Month: September 2019
This is a bit more than a wine review, as my affiliation with the name Kelly tends to be more personal. Gene Wayne Kelly, the Proprietor of the winery in the Oak Knoll AVA in Napa Valley. He has continued his family’s 40 year history in the Napa Valley. Today they are making extremely small number of cases of wine (100’s) per vintage, but assuring that sustainable agriculture practices are in place for their artisan quality wines. This was evidenced in their 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon winning a Double Gold Medal in the 2018 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. I tasted this wine last evening with great expectation. First on the eyes, a bright, yet subdued red hue beckons one to explore the glass with medium viscosity. On the nose, one is delighted with a symphony of scents. Those include blackberries, lavender and a sweet tobacco. On the palate, some “sharp tannins” initially great you but are quickly put to rest with blueberry and dark chocolate swirling in the mouth. The finish is long lasting and provides for a silky smooth crescendo. We paired this with a marinated and seared tri-tip, pasta & jumbo shrimp. An excellent meal for this wine!
Anyone interested in heraldry (coat of arms), will recognize the traditional “Kelly shield” but with the added guns depicting “the American Revolution” (which the Irish fought on both sides), and the added grapes with for their vineyard. Gene is proud of his heritage and his stewardship of the vines. A wine worth pursuing.
Truly a remarkable wine on so many levels–from the land, the label, the history and the wine. Firstly, the area is in the Rhone Valley and sits on top of a hillside in Provence, near Gigondas. Here is a picture from their website.
Secondly, the label is as mysterious and elusive as the wine. The label shows their respect of the land and history. They show on the label dozens of references as to what makes their wine and project so unique. Embedded in the label are five “bunny rabbits”. Find them and submit to “Where’s Fluffy?” for a prize from the winery!
Now add the name and its meaning for the third facet of this wine. Abélard is one of two of their leading wines, Héloïse the other. In the Middle Ages, Abélard was a theologian and philosopher who had an illicit romance with his disciple Héloïse. Unfortunately they were forced into separation but their love lasted decades of monastic seclusion and correspondence. Abélard, the Grenache blend, is strong, bold and structured. Whereas Héloïse, the Syrah blend, shows a more elegant and softer side with restraint. The winery made both of these wines to showcase their uncompromising commitment of their love, passion and thinking of their vineyard.
While all of this and I haven’t even begun talking the wine! If these auxiliary points were not enough to entice you to explore getting this wine, hopefully the description will. Initially when pulling this out of the cellar with a listing of Grenache/Syrah, I was expecting a mild and light French Grenache. This was so far from reality. This is perhaps one of the largest and extremely robust French wines I have had the opportunity to drink. This is a blend of 85% Grenache and 15% Syrah that spent 18 months in French oak barrels.
On the eyes, it is a deep ruby red and medium weight. On the nose, aromas of blueberries, licorice and black berries almost overwhelm the senses. The spices of various herbs (pepper & sage) linger in the background. On the palate, one is astonished with the liveliness of raspberries, cherry and mocha which make this wine plush and layered. The finish offers up supple tannins with just enough oak to provide “a passing hint of old world” winemaking. This is truly a rich and concentrated offering.
This is must wine to be sought after for a memorable experience.
For a quick background, Cabernet Franc is the parent grape of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. As such it possess the typical aromas of raspberry, bramble and bell pepper (pyrazines). The bell pepper can range from sharp and almost obtrusive to a sweeter roasted pepper or a spiced chocolate. This 2011 100% Cabernet Franc wine is in the top ten Cabernet Franc wineries in Napa Valley (IMHO). A dark deep red on the eyes with a medium body. On the nose, aromas of cherry, wood and black pepper are prevalent. On the palate, the fruit is strong with black cherry and an earthiness. The tannins are kept in check with a soft vanilla finish. The wine is bottled unfiltered and un-fined. Kirk Venge, along with Don & Dana Gallagher, collaborate in the winemaking process. An excellent example of Napa Valley Cabernet Franc.
Wish this was my winery!! Had the 2013 Kelly Family Vineyards Red Blend. Kelly Family Vineyards is located in the Oak Knolls AVA in Napa Valley. This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. This blend is such a easy pairing wine with the good edges of Cabernet Sauvignon, against the rounded and softened flavors of the Merlot. The wine bursted with cherry and spices. In the background one could detect a certain earthiness to the wine. A delightful pairing with a seared bbq’ed hamburger, tomatoes, purple onion, French fries and salad. This wine won a Gold Medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in 2017. #kellyfamily #redwine #kellyfamilyvineyards #napavalleywines https://californiawinesandwineries.com
The first thing you notice is that this Chianti Classico verses just Chianti. So what is the difference? The explanation is long and detailed, but the Reader’s Digest version is that Chianti and Chianti Classico are separate appellations. Chianti Classico has to be made with 80% Sangiovese grapes and a maximum of 20% of other red grapes such as Colorino, Canaiolo Nero, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. White grapes were banned in 2006. For Chianti only 70% needs to be Sangiovese and the balance can be Colorino, Canaiolo, Cilegiolo, Mammolo and other international varieties as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. The DOCG designation is for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita which began in 1984 and represents the higher quality of wines in Italy. In 1996, Chianti Classico departed ways with Chianti DOCG and formed it’s on DOCG. Also, Riserva must age 24 months. Chianti Classico are distinct with strong acidity and predominant flavors of violet and cherry are present.
Pulled this wine tonight from the cellar. The wine on the eyes was bright and brilliant red in clarity. Dark cherries plums were key on the nose. On the palate, two very different experiences. First by itself, an almost bitter cherry emerges (the vintner also calls it with “menthol”), but with the meal, the wine has a wonderful and soft cherry with a beautiful finish in the mouth.
This wine was paired with a pasta called Bucatini (buco in Italian, meaning “hole”), with tomato, garlic and mushroom based sauce. Ground pork & beef were also added. One of the more dramatic taste changes a food and wine pairing can produce verses just tasting the wine!
A couple of weeks back, I had the opportunity to interview one of the better winemakers in Napa Valley and a friend, Rudy Zuidema. Sometimes it is more difficult to interview someone you know relative to asking questions and getting some insight into their lives. So first before going through the questions/answers, I wanted to give some background on Rudy. The following paragraphs came from one of his introductions on his website.
“Rudy was born in Sacramento CA and grew up in the small agricultural community of Davis. He attended the University of California at Davis, studying Plant Science and Agriculture Management focusing on Viticulture. He graduated in 1991 and quickly headed for the Napa Valley wine country to find opportunities in vineyard management and winemaking. He first worked in restaurants where he could gain knowledge of food and wine pairing, and where he happily was able to taste thousands of wines from Napa Valley and other regions around the world.
His professional career start was at St. Clement Vineyards, working with local winemaker Dennis Johns. From there he climbed the industry ladder with positions in turn as assistant winemaker, head winemaker, vineyard manager and general manager at Cuvaison, Honig, Robert Craig, Ehlers Estate and White Cottage Ranch. He studied organic and biodynamic farming, receiving CCOF and Demeter certifications on several ranches. He is focused on sustainability and prides himself on his stewardship of the vineyard sites.
Rudy works with many exceptional vineyards throughout the Napa Valley region, including AVAs of Howell Mountain, Coombsville, Rutherford, Mount George, Carneros, and St. Helena. He uses a natural, respectful, and non-manipulative approach to winemaking that creates wines that tell their individual and unique stories. He believes every wine should speak of the grape that it is: the region, the vineyard, and the vintage year of its origin”.
Here are a series of questions and his responses:
*What was your first memory of wine as a child? Rudy- I remembered my father at the occasional and special dinner table raving about a great sweet wine called Blue Nun. Also Lancers and Mateus.
*When did you know you wanted to be a winemaker? Rudy- In college (UC Davis) I was originally a graphic design major but admittedly a poor one and thought my work to be “terrible”. I was looking for something else to do but was embarrassed. I looked at other departments and decided to take a “blow off course” called viticulture. It is here that “my passion took over”.
*How many wineries have you made wine? Rudy- 13. Those include wineries in Australia and the United States. Some of the standouts have been Robert Craig, Ehlers, St. Clement, Cuvaison, Honig, Patz & Hall, Shadybrook Estates and Red Cap to name a few.
*Which were your favorite experiences? Rudy – St Clement allowed me to cut my teeth, grow and expanded my knowledge and learned under the tutelage of Dennis Johns. Robert Craig was special in that I was able to find a location, help design, and see construction through on a new winery production facility from ground breaking to grand opening.
*How many varietals of wine have you made? Rudy – Up to present I have produced 12 or 13 varietals. The most difficult is Grenache due to it having a light body and can become tannic in a minute. Grenache requires balance and is extremely delicate. It is also difficult as it does not mature on the vine uniformly and must be picked between 22 to 26 brix. It is also my greatest and proudest for achieving acid, aromatics and tannins in balance in a single vintage.
*Can you describe your passion for wine? (MK -Here Rudy mentions some very insightful things) Rudy – wine is a design and art and a piece of history. Wine tells a tale of temperature (hot/cold), rain, seasonality, etc. Wine is a historian and expression of the time/vineyard. The chemistry could be different year to year.
*What is the best created thus far? (MK- He surprised me with his response as some of his best wines that I have tasted have been Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnays) Rudy – The 2004 Sauvignon Blanc at Ehlers Estate. In my opinion is the best hallmark of a varietal that was spot on.
*What will be the qualities or characteristics of your ultimate wine? Rudy – It will be one of my Cabernet Sauvignon’s. It will true and honest to Mother Nature and not forced to be something other than what is was supposed to be. I believe the winemaker should “listen” to the grapes in the vineyard and assist in their ultimate development. (MK-To this end he is doing this constantly for the various wines. We had a sidebar discussion for 20 minutes and what he calls recipe wines which not only destroy the notion of terroir but add residual sugar to appeal to the consumer).
*Happiest experience as a winemaker? Rudy – In 1998 and 2000 making a good wine from a bad year that was weather related. Also in 2011 I made an old world quality wine.
*You started as vineyard manager (still does some today), how did you make the transition to winemaker? Rudy – I originally tried retail wine sales, but wanted something more diverse. I think now my roots of graphic design, is now “in a bottle”.
*Are you married? Children? – (MK- While knowing his wife and that he had four children some insightful things came to light) Rudy – I was at a party at the Calistoga Inn at “Locals Night” and essentially knew everyone there but did not know this nice young blonde who just moved to Napa Valley from Southern California. I introduced myself and now Amy is my wife. We have four children 18, 17 and 15 year old twins. (MK- I will not get into details, but we spoke of parenting and with the same articulation as vineyards and wines, he talked about each one of his children being able to express their own identity. His view is shepherding and not changing their fundamental character. This could have been the highlight of our two plus hour conversation).
*What are you hobbies you enjoy? (MK- Having played a few rounds of golf with Rudy, I knew the answer before I asked it) Rudy – I enjoy golf and recently experienced an odd round due to time constraints. I played 9 holes early in the morning, worked during the day, had some after school activities with the kids and then at dusk finished the back 9 holes. I am fiercely competitive golfer but currently have little time to devote to it right now. My other passion is cooking.
At the end of our conversation, we both forgot to taste any wines and hurriedly tasted a 2016 Rapp Ranch Chardonnay from Carneros and soon to be released 2016 Shadybrook Cabernet Sauvignon. Will make up for this on the next visit.
This is one of the few formal interviews I have conducted and the only one with an established friend. Amazingly, you come to find out more in depth and personal convictions about a person than playing a round of golf trying to understand grunts and an occasional “high five”. Rudy is a poetic winemaker and exceptional father. Kudos my friend and keep making excellent wines!
For other stories on Rudy’s wines click below:
Allégorie Wines is a sister winery to Val du Vino in Murphys, California. Here winemaker Jonathon Phillips crafts some small batches of wine with “creative genius”. One of my personal favorites is the Spanish varietal Tempranillo. The name comes from the Spanish word temprano, which means “early” as it ripens earlier than other grapes in Spain. If you have visited any town in Spain, Tempranillo is available ubiquitously as Starbucks coffee shops here in the USA. On the eyes this wine is a brilliant purple color with medium to medium-heavy viscosity. On the nose, it starts out fresh and with black berry fruit. On the palate, you get the earthiness (dust), tobacco and a slight aged leather in the mouth. The finish picks up on the oak and the tannins are held in check with the cherry and slight vanilla. Paired with simple spicy chicken enchiladas, this was a delightful and mouth filling pairing.