Month: January 2016

Kent Price Wines

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Kent Price Wines

When is being wrong, so right? This is a bit of a self-confession regarding blending of various wines. But before I get ahead of myself, let’s discuss the background of Kent Price Wines.

Kent Price moved his family from Kansas in 2006 to the Bay Area. Shortly after moving here, he underwent a quintuple bypass. Not an easy way to start up in the wine business! Today he is actively involved in fundraising for UCSF Medical Center and Kansas University Medical Center, where he serves on the board guiding long-term growth. As part of his family’s mission to help battle heart disease, a percentage of the sales of all Kent Price wines goes to fund research into heart disease. The wines are apply named: Cabernet Sauvignon – Pulse; His red blend — Venant du Coeur (coming from the heart) and his white blend — Venant du Coeur Blanc (coming from the heart). This is in keeping with one of his motivations and passion to produce a quality wine from the land.

He quickly hooked up with one of the top wine makers of Napa Valley, Rudy Zuidema. Rudy’s background include working with and for: Philippe Melka of Metisse, James Hall of Patz & Hall, Ted Lemon of Littorai, John Thatcher of Cuvaison and Ben Riggs of Wirra Wirra in Australia. Applying this experience to Kent Price Wines has been remarkable. This is where the “self-confession” comes into play.  In many discussions over the past couple of years with Rudy, be it at a vineyard or over a friendly game of golf, I held the position that blends were “second tier” to a pure varietal. Rudy, being the experienced professional winemaker for over two decades, insisted that blending, allowed the fullest character to be extracted. Rudy was correct!  He more than proved it with Kent Price Wines. I might have to give him an extra stroke next round.


I have been purchasing Kent Price since their first release of their 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. I just recently tasted their 2012 Cabernet and was again impressed. But surprisingly, what caught me off guard was their two blends. First the Venant du Coeur red blend. This wine of Petite Sirah (59%), Syrah (28%) and Zinfandel (13%) was so delightful and drinkable. I don’t know if it was the atypical co-fermentation or native yeast, but Rudy created something very special here. In his words “is driven by the deep purple hue of the Petite Sirah with its masculine notes of blueberry, earth, pencil lead and tar.  Syrah and Zinfandel add additional layers of complexity.  On the nose they contribute bacon-fat and sweet pipe tobacco along with a layer of spice and pepper notes on the palate.  Texturally the wine is rich and mouth coating leading to a long finish accented by molasses, blackberry and kirsch.”

Similarly, the Venant du Coeur Blanc, pushed me into further appreciation of his creativity. This has roughly 50% a Grenache Blanc and the remainder equally split between Roussane and Viognier. From just reading the label featuring these blends, it is hard to get one’s head around what is to follow. Suffice it to say, it is a very mouthful experience. This was fresh and smooth with hints of citrus, mango and passion fruit. Rudy’s description expounds even further “The nose has an exciting blend of dried rose petals, apricot nectar with a hint of malt and verbena. This is followed by the opulent mouthfeel so typical of the Grenache Blanc core and complemented by layers of white stone fruit, mango and melon with added notes of blood orange and pink grapefruit. The extremely long finish is a layered fusion of citrus, apple and honeyed pear that leaves you wanting for another glass.” At $28, this could be the find of the year in my opinion. A unique and decisively creative alternative to Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, yet having subtle characteristics of both.


Now back to the Cabernet Sauvignon. To date, the best they have made! Rich, dark and able to drink today and will lay down easily for 5-7 years. Rudy sums it up as “Light shadings of chocolaty French oak tie these bold components together into a complex, powerful, but still approachable rendition of classic Cabernet Sauvignon from the highly regarded appellation of Rutherford.”

If you desire a solid, creative wines, look no further than Kent Price Wines.  You will not be disappointed and you will be able to taste the expressions and passions “coming from the heart”.

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Robert Craig Winery

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Robert Craig Winery                                            

On top of old Smokey!  Now that I have your attention and you have the lyrics in your head, it is really on top of Howell Mountain. Located at the very top at 2,300 feet elevation, Robert Craig Winery has its production facility and estate vineyards. For those less adventurous a spectacular tasting room is located in downtown Napa, the Robert Craig Winery Tasting Salon.

Their entire production is 10,000 cases with 50% being dedicated to their award winning Affinity Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.  I met with Elton Slone, President and CEO and Stephen Tebb, winemaker for Robert Craig Winery. Elton provided in detail the history of the winery for the last 30 years. Elton, who is the managing partner, now at the helm shared his vision and reinvestment into the business to bring to market his passion for old world wines to the new world of Robert Craig Winery. He Stephen are working hard to bring to forth individual site expression into the wine. They offer, besides Affinity (a true Bordeaux), specific appellations like Spring Mountain, Mt Veeder, and Howell Mountain.  Stephen has who has been producing wine for Robert Craig for the last eight years appears to thrive on mountain fruit. The scores for their 2013 Afffinity have been 93+ pts, 2012 Howell Mtn at 95 pts and 2013 Howell Mtn coming in at 95+ points from Robert Parker. These are balanced big reds with tamed tannins, acids with just enough push to allow for a fruit forward tasty wines. Here is one view of the Howell Mountain vineyard with Spring Mountain on the other side of the Valley.



Elton and Stephen explained the low yields on the various mountains where they gather their fruit. Howell Mtn for example typically produces only 1.8 tons per acre and Spring Mtn with only 2.1 tons. That stated, the Howell Mtn fruit can have massive amounts of tannins, as high as 1400 compared to Valley coming in around 1200. So in their 2013 Howell Mtn Cabernet Sauvignon they introduced 12% Merlot to “round off and soften” the wine. On this one, they hit the bullseye!  Their Mt Veeder which got the 95+ points from Parker, unfortunately goes to Club Members only—A good incentive to join!! Stephen is making solid handcrafted wines.

Here is where the magic happens on Howell Mtn, their production facility. The building on the left is the production facility and on the right is a cozy location for tasting wine.


If you are looking to add to your cellar or want a full body wine to drink, their remarkable wines are more than worthy of your consideration today. In the very near future, they will soar to be one of the premium wines of Napa Valley. Their trademark “Cabernet Sauvignon Elevated” is beyond the topography of the vineyards – it is all about quality wine.


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From the name of the wine, you immediately get a sense of a whimsical venture and then add their logo of a monkey on a unicycle and what am I talking about you wonder?


This is not your typical boutique or handcrafted wine. Let’s start with the name Harumph. From the Urban Dictionary, it means “an expression of disdain, disbelief, protest or dismissal; a huff, a grunt or snort.” Perhaps less appealing than many of the high flier wineries of Napa Valley,  it does capture the two owners Scotti Stark and Michael DeSantis personality even if it makes you do a double take.

It was at a dinner party that a good friend mentioned to Scotti and Michael, “Give the Governor a HARUMPH”. A line from Mel Brooks’ movie Blazing Saddles movie, thus the name. As they have stated many times “It’s about friends, family, food and fun. It’s about living well and laughing out loud”. Who can argue about that as a motif for a name?


But there is a serious side to their wine! They have access and have chosen carefully the vineyards in which to extract their juice. Michael DeSantis has had the opportunity to work with a “who’s who of winemakers: Thomas Rivers Brown (Schrader Cellars, Outpost, Maybach, etc.), Benoit Touquette (Realm Hartwell, Fait Main, Kata, etc.) and Martha McClellan (Sloan, Levy & McClellan, Checkerboard).  These winemakers are serious and make excellent wines. So now Michael is embarking on his own label with Scotti Stark. Scotti, who I have known for six years, is a “man of all seasons”. He became the Wine Director at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in Houston and where is developed their wine program and earned “Best Sommelier award from Food and Wine Magazine in 2000”. Similar to Michael, he cut his teeth with some of the better wineries in the Valley including Revana Family Vineyards, Crocker & Starr and Fisher Vineyards working to develop their hospitality programs. In addition he still represents many small boutique and handcrafted wineries in the Valley (Casa Piena, Peacock, etc.). Add to this his passion for aerial photography/video via drones (the Stark Advantage) and concierge services, Scotti “gathers no moss”!

So these two individuals have “blended their talents” to create Harumph. They source only the best fruit and are now on their second year release of both Napa & Spring Mtn wines. I was fortunate to purchase their first and subsequent release which have been a blend of various vineyards from the Valley. Their releases have been extremely small quantities and will sell out quickly. This week they will be releasing their Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012. This wine is a dark purple, complex and provides a nice finish on the roof and back of the mouth – it represents Spring Mountain depth in quality. It has plenty of tannins and acidity to drink now or cellar 7-10 years.


While the name may be a bit whimsy, it is truly a SERIOUS WINE to consider!

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What you see is not what you get! Let me explain. When you first arrive at Arkenstone, you view a medium sized brown modern but “plain” metal building.  The grounds are pastoral with vines in view. There is an inviting and casual patio and some crush equipment in an “open air” covered area. Looks like a quaint and small operation at a typical 1500 foot elevation Howell Mountain winery. Nothing could be further from the truth.


The entire operation is essentially “underground”. The impact on the environment is almost nil. The operation is set up on a gravity flow system from above, down to the caves forty five below which are immense.

First let me introduce a few key people of Arkenstone. The owners are Susan and Ron Krausz. Susan was our host for the day. Originally from Minnesota, her charm and hospitality still warmly mid-western, provided a calm and relaxing tour, history and tasting experience. Arkenstone was founded in 1988 and planted in 1998 with their inaugural vintage in 2006. The majority of wines are with estate fruit and two small projects that are non-estate. Today, Sam Kaplan is the winemaker extraordinaire. On staff and with us for the tasting was the knowledgeable Ashley Broshious, an Advanced Sommelier and studying for her Master Sommelier test this summer.

Now back to the “underground world of Arkenstone”. As we descended the stairs off the patio, it had a feeling of going down the rabbit hole. The difference however is that Alice in Wonderland didn’t know where she was going – here, Susan certainly did. What transpired was a viewing deck for this enormous cavern with all the production equipment, tanks and storage of barrels. The two pictures are 180 degrees in opposite directions.



When compared to the above ground portion of the winery, one is awestruck with the immensity of the cavern. Not seen in the pictures are the “side streets” of the caves. With this size Arkenstone’s production today is approximately 2,000 cases in total. Susan and Sam mentioned they do production for several other small wineries in the area. Besides the “grandeur” of the caves, what strikes you both above ground and in the caves is the pristine cleanliness and quality of construction.

As with Alice in Wonderland, I was wondering what the next surprise would be. It was shortly found out that the wines were even more intriguing. We started off with a Sauvignon Blanc that was 3% Semillon, 1/3 done in a cement egg, 2/3 in oak. The grass and mineral tastes were refreshing. The next wines, two separate years of Obsidian Cabernet Sauvignon was the big and final surprise. A Bordeaux blend of 70-74% Cabernet Sauvignon with varying percentages of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. The nose was impactful with blueberries, blackberries and mocha. The integration of varietals and nose were near perfect with a velvety texture.


After the tasting, you can truly understand why the name Obsidian was chosen for their flagship Cabernet – as one definition calls Obsidian “born out of quickly cooled volcanic lava, so it has the potent energy of the interaction of several and powerful elements—fire, earth and water”. So it is with Arkenstone- truly a powerful and integrated wine.


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Barnett Vineyards

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At the top of Spring Mountain AVA, at 2600 foot elevation is Barnett Vineyards. The trek up the switchback road to the peak is worth the adventure. Upon reaching Barnett Vineyards, you are greeted with a breathtaking view looking back towards Howell Mtn. The Valley floor is the area between Calistoga and St Helena. Unfortunately the day this picture was taken it was a bit overcast, but on their website you will find a few beautiful sunny photos. As you can see the terrain is very sloped (30 degrees and more)!


A quick background on the owners, Fiona and Hall Barnett. They bought the 40 acre property in 1983 and established Cabernet as their initial varietal.  In 2007 they hired David Tate as Winemaker and General Manager. I had the opportunity to meet him at dinner and discussed his vision for Barnett wines in 2015. For those who do not know David, he is a very “solid contributor” to the wine industry at large and has had a phenomenal impact on Barnett Vineyards. David has produced wine in Australia, France, New Zealand and now Napa Valley. His influence from vineyards to wine making has shown well with their 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Rattlesnake Hill receiving a 98+ points from Robert Parker. It is truly a 98-100 point wine with its dark concentrated mountain fruit and layering of tannins. He believes it “will last 18-20 years”. The 2013 Cabernet Franc rivals some of the best in the Valley with its dark purple color with hints of floral and dark chocolate. It will mature for 7-9 years and only 400 cases were produced. These are two of the best wines at Barnett.

And not to be left out is their 2013 Spring Mountain Merlot. I can count the number of Merlot’s that I have lined up to purchase on one hand. This is one I did purchase at the end of the visit.

Our tasting was held in a small room at the end of their cave. It is a beautiful and quiet room in which to leisurely enjoy the presentation and tasting. The cave is about 3,000 square feet and the space is used almost to capacity. Looking from the front of the cave you can see the room at the end.


Only French oak barrels are used and they range from 65% to 95% pending varietal and needs. The balance are used barrels,  aged roughly 1-3 years.

Tastings are available by appointment from 10am to 3pm daily. Their wines besides the three already mentioned include: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir from other limited vineyards in Anderson Valley and elsewhere.  Barnett has a club called the Wine Society and some high demand wines are allocated first for their consumption.

I can truly endorse a visit and know you will enjoy their hospitality, views, and most importantly their exquisite wines.


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Alyris Vineyards

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Ever wanted to be at the start of something new and explosive? Here is the one to bet on, a “brand new” boutique winery, Alyris Vineyards.

First a background about the ownership, property and the winemaker. The owners Ewan and Cyndie Downie purchased the property in June 2014. The vineyards were planted in 1996 under the supervision of Bob Egglehoff. Their goal is take this hillside property and cultivate handcrafted, limited production wines all which will be organically farmed. Secondly, Alyris is located 1,100 feet elevation on the eastern hillside of Mt George allowing for sun drenched growth and just east of the city of Napa. This area provides for the cool marine breezes in the evening. And lastly, they hired one of the best winemakers Rudy Zuidema with 25 years’ experience to work the vineyard from roots to exquisite dark wine – and everything in between being given his microscopic detailed attention.


Besides being “mountainous” with steep inclines, the soil is coarse and rocky making the vineyard “work hard” to produce their quality results (see picture). The rolling hills produce three distinct terrains. As Rudy states, this “allows rich long tannins, powerful fruit and a long aging acid profile”.



Today they are offering their two initial releases. First is the 100% Estate Cabernet Sauvignon using 100% French Oak barrels (60% new) and cave aged for 22 months. This wine is dark, sensual with a mouth filling viscosity similar to some of Napa’s best. Rudy’s comments are this allows “rich black currant, bing cherry and toasty brown sugar. The finish is long and fresh with rose pedal, pipe tobacco…” This has the potential to last up to 15 years but Rudy suggested 9-10 for optimal drinking.


The second wine they are offering is their 2014 Chardonnay from Carneros Region. It is aged 10 months in the cave with 50% new French Oak barrels. Per Rudy this produces “core flavors of peach, ripe fig and fresh lavender are held together with a rich and smooth structure that lasts through the finish of minerals, nutmeg and allspice”. The Chardonnay goes through a partial second malolactic fermentation and will last 3-5 years.

These are their initial offerings— a pair of Aces! In fact just last week, in the SF Chronicle blind wine tasting for Chardonnay’s (category over $42) which is the largest blind tasting with multiply judges, their Chardonnay came in third against some very prestigious and established Napa & Sonoma wineries. These means every judge ranked the Audition as a gold (the highest available). Very impressive for their inaugural release.…/2016-medal-winners/2016-217/

Today they are just launching their wine club and in store down the road in 2017, is a limited ultimate “Carnal” Cabernet Sauvignon to be released 2017. Contact them at their website and don’t miss getting in on this opportunity.


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Keever Vineyards

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A few years ago on our anniversary, we had scheduled a visit/tour/tasting with a relatively unknown winery called Keever Vineyards in Yountville. How we found out about Keever Vineyards was our quest in following influential winemakers around Napa Valley.  They hired renowned Celia Welch as their winemaker. We arrived at our pre-set time and met with the most charming “lady of the vineyard” Olga Keever. Not only was she extremely welcoming, but went the extra mile with a handmade congratulatory anniversary card. After that kind of a welcome, what transpired next was even better!!

Olga explained that the winery was opened in 2006, but their first vintage was 2002. This was their vision and dream which would be passed down in their family. After and during the tour, which included much discussion and some casual wine tasting, we were “blown away” by Celia Welch’s 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon.  I immediately purchased a case and we have never been disappointed with subsequent 2010, 2011 and 2012 releases. It is no wonder why Keever has made my “Top Wines of the Year” for two years. (

Celia used in the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon release 96% Cab Sauvignon and 4% Cab Franc. She used 79% new French Oak for aging. The 2012 produced a dark cherry, with a cacophony of aromas which drinks well today and will be developing per Celia “for the next 6-8 years”. It can easily be held for up to 15 years.

Keever is kicking off their 2016 by releasing their 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon on January 13th (consider this a candid pre-announcement!).  They also have available today both their Sauvignon Blanc (pineapples, peach) and Inspirado (Red Blend).

The facility is kept pristinely clean (pic taken looking down De-stemmer). Private tours are by appointment and they offer a Cave Wine & Cheese pairing for their Wine Society Members.  The views from their Yountville west hillside allows one to look both north, south and west with vistas pictures cannot show properly. Should you arrange to tour/taste, you might even be greeted by the infectious smiling “lady of the vineyard” Olga – please say hello for me!!

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20160106_140218California Wines & Wineries Blog's photo.


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Shadybrook Estate

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What a magnificent hidden gem beneath Mt George in the Coombsville AVA. Owners David and Alice Alkosser found a piece of heaven (see picture below). They are situated on 25 rolling hillside acres with a phenomenal views facing west and south. They have planted the five key Bordeaux varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec on this property.

I was introduced to Shadybrook by their prominent winemaker Rudy Zuidema with their inaugural 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon release. I have been a buyer for two additional releases without hesitation with the 2012 being exceptional. The 2012 Cab made my listing of “Top Wines in 2015”. Currently they are offering three wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Platine Blanc (in the tradition of whites from Bordeaux). All their wines are available with quantity limitations on purchases.

The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon is large, smooth and with many layers of complexity. Rudy’s description includes “with accents of ripe black cherry and berries accented by notes of kirsch, mocha and spice along with fresh hints of forest floor and earth after a spring rain.” And “with core flavors following on from the nose and underlying highlights of cocoa and sweet tobacco”. That alone should motivate anyone to secure an allocation with Karen McFarland, the General Manager who is both pleasant and helpful. It is a wine to drink today and will only improve will laying it down (if you have the patience!).

Rudy has tipped his hat that 2014 vintage will include an additional new wine from Shadybrook which will incorporate all five Bordeaux varietals.  Also that the 2015 wines, while less tonnage, have made for a complex and concentrate juice with great color and tannins.  This assures continued quality wines being produced for their loyal following.

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Lail Vineyards

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New to me, Lail Vineyards Blueprint 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon made the “Best of 2015” on my list. Lail can be tasted at Ma(i)sonry in Yountville. Philippe Melka lends his winemaking skills to this full body, rich and drinkable wine. Antonio Galloni rated it 94 pts. It is not a wine to hold, but to enjoy today. One of the best young wines I have tasted. Grapes come from a variety of areas: Howell Mtn, Oakville, Calistoga, Yountville & Coombsville. When they say the sum is greater than parts, this is the wine that exemplifies this saying! At $80 list price, this is a solid find.
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