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. 


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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Exploring the gateway to the Lodi wine region

Oak Farms Winery in Lodi

Things are often initiated through a glass of wine.  I had intended to explore the Lodi region for years but became distracted by other nearby appellations in Napa and Sonoma Counties.  Then, within a week, I tasted the dry, aromatic 2018 Sidebar Kerner Mokelumne River ($25), and the highly reviewed 2016 Oak Farms Cabernet Sauvignon ($22-25)from one of Lodi’s largest producers.

The kerner, with origins in Germany, is sourced from the Mokelumne Glen Vineyard in Lodi’s Mokelumne River sub-appellation and the cabernet sauvignon, with small hints of petit verdot and petite sirah, originates from the Oak Farm Estate Vineyard in the Mokelumne River and two other local sub-appellations.  

I recently had an opportunity to meet with Dan Panella, Oak Farms co-owner and third generation farmer for a quick lesson on the virtues of the local wine country.

The Panella family first arrived in Lodi more than eighty years ago, operating a trucking business before venturing into grape growing.  They purchased the seventy-acre historic Oak Farms in 2004, and began an aggressive re-planting program on sixty acres under vine.

Co-owner and winemaker Dan Panella

Today, Oak Farm carefully cultivates fourteen different grape varietals, taking full advantage of Lodi’s unique terroir.  

The Lodi region, which is divided into seven distinct sub-regions, was designated as an American Viticulture Area (AVA) in 1986. Of more than 500,000 acres in the AVA, 103,000 are currently under vine serving eighty bonded wineries.  

With a wine history that dates back to the 1850s, Lodi shares a Mediterranean climate similar to European appellations along the Mediterranean Sea, with warm days and cool nights. Located between San Francisco Bay and the Sierra Nevadas, it’s flat, the soils and microclimates are diverse and water is readily available.

Located in northern San Joaquin County, Lodi also has the distinction that the cost per acre of land is significantly lower than in Napa and Sonoma Counties, something that eventually affects the price of everything, from grapes to a bottle of wine.

Although the appellation is probably best known for its old vine Zinfandel, Lodi and Oak Farms also produce Old World varietals like merlot, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and others.

With over 4,000 cases produced, the Oak Farms Vineyards 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon ($25) is their most readily available wine and, with integrated flavors and soft tannins, is widely recognized as a top value-priced cabernet sauvignon.  The low-production 2016

Oak Farms “Tievoli” blend

Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) is also a good buy.

In addition to a crisp tanginess, the flavors of the Oak Farms Vineyards 2017 Sauvignon Blanc ($19), aided by some aging on lees, are balanced with softer tropical fruit, resulting in a rounder wine.  The 2018 Estate Grown Sauvignon Blanc ($26) uses a well known clone from New Zealand that, matched with the sandy loam soil and extended aging in French oak barrels, delivers a vibrant bouquet and rich, concentrated tropical fruit flavors. 

In addition to two small production releases from the nearby Hohenrieder and Mohr-Fry Vineyards, most of Oak Farms zinfandel marks a contrast between the full-bodied, but restrained 2017 Zinfandel ($25) and the aromatic, plush “fruit bomb” known as the 2017 Vapor Trail ($34), combining grapes from the Sierra Foothills with those of Lodi.

Two weirdly unique, but palate pleasing blends from Oak Farms include the 2016 Tievoli ($20-22), a blend of zinfandel, barbera and petite sirah and the syrah-dominant 2017 “Corset,” ($28) with added grenache zinfandel and malbec. Both are fun, complex wines for the price. Dan pointed out that Tievoli is “I love it” spelled backwards.

Oak Farms tasting room

The white fiano grape is native to southern Italy and Sicily but Oak Farms sources it from Clarksburg near the Sacramento Delta.  The 2017 Oak Farms Fiano ($25) won Gold at the 2018 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

Aside for their diverse assortment of wines. Oak Farms Winery offers one of the most complete tasting experiences in Lodi.  The new hosting facility, with modern features that

Oak Farms 2017 “The Corset” blend

reflect the past, is surrounded by vineyards and has a central courtyard where musicians entertain and customers picnic with a bottle of wine and offerings from local food trucks.  They present themselves “as the winery that gives you the Napa experience without the inflated prices.”

Oak Farms wines offer exceptional wines in the medium price range.  Tasting and enjoying country food at one of their weekend concerts is a good way to begin a weekend of exploring the Lodi wine region.


Hendrick’s Gin reveals exclusive cocktail for Napa Valley’s Bottlerock event

 

To preview their new cocktail, created exclusively for the Napa Valley’s Bottlerock event later this month, Hendrick’s Gin has released “Midsummer Solstice,” a limited-edition gin crafted by Master Distiller Lesley Gracie, once described as “the woman who invented your favorite gin.”

“I have always been enamored by the power of nature’s flavors and aromas at the peak of summer and for this new expression I’ve

Hendrick’s Midsummer Spritz Cocktail – Photo by Jasmine Van T Photography

hand-selected each floral essence to capture this intensity,” says Gracie. “Midsummer Solstice represents years of experimentation joining an exciting line of innovations from Hendrick’s, and I’m thrilled to not only create new liquid at the Gin Palace, but also share them with curious tasters and gin explorers all over the world.”

The recently completed Gin Palace provides a $17 million expansion to the Scotland-based distillery that features two new still houses, a walled garden, two state-of-the-art botanical greenhouses and endless opportunities for creativity.

The Gin Palace will double their capacity for production, enough to meet rapidly growing demand well into the future, but to artisan Gracie, it’s like adding colors to an already abundant palette and working with a large blank canvas. “It’s a major step forward in terms of potential for innovation,” she says.

Lesley Gracie has been with Hendrick’s since its 1999 inception and in the industry for over thirty years.  An educated chemist, her flavor infusing foray into spirits production began by trying to disguise the awful taste of arthritis medicine.  While Hendrick’s has always valued consistency, Gracie’s passion, similar to a fine

Master Distiller Lesley Gracie

winemaker, is to create a sensory experience from her innovated specialty gin releases that often use botanicals

In a recent Robb Report interview, she said, “When I’m gardening, I like to take walks and I’ll often stop to take a leaf and smell it. I’ll think, ‘Oh, that’s interesting; that might work really well.’ It’s a process that can really take over me.”

The Lesley Gracie Cocktail consists of 50 ml Hendrick’s Gin, 15 ml elderflower, soda water and three thinly sliced cucumber rounds.  However, the excitement at the preview party was the unveiling of the Midsummer Spritz that combines Hendrick’s Midsummer Solstice Gin, Lillet Rose’, Bordiga Apertivo and gooseberries.

Admittedly, sitting around a fire pit at Charmaine’s Rooftop Bar & Lounge, 1100 Market Street, looking out across the eastern skyline

Charmaine’s Rooftop Bar and Lounge-Photo by David Perper

provided a welcoming ambience, but I found the Midsummer Spritz to be an exceptionally balanced, refreshing cocktail while David, my “spirits wingman” thought that the floral qualities of the gin were extraordinary. 

“Hendrick’s is no stranger to the power of florals, thanks to the infusion of rose and cucumber in our original house style gin,” said Hendrick’s national US brand ambassador Sebastien Derbomez. “But the creation of Midsummer Solstice offers an exemplary amount of opportunity for new efflorescent cocktails. I am personally excited for the Hendrick’s Midsummer SuperBloom Punch, a bright, blossoming, and botanic punch which is easy to make at home and perfect for responsible midday consumption.”

San Franciscan Mark Stoddard, our bartender for the evening, has been spreading the gospel of Hendrick’s Gin since 2012.  As a world champion mixologist and business owner, he is described as “an

Bartender Mark Stoddard-photo by Jasmine Van T Photography

attentive student of cocktail history and lover of all that is out of the ordinary.”  

In addition to the Midsummer Spritz, Mark mixed an elegant drink called the Butterfly Effect that consists of Hendrick’s Gin, Chareau Aloe Liqueur, Jasdesca Apertivo (a wine-based aperitif), Lemon and Butterfly Blossoms and a Hendrick’s Pimm’s Cup, the number one selling cocktail for Charmaine’s techno-millennial crowd.

 

The preview event also afforded us the opportunity to sample a taste of the exceedingly small Hendrick’s production Orbium, another Lesley Gracie creation, instilled with extracts of Quinine, Wormwood and Lotus Blossom to complement the traditional cucumber and rose essences and provide a rounder mouthfeel.

 

The Midsummer Spritz and a few other Hendrick’s Gin cocktails will be available at Bottlerock Napa Valley, May 24-26, billed as the “first taste of summer,” a weekend featuring top musical performers, food, wine, brew and spirits.

Tired of crowds.  The Hendrick’s Gin website provides several cocktail recipes to be enjoyed at home.


The Vintage Port 2017 wines mark consecutive years of excellence

 

The 2016 Vintage Ports from the Douro region in northern Portugal were designated after a five year drought. Now, the 2017 Vintage, although different in style, have also been declared a Classic.

Representatives from the Fladgate Partnership, Symington Family Estates and Quinta Noval, all major producers of port from the region, gathered in the Nikko Hotel recently to present updates of the Vintage 2017.  In all, we tasted sixteen wines from eleven different port houses.

Terroir is a combination of climate, soil and human intervention that influences the wines.  The 2017 growing season in the Douro was exceptionally hot and dry, resulting in grapes that budded, ripened and were eventually harvested much earlier than normal.

Graham’s “The Stone Terraces vineyard

Old, deeply rooted vines do well in dry years.  It is these low-yield vines producing concentrated flavors that have distinguished the elegance and finesse of the 2016 Vintage from the richness and intensity of the 2017 Vintage.

From the Fladgate Partnership, the austere Taylor Fladgate 2017($100) exuded its trademark floral (violets) bouquet.  The complex flavors were rich, full and lingering.

Vineyards in the Quinta de Vargellas are century-old, north facing vines with ample hours of sun.  The Vargellas Vinha Velha 2017 ($220), described as a “Taylor Fladgate on steroids,” is a limited production blend from the oldest vines on the estate.  It is handsomely scented and there is a density to the layered flavors of dark fruit with herbal notes.

Croft, another port house under the Taylor Fladgate Partnership, presented two Vintage ports including the Croft Roeda Serikos 2017 from an estate that nearly became one of the world’s finest silk farms. Vines in the Quinta da Roeda were devastated in the 1870s by phylloxera which prompted the planting of mulberry trees. With the phylloxera problem solved, current vines were re-planted on the property around the turn of the century, and in a dry, hot year, drew from the minerals in the soil and performed exceptionally.

Croft Quinta de Roeda Serikos 2017

Estimations are that it takes four of these low yield vines to produce one bottle of port, the reason only 200 cases of the Roeda Serikos 2017 were produced.  Floral aromas open up in the glass for a delightful introduction to deep, concentrated flavors of red berry, black fruit and herbs. 

Dow’s has been among the great Port houses for over 200 years and the Symington Family for the past five generations.  Wine Spectator magazine named the Dow’s Vintage Port 2011 their wine of the year in 2014. The Dow’s Vintage Port 2017 comes from a marraige of two powerhouse quintas (vineyards)and provides lavender on the nose, deep colors and high viscosity on the palate. 

Under the Symington Family for fifty years, Graham’s was founded in the early 1800s and consists today of the Quinta

Dow’s Vintae Port 2017

dos Malvedos, one of the region’s finest vineyards and Quinta do Tua, known for its unique stone terraces.

With a dry year in normally hot climate, harvest for the Graham’s 2017 began early on August 28th and finished by September 15th.  Present floral aromas with complex flavors were described by Johnny Symington to include rose water, Turkish delight, mint and eucalyptus.

In only its fourth release, Graham’s The Stone Terraces 2017 is a micro-terroir wine from two original, north-facing vineyards.  It expressed aromas of tropical fruit and orange blossom and was flawlessly structured.

Cockburn’s, another port house under the Symington Family with south facing vineyards in the hot eastern Douro, produces the Cockburn Vintage Port 2017($80-90) that consists mostly of touriga nacional and delivers a luscious mouthfeel,

Graham’s Vintage Port 2017

velvety tannins and length.

Quinta Do Noval, located in the heart of the Douro, near the small town of Pinhão, consists of a 360-acre vineyard that is divided into several parcels.  The grapes selected for the Quinta do Noval Vintage Port($105) represent only a small portion of their total production. Powerful and balanced, this wine has a spice and floral quality with full black fruit flavors and significant tannins. 

Quinta Do Noval

The story of the Quinta Do Noval Nacional 2017 ($820) lies with a small parcel of ungrafted vines that were never impacted by phylloxera.  They are native Portuguese vines with no foreign root stock. This wine, with grapes still crushed using the laborious process foot treading in stone lagares, was remarkable in its complexity, balance and rich expression of fruit with a licorice component.

Tasting the Vintage Ports 2017 was an extraordinary experience.


Traditional sparkling wines from the shadows of the Dolomites

 

We often mistakingly define all Italian sparkling wine as prosecco.  It’s popularity is unmistakable.  Data has shown that nearly one-fifth of all global wine sales in 2017 were prosecco, a 21 percent increase from 2016.

However, prosecco is only one Italian sparkling wine, made from the glera grape and grown exclusively in the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia regions.  The name of the grape was changed from prosecco to glera in 2009 to protect the brand from outsiders.  

Terrific sparkling wines also originate from Lambrusco, Franciacorta, Asti Spumante and Trentodoc, a little known region in the Dolomites that produces sparkling wine using the same grapes and “metodo classico” (traditional method) as those from the Champagne region of France.

Trentodoc is a series of sparkling wines that actually originates from vineyards near Trento in the Trentino Alta Adige region, north of those where prosecco (glera) is grown.  The Dolomites mountain range serve as a majestic backdrop for many of the vineyards. The names of these wines, Trentodoc, is a combination of the city and the DOC ((Denominazione di origine controllata), a designation that instills strict requirements designed to protect the integrity of the region.

The Trentino region is the second largest producer of Italian sparkling wines that espouse the Champagne method (méthode champenoise) of allowing the second fermentation to occur in each bottle, when sugar and yeast is added to the wine (tirage), before the bottles are temporarily capped.  The interaction of the sugar and yeast culminates in carbon dioxide being trapped in the bottle.

Trentodoc sparkling wines are also made from many of the same grapes used in wines from Champagne.  Aside from “metodo classico,” the DOC regulations restrict the varietals to chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot meunier and pinot blanc, requiring that the vines are grown in pergola (canopy) style and that irrigation be used only in emergency situations.

All non-vintage Trentodoc wines must rest on their less for a minimum of 15 months, 24 months for vintage and 36 months to be called riserva.

Little known in the United States, Trentodoc sparkling wines have a personality that is not “bone dry” nor overly sweet.  Their bouquet is floral and somewhat delicate and the flavors are rounder and richer than most.  Another reason for the heightened awareness is their availability and cost, mostly within the $20-$35 range.

With warm daily breezes and cool evening winds, vines in the upper Cembra Valley, within shadows of the Dolomites, enjoy great terroir for the chardonnay grapes used in the 2010 Cesarini Sforza Riserva 1673 ($30).  The juice rests on its lees for a minimum of 60 months which adds to its delicate, rich texture that exceeds other sparkling wines at a similar price.

Founded in 1902, Ferrari Trento is one of the largest and oldest producers of several sparkling wine using the traditional method.  In 2017, they were awarded the title of “Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year” at the Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships

Grown at high mountain altitudes, a blend of pinot nero and chardonnay grapes, vinified as a rose’, comprised the non-vintage Ferrari Rose’ ($27), a beautiful light wine, but with deeper color than most.  Of all the Trentodoc wines that I tasted, this had the most complex and elegant nose and flavor profile with fresh hints of currants and berries

Certified organic, Maso Martis Trentodoc produces several releases including the non-vintage Maso Martis Brut Trentodoc ($40), made for chardonnay (70%) and pinot noir ($30) grapes. The aromas are floral and fruity while the flavors are full, but delicate.  I found

Maso Martis Brut Trentodoc

the wine to be food friendly, having paired it with pesto-crusted orange roughy. 

From 100% chardonnay vines high above sea level in the hills above Trento, the 2014 Altemasi Millesimato Trentodoc ($30) is a vegan, gluten free wine that goes through weekly battonage during the first fermentation, before tirage.  Battonage is the process of stirring the lees (dead yeast) into the juice, adding a softer, rich texture.  During the second fermentation, this wine is aged on its lees (not stirred) for 36 months.

The Altemasi Millesimato is dry, but fruity with well-integrated aromas and flavors of citrus and peach.  It is a perfect pair with scallops.

Trentodoc sparkling wines are the best option for those with a desire to explore beyond prosecco or simply seeking a flavorful, reasonably priced sparkler for the next occasion.


The Limerick Lane Cellars story is one of stewardship

 

Jake Bilbro is only the third owner in Limerick Lane Cellars’ 106-year history.  After the 2012 Limerick Lane Zinfandel Russian River Valley (94-pt/$32) was named the #12 wine among Wine Spectator magazine’s Top 100 Wines of 2015, the winery, under his direction, has become synonymous, vintage to vintage, with extraordinary zinfandel and syrah blends. 

The history of Limerick Lane is defined by people who believed in its potential and became stewards of the land that sits in a small

Limerick Lane Estate Vineyard

unique microclimate, south of the town of Healdsburg.

The Del Fava family were the original owners and planted the first vineyards in 1910. They farmed and managed the vines for over sixty years before selling, in the mid-1970s, to the Collins brothers, Michael and Tom.

For the next thirty-five years, they assumed stewardship of the property, adding new vineyards and investing in the existing ones.  In 2009, determined to not let the land fall into uncaring corporate hands, Collins sought out a new caretaker and found Jake, who was raised among his family’s vineyards.  His father, Chris, started Marietta Cellars in 1978.

The Limerick Lane Estate totals thirty acres of vines, separated into fourteen blocks, extending from the hillside vineyard due west of the winery to the Chalk Hill appellation that begins a few hundred yards to the east.

These old vines that produce high quality fruit are planted to southern and eastern exposure in soil that has layers of clay and rock.  

Winery and tasting room

During the growing season, the nights are still cold in this part of the Russian River Valley appellation and the vines sit within the fogline. While the cold and fog preserves that vibrant acidity in the wines, the consistently warm afternoons add a restrained intensity to the flavors. 

I appreciate that the vines are field blended, with zinfandel planted side by side with old world varietals like mourvedre, syrah, alicante bouschet and petite sirah. They are together from the first budding, through fermentation, barrel and bottle aging and on the palate

Starting with the 2011 vintage, Jake, his wife Alexa and brother Scott have taken Limerick Lane to a higher level.  Since the 2015 Wine Spectator recognition of their 2012 zinfandel, they have produced, with each vintage, about 4,000 cases of critically acclaimed  blends.

Host Andy Tester guided me through some of Limerick Lanes’s current releases and library wines beginning with the 2018 Rosé ($28), a purposeful blend of three traditional Rhone varietals:  syrah, grenache and mourvedre  Recently bottled, it is still tight but expressing floral notes in the bouquet, flavors that were both austere and fully present with a mineral element on the finish. Highly recommended

2018 Limerick Lane Rose’

In 2011, the stress of dealing simultaneously with a closing escrow, an overwhelming harvest and a broken destemmer resulted in Bilbro throwing caution to the wind with a new blend, a Hail Mary if you will.  As with earlier vintages, I was drawn to the rich texture and soft mouthful of the 2015 Hail Mary ($60), a luscious blend of 98% syrah and 2% grenache, from Limerick Lanes’ Rhone program. 

A descendant of the renown 2012 vintage, the flagship 2016 Estate Zinfandel Russian River Valley ($42), awarded 93-pts by Wine Spectator, is actually a field blend of zinfandel, peloursin, négrette, syrah, petite sirah and carignan.  Acid driven and opulent, this vintage seamlessly adds spice and mineral notes to balance the dark berry flavors.

The 2014 1910 Block Zinfandel ($68) pays homage to the first planting and is yet another wine that is field blended, harvested together and co-fermented. This vintage is robust and concentrated, layered with the flavors of stone fruits, blueberries and spice.

The zinfandel grape seems to strive when stressed in poor, rocky soil and the 2014 Rocky Knoll Zinfandel ($60), at the fogline, survives the worst soil and develops the smallest clusters.  The lush zinfandel is blended with mourvedre and petite sirah, giving it solid structure.

The varietals can vary each vintage with their cuvee, determined only by the most compelling fruit. The 2016 1023 Zinfandel ($72) boasting many ratings in the mid-nineties, blends 52% zinfandel, 45% syrah and 3% grenache to achieve concerted rich berry flavors and herbal notes throughout a long, soft finish. 

Limerick Lane wines are primarily distributed through a direct allocation list that can be accessed on their website.