Monthly Archives: November 2017

Foley Johnson: Fun Tasting in Rutherford

The initial tasting lineup at Foley Johnson.

Bill Foley has been on a mission to build a wine business, much in the way Jess Jackson did with Jackson Family Wines. Bill started with Foley Estates in the Santa Rita Hills AVA of Santa Barbara County about 20 years ago, and now has, as part of Foley Family Wines, wineries in Santa Barbara, Sonoma and Napa Counties, Oregon and New Zealand, with the current total being somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 wineries. He’s also built a wine distribution company to help get the wines to the consumers. He even recently hired the former president of Jackson Family Wines.

Halloween scarecrows in the Foley Johnson patio.

Lori and I recently visited Foley Johnson Wines in the Rutherford AVA of the Napa Valley, essentially between Yountville and St. Helena on Highway 29. Foley Johnson was founded in 2012, and is named in honor of Bill Foley and his wife, Carol Johnson Foley. They have a beautiful tasting room, with a great patio if you’d like to take your tasting outside, and have views of the vineyards and hills.

A statue of head-trained old vine Zinfandel is the centerpiece of the Foley Johnson fountain.

We had a great tasting there, helped by Kenny, an ex-Marine who has been in the wine business for about 20 years and now is certified as an advanced sommelier. Foley Johnson makes “Estate” wines, with grapes grown on their property, and also makes a “Handmade” series of wines with grapes both from their estate and from other vineyards in Napa Valley and Santa Rita Hills. We started by tasting both the Estate and Handmade Sauvignon Blancs from 2016. Two different styles of Sauvignon Blanc, the former with a bit more bite, possibly better with food, the latter a bit smoother, might age well for a white. Lori and I split on these, with Lori liking the Estate better, while I liked the Handmade one. We moved from there to the 2013 Estate Merlot (98% Merlot) and the 2014 Estate Meritage (52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, 10$ Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec). The Merlot was nice, not too soft, with some good tannins on the finish. The Meritage was similar, but with a better entry into the mouth. Really liked that Meritage, and at $45 per bottle, it’s a very good value. (Yes, we bought a few.) Last we tried a couple of the Handmade Cabernet Sauvignons, made mostly with grapes from their Rutherford estate. Delicious! These were priced more in line with Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon at $110 per bottle. (That’s probably median pricing for Napa Valley, but not the ultra-high end of $200+ per bottle.) Bought a couple of the 2014 Foley Johnson Handmade Cabernet Sauvignons too.

My takeaways from Foley Johnson? More down to earth than many of the Napa Valley wineries, more affordable than the majority of the Napa Valley wineries with their wines priced below $65, and really good wines. On my list to recommend to friends for Napa Valley visits.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Cliff Lede Vineyards: Rock Blocks and Wines That Rock

Burnt hills from the Atlas Peak fire above Cliff Lede Vineyards.

A long time ago, when we were first starting to go to Napa Valley, we visited a winery called S. Anderson. On the edge of the Stags Leap District, S. Anderson made very good Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, and also was relatively unique in producing sparkling wine. In 2002 Cliff Lede purchased that Stags Leap property, and Cliff Lede Vineyards and Lede Family Wines were born.

Some of the Rock Blocks from Cliff Lede Vineyards.

One of the first things Cliff did was to start replanting the vineyards. The problem? Vineyard blocks, with different varietals, are most often given numerical designations: Block 1, 2, … Cliff couldn’t remember which numbers went with which varietals, so the names of favorite rock songs and albums were used. Those, he could remember. I’m pretty sure Cliff is within 5 years of my age, because this reads like my high school playlist: Dark Side of the Moon, Your Song, Magic Carpet Ride, Born to Run and a whole lot more. There’s a taste of it above, but for the full map (and cheat sheet) go to Cliff Lede Rock Blocks.

View from under the arbor at the Cliff Lede tasting room. Burnt hills from the Atlas Peak fire in the background.

One of the other things done was to revamp the tasting room, including adding a patio and arbor outside. We started our tasting at the bar inside, but soon migrated to the very comfortable seats under the arbor, just coming inside when we were ready for the next wine. Pierce did a great job helping us, although it was dangerous to come inside, as he and I talked as much or more about the music of the Rock Blocks as about the wine.

The patio at the Cliff Lede Vineyards tasting room.

Also, while Cliff started with the Napa property, he eventually purchased Savoy Vineyards in Anderson Valley and launched the FEL Wines brand. (FEL are his mother’s initials.) FEL is focused on great Anderson Valley Pinot Noir.

We tasted both the Cliff Lede and FEL wines. The Sauvignon Blanc is still their best seller by volume, but wasn’t on the tasting menu that day. We really liked the 2015 FEL Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. It’s not common for Lori and I to agree on a Pinot Noir, but we did on this one! We also enjoyed the 2014 “Scarlett Love” Cabernet Sauvignon. The name of this blend comes from the two blocks from which the grapes are sourced. First, there’s Cabernet Sauvignon from the Scarlet Begonias (Grateful Dead) block, then there’s Petit Verdot from the Sunshine of Your Love (Cream) block. Of the Bordeaux style blends that we tasted, this was our favorite, showing nice balance from nose through entry all the way to the finish. It should age nicely; at least we’re hoping so, since we’re laying it down for one of those round number anniversaries that’s still a few years off.

In a couple of the photos above you will notice burnt hills, from the Atlas Peak Fire last month, in the background. It seems that the fire didn’t damage any of the vineyards. Regarding this vintage, they had most of their grapes already harvested by the time the fires hit, so there should be no smoke taint on their wine. (Probably anything that has smoke taint, and this goes for everyone in Napa and Sonoma, will be sold on the bulk wine market, and end up in the very low end wines.)

This was a great tasting. I’m not sure when we’ll be back, but I’m not hesitating to send friends there.

L’Chaim,

Larry