Category Archives: Wine Articles

Grapelive Latest: Wineries to Watch

Napa Valley Refocused With Some New Faces to Look For

By Kerry Winslow, grapelive

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kwimage615.jpgOver the past couple of years, with this deep recession, there has been a big refocus on what is Napa Valley and where it should go in the future. Many labels and wineries have disappeared and many more with do so soon, it is the times and the reality now. The boom years and the era of easy money are gone and it is time for the real wine guys to shine again, a time for the passionate winemakers to move out of the shadows of the wannabes and take their place as the face of Napa Valley. Now, I will admit that those that still have their fortunes continue and most of the big names still draw attention, but I am seeing some new faces making it even in these difficult economic conditions, and that is a great thing to see.

I will always root for the “I’m doing it because I love it, and because it is in my heart” crowd and want to give them my loyal support when I can. During the last few months I’ve traveled the wine country, especially Napa Valley and met these kinds of souls and was struck by how down to earth and enthusiastic they were, and tasted their wines, and was left in awe, being impressed greatly by the quality and complexity of these handcrafted wines. For the purist, Napa Valley is all about Cabernet Sauvignon so that is what I’ll stick with here for this article, though I have seen the quality of everything from Chenin Blanc to Zinfandel rise in this fabled Valley.

One of my friends, who makes wine, and once said he’d never do a Napa Cabernet, is now doing exactly that, though he is mixing it with a healthy dose of Petite Sirah that is growing in the same vineyard. I just tried he barrel from this last harvest, and it was a true unique terroir wine with life and vibrancy, proving that Napa Cabernets don’t have to be formula flavored generic to be admired. What I mean is, over the last ten years most Napa wineries tried to make what everyone else was making, a dumbing down of the wines, making for a dark, low acid, almost sweet wine with lots of oak. They were all hoping to gather big scores in the wine press and make lots of money, and many did for a long while. Not that there was anything wrong with the wines, it was that for a period of time most tasted very much the same. They almost took out the natural flavors of the vineyard, by means of picking very late with super high sugars and using all high toast new oak barrels. On the good side, this made the wines with smoother tannins and less acidity, making the wines much easier to drink young, unlike the “Old School” Napa guys, Diamond Creek and older Dunn Vineyards which always had powerful tannins and were difficult or near impossible to drink young.

There seems to be a happy middle ground that has come to the fore, and some experienced and some new winemakers that have taken a bit of old and bit of new and have dialed in a more interesting wine in the process, the would call it letting the vineyard, or the place speak for itself. While we’ve seen a trend to bring the sugars down, as well as the alcohol level, but not sacrificing true ripening of the grapes. This is a more intensive method and makes for higher costs in the vineyard, as the vines need to be much more closely catered to and coddled. Making sure the grapes are fully ripe, but not lacking in acid is tough in hot vintages, though with great management and care it can be done, and I’m seeing it in these new Napa Cabernets.

Here are some wineries and winemakers to search out or watch over the next few years as their stars are rising, or have been even more so lately. Without any order of significance I’ll put some of my thoughts and reflections of whom I was really impressed by in this last year or so and think that will be more highly regarded in the future. Of course many will be missed or overlooked, as I can’t visit everyone in this time frame, but I’ll follow up later with others as I have opportunity in following articles.

rudiuswines.jpgA few years back, I met a winemaker Jeff Ames, from America’s great south, that was just starting his own label in his spare time, as he was a full time assistant winemaker to Thomas Brown, at Schrader, Tor (Jeff took over as head winemaker in 2003), Outpost and Maybach, one of the elite winemakers at the moment, and tried his wine. It was a Syrah and it was almost mind-blowing glorious, and I knew I had to keep an eye on this guy, and now his winery Rudius is a huge hit and he is specializing in Cabernet Sauvignon now with tiny lots being made from small plots from unique corners and hills around Napa Valley. Jeff Ames, the winemaker, has with almost no budget or huge dollars backing him has turned out to be a star and I can’t even get a bottle of his wine it is so sought after! I can say I tasted his first Rudius wine, but now he is in with Robert Parker, the world’s most famous wine critic, which is like getting the golden ticket. I suggest you search him out and get on his mailing list as soon as you can, I can tell you that you will not be disappointed.

Rudius Cabernet Sauvignon is sold only on the mailing list and as a futures pre-order, the current vintage has sold out, meaning I can’t write any tasting notes even. The Rudius Syrah and Grenache are worth checking out in the meantime.

sheldons.jpgAnother young guy that has turned from Rhone style wines to Cabernet Sauvignon is Dylan Sheldon, of Sheldon Wines a “Micro-Winery” who found an old vine vineyard in St. Helena that has a field blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and with a good chunk of Petite Sirah mixed in the site. Instead of separating the grapes he has chosen to craft a cuvee from them as they are and the result is very impressive in the barrel, though you’ll have to wait another couple of years before release. Dylan and his partner and wife Tobe, have won praise for their signature Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine, the Vinolocity, and have had 90 Point scores in Wine Enthusiast for their Pinot Noir, but have now turned their attention to Cabernet and will be doing more of it in the future. The Napa wine they call “Weatherly Cuvee” might be offered to their list early, so again I’d check them out, and drink some of their other wines while you wait.

I was lucky enough to run into Dylan recently, and got to taste some of his wine in barrel, including his Napa Cabernet Sauvignon Blend (with Petite Sirah) to be called the Sheldon”Weatherly Cuvee” Napa Valley,  from the vineyard in St. Helena. This wine is about 2 years away from release and just a baby in barrel, but is all ready showing elegance and delicate flavors, though it with really bulk up as it ages and develop a thick texture. It has a bright purple hue and lots of blackberry fruit, it is wine to look forward to….

fairchild2.jpgOne of the top wines I’ve had out of Napa in the last couple of years comes from a new winery called Fairchild Estate, and if you are a regular reader of my articles you’ll have heard me comparing it to Chateau Latour and heaping praise on these Cabernets. Lawrence Fairchild’s estate vineyard and wine Sigaro is an amazing wine, both the 2006 and 2007 releases are magical. Fairchild employs the talented team of winemaker Paul Hobbs and one of the top gurus of vineyard management Jim Barbour to tend to his baby, a very smart and successful move. Fairchild also has a cuvee from top vineyards that Paul Hobbs makes for him, and it too is remarkable, with the 2006 mostly coming from Beckstoffer’s To-Kalon Vineyard and the 2007 mostly from grapes off Beckstoffer’s George III Vineyard, both some of the best fruit available.

2007 Fairchild Cabernet Sauvignon “Sigaro” Napa Valley.

This amazing wine is all ready very compelling with a hedonistic and fragrant bouquet of perfume, violets, lilacs and other wildflowers on the nose with touches of cedar spice, black fruits and vanilla. All this before you even taste the wine itself, which is a good sign for things to come, and good things do come on the palate, in force too. The mouth is filled with black currants, mountain berries, cherry liqueur, blueberries and crème de cassis, while in the background there is plum, melted licorice, a sage like spice and cigar box. A nice elegant cherry and cedar element come out too after some air, as does some mocha, almost chocolate like notes add complexity. All the layers unfold beautifully and as all the wines I’ve tried from this estate everything is well balanced with a very defined focus, while the tannins are well integrated and ripe, giving solid structure with any harshness. Only 100 cases made. ($150 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive.

doslagos.gifThen there is a tiny estate on the eastern side of the Napa Valley that should get some mention, Dos Lagos Vineyards, this really small vineyard and label has been brought from total obscurity to almost breakthrough status by the talented Robert Foley, for winemaker at Pride Mountain Vineyards, and famous for his own Robert Foley label as well. Bob fell in love with the grapes here and uses them in his own wine and also makes a small lot of single vineyard Cabernet for Tom Dinkel. Dinkel bought the property around ten years ago with a small vineyard and has planted a bit more since, and has been rewarded with great fruit, but the yields are so low there is not much wine at the end of the day. Foley has certainly played a huge role and been a great guide to Dinkel, and has made a fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon that is both expressive of the vineyard and full flavored and explosively rich, maybe taking it to the extreme with going over the edge is the best way to describe it, but is great non the less.

2007 Dos Lagos Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
The 2007 Dos Lagos is a deep and thickly concentrated Cab with solid structure and fruit intensity with a black/purple hue that coats the glass. The palate is ripe, but focused showing massive black fruits and pure Cabernet character, leading with blackberry, dark currant, plum and blueberries before array of background flavors unfold. Interesting crème de cassis, mocha, cedar spice, cigar tobacco and violet like perfume all come across in layer after layer with powerful tannins holding things together, though thankfully they are not harsh or distracting from the wine and I’m sure as it is still a very young wine will fade in time to allow much pleasure over the following 5-10 years. Bob Foley, ex Pride, and maker of top Napa Cabernet like his own Claret, Switchback Ridge and Hourglass seems to have fallen in love with the terroir at this rugged Atlas Peak location, and after tasting this vintage, I think he is on to something big here.($125 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

cimarossarivadiponente.jpgLastly, I am excited to be visiting soon Cimarossa winery on Howell Mountain, a winery I fell in love with a few years back. This vineyard and estate is all ready a top level producer, though still not well known, with the perfect location, steep terraced vines and with Mia Klein making the wine they have too much going for them not to succeed! Mia, famed for her past and present roles as winemaker to Della Valle, Araujo and Spottswoode, just to name a few as well as her own Selene label, continues to grab headlines and press for her elegant and layered wines that rival or better all comers. Ex-Peter Michael man, Sean Capiaux made the Cimarossa Cabernets until this last harvest, and the current wines are drinking great! Cimarossa (Red Hill) with it’s Italian owner Dino Dina of Genoa also makes an estate olive oil from trees on the property, that also give the place an exotic flair, not that it needed more with such great wine and being on the famous slopes of Howell Mountain, Cimarossa is a must have Cabernet Sauvignon. You would be well served to get on their mailing list soon and watch for their new releases coming soon.

Of course there are many others I should talk about and I will, but this is a tight little list of some very interesting people and wines that are just now being recognized and that offer wines that are distinct in character and have soul, that also showcase their individual terroirs and styles. Napa Valley has its Opus Ones, Caymus, Silver Oak and Joseph Phelps that produce tens of thousands of cases of very good, if not great Cabernet, but is nice to see the small guys take the stage too, and especially as they produce their Cabernets in the hundreds of cases, making it just that much more special and rare.

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Cimarossa Winery
www.cimarossa.com
1185 Friesen Dr, Angwin, CA, 94508-9670. Phone: (707) 965-2143

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Fairchild Estate Vineyards
www.fairchildwines.com
P.O. Box 807 St. Helena, CA. 94574 Telephone (866) 725-7503. Fax (707) 581-7393

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Sheldon Wines
www.sheldonwine.com
6761 Sebastopol Avenue #500 Sebastopol, CA. 95472 Phone: (707) 829-8100 Fax: (707)824-2676

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Dos Lagos Vineyards
www.doslagosvineyards.com
Phone (415) 279-9227 

Fax (415) 358-4534

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Rudius Wines
www.rudiuswine.com
P.O. Box 552 Napa, CA. 94559 Phone: (707) 287-2986

Grapelive Latest: June 12

Grapelive Daily Pick

By Kerry Winslow

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sheldonkendric.jpg2006 Sheldon Pinot Nor “Kendric Vineyard” Marin County.
This tiny vineyard, planted to a few clones of Pinot, including Pommard, may end being a one off for the Sheldon’s, but I can recommend this vintage to you, as it is a full and impressive Pinot that has good depth and rich fruit. Dylan Sheldon, winemaker, was so fond of the vineyard with a lone tree standing tall in the middle of it that he made a completely unique label to honor it. The wine has very ripe flavors and intensity, with lots of black fruits and a lush texture, finishing long and with toasty sweet oak. The nose has hints of violets, and rose petals along with wild berries, smoke and vanilla. The palate is big and round with black cherry, plum and strawberry pie notes, while there is sweet tea, kirsch and baking spices in the background. This wine has more depth and color than most 2006 Pinots and has lots of mouth-feel, and it is getting more interesting each time I try it. Sheldon made 180 cases of this unfined and unfiltered Pinot Noir, get it before it’s gone. ($45 Est.) *93 Points, grapelive (re-visited)

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Grapelive Latest: News

Grapelive Quote of the Day

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RE: Champage vs Viagra, getting us through the tough economic times

….’But we will always have the time to make love and drink Champagne, and we will do it even more.’

Like most of the major Champagne houses, Taittinger’s sales have been badly affected by the economic downturn, with volumes down 10% during 2009.

But Taittinger said he expected sales to rise 10-20% this year, aided by 40% year-on-year growth in China. Champagne’s only competitor? ‘Viagra’….

Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger

(Taittinger Champagne)

*From an article at Decanter.com

Grapelive Latest: June 7

Grapelive Daily Pick

By Kerry Winslow

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vinolocity.jpg2005 Sheldon “Vinolocity” Rhone Style Red.
This is the signature wine of this “Micro-Winery” and it is a beautiful and lush Grenache based red that is drinking wonderfully and hitting its top form. I’ve had this wine quite a few times now and seen it go through many phases, but now it has really turned pretty and layered. The nose is fruity and has a sweet bouquet and the palate is ripe and flavorful with grenadine, raspberry, strawberry and has a plum fruit core. There are touches of subtle oak, lavender, light spicy pepper and the body is round and smooth. Dylan and Tobe Sheldon wanted to make this wine, which has a dollop of Syrah, in a Gigondas style and I think they came close, though this wine is much cleaner and less earthy than the Rhone versions, so it will appeal to a much wider range of palates. This wine drinks like a fine Pinot Noir, but is a bit more ripe and racy. ($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

www.sheldonwine.com

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Grapelive Latest: June 5 & 6

Grapelive Weekend Pick

By Kerry Winslow

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sheldonpnsc.jpg2005 Sheldon Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast.
This wine just gets better and better, and is really ready right now to drink, giving much pleasure and peak performance. Sourced from the famed Dutton Ranch, Sheldon made a tiny production of this tasty Pinot Noir that is unfined and unfiltered, a real natural wine that has perfume and silky texture. This ruby colored Pinot is pretty in the glass with a slight touch of clouds, but still clear, luring you in and seducing you with its charms. The palate is still lively and vivid with raspberry, rose petals, sweet cherry and plum layers. The bottle age has worked magic, and makes for a wine that is totally in balance with soft acidity and rounded flavors, there are flashes of tea spices, truffle and nice vanilla oak notes that all lift the fruit and add to the whole experience. This Pinot has won me over, again and I suggest getting some quick as it is almost sold out! ($30-38 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive

www.sheldonwine.com

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Grapelive Latest: June 3

Grapelive Daily Pick

By Kerry Winslow

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valdezpn.jpg2007 Valdez Pinot Noir “Lancel Vineyard” Russian River Valley.
Ulises Valdez grows grapes for famous winemakers, Paul Hobbs, Jeff Cohn and the cult wonder Marc Aubert, and he also lets them make a little wine for him, for his Valdez label, and this Pinot is made under the direction of Marc Aubert, of Colgin and his own label Aubert. The 2006 was wonderful, but this vintage is just that much better and fuller in every way. The nose is more intense and the flavors are just than much more vivid and lively, making this a real sleeper and a wine you should search out. The palate is pure Russian River, with lots of black cherry and dark plum fruit, cola and smoky sweet wood notes. Drink anytime, but I think it will just get better and more textured over the next few years, allowing some secondary flavors to come forward.
($60 Est.) 93-94 Points, grapelive

*avail. at:

www.dickwarnerwines.com

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Grapelive Latest: June 1

Grapelive Daily Pick

By Kerry Winslow

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schug.jpg2008 Schug Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast.
I must admit, I almost forgot about this classic Pinot Noir estate, but I am glad I got a sample of this wine to review, and I revived my taste bud admiration for Walter Schug’s Carneros Estate Winery. Even in what most people are finding a lighter vintage, I keep finding balanced and textured Pinot Noirs that make me happy and this is one that I like very much and think is a nice drinking wine that offers great value. The nose has bright fruit and earthy spices with a touch of flower petals and smoke before a silky palate and a crisp fresh finish. Everything is very correct for a Burgundy style Pinot, with more delicate flavors and balancing acidity, making it super with a wide range of foods and given a slight chill also makes it lovely on a warm afternoon, which I plan on this summer! The ruby color is vivid and pretty, the body clean and round, the flavors learn on fresh cherry, and the background has subtle oak, Asian spices, mushroom and cranberry, while the finish is tangy, fresh and crisp.
($21-26 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

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Grapelive Latest: May 28

Grapelive Daily Pick

By Kerry Winslow

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thackreypn.jpg2007 Sean Thackrey Pinot Noir “Andromeda” Devil’s Gulch Ranch, Marin.
Wow, this is a wild wine, a true Thackrey creation and so hard to explain in words! To tell you what it tastes like almost takes away the surprise, I hate to give away too much, but it is sort of like a cross between Bandol and Burgundy, but with a real twist. If you have had Sean’s wines before you’ll understand and love this wine, but it will take a newcomer a little while to get it, though it will win anyone over, as long as you have an open mind. The nose is reduced and there is a balsamic note along with dried flowers and red fruits. The Palate is vivid and loaded with menthol, licorice and baked cherry with poached plum and lavender oil. After that first impression a more subtle side comes forward with mineral, truffle, spice and sweet herb notes. Sean Thackrey makes totally unique and wild wines and expresses his genius in every single one. ($45-60 Est.)
94 Points, grapelive

*available at www.dickwarnerwines.com $45

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Grapelive Latest: May 26

Grapelive News May 26, 2010
By Kerry Winslow

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vinesinthesun.jpgMay has been an interesting time in the wine country, with lots of rain and some breaks with sunshine, which has made for lots of green growth going on in the vineyards, but causing some worry with the growers. It certainly looks beautiful when the sun comes out and I have enjoyed a few wonderful days of touring around and walking through the vines. With really tough economic times, there is a real edgy and nervous air above the famed Napa Valley, with lots of whispers about who is in serious trouble or even a few that have quietly closed their doors all together. That said, the great wines continue to sell out fast and collectors still fighting to grab as many bottles of rare vino as they can. People talk about China and Asia being the only buyers out there, but I can tell you that is not the whole story, and while Bordeaux seems to be the apple of Asia’s eye, the top California wines seem to mostly stay in the state.
Lately, I have seen Peter Michael, Aubert, Morlet and many tiny boutique Cabernet makers blow through their new releases in days, sometimes hours! That said, it is the $20-60 a bottle wines that seems to be the hardest hit in the market place, some of that is because of higher production, but it seems to me that is has more to do with a tight economy for the lower middle-class wine buyer.
I could care less for the under $10 a bottle segment, as those as products that for the most part are factory made wines that are marketed and made to a different formula, they are less wine than soda pop or energy drinks in that they have slick packages and no soul or terroir at all. There are some exceptions of course, but brands like Yellow Tail and Turning Leaf, plus thousands of others, while successful, are not much more than flavored drinks that in most cases taste almost as sweet as Pepsi. If you want a good value that tastes like wine in that price range stick to Spain, parts of Southern France and Italy, especial as the Euro has fallen in exchange rate against the US dollar.
winetrain.jpgNapa is trying to refocus and lift its reputation, after a decade of greed and snobbery things look to be coming down to earth again, and it is nice to have access to the winemakers and to be able to taste some of these highly rated and highly priced wines, some of which I had been told on more than one occasion that “We never pour our wines, all s sold to our mailing list…” Well, that has all changed, and it is all for the better, we need less arrogance and more teamwork if we are going to rebuild the wine business for the next generation and beyond. While there is again some frenzied buying at the top end, there is still much to do to make a real recovery last. The first steps look promising so stay tuned.

Grapelive Latest: May 25

Grapelive Daily Pick

By Kerry Winslow

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honigcab.jpg2007 Honig Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.
This wine would have to be one of the all time underrated Cabs in Napa, but great for the wine lover that has a budget! 2007 is a super vintage and Honig didn’t mess it up, as this Cabernet is lush and deeply flavored with chocolate like thickness and good complexity. I think it will only get better with a few years of age, but it still is a good find right now. The nose is full of nice mocha and toasty sweet oak notes, and the mouth is rich with red fruits and medium weight texture. The palate is refined and balanced with plum, currant and black cherry layers, hints of mineral, pencil lead and creamy vanilla all coming together nicely. If you want a good value from a great vintage, this would be a good choice.
($36 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

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