Month: February 2016

Red Cap Vineyards

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A different path brought Tom and Desiree Altemus to Howell Mountain. Tom was in finance with IBM for years but sought out a career as a chef. He left IBM and attended the California Academy in SF. From there he held various jobs learning under many of today’s best chefs. Desiree was and still is a technical writer for the high tech industry. 

Let’s go back to Tom’s career as a chef at Brava Terrace in St Helena. It was there that he met many years old a young buck named Rudy Zuidema (you can read about Rudy in several other posts). They established a solid friendship. Rudy left Brava Terrace and established his viticulture repertoire. While Rudy was a working at Robert Craig Winery, he was involved securing a location on Howell Mountain for their production. Many locations were vetted during this process. Once the decision was made to locate the winey, Rudy mentioned a unique 10.5 acre parcel with varying terrain located on top of Howell Mountain. Thus became the starting point of Red Cap Vineyards.

Today they have 6 acres planted with Cabernet Sauvignon vines (clones 4, 7 & 169) producing a powerful and intense, full body, deep ruby colored, crafted wine. Half the wine is used by Red Cap and the other half of the fruit goes to a major winery for a vineyard designate Cabernet Sauvignon staring in 2013.

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In addition to the Howell Mountain location producing Cabernet Sauvignon, they have access to some limited Sauvignon Blanc grapes from Rutherford. They produce an elegant and finely tuned Sauvignon Blanc. Rudy describes it as “the wine exhibits a beautiful nose of peach, honey, citrus and minerals…… The long, lingering finish rewards you with flavors of apricot and pear and a consistent minerality.” It is a “refined Sauvignon Blanc” that can be overpowered with too strong a food pairing. The first time I paired it with some Maguro sashimi and lost the bouquet of the wine (my error). Since then, I tried it “a la carte” and then Rudy’s descriptive came through loud and clear.

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 The label is most intriguing for the wine industry and when questioned it, Tom equated it to the Howell Mtn property as being “a special place, carefree, happy and excited to be alive”. The picture after drinking both the wines represents the feeling from our youth perfectly.

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One of the side benefits of knowing Red Cap Vineyards, on their website Tom, as a former chef, provides some fascinating recipes. That is a bonus to their very drinkable wines!

http://redcapvineyards.com

Slainte

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O’Brien Estate

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The name O’Brien in Ireland has various meanings, least are “hill, high place, eminence, lofty or exalted one”. I believe it is with this background that the owners Bart & Barb O’Brien, put O’Brien Estate on the map. Their wines are “lofty” in taste but easily in reach for most folks to buy and enjoy.

O’Brien Estate is located in the Oak Knoll district east of Highway 29. The estate is forty acres planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. They only produce what is on the property and do not sell off any of their “excess wines” as they are all needed for the highly in demand wine. If the yields are up, the wine club members and over the counter guests enjoy more. When the yields are lower, the wine clubs are appropriately allocated. Typically they produced around 5,500 cases a year.

Being in the lower Napa Valley, the loaming soils produce a unique terroir. In addition, being closer to the bay with nightly fog, it allows both Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon to co-exist on the property. Both David Yorgensen, winemaker and Mark Davis the assistant winemaker, have cultivated the vineyards to their maximum. They use 75% new French oak barrels for their Estate Wines and can use up to 100% new French oak for their Reserve Wines.

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On a sunny day, in winter, the estate was awash with deep yellow mustard plants as crop covers as far as the eye could see. The first wine tasted was a refresh citrus Sauvignon Blanc. Normally this is the wine to wake up the palate, but this is a wine which stood on its own, not a prelude to others!  It was rich and provided a solid tropical bouquet.  No wonder why this Sauvignon Blanc is call “fascination”. This wine sells out quickly and is for Club and Retails sales only. They also make a Chardonnay, but I did not taste it. A good reason for a return visit.

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Most of their reds have unique names, telling the story of their enthusiasm and love of the land. The wines are also divided by Estate Wines and Reserve Wines. The first Estate Wine I tried was their 100% Merlot 2012, which 700 cases were produced. It was opulent, had a dark cherry nose and was “round in the mouth” with hints of chocolate.  The next wine was Seduction, a 2012 blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. This was easy to drink, smooth and a wonderful wine for just about any occasion.  The next wine was the 2012 Passion of the Soul Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine was 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot. By added to Merlot, it allowed the rounding and softening of the Cabernet. While Parker stated it was good for 10-15 years, I personally don’t see any more than 10 years. An excellent wine to drink today or hold for a few years.

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The final tasting in the outdoor sun drenched patio/tasting area with views of the knolls, were two distinct wines. First was in their Reserve Wines, the 2013 Reserve Merlot. This is 100% Merlot with only four barrels or 100 cases produced. It was deep ruby in color, with a mouth fulfilling taste comparable to the noteworthy Spring Mountain Merlots. This was no second class citizen!  For the serious Merlot aficionados, this is one for your cellar. Parker rated it 96 points and some of his thoughts were: “One of the most Titanic Merlots ever made in Northern California, the wine is rich, full, reveals graphite intermixed with chocolate, sweet black raspberry and black cherry fruit in abundance. It’s full-bodied, opulent, luxurious and even extravagant”.

The last wine tasted was their Unrestrained blend consisting of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. This was the wine for the Grand Finale for sure. It was given 98 points by Parker. From the first smell you got aromas of dark fruit interlaced with the roundness of cherry.  The color is a deep and passionate ruby color. It is aged 18 months in 100% new French oak barrels. This is not an entry or everyday wine!

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Their grounds are peaceful and relaxing with a well-trained and hospitable staff (Steve, Luis and Julio) to make your day special when you call for a reservation. They do have an indoor tasting room if inclement weather arises which also doubles as their bottle area. As stated in the beginning that the O’Brien name can mean lofty and their wines surely show an eminence over many, be it Oak Knoll or other Napa wines.

http://www.obrienestate.com

Slainte

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Phifer Pavitt

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A belated Valentine’s Day to all. What could be more appropriate then discussing Phifer Pavitt Winery? The reason for this discussion is that on all bottles of their wine, they are labeled “Date Night”. Suzanne and Shane have always tried to have once a week “Date Night”. It was typically that evening that major decisions and discussion ensued. Not the least was to purchase the Phifer Pavitt property. Their mantra is to enjoy your moments with each other – what could be more on target post Valentine’s Day or every day? Even their various Verona wine clubs are name Romeo, Juliet and Romeo & Juliet!!

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Phifer Pavitt is located in south eastern Calistoga region just off Silverado Trail. Unique beyond the wines is their “eco-friendly barn” with rustic wood, straw and a “floating wine bar/table” from walnut. The décor includes numerous eco-chic elements, including reclaimed barbed wire ‘chandeliers,’ recycled blue jean insulation, recycled Wyoming snow-fencing paneling. Right now they are not producing wine from the estate, but have two contracts with vineyards in Pope Valley. The Sauvignon Blanc come from Juliana Vineyard and the winemaker is Gary Warburton. The Cabernet Sauvignon come from Temple Family Vineyards and is produced by winemaker Ted Osborne. Ted also is the consultant winemaker for the Sauvignon Blanc.

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Phifer Pavitt offers two excellent wines (both in my cellar for the last several years!), a 2014 Date Night Sauvignon Blanc and a 2012 Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon. The Sauvignon Blanc is unfortunately sold out right now and the 2015 will be released in March 2016. This wine has wonderful boutique of pineapple and lemon – a real delight for Sauvignon Blanc. Gary Warburton states “the focused palate swirls around in a vibrant thirst-quenching core of Meyer lemon, crème fraiche and white stone fruits that echo with the zesty flavors of summer porch-swing sipping”. With only 588 cases produced for the 2014, you know the 2015 in April will be sold out quickly.

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The other wine is their 2012 Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon. This is the third year of this vintage that I have purchased and since my first taste, I have “fallen in love” with this wine. It is a dark ruby in color with an excellent nose of red cherries. Ted Osborne describes it as “a richness then overtakes the palate in the combination of roasted marshmallow, milk chocolate and salted caramel”.  The wine is 98% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petit Verdot and aged 18 months is French oak. In 2012, 975 cases were produced.   This wine is one of the most noteworthy Cabernet’s coming from Pope Valley that I have tasted in the last five years.

“See how she leans her cheek upon her hand. O, that I were a glove upon that hand that I might touch that cheek!” ― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

So whether you open this on a Date Night or any other day, both wines will capture your heart!

http://www.phiferpavittwine.com

Slainte

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YoungInglewood

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YoungInglewood

When is art wine and wine art? Simply every day at Young Inglewood. From the beginning viewing the wine or their winery, the theme from their distinct logo is both artistic and symbolic of the balance in the wine and life.

To begin, Jim and Jacky met while in college and shared a passion/drive with wine. Jim and Jacky Young bought an historic piece of land in southern St Helena and have today all five Bordeaux varietals planted. Plus a couple of “others” in small yet to be released quantities. Most of the wine comes from the estate, but they do have access to some other vineyards around Napa & Sonoma Valleys. It is truly a family winery with Jim handling the operations and Jacky and son Scott, being the co-winemakers on property. Their daughter, Mary helps in the operations as while as providing an occasional flute recital.  Their time spent in Europe cultivated a real sense of old world wines and that is how they construct both their whites and reds. They like to describe themselves as presenting “old world non-interventionist” winemaking techniques. It surely shows in their incredible wines.

They currently offer the following wines: 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate; 2012 Sonoma Chardonnay (Burgundian style from Michael Mara Vineyard) and 2013 Petit Verdot. Unfortunately their handcrafted wines are in high demand and they are currently sold out of their 2012 Napa Valley Chardonnay (next release April of 2013); the 2012 Right Bank (to be released in Feb) and 2015 Vin Clair Rose (Merlot & Malbec in April).

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Of the wines recently tasted, the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon was a direct hit for my palate and wasted no time purchasing a few bottles. In fact, this made my small list of “Top Wines of 2015” (see tab at http://californiawinesandwineries.com ). The other wine that was spectacular, was their 2012 Napa Valley Chardonnay unfortunately it is sold out, with the 2013 due out in April, and it is a “winner” for sure! When it is released do not hesitate as it will be sold out almost immediately.

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Now back to the art. On property, in their tasting room are some wonderful and unique pieces of art. Jim and Jacky have from their various travels, collected some absolute gems worthy of viewing alone. Coupled with the fact you can sip some unique and exquisite wines, along with discussing the artwork is a true “burgundy experience”. Mark Simon in the tasting room (a longtime friend), along with the Young’s, provide a casual and calm experience for tasting. The tasting room looks out into a garden area where some special Aligote vines were planted.

The additional kicker for me, is that they are dog friendly beyond normal. Beyond putting out water, they provide a “dog treat tray” for their four legged guests.  For the record, the dogs did not sit at the table nor partake in the wine tasting. The tray was moved to the floor, but I was allowed to sit at the table :<)

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The bottom line on YoungInglewood is the tasteful and impactful logo—a tightrope walker striving for balance. So it is with YoungInglewood wines, “balance in vineyards, balance in wine and balance in life”.  Jacky and Scott have hit the mark with balance-fruit, tannins, acid and flat out flavor. Definitely worthy to visit, enjoy and treat yourself in purchasing some wine.

http://younginglewood.com

Slainte

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Wood Family Vineyards

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Wood Family Vineyards

From high in the sky to down to earth wines!!  Yes Rhonda Wood, winemaker/owner of Wood Family Vineyards used to fly planes (US Airways) but now can be found in the vineyards tending vines.  She and husband Michael (with their two sons), have a winery in eastern Livermore. Rhonda started making wine in 1996. Besides sourcing wine on their property (Merlot), they are have 17 specific vineyards which are manicured to their specifications throughout Livermore’s ideal climate. 

Rhonda and the family winery are small in comparison to some of the Livermore’s popular known name wineries, but have been regarded for years as one of the top quality wine producers.  For example, just recently they received the following accolades with many more coming:

2014 Chardonnay Livermore Valley BEST OF CLASS Tri-Valley Uncorked Wine Competition 2015 SILVER Best of Bay Competition 2015 SILVER San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition 2016

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon “Especial” GOLD San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition 2015 SILVER Indy International Wine Competition 2015

2013 Zinfandel “Big Wood” Livermore Valley GOLD San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition 2016 GOLD Indy International Wine Competition 2015

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore Valley SILVER San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition 2016

While Rhonda may state her favorite wines are her Petite Syrah, Zinfandel “Big Wood Zin” or her Merlot, personally I have enjoyed for at least 15 years her Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Her Chardonnay, a regular for summer time crowds, is call “Para Mas Amigas” meaning “for more girlfriends”. This was not on purpose, but some rusty Spanish made it thus! She was trying to say “for my girlfriends”. She has made many friends, of both sexes, all enjoying her Chardonnay. It has lingering tropical fruits, peach and pear in the palate. A portion under goes 100% secondary malolactic fermentation, but allows a final mix, to allow old world and new world Chardonnay to coexist in harmony. In a recent conversation, she has blended her Chardonnay from both “tightly grained barrels and loosely grained barrels” into the final production wine. 

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Our other favorite is her Cabernet Sauvignon “Especial”.  What sets this apart from her already good Cabernet Sauvignon, is that this “Especial” come from the Smith Ranch Vineyard, on the southern side of Livermore. Additionally this is aged in 100% new French oak barrels. This wine is deep ink purple in color and has a nose which Rhonda states “from last night’s campfire is the first aroma to emerge from the glass and is quickly followed by succulent figs and other purple fruits” and “one sip and your palate is engulfed by chocolate raspberry truffles and sweet cola but the wine is dry”.

Besides those wines just mentioned, she makes a Grenache, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel “Muy Bueno”, Merlot, Petite Syrah and  a 50/50 Blend (a late harvest Zinfandel with Petite Sirah).

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Wood Family Vineyards has a thriving Wine Club and celebrates various special days during the year with several “Open House” events.  Typically live music, artisan cheese, chocolates and even chili can be served. The events are always outstanding. Her trademark label with the “Woody cars” are often on display by their guests and worth a viewing in person.

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We want her creativity in the winery not in the air doing acrobatics or teaching Spanish lessons—she is in the right place making excellent wines.

It’s all good at Wood!  http://woodfamilyvineyards.com

Slainte

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TATE Wines

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A little bit of “Yin and Yang” (in Chinese philosophy it describes how opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary) conversation over lunch last week. The Yin and Yang participants were David Tate and his fiancé, Suzanne Gay, partners in TATE Wines. The conversation was about price points on quality/artisan/authentic wines by a relatively new comer, like TATE Wines.

First a little history on how TATE Wines came to existence. Suzanne’s brief history while going to college in Austin, Texas (where she was raised), she very much enjoyed a wine appreciation course. She then went to study culinary arts at CCA in San Francisco. She went to work in Houston at a fine wine distributor for five years. It was a wine dinner that she met David Tate.  In 2010, she moved to Napa Valley.

David Tate’s credentials as a winemaker for 20 years are very strong: Ridge Vineyards, as an assistant winemaker; worked in Barossa Valley, Australia; Provence, France; Canterbury, New Zealand. He also has travelled to just about every fine wine region in the world. David graduated from Brock University in Enology and Viticulture with honors. David is originally from Vancouver, British Columbia. David currently is the winemaker at Barnett Vineyards, winning many outstanding awards for their wine.

So in 2011 David and Suzanne formed TATE Wines. So here again is bit of the Yin and Yang influence, David as the artisan winemaker, Suzanne as the marketing and sales arm, one from Canada and one from Texas. Yet combined they make a synergistic and complementary team of two, ready to take on the world with their wines.

Currently they have five wines to offer—one white and four reds. The white is a Chardonnay from Yountville fruit. While aged for 11 months in oak (36% new/64% one to four years old), it is simply off the charts!  It is both an old world Chardonnay with finesse and citrus hints, combined with a new world style, with just the right amount of oak and a controlled secondary malolactic fermentation, to create a slight butter taste to this intoxicating white gem. Their 2014 made my list of the best wines of 2015 (see website http://californiawinesandwineries.com , click on top to view Best wines of 2015).  Very impressive as this wine is roughly 1/3 the price of Peter Michael (also on the list). This is now my “go to” Chardonnay in the house.

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The four reds they make are: A Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Street; a Cabernet Sauvignon (92 pts RP), Mount Veeder (94 pts RP): a Cabernet Sauvignon, Jack’s Vineyard / Howell Mountain (91+ RP) and a Merlot, Spring Street (89 pts RP). Each micro vineyards which David has access to, presents an unique and specific terroir which David extracts for optimum distinction.  For example, the Jack’s Vineyard from Howell Mountain, is at 1700 foot elevation with clear views of the sky. It is an isolated single one acre vineyard. It was aged in oak barrels (75% new) for 22 months. The small berries and pump overs for 12 days, created a deep purple and layered wine. David’s description is “intense cassis and coffee emerge on the palate as well as blueberries and rich chocolate.” He also believes aging will benefit for at least 12-15 years. Having tasted it twice (once late last year and last week at lunch), this is worthy of the 94 pts Parker bestowed.

Their 2013 Merlot went extremely well with a Ginger Teriyaki Steak prepared last week. This was the third vintage of Merlot. It is 100% Merlot, 22 months in French oak barrels (50% new/50% two to four years old), using on fruit from St Helena and only 96 cases produced. Again the color is a deep purple “with aromatics being lively and jump from the glass with big plum, cinnamon and anise”. On the palate it is “plush and round” and “where darker fruits of black raspberry and pomegranate emerge”.

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All the wines complement the individual expressions of the micro-vineyards for TATE Wines. The wines seem to mirror the Yin and Yang of the two owners—complementary and use of land and winemaking. You can only imagine as well they have done with their wine, it will extend to their upcoming nuptials.

You can view their website for all the notes and descriptions on the other reds at:

http://www.tatewine.com

Slainte

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What is a Boutique Winery?

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In writing articles, blogs and listening to wineries profess to be a “boutique” facility, the definition is a bit elusive.  There is a connotation that a small winery produces the best wines. This is hardly true as we have all experience a small winery who may produce wines which are essentially marginal or undrinkable. I have given this some thought for several years and here is my stab at this “poltergeist topic”. I believe that the phrase “boutique winery” is now “non-meaningful” similar to a wine label stating “reserve”.

Winemakers, viticulturists, writers and the like all have a different spin on what makes a winery boutique. Similarly, all have a different idea on who and what constitutes a mass producer of wines. And can a large winery make a good wine?  I would like to revert back to some basic principles for winemaking. The goal of most owners and winemakers is produce the best wine, from the best vineyards, with the best techniques of farming, with the best barrels for the varietal, aged an appropriate time in barrels and bottles before being released. Simple, right?

This is where the confusion comes in. Let’s examine each particular nuance to see where the confusion comes.

  • The Best Vineyards – location, location and location is not just for real estate housing market, it is also the mantra of wine owners. Sloped hillsides, volcanic soil, loam topsoil, rocky, etc. Each provides a certain terroir for each varietal for uniqueness and taste consideration.
  • The Best Techniques of Farming – Using the best skills of a highly trained viticulturist from vineyard layout be it north to south or east to west. Other considerations including trellising, organic, self-sustainable, dry farmed, etc.
  • The Best Barrels for Ageing – Does one use French, Hungarian, American oak, what percentage is new vs old, which mfg of oak barrels to use, etc?  Or if doing a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, is it oak, stainless steel or cement egg? Again the stated goal is to produce, for the varietal, the best finished end product.
  • The Best Amount of Time in Barrels – How much time consideration is required for the wines to combine, “mate with the oak” for integration, achieve the elusive balance of acid and tame the tannins. For example for Cabernet Sauvignon, some winemakers go with 12-14 months in the barrel, while others go to 36 months and beyond.
  • The Best Blending Required or Block blending, etc. — This may require to add various percentages, which a change year to year, of wine varietals in making a perfect Bordeaux. Then again for a Cabernet, they may blend all from an estate grapes from Block 1, Block 6 and Block 9 with varying percentages to form the “best in class” wine.
  • The Best Amount of Time in Bottles – Again depending on varietal how much time is required to have the wine “settle down” from the trauma of wine production to release date?

I have touched only briefly from a layman’s positon as to the requirements to make the best wine possible. Just from this brief outline, many factors come into play. There is simply not a “Betty Crocker wine book” recipe. Mother Nature produces an unique grape each and every year.

So while these may be the basic pillars of great winemaking, they can be compromised further. Yes, when a winemaker or owner decides on a prescribed ROI (return on investment) or profit for the business, short cuts can be worked around these painstaking details. Short cuts, just as in general business can be done but with desired and undesired consequences.

Hopefully this background is helpful and needed to arrive at the answer of what is a boutique winery? Let’s obfuscate this even a bit further. In the past a winery was either a mass production house doing 100,000’s or even a one million cases a year in total production or small production house. Using a designation number is too simplistic, should it be 50,000, 20,000, 10,000, 5,000 or even 1,000? Where is the cutoff point? Add to this a large production winery, say 500,000 cases but they make a Cabernet Franc or Sauvignon Blanc with only 150 cases. Are they to be called a mass producer or a boutique winery? A mass production house with a boutique varietal?

So I would suggest that the word “boutique winery” is an antiquated word and its meaning diminished beyond repair. When people use “boutique” they were trying to describe a winery who is a small, quality centric and that makes a lifestyle wine. Today, the meaning is simply wrapped up in the word QUALITY, regardless of size. Steven Mirassou uses the word “authenticity” for this concept of Quality. His description is as follows “The authentic winery is one that allows for the vagaries of Mother Nature and the idiosyncrasies of the harvest to come through in the wine. The winery doesn’t try to twist the wine up by adding or taking away in order to create a wine that is just palatable, forsaking the wine’s soul for the easy pleasure of richness or color or tannin. The authentic winery operates strictly by its philosophy, which in the best cases comes through clearly in the wine. Minimal intervention, balance between wood, fruit, acid, and tannin, emphasis on varietal character all are marks of authenticity. Authentic wines are not always the easiest to enjoy because they should cause the wine drinker to think about what he or she is drinking…authentic wines are thoughtful and thought provoking. Authentic wine should not be flawed, but a flaw is often a cultural touchstone; authentic wines are rare and are not necessarily a product of the winery’s size. They are certainly a product, however, of the winemaker’s love for the grape and for the craft.” So be it Quality or Authenticity, we need to corral the meaning.

My conclusion is fairly simple to understand. A Quality, an Artisan or Authentic wine or winery minimally consists of the following:

  • They produce a specific wine in a relatively small quantity, high quality and with a personal touch, independent of their overall production size.
  • They are handcrafted, artisan winemakers who strive for the highest quality. There is not a “premeditated formula” but rather an existential (moment by moment) development of what is presented to them by the harvest that day from the land.
  • They typically do or can do, everything themselves (or have the ability to do it all)—vineyard to blending to bottling.
  • They are extremely selective in vineyard management – prune excessively and select block by block or row by row to be harvested – they are themselves micro managers, but to the consumers benefit.
  • They fully extract the varietal in which their vineyard/soil is best suited. They will not produce a varietal for experimentation, club consumption or to push a sub-standard grape/harvest to turn a profit.
  • It is a way of life, not a tonnage by acre or ROI—simply a lifestyle is more in keeping with their vision of winemaking – that is their motivation and desire at the core.
  • Quality is their mantra at any expense from root stock to fruit to harvest to aging.

When adhering to the above, they can surely be called a “Quality Winery”, “Artisan” or “Authentic”, they produce a quality wine. If they following the above simple tenants, most will produce an exquisite and desirable wine for all to consume. 

I would like to hear your thoughts and/or comments on the subject.

Slainte

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