Tag Archives: Napa

An Evening With Winemaker Stephanie Cook and Wonderment Wines

This is the story of an evening with Stephanie Cook and Wonderment Wines.

Sharing gourmet food and great wines with a beautiful talented winemaker is a hard life…

But someone has to do it!

Stephanie Cook of Wonderment Wines
One of the most exciting things I get the opportunity to do on occasion is meet Winemakers in person. I enjoy as they share their passion with me  on how and why they make this beautiful nectar of the gods called wine. I enjoy this, well… mostly because I am a wine geek deep down inside.  I love talking wine, and I get to pick their minds about their theory and process of making wine. Mostly I admire them greatly for doing what I secretly would love to do myself; grow grapes and make wine. However most meetings with Winemakers and producers of wine are short and to the point. Rarely do I get to spend time with them and get to know what really makes them who they are.
And then there are exceptional evenings like this!

About 6 weeks before this fun evening my good friend Samuel  shared a bottle of  Wonderment Bacigalupi Vineyard Petite Sirah, and quite frankly… It blew me away.

Samuel Rickords has a Wine Distributorship based in Dallas by the name of Redoux Wine. He specializes in boutique wines from small talented producers. He is also a member of the wine group I started many years back called the Dallas Wineaux. I had asked him to let me know if the Winemaker for Wonderment was ever in the Dallas  area. So, ever the idea man, Samuel put together a tasting menu at Jaspers Gourmet Backyard Cuisine in Richardson, TX and arranged for Stephanie Cook to fly in to join several of us from the Dallas Wineaux group.

Jaspers Richardson. Photo by Swan Photography

First let me start by saying Jaspers Richardson is brand new, state of the art, high tech, and absolutely beautiful. You can see and read more on Jaspers Richardson and the location by clicking here! Most of the restaurant is bar area, with high top seating and upscale area that would be perfect for a small groups of 4-8. It sure makes me want to grab the Dallas Wineaux group and head to Happy Hour. The Chef Evan Tanner had a terrific spread of appetizers, charcuterie, and small plates to nibble on. Everything was scrumptious.  And I assure you we will be back to Jaspers soon!

Gourmet plates courtesy of Jaspers Richardson!
Dallas Wineaux Wine Group At Jaspers Richardson

I had done a little research on Wonderment Wines and about Stephanie Cook beforehand.  So I had an idea she was a beautiful woman. But when she walked in you understand immediately she is even more lovely than her pictures. Her beautiful smile and stunning looks are dramatic. But after a few moments you realize she is also very intelligent, talented, extremely gracious, and very engaging. And her passion for Wonderment Wines is evident immediately.

After a quick meet and greet with the other Dallas Wineaux including Kelly Nolan of www.winedowndallas.com and Lori Sullivan of www.loristwistedcork.com Stephanie started pouring her wines and telling her story.

Talking wine with Stephanie Cook! Photo by Swan Photography

Stephanie is a very driven woman and is not one to take no for an answer. I loved as she told fascinating stories of traveling the world as a Fashion Model in Milan, London, and more. Then going back to school where she graduated Magna Cum Laude with a culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University. Soon after turning her sights to winemaking. She literally informed Bob Biale of Robert Biale Vineyards that she was coming to work for him and furthermore, he was going to teach her how to make wine! After stints at Spottswood and in New Zealand for Spy Valley Wines and then at Staglin Family Vineyards she felt like she was ready to make her mark in the glorious world of winemaking.

The rest as they say is history… or as she likes to say a “balancing act!”

Balance and terroir is the key to everything Stephanie does when it pertains to wine. She makes 7 wines, and about 1500 cases per year total.

She insists on getting only the best fruit available from premium sites, and so every wine she makes is a “vineyard designate”. So…No Blending!

Wonderment Wines. Photo by Swan Photography

Any real wine enthusiast will recognize these incredible vineyards that Stephanie is sourcing her fruit: Oak Knoll, Dutton-Campbell, Dr. Stan’s, Bacigalupi, Rockpile, and Burton Ranch just to name the few that she brought for tasting!

Tasting Notes from Wonderment Wines at Jaspers Richardson. Photo by Swan Photography

Tasting Notes:

2015 Oak Knoll Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Stainless steel fermented. Floral on the nose with a citrusy lemon, grass, Asian pear, and a terrific saline quality. Floral, grapefruit, and saline/stone  finish. I like this wine, and I really need a few bottles for this summer at the pool!

2013 Dutton-Campbell Vineyard Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Very juicy fruit forward style from Green Valley AVA. Floral notes and black cherry dominate the nose.  Supple silky tannins. Black cherry, strawberry, cranberry, current, with touch of oak  and spice. This is a very sexy and sensual  style of Pinot Noir. Trust me when I say “you will like it”.

2013 Dr Stan’s Vineyard Pinot Noir Carneros. Dr. Stan’s Vineyard only has 1-1/2 acres of Dijon Clone 115 that was grown primarily for a certain well known sparkling wine producer (I promised not to tell for whom). Translucent in the glass, but definite tannins give a good to great structure.  Juicy bing cherry and slight cola on the palate turn to mushroom and earth. This earth & mushroom character gives the wine somewhat a Burgundian feel that I was not expecting. Very nice wine!

2013 Bacigalupi Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel Russian River come from 40-50 year old vines. It is a “Feminine Zin” if you can have such a thing, in that it is very floral  zinfandel (Lilac). Integrated silky tannins, incredible acidity. Red & black fruits such as black cherry, strawberry, blackberry,and slight white pepper with a LONG finish. Outstanding.

2012 Rockpile Zinfandel was more of what most people would think of when you think Sonoma Zin, but it has a very restrained edge. Very balanced with black cherry, cola, and a long spicy finish that goes for days. Impressive.

2013 Burton Ranch Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel Lake County. This is a BIG wine, but plenty of finesse as well. Truly “old vine” from plantings from Lake County dating back to 1890’s.  Tannins are evident in this young wine so plenty of structure and a real aging potential in my opinion. Sweet cherry compote, Asian spices and white pepper. Classic Zinfandel in every way except only 14.5% alc (most big zins are closer to 16% alc). If you are a Sonoma Zinfandel fanatic this Old Vine Zin fits the bill!

2011 Bacigalupi Vineyards Petite Sirah Russian River Valley This was my favorite. I am a sucker for a great Pitite Sirah, and this one hits all the marks from the nose to the long finish! Deep Dark Devilish of a red wine that isn’t for wanmby pambies! Full bodied with black fruits and a spicy finish that just keeps going and going in your mouth long after you have swallowed. Absolutely stunning wine from start to finish!

Across the board these wines from Wonderment are very good to outstanding. It is exciting to think what the wines from Wonderment will be when Stephanie has decades of vintages behind her.

You can find Wonderment Wines in select restaurants and order direct here. They are very fairly priced, especially considering the quality of the wines and across the board ‘Vineyard Desinate” only wines.

Pictures of the event are all courtesy of Asher Swan and Swan Photography.  If you would like to contact him click here or call him at 707-217-4381.

Wonderment Wines. Photo courtesy of Swan Photography

Wonderment Wines Mission Statement

“Wonderment Wines represent intelligent effort, value and balance which create a sense of ‘Wonder’. Our wines are focused on specific terroir where each wine represents the vineyards distinctive style and expression. Thru artisanal methods and minimal intervention in both the vineyard and the cellar along with a focus on environmental and social consciousness we look forward to providing each customer no less than exactly what they desire.”

Every Wonderment cork has a great message! Photo by Swan Photography

Go to her web sight and buy her wines. And tell her the Texas Wineaux sent you!

 

Tips for Napa and Sonoma Valley

Headed to Napa or Sonoma? Tips on wine tasting & “must stops” for great food in Napa and Sonoma Valley!

Airports: Fly into San Francisco!

Even though it is much easier to fly in and substantially easier to get out of Sacramento International Airport from Dallas, Texas, we nearly always fly in to San Francisco International Airport for one reason; I LOVE SAN FRANCISCO! San Francisco is my 2nd favorite city in the world (next to Paris). I simply adore this incredible City by the Bay. Besides being so visually stunning; the arts are incredible, the people are so diverse, so much to see and do, and some of the absolute best restaurants in the entire world. Plus there is just something special about crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on the way to wine country that excites me now just thinking about it!

A few Tips for Wine Tasting and Food

Just after you cross the Golden Gate Bridge heading to Sonoma & Napa Valley’s, you will find an incredibly quaint little town by the name of Sausalito. You need to spend some time here walking around town, investigating the quaint shops and bookstores, and enjoying the many great restaurants. Lunch  or dinner on the pier at Salito’s Crab House or my favorite French Bistro in town “La Garage“!

When you continue on to Sonoma or Napa you have a choice; Turn on Hwy 37 and head to Napa Valley, or keep going on Hwy 101 and head to Sonoma Valley. If you are new to the Wine country of Napa and Sonoma Valley, I would go to Napa and see it first. Especially if you have never visited in past. Napa Valley in my opinion is what most folks will normally think of as “Wine Country” and the visions it brings to mind.

 Get on line or call the wineries the week before you decide to visit and schedule appointments if possible.

I will give you some examples of wineries and tasting rooms that we love, but keep in mind; If you see a sign or a winery that looks interesting just stop in! Most wineries will take guests if you simply walk in (more in Sonoma than Napa Valley). But be aware; if you want a tour or a library tasting be sure and call in advance and set an appointment.

If you only have 3 days to spend tasting and exploring wine country I would spend 1 day in Napa Valley, then one day in Southern Sonoma and the last day in Northern Sonoma. If you have more time then you can easily spend 3-4 days in each area and never get tired of the beauty, great food, and some of the best wines worldwide. You may get tired of the crowds on certain times of the year, but not the beauty!

Wise words to live by!
Wise words to live by!

You need to understand the differences between Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley.

Napa Valley is compact and you can easily drive from the city of Napa  in the southern valley to Calistoga in the northern Napa Valley on Hwy 29 in about an hour to 1-1/2 hours (depending on traffic). And there is almost one winery after another up and down Hwy 29 all the way to Calistoga.

Sonoma Valley is much larger, longer, and much wider! You should not try and visit one winery in Glen Ellen, Northern Sonoma Valley for example and then head to one near the city of Sonoma  in the Southern part of the valley. You will spend most of your day driving instead of doing what you came for; tasting new and different wines, eating incredible foods, and reveling in exactly how phenomenally beautiful wine country is!

So when you are in Sonoma Valley, plan your visits around the wineries and restaurants that you want to visit, then plan the next day in the other part of the valley.

Always the question when wine tasting!
Always the question when wine tasting!

Winetasting Pro Tips: 

  • SPIT! You will be consuming a lot of wine. Some you will like, some you will not. So learn to spit into the spit bucket, it is not rude.
  • Have a designated driver, or rent a car service. Even if you spit 100% of the time you will still get some alcohol in your system, it is just the way it is. Stay safe!
  • Try and stay away from a winery that has one or more tour buses out front unless you have an appointment. You will be part of the masses and will spend way to much time fighting to “get a pour” and this isn’t fun.

  • Enjoy the time you spend in each winery. Ask questions, try different styles, and immerse yourself in the culture of wine. This is a passion for most of the people working there at the winery, and they love to share information with people who are genuinely interested.
  • Be courteous and use common sense. Yes you are there to have fun and laugh, but if you are obnoxious, you can ruin the experience of others around you. Once again…SPIT! Also if the person pouring the wine enjoys spending time with you they are more likely to give you a “little something extra” like a heavier pour or a discount on products, or even no charge for the tasting!
  • Try Different wines that you would normally NOT buy at home. Keep in mind; it is a 2oz pour. If you do not like the wine, simply pour it into the spit bucket and try something else.
  • Buy a bottle or two if you like the wines to take home with you. Often the tasting fee (especially in Sonoma) will be waived or reduced if you purchase wine. Ask upfront for the rules. And remember to be pleasant!

NAPA VALLEY

Welcome Sign to Napa Valley!
Welcome Sign to Napa Valley!

 Restaurants in Napa Valley to visit:

Rutherford Grill is always a stop for us when in Rutherford and Napa Valley. American food with a great atmosphere and patio. Good wine list.

 Auberge du Soleil  is A MUST! Great spa and ‘adult only luxury hotel’ sitting up on the mountain overlooking the valley with stunning views. French bistro with over 40 wines by the glass. A terrific spa as well if you are interested!

Brix has a French / Napa inspired menu sitting on 16-acres of gardens and vineyards with spectacular views of the Mayacamas Mountains. One of the best wine lists in Napa Valley.

Wineries to visit Napa Valley:

Domaine Carneros.  Sparkling wines produced and poured here in a stunning French style Chateau setting just outside the city of Napa. You can buy wine by glass or bottle and sit out on the patio and soak it all in with bubbles in your glass! A great way to start your wine journey. Need to set appointment for best service but not mandatory.

Cuvaison is next door to Domaine Carneros outside of the city of Napa. Modern tasteful tasting room; nothing fancy but great views and exceptional wines. No appointment needed.

Darioush on the Silverado Trail in the City of Napa is built to look like a Persian Castle. The wines are outstanding and the property is one of the most impressive in all of wine country! They take walk-ins, but do yourself a favor and get appointment.

Whitehall Lane in St Helena has a great garden that you can picnic. The Whitehouse wines are outstanding, and always garner top reviews and scores from Parker, WS, and Tanzer. No appointment is needed for standard tasting, but is recommended, especially for library wines or big groups.

Ehlers Estate in St Helena requires an appointment, and is well worth the effort. Exceptional wines, and do NOT forget to taste some of the best Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon in the valley!

Frank Family Vineyards in Calistoga is a world class winery, and produces outstanding wines that consistently score mid-90’s with the wine pundants. They are open to the public and take walkins, but they are usually very busy. Make an appointment if possible.

Chateau Montelena is a “must see” when in Calistoga! This is the winery that helped best the best French wines in the famous Judgement Of Paris tasting in 1976, made famous by the movie Bottle Shock a few years ago. While the wines went through an awkward stage in the early 2000’s, the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are once again world class. The property is beautiful as well. No appointment required, but if you want a tour then call first and get appointment. Take a picnic basket!

Chateau Montelena..legendary!
Chateau Montelena..legendary!

Sonoma Valley

Sonoma Restaurants:

The Town of Sonoma Square is a fun area with lots to see and great restaurants. Here you will find The Girl and the Fig is a good restaurant for lunch or dinner with a good patio if weather permits. Sunflower Café for truly impressive breakfast.  Or soup, salads, and sandwichs for lunch. Both are on the square in City of Sonoma.

Fremont Diner just outside the Town of Sonoma is a legendary institution in the area! It really is a old dive that has “some” inside seating and picnic tables outside. Terrific chicken and waffles, biscuits and gravy, smoked ham, chicken sandwiches, and don’t leave without a slice of the sweet potato-pecan pie!

Barn Diva in Healdsburg has a really impressive back patio, hip night scene, good wine list, and an ever changing fresh menu according to the season. Order the Goat Cheese Croquettes with Lavender Honey as a starter!

Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg Square is incredible! Wine list is almost exclusively Sonoma Valley and over 500 selections. White Table cloths and fine dinning in modern atmosphere.

Russian River Brewing is a world famous brew pub in Healdsburg. If you are a craft beer aficionado you know about the 8% ABV Pale India Ale “Phliney The Elder“. And the ever sought after (and very rare) Phliney the Younger that beer lovers camp out for days once a year upon release!  Pub food, wings, good pizza but go for the best craft beer in Sonoma or Napa Valley.

Release date for Phliney the Younger is Feb 5-12th!

Wineries in Sonoma Valley To Visit

Southern Sonoma Valley:

B.R. Cohn in Glen Ellen. This winery was established and until recently was owned by the Manager of the Doobie Brothers Band. Good wines and great olive oil! No reservation needed. Often they will have live music as well, so check out the website and adjust your schedule accordingly!

Chateau St Jean The 250 acre estate and 3550 sq ft house, property, and gardens are stunningly beautiful, and the higher end wines are very good. No appointment needed for tasting unless you want something special.

Middle and Northern Sonoma:

You should plan on spending 1/2 day in city of Healdsburg. Very cool town with tons of great restaurants and tasting rooms in the square.

When in Dry Creek, don’t forget to stop at Dry Creek General Store. The locals hang out here. You can stop and buy goods for lunch basket, or get a beer and sit on the front porch and hang out with locals!

Dry Creek general Store
Dry Creek general Store

Martin Ray Winery in Santa Rosa. Incredible chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, and zinfandel that are a consistent 90-95 point scores with Wine Spectator! The estate grounds are very pretty too, but call in advance and get an appointment several days in advance if you want to taste their wines.

Benovia Winery in Santa Rosa has EXCEPTIONAL Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Grenache, and Chardonnay that are perennial favorites of Parker WS, and Tanzer. By appointment only.

Pappietro-Perry  in Dry Creek. This is some of my favorite Pinot Noir in Sonoma. But DO NOT expect a fancy tasting room, but don’t let that stop you from tasting! Ben and Yolonda Pappietro make artisanal Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Zinfandel wines that will impress you. Bonus: The Dry Creek area is easily one of the most beautiful areas of Sonoma. Tell Yolanda I said hello! No appointment needed.

Dry Creek Vineyards  in Dry Creek. Good to exceptional and large portfolio of wines with exceptional value. The property is very pretty and you can pick up picnic supplies at Dry Creek General Store and picnic here! No appointment needed.

Ridge Vineyards  in the Healdsburg / Dry Creek area. Known for their award winning Zinfandel, but do not pass up the terrific Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Chardonnay, and Rhone Style Blends! But do not leave without buying some of the BEST ZINFANDEL produced in the world! No appointment required, but most times a waiting list will apply. So call and make an appointment to save time.

Francis Ford Coppola  in Geyserville.  No appointment needed. The director of Godfather & other classic films. Museum inside, with a pool and bar outside, lined on one side by  Cabanas. You can spend the day by the pool and rent a cabana with personal showers and toilets. Wines are ‘ok’, but go to see the facility and museum. Bonus: Coppola is one of the only spots in wine country that you can taste wines AND order a cocktail at the same establishment, because they were grandfathered in with a liquor license from the previous winery owner!

There is just so much to do and see in the Wine Country of Napa and Sonoma Valley. I hope this guide helps you with a few choice places to spend your time and money. And if you have more suggestions, comments, or ideas please share them in the comment section below!

Thank you for visiting the Texas Wineaux and reading my ramblings.

Please stop back from time to time for new content. Please leave a comment on your thoughts, favorite spots you love, and favorite restaurants in the comment section below.

Terry Hill is the Texas Wineaux!

Cheers From The Texas Wineaux!
Cheers From The Texas Wineaux!

Weekend in California Wine Country – Day One

A weekend in Wine Country is never enough time.

Although the Wine Country is a great getaway and incredibly beautiful; 2 days in California Wine Country is just not enough. Especially if you are half a continent away from California in Dallas, Texas and you spend much of your valuable time in an airport, on an airplane, or trying to get a rental car!

My beautiful wife Margie was going to be in Oakland and Sacramento on business back in March, so I decided that would be the PERFECT excuse to take a day off and spend the weekend together in my personal  Mecca; Napa and Sonoma! So I set up a few appointments for winery visits on the first day day and left the last day wide open to do whatever came to mind.

Wine County Weekend!
Wine County Weekend!

You can imagine I have a multitude of  connections in the wine industry, and get offers to visit and write about my experiences on a regular basis. So I could have scheduled 4-5 winery visits per day and had every minute of our two days booked.But I really needed a nice relaxing and romantic weekend with my beautiful wife more than I needed to visit new wineries.

Margie is a Director of a large hair care products distributor, and lots of travel is just part of her job description. And the beginning of a New Year always brings on even more travel (to get the New Year started), so she has been away from home more than usual. Spending really quality time with each other was very high on our list.

SO…I only scheduled TWO (yes you read right, two) winery visits for the trip!

I flew into Oakland on Thursday, landing about Noon and rented a convertible Mustang. I then drove “topless” to Sacramento to pick Margie up at her hotel. She had just finished meeting with her clients in the early afternoon, and they were begging her to go to happy hour to celebrate a successful meeting. She politely said no, offering that I was picking her up and we were going to Wine Country for a fun weekend!

My wife is absolutely my best friend in the world, and we have an incredible marriage. We have so much fun together, sometimes doing absolutly nothing but making the best of our time making each other laugh.

I am a lucky man indeed!

 

Happy Couple
Happy Couple

The first night we decided to head over to Healdsburg for dinner at one of our favorite restaurants in Sonoma Valley;  BarnDiva. Located on Center Street in Healdsburg, it is an eclectic blend of different modern and old barn decor, with an ever changing menu. The bar scene is terrific and hip at night, and the Patio and area out back is calm, artistic, and relaxing during the day. The food is always creative, delicious, and ever changing according to the season. If you go you have to try the goat cheese croquettes with Wildflower Honey and Lavender is is incredible!!!

Goat Cheese Croquettes with Lavender Honey.
Goat Cheese Croquettes with Lavender Honey.

We enjoyed a perfect 2009 Simmonet-Febvre Vaillons 1ér Cru Chablis with our dinner that was outstanding.

Bar at BarnDiva Healdsburg
Bar at BarnDiva Healdsburg

The next morning I had a 9:30 appointment with Jeff Mangahas, Winemaker at the legendary Williams Selyem Winery in Russian River, Sonoma Valley. Jeff was gracious and accommodating with his time. You can read more and the actual interview with Jeff in my previous post in March. It is times like these that I dearly love what I do, as I feel very humbled to have had this opportunity to interview and spend time just visiting and talking wine with Jeff. We loved the behind the scenes stories as well that can only be told by the winemaker!

Williams-Selyem Russian River
Williams-Selyem Russian River
Rare "Winery Only" wines, sold on premise.
Rare “Winery Only” wines, sold on premise.
Talking Wine and theory with Jeff Mangahas
Talking Wine and theory with Jeff Mangahas
Thank you Jeff!
Thank you Jeff!

Our next appointment wasn’t until 2:30 but it was across the mountain range in St Helena, Napa Valley. For those of you that have driven from Santa Rosa to Napa Valley know there is a mountain range between the two valleys. So as the crow flies it isn’t that far. But to drive you have 2 choices;

1. Go south on Hwy 101 and go around Southern Sonoma down and come up along the highway 121 to Scenic Hwy 29 where all the wineries are located just North of the City of Napa (BORING).

2. From Santa Rosa in Sonoma Valley head east along Calistoga Road, across the mountains to Petrified Forest Road to Calistoga. This is the scenic route! If you can ALWAYS take this route because it is so beautiful and so “Northern California”.

Calistoga, CA is a beautiful place to stay, taste wine, have lunch or dinner, shop, and just spend time! We had about 2 hours to kill before our next appointment at Fantesca, so we stopped and had lunch outside at Calistoga Kitchen on Cedar St. Very quaint and full of character. Great food, and we were so impressed with the owner and Chef Rick Wankel. Margie and I split a terrific BLT with duck egg and it was incredible! The bacon was localy sourced thick cut, smoked to perfection, and very meaty! We split a County Line Mixed Green Salad, and enjoyed a bottle of 2012 Cakebread Cellars Napa Chardonnay (that matched perfectly) and we were in heaven! The owner Rick explained his food is ingredients driven, featuring local growers, purveyors, and wines. If you are in the area I highly suggest a visit and tell them the Terry Hill the Texas Wineaux sent you!

Rick Warkel Chef, Calistoga Kitchen
Rick Warkel Chef, Calistoga Kitchen
Duck Egg BLT at Calistoga Kitchen
Duck Egg BLT at Calistoga Kitchen

When I took my Sommelier class at Texas Sommelier Conference (TEXSOM) many years ago, Master Sommelier DLynn Proctor assisted in our instructions and blind tastings, and I have kept contact with him over the years. You may know DLynn from the movie “SOMM”. Dlynn had suggested a few wineries to vist that were “unknown gems”  in Napa. I chose Fantesca Winery from his suggestion and it was terrific. Fantesca was an extremely interesting story.

Susan and Duane Hoff  were working for Best Buy, and decided they wanted to be in the wine business. So they bought 53 acres with 10 planted to vines in Napa Valley. The property was originally part of Caroline Bale’s dowry when she married Charles Krug, and the vineyards dated back to the 1860’s. After Phylloxera epidemic of the 1900’s and then Prohibition in the 1920’s the vineyard was allowed to go back to native forest for more than 70 years! The vineyard was replanted in 1997 with only 10 acres.

Susan Hoff is the real heart and soul of Fantesca, and she recruited the legendary winemaker Heidi Barrett to be the Winemaker. If you are not familiar with Heidi Barrett; she gained legendary status at Dalle Valle by creating powerful Cabs including the famous “Maya” cult cab that received two perfect 100-pt scores from Robert Parker. She then was hired by Screaming Eagle and AGAIN received two perfect 100-pt scores from Parker! This is a legendary name in Napa and she married well too. You may know Heidi’s husband Bo Barrett and Father-in-Law Jim Barrett of Chateau Montelena and the famous Judgment of Paris and the movie Bottle Shock.

We had a personal tasting of available wines, a barrel tasting, and a tour of the facilities including the Cave. The Cave was an old silver mine in Spring Mountain, and it holds the barrels for aging at a perfect 58-F.

Barrel Tasting in the Cave at Fantesca!
Barrel Tasting in the Cave at Fantesca!
Fantesca Chardonnay
Fantesca Chardonnay

The 2012 King Richard Reserve Russian River Pinot Noir and the 2012 Russian River Sonoma County Chardonnay were all that was available for tasting, and both were quite impressive. We left with few bottles of each, and we are looking forward to sharing these incredible Heidi Barrett wines soon! I will have tasting notes at that time.

Next stop was the iconic and legendary Chateau Montelena! I This is the historic winery that bested the French Burgundy in the famous Judgement of Paris! I have been all over Sonoma and Napa Valley and never visited in the past, so a quick visit of the beautiful property so full of history was a “must stop”. We strolled around the beautiful grounds longer than we did tasting wine because I know how incredible these Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are already because Margie and I often drink them at home.

The Pond at Chateau Montelena
The Pond at Chateau Montelena
Chateau Montelena
Chateau Montelena

 

Bottle Sizes of Ch Montelena
Bottle Sizes of Ch Montelena

We headed South on Hwy 29, and even though I knew it was getting late in the day I always have to stop at one of my favorite wineries; Peju Province Winery in the mecca for Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford. We stopped in for a quick tasting! Then back in the car to visit my very special friend Carrie at Napa Valley Wine and Cigar in the city of Napa!

Carrie at NV Wine and Cigar!
Carrie at NV Wine and Cigar!

Stopping to see Carrie is ALWAYS a MUST STOP for me when in Napa!

She is such a sweetheart, and she has an absolutely phenomenal selection of wines and cigars for all your hedonistic needs. If you tell her I sent you and ask very nicely, she will take you to the back room and the “special stash” of wines. I have bought some great wines from her over the years because she is on everyone’s wine lists, and has the wines in stock when no one else does!

Looking for a Harlan Estates or Screaming Eagle? She has it! How about a Dalle Valle or Saxum’s James Berry Vineyard? She has it!

Pick up a great stogie while you are there too!

We were exhausted after a long day in paradise, so we had a simple dinner and an early night getting ready for the next day!

Check back soon for Day-2 where we have NO SCHEDULE and we improvise the entire day!

Terry Hill The Texas Wineaux!

(Leave a comment!)

Do you really know your wine? You may be surprised!

 

Do you know where your grapes actually came from or what is actually in that bottle of wine you paid top dollar for?

Wine pour

It is date night at home with that special person and you want to make it memoriable.

You pull that very special bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet Savignon you bought many years ago that has been on laying on its side in the cellar peacefully for 10+ years. You’ve been saving  this incredible wine for just for this type of occation.  That “POP” as you carefully pull the cork with precision and decant it in your favorite wide bottom decanter is all part of the antisipation of what is to come! As you decant very slowly to make sure all the sediment stays in the bottle and not in your glass, the excitment is  simply palpble.

To add a certain allurement and grandeur, Tonight’s wine is a great exuse to break out the  special Riedel Sommeliers Series Bordeaux Grand Cru wine glasses that ONLY come out for your best wines. You clean and polish them to perfection  “extra carefully” as to not torque the stems  because you know the stem will snap in your hands!

The Prime aged Ribeyes that were hand cut earlier for you have been marinating all day in your special “double-secret marinad” that always brings raves from family and friends.  The meat sizzles as you slap them on the hot grill.

Everything is perfect…right?

Do you really know your wine? Are you sure the fruit from cabernet sauvignon wine you paid top dollor for is actually from the Napa Valley region? Is it even 100% cabernet sauvignon, or is it actually a blend of merlot, cab franc, petit verdot or even (god fobid) malbec?

You may be surprised about the answer:

Maybe… but maybe not!

There was a big movement in Texas a few years back to make sure that if a Texas wine says “Texas Wine” on the label,  the grapes actually are from Texas! There are a few producers in Texas that have bought, or are still buying bulk juice from other states, including Arizona, New Mexico, or even California. I know this may seem very silly to the novice or naive wine consumer, but nothing could have been farther from the truth.

One of the biggest leaders of this movement for correct labeling wines is a friend of mine.  Russ Kane is a Writer, Blogger, and huge proponant of Texas Wines. Russ is known as “Texas Wineslinger”. He was the one that brought this travesty to my attention at TexSom about 5-6 years ago. Because of Russ (and many others like him) and the dilligence and hard work to get the word out; the laws were changed in Texas.

If wine producers are going to use “Texas” on the label, at least 75% of the fruit must be sourced from Texas.

Be very carefull because some so called Texas Wines will attempt to desguise the bottles. But by Texas Laws they are now required to label them  the confusing “Not for sale outside of Texas” in tiny-tiny lettering. So if you want real Texas Wines made from “real Texas Grapes” please carefully read the label!

And if you have automatically dismissed Texas Wines as not worthy, you really should check out some of the incredible TEXAS WINES coming out of such producers as: McPherson Cellars, William Chris Vineyards, Pedernales Cellars, Brennan Vineyards, Spicewood Vineyards, Fall Creek Vineyards, and Duchman Family Vineyards. I am especially enamored with the move away from the old standard Cab, Merlot, and Chardonnay, and now producing Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, and Sangiovese that are better suited for the hot dry Texas summer and the terroir.

By the way; Russ has a great book The Wineslinger Chronicles: Texas on the Vine “ that is a great read. You should check it out!

Texas Wine!
Texas Wine!

So is that bottle of wine really what it says it is?

When you shell out $100-$350  and more for a bottle of Rutherford cabernet sauvignon, you trust that the bottle is filled with wine that actually came from cabernet sauvignon grapes that were grown in the heart of California’s Napa Valley and specificaly Rutherford AVA,  right? That is normaly the case, but not always!

Jeff Hill, Founder of the Hill Wine Company (no relation) and longtime Napa Vineyard Manager was a serious player in Napa Valley wine scene for many years, and very respected. He worked his way from pest control in a vineyard to a maker of $100+  cabernet sauvignon wines in the prestigous Silverado Trail, a destination for wine aficionados from around the world.

The federal government forced Mr. Hill to cede control of his business on April 23, and Napa County prosecutors have charged him with two felonies, saying that on two occasions in October 2013 he stole grapes that his crew was harvesting for another winemaker and diverted them to his own winery. He is accused of substituting much cheaper merlot and malbec grapes for the much more expensive Napa cabernet sauvignon advertised on his wine labels.

In January, he pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges, and a trial is set to begin April 13. If convicted, he faces up to four years and eight months in prison. Hill Wine has filed for bankruptcy and owes more than $8 million to creditors.

So how do we know what is in the wine and at what percentages? Here are rules for California wines produced in the state:

California Appellation of Origin

Wine labels may contain several types of geographic designations of origin:

  1. Appellations of origin that are the names of states and counties can be used on wine labels under federal law if at least 75% of the grapes come from the named state or county. The remainder of the grapes may come from outside the named state or county.
  2. For wine labeled with an American viticultural area (“AVA”), which is a specific type of appellation of origin established under federal law, at least 85% of the grapes must come from the named AVA (for example “Napa Valley”), while the remainder of the grapes may come from outside of the AVA. That wine must be fully finished in the state in which the AVA is located.
  3. California law requires that 100% of the grapes come from within California for any wine labeled with the appellation of origin California or a geographical subdivision of the state. This is stricter than the federal labeling standard.

So, if you noticed in “B”  listed above, if the AVA reads Oakville or Rutherford you could be drinking 15% cabernet sauvignon from Mendocino or Paso Robles, not from your beloved Oakville or Rutherford!

Does this matter to you?

Should it?

While I do expect that if I am paying for Rutherford Cabernet, or Russian River Pinot Noir, I fully expect to be getting predominantly  grapes from those sites and enjoying the terroir that only those sites can produce!

Terroir begins with the soil!
Terroir begins with the soil!

But I personaly do not mind if it is all 100% from the AVA listed on the bottle.  I am more concerned in the quality of the wine vs. the cost. Especially if I am paying upwards of $25  per bottle, I expect my wines to be balanced and expressive no matter what the variety of grape.

Wines should be an expression of the soils, with a balance that incorporates all its main components; tannins, acid, sweetness, and alcohol in a manner where no one single component stands out above any other. This is a quality wine.

Thank you again for your taking the time to read the ramblings of a Texas Wineaux! Please take a few moments to leave a comment, and drop by often for new posts.

Terry Hill is the Texas Wineaux