2020 Winter Newsletter
I know that it has been a long time since we have sent out a release letter. Every time I started to write one it seemed as if we had entered another crisis phase or the current ones simply got worse. The first one, and the one still continuing, was the outbreak of the COVID pandemic. We received word on Sunday March 8 of the impending shutdown of wineries, along with almost everything else. It was the Sunday of our first two Wine Road barrel tasting weekends. We were excited, as we were not able to participate the prior year, as we had almost nothing to show from the 2017 vintage as we made very little zinfandel. For a long time afterward, although we were allowed to work with our wines in the winery, we could not allow visitors. Finally, things began to open a bit. Wineries that served food could allow tasting. Since we do not for many reasons mainly dealing with permit issues, we could not open. We were allowed to offer curbside pickup. Finally, the food requirement was relaxed but the caveat was that all tastings had do be done outside. We spent considerable time working on the area in back of the winery. We graded and then hauled in 21 tons of pathway rock to make the space presentable. I then went on the hunt for some outdoor tables and chairs. Not a fun thing as everyone seemed to be in the market for them at the same time. Finally we were able to obtain enough to cover the allowed number of visitors. Next came sunshades, as sitting in the baking sun trying to taste wine in July is not fun! With a few more tweaks and clearance from the powers that be and a subscription to a winery reservation system (tasting was only being allowed by reservation), we were able to go. There was a bit of a learning curve on our part as we were, and are, very concerned for the safety or our guests and staff, but in the end it has worked out very well. We were hopeful that by the time the wet weather came we would be once again allowed to offer indoor tasting, as was the case in Napa. Sadly we seem to be going backward as we will not be allowed to do that and Napa County has had to go back to outdoor tasting only as well. We will continue to offer outdoor tasting but will have to do it on our crush and fermentation pad. We were a little late to the game in trying to obtain out door heaters as, like the patio furniture adventure earlier, we weren’t the only ones that found themselves in sudden need, but did have one and were able to borrow two more on a short term basis, but we do advise all visitors to dress warmly as even here in Sonoma County the weather can be brisk from late autumn to early spring.
The second crisis, or wave of crises, was the fires in August and September. In the early morning hours of August 16 we were awakened by a ferocious lighting storm. We were watching the storm form an upstairs window when a bolt of lightening hit a newly installed metal high voltage power pole at the corner of our property. The lights flickered for a bit then came back on just before the second bolt hit. Out went the power but there was no sign of fire. A few minutes later we though we were in a huge downpour but when I went outside the noise was just from the howling wine. We were terrified that the combination of lightening strikes and high winds would lead to fires but the next morning the only fires that were reported in the area were quickly put out. We thought that we were out of the woods and only had to put up with temperatures of 100 degrees. Then came a second bath of lightening but even though it was less severe, we were not as lucky this time. A fire had been spotted in the rugged hills about 10 miles west of Healdsburg. It was one of several that would later be part of a complex of major fires that lasted for weeks. We were days away from picking grapes but access to many areas was shit down. We were able to get access permits on an emergency basis for harvest although it did require passing through tight checkpoints. Although the risk of smoke taint was apparent, many vineyards were harvested in the hope that it was before the smoke would be a serious concern. We brought in Great Oak pinot noir as well as pinto noir from Arista Winery’s Two Birds Vineyard, and most of our Estate. We also harvested pinot noir from Catie’s Corner as smoke taint testing on another block showed that the risk was minimal. Sadly, testing showed that most of the pinot noir in the area was at very high risk for smoke taint so the rest of the vineyards were left unpicked. We did bring in some white grapes as whole cluster pressing greatly reduces the risk as the juice is separated from the skins almost immediately. In addition we harvested some of our Estate syrah and whole cluster pressed it in the hope that it would avoid the curse of the smoke. We are now in the process of having the finished wines tested for to determine what the level of the smoke taint compounds is. It is extremely difficult to discern smoke taint by smell and taste early on but it does become more apparent with time. We have high hopes that some, if not all of the lots, will test low enough that the wines will be fine. If not it will be a very sad day as we will have to destroy what, at his point, looks to be some pretty amazing wines. It is really sad to spend an entire season working, and watching what seemed to be a storybook vintage, taken away at the very end but that is farming.
As I said, it has been a long time since we have sent out a newsletter so we have a boatload of new releases. If you have visited the winery recently you might have tasted a few of these wines as we did release some of them this summer. Others are just now being released.
We would like to thank all of you for your continued support. In addition to all of our individual customers, we have also sold wine to distributors in several states and foreign counties. It has allowed us to introduce our wines to wine lovers that otherwise would have never seen our wines, often in restaurants around the world, from Canada, to Europe and Asia. As you might expect, that market for our wines has largely disappeared as the restaurant trade, as we knew it, is gone. Hopefully it will return but it will be some time before it returns to anything close to normal. For now, we will have to rely on the good taste and support of all of you to keep the grapes going and the bottling line busy!
The Cruise is on!
Last April we were scheduled to cruise the Danube River with Rick and Amber Moshin of Moshin Vineyards. All of our travel had been booked and a whole lot of wine had been shipped to Europe for the cruise, including 10 vintages of our Estate Pinto Noir spanning 4 decades. With the explosion of the COVID virus, the wine was put into cold storage and the cruise postponed the same dates this next year, April l18-25. While we don’t have a crystal ball, all of the travel people feel that cruise will go off without a hitch. And, with six months between now and then and the good news about potential vaccines, I for one and ready to pack my bags and get out of Dodge!
Find more info here:
We are going to be doing a virtual tasting with Rick Moshin on December 10. If you click on this link you can get the details on the tasting and on the cruise. However, if you have interest in the cruise I would advise you to call Food and Wine Trails directly at 800.367.5348. When I clicked on the link it showed that the rooms were sold out but I was told that that was a glitch!
Not writing a newsletter for months means that there are a lot of trapped words that need to make an appearance. Wines are more than an accumulation of tasting notes. All have stories and over time their stories must be told. So, if I am being overly verbose, my apologies. It would be simpler if we just submitted our wines for review and just posted a score. It would take a lot less time writing on my part and a lot less time to read on yours!
2018 Gewürztraminer Saralee’s Vineyard
I have always had a hard time writing tasting notes for gewürztraminer. The really good ones have spice. Sometimes this can be too much of a good thing, verging into aromas of a candle factory worker doused in perfume. They tend to be rich but that is sometimes compounded by sweetness. Acidity is important. Not enough and they can become cloying. Too much and the pretty spicy floral character of the fruit is diminished. The fruit for this wine, coming as it does from a magical spot a mile from us in Saralee’s Vineyard, makes the winemaking simple. The trick is to pick it when it hits that magic spot when the fruit takes on its pretty spice notes before it verges into dramatic, but simpler, less food friendly territory, this wine seems to hit on all cylinders. with nice spice and great acidity, enough body but not overbearing. To make sure it was what I thought it was, we tasted it with one of my favorite pairings, tacos. The tacos were pretty special as we got to use some of our last-of-season golden tomatoes. Not perfect but pretty darn close. Next up: Thanksgiving dinner where I am sure I will drink more of this than the special Burgundy’s I also plan to open!
2018 Viognier Catie’s Corner Vineyard
From Catie's Corner vineyard located south of Windsor and just north of us. Some of the prettiest Viognier around comes from this vineyard. It exhibits aromas of wildflower honey, bee’s wax, spice, guava, kiwi, petrichor, and the smell of a fresh tropical fruit platter. In the mouth it borders on being lush but its mouthwatering acidity keeps it fresh.
2015 Chardonnay Ritchie Vineyard
The Ritchie Vineyard has become one of the most sought after sources for Chardonnay in California. It is located less than 2 miles north of us and is one of the oldest chardonnay vineyards in the region.
Bright lemon yellow color. Lemon verbena, white pineapple, and white peach. Flinty minerality. Quite rich, but with a steely backbone. Lingering finish, classic Ritchie.
2018 Grenache Blanc Cuvée Orange
We make two different wines from Catie's Corner GB grapes each year; a traditional white wine in which the grapes are whole cluster pressed before fermentation in small stainless steel drums, and a second wine in which we treat it just like our pinot noir, with fermentation on the skins for up to three weeks before aging in older, neutral barrels. The latter is labeled Cuvée Orange.
Although the term orange wine refers to its being somewhere between and white and red wine, the wine actually has an orange tint to it! Aromatically it is also reminiscent of oranges. Not normal, typical oranges but some exotic, wild orange. There are aromas of flowers and herbs as well. Although I don't think of the texture as being that much like a red wine, it is definitely fuller bodied, more viscous and more structured than a white wine. The flavors follow through from the aromas, with a richness that almost implies a hint of sweetness. An intriguing and utterly delicious wine!
2016 Pinot Noir Cuvée de Trois
The vineyards for this wine are all located in the heart of the Russian River Valley, approximately 15-18 miles from the Pacific Ocean. They represent a variety of soil types, Viticultural practices and clonal selections, but each carries the overriding characteristics of the best of the Russian River Valley. The blend varies from year to year. This year it includes wine from our Trenton Estate Vineyard, Trenton View, Saralee’s, Catie’s Corner, Ritchie, Sōlās, DNA, and Great Oak.
Spring time in the forest; flowers and new growth along with wild berries. In the mouth, more structure and tannin than previous vintages, but still supple. Flavors of wild dark berries and cardamom. Typical of the 2016 vintage for Russian River Valley pinots noirs with darker fruits and a bit more muscle. A striking Cuvée de Trois
2017 Pinot Noir Two Birds
In 2017 my brother from a different mother, Mark McWilliams, co-proprietor of Arista Winery, approached me with what he said was a crazy idea. He said that he had no expectations that I would go along with it. He said that they had always wanted to make a pinot noir from the Laguna Ridge neighborhood and that I might want to make one from the Middle Reach neighborhood. Furthermore, he had dreamt of it coming from what he that was the best vineyard, Trenton Estate. He knew that we had never allowed fruit from the vineyard to go anywhere and they had never allowed their Estate to leave their property. He proposed that we swap a small amount of fruit. It must have been a fruit day (a Biodynamic reference), as I found myself intrigued by it. He invited me up to walk their vineyards to see if I had any real interest. Although not as old as ours their vineyards are located in a sweet spot just north of Williams-Selyem Winery and are meticulously maintained. The wine made from each of the blocks is gorgeous. Deal done. But what to call the project? Since we were going to take our fruit from the Two Birds block (named after his parents!) and ours was a Swan, I told him that the answer was simple. It would be the “Three Birds Project “. I am happy to report that the project is ongoing and we are hopeful that the 2020 was not impacted by the dreaded smoke taint, as it is really singing at the moment.
Coming as it does from The Middle Reach Neighborhood of the RRV, this pinot noir is quite different from our other pinot noirs. It has aromas of deep, dark cherries and cherry skin with hints of black walnuts. In the mouth it exhibits dusty tannins, is quite rich but with a slightly dry background note (as opposed to sweet) with a long, structured finish. Serious juice! It has been an honor to work with this fruit.
2017 Pinot Noir Trenton Estate ‘Pentagon’
I could say that we only bottle this once in a blue moon bit in actuality this is only the second one in 19 years. The fruit is from the latest ripening section of the vineyard, the small western corner of our south block. The lower and part of the eastern edge is bordered by chardonnay vines, forming a small five-sided block. The first time we bottled this wine separately was the first time since I have been here that there was enough fruit to warrant keeping separate form the rest of our south hill block. We had a bonus that year in that we had, for us, a lot of fruit. All of the pickings are kept separate until bottling. I was reluctant to create an additional wine from the Estate but after careful blending trials I decided that excluding the two barrels of this wine did not negatively impact the regular Estate bottling, and, in addition it was special enough to warrant a separate bottling. That first bottling was at the time by far our most expensive wine. We had to limit the number of bottles that could be purchased in order to fill the orders but did set aside a few cases for a couple of special restaurants. One of them was Domaine Chandon is Yountville, Napa Valley. A young man, a law student in Houston, whose professor father had introduced him to the finest food and wine in Chicago, was having dinner there on a special visit to the Napa Valley. The sommelier told him that he had just gotten in a very special wine that was not on the list. He had never heard of the winery but took a chance and found a pinot noir he would never forget, our 1997 Pentagon. He became not only a good friend, (I even attended his wedding in Houston and was honored to be seated with his family at dinner), but a tireless promoter of our wines. As a thank you and in honor of his being one of the first people to have tasted the original, we sent him a bottle. He is now a practicing attorney with a family but an even more serous wine and food aficionado. Suffice it to say that they are a lot more verbose and complimentary than anything I could say. Tom’s notes (from email):
“Haven't opened it yet ... Okay I couldn’t help myself. One small pour in. It’s amazing. It’s a carbon copy. It’s incredible. Absolutely incredible. 100% new oak again? (next email) Okay, we’ve had it open about 5.5 hours now. A few more thoughts ...
- the fruit is so achingly pure it makes me want to cry
- the nose took a little while, but it’s also a chameleon ... I’m getting a bit of floral even on it at this point.
- maybe a touch more oak presence on the finish than I recall on the 1997 at this stage, but my palate certainly is different
- the finish is insanely long and persistent. I mean. It simply doesn’t end.
This is a true legend. I haven’t had more joy spending such a long time with a bottle in many, many moons. I blinded Andrea on this for three pours. She focused on two things - the cherry and it’ll be long lived. I think this may be more long lived than the original!
What a true treat. This is a tour de force. A great, great wine. Worthy of every bit of its distinguished lineage. One of the great wines I’ve ever drunk. For sure. I can’t thank you enough.”
Some people quote Robert parker. We quote Tom Gutting. Way more credibility!
For what it is worth, my notes:
It smells like the color; dark magenta rose petal. It exudes cherries of all kinds with a faint hint of cinnamon. It was aged in 50% new French oak barrels but the fruit is merely complimented by it. Graceful and long. 41 cases produced
2013 Syrah Great Oak Whole Cluster
100% whole cluster fermentation. Usually, we remove all the stems from our syrahs before fermenting. In 2013, inspired by the wines of Thierry Allemand of Cornas in the Northern Rhone, we decided to use his fermentation technique, putting the whole clusters directly into a fermenter, and treaded the fruit by foot three times per day, instead of a using a using our traditional punchdowns, on a small portion of the fruit that year. Whole cluster fermentation of syrah can be problematic due to its propensity for reduction. It was more work but the results were well worth the extra effort. Is it better than our ‘traditional’ totally de-stemmed lot? I don’t think so but viva la différence.
This wine is different than the standard cuvée in that it is a bit more elegant and shows less of the wild beast notes. On the nose. it shows beet root mixed with plum and lavender. In the mouth it exhibits mildly spicy tannins, a fair amount of richness and just the right amount of acidity. Only one barrel bottled by itself.
2014 Zinfandel Bastoni Vineyard
2016 Zinfandel VHSR-Redux