Tag Archives: California

L’Aventure Six Year Vertical Tasting

Birthday Doings

Well, this year for my birthday I settled on this celebration idea. My wife and I asked some close friends over and we ploughed through an interesting selection of #L’Aventure wines:

L’Aventure Optimus – Red Blend of Syrah, Cab Sauv and Petit Verdot, 2011-2016 (six) Vintages

L’Aventure Cote a Cote – Red Blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, 2014 Vintage

Tasting Notes

As a setup, I have been studying for a wine judge certification program sponsored by the American Wine Society (AWS) lately and they have adopted the UC Davis 20 pt. scoring system. I was not as familiar with this system, as the Robert Parker 100 pt. system, so this was an opportunity to dive into the detail using a vertical to test the nuance. Here is the UC Davis breakdown for higher quality wines:

  • 17 – 20 pts. Wines of outstanding characteristics having no defects
  • 13 – 16         Standard wines with neither oustanding character or defect
  • 9 – 12           Wines of commercial acceptability with noticeable defects

Revised 5/27/18:

I have come to learn how unrepresentative the 20 Point scoring system can be with the fine wine category. As I have evaluated more wine with this system it has become clear, all of these L’Aventure wines should be in the “outstanding” category over 18 pts. This makes it very difficult to define the nuanced differences between these vintages. I have converted these scores to the 100 Point System to better represent this vertical comparison.


A few common characteristics of these wines before we get started:

  • The percentages in the blends from year to year are adjusted by the winemaker Stephan Asseo.
  • The L’Aventure has a reputation for big, highly extracted, fruity wines. I was first introduced to this winery back in 2008 and what made it special then, was the tremendous balance Asseo was able to achieve in such over-the-top wines. In those early days, it was amazing the structure and nuanced flavors that were achieved.
  • I will not focus on the fruit flavors in the tasting notes. They are typical for these varietals. The Optimus has the usual plum and blackberry profile you might expect. Some years, the Cab Sauv added a tobacco mid-palate and other years the Petit Verdot improved the mouth-feel, but in general… what you would expect on the palate for this type of Red Blend. The Cote a Cote had the typical GSM profile of blackberry, strawberry/raspberry, a little spice and dark chocolate finish.

2011 Optimus – 93 Points

2011 was a cool vintage in Paso and it showed… in a good way. This was the only vintage that was medium bodied and showed some finesse.

Appearance – 2.5/3, Aroma/Bouquet – 4/6, Taste/Texture – 6/6, Finish – 1.5/3, Overall Impression – 2/2

2012 Optimus – 95 Points

This vintage was lighter on the Petit Verdot and did a great job of developing structure with High Acidity and Medium+ Tannin. This is a balanced wine with a little of everything you want from the popular “Red Blend” style.

Appearance – 3/3, Aroma/Bouquet – 5/6, Taste/Texture – 6/6, Finish – 2.5/3, Overall Impression – 2/2

2013 Optimus – 89 Points

This vintage was considered a “classic” in Paso. Warm, early harvest with no surprises, but enough temp variation to develop good acidity. This vintage bottling was an example of a wine with too much obvious alcohol and not enough development of flavors. I think, too much under-developed Petit Verdot in the mix here. Too out of balance to improve with age.

Appearance – 2.5/3, Aroma/Bouquet – 3.5/6, Taste/Texture – 4/6, Finish – 3/3, Overall Impression – 1/2

2014 Optimus – 92 Points

This vintage was consistently warm, without temp variation. There must be a micro-climate variation at the L’Aventure vineyards, because this bottling had Very High Acidity and the alcohol was not as pronounced. The structure here was very evident and this vintage will age longer than the previous. An opportunity to develop some additional complexity and improve over the next few years.

Appearance – 3/3, Aroma/Bouquet – 4.5/6, Taste/Texture – 5/6, Finish – 3/3, Overall Impression – 1.5/2

2015 Optimus – 87 Points

This was an unusual weather year. For whatever reason, this bottling was all out of kilter. Too much burning alcohol on the nose and no harmony in the wine. A really poor year for this label.

Appearance – 2.5/3, Aroma/Bouquet – 3/6, Taste/Texture – 3.5/6, Finish – 2/3, Overall Impression – 1/2

2016 Optimus – 90 Points

This vintage was very near the warmest on record in Paso, but Asseo was able to keep the alcohol in check here. This bottling is a little too young to assess properly against the previous vintages. This may turn into a comparatively better vintage after a few years in the bottle.

Appearance – 2.5/3, Aroma/Bouquet – 3.5/6, Taste/Texture – 4/6, Finish – 3/3, Overall Impression – 1/2

2014 Cote a Cote – 96 Points

I popped this just to give the group some perspective and comparison with a traditional GSM. I am a Southern Rhone guy, so this wine had a lot of appeal for me. I tried to be impartial. In my opinion, Paso does the mix of Grenache and Syrah as well as any location in the world. The Grenache adding beautiful aromatics and acidity and the Syrah, depth. I would have enjoyed a little more earthiness from the Mourvedre, but you can’t have everything. The Cote a Cote year over year tends to achieve good balance, while still offering the big, extracted, alcohol heavy style Asseo is trying to achieve.

Appearance – 2.5/3, Aroma/Bouquet – 6/6, Taste/Texture – 5/6, Finish – 3/3, Overall Impression – 2/2

Impressions

Some of you may feel, how can an educated palate enjoy this heavily extracted style (get this question sometimes)? L’Aventure has always been a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. Not much of a food wine, but an after dinner sipper for sure. My only major impression this night was the continuing evolution of this label’s wines towards easier drinking styles, without a lot of nuance. Back 10 years ago, these wines would blow your mind. Marrying structure, balance and finesse with the “big” wine character you would expect. That has been changing the last few years and moving towards simpler taste profiles. One last comment, these are not wines that are built to age. In general, I would say 7-8 years in the bottle max, before they begin their downhill decent.

Comment on the UC Davis Wine Scoring System

In my opinion, there are serious short-comings to this system. That 2011 was a beautiful wine with more finesse and balance than all of these… but it had a bit of a weak nose and slightly uneven depth of color. If I could have, I would have given this wine 4 pts. for overall impression. That 16/20 score did not reflect the true success of that wine. With the #UCDavis system, there is no way to give that wine the score it deserved…

 

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Filed under GSM Blend, Paso Robles, Rhone Blend, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine by Varietal, Wine Collecting, Wine Education, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

California Wine Has Been Changing

Sarcasm Seems Appropriate

Confession: I am a collector of wine. Hmmmm… Yep, the tone works. Lately, I am feeling like I need to apologize to wineries, retailers and distributors for collecting and storing their product. Maybe I need to start a Collector’s Anonymous group? Perhaps, I can develop a 12 step approach to curing my apparent illness and become famous. You may ask yourself, “Why haven’t I heard of this problem?” It has been camouflaged, lurking around the edges of changing demographics and trending demand.

These days, I am feeling the need to justify a collector’s version of wine appreciation. The majority of my wine inventory is 8-15 years old and some as much as 25. As my inventory ages, the enjoyment of complex, textured and elegant wine grows. This wine world I live in, is no longer fashionable to the industry crowd.

$$Another Impact of Changing Demographics$$

Let’s use Napa wineries as an example. 25-30 years ago most major Bordeaux style red wine producers in Napa (Beringer, Mondavi, Montelena, Jos Phelps, etc.) all were producing wines capable of aging 15-30 years (some more). After 2000, those drinking windows started moving and became 10-12 years. The next threshold was crossed about 2014. Now, many of the traditional Napa wines I drink have had drinking windows landing somewhere in a 5-8 year range. I now have to be careful NOT to hold these wines too long. It just goes against my grain to pop $100/btl wine in less than 5 years!

Why should the average wine consumer care? To produce earlier drinking red wines, the style usually requires more time in contact with new American oak, often are more extracted, higher in alcohol and less acidic. In short, easier drinking wines that are appealing to the younger, less experienced palate.

I am now thinking of canceling many of my California wine clubs and moving to more Bordeaux product. Even many Chianti, Chianti Classico and Brunello wineries have succumbed. Barolo and Barbaresco too, but those wines had aging windows of 25-50 years and are now landing at 10-25 years. I can live with that. Too many wineries are relenting to the economic pressure of appealing to the growing Millenial segment that is looking for drink-now wines, even in the luxury price range (over $50/btl). Caymus and Silver Oak are the well-known examples to reference in this category.

Old World Sensibility Matters

Balance, balance and more balance! All this extended cold soak and maceration and barrel aging in New American Oak, ugh! Many red wines are now so heavily extracted, they ruin all but the richest foods. Yes, oak makes the wine rounder and adds pleasing vanilla flavors… It also adds wood and butter in reds (like Chardonnay) and destroys the freshness of the fruit. If you enjoy wine with food, forget it. These wines are so round, they will not cut through accompanying food.

Thank goodness I still have Bordeaux to turn to. Fewer and fewer Napa wineries care about producing a structured, balanced red wine that can age. My wine buying days have not ended yet, just turned to 10 year old red Bordeaux from auction!

 

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Filed under Cool Climate Wine, Wine Collecting, Wine Education, Wine Industry

2014 Kaena Hapa

2014 Kaena Hapa Red Blend

Santa Ynez Valley AVA, California

Tastiong Note:

Unusual red blend of syrah, malbec, cab sauv, grenache and petit verdot, but it works! Beautiful slightly floral nose rich in plum, blackberry, boysenberry, strawberry, vanilla, brown butter and tobacco. Smooth, delicate lighter texture, medium plus acidity and medium minus tannins. Palate is fruit forward with blackberry, plum, raspberry, strawberry and vanilla. A long fruity finish. I really enjoyed this wine! Just enough structure, but not overly complex. A broad fruit profile, good acidity and an elegant mouth-feel. This is a drink-now wine. Drinking window would be 2017-2019.

Purchased this bottle at a newer tasting room in Los Olivos, Santa Barbara County, California. Their notoriety has come from capturing an excellent expression of California grown Grenache. Their 100% Grenache wines were excellent (purchased these too). This odd blend was too tasty to pass up. Just introduced to this producer this year and really enjoying this winemaker’s style! Good value… if you run across this producer, give them a try.

 

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Filed under Santa Barbara County, Santa Ynez Valley, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

The Zinfandel Dilemma

I attended a presentation today at the 2017 Wine Bloggers Conference by a group of four Zin winery owners sponsored by ZAP (Zin Advocates & Producers) and heard this plea: we are serious winemakers producing serious wine, we deserve to be taken seriously! The session was titled “Zinfandel: Old and New.” I was expecting a serious discussion about old and new wine styles, but instead we heard the usual tired Zin topic: comparing old vs. young vine Zin. Not that this isn’t a viable topic, it has just been covered many times in many places and not really what these winemakers were passionate about. The ZAP moderator had to focus the discussion back on promoting the vineyards several times. This brings me to the reason for this commentary. I have seen it many times, when a winery doesn’t understand how best to develop a coordinated marketing plan, the focus is put on expression of place (terroir). There are definitely worse ideas, but Zinfandel in particular is a special case. Zinfandel has an identity problem first and foremost and if that isn’t addressed, all discussion of place is lost in the noise.

Red Zinfandel Wine & Consumer Perception

Zinfandel is the most manipulated wine grape on the planet. It is made in so many styles, you really have no idea what to expect every time you open a bottle from an unfamiliar producer. In contrast, when I pop Bordeaux/Meritage, Burgundy, or Rhône style wines, regardless of where they are made, I have a rough idea of what I will be tasting. That is a serious problem. If ZAP is trying to bring Zin into the premium space, they should be focusing on this issue. Collectors and restarauteurs need to have a point of reference. It must be quite difficult to build a marketing plan around a wine profile that is not generally familiar. Does the marketplace need some sort of generally accepted Zin style indicators?

So, here we go… my attempt to address this challenge:

RICH Zinfandel – Characterized by winemaking technique aimed at broad general appeal and high volume production. Usually driven by ideas like: whole cluster vacuum fermentation to add extraction and big fruit flavors, extended cold soak for more extraction, late harvest to accentuate over-ripe and raisiny fruit flavors and optical sorting to isolate late harvest raisins to make a concentrated must used to fortify larger batch production. Good examples would be Lodi and Paso Robles producers chasing the jammy Zin profile.

WARM CLIMATE Zinfandel – These would be producers in warm climate areas with a fine wine sensibility. Using Guyot trellising and vertical shoot positioning to build a Bordeaux style approach to Zin. This type of winemaking in these locations makes what I would call Zin with finesse. Not overly fruit-forward with low tannins and medium to medium-high acidity, often shooting for soft wines with good mouthfeel. Napa and Dry Creek Zin producers would be the example here.

COOL CLIMATE Zinfandel – These producers are trying to build a leaner style Zin with medium to high tannins and high to very high acidity. Often traditionalists, these estate vineyards are usually head-trained and laid out with more space 8’x8’ or 8’x12’ between the vines building a large cluster approach to fruit production. Zin tends to always drive fruity flavor profiles, so growing in a location with just enough sun and warmth to ripen the fruit seems to work. This is probably a “truer” expression of Zin for you purists and builds a wine much better for pairing with food. Producers from Amador and El Dorado Counties and Russian River are examples in this category.

Zinfandel BLEND – This is the newest idea in the industry and popularized by the very successful release of “The Prisoner” by Orin Swift orginally. Zinfandel as a varietal has broken through the stigma and become a more common blending grape. Several producers in Paso Robles have begun using Zin to add a fruit-forward and aromatic character in lieu of the traditional Grenache found in most Rhone blends. I find the result quite interesting. Try an example of a red blend with Zinfandel in the mix. When done well, these wines can be fruit-forward, acidic, tannic and have great mouthfeel all at once.

 Wine Tasting Session

2015 Terra d’Oro Deaver Vineyard – Mildly fruit-forward and slightly sour. Much like a Chianti without the structure. Some complexity would add interest. Medium acidity and tannins.

2015 Cedarville Vineyard Zinfandel – A fruit-forward nose and palate with black cherry and strawberry. A light mid-palate and finish of bitter dark chocolate. Medium-high acidity and medium-high tannins. This had a nice aromatic nose. Nice effort that maintains the integrity of the Zin profile, while offering a structured food-friendly approach.

2015 Proulx Zinfandel – A strong red fruit profile with a brambly note and a dominating nail polish character on the nose. Medium-high acidity and medium tannins.

2015 Limerick Lane Wines 1910 Block – This is loosely a Zinfandel “field blend”. More blackberry than the other wines tasted here (more black vs. red fruit). The enhanced black fruit is likely due to the other red varietals planted in this vineyard. There was a brambly character that added a pleasant complexity. High acidity and medium tannins.

Cool Climate Zinfandel

These four wines were grown in areas where at least the evenings are quite cool and the fruit is often picked a little earlier than other California Zin producers. These wine profiles were deliberately built to offer a more classic style of red wine with good structure and to pair well with food. Think food pairings like poultry, or pork – in particular, a Thanksgiving meal sort of sensibility.

Zinfandel Marketing

How do YOU feel about Zinfandel? It can be made in a very serious wine style, but is not often thought of this way. Marketing is critical for the producers in this style. It was mentioned in the session that these producers were not successfully selling into the Midwest and East Coast markets. The answer has to be an organization like ZAP that could develop a product identity well understood by the wine community.

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Filed under Cool Climate Wine, Lodi, Napa Valley, Paso Robles, Sonoma County, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine by Varietal, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes, Zinfandel

Hidden in Plain Sight

My wife and I spent years visiting Napa Valley thinking that Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars was THE Napa Stags Leap… Not that I put research, or thought into it, but I had no idea there were TWO. Many years ago, my wife and I arranged a tasting appointment at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and were hit over the head with their rustic approach to red wine. It is always a difficult decision to buy wines that require 10 years in the cellar to enjoy. We made that calculation in those early years and never visited that Stag’s Leap again. Surprise, discovering there is another similarly named winery with a completely different approach to making wine!

Trade Tasting at Stags’ Leap Winery

This was a beautiful property. Everything you could want in a destination winery property: picturesque, historical buildings with architectural interest and a colorful history all tucked back in a forested valley, off the Silverado Trail on the East Side of Napa Valley. Although, what was truly special was the wine.

Christophe Paubert – Winemaker

This was an opportunity to tour the facility, taste the product, hear the winemaker discuss his wines, ask questions and immerse yourself in this winery’s experience. The best kind of wine country adventure! Christophe is a passionate, down-to-earth guy with a vision for his wine. An Old World artist with a New World sensibility. Here is one of those special winemakers who succeeds in leaving his signature behind with every wine produced. Each red wine had a special character to the tannins… all very structured, with age-ability. Even young, the tannins were so fine, as to make the wine approachable on release. After 20+ years of collecting and tasting premium wine, you learn to recognize a deft hand. Grainy, rustic tannins in red wine become a bludgeon, beating you over the head. This heavy-handed, unpleasant approach to red wine magnifies a seeming lack of experience (interest?) in a refined approach to collectible wine production. On the other hand, this winemaker understands the importance of nuance in his approach. Think muscular, with a gentle side and a focus on aromas that draw you in. I have always had a soft spot for winemakers that pay attention to the nose when building their wine profile.

The Wines

2016 Viognier – Alsatian white wine feel with citrus and tropical fruits, minerality and a touch of spice. Huge acid backbone for a Viognier. Interesting and complex with a profile that could pair well with foods, or be drunk on its own.

2016 Napa Valley Chardonnay – Mix of new/neutral oak and stainless. No malolactic ferment. Tropical fruit and citrus on the nose. This is an Old World style Chardonnay that does not use a malo ferment to tame the acidity and add butter flavors (yay!) Contact with the lees has been used to add texture. This is a crisp, aromatic, high acid Chardonnay. Perfect pairing for seafood and white cream sauces, but fruity and interesting enough to drink on its own.

2014 Block 20 Estate Merlot – A lighter, more structured style than your typical Napa Merlot. A Right Bank Bordeaux feel, but with such fine, approachable tannins, it takes you down the path to Margaux. Plummy fruit forward nose and palate, with a rich brown butter flavor adding interest. The brown butter often comes from a combination of aging on the lees and just the right toast on the barrels. Christophe asserted this was just the character of this vintage’s fruit. Either way, a special Merlot that highlights the best of both Old and New World wines.

2014 Twelve Falls Estate Red – I just wanted to bathe in this stuff! Unusual blend of Cab Sauv, Petite Sirah and Merlot. The PS was handled in such a way that it complimented the other varietals, instead of overwhelming them. Plum, blackberry, blueberry, spice and everything nice! High acidity and high tannins. Superb red blend!

2014 The Leap Estate Cabernet Sauvignon –  Needed time to open and unwind. Steadily blooming flavors and complexity over time. This is a highly structured Cab Sauv with very high acidity and high tannins. Fruit forward blackberry and currant out front, with earth and leather to the mid-palate. I found myself wishing for a bit longer finish, but the silky mouth-feel filled the gap. Beautiful approachable young Napa Cab Sauv.

2014 Ne Cede Malis Estate Field Blend Red – Odd field blend of Bordeaux and Rhone varietals both red and white. Areas of this block in the estate vineyards were planted back to 1920. High acidity and high tannins, busy flavors and silky mouthfeel. Quite nice on the nose and on the palate. I think I am a touch too traditional… the wine had me thinking too much about identifying varietals and associated flavors. I know complex red blends are becoming more popular, taking us back to a hundred years ago when field blends were much more common, but recognizing wine styles brings a certain amount of comfort. This wine could easily grow on me, but would take time.

Stags’ Leap Wine Style

Consistently fine tannins and an aromatic nose were indicative of these wines. All highly structured, age-able and food friendly, these wines were also soft, pretty and approachable when young. Characteristic of a talented winemaker working with high quality fruit. Tasting appointments are required. Call ahead and take the time to find this hidden gem. It will be well worth your while.

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Filed under Bordeaux/Meritage Blend, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes, Wine Travel, Winemaker Interview

Climate Change and Wine

 

Not to minimize, or take away from the tragedy currently unfolding in Napa/Sonoma… our prayers go out to the families who are dealing with such terrible loss.

It is difficult to discuss causes this early, but I think all of us can easily recognize these fires are being worsened by very dry conditions. I have been talking to folks in the industry for months about the unseasonably hot and dry growing season this year and its impact, well before these fires added a horrible punctuation mark to the conversation. This should put the topic of climate change front and center in the minds of those in the wine industry – not just in the U.S., but globally…

Rising Trends

The long-term impact of global warming should have the largest effect on vineyard varietal selection. In the next 20 years will we see Napa/Sonoma start replanting vineyards to warm climate varietals? Will the vineyards start to look more like the Southern Rhone? In 20 years will Oregon/Washington State become the new Napa?

The short-term impact will be on harvest timing/strategies and winemaking. Before the fires, I saw a few CA winemakers chatting on Facebook about how the unusually hot harvest in 2017 might cause them to adjust their approach from past years. It will likely be the estate wineries that can be flexible and creative enough to weather this transition well (pun?).

Let’s start with a very important basic presumption: balanced wines are preferred and desirable. Napa moving to easy drinking Lodi Zinfandel style wines just doesn’t seem like an option to me. I have spoken to several winemakers over the past five years that are already experimenting with interesting techniques… These conversations have led me to realize that the steady trend toward more single vineyard wines and estate wineries is happening for many reasons beyond marketing strategies. Winemakers are reaching the conclusion that more control over the growing process is vital to the production of premium quality wines. These techniques may have a more far-reaching impact though: as options to minimize the effect of a warming climate…

How Can the Industry Adjust to Climate Change Now?

I am sure there are much smarter people out there with more training and great ideas on this topic, but this thought occurred to me recently…

Multiple Harvest Windows?

This strategy is basically, separating a vineyard into blocks and varying the harvest timing… requiring multiple harvest passes at different times in one vineyard. I can’t tell you how many other winemakers have told me this is a gimmicky, trendy technique and is a waste of time and money. I have tried to see the negative viewpoint, but the final consideration always comes back to the supporting science.

Before a winemaker can consider this alternative strategy, he/she has to either: be working for an estate winery, or have influence and control over the grower. I have talked to several winemakers/winegrowers who split harvest timing across several days/weeks to handle individual vineyard blocks separately. This can take advantage of rustic elements present in the fruit from earlier harvest vs. more advanced flavors/phenolic development from later harvest. Although, if the nights are not at least cool during Fall harvest season, good acidity levels will still be difficult to achieve. Earlier harvest can also control sugar in the must (fruit) and subsequent alcohol content in the wine. Some are taking this thinking a step further and investing in the equipment and resources to perform small-batch fermentation of each separately harvested block… to add complexity and balance via blending. In a world where Fall is becoming warmer, an interesting investigation might be whether earlier harvest in one block could help offset the impact of a more traditionally timed harvest in another?

Popular Wine Grape Varieties and Vineyard Location

The Bordeaux grape varieties that comprise the majority of red wine currently sold in the world (Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec & Carmenere), do not produce classic wine styles when grown in warmer climates. That doesn’t mean there aren’t varietals grown in warm climates that don’t produce structured, balanced wines… Syrah, Grenache, Aglianico, Tannat, Tempranillo (to name a few)… but to go down this path, the majority of the world’s vineyards ( from 35th to 45th parallels) would have to be replanted AND the world would have to be re-educated on which varietals to drink.

When grown in a warm climate, the most common wine grape varieties in the world, tend to produce simple, easier drinking wines that do not pair well with food. Regardless of the necessities driven by global warming, it is unlikely that consumers will accept new styles of wine simply because current vineyards are not planted in cooler climates.

Forest Fires, Vineyard Fires & Climate Change

There will never be a good approach to bringing these pieces together. Vineyards need to be starved of water and nutrients in a carefully controlled process to concentrate flavors and produce complex premium wines. Vineyards cannot be over-watered, which means they will always be “dry” by definition. As global warming continues, it will be critical to clear an open space around vineyards, so scrub and forest cannot easily transfer fire conditions by proximity. I can’t tell you how many vineyards in the mountains around Napa and Sonoma are nestled in and completely surrounded by forest. What makes for a beautiful setting, may cause a fire risk that is no longer acceptable. Any change along these lines could dramatically change the picturesque nature of wine country (California?) moving forward.

Change is a disruptor we all have difficulty contending with in many areas of our lives. It is likely wineries and wine enthusiasts alike will have to change expectations in coming years.

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2008 Acacia Chardonnay Winery Lake Vineyard

2008 Acacia Chardonnay Winery Lake Vineyard

California Carneros AVA

Wine Tasting Note:

I have to wonder, am I drinking a different wine than the others leaving notes on CellarTracker? Take note: you definitely have to be more of a White Burgundy fan, than a Cali Chard fan to enjoy this wine. Conflicting thoughts on this one… This wine is wound very tight, like a Crus Chablis might, without enough cellaring. On the pop, the nose is all bitter key lime, grapefruit and brine. Let the wine rest for 15 minutes and the nose begins to blossom a bit. Definite honeysuckle and green apple comes to play, in addition to the other aromas. Now, the alcohol comes forward – another Cali producer over-doing a white with 14% alcohol. The palate is complex. After 30 minutes, the sweet honeysuckle moves to the front and lime, grapefruit and brine moves to a well-defined mid-palate. The oak is not subtle here, but it adds interest by exaggerating the mouth-feel coming from stirring the lees. The wine almost feels like heavy cream in the mouth. The acid level is high. This could easily age another five years. How would you feel about a 15 year aged Cali Chardonnay? The finish is very, very long with a lightly sweet-sour flavor that persists. This is like a better White Burgundy, missing the finesse. This should be drunk with specific foods to tame its wildness. The acidity would hold up well to the most buttery of white cream sauces I can think of, in fact, linguine in a rich white clam sauce is coming to mind! Drinking window easily until 2022.

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Filed under Carneros, Chardonnay, Napa Valley, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine by Varietal, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Two Rhys Chardonnays

Rhys Alpine Vineyard

My wife and I pulled out a couple of stellar California Chardonnays from the cellar last night. Rhys really does stand out as a quality Chardonnay producer. I normally go to French White Burgundy for quality and value in this category, but Rhys has compared well and I do try to support the better quality USA wineries. I must admit, typically I do not enjoy New World white wines under $40/btl. In general, they are produced to accompany food, or as an easy drinking aperitif and have little nuance. The challenge is, moving from Old World Chardonnay to California, you have to be willing to spend $60-100/btl. for similar quality. I usually prefer to stick with comparable French whites and pay 1/2 to 3/4 the price. Unfortunately, even Rhys has been raising their bottle price lately and is approaching a poor value proposition with White Burgundies…

Here are my tasting notes on the two Rhys wines we drank last night:

2013 Rhys Alpine Vineyard Chardonnay

California Central Coast AVA

Tasting Note:

The nose is complex with citrus and tropical fruits… candied lemon, bright fresh lemon, banana and pineapple. There is a tinge of alcohol and a kiss of minerality too. The palate is more straight-forward. Fresh lemon, bitter lemon rind leading to a lemon curd finish that has a touch of sweetness. The main impression here is of an understated wine, the nuances of which will not be experienced with food. I think the mouth-feel is still developing, so with very high acidity, I would let this rest a few more years to achieve the best tasting experience (drinking window 2015-2020). This drinks very well now as a quality Cali Chard, but if you are willing to wait, I think this will mature to add another point or two to the rating.

2012 Rhys Alesia Alder Springs Vineyard Chardonnay

California Central Coast AVA

Tasting Note:

At first pop, nice fruity candied meyer lemon on the nose that blows off after a few minutes. Nose settles down to a typical Cali Chard – lots of citrus, with some alcohol and a touch of concrete minerality. Very high acidity and well integrated alcohol. The palate is all citrus up front, with a mid-palate of bitter lemon rind and medium-long finish with a hint of vanilla. This wine is elevated by the mouth-feel. It has a delicate, silky texture that significantly enhances the drinking experience without food. With food, could be an excellent pairing with a citrus marinated pork loin. This is big enough to handle a few more years in the cellar, but is definitely in its drinking window now (drinking window 2014-2018).

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Filed under Chardonnay, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine by Varietal

Watching a California AVA Change its Identity

lodi_native_logo_288

There is a small group of pioneering winemakers taking the leap of faith (with some encouragement) to embrace a different approach to Lodi winemaking. They offer limited production premium wines and are fashioning a new identity for the region.

The brilliance of the vision is in the marketing. Wine collectors and enthusiasts follow winemakers and vineyards… it is the dirty secret most wineries would rather not acknowledge. Strong distribution, labels, shelf-talkers, shelf space and displays draw the average consumer. So, when you talk premium wine, what describes successful marketing? …Rock Star winemakers and masterfully managed vineyards. Examples on the vineyard side: I am always looking for single vineyard designate wines from Beckstoffer, Bien Nacido and Stolpman vineyard sites at below market prices. Same applies to winemakers like: Foley, Hobbs, Grahm, Lindquist, Smith, Ramey, Petroski, etc. (too many favorites to list). I am always looking…

The Lodi Native Project

This project was the original brain-child of Randy Caparoso (see bio here: Randy Caparoso), but it’s success depended on the execution of a group of winemakers who embraced the challenge. At its core, the project represents a winemaking philosophy, but the goal is much broader and ambitious. It includes a group of winemakers (Layne Montgomery-M2, Stuart Spencer-St. Amant, Ryan Sherman-Fields Family, Mike McCay-McCay Cellars, Tim Holdener-Macchia and Chad Joseph-Maley Brothers) that individually agreed to release 100-250 cases per vintage of Lodi AVA vineyard designate wines under a set of rules that require non-interventionist winemaking. The parameters include: all natural wild yeast (no inoculation), no additives (i.e. acidification), no filtering, all neutral oak in aging, etc. The heritage vineyard sites (see historic vineyards here: Heritage Vineyard Society) include: Marian’s Vineyard, Schmiedt Ranch Vineyard, Soucie Vineyard, Stampede Vineyard, TruLux Vineyard and Wegat Vineyard. These are all “Old Vine” vineyard sites (see Lodi Native vineyard info here: Lodi Native About).

Why is this Special?

This project represents the re-making of an AVA. There will always be bulk fruit and wine produced out of Lodi AVA, but this effort is showcasing why/how Lodi can be different and have at least a small footprint on the premium wine scene. What does Lodi Native bring to the wine world we do not already have? These are quality, terroir-driven, food friendly Zinfandel based wines at reasonable prices. I have not tasted other Zins quite like these. The previously recognized quality Zin producers, like Seghesio and Ridge are very different. Go Lodi Native! Your team has added diversity to the world of wine…

The Impact

Lodi has a large number of Heritage designate Old Vine Vineyard sites. Many were planted with their own root system (not spliced onto alternative root stock). Lodi is fortunate to have sandy-loam soils at some sites where phyloxera cannot survive. The native root systems on these 90-120 year old vines do seem to have an effect on the character of the wine. Many of these vineyards yield only 2-3 tons of fruit per acre, without intervention. These self-regulating vines seem to have “learned” how to contribute to yield management on their own.

These sites represent a valuable asset to the local wine community, having as much to do with quality winemaking, as the historical significance they hold. The importance of these vineyards was not recognized until roughly ten years ago, but it was Randy’s vision that made them commercially viable, and it was the winemakers’ commitment to showcasing the uniqueness that brought the project together.

Lodi Native has given a voice to the different nature of this AVA. Maybe Randy guessed at what could happen if the winemakers pulled it off, but I don’t think any of them understood what it would mean to building a local wine identity… beyond bulk wine grape production. These wines are very good in a serious classic sense and are terroir driven. They offer structure and balance, something missing from much of the rest of the AVA and they definitely belong in the category of premium wines. They offer a delicate finesse, focusing on soft mouth-feel, floral nose/palate and age-ability.

Value

If you are a wine enthusiast, you owe it to yourself to seek out these wines. They are the beginning of the emergence of the classic Lodi AVA and the value is solid.

More on Lodi Native Wines to come…

 

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Winery Profits, Vineyard Management and Winemaking

success

Future of Lodi AVA

This has been an illuminating couple of days at #WBC16. I think I have an initial feel for a few of the major issues facing the Lodi AVA. First, the wine industry potential here has no limit. The terroir is capable of producing interesting enough wines to support a solid run at the premium wines category, but the local farming culture is actively impeding progress.

Multi-generational wine growing families dominate large swathes of the region, bringing a focus on farming science to the local wine industry identity. I spoke with a large sampling of wineries here and almost all ownership either originally started as growers, still have a fruit supply contract, or have a family history in farming. This is an AVA where large production wineries dominate the local economy with bulk wine and large production labels in the $10-20/btl price range. There is a clear local perception of Lodi’s current market position, but a few have a vision for the future and entry into the premium and ultra-premium categories… where double digit growth in the industry lies. The cost per ton of bulk wine grapes sold for volume production has been stagnant here, whereas the cost of quality fruit for small production labels has been rising. Some here with a head for business and a marketing sensibility, see the profit potential in a change of approach.

These factors are just the background for the Lodi discussion. The real issue is the identity crisis being caused by conflict between farming science and premium winemaking philosophies. Fruit production concerns here, not the winemakers approach, are driving the final product. Napa, Sonoma and parts of the Central Coast have already moved past this barrier. These other regions have developed production environments where the winemaker’s vision is effectively incorporated into the vineyard management strategy. This evolution has not reached Lodi yet and the battle for the identity of Lodi AVA is solidly underway.

Winemaking Strategies and Vineyard Management

I attended a short panel discussion during the conference that was focused on viticulture in the area. The ideas expressed… were hard to believe. In a world where Lodi is striving to be relevant in the premium wine category, this one discussion put the region back a decade. The panel asserted that quality wine could be produced from vineyards managed to deliver 10-12 tons of fruit per acre. One of the individuals on the panel was adamant! I wrote an article last year related to a similar topic that applies: Is a Trained Palate Necessary to Produce Fine Wine? I was referring to winemakers in the piece, but it can also apply to vineyard managers as well. I have tasted wines comparatively from fruit harvested at 2 tons, 4 tons and 6 tons/acre. There is a very noticeable difference. As a common theme across all Napa/Sonoma winemakers I have interviewed – none of these wineries sourced fruit from vineyards producing over 5 tons/acre. So, this panel is telling me Lodi vineyards can produce quality fruit at 10-12 tons/acre… AND dropping fruit does not increase concentration of flavors?

Team Commitment to Quality

In the premium and ultra-premium categories today there are many techniques in use that have an impact on vineyard management strategy. The goal is to enhance structure, balance and complexity in the final product. Here are a few:

  • Multi-Pass and Small Block Harvesting
  • Small Lot Fermentation and Blending
  • Extended COLD – Soak, Maceration and Fermentation.

I explained some of these techniques in a previous blog post at: Why Do Wines Taste So Different? These represent winemaker driven strategies and are the hallmark of an ultra-premium mindset. Very few of these techniques are in use currently in Lodi. The changes required in vineyard operations to adopt these methods is not consistent with a farming driven approach to wine growing. If winery operations teams can’t move thinking in this direction, bulk wine growing will continue to dominate the region.

Profitability and Perceptions of Success

How do Lodi wine professionals measure success in the wine industry? Does that vision conflict with profitability?

It is clear to me, many of these Lodi wine growers measure their success by their ability to produce reasonable quality at the highest yields. Profitably producing fruit under a 10 year contract with Gallo at $600-800/ton is the picture of that success. My imagination is just not captured by what it takes to be profitable producing 500,000 cases of wine. There is definitely more than one approach to running a profitable winery, but from the wine service perspective, achieving high quality and acclaim is the definition. That quality has typically come from single vineyard designate, estate wine production. I think there are many students of winery operations that could deliver quality at 3-5,000 cases… and struggle to make a profit. What is truly impressive is a 10-25,000 case winery developing demand at a premium price point and driving healthy profits! Notable success in the Wine Industry should be measured by producing highly acclaimed premium and ultra-premium wines, while delivering a serious return on investment.

Is Change Necessary in Lodi?

Is the agricultural flavor of the local area what defines Lodi? Yes. Can the local industry be profitable with offering fruit by the ton, bulk wine and $10-20/btl wines? Yes. Will the area draw attention from the wine trade around the world and move producers here into the premium and ultra-premium categories? Resoundingly – no. What is the future of Lodi wine production? I guess, we will all wait and see…

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