Tag Archives: Pinot Noir

Seven of Hearts is Your Lucky Card in Carlton

The simple storefront for the Seven of Hearts / Luminous Hills tasting room in Carlton.

In our admittedly limited experience in Oregon, most of the wineries have their tasting room at the winery. Seven of Hearts is different, with their tasting room in a store front in “downtown” Carlton. Carlton consists of maybe two stoplights and another few stop signs, so downtown might be stretching it just a bit.

Seven of Hearts / Luminous Hills tasting room shares space with Honest Chocolates.

Walking into the shop is interesting. It seems slightly unorganized inside, with a tasting bar, a desk, some displays and more stuff scattered about. But at the same time you’re taking in the visual, you’re getting the nose. You’re getting the smell of whatever they’ve been pouring that day, and you’re also getting a whiff of the chocolate that is not only being sold, but also being made, at the back of the shop. Byron Dooley is the proprietor of Seven of Hearts, and his wife is the proprietor Honest Chocolates. (That’s really sad: a relationship based on wine and chocolate. Whatever the sacrifices they’ve had to make, it’s working for them. Sarcasm, folks.)

Byron buys most of his grapes from various Willamette Valley vineyards, but a few years back he purchased a small vineyard, now called Luminous Hills, where he grows Pinot Noir and bottles it under his Luminous Hills label. The majority of his wines are sold under his Seven of Hearts label. Here’s a quick summary of what we tasted:

Byron’s style for Chardonnay is fairly understated. The 2014 Willamette Valley Chardonnay underwent no malolactic (ML) fermentation, but saw some new oak, while the 2014 Gran Moraine Vineyard Chardonnay had ML, but only neutral oak. We really liked the Gran Moraine; a few bottles of that came home with us.

His Pinot Noirs were also tended toward an understated style. It was interesting though that the 3 PNs we tasted from Seven of Hearts, all blends from various vineyards, were good, but not great. However, the 2014 Luminous Hill Pinot Noir was very good, one of the best we tasted on our trip, and a very good value.

He also makes a GSM (Grenache, Mouvedre, Syrah) blend, and a Bordeaux blend. We tasted both the 2014 GSM and the 2014 Tradition. We liked them both – the GSM especially was nicely balanced and would probably lay down for a few years, comparing nicely to a good California GSM – but we were in Oregon for the Pinot Noir, so neither of those made the cut to be brought home. The Tradition tasting is served with a bit of the Salted Currant Ganache from Honest Chocolates. Byron also makes a Pinot Noir port, and pairs it with Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Toffee Bark for tasting. I didn’t try the port, but the chocolate was delicious.

By the way, for all the feeling of clutter in the tasting room, Mackenzie and Eric provided us with a great tasting environment. Not rushing us, answering all our questions, even those we hadn’t yet asked. Very knowledgeable and nice.

We tried another of the chocolates from the back, and walked out with a dozen truffles for us, and more to take home as gifts. Quite good!

L’Chaim,

Larry

Elk Cove Vineyards: An Oregon Pioneer

Elk Cove Vineyards (ECV) crushed their first grapes in 1974, planted their first Pinot Noir vineyard in 1975, and now makes about 45,000 cases each year. Of that, about 1/3 is Pinot Noir, another third is Pinot Gris, and the rest is split between Reisling, Chardonnay and rosé of Pinot Noir. Their early start qualifies them as a pioneer in the Willamette Valley, while their quality, longevity and volume make them one of the current leaders.

The original vineyard at Elk Cove Vineyards was planted in 1975.


Elk Cove Vineyards

We weren’t sure what to expect with ECV. We turned a corner and came through a line of pine trees, and there were vineyards (their original 1975 vineyard) right there in front of us, and the winery down at the bottom of the hill. Beautiful. As we pulled up to the tasting room, we noticed the flower gardens, also beautiful. And the vineyards come up to the edge of the deck off the tasting room, so you feel like you’re in some sort of Eden-ic spot.

The vineyards come right up to the deck at the Elk Cove Vineyards tasting room.

Out of the car, and it’s obvious that they’ve just “finished” harvest. Finishing harvest has a different definition for winemakers and lay people. For us lay people, we think of finishing harvest in a literal sense, that all the grapes have been harvested. The winemaker and his/her team think of harvest as extending through to when they’ve got the last wine out of the fermentation tanks and into the barrels. While there’s still wine in tanks, the winemaking team has to be there every day, a few times each day, to make sure that the fermentation process is proceeding according to plan. When they get the last wine into barrels, the 2+ months of being at the winery every day is over; harvest is over for the winemaking team, and they can see their families again. One of the first tasks after finishing harvest is cleaning out the skins from the tanks, and from the smell that was the task they were getting on with that morning.

The tasting experience was also nice because of the person behind the bar. Joe worked for about 30 years at Intel (maybe the largest employer in Oregon) as a software engineer. Having retired a year ago, he’s now serving wine, and playing classic rock in the tasting room. Eagles, Heart, Pink Floyd, Van Morrison, … My high school and college sound track.

The La Boheme Vineyard at Elk Cove Vineyards was planted in 1985.

Well, I’m about 400 words and 5 photos into this blog and have yet to say anything about their wine. Lori got one tasting flight, and I got the other, so that we could maximize the number of wines we tasted. Looking back at my notes, we didn’t taste the Pinot Gris, and the Chardonnay and rosé we tasted left no memorable impression on me. The 2015 Estate Reisling, which is made off-dry with less than 1% residual sugar, was nice to taste.

On to the Pinot Noirs. We tasted

2014 Willametter Valley Pinot Noir: Cuvée (blend) made from grapes from all six of their vineyards.

2014 Mount Richmond Vineyard Pinot Noir: This vineyard is near Yamhill, and this was Lori’s favorite.

2014 Clay Court Vineyard Pinot Noir: Their smallest vineyard, volcanic soil, Parrett Mountain area, and home to the ECV founders. My favorite.

2014 La Bohème Vineyard Pinot Noir. This vineyard was planted in 1985 on the other side of the winery from the original vineyard.

2014 Windhill Vineyard Pinot Noir: Not our style.

2014 Goodrich Vineyard Pinot Noir: Their newest vineyard.

All together – the setting, the tasting room atmosphere, the quality of wines – this was a great wine tasting experience.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Brigadoon: A Magical Oregon Winery

On our last day of wine tasting in Oregon, we ventured south of Corvalis. Though this is 75 miles south of McMinnville and our previous two days of wineries, this is still the Willamette Valley. After going to one of the larger, well known wineries, we visited Brigadoon as the last winery on our trip.

Brigadoon tasting room.

You might know of the musical Brigadoon, with the basic set up that Brigadoon is a magical spot that appears in the Scottish Highlands for one day out of every 100 years. The winery Brigadoon is, fortunately, there every day of the year. It’s a small winery; only about 1,000 cases per year of the three Pinots (Gris, Blanc, Noir) plus Reisling. The Pinot Blanc was interesting and different than the others we tasted on this trip, as it was done with no malolactic (ML) fermentation. It was good, best we had in Oregon, although I still am not a huge fan of this varietal.

Their Pinot Noir was quite good, and at $23 per bottle, the best value we found on our trip. Just when I thought I had bought all the wine I was going to for the trip, here was one I couldn’t pass up. So I had some shipped direct to the house. (The other wine purchased on the trip came home with me, as Alaska Airlines, and maybe some of the others, will let you check one case of wine at no charge flying out of Portland Airport.)

The picnic area at Brigadoon.

Some other interesting points about Brigadoon. It’s kid-friendly, with some toys in the small tasting room to help keep the little ones occupied while you’re enjoying the wine. They’ve got a nice picnic table there, which we took advantage of, having brought sandwiches. (We also bought a bottle there to have with our lunch.) They have a nice, friendly dog, Gracie, at Brigadoon. At least friendly to humans; not sure about other dogs.

It probably says something about our priorities that the dog is mentioned before the people. Chris Shown, proprietor and vineyard manager, was behind the bar when we were there. He grew up in Napa Valley, but moved to the Willamette Valley for his own vineyards and winery. In addition to talking about his wine, he’s still a fan of the SF Giants, and as the season had just ended for the Giants that was as much a topic as the wine.

Root vines at Brigadoon.

Also, they grow root stock there, not just their own grapes. You are probably aware that most grape vines start with a relatively generic root stock, with the actual wine grape varietal grafted onto the root stock about one year after planting. Brigadoon works with nurseries in Oregon as a root stock provider, and so you see a few fields of untrained, untrellissed vines there, which was an interesting sight.

This was a great tasting experience, and I hope to get back there (or at least keep buying their wines).

L’Chaim,

Larry

Torii Mor Winery

Lori and I recently spent a week going from Seattle to McMinnville (Oregon’s Willamette Valley) to Corvalis (wineries, breweries, and a California v Oregon State football game that did not end in the Cal Bears favor). Torii Mor was the first winery we visited. A great way to start.

The architecture of the winery and tasting room, and even the landscape architecture, has a slightly Asian feel. This might be the place to discover the zen of Pinot Noir. It’s a very calm place, but that belies the intensity of the effort going into the wines. There’s a lot going on beneath the surface.

We started with their whites, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. The Pinot Gris had really nice nose, more substantial body than we’re used to seeing in a Pinot Gris, and nicely balanced flavors. It reminded us a bit of a good Sauvignon Blanc, with enough acids to work well with a range of foods. Pinot Blanc is a mutation of Pinot Noir, except now a green grape (white wine). This really didn’t do anything for me, but in fairness to Torii Mor, we didn’t taste even one Pinot Blanc in Oregon that we were at all interested in taking home.

On to the Pinot Noirs. I’ve had Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs in the past, and enjoyed them, but with living in California I’ve been drinking Pinots from the Russian River Valley, Carneros region, Santa Lucia Highlands (Monterey) and Santa Ynez Valley (Santa Barbara) for the last 20 or more years, with hardly a bottle of any other Pinot (Burgandy, Oregon, New Zealand) thrown in. This was my first visit to the area, and my first time ever really focusing on Oregon Pinot Noir. The climate there, a bit cooler than in California, leads to Pinot Noir grapes with less sugar at full ripeness and therefore less alcohol. Lighter body seems also a regular characteristic, as does less bold fruit flavors. Yet these characteristics do not diminish from the quality of the wine, it just makes them different, and interesting. And when they’re well made, very enjoyable.

With Torii Mor, we found a range of Pinot Noirs, depending on which vineyards from which AVAs they were sourcing the grapes. One of our favorites was the 2014 Yamhill Carlton Select Pinot Noir, which surprised us with the complexity of the wine with such a light body. We brought a bottle of that home with us, and opened it our first night back, tasting it against an Armida 2014 Gap’s Crown Vineyard (Sonoma Coast) Pinot Noir. They were both easily identifiable as Pinot Noir from the flavors, but completely different wines, both excellent.

By the way, Torii Mor has a couple of winery cats that hang out around the tasting room. And if Eddie is behind the tasting room bar, you’ll get a nice description of the wines and vineyards, without him telling you what you’re going to taste in advance.

I don’t know when we’ll get back to the Willamette Valley, but I’m already looking forward to the next trip.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Malm Cellars: Pinot Noir and Zinfandel

I often get asked what my favorite wine is, meaning what is my favorite varietal. I usually take that opportunity to talk for as long as that person is willing to listen, about how it depends on white or red, or food or no food with the wine, or price, or any one of a dozen other factors. It’s really the wrong question to ask a wine person. The interesting question is, Which wine(s) do I buy the most? Then the short answer is “Pinot Noir and Zinfandel.”

The medium length answer is that I buy more reds than whites (probably about a 4:1 ratio), and among the reds Pinot Noir and Zinfandel are usually a good value, go very well with food and don’t need a lot of aging. Also, these two wines are the best wines of the Russian River Valley wineries and Dry Creek Valley wineries, which are the two wine growing regions I visit the most.

(There is a longer answer too, but I’m not sure I have your attention for enough time.)

Brendan Malm getting ready to open another bottle of his Malm Cellars wine

Brendan Malm getting ready to open another bottle of his Malm Cellars wine

Nearly 3 years ago, when Lori and I visited Malm Cellars in Healdsburg during a barrel tasting event and saw the lineup of only Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, I got my hopes up just a bit, that maybe here was a winemaker aligned with my tastes. Then we tasted from the barrels, and I allowed my hopes to rise just a bit more, enough so that we bought some “futures”. Futures are wines in the barrel that have yet to be bottled. This is the purpose of the barrel tasting events, with the winery then shipping you the wine when it’s bottled and released.

Or you go to pick up the wine. Which was our option, since we get to Healdsburg on a regular basis. The only problem was coordinating our schedule with Brendan Malm’s schedule, since Malm Cellars is essentially a one man shop, and only open to the public on special event weekends. (That’s changing soon, but not quite ready yet.) So from buying futures of 2012 vintage wines at a 2013 event, with the wines released in 2014, it took until 2015 for us to pick up our case.

Malm Cellars 2012 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley

Malm Cellars 2012 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley

It may have taken us a long time to pick up the wine, but it didn’t take long to open the first bottle. About 6 hours later we were having a birthday dinner for one of our daughters-in-law, and wouldn’t you know, a bottle of Malm 2012 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley was opened. 2012 was a pretty good year in the Dry Creek area, after two years in a row where harvests were below par for quality and/or quantity. Also, typical Dry Creek Zinfandels tend towards the big, jammy, drink-now end of the spectrum, especially in a good harvest year, which is not my favorite style. The Malm Zinfandel had the fruit flavors on entry, but was actually well balanced and went well with our dinner that evening. This is what I remembered from the initial barrel tasting, and I’m starting to feel pretty good about the purchase of the futures.

Then a couple of weeks later we opened a bottle of Malm 2012 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley (RRV). (I’m feeling pretty good about waiting even that long to open the first bottle of Pinot and see what we’ve got!) Well, this was worth the 2+ year wait, and it will be worth waiting even longer for the other bottles. Very nice RRV Pinot Noir, with some delicacy and subtlety, that should get better for the next few years. With half a case each of the Zinfandel and Pinot Noir, we’re pretty well set for opening one Malm per year for the next 10 years, if we can hold ourselves back.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Santa Cruz Thanksgiving

Lori and I spent the week of Thanksgiving in Aptos, a little town just south of Santa Cruz (actually it’s east of Santa Cruz, but you have to go “south” on Highway 1 to get there), in our vacation house just a 10 minute walk from the beach (Seacliff State Park). It was a great week from a weather point of view, with only one day of rain. There were great sunsets, as you see above, and great ocean views.

We were joined there for the holiday, and a couple of days on either side of it, by Winemaker B and his family. This meant some interesting wines for the meals, from his cellar and ours. Here’s a quick rundown:

Woodenhead 2005 Pinot Noir, Buena Tierra Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Crosshatch (Carr Vineyards & Winery) 2010 white blend, Santa Ynez Valley
Soquel Vineyards 2006 Zinfandel, Old Vines, Lodi

This doesn’t include the wines for the Thanksgiving meal, which won’t be talked about here. (We opened a vertical of Syrah from a single winery, and it didn’t quite live up to our expectations. Nice to have opened the bottles, and they were quite nice with the turkey, but not a highlight to spend time on.)

Woodenhead 2005 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Buena Tierra Vineyard

Woodenhead 2005 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Buena Tierra Vineyard

Woodenhead Pinot Noir: This is a small winery in the Russian River Valley (RRV), specializing in Pinot Noir. We did an interview with Zina Bower, the co-owner, in the early days of the ViciVino.com website. This bottle was what I like to think the RRV does best, Pinot Noir with some restraint, delicacy and subtlety. After 10 years this wine was all we expected, balanced from nose through entry through mid-mouth through finish. Not real heavy bodied, it went great with a shrimp stir fry we cooked on the barbeque. We have consistently liked their Pinot Noir; unfortunately this was our last bottle. Time to go up and buy a few more.

cross_hatch_white_blend

Crosshatch: This is the brand name for some interesting blends from Carr Vineyards & Winery in Santa Barbara. We enjoyed our visit to their tasting room this past summer, and really loved how they handle Rhone varietals. The reds we bought — Syrah and Grenache — will sit for another few years, but this white was ready now. The Crosshatch white blend is 70% Viognier, 30% Marsanne, and was delicious. Definitely ready to drink.

Soquel Vineyards 2006 Zinfandel, Lodi Old Vines, Schmierer Vineyard

Soquel Vineyards 2006 Zinfandel, Lodi Old Vines, Schmierer Vineyard

Soquel Vineyards: We’ve mentioned Soquel Vineyards a few times before in blogs, including writing about the 2004 vintage of this same Zinfandel. Soquel consistently produces excellent wines, and their tasting room is a great experience. The 2006 Zinfandel was lovely, sort of the “Mama Bear” wine: Not too big, not too soft, aged just right for drinking over the holiday.

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

L’Chaim,

Larry

Dierberg and Star Lane Make a Great Pairing

Dierberg and Star Lane share a beautiful tasting room in the Santa Rita Hills area.

Dierberg and Star Lane share a beautiful tasting room in the Santa Rita Hills area.

The Santa Barbara County area – Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Maria – is known for producing very good Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah (and other Rhône varietals). So we went to the Dierberg – Star Lane tasting room, in the heart of the Santa Rita Hills AVA, the original Pinot Noir growing region in the Santa Ynez Valley, with an eye to taste the Pinot Noir.

The garden at Dierberg Estate Vineyard.

The garden at Dierberg Estate Vineyard.

Dierberg Estate Vineyard and Star Lane Vineyard are the two brand names that the Dierberg family uses for their wines, with the Dierberg label used for the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah, and the Star Lane label used for the Sauvignon Blanc and red Bordeaux varietals grown at the Star Lane Vineyard in the warmer Happy Canyon area of Santa Ynez Valley. The tasting room serves wines from both brands, and is located at their Drum Canyon Vineyard. They also have a third vineyard, producing grapes for the Dierberg label, in the Santa Maria area.

Bean bag toss at Dierberg.

Bean bag toss at Dierberg.

As I said, we were looking to taste their Pinot Noir, and we got to do that. But we were also able to taste the Star Lane wines, and these were a revelation. An excellent Star Lane Sauvignon Blanc, really well balanced, led off the tasting. (Yes, bought a bottle of the Sauv Blanc.) After going through some of the Dierberg Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, we went to the Star Lane Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignons. They make a few variations on these, ranging from a Cabernet Franc at about 90% Cab Franc, to a standard Cabernet Sauvignon (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec), to a high end Cabernet Sauvignon (called “Astral”, with just Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc), to the “Roots” Cabernet Sauvignon. This last has just a bit of Merlot blended in (4%), with the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes coming from a block of the Star Lane Vineyard that was planted with actual Cabernet Sauvignon root stock instead of the usual American grape root stock with grafting of the Cabernet Sauvignon. The Astral was very good, very balanced, as one would expect from their high end wine. But the Roots caught our attention. There was a lot going on there, from the fruit in the nose and the entry, to the big body, to the tannins on the finish. Loved it, had to buy a couple of bottles.

We were seated outside for the tasting. Beautiful day, beautiful wines. Our tasting was led by Megan, who has already passed her first level sommelier exam and is studying for the second level. She was incredibly knowledgeable, and responded to both our basic and advanced questions with easy to understand answers. So a great tasting experience also. Megan thinks the Astral will age better than the Roots, but I put my money (literally) on the Roots Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ll check back in 10 years or so and see where we are on this one.

L’Chaim,

Larry

A Merry (Edwards) Visit to the Russian River Valley

Lori and I were heading up to Mendocino for Memorial Day weekend and wanted to get an early start on Friday to beat traffic. However, we couldn’t check into the house we were renting until 4pm. We thought going straight up 101 and heading off to Mendocino on Highway 128, with maybe a stop in Geyserville for lunch and wine tasting. But then inspiration hit: Cut off 101 on the 116 west toward Sebastopol, stop at Merry Edwards Winery for a tasting, then find lunch somewhere in that area.

We had previously met Merry Edwards at a Russian River Valley Winemakers event a few years back, and tasted her Pinot Noir at that event, and really liked it. She is one of the first, if not the first, women winemakers in the Napa/Sonoma area, having started her winemaking career in the early 70s. Her eponymous winery was founded in the late 90s to make Pinot Noir. Sometime mid 2000s she started making Sauvignon Blanc, which turned out so good it was the first Sauvignon Blanc (the 2007 vintage) put into the top 10 wines of the year by Wine Spectator, and continues to win awards.

The winery cat enjoying the serenity garden outside the Merry Edwards tasting room

The winery cat enjoying the serenity garden outside the Merry Edwards tasting room

It’s a beautiful facility with a little garden in front of the tasting room, with her Coopersmith vineyard all around. Tastings are free. When we went, the tasting menu was the

2013 Sauvignon Blanc: Sauvignon Musqué grapes, a Sauvignon Blanc clone, are used in the blend. (I’ve previously talked about this clone in a post on Armida Sauvignon Blanc.)

2011 Chardonnay, Olivet Lane Vineyard: 100% malolactic fermentation, but not an extreme buttery taste. I forgot to ask, but I’m assuming that there was not a lot of new oak used on this wine. An enjoyable Chardonnay.

2012 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast: This is a blend of a few vineyards, a lighter bodied Pinot Noir but well balanced. Actually it was our favorite, although the couple tasting with Lori and I liked the other Pinots better.

2012 Pinot Noir, Meredith Estate: Bigger, more fruit forward Pinot Noir, with some significant tannins on the finish.

2012 Pinot Noir, Georgeanne Vineyard: The warmest weather vineyard for Pinot Noir that Merry Edwards uses. Good now; but needs more time to come to terms with its different components.

Underwood:  seafood capellini in tomato broth

Underwood: seafood capellini in tomato broth

After picking up a few bottles from Merry Edwards, we headed off to Underwood in Graton for lunch. We’ve heard about this restaurant for a long time, but never eaten there. Every time we’ve been in the area for lunch/brunch it’s been closed; our poor timing. (They’re not open for lunch/brunch on Sundays.) This time though we scored. We took a quick look at the regular menu, but the daily specials enticed us. Lori had a delicious chicken sandwich, and I had this wonderful seafood capellini.

We did eventually make it to Mendocino. We were joined in Mendocino by our boys and their families, which made for a wonderful weekend. Sunset over the Pacific, through the fog, was beautiful. The beach was fun, even if both air and water were a bit cold. And we saw a parade of grey whales late one afternoon, 5 pairs of mothers and calves, about 100 feet off shore, heading back north for the summer.

L’Chaim,

Larry

2014 Harvest Wrap-Up

We went up to the Russian River and Dry Creek Valley area in late October to see the kids and grandkids, and check on the 2014 harvest. That weekend was the end of harvest for Winemaker B, and he was taking a few days off. We went to Armida anyway, to show my cousin the winery and taste some of the wines. It was a beautiful day, as you can see from the photos below. We also went to Arista, as we were invited by Kim, wife of Winemaker B and manager of Arista’s “A-List”, to their pick-up party. While we weren’t picking up any pre-purchased wine, we did come away with a few bottles of the 2012 Arista Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Two Birds Vineyard, which was our favorite from the day.

Here are the key points from the harvest:

Start early, end early. Harvest started early this year, as previously mentioned in our Harvest Update post. It’s not surprising then that harvest ended early too. From the winemaker’s perspective harvest starts when the first grapes come in, and ends when the last tank is emptied, and the wine moved to barrels. From the winemaker’s wife’s perspective, harvest starts when the first grapes come in, and ends when the winemaker gets his first day off. In between, the “harvest widow” gets to deal with the winemaker leaving the house by 6am and getting home around 8pm (if lucky), for about 9 weeks in the case of Winemaker B and family.

The drought had minimal effect. A lot of the vineyards are “dry-farmed”, not irrigated, and those handled the drought just fine, with a slight decrease in quantity. Irrigated vineyards also had a slight decrease in quantity, as water cutbacks were required in most areas. However, quantities were going to be down a bit no matter what, as the 2012 and 2013 harvests were near record volumes.

The grapes/juice/wine are tasting excellent. Throughout the process, from harvesting the grapes to the initial juice to the initial post-fermentation wine, everything is tasting great. We’ll see how things taste in a few months, when the first whites like Sauvignon Blanc will be bottled, but right now Winemaker B reports that everything is going great. He is in the medium high maintenance mode on the wines, not quite working on every wine every day, but the wines don’t go unattended for long. Those wines that are getting a malolactic (ML) secondary fermentation are starting that process, some doing it on their own and some with help and tight control from the winemaker. The ML fermentation on these wines, which takes a lot longer than the primary fermentation, should be done by about the same time as those first wines (which don’t go through ML) are bottled, so early next year is the next major checkpoint for the 2014 wines.

As to where the 2014 vintage will sit compared with recent vintages, it’s too early to say. We’re still not sure about the 2012 and 2013 vintages, although they seem so far to be quite good. In the Russian River and Dry Creek Valleys, probably the best recent vintage was 2009, with 2007 close behind.

Since we were up there seeing kids and grandkids, we brought up a couple of bottles to share with the family. We opened up a Windy Oaks Estate 2001 Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains, Proprietor’s Reserve, Schultze Family Vineyards, and a Failla 2009 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Keefer Vineyard. The Failla justified the general feeling that 2009 was an outstanding vintage in the Russian River area. The Windy Oaks was our second to last bottle of that wine. We have opened bottles for family and friends, and even for business associates. (There was one interesting dinner with an associate from France, who I didn’t realize was a Burgundy aficionado and had a 1,000+ bottle cellar. He thought the Windy Oaks would stand up nicely to some of his best Burgundies.) This has been a great wine every time we’ve opened a bottle, and this one did not disappoint. Beautiful.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Enkidu and Café Esin

When bringing a bottle of wine to a restaurant, what wine should you choose? We recently went to dinner with some friends of ours and wanted to bring a bottle of wine. To choose the bottle, we considered

– how much our friends appreciate and drink wine
– did we have a bottle with a story behind it
– what is the cuisine at the restaurant

Enkidu 2006 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Tina Marie vineyards; in the decanter at Cafe Esin.

Enkidu 2006 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Tina Marie vineyards; in the decanter at Cafe Esin.

For the first, our friends are not big wine drinkers, but they do appreciate a nice bottle. For the second question, most of the bottles in our cellar have some sort of story behind them. And for the third, we were going to Café Esin, near to us in Danville, and their style is Mediterranean. Given that information, a Pinot Noir seemed like the right choice, so we pulled out a 2006 Enkidu Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Tina Marie Vineyard.

We also checked that the restaurant didn’t have this wine on its wine list.

Pinot Noir is nice because it will match well with almost anything except the lightest fish and heavy steaks. In this case, two of us did get fish, and the other two ordered chicken. One of the fish dishes was salmon, which is a classical pairing for Pinot Noir. The other fish dish was yellowtail, a member of the tuna family, but not nearly as big as Ahi in flavor. However, the dish on this night was served with vegetables and chanterelle mushrooms in a broth, and the Pinot Noir went great with that. In this case, the fish was there for texture, with the vegetable-chanterelle broth providing the flavor. (Delicious, in case you were curious.)

Yellowtail with green peas, chanterelles and more at Cafe Esin.

Yellowtail with green peas, chanterelles and more at Cafe Esin.

The story behind the wine: In 2008, at the inaugural Wine Bloggers Conference, we met Phillip Staehle, Enkidu winemaker and owner, at a Syrah tasting held at Kick Ranch Vineyard. In a clearing in the vineyard were around 10 tables, one for each winery that made Syrah from Kick Ranch grapes. It was a great way to understand what the individual winemakers were doing with quite similar grapes. The Enkidu Kick Ranch Syrah was one of our top two wines at that event. So a year later, while wine tasting with some friends, we took them to the then newly opened Enkidu tasting room in Kenwood in Sonoma Valley. We enjoyed the wines again, enjoyed their tasting room, and came away from the tasting with some of their “Humbaba” Rhone blend, as well as the Pinot Noir. Now we’ve drunk the last bottle in the wine cellar; time to go back! Of course, the other part of the story is the name of the winery, “Enkidu”. A memorable name, especially once you’ve read the story behind the name. I can’t really do it justice, but I suggest going and reading up starting on the Enkidu website.

L’Chaim,

Larry