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Secret Door Winery

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Perhaps a “different name” for a winery, but not really. Donald Patz, of Patz and Hall Pinot Noir fame, moved back to Napa and has opened Secret Door Winery making exquisite and artisan Cabernet Sauvignon’s. So with this writing and few others, it is no longer a secret! What is a secret is what he has planned for the upcoming years. While we spent almost two hours discussing various aspects of what the future will hold for Donald Patz and a couple of projects he is working on, I think the real secret is the rejuvenation and vitalization of Donald Patz. Donald is energetic and bouncing with glee to get back to his roots (Napa and Cabernet Sauvignon) where he originally started his career. He is taking his years of experience and launching forward with a creative purpose to make his similar mark in the Cabernet Sauvignon world.


I asked what the differences were with this project verses the years at Patz & Hall. He noted three distinct entities that he is embarking on. The first being locations. He has acquired rights to various vineyards in hand selected areas he deemed fitting for his Cabernet. Each vineyard brings with it both challenges and stewardship of the vines to extract what he believes will be some of the finest juices for Secret Door Winery.

The second difference is his view on barrel fermentation and choices of barrels. Be it Cabernet or another varietal, he has experimented and now selected his barrels of choice. He is using Vicard G7 barrels. What was behind this decision was revealing on various fronts. First the “G” is the new generation seven barrel and process. Vicard send thru the staves for optical sorting for tannins. This allows him to select the correct staves for the wine as well as just the right amount of toasting required per the varietal.

The third difference was his goal to pick less ripe, which means lower alcohol. He believes this is a trend for both Millennials and Gen X/Y wine buyers of the future.

So without divulging too many secrets, the Secret Door Winery is but one of his ventures. Secret Door currently has two vintages out: the 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Lot: Secret 1Z and the other being Lot: Secret 1X. His next release will be the 2017 Stags Leap District “Hirondelle Vineyard” which has approximately 500 cases in barrel today. Along with this he will also be releasing Napa Valley “Sage Ridge Vineyard” with about 300 cases in barrel today.
Listen closely, the next two BIG secrets are:
1) Terminim Wines, a collaboration of Francois Villard and Donald Patz. The first is their 2017 “Cepages d’ Or” (grapes of gold) a 66% of Marsanne and 34% Roussanne from the “Alder Springs Vineyard” in Mendocino County with 135 cases. The name is derived from the “terminus” the Roman God of borders and boundaries. While not tasting it yet (soon however), it possess “lively textures and freshness” per Donald. Another varietal from this project is their Syrah. Donald along with Francois Villard of Rhone Valley developed and implemented some unique techniques to the traditional punching down the cap. This new “Methode Francois” allows them to make a wine “without searing levels of tannin and creates a smoother more rounded and elegant presence”. More details when I do the actual wine review.

2) Maritana Vineyards a project for developing and producing the highest quality of grapes for both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Here Donald is implementing his strategy to develop a more balanced and “elegant and perfumed version to show through” with choices of grapes with selected aged barrels. On his Pinot Noir, he has secured three vineyards in the Russian River AVA. For this varietal he is using approximately 60% new oak barrels. The wines for Maritana Vineyards will be his Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2017, “Le Russe”; the Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2017 “La Riviere”; Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2017 “Dutton Ranch/Hansen Hill Vineyard” and his Russian River Chardonnay 2017 “Dutton Ranch/Shop Block 1967”. The last using vines planted in 1967 and using 50 year old vines in his Chardonnay production!

The specific goals for all his wines are to have beautiful floral aromas, stabilized and permanent bright coloring to the eye. Lofty and elegant goals to be sure but he is implementing creative and imaginative techniques to achieve his desired outcome.

As in the opening sentence, the real secret is not so much the door, but what and where this new door is leading Donald Patz to in his invigorated quest to produce something unique to the wine world.


Paskett Vineyards & Winery – Great wine for summer time!

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Secluded in the Acampo area, this charming and quaint facility hosts the tasting room for Paskett Vineyards & Winery. It is owned and operated by Lorraine Paskett. Stacey Caton is the tasting room manager and was our host extraordinaire when visiting.

Paskett Winery produces estate wines and has selected vineyards in the Lodi AVA. Estate wines include Cabernet Sauvignon and Charbono. Their non-estate wines are Albarino, Barbera, Verdelho, Malbec and Petit Verdot.
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Two wines which caught my attention were the 2016 Verdelho the 2016 Albarino —both excellent wines for summer. First the 2016 Verdelho. Not one of more common grapes in the USA, Verdelho is a white wine grape grown in Portugal, especially on the island of Madeira. Verdelho is a traditional varietal gown on Pico Island in the Azores. In Spain it is called Verdello. It is also grown in Australia as Verdelho. Portugal grows 58% of the world varietal production and Australia 36%, followed by the USA doing 3%. With each area having its own “regional taste”, but the predominance of lime, honeysuckle and honeydew melon is the standout aroma and taste. Some may show more pear or tropical fruits, but all tend to have good acidity and clean freshness both to the palate and eye. The Paskett 2016 Verdelho was on point to these traits and a welcome change of pace for the warm weather!
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The Paskett 2016 Albarino is also a lesser known but an intriguing varietal growing in popularity. It is known to grow best in sandy or clay soils-perfect for Lodi AVA. The wine is known for its botanical flavor including notes of orange and acacia blossom, lemon grass, honeysuckle, peach, apricot and nectarine, passion fruit and jasmine. It is most often paired with seafood. This wine is aromatic and possess high acidity. The Paskett 2016 Albarino again hit the target, especially for an alternative summer wine.

Enjoy these “lesser known” gems from Paskett Vineyards and Winery this summer or for that matter anytime!


Hanna Winery & Vineyards

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The name Hanna means different things in various languages. For example Hanna in Kurdish means hope, in Persian the name means flower and in Arabic it means happiness for example. Those various meaning might just sum up the experience of Hanna Winery—hope, flower and happiness. Hope the vision and expectation of winery founder Dr. Elias S. Hanna. Christine, his daughter is today the President of the Winery. Flower in that the bouquets of Hanna wines are fresh and lively and all their wines extoll happiness on those who experience them on their palate.


In June 2018, I had the opportunity to visit and discuss the operation and wines of Hanna Winery. I became aware of Hanna Winery from a press release that they had announced their 2015 Alexander Valley Saint Macaire. For background, Saint Macaire is the missing varietal from the Old World Bordeaux. This along with Carmenere grapes have long been excluded from the fine Bordeaux’s coming out of France. I had heard about Saint Macaire years ago with only one other winery using a small percentage in their Bordeaux version on Howell Mountain. So the hunt was on to taste and experience something that was thought to be lost! Currently in the Unites States, only one acre of Saint Macaire is planted and in production. Hanna Winery has 50% of the production with a half-acre planted.


Earlier this year, a tasting panel scored the Saint Macaire at 95 points. The uniqueness of the wine couple with distinct flavor profiles, made this the find of the visit to Sonoma Valley. The mix is 77% Saint Macaire, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Malbec and 2% Merlot. On the eye it is has a dark purple hue and possess a bright glow. Having never tasted a Saint Macaire, I was anxious with curiosity. It produced as their winemakers notes stated, “peppercorn, sage leaf, saddle leather and Darjeeling tea. By mouth fruit emerges as kirsch and grilled fig”. What I got most of the taste was the medium to medium heavy viscosity in the glass and a long lingering finish lasting thirty seconds or more on the back of the throat. This finish was definitely in class by itself. This also scored my highest marks thus far in 2018.
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The grounds and tasting room of Hanna Winery were spectacular in the views of Alexander Valley and uncommon, was their ability to produce a robust and quality wine across all varietals—Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and a few unique blends.

In closing Hanna Winery & Vineyards delivered as its meaning with “hope (bringing back a lost varietal), flower (bouquet and aromas) and happiness (the pleasure of tasting)”. Truly, one winery that should be sought out on your next visit to Alexander Valley.


Ledson Winery – An Opulent Castle Only Overshadowed by the Wine

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(This picture by Ledson Winery)

The story begins in England in 1896 and is detailed out on the website . It is a tale of hard work, family ties and a desire to do more for the community. Steve Ledson’s history is both unique and common—unique with background and successful venture and common with family ties. His demeanor and casual manner bespeaks volumes. A couple of years ago, I had a friend come down from Oregon and had Assistant Winemaker Jerry Padilla conduct the private tasting. On the way out, Steve walked in with jeans and tee shirt having worked some aspect of the vineyard only to greet us, genuinely happy that our tasting went well.
The Castle is the official tasting room of Ledson and the architecture and construction alone are worth the visit! Ledson Winery is offers the largest premium wine portfolio of any family owned winery in the United States. Today their offering numbers more than 70 wines annually!

My dealings with Ledson Winery go back almost twenty years as a club member and writer. Steve Ledson and Jerry Padilla are a great team offering customers and visitors a unique perspective into the wine business – and yes they make GREAT wines!

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At a recent visit, summer of 2018, I was once again transformed into a “wine enchantment” of the Castle, hosted by Jerry Padilla. Jerry knew my palate / wine desires, so he prepared an assortment of wines for the afternoon along with a charcuterie plate. During the process, we discussed many aspects of the winery, wine education and tastes of wines. Jerry was extremely flexible and diverted some choices to new and interesting wines. All the wines tasted and enjoyed where fit for royalty and many earned a spot in the cellar.

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I am mentioning two wines in this article which is difficult with so many excellent choices. The first is the current 2016 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. In my Yearly Picks of the Exceptional Wines of 2016 (only 5 named), I listed Ledson’s 2015 Sauvignon Blanc at $34. Most of the others were listed at $175. It was no mistake and again this vintage reconfirmed their rank at the end of 2018 once again.


For the red’s, my choice was not as simple with so many superb wines to select. The top contenders were: 2013 Alexander Valley “Estate” Cabernet Sauvignon (Gold Medal 2017 Sunset International Wine Competition); 2013 Napa Valley “Stagecoach” Cabernet Sauvignon; 2014 Alexander Valley Reserve “Estate” Cabernet Sauvignon; 2015 Sonoma Valley “Estate” Barbera; Howell Mountain “Old Vine” Zinfandel and the 2014 Sonoma Valley “Estate” Cepage (Bordeaux blend). The winner and our dinner wine that evening was the 2013 Napa Valley “Stagecoach Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon.


The winemakers’ notes best sum up this wine as a “powerful wine that boasts gorgeous deep purple hues and aromatics of blackberry, blackcurrant, and cherry. Boysenberry, blackberry, and amazingly rich chocolate blend on the palate with intensity, opulence, and voluptuous textures. Bold tannins intertwine with wild berries and an intriguing note of black olive on an irresistible finish”. Easy to see why this was chosen to accompany our evening meal.

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Over the years I have recommended to friends and visitors going to Sonoma to make a stop at Ledson Winery. Obviously from their current wine list, they do offer a bit of everything for the casual wine taster to the wine aficionados’, be it Millennials to Baby Boomers, you will find the wine that envelops your palate and is sized to your pocketbook.



Jazz Cellars

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The origin of the word “jazz” is a varied as the music being played today call jazz. Perhaps the best origin is from the slang “jasm” from around 1860 which meant “energy, vitality, and spirit”. That seems to capture the essential of music referred to as jazz. That is how the two owners of Jazz Cellars have composed their wines. On a recent visit based on a friend’s recommendation to visit Murphy’s, I ventured to taste two recommendations: their 2012 Rhapsody, a Marsanne/Roussanne blend and their 2012 Pinot Noir.

First a quick background on the two owners/composers of Jazz Cellars. Bob Smith and Joe Lazzara are both neighbors, musicians and high tech folks who shared a vision of producing great wine. They started and are still headquartered in Foster City. They use a well know facility in the Dogpatch area of San Francisco to create their master pieces. The tasting room is located in Murphy’s California in the lower Sierra Nevada Mountains.

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The unique aspect of Jazz Cellars is that they search and find the “right terroir” in order to produce award winning wines. At last count they had accumulated over 100 awards in a very short period of time, without a dedicated vineyard! No small feat.

So while in Murphy’s (Calaveras AVA), I stopped by to taste the wines. They are located 100 feet down a side alley off Main Street. The wines being served that day did not include any “Calaveras County” grapes which at first was an oddity being located in Murphy’s. This is when Jessica in the Tasting Room, provided some background on how they “go to market”. I sampled four of the five wines being offered that day and was continually impressed with each varietal.

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The first one I want to introduce you to is their 2012 Rhapsody which is a 50/50 Marsanne/Roussanne blend of exquisite tastes and aromas. The grapes come from the Russian River AVA and is a well-orchestrated duet of two wonderful Rhone varietals. In their words it “is highlighted by honey-melon and apricot notes with layers of almonds and hazelnuts…” It is a mouthful experience with notes of oak on the finish.

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The second wine was their 2012 Pinot Noir Lone Oak Vineyard, from the Santa Lucia Highlands on the Central Coast of California. It is bright and dark crimson that radiates in the glass and provides a full body and tasty, almost spicy finish on the palate. It has won a Gold Medal at the California State Fair 2017 with a rating of 95 points. It also won a Silver Medal at the SF Chronicle Wine Competition in 2016. Both wines should be sought out quickly!

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Several things I found while visiting the tasting room include weekly summer jazz on the patio from 2pm to 5 pm on Saturday’s. You can get the current schedule of performances on their website. I would also recommend tasting their 2012 Zinfandel Teldeschi Vineyard, from Sonoma, Dry Creek which produced a mouthwatering desire to keep consuming it! Dark purple with oak notes and Bing ripe cherry on the nose. This also receive a Gold Medal and is rated at 92 points.

So if you want to taste some of the best wines in the State of California and only want to drive to one location, a leisurely trip to the lower foothills will allow you to taste the regions of the Central Coast, Carneros, Sonoma and many other AVA’s. I can attest that their wines do embody “energy, vitality, and spirit”. After visiting the tasting room you too might boogie woogie your way home with a few bottles.


Per FTC disclosure, any wines purchased, were offered at industry discount.

Jessie’s Grove Winery and Vineyards

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The unassuming single lane road leading to the vineyard and tasting room, provides the demeanor of what you are about to experience—understated, homey and it brings one back to the “casual family element” of the winery.

Jessie’s Grove is the site for the oldest producing Zinfandel in the Lodi Appellation. It is named for Jessie Spenker, daughter of Joseph and Anna Spenker, who founded the ranch and land in 1868. The property is 320 acres with 265 acres planted in vineyards. The Zinfandel vines were planted in 1888 and is still producing an incredible ancient Zinfandel wine.

Here on the plot of land between highway 5 and highway 99 on West Turner Road is the home of a host of varietals- some unique, some traditional but all exceptional. As with most wineries, for myself, only a certain number of wines appeal to my tastes. Here I was overcome with glee and excitement being wooed over to all the wines offered, including a few from the backroom.

My stated purpose in visiting them was to taste their 2015 Carignane. This wine comes from their 118 years old vines! This is perhaps the fullest and most worthy tasting of Carignane in the New World. Carignane originated in Spain and is commonly found in French wine. Historically used in blending due to high volume per acre at 11 tons and its agreeable personality. Their 2015, 100% Carignane provided an excellent nose and on the palate a rich fruit spice and even a tad hint of “earthiness”. I found no blemish. Not “advertised” in writing in the tasting room, but told after tasting this wine, it had just won Double Gold at the 2018 S.F. Chronicle Wine Competition.

The next wine was their 2016 Pinot Noir which personally shocked my sensibilities that a Pinot Noir this “precise and delicate” could be estate grown in Lodi. This too was a Double Gold winner at the 2018 S.F. Chronicle Wine Competition. Their descriptive fits perfectly as “a medium bodied red with black cherry aromas. It opens with bright fruit and rolls into mature, soft-aged, velvety tannins.


The third wine I would like to into detail is their 2014 Royal Tee, Ancient Vine Zinfandel. This comes from their 129 year old vines. Zin’s come in a very broad range from “fruit bombs” to “arid dry”. This Zinfandel has a particularly ruby color, targeted dark fruit on the nose and a full embrace in the mouth, followed by a smooth and lingering finish.

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The three previous wines mentioned were moderated priced (and if you can read between the lines, rush to get some quickly!). Also, beyond the three, Jessie’s Grove produces two different Chardonnay’s (steel and oak fermented), a sparkling wine, two Old Vine Zinfandels and a few others. One of note is their dessert wines — some aged up to 15 years prior to being released. The other excellent wine that found a home in my personal cellar was their Cinsault planted in 1886.

I was hosted by Lisa Brand, GM who not only provided the history and background on every facet of the winery and the staff also that day was taking care of a 2 week old goat whose mother abandoned him.


While this goat was not only extremely cute and friendly, but he still came in second to their amazing line up of delicious wines.

This is a must visit winery, vineyard, experience and maybe even “petting zoo” in Lodi!!


Per FTC disclosure, any wines purchased, were offered at industry discount.


Allora Vineyards

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Let’s get plastered!!! Now that may not the smoothest introduction to a wine article, but let me explain. Terry and Nancy Klein established a very successful plastering business in the SF Bay Area but had always wanted to work and own a vineyard. In 1998 they bought a 15 acre parcel in most northern area of St Helena and planted 10 acres of grapes. This consists of 8 of Cabernet Sauvignon and the other 2 acres are Cabernet Franc and Petite Sirah.

20180407_093057A couple of weeks ago I sat down with Terry (on the left) and his wine maker Mike McPherson to taste and discuss the vineyard and direction. Terry is an engaging owner with a smile and demeanor big enough to fill his wine cellar! Each bottle of wine has a unique name and story. Rudy Zuidema is the consulting winemaker and guiding mentor to the overall development of the winery.
The first wine tasted was their 2016 Chardonnay which is from Carneros region which was smooth and light bodied. The following vintage was I was able to barrel taste was from a local vineyard “red shoulder estate” and has a bursting Old World crispness, yet inviting to the palate. This wine will be a “gold medal” contender in my opinion.

Beyond the tasting of the wine Terry presented it in a glass which they distribute from Austria called Vino O2. It is difficult to see in the picture, but a “thumb size” is indented into the glass. What this causes while swirling the glass, is for the aromas to be risen up the glass and into your nose. Tasting the wine just poured into the glass verses after a few swirls is remarkably different and does enhance the experience.

The tasting room is located in the “basement/cellar” of their beautiful house on this secluded vineyard. It is spacious enough for 6-10 people and very intimate and does takes one back to Italy. The word Allora by the way, translates, to “whatever”. I think it really translates to “whatever is good”!

The first red tasted was a 90% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine had a deep purple hue on sight and was medium body with aroma notes of blackberry and is fruit forward. On the finish it possessed a lingering “soft sweetness”.

Another red wine enjoyed during this tasting was their Lusso Cabernet Sauvignon. It is made from Clone 15 grapes and is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon based. Only three barrels are made. Rudy Zuidema describes it as “highly extracted and decadent wine that indulges your entire pallet in pure luxury”. When sipping this wine, you get ripe berries and hints of dark chocolate. It is aged 24 months in French barrels. By the way, the label of the three women on the bottle has a fascinating story behind it, but that will be for the Klein’s to share on your visit.

So while starting the article with “let’s get plastered” you really need to slowly experience this exquisite wine.


FTC disclosure: All wine purchased was at full retail rate.