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Sherwin Family Vineyards

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Steve & Linda Sherwin purchased 30 acres on top of Spring Mountain in 1996. In late 1999, Sherwin Family Vineyards released its first wine. Shortly after September 11th, 2001, the infamous terrorist attacks, a wine auction was arranged in Lake Garda, Italy. The proceeds of the auction benefited the families of the Windows of the World employees who had been lost. Many wineries from Napa and Italy donated magnums of wine to the commemorative event.

Steve & Linda created a special designed bottle for the occasion, a hand etched, hand painted bottle feature the American flag with the words “In God We Trust” and “United We Stand”. On the back of the bottle it also stated it was created “in remembrance of those lost September 11th, 2001”. It along with the famous 1985 Sassacaia, were among the top lots in the entire auction. 20170227_131901

They wanted to donate more of these attractive bottles to raise additional money for the cause. But due to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms they needed label approval. A little know fact is that the Wine Institute told them that the “government would not approve the image of the American flag on alcohol or tobacco products”. Steve still sent a bottle along and to everyone’s amazement, it was stamped approved!


Since then the Sherwin Family Vineyards produces a limited number of the commemorative American flag bottles for various charitable events.  Thus how they received their motto – Home of the Patriotic Pour!

Now about the wines. Recently, visiting the hilltop winery, we tasted three wines: The Chardonnay, The Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and their irreverent “Cellar Scraps” (a blend). I want to focus on two of them. The 2015 Chardonnay is from Carneros region and had a distinct citrus flavor imparted to this bright and fresh Chardonnay. They only produced 250 cases but it a fine wine worthy of purchase.


The next wine was their 2013 Estate Cabernet that was 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc.  This wine was smooth with soft & round tannins to drink now or hold for 5 years. They produced 800 cases and the Spring Mountain fruit is robust and full. Wine Spectator rated it 94 points and it was at underrated in my opinion. They also produce their “Cellar Scraps” (worthy of tasting and anything but “left overs”!), a Rose and their 2013 Estate Cabernet Reserve.

The Home of the Patriotic Pour is a fascinating story and their heartfelt wines are even more enjoyable.


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Art and winemaking have many of the same traits or DNA. The land (terroir) combined with a specific year of heat, rain, fog, temperature variations provide an infinite palate in which the winemaker can formula a creative vintage. So like art and winemaking, exists a unique, colorful and highly energetic winery call THE GRADE Cellars in Calistoga. More about the creative angle later in the story.

The two Proprietor’s, Thomas Thornton and Brenda Mixson, combined with winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown to maximize their vineyard. Tom who is an architect and Brenda who is involved in commercial real estate financing, have managed to combine their right and left cerebral cortexes with just the right amount of analytic and creative percentages in their drive to produce an exquisite wine.

The Winfield Vineyard sits just above the top of northern Napa Valley’s floor in Calistoga. Their end product is a rarity, similar to precious art. Only two varietals are produced: a Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. They called themselves a producer of “handcrafted wines and know their customers on a first name basis”.

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Their now sold out 2013 Winfield Vineyard Cabernet received a 96 point from Antonio Galloni. They are about to release the 2014 Cabernet which only 550 cases were produced. They typically produce approximately 100 cases for their Reserve Cabernet. In tasting the 2014 Estate Cabernet, it possessed a dark and opulent deep red hue with round tannins and a lasting finish.  Robert Parker quote on it was that was “as dark as a moonless night”.


In addition, having a “barrel sample” of their 2015, it held the promise of an exceptional wine. It was made with heavy toasted 100% new French oak barrels. This is the one which got my peak my interest and caught my undivided attention. This is similar to watching the brushstrokes of a gifted artist, knowing the end result will be spectacular.

Tom, when preparing his wine lot for Premiere Napa Valley in 2016, was required to write about the wine to be auctioned. Here is where his creative side kicked in and submitted a sonnet or quatorzain (14 lines) to describe his offering and aligns with the 2014 vintage. In Tom’s words, The specific references include the location of Clone 337 in Block 5 in our estate vineyard, a severe drought requiring more frequent irrigations than usual, early seasonal maturation and harvest that required farming “workarounds”, our winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown who considers great wine to be made in the vineyard, and “Kingly Project” which is the name of our Reserve wine from that block.  That label’s name, as well as our other names, are borrowed from the writings of Robert Louis Stevenson who honeymooned in an abandoned mining bunkhouse above our vineyard and chronicled that experience in “The Silverado Squatters”. Apropos to my sonnet, he wrote that ‘wine is bottled poetry’.”


When you consider how the sunlight’s spent

O’er regal rows of three three seven’s leaves,

How into blue clay earth the rootstock weaves,

A season’s destiny is justly meant!


Consider droughts, too, our wells circumvent,

Nursing the ripeness each cluster achieves.

So dense and complex, the critic believes

Good farming allays what nature has sent!


Motionless while the stride of Mister Brown

Brushes against sprawled canopies, then gone,

Vines whisper sweetly, in sync and singly!


The twelve and thirteen are now cradled down.

Fourteen stands peerless, conclusions are drawn.

We bow to our earth’s project so kingly!


So in full circle, creativity in wine is limitless, yet specific in timeliness. I know you will enjoy THE GRADE Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon and it will be included in my wine room. Should you get a chance to meet with Tom or Brenda when is Calistoga, their personalities are as embracing as the wine.


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Vatan – The Dark Bull of Tempranillos’

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Wines from Toro, located in Northwest Spain and their noted Tempranillo wines,  are especially known for coloration and boldness. The literally translation is “dark bull” – meaning this Tempranillo is not for the faint of heart!

The name Tempranillo comes from the Spanish word temprano (meaning early), a reference to the fact that it ripens several weeks earlier than most other Spanish red grapes. That said most Tempranillos’ exhibit a big blackberry, leathery and a slight smoky aroma – an earthiness character.


For the 2013 Vatan Tinta de Toro, a large portion of  grapes come from a vineyard planted in 1943 with some coming from their renown 1910 vineyard. After fermentation the wine is aged in new French oak barrels for 22 months. What comes out on the other side is a mouthful of wonderment! The 2013 vintage also came out at 15.5% alcohol adding to the robustness of this vintage.

Antonio Galloni stated it best in his review stating it is a “Dark purple. Fresh black and blue fruits, pipe tobacco and candied violet on the highly perfumed, smoke-accented nose. Fleshy, seamless and broad in the mouth, offering intense blueberry and cherry-vanilla flavors and an exotic touch of Indian spices. The spicy quality carries strongly through the finish, which clings with excellent tenacity and smooth, building tannins.”


Here is an excellent picture of the almost black Tempranillo grapes on the vine in Toro. Photo by Fabio Ingrosso.

Most California Tempranillos’ do not come close to this intensity. So if you are looking for a “different big red” without the stark tannins, pick up a bottle of Tinta de Toro for a big, bold  and exotic wine.


Available at

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Foretell Wines

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As the name implies, it is the art of telling beforehand, what is to come. Very appropriate for a winemaker of Sam Baxter’s pedigree, both from experience and knowledge. To walk about the vineyards and be able to prognosticate the future quality of the wine is as much intellectual training as it is intuitive from years of experience.


The label on the wine is also provides a clue as to the pedigree of this wine with the Latin phase “respice, adspice, prospice” meaning “look, look, look!” letting you know something good is in the bottle! With the other phrase “Ab Actu Ad Posse Valet Illatio” meaning “from the past one can infer the future”.  And so Sam provides his calculated prophesy of an excellent experience.

Sam and Angela Baxter used a woodcut from Jost Amman, an astonishing craftsman, noted for his detail in his art from the 16th century, for their unique signature label. This label stands out and doesn’t need a bright color or a gimmick to be remembered. Simply classy.

Now on to the wine. Sam makes both a Pinot Noir and a Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon is a mix of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc. The wine was aged 27 months in 50% new oak fine grained barrels. The coloration is dark and purple with a thick viscosity showing the deep black fruit. The taste of blackberries, dark caramel and cocoa open on the mouth. While excellent today, it will blossom over the next 3-5 years and Sam states it will hold for 18 years.

As of this writing, I have only tried the Cabernet but anxious to try the Pinot. If it is as good as the Cabernet Sauvignon it will foretell of a great wine to be enjoyed.


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When is New Still Old? Terra Valentine Wines

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To answer the question when is new still old, is simple: When the same winemaker who has been producing the wine since 1999. Recently the old winery location was sold, but the name Terra Valentine was kept by the original winemaker Sam Baxter and now being the new proprietor. Thus while new, it remains the same with the established winemaker and vineyards, yet they have even added some new vineyards on to Spring Mountain.


Sam and his wife Angela purchased the name in 2014 from the founders Angus and Margaret Wurtele. Terra Valentine had been producing wine since 1999 at the historic Yverdon Winery on Spring Mountain. I last visited the cold and damp winery in winter of 2006. The wines were great then and my last bottle was consumed in 2016. A longtime friend, Joe Flippini who is now assisting in sales effort, mentioned I should try their wines again. The Jackson Family Wines took over the Yverdon Winery and Sam and Angela continued with Terra Valentine. The Wurtele Vineyard (1,000 foot elevation) continues to be farmed by the Wurteles. The Baxter’s, along with their more recent purchase of property at 2,200 feet elevation have multiple vineyards available for fruit selection.


Sam continues to produce two white wines, a Riesling and Viognier. His also does various red wines, including Pinot Noir, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and a harmonious blend called appropriately, Marriage. 


Perhaps the most outstanding wine is their 2014 Cabernet Franc. It is kept in barrel for 18 months in 40% new French barrels. It possess a dark cherry coloration and exhibits almost chewy tannins. While very tasty today, it holds the promise to be exceptional in 2-4 years. Patience here will be rewarded. It is now in my cellar and slated to be enjoyed in the not too distant future!


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Chateau Ksara – Le Souverain

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Last year I did a story on Chateau Ksara, see and now I want to feature their 150 year Anniversary Le Souverain. It is a 50/50 blend of their Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Arinarnoa. I personally was not too familiar with the Arinarnoa grape.  



Arinarnoa grape is a cross between two Bordeaux varieties, Merlot and Petit Verdot. It is a dark berried grape which was bred in 1956. Wine-Searcher calls the grape a “rich and fleshy Merlot with acidity and spice of Petit Verdot” which produces a wine “naturally deep in color and well structured”.  Without a food pairing the acidity and earthiness came through loud and clear. Would have enjoyed tasting it with a hearty meal.

The grape was originally grown in the south of France for the designations of the famous Languedoc and Provence regions. Today it is grown around the world and surprisingly Lebanon produces 54% of this varietal.

This 150th Anniversary Edition won a Gold Medal at the prestigious Mundus Vini in 2011.

I am not familiar with anyone in California producing this varietal and if you know of a winery, please pass it along to me.


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David Girard Vineyards

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How not to die!!  An odd beginning to a winery story, but let me explain. Recently I was at David Girard Vineyards which is located in the Sierra Nevada foothills above Coloma-Lotus Valley where gold was discovered in 1848. While tasting several delightful wines, Rod Gideons, our host for the day, mentioned a quote by David Eagleman stating “There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.” Okei who came over from Japan was a nanny for the prominent Veerkamp family. She longed for her homeland in Japan and often went to a nearby hill and watched the sunset knowing it was going to be a new day shortly in Japan. She came over when she was 17 and unfortunately died at age 19 in 1871. Okei asked to be buried on that hill facing east. She is the first know Japanese to be buried on American soil. She is revered as personifying the immigrant spirit and is a popular folk hero here and in Japan. A Japanese melody laments her early death according to the Japanese community. So with that in mind, David Girard Vineyards being in the same area, wanted to immortalize her by naming their flagship wine, Okei-san Syrah. And by continuing to mention her name, she will never die the third death!


David Girard Vineyards 85 acre estate incorporates approximately 50% in Rhone and Provence varietals. His wines include Vermentino, a Rose (Mourvedre, Counoise and Grenache blend), Mourvedre, Grenache, Rive D’Or (blend), Syrah and Port. These wines are the handcrafted work of Grayson Hartley. Grayson got his “wine education” as the Assistant Winemaker at Schramsberg in the mid-2000’s and learn his craft from the now prestigious Andy Erickson and John Kongsgaard.


The two standout wines of the day were the 2013 Grenache Reserve with a whole cluster soak which produce a peppery, bright and enticing Grenache. The second wine was their 2014 Dessert Wine (Ruby) which uses the Portuguese grape, Touriga Nacional which imparts a black fruit bouquet.  Both of these outstanding wines are now in my cellar!!


The grounds are spectacular in design accommodating guests and club members, a beautiful scenery in the El Dorado foothills. Possessing the rolling vineyards, Grayson as the winemaker and David Girard at the helm, they will never face the third death as we will all be talking about them for years on end.


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