#OleWinos Final Day: Tilenus/Estefanía & the little #wine valley that could

IMG_5408The final day of our brilliant #OleWinos trip was spent in a little appellation in the northern part of Spain, tucked in between still snowy mountains (if only we had that snow and rain in California!): DO Bierzo (WL, FB, Tw). Our group was finishing up our stay across Spain, hosted by high end #wine group MGWines Group (WL, FB, Tw), in the small, but lovely & ancient, Roman-era town of Ponferrada.  It was here that we would visit the previously known property of Bodegas Estafanía (WL, FB), now known better by its main label, Tilenus. Named for the Celtic god, later appropriated by the Romans for their own Mars god of war, their label features a Roman coin that was once found in their very old vine vineyards. It is those very vineyards that sparked an image of ancientness themselves in my mind, with their Dantesque vine-hands reaching towards the sky, during our soggy visit to their longtime home.

More details after the leap!


MGWines Group’s very old vine vineyard in DO Bierzo, part of their Bodegas Estefanía Tilenus estate. #OleWinos

The Bierzo DO is made up of a lot of ancient, family-owned vineyard properties that have a similar Napoleonic inheritance process as Burgundy: each property is split into equal portions following the inheritance of the next generation.  This results in a lot of small vineyards that still sit right next to each other.  As such, MGWines sources fruit from both their own properties, as well as very select, old vine neighboring properties that share some of the same characteristics as their own estate vineyards, such as soil and vine age. Depending on how close you are to the mountains in the Bierzo valley, you will find sandy soil sitting on top of clay or slate.  This has contributed to the lengthy life of these vines, as they have avoided the phylloxera plight of most of European vines, being protected by the mountains and in some cases, sandier soil.  It is quite common to come across a head-trained, gnarly row of dry-farmed vines that were planted 60-110 years ago.  These elderly vines produce a small amount of fruit, but it grows into tight, small berries with plenty of flavor concentration, savory characteristics and deep minerality.  And the vines of Bierzo are almost entirely of one grape: mencía.

Relief of the Roman coin of Bodegas Estefanía & Tilenus. #OleWinos MGWines Group

Relief of the Roman coin of Bodegas Estefanía & Tilenus. #OleWinos MGWines Group

Bodegas Estefanía is yet another beautiful jewel in the stable of MGWines Group.  Originally founded by the local Frias family in 1999 in a former creamery, MGWines Group purchased the property last year and kept on our host, Pablo Frias as General Manager.  Pablo is a stylish and tall Spaniard, dressed comfortably in a semi-hipster fashion, yet still functional for the winery work environment in which he’s developed his career.  He is very well-versed in the property and its wines, and a wonderful, soft-spoken, well-humored ambassador for the brand.

The winery has received extensive restoration and remodeling since its old days as a creamery.  Clean, stylistic wood and concrete modern Spanish design still maintains the painstaking utility to produce minimally-handled fine wines, as seen at all MGWines’ properties.  Gravity flow is enforced here as well, where they also hold onto their wines for 3-4 years before release in their “sleeping room” racked cellar. Once told by the then Bierzo Coop head winemaker that mencía would never make a fine, single varietal wine, Pablo’s father and uncle are now respected leaders of the mencía monovarietal movement that has been taking Bierzo and Scandinavia by storm, not to mention the US if you can find their wines. Twenty wineries in the DO ten years ago have now expanded to 72 wineries, as of March 2015, all focused mainly on mencía and the lone white in the Group, godello.

The #OleWinos Tilenus #wine lineup! MGWines Group

The #OleWinos Tilenus #wine lineup! MGWines Group

Mencía, despite appearances after 4+ years of aging, is an extremely ageable grape variety. Many of the wines that I enjoyed below, as evidenced by the many WKBadges given out, showed color aging as early as the 2011’s.  In some ways they reminded me of garnacha, including it’s medium weight and acidity.  Yet, these wines feature a lot more savory complexity than many garnacha, along with their shared floral notes, and mixed mainly red fruits that complement their good acidity.  Mencía does have a slightly smoother mouthfeel and fuller tannin, however.  Based on our historical tasting of wines from the property, even the Tilenus Bierzo Godello can age well, not just their well-priced mencía varietal wines, at all price categories.  Seek these Tilenus wines, and all Bierzo DO vino, near you, they are worth the affordable price!

IMG_5239 - Version 2A giant thank you goes out to our hosts, MGWines Group and Kraynick Consulting.  You can find all of our #OleWinos content on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The photos are posted at the #Vinopanion Facebook page and the wines reviews at WineLog. You can read the MGWines Group blog post about our trip at their site, as well.

Wines tasted during our #OleWinos visit to Bodegas Estafanía Tilenus (WL, FB):

Tilenus Bierzo Godello 2013

Tilenus Bierzo Vendimia Roble Mencia 2014

QPRWK - WKBadgesTilenus Bierzo Crianza Mencia 2011

Color: Dark garnet in the core, with garnet on the edges as well, slight brick.

Nose: Good earthy & meaty nose here, with all dark black fruit and flinty toasted notes.

Palate: Very nice smooth and full mouthfeel here, then cherry liqueur comes in, deep and ripe. Flinty, floral oak comes in towards the good and long finish that is more savory and with finer tannin and great acidity: QPRWK.

Tilenus Bierzo Crianza Mencia 2010

Tilenus Bierzo Crianza Mencia 2008

Tilenus Bierzo La Florida Mencia 2008

KeeperWK - WKBadgesTilenus Bierzo Pagos de Posada Mencia 2006

Color: Darker garnet in the core, garnet edges.

Nose: Big ripe black and red plum, graham cracker, light toast and flinty earth.

Palate: Big mouth here, more coating tannin, then all of that ripe plummy fruit arrives, with more toasted graham into the full, toasted, powerful finish, with more tannin: KeeperWK.

KeeperWK - WKBadgesTilenus Bierzo Pieros Mencia 2006

Color: Very dark rust colored sediment core, rust edges.

Nose: Huge black plum here, with some raisin and mocha aromas.

Palate: Big juicy plum here as well, distinct pencil lead and flinty earth, with cocoa and big tannin structure. Cocoa into finish with some sweeter toast as well. Continues to open with air, and gain forest floor: KeeperWK.


San Francisco Vintners Market 5 Comes Alive! (Big Discount!)

I attend a large number wine events.  That might even be an understatement, to which my fine readers can attest!  Thus, I feel that it’s saying something to describe an upcoming wine event as one of my favorite series of wine events, ever.  The San Francisco Vintners Market (Twitter, Facebook, WineLog) wine tastings are those exact events: totally fun, onsite wine purchasing available, and of course, fantastic wines to taste in unlimited amounts.  And lucky readers, for round 5 (DING) of the #SFVM, I now have a fat discount so you cats can partake!

One reason, besides the many that I just poured out above, that I love these events so much is the number of new wineries that I discover each time we attend.  We always get the VIP tickets in order to get access to the Reserve Room, where we taste bottles of wine that most normal humans can never afford (without the event discounts to buy onsite, of course 😉 ). One great discovery that we’ve made has been the small family winery Sciandri Family Vineyards (Twitter, Facebook, WineLog), they of the newly formed Coombsville AVA in southern Napa Valley.  Big, but balanced Cabs come out of this producer, as does some big and warm, family hospitality.

All of this doesn’t even include the awesome gourmet bites and sponsors that you can also check out, while swirling some good stuff around in your keepsake logo glass.  Lastly, get your learn on and chat with some of the many winemakers that are actually in attendance and pouring their work, a rarity for events of this size.  So join us next month, at the next SF Vintners.  Enter the code “VINOPANION” for a nifty 50% off of your tickets, or just follow the links below.  Cheers!

What: San Francisco Vintners Market – Spring Time In The City
When: April 14th & 15th
Where: Fort Mason Center, Festival Pavilion, San Francisco, CA
General Admission: $80.00 (Includes all wines except Reserve Room)
Reserve Admission: $100 (Includes Reserve Room access to wines priced at $50 per bottle or higher)

Times: Trade tasting 12pm – 1pm Saturday & Sunday (RETAIL WINE BUYERS AND MEDIA ONLY)
General Admission: 1pm – 4pm Saturday & Sunday
Reserve Room Access: 12pm – 4pm Saturday & Sunday


Click below for tickets at a 50% discount:



Wines tasted at SF Vintners Market (Twitter, Facebook, WineLog) events:

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

#MFITV: 2011 Harvest Thoughts & the Quiet Winery

The 2011 Harvest is done.  It has actually been done for the Northern California wine industry for a few weeks, but I needed those weeks to digest all that I have experienced (and re-acclimate to my previous life), before I was ready to write this final post for Man Falls in the Vines#MFITV. Harvest is such a compressed, intense experience. It has proven to be hard for me to sum up in a somewhat, year-end post.  Despite such difficulties, I was able to complete my harvest insider feature article for the January edition of Mutineer Magazine, as well as their brand new Mutineer Magazine Beverage Trade Edition, also debuting in January.  All of this experience, hard work, and camaraderie demand applause and to be forever thanked for, however.  And after the jump, you will see all of the new (and one old) vinopanions that I made during those six weeks in Stags Leap, Napa at Chimney Rock Winery (Twitter, Facebook, WineLog).

Harvest at the Rock was a tremendous learning experience.  I feel as though I only knew a tiny bit about wine before embarking on my MFITV adventure.  Indeed, I only knew (some) of the consumer side of the story, 50% of the vinoquation (though I’ve got the imbibing part covered).  Once I began working in the winery and occasionally in the vineyards, I realized that I didn’t know hardly anything about the intricacies and craft needed to make a fine wine.  Each day was, at times, overwhelming with the large and small winemaking concepts that I was learning.  I eagerly accepted all of these new physical, mechanical, and intellectual learnings, with a giddiness that might have seemed a bit over the top I’d imagine, for my fellow talented cellarmates. I greatly enjoyed the physical labor aspects of the job, something that I rarely experience while researching cancer therapeutics in my day job.  I dropped 9 pounds and took a healthy 46 point chunk out of my cholesterol level, and gained quite a bit of upper body strength and muscle. Yet the best part of this entire wine adventure, as it always is for wine and myself, were the people and the relationships that I made and strengthened.

All of my fellow winery workers are crazy talented, beautiful, and deeply cultured and passionate wine workers.  I can’t thank them enough for willful sharing with me their knowledge, stories, passion, and most of patience, while I worked alongside them during the challenging and rewarding 2011 grape harvest.  Listed below are their photos and below that I have put together a short slideshow of some of my favorite photos that were taken during crush.  At the end of the video is a clip of the quiet winery, almost slumbering at the end of harvest.  The quiet that evening was almost shocking in its silence.  Thank you, Chimney Rock Winery.

Eddie Lona, Cellarmaster. The winery and cellar team are helmed by Eddie, who keeps us all in check and function with the appropriate attention to detail, all still with a sense of independence.

Doris Garrido, Cellarworker. A delightfully intuitive Latina with incredible strength built into someone so superficially small in stature.

Leo Almanza, Cellarworker. The papa bear with a penchant for asking any and all if everything was okay during a quiet moment.

Cindy Cosco, Cellarworker. An ex-law enforcement officer and already an accomplished winemaker for her own Passaggio Wines, working harvest to get a better grasp of red winemaking techniques

Rafa Alfaro, Cellarworker. The youngest of our group and a beacon of enthusiastic smiles and laughs

Jorge Leon, Cellarworker. The man from whom I learned the most in the winery, his advice delivered in a lighthearted, conversational way

Doug Fletcher, Vice President of Winemaking at Terlato Wine Group and former winemaker for the Rock, contributes his decades of wine experience, which have translated into some of the most innovative vineyard practices in the Valley.

Jeff van de Pol, Assistant Winemaker. A gruffer, mountain-man persona, yet willing to give his everything to anyone that shares his passion for the vine and its wine.

Elizabeth Vianna, Head Winemaker and General Manager. Elizabeth exudes the kindness and warmth of a den mother, filled with positivity and a measured excitement for all things wine and crush.




Follow all of my adventures during that crazy sabbradical, by keeping up to date here at Vinopanion and by following the #MFITV hashtag on Twitter. You can find even more content by checking out my Facebook.  The project also has it’s own photo albums on said Facebook, as well as on my Flickr.  Lastly, all of the videos are being posted at my YouTube channel.  Don’t be shy, I’ll add you to any profiles. ;-)

As a reminder, week 1 was detailed in my intro post, weeks 2 and 3 covered in my second post, and weeks 5 and 6 were detailed in my previous #MFITV post.  Lastly, my feature article about #Harvest2011 debuts in Mutineer Magazine and in the new Mutineer Magazine Beverage Trade Edition in their January/Febuary issues. Check them out and let me know if you have any harvest questions.  Cheers and a happy New Year to all!

#MFITV: Draining, Digging, & Barreling Down

The heart of the Harvest season can be a surreal and crazy time.  Yes, of course I guess, it’s crazy when you have a ton of things going on at once, including actual tons of ripe fruit to process and 15+ hour days dragging down your health.  Indeed, I was sick twice during weeks 4 through 6 at the Rock for Man Falls in the Vines#MFITV, with the entire Chimney Rock Winery (Twitter, Facebook, WineLog) crew coming down with something, at some point. Crush isn’t easy, that is known the industry over, but I was happy to see that I persevered along with everyone else (who are all harvest veterans) and learned quite a bit about what it was to work some of the most taxing parts of the harvest: digging out the fermentation tanks after barreling off our new free-run wine.

One of the things has also continually been of interest to me during this project has been the interesting mix of old and new technology at Chimney Rock.  Like most wineries that have been around as long as the Rock, they have a mashup of equipment that has been bought over the last 20 some-odd years, some of it even brought in as others joined the team.  A great example is the dichotomy between the equipment we use to measure the alcohol level of a finished wine and another set that we use to gas our tanks. An ebulliometer measures the alcohol content in a wine by using a simple boiling assay, to take the boiling point of a particular lot of wine, after first calibrating the machine by boiling distilled water. You then compare the lowered boiling point of a liquid mixture containing alcohol to get the final percent alcohol in the wine.  Ours is French, like most, and looks like it was a few decades away from being new in the ’50’s, much less now.  Very cool.

Most red wines undergo a process called maceration, following the completion of the primary, or alcoholic, fermentation.  This means that the new wine sits in the tank with the skins and seeds and other physical matter left from the now spent grapes.  This allows for further extraction of color, tannin, flavors and aromas in the finished wine.  While this is happening over days or weeks, we need to make sure that no contamination takes place inside the tank, by bacterial growth or other contaminating microflora.  To do this we gas the free headspace in the tank with an inert gas, one that will displace any oxygen found in the tank (during fermentation this happens naturally with the CO2 that is released by the happy yeast).  It can be expensive to use rented argon or nitrogen tanks to do this, so Chimney Rock has made the wise investment in a permanent nitrogen generator.  This is then hooked up to our gas piping system connected to each tank in the winery and it works much of the day, gassing any tanks open to the system.  Our generator is state-of-the-art, and is actually something pretty new and novel to have in the wine business, and its newness contrasts interestingly with the old school ebulliometer.



Digging out tanks towards the end of harvest is a right of passage for any cellar worker.  I had my own right of passage a few times this harvest, but with the sharing of the grape loads that goes around at the winery, I only had two large tank digging experiences.  It’s extremely hard work and a doozy on your back.  Basically, there are literally, tons of grapes that are loaded into a stainless steel tank to ferment and finish primary fermentation before being drained off and barreled down to age.  The resulting grape must, a mixture of remaining wine, grape skins seeds and other matter, needs to be dug out of said tank to be sent to the press to be pressed off.  My largest tank this year was also the winery’s largest lot of wine; 18.5 tons of grapes fermented in that tank.  Taking a rough estimate of the percent remaining matter in the tank, as estimated by ETS one of the winery’s oenological lab test providers, about 40% of that original tonnage was still remaining.  This means that I dug out between 6-7 tons of must over the course of 50 minutes!  Whew.  You can see my first tank experience in the video above, hilariously narrated by Jeff van de Pol, Assistant Winemaker for the Rock.

Follow all of my adventures during that crazy sabbradical, by keeping up to date here at Vinopanion and by following the #MFITV hashtag on Twitter. You can find even more content by checking out my Facebook.  The project also has it’s own photo albums on said Facebook, as well as on my Flickr.  Lastly, all of the videos are being posted at my YouTube channel.  Don’t be shy, I’ll add you to any profiles. 😉

As a reminder, week 1 was detailed in my intro post, with weeks 2 and 3 covered in my second post.  Check them out and let me know if you have any #Harvest2011 questions.  Cheers!

#MFITV – The Fruit Gets Done

Weeks 2 and 3 of Man Falls in the Vines began super busy at the winery, but finished with the quietness of fermenting tanks.  I have already talked of the craziness of Week 1 for #MFITV, when we brought in a good 150 tons of super premium Stags Leap District Bordeaux varieties.  The last two weeks saw all of the rest of that fruit come in, all of it Cabernet Sauvignon, the heart blood of the Chimney Rock Winery (Twitter, Facebook, WineLog) wines.  Our days were definitely long, particularly the last two, where we had two more days of bringing in at least 70 tons of fruit.  The last of the lots of Cabernet were completed on 10/27/11 with a healthy roar of relief by the vineyard and cellar crews, and capped off by a raucous bin dive by Jeff in the last ton of fruit.  I was in the north barrel room doing my morning ferm monitoring, so I’m still bitter that I missed his swan dive.  My bitterness was sweetened however, when Jeff discovered that grapes can really go everywhere and anywhere, when hit at high speed!

My activities at the winery continue to expand, with new educational experiences seemingly every hour on some days.  I got my turn cleaning out the press, fortunately on a warm afternoon in the valley.  I’ve heard horror stories about this task, but if the weather is warm, it’s not too bad to crawl into that huge cylinder and shoot some water for 40 minutes to get it clean.  Cold weather?  Well, that would be a different story. We are continuing to press out lots of new, primary fermented wine however, so I’m sure that I will have a chance to freeze my ass off, soaking wet with water, wine and pomace. 🙂

A Brazilian TV show made another day at the Rock get filled with a little more chaos and interest.  Planeta Brasil is a very popular Brazilian program that documents ex-pats that work abroad, outside of Brazil.  Elizabeth is Brazilian and with the romance that comes with wine, it was a no brainer to feature her in one of their upcoming episodes.  They spent a few days at the winery, filming much of her activities in the cellar and out in the vineyards.  It was cute to see someone as modest and self-effacing as Elizabeth still try to please the producers and hosts with all of their interview and shot requests.

Despite the plethora of fantastic learning experiences here at the Rock, I only briefly mentioned one of my favorite winemaking tasks in my first #MFITV post. The primary fermentation that is needed to make wine is done by yeast, of course.  It is one of the most important activities that need to be done correctly in order for a lot of grape must to be converted into wine.  And it is not as easy as one might think to inoculate 18.27 tons (original grape tonnage) of must with the proper yeast.  First of all, the must might come into the winery off of the crushpad in the morning at a cool 48F.  Unfortunately, the nutrients that the yeast need to begin fermentation are only activated at 110F, while the yeast can only be combined with the nutrients and enzymes at between 100F – 104F.  All of this requires water that needs to be at that 110F +/- 1 degree, using a dual hose water system in a winery that is constantly in flux.  Whew.  So you finally get the water to 110, pour in 22 gallons, add in the nutrients and wait 10min, following stirring.  Then you check the temp, add some must from the tank to cool it down a bit, to that proper yeast range and add the yeast.  Wait 15m.  Now you need to get that nutrient/yeast/must combo to within about 13F from the temperature of the must sitting in the tank…at 48F. :-0  Basically, you step down about 13F by adding must to cool the yeast combo, leaving 10m incubation time before each cooling.  Step down too much, well, the yeast die, you lose that must and you have to start all over.  Ouch!  Once you get the hang of it after a couple tries it can be soothing, but prior to that: STRESS.  If I screw up a yeast inoculation, I could seriously compromise a whole entire lot of wine.  Yet, I have found that there’s nothing like seeing the bubbling of happy yeast as they get down to temp, ready to turn must into wine.  Indeed, I have put together a video that you can view below, chronicling the adventure of grapes hitting the crushpad, all the way through that happy inoculation.


It’s been very nice to see a ton of wine friends and associates while in the valley, and to have the chance to hit up many of the super-rad wine events that are hitting the calendar.  One of these was particularly special and unique, the VinTank VIP Concert featuring The Parlotones at the Napa Valley Opera House.  Co-sponsored with VinTank (Twitter, Facebook) partner WineTasting.com (Twitter, Facebook), this was a fantastic intersection between a highly talented group of musicians, the US launch of one of the bands’ new wine label and a beautiful mix of great people and a regal venue.  While I missed the opening band, Johnny Hi-Fi (Twitter, Facebook), I was able to get from the Rock in time to catch the headliner, The Parlotones (Twitter, Facebook, WineLog).  Incredibly popular in their native South Africa, selling out stadium tours, the band has yet to really hit the US shores.  They are extremely tight musicians, creating very earnest, clean, and emotional rock in the vein of Keane or Coldplay.  I hadn’t know about them prior to the show announcement, so following an earful of research on Spotify, I was pleased to be able to catch the show and a great show it was.  The band is also a group of wine lovers and true to their creative spirit they decided to create a wine label to complement their music, a synergy to which I can attest.  For The Parlotones Wine, they took finished wine from all over South Africa and spent a wonderfully harrowing 14 days tasting through them to create their first two blends: the white named after their hit track “Push Me to the Floor” and the red entitled “Giant Mistake,” another fine choon from their latest studio release, Stardust Galaxies.  While I only had time for a brief taste of the the white, I received a sample bottle of the 2009 The Parlotones Coastal Region Giant Mistake Red Blend.  The wine is an interesting mix of of a number of red varietals, including South Africa’s flagship, Pinotage.  With toasty and slightly sweeter black fruit in the nose and the palate, this wine shows lighter tannins in the mouth and a black cherry and toasty finish.  It’s a solid drinker for the roughly ~$12 that you’ll find it here in the US.  It fit right in at my sister’s BBQ that attended one stormy night, a few days after the show and added another bit of fun to my Man Falls in the Vines#MFITV 2011 harvest experience.

Follow all of my adventures during this crazy sabbradical, by keeping up to date here at Vinopanion and following the #MFITV hashtag on Twitter, as well as all of the content that I’m pushing to Facebook.  The project also has it’s own photo albums on Facebook and Flickr.  Lastly, all of the videos are being posted at my YouTube channel.  Week 1 was detailed in my intro post.  Don’t be shy, I’ll add you to any profiles!

Wines by The Parlotones (Twitter, Facebook, WineLog):

[winelist query=”The%20Parlotones&order=year+desc” num=”20″]