Last night a 2018 Sauvignon Blanc. Coquelicot (pronounced ko-klee-ko) is the French word for the bright and often portrayed red poppy flower that populates the French countryside. Coquelicot Estate Vineyard is organically farmed in Santa Ynez Valley on 58 acres. They were recently awarded Certified Organic vineyard designation which takes five years to obtain.
(Painting by Claude Monet called Les Coquelicots’ from 1873)
The wine was a light straw color on the eyes with medium light viscosity. On the nose, lime and hint of green grass with a tinge of a floral bouquet. But once in the mouth an almost efflorescence and “bubbly” quality aroused the palate, something not normally found in a Sauvignon Blanc. That said, it was refreshing and invigorating. On the palate it was somewhere between a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (with strong citrus and exotic tropical passion fruit and pineapple) and an old world (very dry, crisp, clean and subtle fruit aromatics). The most prevalent key distinctive flavor was a soft lime and mild floral notes.
The food paired was phenomenal with an Instant-Pot salsa infused pull chicken to be used in “street tacos”. Added to the tacos were sharp cheddar cheese, onion, tomato slices and spicy salsa with cilantro. The pairing was exceptional with the coolness of the Sauvignon Blanc and the zesty and enveloping warmth of the “street tacos”. A most delicious and thirst-quenching Sauvignon Blanc. Retail price is $26.
Did a story on Tenbrink and Tolenas wines earlier this month but did not review their Tenbrink 2016 Petite Sirah. (https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2020/01/09/tenbrink-vineyards-and-tolenas-winery-a-family-story/). Steve Tenbrink gave me a bottle after I had purchased on the spot 6 bottles of their Chardonnay. I put it in the cellar waiting for the right time and food pairing.
Last night at our informal “Friday Wine & Dine” group dinner at Copper Valley Grille, consisting of good friends, fellow wine drinkers who all are Wine Society members, I ordered the Flat Iron Steak thinking this would be a solid pairing. The Flat Iron Steak was grilled medium rare, with whiskey peppercorn sauce, roasted baby red potatoes and spaghetti squash. The wine was opened up about one hour before the meal.
The wine was an intense deep red almost “black coloration” when being poured. It possessed a heavy body and viscosity. The senses were on overload on the first smell and taste with flavors of blueberry, cocoa, black pepper and a slight smell of sweet pipe tobacco. This was no ordinary Petite Sirah in the glass was the consensus of the group! The consumption of the wine with the steak proved excellent and exquisite. One of the folks at dinner had grilled pork tenderloin with fig glaze, bacon , onion compote and sweet corn puree and it even tasted better with a piece I was given! I have had the opportunity to try many, many Petite Sirah’s and this one received my highest praises and score. At the table we had another Petite Sirah but in comparison it was like a watered down version! The finish was exceptional with a long finish with bold fruits and flavors and strong tannins.
As an educational note, Petite Sirah is not a “smaller” version of Syrah as it is a wholly different varietal. The background on Petite Sirah is that it is the offspring of Syrah and Peloursin (a scarce and almost extinct grape).
Since it is getting to the end or football season, the analogy of this Petite Sirah reminds me of a 260 pound linebacker with brawn and strength, yet nimble like a Heisman Trophy running back with the ability to maneuver around the food and impart such wondrous fruit profiles. This wine became an instant legend from Suisun Valley and scored touchdowns with all the fans participating in dinner last night! This sells for $60 and is a gem.
The wine was paired with a tri-tip steak, potatoes and side garden salad. The food pairing recommendations for this wine are roast meats, game dishes (venison) and rich cheeses. When wooden barrels are introduced to Dornfelder it brings out the tannin and tends to minimize the fruitiness. It is mildly acidic and full body with a deep, deep coloring. This Prie 2018 Dornfelder went well with the tri-tip steak and flavors oozed out with the introduction of the meat. It provided wonderful flavor and acidity to compliment the dinner. After dinner with the second glass without food, it did not have the same appeal. I would definitely recommend this as a change up with steak or roast from the everyday Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc or others, to explore alternative varietals.
So what is Dornfelder?
Dornfelder is not a common household name for wine! Only 69 acres are planted in the California with 43 acres in San Joaquin County and 19 acres in Sacramento. That leave only 7 acres for the rest of the state. August Karl Herold (1902-1973) cross pollenated Helfensteiner and Heroldrebe (two German varietals) to make Dornfelder and was recognized by the authorities in German in 1979. He further went on to make Heggel and it was recognized in 1994 as a sister grape of Dornfelder. The grape name Dornfelder was in honor of Immanuel August Ludwig Dornfeld (1796-1869) who was a proponent and instrumental in creating the viticultural school in Weinsberg.
(Picture from Wikipedia)
As you can see this grape grows in small clusters with big dark colored grapes. Dornfelder is now the second most grown red grape varietal in Germany (who knew?). The typical flavor profile is dark on the eye, possess a velvety texture, slightly floral and definitely has dark fruit flavors (plum, blackberry, dark cherry) and is oaked. While typically dry to semi-dry, some can possess a sweetness. This 2018 Prie Dornfelder was aged 12 months in neutral French oak. It is 100% Dornfelder varietal and is from the Mokelumne River sub-AVA in Lodi. Currently it lists for $27.
Yesterday it was officially announced that Steven Kent Mirassou’s Lineage Wines and Steven Kent Winery have changed their tasting room experience. Two weeks ago I was given a “sneak preview” of these great changes. First, the Lineage tasting room is upstairs from the original tasting room, which was formerly the business offices. It is now called the Lineage Tasting Salon. Upon entering the newly remodeled area, you will be greeted with a special sparkling wine using 100% Pinot Noir and three vintages of their highly acclaimed Lineage. Additionally, these wines will be paired with small artisan bites from Sabio On Main Restaurant in Pleasanton.
The tasting salon is opulent and radiates sophistication is in every detail. The view overlooks the Home Ranch vineyard behind the previous Lineage tasting area. This area is now available on a reservation basis for Lineage Wine Club Members and can be rented for special meetings. It definitely has a fall Tuscany look in the vineyards from above.
Additionally, the Steven Kent Winery tasting room, in the same location, has upgraded their arrangements to a sitting experience.
I have included below a previous story on Lineage from 2019 speaking on Stevens’ quest to make his Lineage a hallmark “Bordeaux style” wine from Livermore Valley. You can see from his 10th Year Retrospective how each vintage is handcrafted based upon Steven’s blending of the various varietals.
Previous story on Lineage:
Steven Kent Mirassou as a 6th generation family winemaker had to set new goals. He set as his pinnacle development to produce the best “Bordeaux style” wine California could produce. A lofty and perhaps extreme goal for one man in Livermore Valley. After many years as a successful winemaker at Steven Kent Winery, he decided to make 3 to 5 barrels a year of the absolute premier “Bordeaux style” wine. We just opened his 2008 vintage, which is the second of the Lineage release. This release entailed only five barrels. The blend which changes year to year based on flavor profiles, consisted of Cabernet Sauvignon 81%, Cabernet Franc 9%, Merlot 2%, Petit Verdot 5% and Malbec 3%. While blending is an “artistic” endeavor, Steven also is analytical in his pursuit of the perfect Bordeaux blend.
Here is Steven’s write up on why these varietals and clones were chosen. It is like an artist mixing paint colors for right shading and expression of a painting.
“Cabernet Sauvignon, Clone 30: Dark cherry and cassis flavors, fine-grained tannins and acidity. Less opulent but more age worthy than Clone 4.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Clone 191: Cassis, coffee, and mocha flavors, angular, tannic structure and lengthy, persistent finish.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Clone 4: Powerhouse rich, viscous flavors of dark fruit and chocolate with broad tannins.
Cabernet Franc: Not as “big” as CS but with more finesse and an aromatic palate of sandalwood and chocolate. Acidity is the watchword of this variety. Its acid-based red fruit flavors marry well with the darker more tannic Cabernet Sauvignon to enliven and length Lineage’s finish.
Petit Verdot: Contributes tannin, color, and grapey aromas and flavors of violet and black fruit. This variety helps to build density in the mid-palate of the wine.
Malbec: Adds fruit and tannin; quite different from Cabernet in its sauvage mix of dried berry and raspberry fruit notes. It signature aromatic note is obvious when the wine is young. As Lineage ages, the Malbec takes on a dried-fruit edge and nice acidity.
Merlot: Noble variety of Bordeaux’s Right Bank; as counterpoint to CS’s austere structure, Merlot is fleshy and opulent; ripe red/dark cherry flavor, a touch of herbal complexity which adds to Lineage’s rich mid-palate.”
The key take way on blending is that it is extremely selective and requires rigorous decision making of not only varietals, but the correct Clones of the varietals to get the flavor profile. Add another step of both winemaking and personal craftsmanship and abracadabra you have a gorgeous and refined Bordeaux blend called Lineage. I am sure Steven wished it was that simple, but this is the shortened version.
Two of many other detailed undertakings are his hand selection of French oak barrels (Taransaud, Le Grand and Francois Freres) and his constant monitoring of the development of the wine in the barrel. The 2008 Lineage was aged 28 months in barrel and released approximately 36 months after harvest.
The flavor profile and experience of this wine is truly remarkable. First on the eye you see a medium to medium dark red tint and medium viscosity wine. Very different than some of the bold Cabernet Sauvignon’s coming out of Napa Valley. Your first impression is perhaps this may be a “bit wimpy”. But hold on until you get your first whiff which reveals “black fruits, exotic woods and spice aromatics”. On the palate, you get all the above characteristics that Steven purposed in his selection of varietals and clones to produce a crescendo of semi-sweet mocha, dark cherry, dark roasted coffee, sweet tobacco, violets, black fruit, etc. You are a bit mesmerized in trying to dissect each essential trait in this wine drinking experience. But it is a wine to simple enjoy and savor the existential engagement and relationship of such a rare and eloquent treat.
This annual “First Taste of the Year” event was just held on Saturday January 11th, 2020 at the Armory on Main Street, in Copperopolis, California. It was sponsored by the Copperopolis Community Center a volunteer staffed organization that restores and preserves the two publicly owned historical buildings in town. 2020 marks the 34th Annual wine tasting event and coincides with the 160th anniversary of Copperopolis. The two buildings are the historical brick Congregational Church and the Armory. Both buildings were constructed during the copper rush in the mid 1800’s, the Armory in 1863 and the church in 1865. Copperopolis was the center of the “Copper Rush” (after the gold rush). These are two of the four buildings in town on the National Register of Historic Places: Copperopolis Armory and the Congregational Church. From 1860’s to the time the mines closed in 1945, 72,598,883 pounds of copper were mined in Copperopolis and the copper used in the Civil War, WWI and WWII for ammunition.
With advance purchase the cost of $20/pp which included a commemorative wine glass, hors d’ Oeuvres, a raffle and of course many wines to enjoy. Wineries consisted of Gossamer Cellars, Black Sheep Winery, Twisted Oak, Frog’s Tooth, Stevenot, Inner Sanctum Cellars, Brice Station, Jessie’s Grove Vineyard and Indian Rock. Also this year featured Indigeny Reserve, a cider works and distillery out of Sonora. A hearty thank you for the local wineries supporting this event in Copperopolis.
The Board consists of Linda Beck, Joel Schwartz, Sigrid Kehr, Marlys Hanson, Belva Bristol, Marti Kennedy, Carolyn Lipnick and Shawn Connolly all did an outstanding job getting winery participation. They netted after expense $1120 from the event with approximately 140 people attending. A big thank you to the Board for preserving our local history.
Here are four previous written stories on specific winery participants this year:
Jessie’s Grove -1. https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2019/09/09/saddle-creek-wine-society-features-jessies-grove-winery-the-golf-club-at-copper-valley/
The title should not be too alarming if you have been following the trends in the wine industry. Various forces are at work causing the industry to squirm and re-think their traditional methods of going to market. To recap those key forces and outside agencies playing havoc for the wine industry are:
#1 – Sales are down
#2 – Grape supply is at an all-time high (more supply than demand)
#3 – Contracts by wineries to wine growers are being cancelled
#4 – Millennials and Gen-X and Gen-Y wine consumption is not meeting expectations
#5 – Wine industry is losing ground to “health conscious next gen’s”
#6 – Packaging challenges from “form” and “portion size”
Topic #1 – Sales are down for the first time in 25 years according to IWSR, wine consumption dropped .9%. Sales have plummeted from a little over 14.5 million cases (Sept 2017) to about 13.2 million cases (Sept 2019). Varietals that are losing market share are Chardonnay, red blends, Pinot Grigio, Merlot, Pinot Noir, white blends, Moscato and white Zin. Those wine varietals showing good growth (5% or more) are Rose and Prosecco (significantly lower price points than many of the varietals). Those varietals which show moderate to low growth (less than 5%) are Cabernet Sauvignon (1%), Sparkling (2.5%) and Sauvignon Blanc (2.5%). The varietals which are showing moderate percentage of growth include some of the highest ASP’s like Cabernet Sauvignon and Sparkling. Also, tasting room visitors are significantly down in Napa and up in Sonoma, Oregon, Washington and overall in the nation. Napa Valley should take heed.
Topic #2 – Grape supply is at an all-time high (more supply than demand). The California Bulk Wine Inventory is skyrocketing to shocking heights! For Cabernet Sauvignon in November 2019 the estimate is just under 7 million gallons and the January 2020 estimate is just under 9 million gallons. One year prior it was 5 million gallons. This while sales are going down, will only exasperate the glut.
Topic #3 – Contracts by wineries to wine growers are being cancelled. In the last 18 months, wineries cancelled orders in Oregon. They are having little luck in finding homes for grapes recently harvested. Call it inventory management, but several wineries are blaming “smoke taint”. The reality is that a surplus of wine juice exists throughout the west with weakening demand. Stories are circulating in the Central Valley, Mendocino County and Sierra foothills of California of grapes not being picked due to supply/demand market being out of balance. It will only be a short time before this reaches Napa and Sonoma Valleys’.
Topic #4 – Millennials and Gen-X and Gen-Y wine consumption is not meeting prior expectations or similar ramp as Baby Boomers. Gen-Z (21-22 year olds) showed a moderate growth from 2018 to 2019 and now stand at 2.1% of the total wine being consumed. Millennials (23-38) after four years of relatively flat consumption at 16%, showed an uptick to 17% in 2019. Gen-X (39-54) are flat at 34.6% from 2018 to 2019. And of course the Baby Boomers (headed towards retirement) dropped to 40.1% in 2019 from 41% in 2018. The last market segment is the Mature (74+) and they dropped from 7% to 5.9%. The last two categories can be attributed to a combination of disposal income and health issues (not taking alcohol with medications).
Topic #5 – Wine industry is losing ground to “health conscious next gen’s”. In a survey by The Harris Poll on why younger consumers are reducing their consumption (first week of January 2020), the number one reason was they were opting for a healthier lifestyle (32% responses). The next was they lost interest in drinking alcohol in general (24% responses). The other two major categories around health, the response was 18% and 17%. Down the list was lifestyle (not going out as much), consuming other alcohol beverages and non-alcohol beverages. Down the list was at 10% response was more interest in Cannabis. So if the wine industry wants to garner more market share of the next generations, they will have to put forth either medical facts on a healthy person consuming moderate amounts of wine or separating them and their dollars from other alcohol beverages or non-alcohol beverages.
Topic #6 – Packaging challenges from both “form” and “portion size”. The next generations are already showing a distain with their purchasing power of large format wine consumptions. Growth rates for the standard 750ml bottle has shrunk -2%, the 1.5L bottle -6% and the 4 & 5L at -2%. The biggest growth uptick is in the 375ml at over 21%. This most likely ties into the healthier lifestyle with having only a glass each between two people. While the “can wine” industry shows some great promise in portability of wine, they have yet to showcase quality wine as the Baby Boomers have been accustomed to previously. In this regard, while so many positives of transportation, shipping costs, etc., loom large and inviting, the can wine industry may not be cultivating the desired results of bringing forth the next level of wine aficionados with quality wine. It appears to be a quick grab for the next generations’ dollars with twinkling lights (packaging) without substance.
Perhaps the most shocking statistic is that while the wine industry (especially in California) is in the crosshairs of chaos and threatening internal and external pressures, wineries are content with the status quo. 55% of all wineries have no one analyzing their DTC customer base. Add to this another 27% only employing part time help in analyzing their business, which means approximately 82% of the wineries are “flying blind” into a generational or culture abyss. Have we not learned anything by having someone on watch?
These are just a few of my opinions while listening to Silicon Valley Bank’s State of the Wine Industry Report for the last three years, reading articles daily from various wine professionals & writers and from first-hand experience of over 40 years. The time is now for the wine industry strap their “big boy business pants on” and to first understand their customer base, explore ways of confronting the issues and take action sooner than later.
Picture by James Jacques Joseph Tissot
While perhaps not as dramatic as the Biblical allegory found in 1 Samuel 17, Dracaena deserves a lot of respect. To make this analogy more intriguing, let me digress about David and Goliath to get a recap. It is the story about the king Saul who ruled the people of Israelites and was told to find a new king. The Philistines and Israelites had assembled to do battle in the Valley of Elah. The Philistines had many giant men living in their land, but the largest and strongest was named Goliath. Goliath, challenged the Israelites fighters to send out their “best man” to decide the outcome by a single combat. The winner will have the opposing peoples subservient to them. David asked the men in the army who was going to stand up to Goliath. David then volunteered to fight the “meanest Philistine”. David who was a boy at this time, tended primarily to his father’s sheep and was not a warrior. His only fighting was to keep animals from harming the flock. So as David, a boy/man of great faith stood up to Goliath and with a single stone in a sling shot was able to knock out and subsequently kill Goliath. David went on to be a great king of Israel, wrote many of the Psalms and reigned for 40 years.
Now that we have the background established, I believe the story of Dracaena is analogous to the story being a small winery competing with various winery giants. Firstly, a bit on Michael and Lori Budd who fell “into love with Cabernet Franc”. While today still working full time jobs, they are planning their future in the wine business down the road. They purchased property in Arroyo Grande, near Pismo Beach, and use a custom crush house to produce their wine. Their grapes come from The Plummer Vineyard in Paso Robles. Mike and Lori’s backgrounds are primarily in Food Science and originally met back on the East Coast while working. Lori who has since continued her education as a WSET II with distinction, is a regular blogger, an award winner writer and podcaster on a variety of wine subjects. Both Michael and Lori are co-founders of International Cabernet Franc Day, December 4th.
Their name Dracaena (pronounced druh-see-nuh) is a bit longer story, but suffice it to say, it started off as a memory of their beloved Weimaraner, which they had named Draco. You can read the complete story on their website. Draco’s hand drawn image appears on all their bottles.
So getting back to their wines, Dracaena is a very small producer of wines. Today they offer three wines: their Classic Cabernet Franc $34, a Reserve Cabernet Franc $45 and Rose of Syrah, unfortunately sold out, but the 2019 will be released mid-March for Club Members and in April for the public. In 2019 they produced 325 cases and are expected to produce 375 cases in 2020. Now you can see the analogy of the “boy verses Goliath” story! If it were only the production quantity, that would be one thing. However their outstanding and remarkable quality is what has captivated the wine drinking aficionados around the United States. Here is a brief recap of their awards:
*2013 Classic Cab Franc – Silver in SF Chronicle 91 Wine Enthusiast
*2014 Classic Cab Franc – Silver in SF Chronicle 90 Wine Enthusiast
*2015 Classic Cab Franc (they did not make the Reserve in ’15) Double Gold in SF Chronicle.
*2016 Classic Cab Franc and 2016 Cab Franc Reserve received a Gold medal in the SF Chronicle 91 Wine Enthusiast
*2017 Cab Franc Reserve (releasing to public on Feb 1 – currently only available to club members) received the Double Gold this past week from SF Chronicle Wine Competition.
*2016 Dracaena Reserve Cab Franc – Double Gold Medal Winner at the 2019 California Wines & Wineries Cabernet Franc Competition, Best of Class and Best of Show by Professional Judges. They also received a Gold by the People’s Choice Judges.
*2016 Dracaena Reserve Cab Franc – Silver Medal Winner at the 2019 Central Coast Wine Competition.
Some of the comments on their wines:
“Broad red-cherry aromas meet with more tart plum skins and carnation buds on the nose of this bottling. The palate also shows red cherry as well as vanilla-cookie and pencil shaving flavors, framed by grippy tannins and bright acid.”- Wine Enthusiast
2015 Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc Paso Robles: “medium+ ruby; medium+ developing aromas of black cherry, red plum, blackberry, black raspberry, blackcurrant leaf, dried thyme, lavender, cloves, nutmeg, chocolate, and vanilla; medium acidity, medium+ tannins, medium+ body and flavor intensity of slightly preserved black plum, blackberry, red cherry, red currant, dried thyme, fennel, white pepper, chocolate, cinnamon, and vanilla; spicy finish; really nice earthy wine.” – Rockinredblog
These and several other awards showcase their noteworthy achievement by a boutique and handcrafted small winery. So back to the analogy of David and Goliath. Michael & Lori reminded me of this epic battle as a small winery coming into existence against many formidable competitors in producing fine Cabernet Franc’s around the state of California. The traits learned by watching Dracaena Wines make such an impact are simple and noteworthy of any business and living:
Fear Not – they jumped into an arena with many stronger players and yet have prevailed to achieve some of the highest awards in the industry. Goliath by all accounts was a professional warrior, mean and scary. They took on the challenge and are looking forward, not backwards
Belief in Your Quest – they went after a desire to make a top quality wine. They capitalized on their existing training in biology and food science and augmented their education to hone in on skills. They had the faith in their goal as did David in taking on Goliath.
Size is Relative – Just as in David & Goliath, an exceptionally small winery can have a major impact in the market place. This is not just the “size” but also their work ethic. Don’t underestimate anyone at face value only!
I hope you enjoyed this story as much as I have enjoyed getting to know Michael & Lori and their excellent wines!