Sunday, July 29, 2018

Team at Rudd Oakville Estate Ups Its Game: Organic Vines, Stunning Wines

Thousands and thousands of sunflowers line the road, summer's golden glory on display. Beside them, sheep graze (year round), amidst vast green swirls of sorghum. A very big American flag on a tall pole waves in the breeze. Could this really be Napa? Oakville?

Right there in plain view lies one of the valley's treasures, created by a successful and magnanimous man who had a vision, an empire and a long term view.

It was Leslie Rudd's dream - from the start - to have a multigenerational family winery. A trip to Haut Brion at age 21 inspired him to think in generational terms. With his death in May of this year (from esophageal cancer), his dream has become a reality as his daughter Samantha Rudd, 30, and the mother of a new baby (named Rudd), now takes over the reigns of the family's Oakville estate winery (purchased by Rudd in 1996).

Leslie Rudd, a successful businessman, got into the distribution business at an early age in Wichita, where he expanded from his family's business into regions far beyond Kansas. Over the course of his lifetime, he bought and sold food and wine companies, creating an empire.

His businesses included the upscale grocer Dean & DeLuca, the 30 brand wine company Vintage Wine Estates, a kosher winery (Covenant Winery, which he kickstarted), and other ventures.

Rudd originally purchased the property that became Rudd Oakville Esate in 1996 when it was called the Girard Winery (a brand Vintage Wine Estates has recently relaunched).

Dedicated to preserving Napa's history, he also restored Edge Hill, (video), planting a new vineyard there with a field blend of varietals from the past, restored and reopened Oakville Grocery, and launched PRESS Napa Valley restaurant, an eatery with a wine list emphasizing glorious, older vintages of Napa Valley wines.

He was unique, even among Napa Valley's business community, in his passion for the past.

He also funded he Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone and his own Rudd Foundation, providing scholarships in Kansas, support for Jewish charities, and the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at UConn.

When he became ill two years ago, he officially passed the baton to his daughter Samantha.


A new direction had already begun by then, with the decision, in 2011 to move toward organic farming and certification and new staff. In 2013 Rudd hired a new Bordeaux trained winemaker - Frederick Ammons - and a year later a new vineyard manager - Macy Stubstad, who graduated from Cornell in viticulture. (She is also one of the organizers of the Organic Winegrowing Conference put on by the Napa Valley Grapegrowers).  The vineyard was converted starting in 2015 and then completed certification in 2018 in Oakville and 2017 on Mount Veeder.

The winery ended its contracts with outside vineyard management companies and started farming solely with an in house crew of 15 that is employed year round (health care and other benefits are included). Stubstad teaches pruning to the crew. "How we prune is the most important stage of the year," she said.

"By integrating the farming, we went from being an estate vineyard - farmed by a vineyard management company - to being an estate winery," said Ammons.

"The wines have only gotten better...We can pick earlier, and there is better balance between sugar/acid ripeness and phenolic ripeness," he continued. "The vines are more balanced...The wines are fresher, with a little bit lower alcohol."

On top of that, there was the organic direction. "Going organic was a no brainer and quite easy," he said.

The team's collaborations are starting to bear fruit in the current releases from the 2014 vintages (and future vintages as well).


Rudd Oakville Estate has 47 acres of planted vines (at the intersection of the Oakville Cross Road and Silverado Trail, on a 55 acre parcel). This part of Oakville could be described as the Beverly Hills of Napa vineyards. Rudd's neighbors are Plumpjack, Dalla Valle, Bond St. Eden and Screaming Eagle. 

Purchased in 1998, Rudd's Mount Veeder estate consists of 17 acres of vines plus Rudd Farm. White and red Bordeaux grapes are planted here. The vegetables go to PRESS Napa Valley, a Rudd restaurant next to Dean and Deluca in St. Helena.

The decision to not only farm the vineyard organically but also become certified was made, according to Ammons, "to show that the winery is really doing it."

The two sites give Ammons a big toolbox to play with, along with new winemaking tools he brought into the winery.

Vine age is also contributing to wine quality, as most of the Oakville vines are now 20-21 years old, an age when Cabernet vines start to express themselves more fully.

In the vineyards, life really changed when the winery got a new Clemens [a type of plow], said Stubstad. "It was a game changer," she said. Stubstad had the Clemens retrofitted to be two-sided, meaning one pass can trim the weeds on both sides of the row, reducing compaction. (Rudd's vine spacing is 4 by 4 with a high density of 2,700 vines per acre.)

"Our tolerance changed, too," she said. "A weed by a trunk is not the end of the world."

Macy Stubstad, vineyard manager at Rudd, with her sheep and sorghum;
some of the land is allowed to lie fallow to replenish itself, a sign of
more patient and generous farming practices 
The winery was also able to cut down on the number of sprays by more than 75% after implementing spore monitoring and tracking conditions more carefully.

"We used to go by the label rates, which say spray every 7-10 days," Stubstad said. (Vineyard management companies also get paid by the number of sprays). "But we started to realize that there was so much less mildew pressure than we used to think." Spraying decreased from 13-14 per year to 3-4 per year, she said.

"We've stopped using fertilizer - we haven't use any for three years now. We use home brewed compost tea and botanical teas," she added.

The winery is also minimizing tillage in favor of crimping, a technique that reduces soil disturbance but cripples weeds. It has also moved toward using misters to combat extreme heat events. "They use only 7 percent as much water as irrigation," said Stubstad, adding that she's learned not to overpamper the vines.

Stubstad has two completely different sites to manage - Oakville, on the hot valley floor, and Mount Veeder, at 1,600 feet in a much cooler area - according to what's best for each.

"What works in one vineyard doesn't necessarily work in the other vineyard. They have their own cultural and climatic demands," she said.


In the winemaking department, Ammons also manages two different sites - both on the Oakville property. "We have two different soil types here," he said. "One is the volcanic blocks by the road. The other is the alluvial fan...That's the magic of Rudd - the marriage of the two soils domains in the bottle."

In addition to managing the two soil types from the Oakville property, he makes two estate wines.

To enhance the flavors in each, he created new fermentation vessels - in two different shapes - for the the two different soil types, explaining that each shape of vessel produces a different type of extraction.

Ammons with his two different shapes of fermentation tanks
The tank with the larger bottom is more mechanical in extraction; he uses this for the volcanic blocks. The tank with the smaller bottom is more fluid, he says, based on infusion. It's better for grapes from the alluvial blocks. He also has terracotta amphora from Italy for some of the reds.

The whites are fermented in concrete eggs and tanks. With the help of a French consultant, Ammons has concrete tanks constructed that are lined with aggregate (not just cement) from the estate, enhancing the terroir driven influences in the wine even more.

The vintage doors to the winery were sourced
 from a former ice warehouse in New Jersey
Howard Backen designed the winery; the surrounding gardens (not pictured) were
created by the legendary Canadian designer Thomas Hobbs.

On his 21st vintage as a winemaker, Ammons says he has worked with grapes from every appellation in Napa. He's lived through the generation that has moved from preferring maximum ripeness (aka the Parker era) to one based on optimal ripeness. A fan of Burgundy (but one who trained in Bordeaux), his tastes run to more nuanced wines and winemaking.

From the beginning, Rudd sought to integrate Bordeaux sensibilities at his Oakville estate, hiring David Ramey as his first winemaker. Ramey had worked with Christian Mouiex from Petrus to start the Mouiex's Napa winery Dominus.

In presenting the wines in the Howard Backen designed tasting room (cum boathouse) overlooking the pond and gardens, Ammons prefers to sequence the tasting in the opposite order most wineries would present them - starting first with the estate's top wine, $250 Estate (ageworthy), followed by $175 Samantha's (drink now but better of course with age), and then capping off the flight with the $80 Sauvignon Blanc (from Mount Veeder), which feels like it is from a different planet compared to the first two (which it is).

The Estate Red is a different blend each year, and sourced solely from the Oakville estate. While the current release is based on Cabernet Sauvignon, in other years it has beed based on Merlot. It's designed to reflect the terroir of the estate.

The 2014 is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon (77%) with Cab Franc (15%), Petit Verdot (5%) and Malbec (3%). The wine is aged in French oak (74% new).

Though all of the wines are built for aging, the Samantha's can be enjoyed now.

I was especially impressed with the aromatics on the Estate. At first, I put my nose in the glass, and then withdrew it, only to linger just above the glass. The nose is that big...and sumptuous. The old wine tasting note trope that the wine "leaps from the glass" is no trope here. I found that it widened the window of pleasure.

Galloni called it a big departure from previous vintages, writing it's a "hugely promising wine...bursting with energy and class."

The 2014 Samantha's Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from more of the alluvial soil vines and aged in French oak (86% new).

The Sauvignon Blanc is from a completely different set of soils - tufa (which on Mount Veeder is quite common) and cobbles (another Mount Veeder staple). I'm a fan of White Bordeaux blends and therefore appreciated that this wine's a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris and Semillon (16%). The Rudd has softer, fuller flavors than your basic high end Napa SB, which are going for acid. I found the Rudd SB has, to use my new favorite wine descriptor, more pixels.

In some vintages, Rudd also makes 75 cases of a Semillon based blend called Susan's Blanc, which is named for Mrs. Rudd (a serious gardener who works in the garden alongside the hired help and whose exquisite taste led to the selection of Thomas Hobbs in designing Rudd's unique and elegant gardens.)

Currently Rudd Oakville Estate makes just 3,000 cases of wine a year, but Ammons said that will soon change. "We'll be making more estate wine in future years," he said.

Note: Rudd is open to the public for tastings by appointment only. Serious collectors are encouraged.

You can also taste Rudd's wines at PRESS Napa Valley. There, the Samantha's Cabernet is even available by the glass ($35 a glass). 

Saturday, July 28, 2018 Launches New Biodynamic Wine Section, the largest online wine store, has launched a new Biodynamic section on its online store where consumers can find wines from Demeter certified vines. This is something new.

Until now, searching for "biodynamic" wine on a wine retailers web site was a hit or miss proposition. Many of the wines were not certified and you had really no idea of what the practices were.

There has never been a wine store or place online to find the wines that are actually from certified Biodynamic vines, so's new section is a breakthrough for consumers.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Roederer: In Praise of Biodynamic Viticulture

I was pleasantly surprised today to see Eric Asimov's piece in the New York Times on Roederer's organic and biodynamic trials. (I could easily have missed that big part of this story, because the title of the article was about climate change.) But of course, biodynamic and organic farming fits into climate change, albeit in numerous contexts. Mitigation is the context here, but it seems to result in better wines, according to Roederer's experts.

Here are some of the illuminating excerpts:
"He (at Roederer) wanted the vines to have a much deeper root system that plunged into the bedrock of chalky limestone and clay; he believed that would help to protect against heat and drought while better expressing the character of the vineyard. To accomplish this, he eliminated the use of herbicides and fertilizers, developed techniques for training the roots downward and began trials for both organic and biodynamic viticulture...

Mr. Lécaillon adapted the techniques for Roederer and for years ran experiments farming some blocks biodynamically and some organically. Each year, Mr. Lécaillon and his team tasted the results blind, then compared.

After four or five years we were 100 percent able to identify the wines from biodynamic soils," he said. "More intensity, more clarity of fruit, a velvety texture and a link between fruit and acidity. "It's a very intelligent way of farming," he said. "I don't understand Steiner at all, but I see the results." 

Nonetheless he said some years his team preferred the wines farmed organically. He said organic farming produced fleshier wines, while biodynamics gave 'more pixels.'"

I wonder how the organic farming was being done (i.e. compost, no or low till, etc.) as there are many factors aside from using less toxic materials that could contribute to the difference in taste. 
For those of you wondering about Roederer here in Mendocino following the French example, yes, there are some parallels. But only about 1/4 to 1/3 of Roederer's vines in Mendocino are farmed organically. About 17 acres down the road at Roederer's Domaine Anderson (still wines only) are certified Biodynamic (and a few more are organic).
I, for one, cannot wait to taste some biodynamic Cristal if that's a wine that will be released.
For more on the Biodynamic trends in Champagne, read Monty Waldin's 2016 article published in UK or check out Caroline Henry's fabulous book Terroir Champagne which is a guide to organic and biodynamic wines from Champagne. Filled with stories from "the little guys."

Valentin de Sousa at IBWC 2018

I should also mention that we had one Biodynamic (and Demeter certified BD) Champagne grower at the International Biodynamic Wine Conference - Champagne de Sousa - and those wines were outstanding. They make 8,300 cases from their 12 acres of vines; those are imported in the U.S. by Charles Neal Selections. The entry level bubbly runs $40; the Grand Cru (Blanc de Blanc) $45.
My favorite was their Mycorhize. (Tech sheet here).

It comes from a tiny plot that is plowed by horse.


@LouisRoederer tweet today (August 2, 2018)

Maratona: The Napa Cab That Five Generations Wrought

Maratona means "marathon" in Italian and is the fitting name of a somewhat secret wine. How did it come to be?

Napa Wine Co., owned by the descendants of the Pelissa Family, is one of the oldest families in Napa Valley and by far the largest owner of organic vineyards. (It has 550 acres of organic grapes in Yountville and Oakville). They also operate a custom crush operation in Oakville and have a tasting room there for their clients' wines (an excellent place to stop - and you can also visit the historic Oakville Grocery across the street). Today Andy Hoxsey, one of the Pelissa's, is the president.

The company was the 9th winery to be bonded in California.

As growers, the family's grapes are mostly sold - about 88% of them - to other wineries. But Napa Wine Co. has three of its own brands you can sample (and buy):

Elizabeth Rose, $20 wines from organic vines (best deal in Napa)
Oakville Winery, which makes a moderately priced ($25-50) Zin and Cab (also a very good deal)
Ghost Block, its premium wines from Oakville (superb quality, $70-100 for the Cabs)

(You can also find a single vineyard designate from Nickel and Nickel from Rock Cairn Vineyard, another of the Pelissa's organically farmed vineyard.)

So where does the Maratona come in?

The 5 stars stand for five generations

In 2012, a great vintage, the family decided to celebrate its more than 100 years in Napa Valley with a special wine to celebrate five generations of Pelissa family farming and grape growing. (They came to Napa in 1903).

This wine was the result.

It's a blend of 50% Cabernet, 25% Merlot and 25% Petit Verdot. Production: 148 cases ($100).

So, if you visit the Tasting Room at Napa Wine Co., ask for the Maratona. They keep it behind the counter.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

New Life for Acre Wines: Boutique Napa Label Changes Hands

There's new life in Acre Wines: Mike and Talley Henry purchased the winery in late 2017, taking over from Bob Babbe and Dave Acker who founded the brand in 2002.

This small label (3,000 cases) has traditionally released a Zinfandel (500 cases, $30) and a Cabernet Sauvignon (500-1,500 cases, $43), buying grapes from Yountmill Vineyards. The vineyards are owned by Andy Hoxsey and his family, who are the largest organic growers in Napa Valley. They own 550 acres of organic vines originally certified in 1995. 

Henry has worked in his family's distribution business, Henry Wine Group, before making the leap to buy the brand with his wife Talley, an attorney, in 2017. 

"It was always my dream to have a winery," Henry said, "but it was almost accidental that this happened. A friend told me there was an opportunity out there and that's how it began."

The wines are made at Napa Wine Co. (next door to the Oakville Grocery) and sold in the tasting room there.

The label has distribution in 18 states and is sold in Canada, Hong Kong and China.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Organically Grown Supermarket Rosé - Where to Find It: Trader Joe's Rocks, Whole Foods Not

Kudos to Trader Joe's for making organically grown rosé wines available from not one country but two!

After checking the Whole Foods stores in Berkeley, Petaluma and Oakland for organically grown rosé, I was dismayed to come up completely empty handed. Then I visited the Trader Joe's in Corte Madera.

This is what it looks like there. You can choose from two different wines - and they are prominently displayed.

Shaw Organic (more on their wines in a later post) is from the makers of Two Buck Chuck - Bronco Wine Co. in Madera, California (in the San Joaquin Valley).

The other selection, at $8.99, the De Mont, is actually an AOC rosé from Provence's Coteaux Varois en Provence region, where most of the wines made are rosés.

The quality difference? Taste for yourself (or better yet - blind taste) and let me know your comments here.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Dear Readers: Thank You! 10,000 Page Views Last Month

For the first time ever, this blog reached 10,000 page views in a single month. Thank you, readers!

One Acre Wonder Sylvie Estate Scores Its First Restaurant Placement - At the French Laundry

Kurt Niznik (winemaker), Cristina Lopez (sculptor and co-proprietor), and
Kendall Smith (vineyard manager)
Could it become the next cult wine?

That is the question that the owners of Sylvie Estate are asking themselves after releasing their first wine - an Oakville Cabernet from their one acre valley floor vineyard on the Silverado Trail.

The wine's first restaurant  placement is on the wine list of the ultra prestigious French Laundry.

How often does that happen to a winery's first release?

The success of Sylvie's first vintage, in this case, lies with both the winemaker, the vineyard and the winery.

Sylvie's tiny size - a one acre vineyard in Oakville - is not the only story here. Sylvie is also a case study in Napa (and America's) ethnic mashup when it comes to making fine wine. The winemaker is an American child of Mexican-American and Slovakian-Slovenian parents, the vineyard co-owner is a native of New Mexico and the wine is a French varietal. The name of the wine - Sylvie - comes from the other co-owner's Finnish mother. Wine seems to bring people together.

Sylvie's winemaker is the highly regarded Kurt Niznik, a Yale graduate, who spent five years on the winemaking team at prestigious Continuum (owned by Tim Modavi). That's enough to get anyone to take notice. But that isn't the whole story.

The vineyard, of course, is the other big piece - as well as the loving eye of attentive owners.

With one acre, or actually a little less, vineyard manager Kendall Smith is able to keep her eyes very focused on this tiny (certified organic) vineyard where the Lopez's chickens roam freely.

And where is this micro vineyard? Right there in plain sight - on the east side of the Silverado Trail in Napa. You can't miss Henry and Cristina Lopez's Santa Fe Pueblo style home on the right (near the Dal Valle sign) in Oakville. (Note: The winery is not open to visitors). It's a bold announcement that New Mexico is alive and well in Napa Valley.

Alburquerque native Henry Lopez, a scientist with his own lab company (MuriGenics on Mare Island) in nearby Vallejo, and his wife, Cristina, a sculptor, moved here from the Oakland hills in 1989 to build a house on this piece of land. Henry always wanted a vineyard. But unlike many home owners who aspire to have a vineyard by their home, the couple's wine - not just the vineyard - is a dream come true.

Scientist Brian Atwood also partnered with Henry Lopez and the rest of the team on the winemaking venture.

"Dense, black-purple, with hints of dark garnet at the rim" is how the winery's website describes the color of the 2013 Sylvie Cabernet. It goes on: "Intense aromas of cassis and berry and plum flavors unfurl on the palate..."

It truly is a sumptuous wine.

Enjoy these photos of the Lopez's world and wine. Sylvie is available (by mailing list only) for $130 per bottle. Both the 2010 and 2013 are available on the French Laundry wine list. It sure is fun to see Napa's tiniest organically grown wine making it to the big time.

French Laundry team visiting Sylvie Estate 

Friday, July 13, 2018

Napa Organic Winegrowing Conference: July 26 at Spottswoode

Napa's 2018 Organic Winegrowing Conference will be held Thursday July 26, beginning with a morning program at Spottswoode in St. Helena.

The conference is sponsored by the Napa Valley Grapegrowers (with funding from sponsors and the USDA) and is the only organic winegrowing conference in the U.S.

This year, the morning presentation features Grant Lundberg, CEO of Lundberg Family Farms, longtime rice growers in California. They offer conventionally farmed, non GMO products along with 22 organic products and 1 Biodynamic product.

Following the keynote address, vineyard talks and tours are scheduled from 9:30 to 2:45 and include three options, each at a different location. All three estates are organic.

Cade Estate (Howell Mountain) - Marketing Organic and Hillside Farming with John Conover, Partner/General Manager of Plumpjack Winery and Andrew Opatz, Associate Vineyard Manager, David Pirio Vineyard management

Frog's Leap Winery (Rutherford) - Composting 101 with Rory Williams, Assistant Winemaker and Assistant Vineyard Manager, Frog's Leap Winery

• Wheeler Farms - Developing an Organic Site with Bart and Daphne Araujo, of Wheeler Farms and Accendo Cellars, Steve Matthiasson, Partner Premiere Viticulture & Matthiasson Wines, and Miguel Luna, Partner, Silverado Farming Company

Conference admission is $200 for NVG members and $300 for non-members.

Easy Come, Easy Go: "Lost" Varietals Make a Comeback in Two New Books - Plus Advice on Wines to Pair with These Books

Looking for books to take along on your vacation? Or to enjoy while lounging at home?

This summer's crop of nonfiction wine books includes noteworthy titles on those "weird grapes" you may never have tried - until now. Check out Tasting the Past, by Kevin Begos and Godforsaken Grapes by Jason Wilson to learn more about the world's most unsung grape varietals and how they're making a comeback.

Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz 
Just like books that focus on lost heritage roses or the hundreds of vegetables and fruits we no longer enjoy the taste of, these two authors have scoured Europe in the company of experts like José Vouillamoz, a Swiss grape geneticist and one of the three authors of the epic tome Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including their Origins and Flavours co-written with Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding, to find grapes of yesteryear.

That very big book, published in 2002, represented the fruit of the latest genetic work being done on sex among the vines, tracing the wine family tree back as far as can be known. (Which, apparently, isn't far enough, according to Vouillamoz, quoted in Begos' book).

Wine Grapes has 1,279 pages and weighs nearly 7 pounds; a Kindle
version is also available
With more than 1,368 varieties listed, Begos and Wilson have plenty of grape trails to trace.

Each writer meets Vouillamoz and tastes wines from rarely planted varietals with him. Each focuses on travels in search of other precious, historic gems. And each reflects different eras of wine, before globalization and the so-called "noble grapes" we know (Cabernet, Chardonnay and the like) began to kill off vinuous variety. Though neither is specifically a wine expert at the outset, each becomes more knowledgeable from their travels about these specific wines than the hippest somms their books may be read by.

Begos is interested in origins, and that dictates trips to Georgia, Israel, Cyprus, Sicily and more of the ancient grape hunting grounds. Wilson mostly winds his way through Europe on a series of adventures in the high Alpine regions and elsewhere. And what do they find? Enological rarities, genetic treasures and more.

Paul Begos at Kermit Lynch wine shop in Berkeley, where I had a
chance to chat with him about Tasting the Past
Begos' focus begins with a quest for a wine from Jerusalem that he tasted in Jordan - Cremisan. A science writer by trade, his journey explores more of the genetic arc of wine yet also touches on the science of taste and many other off the beaten track (but compelling) topics. His book is interspersed with quotes from unusual sources that I found illuminating. Here's one from the physicist Richard Feynman:
"And there in wine is found the great generalization: all life is fermentation.
If our small minds...divide this glass of wine, this universe, into parts - the physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology and all - remember that nature doesn't know it. So we should put it all back together, and not forget at last what it's for..."
While Patrick McGovern's book 2007 book Ancient Wine was the groundbreaking account that put ancient wine on the map, Begos' is a lovely complement to it.

Begos also goes into details about the role women played in ancient winemaking, from being some of the earliest celebrity winemakers in Egypt to the goddesses essential to wine cultures.

He also looks up a vineyard Italians say belonged to Leonardo da Vinci.

An ad for Bordeaux Vineam
In Bordeaux, he mentions this billboard, which warmed my heart (although I should add that very few wineries in Bordeaux are farmed organically.)

When I met him at Kermit Lynch's wine shop in Berkeley, where there was a small wine tasting to celebrate the book's release, he talked about his concerns about pesticides in vineyards.  In his last chapter, entitled The Dark Side of Wine, he quotes from historian Steven Shapin's find from a 1771 book, lamenting on the state of wine:
"What passes for wine among us is not the juice of the grape. It is an adulterous mixture, brewed up of nauseous ingredients, by dunces, who are burglars in the art of poison-making."
Wilson, who wrote mostly about alcoholic beverages before embarking on his enological adventures, focuses more on his individual forays to visit various people and producers. He has an engaging style and it's a bit of good fortune that we have not one but two books to read on these fascinating forays into the past - forays that could also represent more of a presence in wine's future. 


As you read these books, you may find yourself becoming tired of reading adjectives about flavors and wanting some actual wine in your glass. Here are some bottles worth seeking out (from organic or Biodynamic vines).

Blaufrankisch - Johan Vineyards, Willamette Valley, Oregon

While it's mostly grown in Austria (and some in Germany), Blaufrankisch is typically a bit spicy, but still on the light side of red. In an atypical move, Oregon's Johan Vineyards grafted over some of its vines to make estate grown Blaufrankisch ($28). Raspberry and blackberry on the nose with black cherry and raspberry fruit on the palate.

Durif - aka Petite Sirah - Powicana Farm, Mendocino

Petite Sirah, or Durif, is not really that obscure in California where 10,000 acres are planted, but the next largest planting in the world is Australia, with 1,000 acres. Once a staple in Napa, before Cabernet took over, it was a steady producer but used primarily as a blending grape. It has a reputation for being Big and Tannic, but that's not what the Powicana 2015 Petite Sirah ($32) is. The Redwood Valley producer's 2015 vintage swept the Mendocino Wine Competition last year winning Best in Show. For a reason.

Grignolino - Heitz Cellars, Napa, California

A light red wine from a vineyard first planted to this grape in Napa by the Brendel family on an 8 acre vineyard that the Heitz family purchased in 1961 and which they have continued to preserve as an homage to Napa's past. Heitz makes both a Grignolino ($22.50) and a rosé of Grignolino ($25).

Mencia - Analemma, Columbia Gorge, Oregon

A wine primarily grown in Spain, this mid-weight red originally hails from Galicia. It's rarely grown elsewhere. Oregon producer Analemma make it ($42) as well as Godello and Trousseau, if you want to explore further.

Tannat - Tablas Creek Vineyards

Tannat comes from Madiran in southwest France, not the Rhone region, but when the nurseryman at the Perrin family's Chateauneuf du Pape estate shipped over Rhone cuttings to this Paso winery, he also put in some Tannat in the shipment, thinking it would grow well in Paso Robles.

Originally planted with the thought it being a blending grape, after several years Tablas Creek decided instead to bottle it separately. In fact, Tablas Creek's initial one acre plot, planted in 1996, yielded wine that was the first (in 2002) to be labeled Tannat in the U.S. Since that time, plantings have grown to 579 acres today, mostly planted in the last five years, according to the winery.

One reason for its growth may be recent health research that suggests that Tannat contains compounds that lead to long life. One study found that the percentage of men in their 90s in Madiran (where Tannat is commonly consumed) is double the average in France. The Tablas Creek Tannat (700 cases made) sells to the winery's wine club members for $45.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Powicana's Sonoma Tasting Room: Rustic, Relaxing and Home to Beautiful Sparkling Rosé Bubbles

Tired of slick wineries? Wine club come-on's? Over the top wine prices? Looking for a way to connect back into "real wine"?

Powicana Farm's tasting room in in Penngrove - next to Petaluma - is an easy to get to, rustic spot with a lot of Sonoma ag history vibe. They're open only on the weekends from 1-5, but that's more than enough time to sample their wares, and, if you like, enjoy a picnic on their outdoor picnic tables.

The ambiance is the first thing you notice here - laidback, farm-oriented, roots. The tasting room and winery are located in the Denman Creamery, which bears a historic marker commemorating its landmark status as the first commercial creamery in Sonoma County. And no, it hasn't been all gussied up.

It's a beautiful setting, with a big barn (the cold storage for the winery is in there) and grassy lawns to lounge on. There's a view across the way of the old Palace of Fruit, a reminder of yet another aspect of Sonoma's agricultural heritage.

And the wine is great.

Powicana Farm first got on my radar when it won a Double Gold at the Mendocino Wine Competition last year for its Petite Sirah ($32). After sampling it on Sunday, I can see why.

As Dan Berger, a judge at the competition, later wrote in the Press Democrat, "its aroma of black pepper and violets was matched by a taste intensity that can only be experience by trying it." A beautiful wine, but not Big and Tannic.

For those of you who think you know Petite Sirah, think again. Because Powicana makes it five different ways - regular, reserve (aged in oak), as a port ($39), as a rosé, and as a Pet Nat sparkling wine ($26). The last was my hands down favorite. (I bought some, but I should have bought a lot more).

Everything Powicana makes is from Petite Sirah, because that's what their vineyard is - 10 acres in Redwood Valley (northeast of Ukiah in Mendocino). They're certified organic and Biodynamic and all of their wines come from the vines they work by hand. Their wines also appeal to the natural wine crowd since nothing is added.

French born proprietors Remi and Zoubeida Zajac - he's from Grenoble and Alsace, she's from the Loire originally - moved to Mendocino from Los Angeles because their son had asthma and needed cleaner air. (The son is also the artist behind the lovely Pet Nat label). They found air - and a lovely community - in Redwood Valley, the area with the highest percentage of organic vines in the country.  They found they couldn't survive financially just by selling grapes, so Zoubeida took classes at the Rudolph Steiner College in Sacramento and Remi studied winemaking at U.C. Davis so they could launch their own wines.

They chose the name Powicana, which, in the Pomo native American language, means "red clay earth."

Powicana Farms shares its tasting room in Penngrove with the a new cider producer, Acre and Spade, and the lovely Sonoma Aperitif, which offers beautifully handcrafted liqueurs and shrubs, some of which are made from organic fruit. (Much of the fruit is gleaned.) 

Proprietor Laura Hagar Rush was inspired by a friend's homemade aperitifs to start making her own four years ago.. They're released on a seasonal basis with different fruits and flavors in each season. Currently she's selling two aperitifs - Grapefruit and a Citrus. I'm looking forward to try the White Nectarines and Roses one that comes out next month.

You'll also find other local treats for sale - including the incredibly exotic sounding goat milk caramel.

The Penngrove site is an easy on, easy off from Route 101, but these purveyors and the site make it feel like you've traveled way into the countryside. Powicana's wines are the very kind of wine more people should be making and drinking - flavor filled bottles, straight from the vines.