5th Pops & Son Wine Trip in Napa: Day 1 Afternoon

The afternoon of our first day on the 5th Pops & Son Wine Trip continued the vinous adventure that we had started in the morning at Kirkland Ranch and William Hill.  As we traveled up Silverado Trail on the Western side of the Valley, we mused about which winery to next visit, as we had plenty of time before our 2:30 appointment with the highlight of the day, Terra Valentine on Spring Mountain.  We passed numerous wineries along the way, including many Stags Leap favorites such as Regusci, Darioush and Clos du Val.  As we approached the Oakville appellation, Pops asked if I’d ever visited the large contemporary building that housed Miner Family Vineyards.  I had not done so and just that easily, we had picked our next winery!

Miner Family Vineyards is a family owned and operated winery (refreshing in this conglomerate era), tucked into the foothills of the Vaca Mountains on the Eastern side of the Valley.  It was founded by Dave Miner in 1996.  They are best known for their powerful, yet elegant reds, particularly their meritage blend (a domestic blend made up of only 2 or more of the Bordeaux varieties of grapes such as Cab, Merlot, etc) called The Oracle.

Pops also decided to sit this tasting out as he was increasingly starting to feel a cold brewing.  I only had a little bit of time, so I got to work.  The main tasting room is a beautifully designed contemporary setting with light tones and plenty of slate and marble.  The room was comfortably busy throughout my short stay, with patrons from all over the US there to try their many wines.  I was very pleased to see that they serve their wines in my favorite “stemware,” the Riedel O Series varietal-specific glasses and all are etched with the striking Miner logo on the bottom…a very nice touch.

Jeff was quite knowledgeable about the wines and the winery and poured good, reasonable-sized tastes, which is not always the case at tasting rooms these days.  One of the things he mentioned is that the vineyard that surrounds the winery and makes up the ‘05 Oakville Cab, while owned by the Aunt in the family, it is not considered part of the winery’s holdings.  The highlight wines for me were the two Stagecoach Vineyard reds, the ‘05 Merlot and ‘05 Cab.  I love the wines that come out of this vineyard and have written about Stagecoach Vineyard wines many times.  Also interesting was that this was the first time that I have been really impressed by The Oracle.  The ‘05 is just a tremendous wine and drank brilliantly that day.

I finished off the great wines at Miner and rejoined Pops out on the patio.  We still had a fair amount of time before heading up Spring Mountain Road so we meandered over to St. Helena and had an early afternoon pickmeup at my favorite coffee shop of all time, Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company.  I could be a bit biased as I used to work here and at the downtown Napa location while going to Vintage High.  They truly roast my favorite espresso on this planet, however.  I even recommended them in my Napa Recommendations post awhile back.  With our caffeine needs satiated, we headed a little further North in town and out onto Spring Mountain Road towards Terra Valentine.  I first read about Terra Valentine in the handy read, A Moveable Thirst.  They received a great review in there and the descriptions just stuck with me until I started planning this trip.

The drive up to Terra Valentine was much further up Spring Mountain that we ever thought…in fact, I had never traveled up that far and with the weather as it was, it ended up being a really neat drive.  It was already misty and sometimes rainy, but we hit the cloud line about 10 minutes into our drive, about 5 minutes before the estate and it provided wonderful atmospherics to our adventure.

We pulled up to the winery after passing some rather enthusiastic bike riders who were headed pell-mell down the slim mountain road.  I had a complete sense of déjà vu when we reached the gate and I had to tell Pops to pull the Jeep over for some pics.  All of the sudden I was back in high school, fully immersed playing Myst at 1 in the morning.  Quite a trip!  Anyhow, the weather and Old World beauty of the estate was very striking and really appealed to both Pops and I.

Terra Valentine has a very interesting history during its roughly 40 odd years on the upper part of the mountain.  Eccentric engineer and inventor, Fred Aves bought the property in the 60’s, largely funded by the royalties from the curb feelers he invented that you all had on your Caddies.  Mr. Aves was quite the da Vinci and decided to design and build the hand-set stone villa and 17K square foot winery himself, along with five other carefully picked craftsmen.  He also had a primo sense of self-sufficiency and a healthy dose of mistrust about the world, as evidenced by the private concrete batch plant he constructed to build his estate and the total recluse to which he became, eventually leading the original winery into disuse in the early 80’s.

The estate was revived in 1999 when Angus and Margaret Wurtele purchased the mountain property and immediately began updating the vineyards and the property.  Virtually all of the vines had to be replanted and now the estate sports two fantastic and very different vineyards, the Wurtele and Yverdon Vineyards, featured as two single vineyard estate Cabs.  All of the equipment has been updated, including automated punchdown fermentation tanks (very, very state of the art, no pumpovers here), but they were careful to preserve and restore the original architecture, such as the Aves designed and constructed stained glass windows that stand out on the two buildings.

We still managed to arrive early, so as I walked around still snapping mad amounts of misty photos, Pops realized that it was kinda cold and headed into the winery.  Inside you continue to see wonderfully detailed works of architecture.  The doors and handles were also handmade by Aves and the detail is fantastic.  Pops went in search of our host and I continued to explore the facility.  Erina Fischer greeted us from the office area, just off the main entrance and led us over to the richly decorated sit-down tasting room, replete with Hearst-owned wood paneling and a huge fireplace.  We started off with their ‘07 RRV Viognier, which is showing wonderful peach and pear aromas alongside a full mouth that still retains some great acidity.

Once the three other guests arrived we began the full tasting which, while still a formal sit-down affair, was very comfortable and amiable, matching Erina’s warm personality.  She had only been working for TV for a few months and yet was already very knowledgeable about the winery and wines.  We moved along to the reds, trying the silky, unfiltered ‘06 RRV Pinot, followed by the three Estate Cabernets that really stuck with  me the rest of the trip.  These three wines really became the highlights of the whole two days.  Winemaker Sam Baxter has done some amazing work with these wines. They are all from the 2005 vintage, with the Spring Mountain Estate Cab just a ridiculous value ($38).  A truly great wine, made from a mountain sub-appellation, that could be a flagship wine at the majority of the wineries that I have visited in my life…yet it is merely the starter Cab here!  Following that effort, we delved into the two single vineyard wines, with the Yverdon just barely eeking out a win for the wine for the day.  Both featured eucalyptus in the nose and the mouth, but the Yverdon had tremendous depths of black fruit, followed by spicy cherry.  The mouth was luxuriously silky already, all of the fruit from the nose and finishing with rose petal highlights.  Lovely.

We then took a tour throughout the rest of the winery, starting with a walk down one of the twin iron spiral staircases that lead to the winery proper  and barrel room below.  The fog was lifting a bit and it was definitely brighter outside, but it really couldn’t lift the surreal mood that the stunning wine and surroundings had instilled within me during our time there.  As all good things go, it was soon time to end our day atop Spring Mountain and we said goodbye to Erina and the other guests.  I kept thinking about the dark stones and misty clouds, along with all of the beautiful wines as we drove down to the Valley floor…and how  I need to revisit the estate soon!

Please see all of the wines that we tasted during the second half of the first day in Napa, by checking out all of my reviews below.  If you would like to list these wines in your own WineLog, they are all tagged with “5thPSWT2008-D1“.  All of the wines that were tasted on this trip are tagged with “5thPSWT2008“.  Please leave a comment if you’ve had these wines before, too.  Enjoy!

Miner Family Vineyards:

Miner California Simpson Vineyard Viognier 2007

Miner Napa Valley Stagecoach Vineyard Merlot 2005

Miner Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Miner Napa Valley Stagecoach Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Miner Napa Valley The Oracle 2005

Terra Valentine:

Terra Valentine Russian River Valley Viognier 2007

Terra Valentine Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2006

Terra Valentine Spring Mountain District Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Terra Valentine Spring Mountain District Yverdon Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Terra Valentine Spring Mountain District Wurtele Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Wines that we drank with dinner:

Lang & Reed North Coast Cabernet Franc 2007

Hahn Estates Monterey County Merlot 2006

Ward – drXeNo @ ZAP Live!

ZAP Zinfandel FestivalAnother year means another crazy adventure in the world of California’s “home” grape! The Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) are having their annual ZAP Festival at Fort Mason on the San Francisco waterfront this weekend. Many events have already occurred in leading up to today’s press and consumer grand tasting. Over 275 wineries, 400 wines, countless other food and wine specialists and 10,000 attendees will participate with food and Zinfandel wines, again making this the largest single varietal wine festival in the entire world!

Wine 2.0I will be posting in real-time throughout the event today until about 5pm from the Wine 2.0 Bloggers Lounge (Thanks so much to Cornelius and Abdi from Wine 2.0 (Twitter) and Lisa (Twitter) from Hahn Estates for coordination!). The post will be on the fly and mildly edited for content (especially later ;-), similar to the now famous, Live (Speed) Wine Blogging event at last year’s 1st Wine Bloggers Conference.

Live Blogging @ ZAP!I’ve already run into The Beer Wench (Twitter), Caveman Wines (Twitter), Vineyard Adventures (Twitter), the Corkeeper founders (more on that later), Sharayray (Twitter) and many more. Woohoo, this is going to be good! And now….the wines!

2007 Turley Hayne Vineyard Zinfandel

This was in a shiner, obviously just bottled from the barrel.

Color: Darker garnet with ruby edges and violet highlights

Nose: Good bramble, rosemary and red fruit, followed by some cracked black pepper

Palate: Also good, with a red fruit medley of raspberry and rhubarb, good balance with bigger tannins but not overly hot. Good.

2006 Peju Province Napa Valley Zinfandel

Color: Garnet

Nose: Good cherry red fruit that turns to black cherry and blackberry, hint of sulfur, good fruit

Palate: Wow, tons of cherry here, with more of an oak presence, but not overwhelming. A very big wine with a strong grip, fnishing with more of a blueberry finish and good acidity. Good!

2005 Peju Province Napa Valley Zinfandel

Color: Lighter ruby

Nose: Touch of sulfer here as well, but bigger sweeter oak. Less fruit forward than the ‘06, with more of a black fruit character and forest floor

Palate: Lighter bodied and verrry different from the more current ‘06. Good elegance to this wine and I really like it better than the buiser above, but their both good and just very different styles. Red red fruit here on the palate, cherry is in the fore with more of a raspberry finish and good acid.

Paso Creek Paso Robles Zinfandel 2006

Just had a great convo with Susan from Icon Estates who own this brand. More good chat about social media and how wine can penetrate that space to better reach their fans. This is the perfect spot for that, for sure!

Color: Lighter ruby

Nose: Spicy with red and black fruit underneath, a little closed right now

Palate: Good red fruit with a fair amount of oak surrounding it, blueberry comes in on the mid and finishes with good food acid in this lighter-bodied wine. Would love to decant first!

Next stop, Truett-Hurst with Phil Hurst and GM Jim Morris in attendance. I had a great time chatting with Jim at the WBC Dry Creek Valley tasting and I was happy to run into him again here. As usual, another great convo ensued with some special secret wines that were sequestered underneath the table to those that follow Jim on their Twitter.

Truett-Hurst Dry Creek Valley Red Rooster Vineyard Zinfandel 2006

Color: Darker garnet, ruby edges

Nose: Blacker fruit here with some great black pepper and a bit of dried herbs

Palate: Another good and well-balanced effort from TH, this has more of that black fruit from the nose and good spicy herbs and white and black pepper. Very good.

Truett-Hurst Russian River Valley Rattler Rock Vineyard Zinfandel 2006

Color: Garnet

Nose: More of a brambly red fruit Zin here, with a bit more oak, but still mellow.

Palate: Good raspberry with a bit of blueberry in the finish, still good round but strong grip for this varietal and a bit more bramble and oak than the Red Rooster. Also quite good.

Truett-Hurst Sonoma County Black Sheep Pinot Noir 2007

Color: Lighter burgundy

Nose: Light-bodied, but with great red fruit and a bit of cola in there, as well

Palate: Well-balanced, with some lighter florals, raspberry and cola from the nose and a nice minerally finish with good acidity. This is a first time wine for TH.

Truett-HurstTruett-Hurst California Burning Man Old Vine Petite Sirah 2006

Color: Inky violet with some ruby edges

Nose: Great depths of fruit here, wow. Outstanding black and blue fruit with a touch of 5 spice and some great chalkiness to the nose.

Palate: Also phenomenal, huge, but still balanced with tannin and acid to make this great but not overwhelming for the palate. Chalky big mouth with a round and strong grip, followed by more of a blackberry in the finish that goes forever, ending in black cherry. Outstanding.

[Live blogging ended due to wifi technical difficulties]

“Ward – drXeNo @ ZAP Live!”Continue reading

5th Pops & Son Wine Trip in Napa: Day 1 Morning

Vaca Mountains in Stags LeapAnother holiday season means another wonder trip to wine country with Pops.  I usually get the week off between Christmas and New Years from the day job and with that extra time I like to spend some quality father and son time spent, well honestly, what else but drinking wine?  We also recently added a summer trip to the roster, as one trip is usually not enough for the two of us.  We decided to continue to explore parts of Napa that were still new to us for this trip, especially with the economy in a wonderful tailspin.

The first stop of the day was intended to be at one of the best value-driven brands in the marketplace, Cartlidge & Brown off of Green Island Road.  Unfortunately, they weren’t open and thus we weren’t able to taste nor pick up Pops’ wine club selections.  Seeing as how we were in the Southern-most part of the Valley, we decided to then head over to Kirkland Ranch Winery, off of Jamieson Canyon Rd (SR-12).

Kirkland Ranch WineryNo…Kirkland Ranch is *not* the same as Costco’s brand, Kirkland Signature, but it IS another great value brand and in a handy spot all to its own, across the road from Chardonnay Golf Club (where I had my Junior Prom!) in the hilly and beautiful Jamieson Canyon.

Here, in yet another case of the small town feel that Napa can still provide, we were greeted and hosted by a former student of Pops!  Jessica had Pops as a sub back when she was still at Justin Sienna High School and playing some really good softball.  After the hellos, we moved away from the huge Western-styled tasting bar on the second floor and sat on the couch next to the fire for our leisurely tasting and Napa gossip session.  The wines were had just as good a Quality to Price Ratio (QPR) as I remembered in the past, and I was particularly taken with the ’02 Napa Valley Estate Syrah. It showed a great medley of black and blue fruit along with some chocolate and lavender in the nose and the smooth palate.  I know that Kirkland Ranch has been having some financial difficulties, so that might have been a factor, but if you purchase soon, you’ll find that their QPR is even better than usual…they’re having a 50% off sale on many of their wines!

William Hill Estate

We headed back up into the Valley proper after saying goodbye to Jessica and Co. at Kirkland.  Our next stop was to be a winery about which I’d heard quite a few good things and yet I had never swung by its location, right near Silverado Country Club off Atlas Peak Road…William Hill Estate.  Our friends have raved about their Cabs and as I found it, it was for good reason. Will Hill is actually somewhat quietly owned by E & J Gallo.  Before you get all huffy about family wineries being bought up by conglomerates all over California however, keep in mind that Gallo is still a private, family owned and run operation (and one of the largest vineyard owners in France, interestingly).  Will Hill owns extensive vineyard land around the winery and further South in Carneros, with plantings that include all 5 major Bordeaux varietals and many other varietals including Chardonnay.  They feature beautiful grounds with some picnic space and while they say they are appointment only, stop on by and you should be happily accommodated.

William Hill EstateI had to make this tasting a bit short and sweet as Pops was planning on sitting this and the next out, as the very kind driver for the day.  I chose to tackle the Estate tasting as I saw a particular pet love of mine (and sometimes hard to find as a single varietal) was the first choice…the ’05 Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Franc..yum! While I found the smooth Cab Franc to be rather tasty, I was more taken with their wine made from a varietal that is even less commonly found as a single wine, the ’05 Napa Valley Estate Petit Verdot.  This is usually only a wine club exclusive wine for Will Hill, but the elegant Claire was pouring it that day as part of this series.  I found it to have huge depths of multi-faceted fruit and while big and bold, the structure was already starting to integrate and combine into a beautiful wine.  This is a must-try if you are able to make it into the winery!

After a  thankful cheers to Claire, we again headed out on our way to our afternoon tasting appointments, despite an unfortunate experience on the way to the parking lot.  After sustaining a significant blast (outside, even!!) of perfume by a passing female patron, I again commented on how rude it is to wear heavy (or any) perfume or cologne to a wine tasting.  Wine is all about aromas and tastes…if you’re constantly tasting the rose perfume or spicy cologne dripping off of the patron next to you, it can be very challenging to enjoy oneself at a wine event.  A helpful hint to all of you planning your next trip to taste wine somewhere:  please leave the scents in the cabinet that morning and you will be a very respectful taster to those around you later in the day or night (and everyone around you will respect you for doing so).

Find out where we went in the afternoon in the next installment coming in just a few days! Please see all of the wines that we tasted on the first half of our first day in Napa, by checking out all of my reviews below.  If you would like to list these wines in your own WineLog, they are all tagged with “5thPSWT2008-D1“.  All of the wines that were tasted on this trip are tagged with “5thPSWT2008“.  Please leave a comment if you’ve had these wines before, too.  Enjoy!

Kirkland Ranch Winery:

Jamieson Canyon Napa Valley Pinot Grigio 2005

Jamieson Canyon Napa Valley Sangiovese 2002

Jamieson Canyon Napa Valley Merlot 2002

Kirkland Ranch Napa Valley Estate Syrah 2002

Kirkland Ranch Napa Valley Estate Reserve Cuvée 2002

Jamieson Canyon Napa Valley Late Harvest Viognier 2007

William Hill Estate:

William Hill Estate Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Franc 2005

William Hill Estate Napa Valley Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

William Hill Estate Napa Valley Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

William Hill Estate Napa Valley Estate Petit Verdot 2005

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