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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.

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Wine Spectator’s 100 Top Wines of 2015: An Overview

 

On the surface, Wine Spectator magazine’s annual list of exciting wines seems to be another coronation of the fabulous Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the luscious 2010 releases from the Brunello Di Montalcino region of Tuscany.  However, just below the surface is a story of tremendous diversity, both with varietals and regions in

fog descends on vineyard at Peter Michael Winery

fog descends on vineyard at Peter Michael Winery

California and throughout the world.

The 18 California wines on the list represents 10 different varietals and 10 regions.  Europe’s great appellations in Italy, France and Spain are all still dominant, but world demand is creating opportunities to successfully explore new terroir.  The French wine region  listed most often is “other,” more than Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone or Champagne.  This year’s list is an eclectic blend of tradition and the swell of wines from the New World, but let us begin with the time-honored California Cabernet Sauvignon.

2015 WS Wine of the Year

2015 WS Wine of the Year

All of the five California “Cab” on the 2015 list are well-known, pedigree wines, two of which have made it before and for the fifth time in its history, a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, the Peter Michael Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Au Paradis 2012 (96pt/$195) is the magazine’s “Wine Of The Year.”

Over the years, Peter Michael has developed a

Sir Peter Michael

Sir Peter Michael

reputation for producing marvelous chardonnay and a top-notch red Bordeaux blend, “Les Pavots” from the Knights Valley region, due north of the Napa Valley.  The “Au Paradis” originates from an Oakville district vineyard in the Napa Valley that Michael purchased a few years ago, perfectly positioned to absorb the valley heat and the cooling breezes from San Pablo Bay, the quintessential terroir for a “classically structured Napa Cabernet.”

The Napa Valley was also aptly represented by the #57 Altamura Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012 (95pt/$90) and the #65 Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Signature 2012 (93pt/%56), one of the best values on the list whose 2006 vintage made the top ten in 2009.  Although their estate vineyards are in different parts of the valley, both are diverse in ripe characteristics, paired with perfect stock.

The northerly Alexander Valley appellation bestowed the #59 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley Rockaway Single Vineyard 2012 (94pt/$75) and #(78 Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley 2012 91pt/$30), each from long-standing Sonoma County producers who are also celebrating the 2012 vintage of California cabernet sauvignon.

The three California chardonnay varietals on the 2015 list, each from separate regions,

Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains 2012

Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains 2012

clearly exemplify its diversity and long-standing presence statewide.  The routinely present #5 Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains 2012 (95pt/$60) is arguably our best, vintage to vintage, and indicative of what a California chardonnay can be. This vintage is barrel fermented sur lie in French oak for 10 months with 100% malolactic fermentation, bringing back fond memories of past vintages.

The consistently good, very accessible #35 Rombauer Chardonnay Carneros 2013 (92pt/#36) comes primarily from the Sangiacomo Vineyard that supplies grapes for many creators of fine chardonnay.  Their traditional creamy, fruity style, again, comes from French oak, malolactic fermentation and periodic stirring of the lees. The diverse value-priced #48 Calera Chardonnay Central Coast 2013 (90pt/$20) blends vineyards from Monterey to Santa Barbara counties.

Other noted California varietals in include the #12 Limerick Lane Zinfandel Russian River Valley 2012 (94pt/$32), dry-farmed from century-old vines and winemaker Randy Mason’s #40 Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc California 2014 (90pt/$12), a white wine composed of grapes sourced exclusively from Lake County vineyards, an area recently ravaged by fire.

The petite sirah grape was also highlighted among 2015 releases beginning with the soft #17 Turley Petite Sirah Howell Mountain Rattlesnake Ridge 2013 (95pt/$44) from Napa Valley and Amador’s #42 Keplinger SUMO Amador County 2013 (95pt/$70) described as “a Cote Rotie twist on Petite Sirah,” blending petite sirah (76%), syrah (20%) and viognier (4%) to create a “massive, plush wine.”

Orin Swift "Machete" California Red Wine 2013

Orin Swift “Machete” California Red Wine 2013

Having enjoyed past wines from Napa Valley’s Orin Swift Winery, I was pleased to see the #97 Orin Swift “Machete” California Red Wine 2013 (93pt/$48) on the list, another earthy blend of petite sirah, syrah and grenache boasting floral notes with concentrated berry flavors and manageable tannins.

Italy contributed 20% of the wines on the list, mostly from Tuscany, more specifically, 2010 vintages from the Brunello di Montalcino region, landing three spots within the top 20 wines.

Having had an opportunity to taste the #4 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino 2010 (95pt/$85) at a sponsored tasting event in early 2015, I am aware that this

Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino 2010

Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino 2010

superb wine represents five generations of family ownership and over 300 acres of estate vineyards.  Following a time-honored process involving lengthy maceration on the skins and extensive aging, their history shows consistent brilliance. The #13 La Serena Brunello di Montalcino 2010 (96pt/$60) and the legendary #18 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino 2010 (98pt/$125) continue to highlight an excellent 2010 vintage for the region.

At the same 2015 event, I also tasted the outstandingly balanced #8 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Serego Alighieri Vaio Amaron 2008 (95pt/$85), from another family producer in the Veneto region of northern Italy that uses a traditional “appassimento” process of drying the grapes for 90 days before pressing, then committing to five years in the barrel, usually resulting in a memorable wine.

Throughout its tremendous growth, Washington State has proven to have the diverse

Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2012

Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2012

terroir to support many varietals.  That being said, the 2015 star is the #2 Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2012 (96pt/$140), celebrating their third top ten designation since 2006 with the annual reviews of a collector’s classic.

Placing in the top ten in 2011, the Bordeaux-style blend, #28 BAER Ursa Columbia Valley 2012 (94pt/$39) combines 40% each of merlot and cabernet franc with small amounts of cabernet sauvignon and malbec.  Experts speak of herbal aromas, layered chocolate and cherry flavors in a wine that will soon be in short supply.  The moderately priced #34 Tenet Syrah Columbia Valley “The Pundit” 2013 (92pt/$25) is yet another in a growing line of good syrah from the region.

Washington’s Walla Walla area has grown exponentially over the past decade and is the source of two wines on the 20125 list, the #22 Gramercy Syrah Walla Walla

K "The Creator" Walla Walla Valley 2102

K “The Creator” Walla Walla Valley 2102

Valley “The Deuce” 2012 (95pt/$52) and #31 K “The Creator” Walla Walla Valley 2012 (94pt/$55), a blend of cabernet sauvignon and syrah, co-fermented in stainless steel tanks.

With all the industry “buzz” regarding the vintage 2012 Oregon pinot noir, it is no surprise that the Willamette Valley provided five wines including the most talked about of all, the #3 Evening Land Pinot Noir Enola-Amity Hills Seven Springs Vineyard La Source 2012 (98pt/$70), Oregon’s highest

Evening Land Pinot Noir Enola-Amity Hills Seven Springs Vineyard La Source 2012

Evening Land Pinot Noir Enola-Amity Hills Seven Springs Vineyard La Source 2012

rated.  Having tasted past first-rate vintages of Evening Land pinot’s, obtaining a bottle of this wine, from a unique geological site within the mid-Valley Seven Springs Vineyard, remains clearly in my sites.

From the Yamhill-Carlton appellation, the #38 Solena Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Grand Cuvee’ 2012 (92pt/$25) and  the #11 Big Table Farm Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2012 (95pt/$40) are highly rated wines at very reasonable prices, the latter noted for complex, concentrated fruit and spice flavors.

From the Valley’s Ribbon Ridge appellation and possibly my favorite Oregon point noir producer, the #14 Bergstrom Pinot Noir Ribbon Ridge Le Pre’ Du Col

Willamette Valley vineyard

Willamette Valley vineyard

Vineyard 2013 (95pt/$60) is one of many single-vineyard pinot’s, all with exceptional structure and balance.  The Bergstrom tasting room experience, which includes chardonnay as well, is something not to be missed if you are in the area.  From the neighboring Chehalem Mountains appellation, the #45 Colene Clemens Pinot Noir Chehalem Mountains Margo 2012 (93pt/$36), is a fairly new player that deserves attention.

Aside from France’s acclaimed #9 Clos Fourtet St. Emilion 2012 (94pt/$72) from Bordeaux, I was intrigued with two wines from the Bandol region, having spent a week

Domaine Gros Nore Bandol 2012

Domaine Gros Nore Bandol 2012

in Cassis a few years ago.  One of the top scoring wines from the region, the #94 Domaine Gros Nore Bandol 2012 (93pt/$39) is an engaging blend of mourvedre, cinsault and grenache that sells for a reasonable price.

Provence has secured itself as, arguably, the best new producers of rose’ wines and in 2015, the Domaine Tempier Bandol Rose 2014 (92pt./$40), a mourvedre, grenache, cinsault and carignane blend, aged in concrete vats, could be the best of the best.

 

The ten Spanish wines on the list originated from a variety of regions including Ribera Del Duero that contributed the #6 Bodegas Aalto Ribera Del Duero 2012

Bodegas Aalto Ribera Del Duero 2012

Bodegas Aalto Ribera Del Duero 2012

(94pt/$54) made from 100% “tinto fino” or tempranillo grape.  Following the CUNE Rioja Imperial Grand Reserva 2004 (95pt/$63) as 2013s Wine of the Year, the tempranillo-dominant blend #56 CUNE Rioja Imperial Reserva 2010 (93pt/$44), produced near the town of Haro, lends proof of their reputation for consistent, fine wines.

The growing quality and popularity of New Zealand wines is revealed on the 2015 list through a sauvignon blanc from Marlborough, a chardonnay from Auckland and two

Escarpment Pinot Noir Martinborough Kupe Single Vineyard 2013

Escarpment Pinot Noir Martinborough Kupe Single Vineyard 2013

pinot noir from different regions including the 70% whole-clustered #7 Escarpment Pinot Noir Martinborough Kupe Single Vineyard 2013 (95pt/$69, originating from the southern tip of the northern island.  Another fine white, the complex  #21 Cloudy Day Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2014 (93pt/$28) is generally available in most wine outlets.

Each year, the list clearly illustrates the expanding global reach of the wine industry.  Today, our favorite wines have an equal chance of originating from Australia, South America or South Africa than California, France or Italy.  I applaud Wine Spectator’s effort in reviewing thousands of wines and continuing to open doors to discovering new, dynamic appellations, varietals and blends that encourage more exploration of the 2016 releases and beyond.


Westside Road Wineries

 

Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley is synonymous with world-class pinot noir and

Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

cool-climate chardonnay.  Its name on a wine label commands immediate respect.  The river itself streams down from Mendocino through the heart of the valley, flowing into the Pacific Ocean north of Bodega Bay. The valley vineyards appear as islands as the road emerges from the thick pine and redwood forest.  The Westside Road is a beautiful, scenic thoroughfare connecting Healdsburg with River Road and the Guerneville area and home to some of the appellations finest winemakers.  Today, we are visiting a patriarch among California producers of Burgundian wines and a fairly new operation on a renovated, historic site, both offering fine wine and unique tasting opportunities along Westside Road.

WILLIAMS SELYEM

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Estate vineyard at Williams Selyem

Simply stated, Williams Selyem produces some of the best wine California has to offer.  Admittedly a customer for several years, I find  all of their releases to be balanced, complex with layered, lingering flavors.  Opposed to some of the luscious “fruit bombs” from the Valley,  Williams Selyem wines are more austere, medium-bodied, with flavors and texture than appeals to palates of all levels.

What began in the late 1970s  as two friends making wine in a Forestville, CA garage, Ed Selyem and Burt Williams have, in a few decades, turned their hobby into an aptly self-proclaimed “cult status winery of international acclaim”.  After some early renditions, the first vintages of the Williams Selyem labels were released in 1984 and soon after, accolades for their single-vineyard pinot noir from Richioli Vineyards began to set them apart from other wineries and

Williams Selyem Winery

Williams Selyem Winery

build a reputation for the Russian River Valley as a premier wine region.  Burt and Ed sold the winery to John Dyson in the late 1990s who later relocated it to the Westside Road property, establishing the first estate vineyards and completing a new sate-of-the-art winery in 2010.

Weathering a change of ownership, head winemaker and location, Williams Selyem has more interest in their wine than they can handle and still produce world-class pinot noir, chardonnay and zinfandel sourced from our finest vineyards.

I have been a patron of Williams Selyem for more than a decade and did not know that they produced a 100% chenin blanc wine, a Loire Valley grape that has made somewhat of an international comeback in recent years in South Africa and other regions.  Available only at the winery, the 2012 Williams Selyem Chenin Blanc Vista Verde Vineyard ($30), sourced from a San Benito County vineyard.  As one would expect, they have succeeded in  balancing the tartness of this varietal by pushing the fruit flavors forward.  I recommend this wine as a vibrant, crisp summer wine, but it is only available to those willing to explore the depths of Westside Road, past the one-way bridge to Williams Selyem.  Your reward is a lovely property with  impressive tasting room, tour program and space for a nice picnic.

2013 Williams Selyem Unoaked Chardonnay

2013 Williams Selyem Unoaked Chardonnay

One of the spring releases that I was picking up was the 2013 Williams Selyem “Unoaked” Chardonnay Russian River Valley ($39), fermented in stainless steel, once again balancing a crisp acidity with full texture and mouth feel.  This exceptional wine can be perfectly paired with sushi, crab, river trout or enjoyed al fresco.

Williams Selyem has received acclaim for single-vineyard chardonnay sources from the Allen, Drake and Heintz Vineyards, all rated in the mid to high 90-point range.  I prefer the Heintz Vineyard located in Occidental, CA, family owned for over 100 years with an abundance of dirt called Goldridge Sandy Loam.

Two more tasting room exclusives, both estate pinot noir, were the next pours. The initial vintage 2012 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir “Luella’s Garden,” named after previous property owner Leulla Litton, who kept a garden where the vineyard now stands, was very fruit-forward with rich concentrated cherry and spice flavors.

Unlike the single clone “Leulla’s Garden,” the 2012 Williams Selyem Block 10 Mass Selection Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir is planted to 18 different Pinot Noir clones and is reminiscent of the Burgundy-style wines, medium-bodied with layered flavors and a pleasant minerality.

Williams Selyem Central Coast Pinot Noir

Williams Selyem Central Coast Pinot Noir

Williams Selyem produce an array of single-vineyard pinot noir releases from esteemed vineyards like Bucher, Ferrington and Allen. Past vintages, the 2008 Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2009 Precious Mountain Pinot Noir both received near perfect 99-point ratings from wine Enthusiast magazine.

Today, I received a bottle each of two pinot noir releases, both different and uniquely

Williams Selyem Central Coast Pinot Noir

Williams Selyem Central Coast Pinot Noir

notable. The 2013 Williams Selyem Central Coast Pinot Noir ($39) is sourced from the Vista Verde Vineyard in San Benito County, near the small town of Tres Pinos where the soil is heavily laden with limestone.  The result is usually an earthy wine with beautiful bouquet, firm tannins and full floral and spice flavors.

Highly rated, vintage to vintage, the 2013 Williams Selyem Sonoma Coast Pinot

Noir ($52), sourced from the Hirsch and Estate Drake Vineyards, is often their most complex with flavors of cherries, cranberry, orange, vanilla and even chocolate among others.

THOMAS GEORGE WINERY

Although their first vintage was 2007, the Thomas George Winery is steeped in Westside Road history.  The picturesque, recently renovated property was previously owned by Russian River Valley icon, Davis Bynum, the first winemaker to establish a winery on Westside Road and use the Russian River Valley

Thomas George Winery

Thomas George Winery

appellation designation.  The Baker Family, dad Thomas and son Jeremy purchased the Bynum Winery and assembled three estate vineyards with fully intention to carry on a tradition of fine wines from the property.

We met up with Operations Manager Sean Tevik who showed us around the property including the vineyards and the impressive tasting room cave.  He explained that nine staffers handle all facets of the operation that

Baker Ridge Vineyard

Baker Ridge Vineyard

encompasses 8,000 cases of wine produced annually, some in concrete eggs.  Thomas George owns around ten concrete “eggs” that serve as a new approach other than oak or stainless steel to construct chardonnay.  Unlike stainless

steel, concrete is porous and permeable to water and can impact the flavors of the wine.

Our first tasting, the 2012 Thomas George “Concrete Egg” Estate Chardonnay ($42), aged sur lie for nine months with no malolactic fermentation had a nice tartness

concrete egg at Thomas George

concrete egg at Thomas George

and minerality that was balanced by the full-bodied tropical flavors.  The larger production 2011 Thomas George Estate Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($34), comes from 70% oak barrels and 30% concrete eggs with some malolactic fermentation giving it a nice rich mouthfeel with tropical and stone fruit flavors.

Next we tasted a flight of three pinot noir from different blocks within the Baker Ridge Vineyard, each from a unique micro-climate. East-facing for ample morning sun, the 2011 Thomas George Baker Ridge Backbone Block Pinot Noir ($75)comes from a cooler, protected slope, producing less than 100 cases of a deeply rich wine with a complex, floral nose and dark fruit flavors.  A lovely wine that will become exceptional with age.

From a south-facing slope that receives sun until 7 pm during the peak growing season, the 2011 Thomas George Baker Ridge Dexter’s Block Pinot Noir ($75) exhibited intense floral aromas and a rich, concentrated and complex flavor profile.  The 2011 Thomas George Baker Ridge Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($70) originating from multiple cloned vines planted decades ago by Davis Bynum, exudes floral aromas and dark berries and spice on the palate.

2011 Thomas George Baker Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir

2011 Thomas George Baker Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir

We finished the pinots with the 2012 Thomas George “Barrel Selection” Pinot Noir ($50) and the 2012 Thomas George Cresta Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir ($60), the later as full-bodied as any tasted.

Our tasting concluded with a delightful grenache sourced from local vineyard management icon, Ulises Valdez’s El Diablo Vineyard. The 2011 Thomas George Grenache El Diablo Vineyard  was very fruit forward with a satisfying finish that lingered.

Valdez, an immigrant and self-made man, farms and manages over 800 acres of vineyards, mostly in the Russian River Valley including all the Thomas George estates.

Thomas George Winery intends to address all needs, grape to glass.  Cave tours, beautiful picnic facilities, locations for

Cave and tasting room at Thomas George Winery

Cave and tasting room at Thomas George Winery

outdoor weddings, special events await wine club members and those looking for a unique wine experience in the heart of the Russian River Valley. Wine club members also enjoyed reduced rates on the four upscale guest houses on the site.

Westside Road is synonymous with the Russian River Valley which is synonymous with, arguably, the best pinot noir and chardonnay produced outside of Burgundy, France. Williams Selyem and Thomas

George are but a few of the many great experiences available to those who travel “The Road.”

 


The Auteur of Sonoma

 

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Winemaker Kenneth Juhasz

The French word for author, “auteur” is used in the film industry to describe when a film fully reflects the creative and imaginative perceptions of one person.  Auteur Winery, home to some of the truly fine wines available for tasting on the Sonoma Square, reflects the passion and meticulous energy of Kenneth Juhasz, whose efforts in creating high quality cool-climate chardonnay and pinot noir has earned him recognition as a “winemaker who has made a difference” from Wine Spectator magazine.  Kenneth owns Auteur with his wife, Laura, sourcing grapes from some of Sonoma and Napa County’s outstanding vineyards to create his exceptional wines.

Juhasz has a hands-on approach at all stages of winemaking resulting in a prodigious collection of low production, high quality wines that are becoming more recognized.  I was introduced to Auteur a few years ago and enjoyed the wines tasted, but with the expanding market and choices, lost contact.  Eager to re-visit the experience, we made arrangements for a tasting of 2012 releases.

Among many options near the Sonoma Square, Auteur Winery and Sojourn Cellars offer the best environment for an informative and personalized tasting, all for $25.00 per person.  Located in a quaint cottage on First Street, a few doors from Sondra Bernstein’s “The Girl and the Fig” restaurant, the Auteur tasting room provides a very comfortable setting for a comprehensive tasting that leaves one with the impression of a more refined wine acumen.  Today, we are joined by my son, his fiancee and our host, Bobbi Cohen, to discover the different nuances of each vineyard producing the fruit for their chardonnay and pinot noir.

We began tasting the coastal influenced chardonnay, some from Napa County’s Carneros region and the others from the Sonoma Coast.  Like many modern auteur_greenacres_chard_12winemakers, Juhasz does not own a vineyard, so selection of those from which to source grapes is an essential part of the production process.  The 2012 Auteur Carneros Green Acres Chardonnay ($42), receiving a 90-point rating from Wine Spectator, lived up to its reviews with expressive fruit and a crisp acidity. Stone fruit and green apple flavors with an extended finish will definitely get your attention.

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Auteur cottage tasting room

Once again from the Carneros region, the 2012 Auteur Carneros Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay ($45)closely resembled a Burgundian wine with crisp, complex flavors and a nice, rich minerality. Robert Parker labeled it a “California grand cru,” reviewing the wine at 94-points.

I have, in my cellar, at least three different wines from the Durell Vineyard at the Sonoma coast, all of them standing out, all with a similar opulence. The 2012 Auteur Durell Vineyard Chardonnay ($45) is no exception. A rich, creamy mouthfeel with ripe flavors of peach, pear, melon and spice has led to ratings in the mid-nineties.  For me, this was the one to take home.

Actually originating from vineyards in Green Valley, Carneros and Sonoma Coastauteur_durell_chard_12 appellations, the 2012 Auteur Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($32) is a terrific wine and outstanding value. The Durell, Dutton and Green Acre Vineyards all contribute to fresh fruit-forward flavors, a rich minerality, a lingering finish and a 90-point rating from Wine Spectator.

The warm, relaxed setting of the cottage made the perfect environs to discover the nuances of this varietal from different micro-climates.  There is truly a chardonnay here for all palates.  With ideal climate conditions for the 2012 vintage, many experts feel these white wines can age several years in the bottle.

We anticipate that repetition of this process with Auteur’s pinot noir releases will be equally rewarding. Having previously tasted a past vintage of the Manchester Ridge, we were prepared to compare the subtleties  of four diverse pinot noir vineyards. Autuer’s pinot vineyards are a bit more eclectic in that they are represented by Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley as well as the Sonoma Coast.

A popular wine, the 2012 Auteur Manchester Ridge Pinot Noir ($45) comes auteur_manchesterridgepn_12from a coastal vineyard 2,000 feet above sea level.  Described as a “discontinuous AVA,” it is composed of varying ridges and pinnacles overlooking the Sonoma coast.  This wine can be simply summed up as a flavorful combination of berries, herbs and spice.  Consisting of two Dijon clones, it is co-fermented in 50% new French oak for added richness.  After receiving a 91-point rating, demand increased and the 2012 vintage is sold out. I suggest you put a reminder of future vintages in your “tickler file.”

Organically farmed and clearly the most savory of the current releases, the 2012 Auteur Savoy Pinot Noir ($45) comes from an Anderson Valley vineyard, acclaimed for the past two decades.  An exceptional bouquet and concentrated, layered flavors result in a special wine, limited only by small production and high demand.  Another 90-point rating, another sell-out leads to anticipation of the spring release.

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Host Bobbi Cohen led the tasting

There has been much written about the 2012 vintage of Oregon pinot noir, describing it as the best in years.  Add the Yamhill Carlton AVA Shea Vineyard that has produced many luscious pinot’s over the years and the 2012 Auteur Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir ($60) is a wine that deserves attention.  Wonderfully aromatic and balancing a multitude of flavors, it warrants the accolades it has garnered and can be cellared for a few years to fully blossom.

Our last wine, the only multi-vineyard pinot noir of the tasting, was blessed with inviting aromas and a surprisingly complex array of savory and concentrated fruit flavors.  The 2012 Auteur Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($42) offers an eloquent bouquet and complex fruit and spice on the palate. An excellent wine for the price and boasting mid-nineties ratings, it became the one for me.

With no shortage of high quality chardonnay and pinot noir in Sonoma County, Auteur Winery is a pleasant find and their wines can stand up to any, deserving the attention of those who are serious.  The winery establishes a mailing list to inform interested consumers of new releases that are all available on-line.  With growing popularity, four of the fall wines that we tasted are now sold out, emphasizing the need to network.

1613859_697451380316478_6471096889845669972_nWith an abundance of vineyards and wineries in Sonoma County, some care must be taken when selecting wines.  Auteur wines has the accolades and will soon to be discovered by fine palates everywhere.


Sojourn Cellars of Sonoma

 

I was first introduced to wines from Sonoma’s Sojourn Cellars a few years ago at a 2013 “Pinotfest” event in Pasadena. After tasting pinot noir selections, a representative asked, in a soft voice, if I was ready to try their “dark pinot,”  which turned out to be my introduction the 2009 Sojourn Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Home Ranch Vineyard($48)that I described to be as opulent and complex as many of the $100 Napa Valley cabernets. I have continued to participate with Sojourn Cellars and they have since added chardonnay 5260fb3d201bed141bf51ae469e98f84to their menu of pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon. While picking up my Fall order at the quaint tasting224b9c459364583836464098455c8656 room off the historic Sonoma Square, I arranged to taste the new releases and discover more of their history.

Sojourn Cellars literally emerged from two men who met playing tennis, bonding over the game and fine Burgundy. Former Dot-Com exec Craig Haserot and winemaker Erich Bradley, formerly of

Arrowhead Winery, partnered to pursue their passion for pinot noir and, more interestingly, their desire to produce small bottling of cabernet sauvignon through sources at a few of Napa Valley’s prestigious vineyards.  Their first cabernet sauvignon release was 2001, followed by the 2003 Sojourn Cellars Pinot Noir Sangiacamo Vineyard.  They now produce nine different single-vineyard pinot noir wines, four img_sojourn cabernet sauvignon and, in 2011, released their first chardonnay.  Today, their annual total production ranges from 6,000-8,000 cases, concentrating on new vineyards to expand their profile with the three varietals.

Sojourn has “by appointment only” tastings most days and it is an ideal setting and format for small groups serious (or not) about good wine.  Today, I met up with Tasting Salon Manager Sarah Congress to taste new wines, including some that I was picking up.

Having concentrated on their pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon, my first opportunity to taste some of their chardonnay releases was at hand, a varietal that has recently grown in my modest inventory. All four wines are cool-climate “chards” from the Sonoma coast appellation.

Carefully chosen clones from three prominent Sonoma Coast vineyards contribute to the crispy 2012 Sojourn Chardonnay Sonoma Coast ($38), spending eight months in oak barrels, 30% new.  Pressed 2009sojurnwhole cluster, this vintage has soft stone fruit and apple flavors with a nice acidity that earned a 90 pt. rating from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

From the same vineyard as their outstanding pinot noir, the 2012 Sojourn Chardonnay Sangiacamo Vineyard ($45), also pressed whole cluster, delivers pleasant melon and citrus on the nose and a splendid minerality to the palate.  It has a rich fruit character and mouthfeel and a 91 pt. rating from Parker.

Based upon the reputation of the vineyards, I purchased two new single-vineyard chardonnay in my Fall allotment. About to taste them, I can now determine if my instincts were true.

 

The Durrell Vineyard, in the Sonoma Coast appellation, has sourced grapes to some of the finest chardonnay producers in California. The inaugural release 2012 Sojourn Chardonnay Durrell Vineyard ($48) was pressed whole-cluster with full malolactic fermentation before resting sir lie in 40% new French oak barrels, bearing the opulent touch of a classic California chardonnay.

With only 175 cases produced, the début 2012 Sojourn Chardonnay Campbell Ranch Vineyard ($45) has all the fine qualities expected from this cool-climate, low-yield vineyard that manages large variations in temperature that produce complex aromas and flavors of melon, tropical fruit through a lush texture.  I savored both wines and I’m feeling good about my instincts.17881b5f9beb8f4338cd7bd8f0e20caa

Much of Sojourn’s pinot noir comes from cool-climate vineyards along the Sonoma Coast that, along with the Russian River Valley, constantly yield some of the world’s best. The next four wines of our tasting were from vineyards within these appellations that turns out so many world-class pinot noir releases.

The most classic, and possibly my favorite, the 2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Rogers Creek Vineyard ($59),comes from an elevated vineyard in the Sonoma coastal hills above the Petaluma Gap.  Nice vanilla and cinnamon on the nose foreshadowed dark fruit and hints of spice through the finish.

In the remote hills, above the Sonoma coastline lies a low-yield vineyard, known for years of quality farming that is the source for the 2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Ridgetop Vineyard ($59), a wine with pepper on the nose, concentrated fruit flavors and a silky texture that extends throughout the finish.  The grapes are di-stemmed prior to open-top fermentation and are highly influenced by thirsty new oak.

A right turn at the intersection of River and Wohler Roads drops you into the heart of the renown Russian 105299994c0c65f4e63f2ef883ab6845River Valley appellation near Forestville.  Less than one-half mile ahead is the origin vineyard for the 2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Wohler Vineyard ($48). A bit austere, this wine has more earthy qualities with nice expressions of fruit and spice that should “open-up” with an hour or more decanting.

Yet another vineyard in the coastal hills, surrounded by redwoods, produces, according to winemaker Erich Bradley, “The best fruit I have ever tasted.” Since I was taking home a bottle of the 2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Campbell Ranch Vineyard ($59), his 17881b5f9beb8f4338cd7bd8f0e20caa statement caught my attention.  As advertised, I found it to be the most aromatic of the pinots with nice tannins, cherry dominant flavors and texture, drinkable today, yet rewarding patience.  Not being able to taste the 2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Sangiacamo Vineyard ($54), their original, most elegant and highly rated wine, was a disappointment, but left me someone to discover on our next visit.

Enthusiasm for Sojourn Cellars Pinot Noir is also shared by the experts.  The PinotReport, a Sonoma-based newsletter has consistently rated Sojourn’s pinot’s from 92-96 points. In a crowded arena of big high-end pinot producers, Sojourn can certainly compete in both quality and cost.

Next, we moved to a couple of reasonably priced Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon wines including the sold-photo_springmountainout 2012 Sojourn Cabernet Sauvignon Georges III Rutherford that was fruit-forward  with hints of blueberry and cocoa on the finish.

The 2012 Sojourn Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District ($59), from the hills above the town of St. Helena, was a very nice surprise with complex aromas and flavors of vanilla, cassis to accompany the dark fruit that has, to employ an overused term, a nice, long finish.

All and all, the Sojourn Cellars tasting experience is extraordinary.  A picture perfect setting, a personalized Sojourn-Cellars-Sonoma-Tasting-Salon2tasting, at tables with proper glasses and, of course, the previously described fine wines are in store for any group of wine lover’s. The opportunity to add a nice meal on the Square makes the day a sojourn not to be missed.