Tag Archives: Petite Sirah

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!

 

Lodi Wine Country – The Next Wine Destination! Well Kind of…

I recently visited Lodi Wine Country. Yes, you read right. I said “Lodi Wine Country”.

Lodi Gold! Photo courtesy of Randy Caparoso
Lodi Gold! Photo courtesy of Randy Caparoso

I dare say most of the wine drinking public wouldn’t know Lodi Appellation produced great wine. That is perhaps unless you are a wine producer, wine professional, or maybe a California wine enthusiast.  In fact, I am in the wine business and while I have enjoyed many terrific wines from Lodi Wine Country, I had to look up on a map exactly where Lodi, California was located  (By the way it is between Stockton and Sacramento).

Most folks only know Lodi from the Credence Clearwater Revival song and the line “Oh lord, stuck in Lodi Again”. Being “stuck in Lodi” may have been the case in the 1970 when the song was recorded, but that certainly is NOT the case now.

This is cool, upcoming, and happening kind of wine destination. 

Well kind of…

I say “kind of” because  Lodi Wine Country is a Paradox. Let me explain.

The Lodi Wine Country was just named by Wine Enthusiast Magazine “Wine Region Of The Year for 2015”! That is quite a feat indeed, and quite an honor from a very prestigious magazine. Lodi Wine Appellation now boasts over 85 wineries in the area, and over 100 different varieties of grapes are grown. It isn’t just Old Vine Zinfandel like many non-informed wine lovers think. Although some of the old gnarly Zinfandel vines planted in the 1850’s makes as good of old vine zin as anywhere!

A few things to consider about Lodi Wine:

  • The passion and pride of the 4-5 generations of  Winegrape growers,
  • Incredible quality of the grapes they are producing and the terroir,
  • The truly ingenious young Winemakers
  • How Lodi is so primed to be the “next big wine destination”. 

Lodi  seems to be a paradox. In other words while they are primed to the ‘next big wine region’ and everything points to just that, Lodi powers that be do not want that to happen.

Well kind of… I will explain later.

Wine Bloggers Welcome Dinner by Snooth Media and Winegrape Commission!
Wine Bloggers Welcome Dinner by Snooth Media and Lodi Winegrape Commission!

In September I and five other Wine Writers and  Bloggers were very fortunate to be invited to discover the wonders of Lodi Wine Country by the great people at Snooth Media and Lodi Winegrape Commission. I was very excited to be invited, but did not quite know what to expect.  I dearly love the wine country of Napa and Sonoma and visit often for my “wine fix”. And while I enjoy a Lodi 7-Deadly Zin as much as the next wine aficionado I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

But what did Lodi Wine Country have to offer?  

I was very open minded. Primarily because I had already made a conscious decision to expand my California wine horizons in 2017 beyond Napa and Sonoma Valleys. And Lodi and Paso Robles Appellations were on top of my list of places to explore, visit, and taste. So when Claudia Angelillo, Brand Director of Snooth Media called, I jumped on a plane and started my adventure!

After landing in Sacramento Airport, we were picked up by Claudia in a big white passenger van that would be our transportation for he next 4 days. After about an hour drive we arrived in Lodi. We checked in at the Wine and Roses Hotel in Lodi and I have to tell you it was incredibly beautiful. The hotel was tucked in the back of the same property as the Lodi Winegrape Commission and Visitor Center. I was VERY impressed immediately with the stunning grounds of the hotel. You are surrounded by very relaxing and lush landscaping of mature trees, tropical plants, and beautiful flowers everywhere you turn. Exotic birds were in big cages throughout the property, and they just added a sense of adventure to our setting. They offer an award winning spa, pool, restaurant on site, and would be perfect for a romantic getaway or honeymoon! The rooms were very clean, beds were extremely comfortable, and the décor of the rooms (which included a fireplace) were very wine country pleasant. I will take my lovely bride back to Lodi and we will definitely stay at this hotel for a romantic weekend soon.

Lodi Wine Visitor Center
Lodi Wine Visitor Center
Wine and Roses Hotel, Lodi
Wine and Roses Hotel, Lodi

The next morning after a great breakfast with the other writers we were loaded in the van and off to the vineyards! Randy Caparoso was our guide for the week, and he was a wealth of information about the incredible history of the Lodi Appellation. Randy seemed to have a great story about the history of Lodi and the winegrape growers at every turn. I am personally a huge history fanatic, so I was very pleased he was so versed in the vast and important history of Lodi to the wine industry of California.

Randy Caparoso
Randy Caparoso

 

Kevin Soucie of Soucie Vineyards
Kevin Soucie of Soucie Vineyards

Within a short drive we were popping corks in Marian’s Vineyard at the Mohr Fry Ranch at 8:45 AM (Yah… I know. It is a tough life I have sometimes). We met wine grower Bruce Fry of St. Amant Winery. We were drinking wines from the vineyards that the wines came from, from the Winemaker that produced the wines. Soon after we were back in the van and down the road to Soucie Vineyards with Kevin Soucie, a 5th Generation Farmer. Winemaker Layne Montgomery of M2 Wines shared his wines from the vineyard. Soon after we were back in the van and down the road to Wegat Vineyard. There under a giant shade tree we met Winegrape Grower Todd Maley, Winemakers Chad JohnsonLayne Montgomery and Tim Holdener. We enjoyed their wines as the cut up with each other, and each told the stories of the grapes, the terroir, and their wines. Added bonus: when you are in the middle of a vineyard popping corks and enjoying incredible wines you don’t need a spit can. You simply spit it out on the ground! And yes, I was spitting at 9 AM in the morning. Mandatory procedure considering we tasted over 200 wines in 4 days time!

Paella for lunch at M2 Vineyards, YUMMMM!
Paella for lunch at M2 Vineyards, YUMMMM!

After a tasty lunch of paella cooked at the winery at M2 Wines, the Winemakers were excited to explain the virtues of the Lodi Native Project. I was HIGHLY impressed with the exciting project by these young and passionate winemakers! Check back here soon for more on this incredible project at a later date, but for more information now click here.

lodi-native-project

 

M2 Vineyards, MUST visit!
M2 Vineyards, MUST visit!

 

M2 Old Vine Zinfandel
M2 Old Vine Zinfandel

 

 

 

 

 

The rest of the week was somewhat similar to this first morning. Yes we were in different vineyards and wineries the next several days. And yes we were listening to different Winemakers and Winegrape Growers as they graciously shared their own wines. But the theme was almost identical. Everyone shared the same passion and pride for Lodi. The also shared the desire for the rest of the wine world to know how special Lodi is, and how important Lodi has been in the growth of the California wine industry.

They told the history of the vineyards and  the Lodi terroir. They shared fascinating stories of the generations of families that worked the soil, producing some of the best wine grapes in California. And then they passed the vineyard down to their children. And then those children did the same and handed the vineyards down to their children, and so on.

This was the theme we heard all week from everyone we visited.

The often 5th generation Winegrowers and Winemakers understood the truly special place Lodi, California is, and they want the rest of the world to know this as well.

Well, kind of…

I say “kind of” because I felt an underlying current the entire week: While they want the world to understand how special Lodi is overall, and how important Lodi has been to the California wine industry. While they want the world to appreciate and give credit to the wines that were produced in and from the grapes of Lodi Appellation. While they want more tourists to visit Lodi so they too can understand what their parents, grandparents, and often great grandparents discovered generations ago.  They do NOT want to become Napa Valley.

The leaders of Lodi Wine are grappling with consistent push and pull : How to grow and spread the word that “this is a very special place” and “please visit, taste, and tour Lodi”, yet the city fathers, and the Lodi Winegrape Commission are very adamant that they not grow too fast and lose their soul. Example: They have very strict controls against restaurants in the wineries. They can cater food in, but they cannot build a restaurant on site. This holds wineries back. Even more restrictions of when a winery can be built and the zoning. From my short understanding from visiting with the good wine people of Lodi; The restrictions on the growth, often self imposed by their own commissions, seemed stringent at best. But that absolutely is by design.

“We don’t want to be the next Napa Valley”

I was confused and bewildered at first when they mentioned over and over that they did not want to be Napa. After all, look how stunning and beautiful Napa wineries are, and how some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in the world is produced in Napa Valley!

But after speaking to the real Lodi wine people that grew up a 4th and 5th generation Winegrape grower. Then seeing how many families began producing their own wines after other regions were winning gold metals and 90+ scores from their grapes, you start to get it.

I live in Texas, and you grow up with a very strong pride of your state. It reminds me very much with the fine people of Lodi Wine Country. They love where they live, and have a strong sense of being. Of where and what they came from, and where they are going in the near future. They want to control of what Lodi Wine Country will look like in the coming decades.

After all you have to admit Napa Valley has become very corporate. It has lost a part of its  soul that was so evident from the 1970’s and 1980’s when it was in its heyday of young and aggressive winemakers that were the pioneers of what it is today. And Napa can be quite ostentatious! Unless you are well off the beaten path of the Silverado Trail, you will almost never taste wines from the actual family that farmed the land, harvested the grapes, and produced the wines they are pouring.

Markus Bokish of Bokisch Vineyards
Markus Bokish of Bokisch Vineyards

This is not the case in Lodi Wine Country. If you visit Bokish Vineyards to taste some of the best Spanish Varietal wines in California you are likely to run into and visit with Markus or Liz Bokisch. When you visit McCay Cellars you are likely to see Michael McCay and he will share his passion for Zinfandel and Rhone varietals. And this happens any winery you visit in Lodi. This just so rarely happens in Napa Valley because they owners are likely a huge conglomerate of wineries ran by a Board of Directors!

LoCa The Wines Of Lodi, Ca!
LoCa The Wines Of Lodi, Ca!

 

 

 

So what makes Lodi wines so special?

 

Number one is the incredible passion of the Lodi Winegrape Growers and talented young Winemakers. The people are warm and inviting and are genuinely  glad you are here. But second, and just as important is the Lodi Terroir.

So what is “terroir”?  (terˈwär/)

Terroir is a French noun that describes the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate.  The characteristic taste and flavor imparted to a wine by the environment in which it is produced.

Marians Vineyard with Bruce Fry, Stuart Spencer, and Randy Caparoso
Marians Vineyard with Bruce Fry, Stuart Spencer, and Randy Caparoso

Lodi Appellation has a Mediterranean climate that will have warm to hot days, and cool evenings. Lodi is situated about 100 miles East of the San Francisco Bay and on the edge of the San Joaquin/Sacramento River Delta. This provides cool breezes and chills the grapes down at night. Warm days allow the winemaker to produce a full flavored complex wine, and the cool nights provide natural acidity. This is a winning combination for any winemaker.

 

Combine the near perfect climate for wine grapes with the diverse soils formed thousands of years ago through geological events and alluvial waters rich in granitic-based minerals, and you can see why the wines of Lodi are winning gold medals and 90’s scores from the wine magazines around the world

Lodi Vineyard. Photo by Goff Photography
Lodi Vineyard. Photo by Goff Photography
So visit Lodi.
Visit soon and discover the incredible award winning wines that are a true bargain. Discover the warm and friendly people. And discover the beautiful but very unpretentious wineries.
But don’t come looking for Napa.
This is Lodi Wine Country! 
Lodi Harvest Gold!
Lodi Harvest Gold
Punching the cap at Holdener Vineyards Winery
Punching the cap at Holdener Vineyards Winery with Kyle Lerner

Thank you for reading and sharing my experiences in Lodi. Check back soon for the follow up on the exciting Lodi Native Project.

 And please…Leave a comment below. Wine is for sharing. And not just the wine itself. I love hearing of your own travels and adventures and the great bottles you have discovered!
Dinner at School Street Bistro, downtown Lodi with Snooth Media and our crew!
Dinner at School Street Bistro, downtown Lodi with Snooth Media and our crew!
Kayla enjoying Harney Lane wines with Kyle Lerner
The lovely Kayla enjoying Harney Lane wines with Kyle Lerner
Old Vine Zinfandell at Wegat Vineyard, Lodi
Old Vine Zinfandell at Wegat Vineyard, Lodi
Oak Farms Vineyard, a must visit in Lodi Wine Country!
Oak Farms Vineyard, this is a a must visit in Lodi Wine Country!
Oak Farm Vineyard Favorites!
Oak Farm Vineyard Favorites!
2015 Acquiesce Viognier, Stunning wine!
2015 Acquiesce Viognier, Stunning wine and possibly my favorite!
Macchia-Generous Old Vine Zinfandel Mohr Fry Vineyard
Macchia Volupous Old Vine Zinfandel Maley Vineyard
Selfie in Lodi Wine Country Vineyards!
Lodi Wine Country Vineyards. GO LoCa!
Terry Hill is the Texas Wineaux!

 

P.S. (Petite Sirah) I lOVE YOU!

Petite Sirah (PS) is incredible as a single variety wine. There I said it…

I know what you are thinking: “This Texas Boy has done wandered too far off the trail”. Well 1st of all that may be a little true on occasion, but let me say my piece before you stop reading further!

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This is a real mans red wine. Brash, heart thumping, in your face, tattooed &  Harley-Davidson riding, deep dark devil of a red wine that if you are not prepared will slap you around, steal your lunch money, and leave you crying on the playground like a little boy missing his mommy.

This isn’t a wine for namby pambies that don’t like a big bold red wine. Go open a beaujolais if you don’t like a big wine, because this mamma jamma ain’t kidding around!

While PS can be very tough and tannic on its own, give it some bottle time you will find this black inky, teeth staining wine will tame down yet will still keep that bold, dense black-plum fruits and spicy black pepper that is so enticing.

Most people that have at least a basic knowledge of grapes and wine know that Petite Sirah began in France as a Bordeaux blending grape. PS is mostly used to add structure, tannin, and acids to blends of your favorite red wines, and that is true even today. It is known in many parts of the world as DURIF. While a derivative of the “syrah” grape the berries are much smaller (thus petite) and more intense, acidic, and tannic than its 3rd cousin syrah.

Brilliant winemakers in California began experimenting with this powerful and meaty red grape as a single variety back in the early 70’s.

In fact most of the best Petit Sirah in the world is grown and bottled in California today!

While back in the ’70’s very few winemakers  actually bottled much for retail, most was made in small batches and for themselves and close friends only. It did start a small cult-like following that has grown and there is even a name for the group called PS I Love Youthat has banded together to promote and spread the word about this incredible variety of grape.

If you have never had the pleasure of enjoying a PS as anything but a blending grape, “well son, ya just ain’t lived” as my Grandfather used to say.

For years many winemakers have gone the “ZIN LIKE” way of producing PS, because the grapes have a lot in common. In fact, a lot of foods that pair so well with a Zinfandel will often pair well with a Petite Sirah. These include grilled or BBQ Beef or pork tenderloin, lamb, venison, and Texas red chili.

Petit Sirah Dark as night!
Petit Sirah Dark as night!

But the winemakers I prefer are making the wines more like their Cabernet Sauvignon than their Zinfandel today. A great example of this is Girard Napa Valley Petite Sirah. They sell their PS for $30 and it is one of my favorite red wines…period. It is as dark and inky as you will find in a wine. Notes of blueberry and black fruits jump from the glass!  New oak is evident followed by fresh brewed coffee beans, dark chocolate, and a nice floral tone (lilac or Violet?). Silky smooth on the palate after a few years in the bottle to tame the tannins.

Turley Wine Cellars is one of the top producers, as  most of their vineyards are dedicated to either old vine PS or Zinfandel. They have several vineyard designated PS such as Rattlesnake Ridge, Turley Estate, Library, Hayne, and Pesenti. Larry Turley started Frogs Leap, but sold out and started Turley in 1993. The rest is history. If you are a PS or Zin fan like me you think Larry is WINE GENIUS!

Turley wines are exclusively Mailing List only and it will take about a year before they will even offer you wine typically, but it is worth the wait because Turly makes possibly the best Old Vine Petite Sirah in the world.

I hope you enjoyed the passion I have for this little known grape. Please leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts (good or not so good, it’s all good!).

Terry Hill is the Texas Wineaux