Savour South Australia Wines: Old Vines, Classic Wines, Family Lines made it’s way through Dallas, Texas this last week. I was luck enough to be invited to attend the Seminar in Downtown Dallas located at Café Momentum.
About the time I think I actually know a lot about wine, I quickly realize there is an immense amount of information about the wonders of wine and the production of grapes that I have yet to learn. This is why I have such a passion for the grape; just as many of you reading this now do as well. It is a never ending journey discovery and love for this thing called wine. So when I get invited, I feel very fortunate to get to attend these types of seminars. I always learn so much, and is very humbling at the same time, and I start my journey of discovery all over again.
Savour South Australia Wines Seminar was no exception!
Australia’s wine story is long and storied. The South Australian wine story is even more exciting and historic.
I discovered some of the oldest living grape vines in the world are in Australia!
The Barossa and McLaren Vale Regions of South Australia are the only one of the world-famous viticultural area in the world NOT to have been ravaged by Phylloxera. Therefore it remains home to some of the oldest continually producing vineyards in the world.
The first Colony was founded in 1836 in Australia, with McLaren Valearea founded by John McLaren 2 years afterward. The first grape vines were planted at this time in 1838 by John Reynelland Thomas Hardy. Soon the Seaview Winery and Hardy Winery were in operation by 1850!
The Barossa was settled in 1842 with some of the first European Settlers. First came the British as farmers and landowners, and then the Lutheran German speaking Silesian farmers and craftsmen, who brought also brought in the grapevines to the Barossa, and the rest is history!
The State of South Australia is one of 6 total and 2 Territories. To get an idea of the size, the State of South Australia is 1.4% bigger than the size of the State of Texas. With a population however of only 1.3 million, or about the population of Dallas, Texas alone. Most of these residents live in the City of Adelaide.
The cool winds blow from West to East across South Australia coming from the Antarctica, so even though the summer temperatures can be very warm, the cool winds are ideal for cooling the grapes at night and keeping humidity from being much of an issue in viticulture. Cool wet winters and warm, dry summers are ideal for grape growing.
Temperatures are only slightly warmer than that of the Bordeaux region of France in the Barossa Valley. The makes for lush wines more similar to the Napa Valley in California. Riesling, Semillon, Chardonnay are the favored white wines for Barossa, but you will also find Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz (Syrah), and Mataro (Mourvedre) are king here. In fact some of the oldest Grenache vines in the world are still thriving today, dating back to 1848, and 1843 for gnarly old Shiraz grapevines!
The Eden Valleydepends on the higher altitude and the slope of the hills, as well as the more shallow and rocky soils to produce more acidic wines such as world class Riesling!
McLaren Vale is located about 40 minutes south of the capitol of South Australia, Adelaide. The climate is Mediterranean and characterized by warm summers, moderate winters dominated by rainfall, low relative humidity, and relatively high evaporation. The climate can be very diverse between the Gulf of St Vincent to the south and Mt. Lofty to the north. This climatic diversity helped producers embrace Spanish and Italian varieties such as Barbera, Fiano, Tempranillo, Mouvedre, and Moscato, as well as re-emerging varieties such as Viognier, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, and Verdelho. Having said that the Key Varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, and the crown jewel of McLaren Vale; Shiraz!
We tasted through the 12 wines listed below, and each were very different, yet very reminiscent of the “Aussie Styles” that I have been familiar with from top quality wines I have been accustomed too in the past.
The intense Grenache, Mouvedre, and GSM (Grenache, Shiraz, Mouvedre) can be very tannic when young, but the aging potential is outstanding. The young wines tend to be full bodied, lush ripe & rich dark fruits, chocolate, licorice, and complex. The Aged Wines lend more to mocha, earthy, prune, savory meats, cigar box.
The 2010 Cirillo Estate 1850 Grenache was produced from Grenache vines dating back to 1850. Bright Cherry, intense and seductive palate.
My favorites were the Shiraz’s (6-9 on list above). The Dark fruits such as blackberry, blackcurrant, and plum dominate with floral qualities, and long finishes. Aging potential should be outstanding. I would love to taste through these Shiraz again in 20 years just to see how it has evolved.
My absolute favorite was the 2010 Angove The Medhyk Shiraz. The fruit was hand-picked with only the best, then hand selected with only the best barrels to insure the absolute best the winery can offer! This is a wine I will be looking to add to my collection.
Another favorite of the day was the 2006 Elderton Ode de Lorraine Barossa Valley. This is a blend of 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Shiraz, and 12% Merlot. This was a very lush wine with black and red fruits, current, vanilla, and fresh leather. Still plenty of tannin structure remaining after 10 years in bottle, really shows how well this wine was structured. I will be looking for this bottle as well!
Most unusual wine of the year for me? The 2012 Shingleback Black Bubbles McLaren Vale! This is a SPARKLING SHIRAZmade in the “Methode Traditionelle” of the Champagne Region of France with the secondary fermentation in-bottle! Yes you read right… A sparkling red wine! I understand in McLaren Vale Region it is traditional to open a sparkling shiraz at Christmas Dinner. I was amazed and cannot wait to find more here in Texas. The body of a red wine with the cleansing palate of a sparkling wine would be perfect for a spicy Chinese dish including Peking Duck.
As I said I learned so much, and I got to spend time with my Dallas Wineauxs Wine Group I started a few years ago, so a fun time was had by all.
I have gotten a new-found respect and admiration for the Wines of South Australia!
So next time you are out looking for a terrific high quality wine remember the Wines of South Australia!
Thank you for reading my ramblings and thoughts. Please leave a commentof any kind, I would love to hear your thoughts, ideas, or anything relating to the Wines of South Australia and any other article included.
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!
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.
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!
Restaurants in Napa Valley to visit:
Rutherford Grillis 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!
Brixhas 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 Lanein 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!
The Town of Sonoma Square is a fun area with lots to see and great restaurants. Here you will find The Girl and the Figis a good restaurant for lunch or dinner with a good patio if weather permits. Sunflower Caféfor truly impressive breakfast. Or soup, salads, and sandwichs for lunch. Both are on the square in City of Sonoma.
Fremont Dinerjust 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 JeanThe 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!
Martin Ray Wineryin 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 Storeand 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.
There just isn’t enough time to do everything I want to do; visit all the Wineries, see all the incredibly beautiful places, eat at all the terrific restaurants, and taste all the wines you want to taste!
As I stated in the Day One article, I could have every minute taken up with appointments if I chose too. But that wasn’t what my lovely bride Margie and I wanted to do on day two. We both have been burning the candle at both ends the last several months at our jobs, and we needed some Margie & Terry time. We wanted to just let it happen as it came with a two basic starting points:
Start in the City of Healdsburg, Sonoma County
Spend time together talking, laughing, meeting people, and making memories
We awoke on Saturday morning at the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country Hotelin Santa Rosa needing coffee really bad. While the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country is comfortable and in a great location for Sonoma, I have to say the hotel needs a serious renovation. They do offer a full service restaurant, large rooms, and amenities such as wine tastings in the evening. However the rooms look like they were decorated in 1980. And the pool was completely torn apart and we had to listen to the workers refinishing the pool. But… we don’t spend a lot of time in our rooms; we basically sleep there and go, go, go! I personally prefer the newer Marriot Courtyard for my money.
We dressed, had coffee and a light breakfast at the hotel and back to our room to get ready for the day. We decided to drive to Healdsburg Square, park the car, and just discover the town. We arrived about 11:00 AM. After parking we strolled around dipping inside the many shops lined around the square, as Margie dearly loves to shop. I think it is something in women’s DNA. I am convinced that the word “SALE” works as a pheromone that draws women into a store, where they can nearly always find something “cute”! Along with clothes, you will find terrific restaurants, candy shops, bakeries with lots of goodies, ice cream shops, and lots of places with home and kitchen goods..
I really did not mind walking around the shops, because about every 4-5 shops it seems is a wine producer sampling their wines. Well, it would be rude not to do a tasting right? We first stopped for a tasting at Roadhouse Winery tucked away in the corner of the square.
I have to tell you I was a little hesitant at first, but also intrigued as well because I am currently on my Pinot Noir kick. Plus I really liked the label. The young men inside were laughing, joking around, and NOT taking much very serious…except their pinot noir. This they were very serious and enthusiastic about the product. And they should have been because the Pinot Noir that they were pouring was great! In fact I bought 4 bottles and brought them back to Texas.
Next was an ice cream break at Noble Folk Ice Cream and Pie. With a great selection of delicious deserts to temp you! And anyone that really knows me understands I love my ice cream as much as my wine.
On around the square for more shopping and wine tastings. We enjoyed the wines at Portalupi Wines so much we bought a glass each and sat down to chat and sip the terrific wine and decide our next move!
Remember, we had very little agenda upfront and decided to just let the day come to us. So we decided since we love the Dry Creek AVA so much; let’s drop the top on the convertable and go discover!
First stop is one of our favorite places in Sonoma; Dry Creek General Store. Established in 1881, the Dry Creek General Store is a very historic and unique establishment that is still to this day a local hangout. They offer great crafted sandwiches, soups, salads, and local gifts. We have a a tradition of buying coffee cups every time we stop to remind us of our great times in the valley. You can get a great sandwich or salad made to order, then head to the gardens or on the front stoop to enjoys with the locals. Many times we will load up on picnic supplies and head over to one of the local wineries to picnic. Regardless this is a MUST STOP when in the area!
After a great sandwich, and wine out of our new coffee mugs, we are off to explore!
Feeling adventurous we just took a road and drove, looking and exploring until we ran upon a small winery by the name of Zichichi Family Vineyard.
There was a small sign out front that got my attention: “Wine Enthusiast 95 Points”
Now we were WAY off the beaten path, but what the heck? Let’s check it out. We were extremely surprised and pleased.
A little history of Zichichi:
In 2000 a New Orleans Physician Steve Zichichi and his wife Kristen purchased the 22 acres in Dry Creek Valley. 14 acres of zinfandel and 4 acres of petit sirah, all planted in 1928 and 1964 by the previous Bartolozzi Ranch. After several years of selling grapes to local wineries, the Zichichi’s built their own winery in 2006. They now produce an Estate Zinfandel, an Old Vine Zinfandel, A Cabernet Sauvignon, a Petite Sirah, and an incredible Sauvignon Blanc that blew me away!
In fact, we loved the Sauvignon Blanc so much that we bought a case and shipped it to Texas, where we almost immediately drank every bottle and wished we had bought 2 cases! I am on the very short member list now, and have already bought the next vintage. They are very unique in that they sell out most of their wines to members every year, usually within 3 months.
We were taken to the back for barrel samples of the upcoming vintages of Old Vine Zinfandel and this was quite impressive. You can really see how well the wines have been made, and the promise to come in a few years. We will stop in again next trip to the area.
After driving around the wondrous beauty of Dry Creek and Russian River Valley, we headed back to the room to rest up, then clean up for dinner. I made dinner reservations at Willi’s Wine Barin Santa Rosa. Margie and I had visited, and loved the original Willi’s Wine Bar in Paris, and in fact have artwork in our entryway of our home from the famous establishment in Paris. While I understood already that they were not affiliated, I was still intrigued.
While Willi’s Wine Bar was almost nothing like the Paris version, it was a very nice wine country restaurant, lots of character, and a very impressive wine list.
We like to arrive before our reservations and sit at the bar. We meet a lot of wonderful Bartenders and staff, as well as the patrons at the bar. We enjoyed a terrific bottle of Black Kitty Pinot Noir Soberanes Vineyard that was a suggestion of the Bartender. It was nicely perfumed with aromas of raspberry, violets, chocolate, and somewhat earthy. Chew tannins, and black cherry bursting in our mouth. Delicious Pinot Noir! We had a wonderful time at dinner, food was very good, and I would suggest it when in Santa Rosa.
The next day was pack up and go home day. I carry with me a great packable wine shipper called “Wine Check”. It holds 12 bottles of wine in Styrofoam, covered by a very sturdy box, and then covered by a padded heavy duty vinyl cover. It has a removable strap and wheels on one end for easy transport. It weights 45-48 lbs full and you can check it as luggage on the plane!
I always bring back a nice booty of wine to enjoy!
Margie and I had a short, but incredible time in Wine Country. I hope this article helps you plan your next trip. If you ever want me to assist you with where to go taste wine, great places to eat, and beautiful places to visit feel free to email me. I would be happy to help you with suggestions.
Just keep in mind:
A Weekend in Wine Country is Never Enough!
Thank you again for reading the ramblings of a Texas Wineaux!
(Please leave a comment,good or bad, because I need the feedback.)
Jeff Manghas took over as Winemaker early 2015 at the iconic Williams-Selyem Wineryafter 3 years as the Assistant Winemaker working under the legendary Bob Cabral.
Jeff Mangahas has big shoes to fill at Williams-Selyem Winery
Because Bob Cabral is a living legend in wine… world wide
In 2007 Wine Enthusiast awarded Bob’s Litton Estate Pinot Noir a perfect 100 points. It is the first Pinot Noir in North America given 100 points by any major wine publication. Then in 2011 he was awarded Winemaker of the Year for 2011by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Bob follows fellow past honorees Genevieve Janssensof Robert Mondavi Winery (2010), Scott McLeodof Rubicon Estate & Francis Ford Coppola (2009), Margo Van Staaveren of Chateau St. Jean (2008), Carlo Ferrini of Italy (2007), and Olivier Humbrecht of Domain Zind-Humbrecht, France (2006).
As I said; Big shoes to fill.
Jeff Mangahas joined Williams Selyem from his position as Winemaker at Hartford Court, where he oversaw all aspects of winemaking for the ultra-premium Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Zinfandel producer. Jeff received his Master’s in Enology from UC Davis, in addition to his B.A. in Molecular Biology from the University of Washington. He began his winemaking career as a cellar hand at Artesa Winery prior to becoming the assistant to Dan Goldfield at Dutton Goldfield Winery, digging into the world of cool-climate Pinot wine growing. Then he was on to the role of Winemaker at Hartford Family Winery, specializing in Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations.
So when he stepped down as Winemaker at Hartford Court to Assistant Winemaker at Williams-Selyem you had to read between the lines that he was being groomed to take over for Bob Cabral someday.
Not a bad move if you ask me…
So when I sat down to interview Jeff Mangahas back in March 2015, I was excited and curious how the transition and passing of the torch was going. Jeff was very gracious, well spoken, and is a terrific spokesman for this iconic winery.
Terry: Bob Cabral helped define the style that is Williams-Selyem, and in the process achieved legendary status, not only in California but the world. These are big shoes to fill. How will you deviate if any from this style, and how will you make these wines your own?
Jeff: The realility is Burt Williams was the first Winemaker at Williams-Selyem and a lot of his philosophy… and we will take a tour and take a look at the tanks here, but Bert put in place the process that is Williams-Selyem. He sourced the best grapes throughout the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast, sites of uniqueness, sites that have expressiveness that speak volumes about the process we have here at Williams-Selyem. Bob studied under Burt, and I studied under Bob. So the reality is the process is pretty much identical. Not to say we don’t do things a little bit differently, because we do. But the philosophy stays the same that Burt instituted.
Terry: How long did you work under Bob?
Jeff: I started in 2011, so it was a number of years, three years or so. So this process; down to the barrels and the same cooper, the same house toast that Burt used when he started the winery in 1981. Same barrels that Bob used, and the same barrels that I use today. The fermentation tanks that we use are really very unique. We use these dairy tanks so they are very non traditional. You think of tanks as round, upright tanks. Ours are horizontal and actually used dairy tanks that have the ideal ratio of skin to juice that really allow us to define our style. And whether you go from Burt to Bob to me, it is that wonderful texture which I’m sure you understand. And that is largely due to how we make our wines in these tanks. Most of our wines are in that 13.5 to 13.8% alc range. Coupled with the way that we make the wines, it makes for freshness and acidity that allows for longevity and elegance. There is something about what we do that has a unique texture. I mean I can always pick our wines out of a blind tasting.
Terry: So can I.
Jeff: Exactly, there is a signature to that. So to partly answer the question ‘what have I changed’? I really haven’t changed anything.
Terry: As my grandfather used to say ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it’.
Jeff: Exactly, obviously we as winemakers are always going to have these small differences, but it never deviates from the philosophy of what Burt did.
Terry: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the primary varietals of Williams-Selyem, both were originated in Burgundy France. Although the terroir is obvioulsly different, in fact worlds apart. What can you tell me about how the wines of William-Selyem are similar and how are they completely different?
Jeff: It’s kind of a difficult question to answer because obviously the varietals are the same and the spirit of the wines are the same. But the climate is so different, and we make a little bit of zinfandel as well. But mostly pinot noir and a tiny bit of chardonnay. Arguably those two varieties express the site very well. Obviously we have very different soil types here, more of a sandy kind of loam. In Burgundy it is more of limestone rich. Our heat units are a lot more consistent here in this region. So it is almost impossible to make those comparisons because we are making unique wines, just like they are making unique wines in Burgundy. Or in Oregon, as they are making unique wines because the soils are so different. What I love about what we do is we make 25 different pinot noirs on average, and about 19 of these are vineyard designate. And if one were to taste all those wines side by side you would find transparency in the sight. It is the nature of pinot noir. It translates that sense of place very well. And our wine making style is geared towards highlighting that sense of place in that we do. Everything exactly the same across all vineyard sights and each individual blocks. Same kind of tanks, same kind of barrels, so when you are tasting the wines the uniqueness and expression of the flavor profile really becomes apparent. It is just hard to compare. The soils are different, the weather is different, more fog here than Burgundy, certainly more than Oregon and that has an impact on preserving acidity. So it’s all pinot noir in spirit. But what everyone has in common with pinot noir is it’s ability to be specific to the sight. I think that is what we all have in common.
Terry: William-Selyem has a rather large portfolio, especially considering your near cult status. Are you making too many wines?
Jeff: I don’t think so, I mean again just being able to go back and taste all the pinot noirs side by side, they are all very unique and different. We are making a small production for each one of those. I think it is great for our customers to have that education level. And we have five different Chardonnays and they seem to enjoy them and continue buying them. So no, I don’t think we are making to many wines.
Terry: As long as the quality is there they will continue buying them.
Terry: How do you assure such quality across the board? Because you do have a very large portfolio.
Jeff: We have a phenomenal team across the board, both in the cellar and the vineyards. We work with great Vineyard Managers from all the vineyards we buy from, and our own Vineyard Manager here is great. But to be sure it isn’t easy. There is a lot of hours and a lot of precision work that goes into that. As much as anything as we start the growing season, and the shoots are a couple of inches at this point, I make regular rounds with the Vineyard Managers, and meeting with all to make sure everything is going as it should.
Terry: How often are you in the field?
Jeff: During the growing season definitely almost every day. Depending on my work on this ranch, then going up to Anderson Valley, then up to a vineyard called Ferrington Vineyard and work with that manager, so every day I’m in a different place. And yes, it’s almost overwhelming but keeping tabs on everything is the key.
Terry: Do you plans for a broader release of wines like a cabernet sauvignon or a sparkling?
Jeff: We do already produce a small amount of sparkling to people that visit the winery only. It is not available on the members list. It’s pinot noir, so it is a blanc de noir that we make. We dabbled in blanc de blanc but we settled on the blanc de noir. I want to say our first vintage was 2003, and it’s only 50-100 cases. Nothing on a commercial scale, it is simply to dabble and when we do events. It’s nice to be able to open a sparkling wine to start the evening. Beyond that no, we are not launching sparkling on a bigger scale. As far as the other varieties, this is Russian River, so we try and stay with what grows well here. Other wise we dabbled in a vineyard that has some limestone near Calera that we made a little Chinon Blanc that was very expressive of the sight. 150 cases, again only wines that are available if you visit the winery.
Terry: Kind of like Blue Bell Ice cream in the South; you “drink all you can and sell the rest”?
Jeff: Ha! Exactly!
Terry: Are you married?
Jeff: Yes I am.
Jeff: One 8-year old little girl.
Terry: I know the hours and commitment it takes to produce arguably some of the finest pinot noir and other varieties in the entire world has got to be very stressful. How do you balance these incredible responsibilities and still have any personal life?
Jeff: It’s difficult at times, but my wife Crystal is incredible supportive. This is my 15th year making wine and I’ve always been committed to work and have family. I’ve always wanted those two things and I am committed. And it is incredible to have someone that is so supportive. That is how I’ve been so successful in my life is that support at home.
Terry: I know it is more hours at different times of the year, sometimes I am sure it is 18 hour days. How many hours per week do you typically work?
Jeff: It is really hard to quantify exactly, I pretty much work as much as I need to get the job done. Sometimes its in the winery, or at events or what have you. Sometimes I do travel, but an average day, even when not in harvest, I usually come in at 6:00 and leave at 6:30. There is a lot to do. And if you are going to meet with someone, you have to prepare for the meeting so you just have to do what needs to be done.
Terry: And I know how precious your time is so I really do appreciate this time you are spending with me.
Jeff: You are very welcome, glad to speak to you.
Terry: Jeff, I have a better than average palate with quite a few bottles of wine at the house. I keep so many bottles because I don’t always know what mood I will be in. Often the mood dictates what I will open. That is why I keep such a broad spectrum of wines on hand, from Burgundy to Napa Valley Cabs and lots of French wines, and everything in between. Even though I write about wines, sometimes it just comes down to “what wine makes me smile”. So what wines make you smile?
Jeff: I enjoy drinking our own wines, and we have a large library of older wines. So I have been able to taste through those after they have benefited from age, and I really enjoy those. Wines can often times be a difficult to describe, and sometimes I don’t actually feel like I need to describe them. You just think; oh my gosh this is great and you know you need to sit down and just enjoy it without putting much thought to it. Example of this; a couple of weekends ago I had the opportunity to drink a 1990 Williams-Selyem. It was 24 years old and still vibrant, fresh and I didn’t feel the need to pick it apart or to decide if the balance was perfect. It was just one of those times that I just enjoyed it, and it gave me a lot of pleasure. This was one of those moments. You know I am a student of the wines of the world and have traveled and I am a fan of Champagne. I love Burgundy, and I have tasted a lot of wines in my career, and even before getting into the wine industry.
Terry: Have you worked overseas?
Jeff: No I’ve never worked anywhere but here in Russian River but I feel like I am a student of the wines of the world because I have traveled to Burgundy, I’ve traveled to Italy, I grew up in Washington State and I’ve tried a lot of wines from Washington and Oregon, and obviously throughout California. I appreciate a great bottle of wine and you can almost taste that handcrafted style in the best wines of the world and those are the wines that I crave.
Terry: I’ve heard it takes a lot of beer to make a great wine. Is that true?
Jeff: Ha! Ha! It is! I actually make beer as well. In my off time I enjoy that, so yes that is absolutly true.
Terry: What kind of beer to you enjoy?
Jeff: I enjoy an IPA on occasion, but mostly I enjoy a softer and maltier beer, like red ales and Scottish ales. Slightly less bitter and are fun and interesting. We certainly have Russian River Brewing Company here in Santa Rosa and I enjoy a Blind Pig or a Pliny every now and then.
Terry: Do you get the Pliney the Younger?
Jeff: Ya know, I haven’t done it in many years. It used to be less popular, now it has become so popular but I just can’t stand in line for it for 3-4 hours. And it is great what they have done with making it so popular, but it just gets to the point with work and family there just isn’t enough time. I would rather be playing with my daughter. As fun as it would be to go try the latest vintage of Pliney, I’d rather be playing with my daughter.
Terry: You are very well known in certain circles, and have gained a certain celebrity status because of your job. Can you walk into a restaurant and people not know who you are?
Jeff: Absolutely. Obviously having lived in this community I know a lot of people, but I like that I have a certain unanimity still. It’s all good.
Terry: And finally, anything new and exciting that my readers should know about that will be coming from Williams-Selyem in the coming year?
Jeff: There are a few vineyards that have come on line in 2011, and working with those Vineyard Managers and Growers heavily for the improved quality. We are always looking for opportunities to improve, that’s how you get better for sure. There are a couple of vineyards that I am really excited about, they are performing really well and as the vines get older. We are looking for consistency. The 2014 vintage that we just finished blending, and so far is a phenomenal vintage, so I am definitely looking forward to that. It will be interesting to see how the ’12, ’13 and ’14 vintages; each super high quality, and hopefully the customers will be able to appreciate that it isn’t just a broken record, that it just isn’t this good all the time. There is a real precision that the ’14 wines have that I am really excited about. Unfortunately those wines will not be released until 2016, but that is definitely something that you can look forward to for sure.
Terry: 2011 was a very challenging vintage. Did you see some of your clientele not taking all of their allocation?
Jeff: No we sold out. It was also below average in terms of quantity. We produced less wine produced in that vintage. We had some issues with flowering because of the bad weather that reduced the crops by 1/3. So in a lot of cases we were down in production by 25-30%. So we sold out.
As I said, I found Jeff very gracious, intelligent, and a with real passion for what he does. More so; a realization how fortunate he is to have the reins of this incredible bastion of World Class Pinot Noir! He definitely knows the challenges he has in front of him and the legacy he is following with Burt Williams and Bob Cabral, but he knows what he is doing I assure you.
I went in to the interview with a certain amount of skepticalism and left with a sense that Williams-Selyem is in very capable hands. I believe that Jeff will keep this iconic winery producing some of the best Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Zinfandel in the entire world
And I want to thank Jeff for spending so much time with my wife Margie and I (2-1/2 hours). I understand how precious your time is and I cannot express how much we both appreciate everything you did done for us and more importantly the time spent with us.
Congratulations Jeff Mangahas!
Thank you for reading the ramblings of Terry Hill, The TEXAS WINEAUX!