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2020 DéTENTE Wines, Hugo Pinot Noir – Can You Decipher the Code?

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Here is another wine enjoyed after I visited Paso Robles last December for the Paso Robles Cabernet Franc Day tasting and symposium. Having just two hours of free time, I asked a friend where I should go to taste some excellent wines besides their wine (Dracaena Wines) in Paso Robles. What a great recommendation going to DéTENTE Wines tasting room, which was no small chore in finding them!  The tasting room is located in the alley between 12th & 13th and Park & Pine Street, in the back courtyard of Jeffry’s Wine Country BBQ. A bit tricky in finding but well worth the adventure.

The Winery

This may sound like an odd name for a winery, but in reality it is a great name for a winery in Paso Robles! It has been a long tradition of claiming that the best wines from vineyards come from either the West or East side of Highway 101 in Paso Robles. Thus calling for DéTENTE (definition being easing of hostility or strained relations) believing both sides of Highway 101 offer excellent wines! As DéTENTE Wines produces small lot boutique varietals from the best vineyards on both sides of Highway 101.

The winery is co-owned by three individuals. Chris Eberle, winemaker, has spent 15 years working in well-known wineries across the globe building on his resume and experience. From a wine cellar in Weinsberg, Germany to harvest at Hartenberg Winery in Stellebosch, South Africa, Kim Crawford in Marlborough, New Zealand, Howard Park Wines in Margaret River, Western Australia and Chateau angelus in Bordeaux, France. He also currently is the head winemaker at Eberle Winery in Paso Robles.

Another co-owner is Trevor Iba, who has an extensive background in the wine industry. He was Director of Accounting and Finance for some of the well-known wineries on the Central Coast. He also owns a mobile wine cross flow filtration company called TS Wine Services serving the Central Coast AVA’s.

The third co-owner and Creative Director belongs to Julian Caustrita. His responsibilities are to execute the brand’s expression. Julian’s focus is on design and strategy for the past 15 years, with a design background to capture the team and brand vision with cross platform design and media development. This is one label you need to read every word printed on it as there are typically double meanings behind each label.

The Wine- 2020 DéTENTE Wines, Hugo Pinot Noir

(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

This is made from grapes from Mun’s Vineyard located in higher regions of the Santa Cruz AVA. The bottle design very much intrigued my curiosity. It seems like some type of code to decipher for secret agents to figure out! As it turns out it is not that complicated as Hugo is named after Chris’s son who was born in 2020 the same as the vintage….mystery solved!

(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

The wine on the eyes provided bright and crisp royal purple edges and deep ruby coloring in the center. When the glass was filled to the equator of the glass, it was extremely dark and alluring. On the nose very little aromas waft upward even in a Riedel Pinot Noir glass. So was a bit disappointed that perhaps this Pinot Noir had faded. But once a sip was taken, the true nature of this fine Pinot Noir came out from the shadows with dark red fruits of strawberries and cherries. On the palate traces of smooth grandfathers pipe tobacco, cranberries and earthiness. The finish was equally impressive with smooth tannins but with just enough edges to be enjoyed. Combined with its structure of acidity, it provided a satisfying completeness to the sip. Only 48 cases of this wine was produced! Their website shows it for $45/bottle. The wine has an alcohol level of 14.6%. It was aged 10 months in second fill Hungarian oak barrels.  Definitely one of the more enjoyable sipping Pinot Noir with or without food

The Food and Wine Pairing

(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

The wine was pulled out of the cellar as we had an oven baked pork loin. Rubbed with various spices and sliced and plated with an apricot pepper sauce from Stewart & Jaspers Orchards. Accompanied by sautéed quartered Yukon potatoes and mushrooms with a side fresh garden salad. The DéTENTE Hugo Pinot Noir picked up the “smokiness of the spices on the rub”. The bright acidity and smooth, yet embracing tannins, complemented the pork’s lean and fatty cuts. A delicious food and wine pairing.

Sláinte,

Michael

https://californiawinesandwineries.com

https://www.detentewines.com/

https://stewartandjasper.com/

https://dracaenawines.com/

2021 Wood Family Vineyards Chardonnay – A Must Have Valentine’s Day Wine

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The Winery

Located in eastern Livermore Valley, Rhonda Wood owner & winemaker, has been producing award winning wines for over two decades at Wood Family Vineyards. You can read more on her background from airline pilot to award winning winemaker at:

https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2016/02/10/wood-family-vineyards-2/    and

https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2022/11/24/2020-wood-family-vineyards-the-captain-a-red-wine-blend/

Here is just a “partial listing” of her current winning wines:

  • 2021 “Para Mas Amigas” Chardonnay – Gold – 2023 SF Chronicle Wine Competition
  • 2019 Clone 30 – Gold – 2023 SF Chronicle Wine Competition
  • 2022 “Pink Pearl” Rose – Best of Class – 2023 SF Chronicle Wine Competition
  • 2021 Albariño – Best of Class – SF Chronicle Wine Competition
  • 2019 Cabernet Franc – Double Gold – SF Chronicle Wine Competition
  • 2019 LVVC – Gold – SF Chronicle Wine Competition
  • 2019 “Viva” Cabernet Sauvignon – Gold – SF Chronicle Wine Competition
  • 2019 Merlot – Gold – SF Chronicle Wine Competition
  • 2019 “The Captain” Red Blend – Gold – SF Chronicle Wine Competition
  • 2020 “Big Wood” Zinfandel – Gold – 2023, SF Chronicle Wine Competition
  • 2020 “Woody’s” Cab Cabernet Sauvignon – Gold – 2023 SF Chronicle Wine Competition
  • 2018 “Especial” Cabernet Sauvignon – Silver – SF Chronicle Wine Competition
  • 2018 Clone 30 Cabernet Sauvignon – Silver – SF Chronicle Wine Competition
  • 2019 “El Loco Rojo” Bordeaux Red Blend – Silver – SF Chronicle Wine Competition
  • 2019 GSM – Silver – SF Chronicle Wine Competition
  • 2019 ‘Muy Bueno” Zinfandel – Silver – SF Chronicle Wine Competition

The Wine 2021 Wood Family Chardonnay

(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

This wine has truly been one of my favorite Chardonnay’s for the last six years. While always delicious and winning awards, with caramel and full secondary malolactic fermentation creating a tinge of buttery finish, each year has a slight change. Her 2021 Chardonnay is 98% of the same “deliciousness” as her 2020. The slight changes were twofold, the first being a more “mouth filling” slightly heavier body due to more stirring of the lees during barrel fermentation. The second was a hint of an ever slight Asian Pear sweetness on the finish. The balance of the wine was almost identical in color (golden yellow), aroma (fresh brioche), taste (pear and apple) and a beautiful finish! This wine was as “comfortable and inviting” as her previous vintages once again. The bottle sells for $32.

The Food & Wine Pairing

(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

Paired this evening with a new for us baked butterflied chicken breast stuffed with Swiss cheese, spices and fresh broccoli with a panko crust. Accompanied by additional broccoli, brown rice (not shown) and a fresh garden salad. The creaminess of the Swiss cheese with a slight buttery flavor of the Chardonnay was again spot on for a great meal.

Convinced that no matter what you are serving on Valentine’s Day, nothing says “Love” like Wood Family Vineyards Chardonnay!

Sláinte,

Michael

https://californiawinesandwineries.com

https://woodfamilyvineyards.com/

2016 Ledson Howell Mountain “Old Vine” Zinfandel

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The Winery

(Picture from Ledson Winery)

The story begins in England in 1896 and is detailed out on the website https://ledson.com/discover-ledson/history/ . It is a tale of hard work, family ties and a desire to do more for the community. Steve Ledson’s history is both unique and common—unique with background and successful venture and common with family ties. His demeanor and casual manner bespeaks volumes. A couple of years ago, I had a friend come down from Oregon and had Assistant Winemaker Jerry Padilla conduct the private tasting. On the way out, Steve walked in with jeans and tee shirt having worked some aspect of the vineyard only to greet us, genuinely happy that our tasting went well.

(From a recent private tasting at Ledson Winery with friends)


The Castle is the official tasting room of Ledson Winery and the architecture and construction alone are worth the visit! Ledson Winery offers the largest premium wine portfolio of any family owned winery in the United States. Today their offering numbers more than 70 wines annually! For more information on Ledson Winery click below:

https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2018/06/26/ledson-winery-an-opulent-castle-only-overshadowed-by-the-wine/

The Wine

(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

First on the eyes, an extremely dark elixir and medium heavy viscosity. On the nose, a symphony of aromas coming beaming up from the glass of blackberries, plums, cherry and cranberry. On the palate, the black fruits come bursting ahead with soft vanilla, pipe tobacco, earthiness and spice notes. The finish provides a swirling memory of the aforementioned flavors and soft leather and jammy red licorice. Tannins were present but in a rounded fashion. This was one of the most bold, smooth and semi-dry Zinfandel wines I have experienced. This will make my Annual Best Wines Tasted for 2023 that will come out in December. The current vintage is 2019 and goes for $72/bottle.

The Food and Wine Pairing

(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

Pulled this wine out of the cellar specifically for our meal this evening of Carne Asada. We normally seared it on the BBQ but with the rain, did on the stove with a cast iron skillet. Besides a fresh cut of flank steak, ingredients included chopped cilantro leaves, olive oil, reduced sodium soy sauce, juice from one orange, juice from one lime, minced garlic cloves, minced jalapeno pepper, cumin, kosher salt and ground black pepper. This was marinated for about 10 hours. Extra sauce was saved to drizzle on the plated meat. Accompanied by sautéed Brussel sprouts with sliced mushrooms and a fresh garden salad. The wine with its full fruit forward characteristics was excellent with the meal. Definitely a home run!

Sláinte,

Michael

https://californiawinesandwineries.com

https://ledson.com/

2012 Paoletti Estates Winery, Nero d’Avola

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The Winery

(Photo from Paoletti website)

Paoletti Estates Winery is located in Calistoga on the Silverado Trail. They have 36 acres planted featuring wines to make premium Bordeaux blends, Italian varieties and Super Tuscan blends. Their first release was in 1994.  Their varietal wines include Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Nero d’Avola. All their wines are made in small lots by winemaker Gabriella Gazzarno. They have consistently won Gold and Double Gold medals from the SF Chronicle Wine Competition.

(Photo from Paoletti website)

To visit their caves is a fascinating experience with statues of many great people in history. They are unique and made from Carrara marble. It is both a functional cave for barrel ageing and a museum. I can’t recall the exact year I visited them, but many years ago and definitely need to put them back on my list of wineries to visit.

The Wine

(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

Their Nero d’Avola is “almost black” in color and considered one of the most important grapes grown in Sicily. The name comes from the town of Avola in the far south of Sicily. It is also known in Italy as Calabrese. This is a blend mostly of Nero d’Avola varietal with 15% being Cabernet Sauvignon. The vines were brought in from Sicily almost 18 years ago and planted in Calistoga. On the eyes, this is a dark almost black sea of delight with medium heavy viscosity. On the nose and palate, it parlays one back to old world Italy/Sicily with a dusty and rustic taste with blackberries, plum, cherries and dark chocolate. The finish is long lasting with the tannins and acidity in perfect balance with a semi-sweet vanilla. The wine was aged for 18 months with 40% new French oak and 60% neutral French oak barrels. Only 112 cases were produced. This wine was so “realistic old world” and the taste fabulous, it will make my Annual Best Wines Tasted in 2023 which is published in December yearly. BTW, the picture on the bottle label is Giuseppe Garibaldi, (1807-1882) who was an Italian General and patriot. He contributed to the unification of Italy and the Kingdom of Italy. Known as one of the “fathers of the fatherland”.

The Food & Wine Pairing

(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

Pulled from the cellar last night to have with dinner as the bold, acidic flavor of the wine allows it to cut through the fats, oils and richness of the Bolognese sauce. The sauce is a recipe from our friend Darlene Besst and started at 10 am and left simmering all day on the stove. Ingredients included chopped celery, chopped carrot, minced garlic cloves, olive oil, chopped onions, chopped fresh thyme, ground veal, ground pork, red wine, bay leaves, beef broth and tomato puree.  Served with whole wheat penne pasta and topped with fresh Parmesan cheese. The good news, it was an exquisite meal combining both Sicily and Italy!!  The bad news is I only have one bottle of it left is the cellar.

Sláinte,

Michael

https://californiawinesandwineries.com

https://paolettivineyards.com/

2018 Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc

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(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

The Wine

A light straw color on the eyes and medium viscosity. On the nose, citrus aromas waft into the olfactory senses along with grapefruit and lemon zest. On the palate, lemon meringue, brioche and ripe apricots abound in the mouth. The texture is big and bold, filling the mouth. The finish is mid lasting and developed a beautiful ending for this wine with crisp acidity. The mouth filling texture was most likely caused by the lees being stirred daily during fermentation initially and then weekly. The wine is 87% Sauvignon Blanc, the balance being 10% Sémillon and a small amount 3% being Sauvignon Vert. The alcohol is 14.2%.  The juice was fermented in 67% French oak barrels, and 29% in stainless steel tanks and 4% in concrete eggs.  Production was 10,420 cases. Today the vintage being released is the 2021 and sell for $32/bottle.

The Food and Wine Pairing

(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

Paired with seared Ahi with wasabi, ponzu sauce, sesame seeds and roasted black seaweed at Verona18 with our Friday Night Wine & Dine group. The Sauvignon Blanc is always a favorite with seared Ahi and tonight was no exception! A great food and wine pairing.

(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

Also tried a red wine with the meal, a 2019 Blue Victorian Mourvedre. While the wine was delicious, and recently their 2020 vintage winning Best of Class in the SF Chronicle Wine Competition, preferred the Sauvignon Blanc with the meal.

Sláinte,

Michael

https://californiawinesandwineries.com

https://cliffledevineyards.com/

https://www.coppervalleygolf.com/homepage/current-operations

https://www.coppervalleygolf.com/

2021 Orin Swift, Veladora Sauvignon Blanc – Mystery Label Solved

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The Background

As is our custom when getting together, a wine is given to the host. The other night we had plenty of wines and this was left orphaned in the refrigerator as an oversight. Put it in the cellar and was intrigued by the “mysterious label” to open it up.

As I started to unwind the mystery label, an excellent behind the scene story unfolded. Orin Swift is the winery producing this wine.  The winery uses this label to draw attention to the anonymous workforce of men and women who labor in vineyards and wineries of Napa Valley. Orin Swift Cellars donates $65,000 a year to Puertas Abiertas (Open Doors) who provides dental services, counseling and health screenings for those workers in need without checking immigration status. This group was founded by Father Gordon Kahil and the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe appears on the label of the wine. It was chosen as a recognition of the Latino heritage of their Latino farm workers. You can visit their website    at:    http://www.puertasabiertasnapa.org for more information

The Wine, 2021 Veladora Sauvignon Blanc

(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

A most clean and crisp Sauvignon Blanc without “too much citrus” but rather more welcoming with mellow flavors. First on the eyes a light golden yellow and medium viscosity. On the nose aromas of tropical fruits of pineapple, guava and mellow lemongrass. On the palate honeydew melon and grapefruit were the primary and refreshing flavors. On the finish, a minerality of wet stone was found but the lively and crispness of a “pure Sauvignon Blanc” stole the experience.  The wine comes from two vineyards, Solari Vineyard and McGah and is 100% Sauvignon Blanc. It was barrel fermented in French oak for 5 months with 13% being new. The alcohol is high at 15.4% but totally unnoticeable.  The wine sells for $30/bottle and is a unique wine and worthy cause.

The Food & Wine Pairing

(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

The reason the wine was chosen to compliment a fresh rock cod was just purchased at Ohana Seafood (Modesto).  It was blackened in a variety of spices at the store and brought home. Fried on a cast iron skillet with only butter, it came out flaky tender, moist and delicious. Accompanied by broccoli and wild and long grain rice. The spiciness of the blackened fish with the tropical flavors of the wine counterbalanced each other perfectly.  A very nice food and wine pairing this evening. I believe on those warm summer days, this wine would work nicely chilled as refreshing alternative to Chardonnay.

Sláinte,

Michael

https://californiawinesandwineries.com

https://www.orinswift.com/

http://ohanaseafood.net/

2018 GoodMills Family Winery – Teroldego

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Background

Teroldego is a red Italian grape variety grown in the northeastern region of Trentino-Alto, Italy.

(Photo from Wikipedia)

The name Teroldego means “the little sour one” because it is often compared to another grape, Vinci Prosecco which is known for its delicate flavor. Teroldego has been called the “Champagne of the Alps” because it can be used as an alternative when making sparkling wine. The grape also grows in Tuscany and Sicily. It is primarily used for blending in dry wines. It is deeply colored and has unique fruity aromas with flavors of red cherry, raspberry, black fruit, earthiness and herbs.

(picture by USDA)

The growth of Teroldego is strong in California being in 2008 only 80 acres were planted. In 2021 (latest figures) show about 1,029 acres. Two agricultural districts (11 & 17) contribute almost 86% of the production of Teroldego in California.

The Winery

GoodMills Winery is owned by Brad and Lauri Mills. They founded their boutique winery on the premise of a simple philosophy “Good Friends, Good Times, For GoodMills Wines!” They are located on the east side of Lodi at 17266 Hillside Drive on 10 acres. Their white wines are Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. Their red wines are Syrah, Petite Sirah, Teroldego and Tempranillo. This wine was given to me from a new neighbor to try so I haven’t yet visited the winery.

The Wine – 2018 GoodMills Teroldego

(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

The wine on the eyes is extremely dark purplish red with medium heavy viscosity. On the nose pepper spice and red fruits abound with surprisingly intense aromas. On the palate, cranberry with a mix of blackberry and raspberry are dominate. Secondary flavors of pepper and black earthiness (old world) come into play. On the finish, almond and a smidge of licorice coat the mouth and throat with medium but present tannins. A very comfortable Teroldego to drink.

The Food and Wine Pairing

(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

On for what we Californian’s call a cold evening (temperature reaching in the low 30’s), it is nice to enjoy “winter comfort food” such as meatloaf. A delicious meatloaf baked with cheddar cheese and served with a drizzle of Stewart & Jasper Orchards Raspberry Chipotle sauce. A little Tabasco sauce also was added for “more heat”. Accompanied by a fresh garden salad. The GoodMills Family wine provided the right touch to the meal providing a framework for the meatloaf. The sweetness and “heat” from the sauce played a great role. A very good food and wine pairing.

Can’t wait to visit them and taste some of their other wines!

Sláinte,

Michael

https://californiawinesandwineries.com

http://www.goodmillswinery.com/

https://www.stewartandjasper.com/

Playoff of Two Great Cabernet Sauvignon’s: 2011 Kelly Fleming and 2009 O’Shaughnessy Mt Veeder

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(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

Background

Last Sunday while the Forty-niners were in the NFL playoffs, we hosted a few folks for dinner. Watched the end of the game glued to the screen. Come on Niner’s that was too close for comfort! So decided to open a few nice and favorite bottles of wine that came up to drink in 2023. Others also brought wine to share and be enjoyed. So actually “pitted” these two wines and had the group vote on which they enjoyed with the meal. Both wineries wines are stocked in the cellar and we were members at both wineries for years.

The Wineries- Kelly Fleming and O’Shaughnessy

I have written about both before. Most recently here is a link to the wonderful wines of both outstanding wineries. Previously both have made by annual Best Wines Tasted of the Year many times.

https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2023/01/16/2019-kelly-fleming-estate-cabernet-sauvignon-triggering-a-good-memory/

https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2020/07/27/oshaughnessy-winery-2010-mt-veeder-a-wonderful-treat/

The Field Conditions (sticking with the NFL theme):

Both wines were removed from the 55 degree cellar about five hours before dinner. Both were double decanted and double filtered and left to gently warm up to between 65-67 degrees to be served. Both wines served in Riedel Cabernet Sauvignon crystal. Both wines came in with a record of 95-97 point ratings. Both wines were equally matched with no flaws and low acidity. The significant difference is Kelly Fleming wines are from Calistoga and this O’Shaughnessy is from Mt Veeder. Both are in the Napa Valley AVA.

The Wines or Opponents

(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

The 2011 Kelly Fleming Cabernet Sauvignon is made with 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from their estate. The wine was made by both renowned winemaker Celia Welch and Rebecca George. It possessed 14.7% alcohol and was aged 20 months in 70% new French oak and 30% neutral French oak. Only 1020 cases were made and sells for $200/bottle. On the eyes a deep luscious concentrated red brick color and medium heavy viscosity. On the nose, aromas of fresh cherries, almond and soft vanilla pipe tobacco. In the palate, the fresh Bing cherries mixed with plum and herbal notes, including some spice like cinnamon. The finish was extremely soft and with the silkiest tannins in recent memory, that slid down the throat effortlessly. A beautifully balanced and enjoyable wine.

The 2009 O’Shaughnessy Mt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon holds a strong record. Made with 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and aged 24 months in 80% new French oak and 20% neutral French oak barrels. Only 750 cases were produced. The winemaker is Sean Capiaux who has been with O’Shaughnessy for years! He knows the vineyards extremely well and showcases all the wines to high marks consistently. The wine today from resellers, if you can find it, goes for $200/bottle. The wine has a deep garnet coloring and medium heavy viscosity. On the nose, dark black fruits and floral scents wafted into the senses. On the palate, sweet spices, raspberries, cocoa swirled endlessly coating the teeth in rich and edgy tannins. The finish was long and desirable with strength and vigor. Again a seamless bottle of liquid being enjoyed.

The Food and Wine Pairing

(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

Served with a five rib Prime rib with Kinder’s rub with a few other spices thrown into the mix and garlic cloves embedded in the roast, served with uncut horseradish. Accompanied by roasted Brussel sprouts with reduced balsamic vinegar, country roasted spiced Yukon potatoes and garlic French bread. A most enjoyable meal this evening especially with the 49’er win!!

(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

We were able to squeeze in a few additional wines as the dining event went into overtime!

And the winner was ………all of us who enjoyed these wonderful wines!! All were delicious and worthy for a playoff win or any occasion.

Sláinte,

Michael

https://californiawinesandwineries.com

https://kellyflemingwines.com

https://oshaughnessywinery.com

Bennett Lane Winery – Calistoga, California

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Background

Saturday, January 21st I and several wine writers and bloggers were invited to a media event at Bennett Lane Winery. They are located at the very top of Napa Valley and in fact, going from City of Napa they are last one on the valley floor before hitting Alexander Valley. Here is a brief recap of the event.

The Winery

Top photo of outdoor tasting area and next is the welcoming indoor tasting area. (Photo ©Michael Kelly)

Randy and Lisa Lynch founded the winery twenty year’s ago and looking for locations to build their Italian villa home and winery. They finally found this spot a mile or so north of the town of Calistoga. Their initial wine was named after the 2nd century Roman Emperor Magnus Maximus. Today a coin with pictures of Athena (Goddess of Wisdom), Bacchus (God of Wine), and Severus Alexander (Roman Augustus) adorn the bottles and name of a wine club. The stated goal of the winery was to have fun and enjoy some of the best wines produced in Napa Valley. The primary role of the winery is to make it the friendliest winery in Napa Valley with approachability and warmth. This is evident in both their indoor and outdoor tasting areas.

Winemaker Rob Hunter (Photo ©Michael Kelly)

The winemaker Rob Hunter is an engaging, knowledgeable person with a coy sense of humor. I was fortunate to be seated next to Rob while tasting and talked extensively about the wines and technically about smoke taint and efforts to minimize it. Note all the wines tasted today were harvested and in process before the fires of 2020! Rob’s background and experience catapults him to the top of the winemakers having extensive work experience at Groth, Keenan, Lyeth, Markam and Sterling wineries.

Left to right: Owner/Randy Lynch, Rob Hunter/winemaker and Stefanie Longton/GM (Photo ©Michael Kelly)

The General Manager is Stefanie Longton originally from the East Coast.  Her winery experience started in the Maragret River region in Australia. She started at Bennett Lane Winery in 2003 in the tasting room, wine club and over time took on this role at GM. She currently is a board member for the Calistoga Wine Growers and enthusiastically proclaims Calistoga makes the best wines in all of Napa Valley.

The winery’s main wines are various levels of Cabernet Sauvignon but also produces Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé (from Petite Sirah grapes) and a few others and a blend. On their website they boast of being the home of 68 90+ wines from industry wine raters at Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

The Tour

(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

The tour started out in the courtyard with a refreshing Rose and with Randy, Rob and Stefanie speaking about the wines and winery.

(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

While strolling and talking about the winery, one of the value added ideas they implemented is an area called the “petting zoo”. This is where a single short row of commonly planted grape varietals are planted one after another with a sign designating each varietal. While this is the dormant time of year, they encourage visitors to come look at the grape clusters, the leaves and understand how they are unique and yet have some commonality.

(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

Next up were the crush pad and large tanks used during the wine making process. It was here that a camera focused on the tanks, caught in the background the beginning spark off a high voltage transmission that started the Tubb’s fire. The Tubb’s fire destroyed 36,807 acres, destroyed 5,648 buildings, with 22 people dying and over $1.2 billion in economic losses. The crush pad is where between 120 to 200 tons of grapes are processed yearly.

(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

Here Rob explained the unique rotary fermenter used in the production. Having its own cooling system encased around the 5 ton capacity, allows the fruit to be “punched down” with internal arms rotating a few times per day. This takes the place of the manual checking and exhausting work of “punch downs” during fermentation. And with the cooling jacket allows precise timing to cool down the fermentation temperature. Rather than taking a few weeks for the fermentation process, this is typically done in 3-5 days. This also helps by allowing more fruit flavor in the wines. This is a unique piece of equipment from Italy.

The Wines

(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

We then returned to the barrel room where various vintages of wines were resting before being bottled. They use about 30% new French oak barrels and age the wines for 20 months. The setting was perfect to introduce and taste the wines.

Menu and wine selections for the day (Photo ©Michael Kelly)

The wines started out with most enjoyable 2020 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and as Rob proclaimed an “easy drinking wine”. Not stuffy and pretentious, just flavorful and with a soft landing in the palate available for $75. Next up was their 2020 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon showing off blueberry and blackberry flavors with noticeable yet velvety tannins. This sells for $125 and personally was my favorite wine of the day, although all were delicious. Listed on the menu was the 2020 Lynch Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. This single vineyard provides great aromas and the flavors were bold with silky smooth almost unnoticeable tannins. This sells for $150.   A special treat was then brought out of “Ruby Fox” Cabernet Sauvignon. The name was based on an early encounter with Randy many years ago and a red fox. This wine is only produced when the stars align and the vintage is uniquely great. This wine goes for $275.

Lunch was provide by Mangi Ami in Calistoga which was very good. However missing was a dedicated food/dish with each of the wines which would have highlighted the wine even more. I am an advocate of “food without wine is a corpse; wine without food is a ghost; united and well matched they are as a body and soul, living partners” (a quote from Andre Simon).  Most of my wine stories talk about the winery, the wine and the food and wine pairing for this reason. When I enjoy the bottle they gave each of the attendees, it will be paired with a specific food dish to complement and accentuate the wine.

A wonderful day getting to know a previously unknown winery for me and appreciating so much their warm greeting, care & educating their visitors and understanding of winemaking. Another visit is surely in order!

Sláinte,

Michael

https://californiawinesandwineries.com

http://www.bennettlane.com/

https://mangiami.com/

2019 Villa Vallecito Vineyards “El Rey” blend – A Beautiful Wine

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Villa Vallecito Vineyards has a small tasting room, but don’t let that stop you. Her wines across the board are big award winning wines. Her awards from various wine competitions are too numerous to list. I became aware of their wines when she entered their Cabernet Franc in the 3rd Annual Cabernet Franc Wine Competition for the first time in April 2022. They won Best of Class ($31 to $50) and won overall Best of Show competing against all categories from the Professional Wine Judges (wines included over $100).

They started their winery adventure in 2001 with purchasing land in Vallecito. After years of selling the grapes, they decided to make their own wine! The have another award winning winemaker Nathan Vader making their wines from Vina Moda. The balance of the entire operation is essentially family chasing the energetic and engaging Ghee Hagedorn about the winery and tasting room. Her husband Alan, described as Co-CEO and Quality Control Manager continual tasting the wines. Their son Gil Munoz, Wine Club Manager and Photographer with his striking pictures adorning the tasting room round out this small management team producing some of the best wines in Calaveras County.

(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

The story on El Rey (The King being a blend and so named for her father’s influence and character) is a 50/50 blend of Syrah and Cabernet Franc). Deep rich color and layers upon layers of enjoyment from two “uncommon blended grapes”. We had two of her best varietals with aromas and tastes swirling and culminating a mouth filling experience. First tasted this with some friends and we all left carrying lots of wine back home! This was opened the other evening and was so enjoyable on this cool night!

Sláinte,

Michael

https://californiawinesandwineries.com

https://www.villavallecitovineyards.com/