryn Hall” Cabernet Sauvignon

Parker.  Sourced from the Bergfeld and Sacrashe Vineyard in nearby Rutherford, this Cabernet Sauvignon (75%) and Merlot (25%) blend has complex aromas and very concentrated, rich fruit flavors with depth, texture and the soft lingering finish of a classic.

IMG_2432

“Because Nothing Has Changed” by Anya Galleccio

As we concluded our stroll through the sculpture garden among pieces like Anya Galleccio’s surrealistic apple tree entitled “Because Nothing Has Changed” and one of Patrick Dougherty’s interwoven twig houses called “Deck The Halls,” I fully appreciated being there among the spectacular natural beauty of the valley, all driven by the creation of fabulous wines and preserved in a most caring and holistic manner.  Hall Wines are not for everyone but the experience is unparalleled and clearly the result of good old American initiative and hard work.

Patrick Dougherty's "Deck The Halls"

Patrick Dougherty’s “Deck The Halls”

There are several other wineries in the immediate area and the quaint, high-end town of St. Helena, with its restaurants, art galleries and shops, should be a definite stop during your next Napa Valley excursion.