Taking my #wine kung fu to the next level: #WSET II & Napa Valley Wine Academy

406064_562298363799327_175257724_nI have been immersing myself in the study of #wine in a semi-systematic manner for much of the last 8 years.  Indeed, #Vinopanion‘s 8 year anniversary with @WineLog is approaching in the middle of this month. Yet I have slowly realized that something is lacking in my devotion to the knowledge of the vinous delights: focus, structure and external credibility. You’d think that a trained scientist would have recognized this long ago and I did notice these thoughts in the back of my mind a few years back.  But they were always battered back by “where’s the time?” and “I’m still receiving plenty of media travel & event invites,” along with “my wine consulting services continue to expand.” Then I reached last year and I started to recognize some clear patterns in my wine work. While I had plenty of media opportunities and my fellow wine colleagues were continuing to get work, I could see that the pace of my own trade offers beginning to slow down. It was then that I noticed that most of my colleagues began to sport letters after their names on their business cards: they were taking certified educational courses to formalize their wine training. I needed to set up my wine game. It was then that I contacted the good people at Napa Valley Wine Academy (FB, Tw): “help!”

Our-certification-menu-logoThe Napa Valley Wine Academy (NVWA) was founded in 2011 by longtime wine industry veterans, R. Christian Oggenfuss, D.W.S., F.W.S., I.W.P and Catherine Bugue, D.W.S., IWP. As residents of Northern California wine country, they both perceived a lack of true connection between the schools that offered wine and spirits training and the actual regions about which they taught…and thus a fine beverage academy in the Napa Valley was born!  Featuring industry educational luminaries including Master of Wines Peter Marks and Tim Hanni, as well as Master Sommelier Tim Gaiser; they are truly “one foot in the classroom and the other in the vineyards.” The NVWA has experienced tremendous industry support and strong early success, prompting them to expand to satellite locations around the US in Tampa, Florida and Santa Barbara, CA; as well as online. 

IMG_5975The NVWA instructors are spread across all of the major industry certifications, allowing the Academy to provide a full service range of official beverage certifications, including wine, spirits, saké, and beverage service, and region-specific courses. All courses and examinations are given by the academy itself, making it a one-stop educational experience, unlike many other piecemeal organizations. I have chosen to start my wine and beverage education in the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (FB, Tw, YT, NVWA) program, starting with the WSET II Award, courtesy of the NVWA.  More on those adventures later however, as I need to get studying for my first exam! ¡Salud!

Kia Ora está en La Mar

Nobilo - Marlborough SoundsOK, so they don’t speak Spanish in New Zealand…they speak Kiwi English.  I know this, but based on my love of Spanish food and my experiences along the coasts of both Spain and Portugal (diff language, I know!) last Summer, they might as well speak that Romantic language, what with the bright, quality wine that they put out with each vintage.   Seafood is the phenom pairing for the vast majority of these wines and I’m happy to throw them together on the regular.

Now clearly, I’ve always been a fan of NZ wines, so let’s just get that experiential bias right out in the open.  So when I heard that would soon be a winemaker dinner that not only paired some classic NZ winemakers alongside some fervent wine bloggers, but also some extremely tasty Peruvian seafood with said winemakers’ wines…I said [frak] yeah, I’ll come!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=saHYRAm0cEQ[/youtube]I attended this tasty dinner courtesy of Benson Marketing Group.  They teamed up with Constellation New Zealand to put together this US road show and I was happy to be a part.  The setting was La Mar Cebicheria, at Pier 1 1/2 in the San Francisco Embarcadero.  The food at this place is just nuts.  I’d been there a couple times before for both wine work and work work: it features a freshly prepared menu of seafood that I haven’t yet found an equal.  Damn good food, so I was pumped when I arrived.  I met two of the most friendly bear-men you’ll meet when I arrived, winemakers Dave Edmonds and Darryl Wooley of Nobilo Wines (as you can see in the video above, courtesy of Nobilo).  The third winemaker, Anthony Walkenhorst from Kim Crawford, was also extremely nice, but seemed more likely to kindly offer up a run through the forest than wrap you in an strong embrace (also a good thing).

[winebadge id=”58868″]

As we tasted through the wines, alongside some slammin’ cebiche chifa, we had a nice walking tour through the various sub-regions, climates and soils of the Marlborough appellation.  The well-known Marlborough appellation has a variety of sub-regions that are just now getting their own names out across the US.  From the warmer, drier and more alluvial soiled Wahopai, Wairau, and Rapura that help to contribute a more tropical fruit flavor to their wines, to the cooler Awatere Valley, where the wines can pick up those more herbal and citrus characteristics that have made NZ wines a star across much of the wine world these past two decades.  It was a fascinating lesson in climate and geology and one that I sorely needed, with my limited understanding of these sub-regions.

The patience of Dave and Darryl (and most likely Anthony if I was able to hear that end of the table) to answer my questions was exceedingly high and rivals only that of my first grade teacher, Mrs. Rogers.  This was made even more evident when Dave leaked the fact that he was desperately trying to find a ride to the North Bay (after the last ferry) in order to meet up with with a very old friend that he hadn’t seen in many years, the last time he was stateside.  And all of this was going on after I had already been told that these this kind troupe of winegrowers had gleaned only about 10 hours sleep in the last week, during their zip across the states for this vino trip.  For this patience, their wines, the education and the delicious food; I thank them!

You can find all of the wines that we tried that night to list in your own WineLog by searching the tag “KiaOra2010.”  What are your own experiences with Kiwi wine?  Cheers!

Drylands Wines (WineLog):

QPRWK - WKBadgesNewWorldWK - WKBadges Drylands Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Color: Delving into golden tones, with clear edges

Nose: Slight savory herbs at first, then tropical fruits and some nice clean slate minerality.

Palate: Softer pink grapefruit in the fore, then that kicks into a zesty, almost spicy fruit composition out to the finish.  All of this is complemented by some tropical fruit lurking underneath.  Good: NewWorldWK, QPRWK.

Kim Crawford Wines (Twitter, WineLog):

Kim Crawford Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Kim Crawford Marlborough Spitfire Small Parcel Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Kim Crawford Marlborough Pinot Noir 2009

Monkey Bay Wines: (WineLog):

Monkey Bay Wines Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Nobilo Wines (WineLog):

NewWorldWK - WKBadges Nobilo Marlborough Regional Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Color: Medium canary core, clear edges

Nose: Clean, some minerality with medium tropical fruits and good grapefruit.

Palate: Salty, juicy grapefruit and bright zesty tropical fruit, with a long juicy finish featuring crisp acidity: NewWorldWK.

NewWorldWK - WKBadges Nobilo Marlborough Icon Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Color: Medium canary clear edges

Nose: Distinct tomato vine here, Great juicy grapefruit as well and clean minerality.

Palate: More complex structure here, with a fuller mouthfeel and better balance with the crisp and clean citrus and that tomato vine finish.  Very good: NewWorldWK.

NewWorldWK - WKBadges Nobilo Marlborough Icon Pinot Noir 2009

Color: Lighter ruby

Nose: Good savory nose with toast, darker red fruit of rhubarb and then anise in this barrel sample.

Palate: Silky and medium full body, with good acidity showing bright cherry and cranberry fruit alongside that rhubarb and subtle anise.  The toast underlays all of this along with some white pepper towards the finish. Good: NewWorldWK.

Pops & Son Wine Trip 6: The Mountains of Murphys

Dad caught the Frickin' at Twisted Oak! - PSWT6This was a trip so epic, that it took a year to digest and to prepare the story-telling…that’s the story I’m stickin’ to anyway!  Pops & I have taken many a wine trip together over the years, this was the sixth, in fact.  Each one has been in a different appellation or sub-appellation around NorCal.  Following my pre-WBC09 Twisted Murphys visit with some other vinopanions in crime, I decided that Pops and I needed to definitely take over Murphys and its  Calaveras County wine country for our upcoming trip later that year.

I spoke a lot in that earlier Murphys post about the exciting, up and coming aspects of the Calaveras County wine region and how it has already reached at least the wine crafting quality of it’s larger and surrounding appellation of the Sierra Foothills and is coming into its own as a true wine destination.  Murphys, the historic Gold Rush and logging town, has completely reinvented itself as a more boutique, yet still nicely rustic wine and food mecca, tucked underneath the stunning Sierras and Calaveras Bigtree National Forest.  Pops and I decided that we needed to dig a bit deeper this time and really get to know this comfortable piece of wilder wine country.

The famed Ironstone gold nugget. - PSWT6It would be impossible for me to recount all of the fun, tasty times that Pops and I happily endured over those three days, so in a departure from past posts in this series, I’m sticking to the highlights.  Have no fear, all of the wines that we tasted, included a couple random ones during dinners, are all listed below.  We did some serious (spitting) damage in and around Murphys, tasting over 90 wines in two and a half days across 10 wineries: talk about a rad way to really get to know an appellation!

We arrived the morning of Day One and first went to check in at our hotel, The Victoria Inn. It was recommended to me during that last trip to Murphys by vinopanions Liza Swift (Twitter) of Brix Chicks and Thea Dwelle (Twitter) of Luscious Lushes.  I met the Innkeeper of this fine hotel that day, Michael Ninos, and he was kind enough to sit down with Pops & I after we checked in to our retro-rustic room and chat with us a bit about the local area.  Michael is extremely well versed in the region and gregariously dished out a bunch of local history, current goings-on and unprintable secrets and a whole lot about the local cuisine and wine, of which he is also a part, opening the then new V Restaurant & Bar downstairs.  I will be staying here every time I come back to Murphys in the future!

The Victoria Inn - Murphys, CAFortunately, Murphys makes this vinotrek pretty damn easy, with over 18 tasting rooms along Main Street (as of 12/2009), upon which the Victoria Inn is located.  You can walk, rollerblade, bike or stumble down the 1.5 mile main drag and get your fill of CalaCo wine (though I’ve never rollerbladed while wine tasting…).  This was actually one of the reasons that I chose Murphys, since Pops is the kindly DD when we go on these trips and I always want him to able to taste wine too, of course.   That said, I did want to hit some of the many more surrounding wineries and so the first day that’s exactly what we did, with poor Pops behind the wheel, yet again.

Chatom VineyardsWe started off at Chatom Vineyards (WineLog, Twitter), where I didn’t find a lot of wines that fit my palate until we got to their very interesting and rare 2007 Chatom Calaveras County Estate Touriga.  This is a varietal that is most commonly seen as one of the main components of Portuguese Porto.  This one was a dry still wine and showed some surprisingly good florals and fresh anise to go with it’s medium to full body and balanced tannin and acidity.  Good stuff.  Following Chatom we trundled over to a winery that I’d always been interested to visit for a number of reasons that didn’t actually relate that our particular visit.

Ironstone Vineyards Ironstone Vineyards (WineLog, Twitter) is most known for their bubbly and the massive concert series that they have during the finer CalaCo weather in spring and summer.  This was the dead of winter, yet it was also a beautiful estate and really, quite large.  This has to be the biggest facility, wine or otherwise, in the Murphys area.  The cool thing about winery is that it has a great regional Gold Rush museum attached to the tasting room complex.  Inside they have the famous Ironstone Gold Pocket, seen in the photo above.  I had an awesome tasting room pourer here, who was very interested in showing me the full range of wines that they had, except for the bubbly, heh.  I really liked their trio of Reserve Zins and the Ironstone Sierra Foothills Reserve Cabernet Franc 2006, which I gave a KeeperWK wine badge.

El Jefe TwistedFollowing Ironstone, we headed around the ways a bit just driving around aimlessly somewhat, before alighting on one of the highlights of any trip to Murphys: a visit with El Jefe and his Twisted Oak Winery (WineLog, Blog, Twitter)!  Reuben was in full effect that day, as evidenced in the pic to the left.  Jeff “El Jefe” Stai (Twitter) was kind enough to take us around his twisted estate that afternoon, including a nice trip barrel-tasting in the two-entranced cave.  REUBEN! - Twisted Oak WineryOut of all of the wineries in the Calaveras area, Twisted Oak has to be placed right towards the top for the quality of their wine, their estate and the work that El Jefe has done to continuously promote his wine region. I like just about every wine that Twisted Oak produces and that day was no exception.  The Spaniard 2007 flagship continues to be a model of consistency for the powerful grace of Spanish varietals in this region (OldWorldWK) and the tank tasting of the 2009 Viognier even prompted an AwesomeWK badge!  It was tough to do so, but Pops and I finally left Nacho and Jefe and headed back out onto the dusty road.

Our last winery stop of the day was at Irish Family Vineyards (WineLog), where Owner and Winemaker Russell Irish was pouring through his wines.  I was taken by their Irish Family Vineyards California Póg Mo Thóin Red Wine and again, another fine Spanish varietal, their 2006 Irish Family Vineyards Calaveras County Rolleri Vineyards Tempranillo, both of which garnered WKBadges.

Newsome-Harlow Owners Scott_and_Melanie KlannWe finished off the day with a fantastic Thai dinner, graciously cooked by esteemed caterer, Melanie Klann.  Her and her husband Scott Klann, winemaker for Twisted Oak and his own Newsome-Harlow Wines (WineLog, Twitter) invited us into their home for dinner and some wine with Jefe and his wife.  It was a toasty and relaxing end to a fun first day.

Pops @ BigtreesDay Two was kicked off with a down home breakfast at the Murphy’s Historic Hotel and then a drive up to check out the snow at Bigtrees.  The park was mainly closed, but we were able to walk around a bit following a donation and the forest was just gorgeous, with what looked like a new layer of powder.  Old Standard Oil station, Sheep Ranch, Calaveras CountyWe continued down the mountain following a different route and ran into Sheep Ranch, what looked to be a very old Gold Rush town that appeared to be almost dead…and clearly wanted things kept that way.  We got creeped out by the Deliverance feel of of it all, but it did have some pretty cool historic and vintage sites to the tiny unincorporated town.

Escaping with our lives, we made it back down into town, just in time to salve our psychological wounds with some tasty wine.  Day Two was all about walking through town and tasting alongside Pops, no more vicarious tasting through me!  Newsome-Harlow Tasting Room - MurphysEach room has it’s own great feel and theme, many of them housed in the beautiful historic buildings of Murphys: Tanner in the old schoolhouse and diner at the start of town, Newsome-Harlow (WineLog, Twitter) with their cozy courtyard and restored and contemporary tasting and event rooms, Lavender Ridge (WineLog) in the Old Segale building (with a bit too much actual lavender in the room for my taste), Milliaire (WineLog) in the classic gas station, Hatcher Winery (WineLog) in their gorgeous wood and iron basement and Zucca Mountain (WineLog, Twitter) in their strange, almost dwarve-like strong of connected basements and mining paraphernalia.  All can make for a unique, special tasting.

Hatcher Winery Tasting RoomThere were many a good wine that day, but I’ll mainly focus on the wines that garnered a WKBadge.  One of my favorite four wineries in Murphys, Hatcher threw down the Hatcher Calaveras County Beckman Vineyard Zinfandel 2007 and the Hatcher Calaveras County Cabernet Franc 2006. Both featured great fruit complexity and overall balance and some tasty earthy dustiness to each of those components.  Newsome-Harlow brought some love with the Newsome-Harlow Calaveras County El Portal 2007 and one of my favorite named wines, the Newsome-Harlow Sierra Foothills Dalton Vineyard The Donnor Party Zinfandel 2007.  Lavender Ridge poured two favorites, the Lavender Ridge Sierra Foothills Côtes du Calaveras 2007 and the Lavender Ridge Sierra Foothills Syrah 2007, again showing that Rhone varietals kick serious booty in Calaveras.  Lastly, Tanner weighed in with the most surprising wine of the trip, the Tanner Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007.  An AwesomeWK Cab from Calaveras?  You betcha.

The Twisted Oak - Calaveras CountyWith the quartet of Twisted Oak, Newsome-Harlow, Hatcher and Tanner leading the way, Calaveras County and Murphys should only continue to enjoy great success resulting from their historic town, their beautiful natural setting and of course, their top notch, elite wines.  Their challenge may become that of many a special wine region: keeping the growth and tourism to a manageable level so that the locals and the tourists can both enjoy these riches nestled against the mountains.

All of the wines that we tasted during those fantastic three days are listed below and tagged with PSWT6 for listing in your own WineLog…all 90+ of ’em!  A few of them received various WKBadges and those slapped with the requisite wine badge.  All of the photos from the trip can be found in their set on my Flickr and are also tagged with PSWT6Cheers!

Wines (PSWT6):

Chatom Vineyards (WineLog, Twitter):

Chatom Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Esmeralda Syrah 2005

Chatom Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Gitano Sangiovese 2005

Chatom Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Merlot 2005

Chatom Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2007

Chatom Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Semillon 2007

Chatom Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Touriga 2007

Chatom Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Zinfandel 2005

Hatcher Winery (WineLog):

NewWorldWK - WKBadges Hatcher Calaveras County Beckman Vineyard Zinfandel 2007

Color: Medium garnet

Nose: Plush and ripe Bing cherry and sweet tobacco…a great nose.

Palate: Full and still very bright with juicy raspberry and cherry. Char comes in towards the juicy and long raspberry finish. Very good with its dusty and dry tannins: NewWorldWK.

QPRWK - WKBadges Hatcher Calaveras County Cabernet Franc 2006

Color: Medium ruby

Nose: Great dusty red and black fruit medley with savory truffle underneath.

Palate: Good palate with rhubarb quickly moving into cherry and raspberry. Rose petal comes later in the bright, yet earthy finish. Good: QPRWK.

Hatcher Calaveras County Estate Zinfandel 2006

Hatcher Calaveras County Grenache 2006

Hatcher Calaveras County Quinn the Eskimo 2007

Hatcher Calaveras County Syrah 2006

Hatcher Calaveras County Viognier 2008

Hatcher Sierra Foothills Meritage 2006

Hatcher Sierra Foothills Sewell 2006

Irish Family Vineyards (WineLog):

Irish Family Vineyards Calaveras County Graciano 2007

OldWorldWK - WKBadges Irish Family Vineyards Calaveras County Rolleri Vineyards Tempranillo 2006

Color: Medium garnet

Nose: Spicy, peppery red fruit with some earthy black fruit underneath.

Palate: Dusty red fruit here, good, with earth, ripe blackberry, cassis and round dry tannins: OldWorldWK

QPRWK - WKBadges Irish Family Vineyards California Póg Mo Thóin Red Wine NV

Color: Dark violet with garnet edges

Nose: Spicy anise with black fruit, though black cherry pokes through with some savory notes.

Palate: Floral here, with great bright blue to red and then black spicy fruit. Good. Great balance of acid, char & tannins: QPRWK

Irish Family Vineyards California Viognier 2008

Irish Family Vineyards Clarksburg Chenin Blanc 2008

Irish Family Vineyards Lodi Alicante Bouschet 2007

Irish Family Vineyards Lodi Elk Vineyard Petite Sirah 2006

Irish Family Vineyards Lodi Malbec 2007

Irish Family Vineyards Sierra Foothills Barbera 2006

De Ireys Calaveras County Rolleri Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2006

Kilkenny California Red Wine NV

Ironstone Vineyards (WineLog, Twitter):

Ironstone Amador County Deaver Vineyard Reserve Zinfandel 2007

Ironstone California Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Ironstone California Merlot 2007

Ironstone California Verdelho 2007

Ironstone Lodi Cabernet Franc 2006

Ironstone Lodi Old Vine Reserve Zinfandel 2007

Ironstone Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel 2008

Ironstone Lodi Petite Sirah 2008

Ironstone Lodi Rous Vineyard Reserve Zinfandel 2007

KeeperWK - WKBadges Ironstone Sierra Foothills Reserve Cabernet Franc 2006

Color: Medium dark garnet, ruby edges

Nose: Fuller nose, great dusty black cherry, slight toast, cassis underneath

Palate: Bigger tannins here, needs time, ripe black cherry, blackberry and sweeter tobacco flavors with some char.

Ironstone Sierra Foothills Reserve Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Christine Andrew Lodi Malbec 2007

Christine Andrew Lodi Rosé of Malbec 2007

Lavender Ridge Vineyard (WineLog):

QPRWK - WKBadges Lavender Ridge Sierra Foothills Côtes du Calaveras 2007

Color: Ruby

Nose: Baking spice here as well, toast, candied cherries and more rhubarb

Palate: Again good acid and tannin balance, vanilla with cinnamon, cherry and juicy raspberry. Very fruit forward, great value: QPRWK

Lavender Ridge Sierra Foothills Granache Rosé 2008

Lavender Ridge Sierra Foothills Mourvèdre 2007

Lavender Ridge Sierra Foothills Petite Sirah 2007

Lavender Ridge Sierra Foothills Roussanne 2008

OldWorldWK - WKBadges Lavender Ridge Sierra Foothills Syrah 2007

Color: Ruby

Nose: Earthy and gamy, with good leather and black and blue fruit.

Palate: More earth here, dried garden herbs, some game here as well. Dried wile blackberry and oak in the juicer finish: OldWorldWK

Lavender Ridge Sierra Foothills Vin Doux 2008

Lavender Ridge Sierra Foothills Viognier 2008

Milliaire Winery (WineLog):

Milliaire Winery Amador County Clockspring Zinfandel Port 2005

Milliaire Winery Calaveras County Ghirardelli Zinfandel 2005

Milliaire Winery Calaveras County Old Vine Zinfandel 2005

Milliaire Winery Lodi Eagles Nest Petite Sirah 2007

Milliaire Winery Sierra Foothills Chardonnay 2008

Milliaire Winery Sierra Foothills Robert’s Cuvee Late Harvest Zinfandel 2005

Milliaire Winery Sierra Foothills Sparkling White Wine NV

Newsome-Harlow Wines (WineLog, Twitter):

NewWorldWK - WKBadges Newsome-Harlow Calaveras County El Portal 2007

Color: Dark, almost inky core with violet edges

Nose: Dark, muted nose in this young age. Good black fruit with new leather.

Palate: Full with very good balance of toast underlaying layers of black fruit and the dusty dry tannins. Good acid in the mouth and good new leather in the finish. Well done: NewWorldWK

Newsome-Harlow Calaveras County The Dash NV

Newsome-Harlow Calaveras County Trainwreck 2007

Newsome-Harlow Calaveras County Vineyard Select Series Big John Vineyard Big John’s Zinfandel 2007

NewWorldWK - WKBadges Newsome-Harlow Sierra Foothills Dalton Vineyard The Donnor Party Zinfandel 2007

Color: Brighter ruby

Nose: White peppery bramble, raspberry and blackberry fruit with a touch of dark chocolate.

Palate: Full and peppery here too with darker wild fruit and more of a brighter, ripe plum finish. Good: NewWorldWK

Newsome-Harlow Sierra Foothills Sauvignon Blanc 2008

Tanner Vineyards (WineLog):

Tanner Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Mélange de Mère 2006

Tanner Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Mourvèdre 2007

Tanner Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Petit Verdot 2006

AwesomeWK - WKBadges Tanner Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Color: Garnet core, ruby edges

Nose: Great black cherry, ripe cassis, forest floor and more savory notes.

Palate: Full bodied with firm round tannins, good acid with cocoa, lush cassis and cardamon underneath. A long black cherry finish ends this well-done wine and the best Cab that I’ve ever tasted from Calaveras County! AwesomeWK

Tanner Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Syrah 2007

Tanner Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Vermentino 2007

Tanner Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Vermentino-Viognier 2008

Twisted Oak Winery (WineLog, Twitter):

Twisted Oak Calaveras County Grenache 2006

Twisted Oak Calaveras County Parcel 17 2007

Twisted Oak Calaveras County Petite Sirah 2006

Twisted Oak Calaveras County Tanner Vineyard Syrah 2005

Twisted Oak Calaveras County Tempranillo 2005

OldWorldWK - WKBadges Twisted Oak Calaveras County The Spaniard 2007

Color: Medium ruby

Nose: Fruit is closed by great earth and dried cigar with some charred meat

Palate: Earth with game, charred black fruit, great acid and big round tannins into the long and intense black fruited finish. Good: OldWorldWK

Twisted Oak Calaveras County Viognier 2004

AwesomeWK - WKBadges Twisted Oak Calaveras County Viognier 2009

Color: Medium golden, good viscosity

Nose: Great. Big florals and bright peach, apricot, pear, chamomile, Meyer lemon.

Palate: Zippy yet full with all of the stone fruit and light citrus from the nose, then a wonderful crisp finish with lemon blossom. Outstanding already: AwesomeWK

Twisted Oak Sierra Foothills Marsanne 2004

Twisted Oak Sierra Foothills Ruben’s Blend 2007

Zucca Mountain Vineyards (WineLog, Twitter):

Zucca Mountain Vineyards Amador County Zinfandel 2007

Zucca Mountain Vineyards Calaveras County Barbera 2007

Zucca Mountain Vineyards Calaveras County Chardonnay 2007

Zucca Mountain Vineyards Calaveras County Grenache 2008

Zucca Mountain Vineyards Calaveras County Grenache Rosato 2008

Zucca Mountain Vineyards Calaveras County Sangiovese 2007

Zucca Mountain Vineyards Calaveras County Sorprendere 2006

Other Wines:

Solovino Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

QPRWK - WKBadges Etz Kamptal Austria GRÜNER Grüner Veltliner 2008

Color: Almost clear yellow

Nose: Big notes of zingy lemon, spicy pepper and some warmer tropical fruit notes.

Palate: Very zesty, with wonderful pepper lemon and citrus, followed by a more peach-pit finish. Quite good and an amazing value, especially in the 1L bottle: QPRWK

Jordan Winery: A 2010 Harvest Estate Stay

DSC06300Two weekends back, the Lady and I had the very fortunate experience of a tour, a tasting and an overnight stay at the breath-snatching estate of Jordan Vineyard & Winery (Twitter, WineLog) in Alexander Valley.  Blessed with a perfect harvest weekend of weather, we we able to visit courtesy of Communications Director (and photographer/videographer extraordinaire) Lisa Mattson.  After dropping off the Pug with the parents in Napa, we headed across the valleys in the brilliant morning sunshine.  The weather really was tremendous that weekend, sunny, a few puffy clouds and about 80 degrees at its peak.  I really had no idea what to expect for the next couple of days however, since the Jordan site didn’t really have a whole lot of information about the four suites or homes that were available for overnight visits.

Jordan Vineyard & WineryJordan Winery is a storied name in Alexander Valley, one of the best known areas for Cab in Sonoma County. Mr. Tom Jordan, a petroleum geologist, happened to make a significant amount of money in the 60’s and found the means to pursue another of his passions namely, fine French wines such as Bordeaux.  He spent a few years searching the whole of NorCal to find the perfect conditions for his own new world chateau.  in 1972 he found his ideal in the sleepy Alexander Valley, founding Jordan Vineyard on 275 acres with his wife Sally.  This founders’ day was rather auspicious as their son John Jordan was born the same day, who’s now the CEO! Two years later the winery was founded on a new plot of 1300 acres, nearby.  Not one to skimp on the details, Mr. Jordan hired the legend known as André Tchelistcheff as a consulting winemaker.  He quickly recommended a young scrub fresh out of UC Davis, my alma mater, to begin as the head winemaker for the young winery.  Then twenty-two year old Rob Davis has been the winemaker ever since, allowing Jordan the unusual luxury of all 34 years of their vintages to be contained within a single, jovial brain.

Jordan Estate SuiteJordan Estate SuiteWhile the Lady and I stayed as trade guests, the winery is actually a rather secluded estate with some unusually cool parts to their wine club.  One can only visit the winery by appointment, limited to a small number per day, up to a maximum of 12 guests per appointment.  The wine club is very innovative and works by a points system, almost like a credit card.  Jordan Estate Rewards (reward point levels are currently being re-evaluated and lowerd) points are granted with every purchase and once you save enough points, you can stay overnight at the estate, just like a trade guest. The rooms (and house!) are simply stunning…so much so that when Beth and I entered our suite, I let out an accidental “holy crap!”  It was easily 600+ sq ft, with the most amazing bronze bathtub, for which I will be ever tortured to find and buy for the Lady.  We were happy guests.

Taking in the Dilworth Cab - Jordan WineryClaire Holloway was our host and tour guide for the day and we met her along with two other trade guests from Benny’s Chop House in Chicago.  R Dilworth Vineyard delivery (by Dick, himself) - Jordan WineryWe got a great history lesson about the vineyard and winery underneath the slightly swaying trees, then headed off to the winery, all of which is contained within the original 5800 sq ft winery, built over 9 months back in 1976. Indeed, our rooms were attached to the side of that same building, which we could look up and see when we entered the barrel room.  Rob Davis, Jordan Winery harvest 2010Harvest was in full swing, with Rob and assistant winemakers Ronald Du Preez and Maggie Kruse taking in the last of the Cabernet Sauvignon for the day from grower (and delivery man, apparently) Dick Dillworth.  Dick had a great compliment for Rob, saying “one thing I like about Rob: he’s hands-on. That shows a good winemaker.”  We saw just as much ourselves, especially during a very interesting and long chat with Rob while we relaxed on the expansive patio in the evening sunshine after the tour.  He had all of the vineyard maps still in his pocket from his early morning visits, many hours previous.  Despite this hands-on approach, all of the staff were more than happy to stop their activities and talk with us about their work and answer my copious questions.  It was a very unique experience…we’re usually kept far away from the working winery during the craziness of harvest.

Jordan Winery barrel roomFollowing a barrel room tour (hello up there, room!), we headed back into the inner part of the winery for sit down tasting and amuse-bouche pairing, courtesy of estate Executive Chef, Todd Knoll.  After examining the many finds in the sitting room, we headed through a secret door (seriously!) into the wine cellar to taste the vino.  Jordan makes only a Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon each year, preferring the perfect the fruit and resulting wines continuously each year, rather than branch out with a number of different wines.  We tasted the latest releases, the ’08 Russian River Valley Chardonnay and the ’06 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  In addition, we were able to try a back vintage just now coming into its own, the ’03 Alexander Valley Cab.

All of the wines displayed a very distinct house style of elegance, balance and restrained power.  These were not huge California wines, but had more of an Old World beauty to them, yet still contained ample fruit to counter the fine tannin and juicy acidity and minerality that I tasted.  The ’08 Chardonnay was particularly good, forcing me to slap a AwesomeWK badge on it and proclaim amazing.  It was filled with great citrus fruit and acidity, slight cream and a very cool salty finish; I loved this wine.  To my relief and excitement, these wines are also very reasonably priced for their quality: $29 for the Chard and $52 for the Cab, upon release.

The rest of the evening and night was filled with relaxation, good wine courtesy of our new friends from Chicago in the Jordan guest house and an outstanding meal in downtown Healdsburg at Barndiva (recommended by Jordan security wiz, Rob).  The locavore menu there features a number of tasty and innovative dishes alongside some outstanding service.  They’re wine list is very reasonable with pricing and featured quite a few tasty selections that I wish I’d had more time to explore.  We enjoyed a very interesting sparkler from German house Solter (called a Sekt) and a not so memorable bottle of bubbly from Iron Horse Vineyard. Check out a video of our delicious peacefulness that evening, below!


A very big thank you must go out to Lisa, Claire, Rob, Todd and all of the wonderful staff at Jordan.  Their hospitality was very generous and the tour was one of the best and most educational experiences that I’ve yet had a winery.  All of the pictures and videos from our visit are found on my Flickr.  The wines from that weekend have been tagged with “JordanEstate2010” so that you can list them in your own WineLog.  Some of these wines even grabbed a vaunted WKBadge.  Cheers!

Jordan Vineyard & Winery:

#WKBadges - AwesomeWKJordan Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2008

Color: Medium gold, very clear

Nose: Great lemon zest, with an underlay of slightest brioche, slight salt and a more minor citrus to add complexity.

Palate: Zesty and yet very silky mouthfeel. A wonderful lasting finish, with some great minerality and more of that light salt. Extremely good.

#WKBadges - OldWorldWKJordan Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2003

Color: medium garnet, garnet edges

Nose: Juicy black cherry, fresh anise, cardamon, earth, wet, savory herbs. Wonderful complexity, along with slight new leather on the rim.

Palate: Medium full, with wonderful power-silk tannins, great acidity. Black and Bing cherry, alongside darkest chocolate. Anise here but more dried, raspberry and chocolate, dried blackberry, good long and smooth finish.

Jordan Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006


#WKBadges - QPRWKSolter Rheingeau Spätburgunder Sekt Brut Rosé NV

Color: Golden, with a very fine bead and robust mousse

Nose: Very raisined, with some slight brighter citrus trying to poke through, but the fruit tastes like it was picked way too late.

Palate: Very overripe, with middling acidity and dried lemon and white raisins.  Unsure if this was actually a bad bottle, just tastes like very overripe fruit.

Iron Horse Green Valley Estate Bottled Wedding Cuvee 2004

Wild Horse Dinner with Winemaker Clay Brock

Wild Horse Winery & VineyardsI’ve been a fan of the good value found in third label wines of Wild Horse Winery & Vineyards for some time now.  Their baseline Wild Horse line of wines are always a good bet for high QPR every vintage, particularly the widely available Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  I had yet to ever try their two high end labels however, so when I was invited to have dinner with their Director of Winemaking and taste through their top wines at the tasty Local Kitchen in San Francisco, I jumped on BART and headed over.

2005 Wild Horse 2007 Cienega Valley Calleri Vineyard NegretteWild Horse actually started out in 1981 as a senior project by original founder Kenneth Volk (now manning his own eponymous winery).  It was named for the wild mustangs that lived in the hills east of the winery and over the years has grown substantially.  It now encompasses three different sub-labels and many a wine within each, including rare varietals such as Blaufrankisch, Negrette and Malvasia Bianca, though only as winery exclusive releases.  Wild Horse also has a 50 variety heirloom tomato garden on site, one of the many areas of the estate that are fiercely guarded by Floyd the Lllama.  Wild Horse embraces the creative challenge that the multitudes of soil, climate and overall terroir give to winemaking across the large and diverse Central Coast appellation.

Local Kitchen and Wine MerchantI arrived at Local Kitchen with the expectation of another great wine and food event.  I’d attended previously for the great TasteLive Elderton Estate tasting a few months back, put on by JJ Buckley. Their multitude of small plates and super-fresh ingredients make for some outstanding wine pairings, perfect for their own substantial wine list and unique wine merchant.  I turned left into the grand private room that doubles as a daily wine cellar for Local and greeted Tia Butts (Twitter) from Benson Marketing and Alicia Laury from Constellation Brands.  Next to them was my good friend, the unsuppressable Thea Dwelle (Twitter) of Luscious Lushes.  Once we said our hellos, the guest of honor for the evening, Clay Brock, stepped back into the room.  Clay is of medium height and with short-cropped hair.  His quiet demeanor and welcoming face belied his jovial personae, but hid the quick wit that I was to happily discover later in the evening.

Clay Brock - Wild Horse WineryOnce our last guest arrived, Katie Sweeney (Twitter) from YumSugar, we sat down to go through the wines once before having them with the tasty small plates found on Local’s delish menu.  Previous to this dinner, I was already well-versed in Wild Horse’s value line of wines.  Indeed, as I mentioned earlier, they have always been a solid goto for me when I needed a good value wine to recommend to family and friends.  I was quite excited to try their Unbridled cadre of vino, which is a higher quality, sometimes single vineyard-level tier of wines.  Despite this significant bump in quality, I still found these wines contain quite a nice level of QPR, continuing the trend that I find with their base level of wines.  Standing on top of the Unbridled wines are what Clay and Wild Horse consider their finest wine, the Cheval Sauvage, a much more new world, full-bodied style of Pinot that shows a good appreciation of depth and complexity.

Wild Horse @ Local KitchenClay already had a successful wine-making career prior to arriving at Wild Horse in 2008.  He grew up in Napa Valley and worked summers at Christian Brothers.  Clay then continued his career after college, marriage and dalliances in other industries with a stint at Corbett Canyon Winery.  Further stops at renown wineries of Ken Brown and Byron Winery led him to the winemaker position at Edna Valley Vineyards and further work at the famed Zaca Mesa Winery. Despite such a successful career, he’s most excited about his position at Wild Horse.  As Director, he can do “whatever [he] wants.”  If he feels he needs to check one of his many vineyards…he can; or he can take a long day in the lab at the winery. He loves the Central Coast for it’s multitude of climates and terroirs, allowing him to make virtually any wine that he chooses, from their varied fruit sources.  If he had his druthers though, he’d love to make a boutique, high end Grenache in Napa, where he feels that varietal might really excel.

Wild Horse Winery @ Local KitchenEven with the price point jumps that you get in the Unbridled and the peak at Cheval Sauvage, I can’t help but still feel that these wines deliver at every price point.  We were quite taken with by the 2008 Wild Horse Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Vineyard Unbridled Chardonnay and the 2007 Wild Horse Santa Barbara County Unbridled Pinot Noir 2007.  Both featured the great balance and mouthfeel that I look for in a wine (I’m not sure how many times I can type that!) and also have a great depth of fruit.  The ’06 Cheval Sauvage, while bigger than I usually like in my Pinot, still kept some cooler flavors of rhubarb, spice and good acidity and earthiness.  It was a fun evening of exploration through these Wild Horse wines and the tasty Local Kitchen fare.  A big thank you to Clay, Tia and Alicia for an interesting look at the wines of the Central Coast.

All of the Wild Horse wines that we tasted with Clay that night are listed below using our awesome new WineLog WordPress Plugin and tagged with “WildHorse2010Dinner“.  Go out and try these wines for yourself and then come back and tell me what you think!

[winelist query=”WildHorse2010Dinner” num=”100″]