Like chefs, winemakers enjoy interesting hobbies away from work. Marc Mondavi’s started with a girl he dated in high school, whose father taught him how to find water underground with something called the divining rod.
Simple and efficient, the divining rod is a set of sticks that cross due to the power of kinetic energy when water is sensed below the surface of the soil. Also called water divining, water witching or dowsing, the origins of the craft are as mysterious as the practice itself. Written records of divining can easily be traced back to 14th century Germany, but even earlier mentions have been found dating back to the 5th century B.C. But, when done correctly, it works!
Marc uses his skills to find underground water sources for other wineries and land developers in Napa Valley and other parts of Northern California. “My goal is to aim high, talk low,” he says.
In addition to overseeing the vineyards farmed for his family’s Charles Krug and CK Mondavi wine brands, Marc started his own brand a few years ago, appropriately named The Divining Rod.
The latest release is The Divining Rod 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley ($18). Made with 89% Cabernet Sauvignon and smaller amounts of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Merlot, the wine features alluring aromas of ripe dark berries, earth, sandalwood, tobacco and spice. Flavors are generous with notes of blackberry, black cherry, plum, cola, wild sage, vanilla and cedar; silky texture; and a long, dry finish.
“Some call the divining rods voodoo science or hocus-pocus,” says Marc, who earned the nickname “Water Witch” from his friends. “I call them our way of making divine wines with character, quality and a true sense of earth and water below the surface that helps us produce healthy vines and grapes with unique qualities and flavors.”
Click the book on the left to read Marc Mondavi’s children’s book “The Witch, the Water & the Wine” and learn about Marc Mondavi growing up as a water witch in the Napa Valley!
In all of our lives, there are those special turning points. Moments that you realize it’s time to move ahead and take advantage of the opportunities that are within your grasp. On a large scale, one of those momentous points happened last Sunday in Sonoma County when a mixture of 700 great personalities from the wine industry, star chefs, sommeliers and eager consumers, came together to raise $4 million dollars for charity at the Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction at Chateau St. Jean Winery in Kenwood.
From the start of this year’s “Sonoma to Serengeti”-themed auction, Sonoma County vintners like Joe Anderson of Benovia Winery, Barbara Banke of Jackson Family Wines, the Gallo Family, the Zanin Family of Bennett Valley Cellars, the Hamel Family and the Klein Family of Rodney Strong Vineyards, played key roles by contributing and inspiring others to bid generously. But when the day’s total was still short of $4 Million after the last lot was sold, Anderson pledged an additional $50,000 and challenged others to dig a little deeper to hit the $4 Million mark. Vintners Matt Gallo and Tony LeBlanc of Silver Oak immediately accepted the challenge. The last $20,000 pledge came from Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance Board Member Gary Buffo, and the goal was achieved. That’s vintner and community participation at its finest.
The annual event was the culmination of the action-packed Sonoma Wine Country Weekend (#SWCW), August 29-31. Under the focused leadership of SWCW Co-Executive Directors Honore Comfort (Sonoma County Vintners) and Maureen Cottingham (Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance) and their Boards of Directors, gross proceeds are expected to be in excess of $5 Million for the entire Sonoma Wine Country Weekend once final tallies are calculated, which creates another new record for the event as earnings more than doubled over last year.
Beyond the important money earned for the charities and great opportunities to taste magnificent food and wine pairings; another highlight of this year’s events was the participation of the SWCW Honorary Chairs: The Ferrer Family, of Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards, and the Klein Family, of Rodney Strong Vineyards, who were honored for their achievements in the wine industry and their contributions to the Sonoma County community as a whole.
In hindsight, the road to success starts from the ground up. With winegrowers understanding that sustainable farming techniques and the maturity of vines really does make a difference. Talented winemakers honing their skills to work with grapes that are picked at the optimum point to preserve the natural acidity and not over-ripen the fruit. Young sommeliers finding tasty gems made with the pristine fruit from the diverse subregions of Sonoma County. And ultimately, the growing number of consumers and charitable contributors who have fallen in love with the fine wines, delicious cuisine, lovely landscape, unique outdoor adventures, and the true sense of place that Sonoma County offers on a yearly basis.
As a veteran wine writer, sommelier, public speaker, and a person who was born, raised and matured in Sonoma County, it was a joy to see this all happen. For that reason, I was also honored to do my part to help the cause: From educating fellow writers from outside the area who visited Paradise Ridge and enjoyed the Media Dinner on the lovely new Terrace Patio at Rodney Strong Winery on Thursday night; mingle and enlighten curious consumers who attended the marvelous luncheon at Lynmar Estate in Russian River and the elegant gala event at Francis Ford Coppola Winery; introduce the guests who attended the Taste of Sonoma event at MacMurray Estate Vineyards on Saturday to the virtues of using fine stemware by Stolzle, one of the main sponsors and contributors to this SWCW festivities; and fulfilling my annual role as the head sommelier at the auction by serving magnificent wines to the Irwin-Allred group from Tulsa, who purchased the Head Table at last year’s event, as well as my great friends from TricorBraun Wine Pak (the main sponsor of the 2014 auction), Duckhorn Vineyards, Jean Arnold Sessions and other special guests who attended the memorable event on Sunday afternoon.
Like the big bang theory, a small explosion can have a huge impact on the future of life as we know it. For that reason, last weekend was just a glimpse at the potential of the SWCW for many years to come; an explosive launch to the 10th Annual California Wine Month in September; and a powerful reminder of the open-ended invitation for more people to explore the wine, food, and sense of community that makes Sonoma County so special.
This past Sunday was a very emotional day in the wine country of Northern California. When the massive 6.0 earthquake centered in southern Napa County hit at 3:20 a.m., I was busy getting ready for bed after a fun night spent drinking wines in my cellar in Petaluma with friends. And although it seemed like our house shook, there was no damage to our house or the cellar. That was not the case in Napa County and a smaller segment of lower Sonoma County as well. Below are some of the pictures that will be remembered for decades to come. To help the cause, buy Napa wines to help get the wineries, the economy, and this great community back on its feet as quickly as possible.
Here we are a couple weeks into the month of August, a great time to start following the exciting 2014 harvest in the great winegrowing regions of California. With that being said, it’s also time to get ready for California Wine Month, a festive myriad of activities which kick off on September 1st.
So to get you primed for what’s going to be happening around the state, below is a set of photos from my recent visit to Lodi, an important appellation that is home to the highest concentration of old vine Zinfandel plantings in the world, as well as a fantastic grouping of vineyard owners and winemakers who are committed to working with California’s legendary “sweetheart” grape and a hundred other specialized varietals.
Later this month, look for more of my other writings about this fascinating region, including a focus on the exciting Native Lodi program. In the meantime, for more information about the Lodi AVA, Zinfandel, and other festive regional events happening throughout the state, visit www.lodiwine.com, www.Zinfandel.org and www.discovercaliforniawines.com .
As some of you may know, I embarked on an exciting new journey earlier this year when I co-created the wine-savvy Artisan Series which will debut at the Food Network in Concert event in Highland Park, 20 minutes from Chicago, on September 20th. The show will be held at the legendary Ravinia Festival venue, the oldest outdoor music grounds in the United States. Headliners will include John Maher, Phillip Phillips, Twin Forks, Raul Midon, and many other hot acts.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Food Network Magazine event without some celebrity chefs there, too. For starters, we’re talking about television and magazine stars like Mark Murphy, Anne Burrell, Sunny Anderson, Alex Guarnaschelli, Jose Garces, Jeff Mauro and Geoffrey Zakarian. On top of that add 70 of the top chefs in the Chicago area, and you have a serious day of #eatdrinkrock festivities in the making.
As the exclusive Artisan Series Sommelier at FNIC, my job will be to provide delectable and educational wine experiences for guests visiting the Chefs Lounge and VIP Lounge, as well as at the wine seminars led by Master Sommelier Alpana Singh and myself, and other special activities happening at the event. This will all be done with the stunning Artisan Series wines provided by Freixenet USA, Foley Family Wines and Charles Krug Winery.
Yesterday, the inaugural copy of the exciting Food Network in Concert newsletter was launched. In it you’ll find my notes on the delicious bubbles from the Freixenet portfolio paired with five summer songs by musicians featured at this year’s event: Songs & Bubbles of Summer as well as their special Summertime Sparklers.
Rest assured, I’ll be using the newsletter and other marvelous tools of social media to promote this stunning wine program, tasty bites and recipes, interviews with star chefs, fellow sommeliers, winemakers and musicians on the SawyerSomm site leading up to event.
In the meantime, don’t forget to check out “The Music Issue” inside the July-August copy of Food Network Magazine, which features fun pairings of chefs like Ina Garten, Michael Symon, Mauro and Zackarian, talking food with musicians Taylor Swift, Billy Corgan, Ja Rule and Sammy Hagar. In short, it’s a summer of fun, and a summer to #eatdrinkrock!
Looking to “wow” your friends with your access to world-class Pinot Noirs, elegant cool-climate Syrahs and magnificent Chardonnays made by boutique producers working with premium fruit grown in the West Sonoma Coast? Then head to The Barlow in Sebastopol this weekend for the annual West of West Wine Festival, August 1-3.
The Festival begins with welcome dinners hosted by member wineries on Friday night. These dinners offer a rare opportunity to dine with winemakers in their home or winery.
Finally we will return to the Grand Tasting tent on Sunday afternoon for a second opportunity to taste through the wines.
Having attended this festival in the years past, I’ll say that it’s one of the best tastings of the summer. For a pre-festival briefing on the festivities and styles of the wines being made in the mountains near the ocean, read the article I wrote for The Tasting Panel Magazine a few years ago. http://digital.copcomm.com/i/41419/104.
For a complete list of producers pouring at the event and ticket information, visit the West of West Wines page.
Hewitt 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon: Powerful wine with expressive aromas of dark berry, cola, cinnamon and savory spices. Deep, rich flavors of blackberry, cassis, plum, dark cherry, mineral and roasted black fig; gritty tannins smoothed out with silk texture; long finish. Young, dense and mysterious. www.hewittvineyard.com
Beaulieu Vineyard 2011 George de Latour Estate Cabernet Sauvignon: Stately new release with entrancing aromas of mocha, plum, raspberry, earth, tobacco and black walnut. On the palate, the dimensions of the wine expands with notes of cherry, black raspberry, mineral mint, dark chocolate and well-integrated oak. In my opinion, one of the top ageworthy wines from 2011 vintage in the Rutherford AVA. www.bvwines.com
12C 2011 Beckstoffer Vineyard George III Cabernet Sauvignon: Complex wine with aromas of roasted fig, wild herbs, black fruits, smoke and cedar. Flavors of cassis, blackberry and tart cherry; chewy tannins; and a burst of bright acidity on the finish. www.12cwines.com
Frank Family 2011 Winston Hill Red Wine: Pretty aromas of red fruit, allspice, mineral, chaparral and roasted meats. Flavors of wild berries, ripe cranberry, capers, black pepper and savory spices; chewy fruit-based tannins; and strong finish with nuances of vanilla and cedar. www.frankfamilyvineyards.com
Quintessa 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon: Elegant wine with alluring floral aromas and deep flavors of ripe plum, cherry, blueberry, cocoa and a hint of sea salt; vibrant acidity; elegant tannins; and long engaging finish. Drinking nice now but has enough of structure to go the distance as well as any of the other wines poured from the 2011 vintage. www.quintessa.com
Freemark Abbey 2011 Sycamore Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon: One of the more intriguing Cabernets of the tasting. Fairly closed aromas at first, but after a few minutes the wine opens up with notes of dried red fruits, tobacco, rosemary, bay laurel and cedar. Flavors of dusty briary blackberry, dark cherry, wild herbs, blood orange and shaved bittersweet chocolate on the finish. www.freemarkabbey.com
McGah Family Cellars 2011 Scarlett Cabernet Sauvignon: Impressed wine with the fragrant aromas of fresh violet and tobacco and lively flavors of raspberry, plum and cassis. Very sexy and extremely food friendly with daintier styles of cuisine. www.mcgcellars.com
Wm. Harrison 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon: Pretty wine with lifted bouquet driven by lofty nuances of roasted chestnuts, cocoa, mint, cloves, cigar box and ripe red fruits. Tranquil, refined and elegant. www.whwines.com
Flora Springs 2011 Hillside Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: Elegant and sophisticated style of cabernet Sauvignon made with fruit from the top blocks on the Flora Springs Estate Vineyard in Rutherford. Aromas of ripe berries, spice and seasoned meats. Flavors of raspberry, cherry, plum, wild sage, dark chocolate and vibrant acidity from start to finish. www.florasprings.com
Aiken 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon: Made exclusively with fruit from the famed Morisoli Vineyard in Rutherford, this food-friendly Cabernet features spicy aromas with hints of vanilla, licorice and dark cherry. The flavors open up with notes of ripe berries, cherry, plum, heirloom tomatoes and black olive. The finish is long, spicy and generous. www.aikenwines.com
Chaix 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon: In the old days, most of the fruit from the Chaix Vineyard was sold to Beaulieu Vineyard. But today, the family and winemaker Sam Baxter work together to craft its own signature style of Cabernet Sauvignon. From the 2011 vintage, the wine features deep flavors of black raspberry, plum, mocha and earth. Overall, one of the few examples that stood out as having the classic Rutherford Dust flavors of mocha and shaved chocolate. www.chaixwines.com
Riboli Family Vineyard 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon: One of the newest producers in the Rutherford AVA. This fantastic medium to full bodied wine features elegant flavors of ripe berries, violet, cherry, mineral, roasted walnut, black pepper, and lively savory notes on the finish. Definitely a great brand to watch for in 2014 and beyond. www.sanantoniowinery.com
From a sommelier’s perspective, I think what made this year’s presentation at the annual “A Day in the Dust” Tasting hosted at the legendary Ingelnook Winery by the Rutherford Dust Society last week so special was the spirit of the growers connected to the wineries and the winemakers, particularly in regards to the teamwork required to make it through the 2011 vintage and the horrid eight days of heavy rain in early October.
With that being said, most of the wines are not typical in terms of Rutherford Dust style. For starters, 2011 was a lighter year than previous vintages. But for what was lost in ripe fruit flavors and the natural mocha or chocolate notes typically associated with the term “Rutherford Dust” was made up for with more emphasis on high levels of acidity and tannin management. But, then again, these types of conditions are common for winemakers in Bordeaux to deal with multiple times in a decade.
At Quintessa Winery, for instance, winemaker Charles Thomas said 95% of the fruit was picked after the second rain and the use of optical sorting tables was critical to making sure he only worked with clean fruit. “There was a lot of talk among friends and other winemakers. To us, every day was a new harvest.”
In the end, the vintage was better than expected. As longtime winemaker Ted Edwards of Freemark Abbey put it in baseball terms, “I think we got thrown a curve ball and we hit it out of the park.”
Due to these factors, the bright red fruit flavors in the wines have drifted way away from the conventional pairings with beef, lamb and blue cheese; but instead lend themselves more towards working with more creative cuisine. For instance, I would have no problem pairing many of the wines with seared Ahi tuna coated on the outside with ground espresso beans and the plate decorated with drizzles of raspberry coolie. Other options would be to serve a chicken dish with savory spices, roasted pork with spicy plum sauce, or medium bodied cheeses like Laura Chenel’s new Truffle Chevre that can handle the high level of acidity in these young vibrant wines. In essence, they are wines that are drinkable now and even more intriguing when paired with a wider range of cuisine.
I would compare the 2011 vintage to a rare album. It reminds me of The In Sound From Way Out, the Beastie Boys instrumental EP that I originally purchased in Paris in the late 1999. Today, the album still doesn’t sound like Licensed to Ill, Paul’s Boutique or the other hit albums in the band’s portfolio. Instead, it has its own quirky personality much like the wines from the 2011 vintage that are a slight departure from what sommeliers, wine buyers and consumers have come to expect from the Rutherford AVA and the mythical Rutherford Dust from the region.
In my opinion, there is still a great range of 2011 Cabernet Sauvignons or Bordeaux style blends that remain authentic to the admired styles of Rutherford AVA. In terms of power and finesse, some of my favorites at the tasting were the rich and dense flavors of the Hewitt 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon; the Beaulieu Vineyard 2011 George de Latour Estate Cabernet Sauvignon; and 12C 2011 Beckstoffer Vineyard George III Cabernet Sauvignon. For youthfulness and complexity, the Quintessa 2011 shined with floral aromas and deep flavors of ripe plum, cherry, blueberry and cocoa. If you like earthy wines, my picks of the vintage were the Freemark Abbey 2011 Sycamore Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and the Frank Family 2011 Winston Hill Red Wine. And on the sexier side of Cabernet Sauvignon, I was very impressed with the fragrant aromas of fresh violet and tobacco and lively flavors of raspberry, plum and cassis in the McGah 2011 Scarlett Cabernet Sauvignon and the slightly lifted bouquet and nuances of red berry, clove and chestnut in the Wm. Harrison 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.
Prices of these wines varied from $45 to $125 per bottle. See below for more details on these wines and other top picks. Also, look for clips of my views on the vintage as well as notes from my friend and fellow sommelier Jorge Tinoco in Randy Caparoso’s upcoming article in The SOMM Journal. For more information about the producers of the Rutherford AVA, visit www.rutherforddust.org.
The German 1-0 win over Argentina on Sunday marked the first ever championship for a European team when the FIFA World Cup has been played in the New World.
But that’s soccer.
In the world of wine, Germany and the neighboring country of Austria have been making magnificent white wines with the noble grape Riesling for centuries.
This year’s new releases are no exception as proven at the recent German and Austrian Fall 2014 Tasting presented by Terry Theise Estate Selections and WineWise/The Vienna Wine Company at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco.
According to the producers I spoke with, the 2013 vintage is magnificent across the board.
“The first priority of the vintage was based on farming,” said Gunter Kunstler, winemaker/proprietor of Weingut Kunstler in the Rheingau region of Germany.
“It’s critical to be there at the right time when the fruit is ripe, the acid in balance and the skin is healthy. But when you master this process, it’s much easier to create balanced wines with layers of complexity.
Same was true for Caroline Diel, whose family owns Schlossgut Diel in Nahe. “In my opinion, 2013 was a relatively late year. But with god work in the vineyard and a little patience, the wines are fresh, beautiful and quite enjoyable when young.”
Wine scholar, author, philosopher and lovable bon vivant Terry Theise, who hosted the tasting, is fond of the vintage as well. “It’s a special vintage where the clusters had time on the vines to develop deep flavors of fresh fruit, acid, slate and other nuances that have resulted in classy wines that are both food friendly yet still have the ability to cellar for decades.
Here are some of my favorite picks from the event. Prices based on suggested retail.
Donnhoff 2013 Tronschiefer Riesling Trocken, Nahe, Germany ($30): Green apple, white plum, peach, grapefruit rind and mineral. Lively, fresh and stimulating to the senses.
Geil 2013 Geyersberg Riesling Trocken, Rheinhessen, Germany ($33): Very young, very vibrant with pretty floral aromas, flavors of pear, dried apricot and fleshy texture. Great wine to serve as an aperitif or with spicy Asian cuisine.
Kunstler 2013 Hochheimer Kirchenstuck Riesling Kabinett Trocken, Rheingau, Germany ($33): Fragrant aromas of spring flowers, fresh citrus and mineral. Medium body with lively flavors of lychee, mango, grilled pineapple, and a long finish.
Schlossgut Diel 2013 Riesling Kabinett, Nahe, Germany ($31): Young and fresh wine with notes of ripe golden delicious apple, fresh citrus, green tea, sage, mint and racy acidity.
Fantastic wine that makes you feel younger with each sip!
Brundlmayer 2013 Riesling ‘Kamptaler Terrassen’, Kamptal, Austria ($27): Impressive example of Riesling from the Kamptal region on the Danube River in Austria. Ripe pear, lime, hazelnut, sea salt and a nice toasty note on the finish.