Category Archives: Event

Rhône Rendezvous! Thursday September 12 at Gravenstein Grill

Taste world class Sonoma County Rhône style wines, including Syrahs, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Viognier, Marssanne, Roussane & more at the annual Rhône Rendezvous at Gravenstein Grill, hosted by myself, Sommelier Chris Sawyer! These small production wines are a passion of local winemakers who are bringing styles of one of the most interesting French wine regions home to the Bay Area. Come meet the winemakers themselves and find out more about these incredibly unique wines.

Get your TICKETS!  Experience these wines!

ACORN Winery, Amapola Creek Winery, Benovia Winery, Cochon, CRUX Winery, Dane Cellars , Davis Family Vineyards, Donelan Family Wines, Enkidu Winery, Girl & The Fig, GlenLyon Winery, Jeff Cohn Cellars, Keller Estate, The Larsen Projekt, Lasseter Family Winery, Mengler Family Wines, Miner Family Winery, Muscardini Cellars, Odisea Wine Company, Onesta Wines , Scherrer Winery , Winery Sixteen 600, Trentadue Winery, Two Shepherds & more!

There will be live music, light hors d’oeuvres, and tastings with all wineries included with each ticket.  This event is out on our Grove patio from 5:30pm-7:30pm. Don’t miss this once a year event!

Mags for Ag comes to L.A. on August 1st!

After my ethereal Healdsburg unicorn adventure here is another chance to join in the festivities and raise some money with the L.A. crowd!  Mags for Ag at the Petersen Automotive Museum, this Thursday August 1st!

7PM RECEPTION:  Caviar, Wines, Canapés, Hibachi Grill, Cured Meats & Cheese

8PM DINNER:  Keynote Speaker, Multi-Course Feast, Magnums Poured Table-side

9PM SILENT AUCTION:  More Wine, Silent Auction & Dessert Reception with Chefs

Mags for Ag is an intimate culinary experience promising up-close engagements with more than a dozen star winemakers pouring magnums table side and chefs cooking to support an important conversation in agriculture to grow thousands of new farmers each year.  It kicks-off with winemaker reception followed by a keynote speaker, seated dinner and silent-auction filled with wine magnums and experiences to benefit charity.

TICKETS are $249 and include reception, dinner & silent auction +save 15% with the PROMOCODE -wineclub

Chefs and winemakers include Host Chef Sean Dent of Drago, Duskie Estes of Black Pig Meat Co., Joshua Whigham of Lapis and Anthony Sasso together with wine friends at Coursey Graves, Sangiacomo Family Vineyards, Small Vines, Lando Wines, Kreck Wines, Arcadian Winery, Davis Family Vineyards, Acorn Winery, Silver Oak Cellars, Rocca Family Vineyards and Phifer Pavitt.

NVWLA 57th Annual Grand Wine Tasting! Sunday, August 4th

Just a SHOUT OUT about this Napa Valley Wine Library Association 57th Annual Grand Wine Tasting on August 4th at The Silverado Resort & Spa.

There will be sixty to seventy-five Napa Valley wineries pouring wines which have been chosen for their expression of a certain style. This could be of appellation, terroir, vintage, variety, or blend. The choice is up to each winery.

Sign up & get your TICKETS!

P.S. I Love You at CIA Napa on July 14th

Celebrate Bastille Day at this P.S. I Love You event, hosted at the CIA in Napa!  Last year I moderated the seminar and will be in attendance this year as well.  The panel event has SOLD OUT, but join in afterwards for a Tasting Reception featuring delicious bites paired with none other than Petite Sirah:  Register HERE!

Some DEETS about “The Petite Masters” Panel & Tasting Reception, hosted by P.S. I Love You

A historic journey with the American heritage grape, Petite Sirah and the top taste makers from Napa Valley

Discover Petite Sirah’s extraordinary journey to America and how the formidable pioneer forged a cornerstone in America’s rich wine history. Today, this all-American varietal is a grape on the move and trending in popularity among winemakers and savvy consumers alike. Enjoy a fascinating and informative roundtable tasting with notable winemakers specializing in premium Petite Sirah.

You’ll hear from top taste-makers, including George Urquiola of Robert Biale Vineyards, Stephanie Douglas of Aratas Wine, Randle Johnson of The Hess Collection and Artezin Wines, Julie Johnson of Tres Sabores Winery, and Miro Tcholakov of Miro Cellars and Trentadue Winery. These panelists will be joined by other Napa Valley producers to share why they are passionate about producing Petite Sirah.

Following an informative conversation, you’ll have the opportunity to sample stylistic Petite Sirah from 20 California producers. The wines will be paired with gourmet bites from CIA chefs.

P.S. I Love You is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote, educate, and legitimize Petite Sirah as a heritage variety, with a special emphasis on its terroir uniqueness.

Participating Wineries:
Aratas Wine Napa Valley
Artezin Wines
Aix Sponsa Cellar
Ballentine Vineyards
Berryessa Gap Vineyards
Dark & Delicious Petite Sirah
Denier-Handal Wines
Foppiano Vineyards
Merisi Wines
Michael David Winery
Miro Cellars
Quixote Winery
Tenbrink Vineyards and Winery
Robert Biale Vineyards
Stanton Vineyards
Theopolis Vineyards
Three Clicks Wines
Tres Sabores
Vincent Arroyo Winery
Vezer Family Vineyard

Here comes the Telluride Wine Festival! June 27-30

I am looking forward to another visit to the mile-high town, with lots of delicious wines, foods and friends!  Why join me there for my fourth year?  The Telluride Wine Festival is a community event that’s not only fun; it is also an opportunity to experience epicurean delights with other people who love food and wine! You’ll learn about what wines you like and why…enjoy creative wine and food pairings…and how to craft fabulous cocktails.

Check out this winery line-up for the 38th year!

Celebrating Colorado with local favorites: Red Fox Cellars, Four Leaves, Vinne Ferra, Chill Switch Winery and The Storm Cellar.

More Select Wineries: Alpha Omega Collective, Aratás Winery, Bodega de Edgar, Carpenter Wine, Belharra, Canard Vineyard, Chateau D’Esclans, J. Lohr Vineyards and Wines, Llamas Family Wines, Kinsella Estate, Oakville East Exposure, Peachy Canyon Wine, Pellet Estate,  Skylark Wine, Tamber Bey Vineyards, Thirty Seven Winery, 2Hawk Winery, Turnbull Wine Cellars, VGS Chateau Potelle, Zinke Winery and two Champagne Houses–Laurent Perrier and Freixenent-Mionetto!

Peruse the list of EVENTS, including my fabulous seminars:  “Sommelier Winemakers: The Double Edge” & “Bubbles & Stills: Building a Bridge between Champagne and New World Varietals

Ready to pack your bags yet?  Hope to see you there!

Follow the updates at Facebook, Instagram & Twitter!

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Wine Festival glass
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Immersion: Vineyard Exploration + Tasting @Signature Sonoma Valley – May 17th!

Make time for this  CLONAL EXPLORATION I will be moderating, a Signature Sonoma Valley  seminar with guest panelists from Gloria Ferrer.  I am looking forward to exploring the extensive clonal research projects Gloria Ferrer has done in conjunction with my alma mater UC Davis. The studies were specifically about sparkling wine, and more than 40 clones of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, 18 of which were brought for the first time from Champagne, France.

FEATURING WINES FROM GLORIA FERRER CAVES & VINEYARDS

Mike Crumly, VP of Production, led Gloria Ferrer as one of the great Pinot Noir pioneers in the 1980’s, will lead guests on an exciting vineyard exploration, exploring various clone trials currently in the field. Guests will even get the opportunity to see a replant of one of the original clone trial vineyard blocks – a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. Following the vineyard exploration, Winemaker Steven Urberg will lead guests in a tasting of single Pinot Noir clones – some Dijon and Swiss clones, as well as some California clone selections – discovering the unique characteristics of each.

Signature Sonoma Valley is a distinctive wine experience that happens May 17-19 this year.  From the heights of Moon Mountain to the windswept hills of Carneros, Signature Sonoma Valley is a uniquely exclusive immersion into the incomparable wines, acclaimed vineyards and legendary wine community of Sonoma Valley. Be one of the few to experience this highly-curated wine weekend with unprecedented access to over 80 sommelier-selected wines and the 100+ celebrated vintners and winegrowers who craft them.

Signature Sonoma Valley tickets are available to purchase
individually, or via the weekend package at www.SonomaValleyWine.com/Signature-Sonoma-Valley.

#SauvBlancDay or Everyday: Around the World with Sauvignon Blanc

When the annual International Sauvignon Blanc Day (aka #sauvblancday via social media) takes place on Friday, May 3, there so many so many things to celebrate.

In French, sauvignon means ‘wild.’ As one of the noble white varieties, Sauvignon Blanc has the rare ability to produce grape clusters that are naturally aromatic and filled with ripe fruity flavors, minerality, and high acidity. These distinctions help create a wide selection of wines that range from aromatic, fruity and acid-driven; to deep, rich and complex; all the way to world-class dessert wines that are sweet, tangy and age-worthy.

With genetic links to Chenin Blanc, the heritage of this magnificent grape can be traced to the Loire Valley in France. While becoming the prized grape variety grown in the enchanting appellations of Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and Touraine in the eastern segment of the valley, Sauvignon Blanc was also bred with Cabernet Franc to create the super grape we now lovingly call Cabernet Sauvignon.

Therefore, when Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc became a preeminent red grapes to plant in the emerging Bordeaux region in the south of France in the 1800s, Sauvignon Blanc became the decisive white counterpart in that region as well. And today Semillon and sometimes Muscadelle are blended with this noble grape to make the classic Bordeaux Blanc wines in the Graves region, as well as the prized sweet wines from the famed Sauternes appellation.

After moving California in the 1870s, French winemaker Louis Mel propagated Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon vines in Livermore Valley with plant material he sourced from Marquis de Lur-Saluces, the proprietor of Chateau Y’quem. The property was purchased by the Wente family in the 1930s, and it was in 1934 when brothers Ernest and Herman Wente introduced Sauvignon Blanc as the first grape varietal to ever appear on a California label.

As the years passed, the interest in the grape spread to Napa Valley with the development of the historic blocks at the To Kalon Vineyard in Oakville and the stylish botrytisized sweet wines that Myron Nightengale began making at Beringer Winery in the late 1970s after he perfected these skills at Cresta Blanca Winery in Livermore Valley twenty years earlier.

Similar things were happening in other parts of California, including the first ever bottlings of ‘Fume Blanc’ as an innovative New World offering modeled after the drier, barrel-aged style made in the Pouilly-Fumé region that were launched in the 1980s by David Stare at Dry Creek Vineyard and a new grouping of innovative styles of SB designed for pairing with fine cuisine that were crafted by Fred Brander of Brander Winery in Santa Barbara County in the 1990s.

However, the big push in the marketplace did not happen until the late-1990s when momentum shifted to New Zealand. In particularly, the Marlborough region on the southern end of the north island, where innovative viticulturalists and winemakers set a new precedence by creating wines packed with ripe fruity flavors, grassy and herbal aromas, and razor-sharp acidity that have become the hallmark attributes of many of the Sauvignon Blancs made in this small country.

Since then, the popularity of the grape has expanded around the globe from California, Southern Oregon, Chile, Uruguay, Australia and South Africa in the New World, as well as the Old World regions of Friuli and Alto Adige regions in Northern Italy to the southern reaches of Germany and Austria, the center of Spain, and a multitude of special areas in Eastern block countries.

Aside from being extremely aromatic and tasty on their own, the best Sauvignon Blancs are fantastic to pair with a cornucopia of culinary delights, including goat cheese, fresh salads, soups, grilled veggies, shellfish, and a multitude of dishes made with fresh fish, pork, poultry and others that that are more focused on Japanese, Vietnamese, Asian or Indian flair.

In April, to prepare for Sauv Blanc Day and all the great opportunities to share wines made with this magnificent grape variety, I gathered together an amazing group of wine pros for a rare blind tasting of nine of the best high-end selections of Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, California and the Loire Valley.

This talented group of tasters from Northern California included winemakers, proprietors and growers Nick Goldschmidt (Goldschmidt Vineyards), Michael Scholz (St. Supery), Mark Lyon (Eco Terreno Wines), Vance Rose (Grieve Family Winery) and Lauren Benward Krause (Beltane Ranch); sommeliers and wine buyers Jamie Harding (Picco Restaurant), James Dick (Mustard’s Grill), Melissa Hotchkiss (SEA Thai Bistro), Eduardo Dingler, Consulting Sommelier / Wine Access.com, and Glenn Siegel, WineSpectrum.com; media and trade members Dan Berger (Vintage Experiences / Syndicated Writer); Erin Kirschenmann (Wine Business Monthly), Kelly Mitchell (TheWineSiren.com) and David Strada (New Zealand Wine US / New Zealand Winegrower); Chef Lauren Kershner (Goodness Gracious Eats); and Don Sebastiani Sr, who generously hosted the newest installment of the Sawyer-Casale Wine Education Series at his home in Sonoma.

Here are the reviews and comments of the fabulous wines we tasted, as listed in the order of how the wines were positioned in the flight:

Nautilus 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand – $23 / Group score: 96 points

In Wine Grapes (2012), the book she co-authored with Dr. José Vouillamoz and Julia Harding, wine critic Jancis Robinson noted that of the 44,479 acres of Sauvignon Blanc planted in New Zealand in 2011, 38,796 of those acres are located in Marlborough. That’s means more than 85% of the vines are located in this special area that is influenced by warm days and cool maritime breezes in the late afternoon.  And rest assured, the demand for the exports remains strong today.

As a general rule, most of the top Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand are made with that hands-off approach to winemaking. Meaning, that instead of aging the wines in new oak barrels, more of the emphasis is placed on the use of stainless-steel tanks and neutral oak in order to preserve the ripe flavors of the grapes from the vineyards to the bottle. As a great example of this more à la naturelle approach, David Strada of NZ Wine and I chose to taste the group on the 2018 release from the Nautilus Estate from Martinborough.

With a lovely light pale hue, the wine opens up with perfumed aromas of fresh jasmine, fresh citrus, cantaloupe, kiwi, boxwood and grassy notes lingering in the background. Young, bright and opulent on the palate, dazzling flavors of ripe guava, gooseberry, tart apple and fresh-squeezed kaffir lime are complemented with hints of bamboo shoots and celery salt leading to a lean and delicate finish.

Team Comments: To be frank, this was a wine with a lot to give. To me, it was a classic example of Sauvignon Blanc: grassy, fruity and an enthusiastic wine offers such complexity in every sip. Hotchkiss also loved the overall balance of the wine. “I was impressed by how restrained it was on palate for having such lively aromatics,” she said. While Mitchell described it as “an acid freak with freshness and finesse,” Dingler saw it as a great party starter. “I don’t know if I would age it as much a buy cases of this wine and drink it every day!” he quipped with a smile. In the end, an amazing wine—especially for the price!

Lail 2017 Blueprint Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley – $34 / Group score: 92 points

While it’s true that most premium Sauvignon Blancs on the West Coast are fermented in more neutral vessels, including stainless steel, older barrels and concrete eggs. There are also many higher-end styles that are modeled after the Bordeaux wines aged in newer French oak barrels to create wines that more complex and ageworthy. From Napa Valley, one of the labels known for this fusion of power and finesse is the Blueprint Sauvignon Blanc from Lail Vineyards.

Crafted by talented French winemaker Phillipe Melka with fruit from the Yountville and Coombsville appellations and aged in 43 percent new French oak. For this reason, the essence is oak is very noticeable in the first sniff. But after a few swirls, the fruit notes of white spring flowers and candied fruits are accentuated with ones of lemon peel, caramel, sandalwood and roasted hazelnuts. As the wine opens up in the glass, the pronounced flavors of mango, papaya, apricot and white peach custard are enhanced with notes of cinnamon, crushed rocks and lingering French oak on the finish. In contrast to being bright and light on its feet, the texture is rich and creamy yet weighty. Therefore, the wine was more focused on mouthfeel than flavor during its youth

Team Comments: Lyon thought it was very well made for an oak-style Sauvignon Blanc, while Berger thought it needed more acidity to support the rich texture. And while Rose liked the mid-palate, he agreed that it was more oak driven than all the other wines we tasted. Dick also thought it was hard to identify as an SB, but more as an expensive white wine was better to pair with heartier dishes like a rich bisque, poached lobster with butter or a fish-based pasta with fresh herbs and creamy white sauce.

Aperture 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, Soil Specific Series, Sonoma County – $32 / Group Score: 95 points

Currently, there are over 2,500 acres of Sauvignon Blanc planted in Sonoma County. Among the big fans of the grape variety is gifted winemaker Jesse Katz, who modeled this limited release of the Aperture Sauvignon Blanc after the famous barrel-fermented Haut-Brion Blanc crafted in Bordeaux. The end result is a crisp wine with great depth of flavors and natural richness, while still remaining light on its feet.

On the nose, the lofty aromas of ripe tropical fruits and orchard fruits are interlaced with lively hints of fresh lime, spearmint, white pepper, bay laurel, mineral, wet stone, and roasted nuts. To energize the palate, the flavors expand with notes of crisp apple, gooseberry, grapefruit, quince, fresh sage, fava beans and spices. Long and round, the flavors are complimented with a rich texture and a nice burst of racy acidity that made the mineral notes shine instead of covering them up with oak.

Team Comments: This was “Light-weight, enjoyable and fresh,” said Hotchkiss. Kirschenmann agreed: “Food friendly and begging for oysters,” she wrote. For Mitchell, who liked it the best of the flight, it was about the “long seductive finish.” Goldschmidt picked it as his favorite wine as well. “I f*#kin’ love it,” he said, with a laugh. “This is so outside my box. I drink New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc nearly every day of my life and this is a departure from that style. Besides the layers of fruit, I also enjoy the slight nutty quality that makes me want to investigate this wine in more detail.”

Grieve Family Winery 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley – $45 / Group Score: 92 points

For a mystery wine with a Northern California twist, I threw in the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc from Grieve Family Winery. This joint venture between David and Kathleen Grieve and winemaker Vance Rose and his wife Kelly is made with organically grown grapes from a special vineyard located alongside the old Wells Fargo pass through Lovall Valley at the southern end of the Mayacamas Mountains, between Napa and Sonoma. In addition to the main portion of the usual Clone 1 of Sauvignon Blanc grown on the estate property, there are also smaller portions of the more aromatic Musque Clone grown on the northern portion of the vineyard as well. Once picked, Rose aged the different blocks in a unique mixture of new French oak, neutral oak and concrete eggs to create an endearing wine that represents a true sense of the site in the glass.

Ripe and lively, the wine opens up with lofty scents of ripe green melons, stone fruits, honeysuckle, roasted plantains, ginger, raw nutmeg and brilliant hints of flintiness and volcanic ash.  On the palate, expressive notes of sweet melon, crisp apple, white peach, green figs and a hint of Bananas Foster are balanced with hints of citrus and fresh herbs lead to a long mouthwatering finish. Even more impressive was the way the flavors, acidity and the oak, fused together and the way the wine became even more radiant as it opened up.

Team Comments: During the discussion, Berger asked if this wine was based on the region, the winemaker, or does terroir dominate this vineyard. “The mystery about this wine is the fact that it is really delicious but you don’t know where it comes from,” he said. “I adore it, but I can’t figure out what it is.” In contrast, Dingler loved the stone fruit character of this wine, its stamina and texture, and how he felt it was “commanding and unapologetic.” For those reasons, it was his #1 pick. Overall, a great example of the affect the warm California sun can have on vines planted on a very special site.

Domaine Vacheron 2016 Les Romains, Sancerre – $47 / Group Score: 93 points       

To explore the classic style of the Sancerre region of France’s Loire Valley, we tasted this charming, terroir-driven wine from Domaine Vacheron. Located on the eastern edge of the appellation and run by cousins Jean-Laurent and Jean-Dominique, this estate is farmed using biodynamic techniques, and the vines are planted on a unique combination of clay, chalk and silex (a rare combination of flint over clay over limestone)

Named after the early farming techniques passed down by the Romans to the inhabitants of Sancerre, the wine opens up with a lovely bouquet of white flowers, ripe melon, crisp cucumber, lemongrass, chamomile, orange blossom and roasted chestnuts. Light, bright and medium-bodied, the flavors of pink apple, cantaloupe, lemon, grapefruit, paraffin and fresh chervil are balanced with crisp acidity and a hint of sea salt leading to a long, dry finish. Overall, this was a complex wine with great texture. The kind of wine that makes you stop in your tracks and pay attention to details.

Team Comments: Using the flinty and chalky notes as clues, Lyon guessed this was a Sancerre style wine during the blind tasting. And while others were impressed with the expressive flavors and mouthwatering effect on the palate, the short finish left a little to be desired. Therefore, we concluded it would be a good wine to serve with a dish like pan-seared scallops with fresh sage and brown butter.

Pegasus Bay 2016 70% Sauvignon / 30% Semillon, North Canterbury / Waipara Valley – $30-$34 / Group Score: 92 points

As an example of a more elite, thought-provoking style from New Zealand, we tasted the 2016 Pegasus Bay, which included 30% Semillon in the blend, made with pristine fruit from the North Canterbury and Waipara Valley. Although most of the Sauvignon Blanc was matured in stainless steel tanks, a small percentage was aged in oak barrel to create more texture and layers of flavors. Once the final blend was finished, the wine matured for an additional year before being released.

With a pale golden hue, the wine opens up with notes of exotic melon, green leafy vegetables, lemon peel, and hints of chicken stock, raw honey and musk. In the mouth, the fruit flavors of ripe melon, grapefruit, passionfruit and poached pear were balanced with notes of white asparagus, crisp green beans, fresh herbs and an intriguing dash of gritty country-style mustard on the finish and burst of racy acidity that lingers on the tip of the tongue.

Team Comments: This was by far the most controversial wine in the flight. Some loved it, while others thought the flavors were to bitter and overworked. For starters, the wine had the highest level of pyrazines of all the selections we tasted. For that reason, it reminded Lyon of the old popular styles of Sauvignon Blanc made in New Zealand and Monterey that had the green veggie character. Siegel felt the wine was a little disjointed. Whereas, Mitchell had a different spin, “I was just hoping the petrol would go away. That did not happen. For that reason, it was a little off-putting to me.” And Goldschmidt used the term “armpits.” We’ll leave it there.

In contrast, Schulz took a more positive angle: “Great expression, good fruit but a little dirty. But overall, I think it holds up well, especially by the way it matches the flinty and stony characteristics with great length, intensity and volume. For those reasons, I think it’s a pretty clever wine.”

Berger also gave it a high mark because of the vision of the winemaker. “Although I don’t know if I think this wine is the best on the table, I like it because of the creativity and the courage of the winemaker. If you buy that premise, then you buy the wine.” And Jamie liked the focus on terroir. “I really felt that the winery was more focused on capturing a true sense of place.  For that reason, I felt they really got it in this wine.”

Francois Cotat 2017 Grande Cote, Chavignol, Sancerre – $52 / Group Score: 90 points

For a slightly different style from the Sancerre region, we tried this special wine crafted by Francois Cotat with fruit from the sub-zone of Chavignol. Unfortunately, one of our two bottles was slightly corked. So we made due with shorter pours for the 16 tasters.

In the glass, the wine opened up with playful notes of fresh spring flowers, ripe green fruits, ripe citrus, lemongrass, fresh agave, crystalized ginger, boxwood and graham cracker crust. The palate was medium to full-bodied with notes of crisp apple, fresh melon, tart stone fruits mixed, canned pineapple juice, nectarine, fennel and starfruit.

Team Comments: While there was plenty to like about the intriguing aromas and flavors this wine had to offer, there were differing opinions about the winemaking style. Some thought the palate was a little flabby and closed. Others thought it didn’t have enough acidity. And Rose was not a fan of the wine overall. “To me it had that lemon characteristic that reminded me of a wanna-be Chardonnay,” he said. “When you add in that sharp spice character, it didn’t seem very much like a Sauvignon Blanc to me.” Some also felt (myself included) the wine was rather austere and the finish was a little too hollow. As a result, we thought it would be a much better served with Asian cuisine that can work with its strengths.

Giesen 2014 “The Fuder” Sauvignon Blanc, Single Vineyard Selection: Matthews Lane, Marlborough – $58 / Group Score: 94 points

Climbing up the ladder to the more sophisticated offerings from New Zealand, we sampled the Geisen 2014 “The Fuder.” Made exclusively with fruit from the Matthews Lane Vineyard in Marlborough, this wine was aged for an extended amount of time in 1,000-liter Germany Oak Fuder Barrels.

As a result, the bouquet on this wine really shined with distinctive notes of fresh peach, passionfruit, green papaya, roasted green peppers, and even a hint of Asian Szechuan Peppercorn sauce that was duly noted by Dingler. These flavors are further enhanced with a rich, creamy texture and a generous touch of flint and mineral leading to a lengthy finish.

Team Comments: Elegant, complex and enjoyable, this is a mature wine that really has a lot to offer. On top of that, the wine was deceptively balanced. Meaning that while the acid didn’t show on the first sip, it started to blossom and becomes a major force as the wine opened up.

While I called it the spice-me-up 7-Up equivalent for rockstars, Siegel compared it to the signature riffs laid down American rock guitar legend Duane Allman: “Stylish, elegant with distinctive flavors melded together with round texture and vibrant acidity.”

Schulz liked the way the wine held its own with a little bit of bottle age. “It’s a wine with plenty of opulent aromatic lift and a lively expression of fruit and quality. It’s also got pyrazines, which I’m not usually a fan of. But in this case, those nuances and the bottle age make this wine more interesting.”

Louis-Benjamin Dagueneau 2015 Silex, Pouilly-Fuisse – $103 / Group Score: 93 points

To top off the blind tasting, I included one of the world’s most respected brands that is collected by high-end consumers and oenophiles: the 2015 Silex by Louis-Benjamin Dagueneau. Following the footsteps of his father Didier, who tragically died in 2008, Dagueneau is one of the young winemaking stars of France. And there is no doubt that this wine is about a winemaking style and capturing a sense of place inside the bottle.

Although this wine is complex, intensive and intriguing, the nose was rather shy and delicate with subtle notes of pear, melon, honeysuckle, lemongrass, chamomile, wet stones, buttery pie crust and roasted cashews. The flavors are ripe and punchy with concentrated notes of apple, pear, peach, quince, baked bread and a dry, flinty finish.

At this stage in its life, the wine is still immature but there are signs of great promise ahead.  As Berger put it, “Three minutes with a wine usually tells you something. But ten minutes with this glass really nothing.” Dingler agreed: “At first it was like a bowl of skittles that represented all the colors of the rainbow, along with chamomile and mineral.  Right now, it’s just okay.” For these reasons, the group concluded that it would be best to decant this wine and let it sit for 12 hours.

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In the end, all the high-end offerings of Sauvignon Blanc we tasted were super in their own unique ways. So it’s hard to choose because these wines all offer something completely different. As Berger put it, “If I had to rank these wines from #1 to #9, I’d rank them all as #1.” And Rose agreed: “Rarely do you attend a tasting where subjective opinion is more relevant than this one!”

From a sommelier’s perspective, I also loved the ways each wine really opens up its arms to different pairings. For these reasons, the group concluded it was really amazing to taste this many bottles of Sauvignon Blanc together. Hope all my great readers have a fun time doing this on International Sauvignon Blanc Day and throughout the year!

For more information about the wines we tasted, visit www.NZWine.com, www.GrieveWinery.com and www.BootleBarn.com.

WOW Sonoma: Celebrating Women, Wine & The Future of the Industry

You may have caught my Inside Sonoma column in the April/May Somm Journal titled Rising Representation (page 28): Whether you did or not here is the unabridged version with more bang for your bottle, so to speak!

W.O.W.!

Which came first: Women’s History Month or International Women’s Day? The answer is not as important as the fact that the accomplishments of women are now being celebrated every day of the year. This is especially true in the wine industry where women play much more important roles than ever before as grape growers, winemakers, and proprietors. What connects these spirited individuals is not just their love for wine, food, fun and their drive to succeed in this ever-expanding industry, but also a shared desire for equality in the workplace.

In 2017, Amy Bess Cook took these thoughts to mind when she began developing the Women-Owned Wineries of Sonoma County project (WOWSonoma.com) to celebrate the uniqueness of 50 local entrepreneurs and unsung wine heroines through storytelling, support, and commerce.

Founder of WOW, Amy Bess Cook!
Founder of WOW, Amy Bess Cook!

To gather data and winery contacts,  Cook worked with Dr. Lucia Gilbert, a professor emeritus of feminist psychology at Santa Clara University, who has spent thousands of hours studying women in the wine industry. Since the 1990s, reports have also found that the number of men and women graduating from the major viticulture and enology programs has been nearly even and in some schools there is even a higher percentage of female graduates over males. Therefore, the list of WOW members now includes over 550 women-owned wineries and women winemakers nationwide.

Granted, there is still a lot of disparity in the industry. For starters is the fact that women only represent 10% of the lead winemakers at the 4,000+ wineries that are currently operating in California. While only 4% are owners of wineries, most are producing small boutique brands which are beginning to catch the interest of a growing number of sommeliers, wine retailers and general consumers searching for wines with more unique characteristics, personalities, and direct connections to the winemakers and women owners behind the labels.

Not surprisingly, the highest percentage (12 to 14%) of these rising entrepreneurs are located in the North Bay. As a result, Cook has been able to work directly and promote exciting new brands that have been emerging in the American wine scene over the past year.

“To me, this project has become a full manifestation of change in the industry that will benefit from increasing sales and awareness of wines made by women, but also providing a platform to address imperative issues and inequities that requires a true team effort,” says Cook.

Shauna Rosenblum of Rock Wall Wine Company.
Shauna Rosenblum of Rock Wall Wine Company.

In February, to celebrate the one-year anniversary and achievements of this provocative business model, members of the WOW movement gathered at the “Here’s To Her” Dinner: a feast, fete and informative discussion emceed by Beck Hopkins of Folio Fine Wine Partners and hosted by culinary entrepreneur Sondra Bernstein, Chef John Toulze, and her staff at Salon D in Sonoma.

Among the featured winemakers was Shauna Rosenblum, who joined forces with her father, the “King of Zin” Kent Rosenblum, to start the Alameda-based Rock Wall Wine Company in 2008. Although she was already winemaker and business partner before her father’s death last year, Rosenblum said she felt like a kid trying to gain peoples respect over the first eight years. To hold strong and ascend to the “O.G. level” over the past four years, Rosenblum put her focus on creating an impressive series of wines she wanted to drink.

“If you are having fun with what you are doing nobody can stop your shine,” says Rosenblum, whose 2017 Rock Wall Sparkling Rose, one of the five sparkling wines that make up nearly half of the 6,000 cases the winery produces each year produced , was served at the during the opening reception at the dinner.

Gifted winemaker Katy Wilson of LaRue Wines in Sebastopol, says she experiences inequality when men address other men in the group rather than speaking to her directly, especially when she is the person responding and they continue to speak to the men in the group. She also finds that both men and women tend to use a man’s last name when making an introduction and then introduce her simply as “Katy”.

“You have to encourage yourself to keep your spirit up and driving your points home through the quality of the finished wines you produce,” says Wilson, who provided the   LaRue 2015 Pinot Noir from the Rice-Spivak Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast that was served with the first course of the dinner.

Jennifer Reichardt, whose Raft 2017 Sangiovese from Butte County was paired with the Liberty Duck from her family’s farm in Petaluma, has battled against being stereotyped as young, cute and immature. All this while cutting her teeth delivering her family products to top restaurants in the Bay Area and working harvest for top producers in Sonoma County, Chile and Australia before launching the Raft Wines brand in 2016. This dedication and focus has paid dividends with the demand and production of her wines increasing from 300 to 1,000 cases over a three-year period.

“While growing up around wine helped elevate my interest in working with grapes,” says Reichardt. “Making my own wine and owning the label helps me avoid being controlled by rank and file, as well as making the styles of food-friendly wines I want to be known for making.”

Another dinner attendee was Brenae Royal, a spirited viticulturalist, who puts her passion into managing and curating the glorious vines at the legendary Monte Rosso Vineyard overlooking Sonoma Valley and other admirable E. & J. Gallo properties in Sonoma County.

“To me, harvest is like sending the kids off to college,” says Royal, in reference to the 2014 Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon from Monte Rosso that was that was served with Chocolate-Dipped Figs at the end of the meal. “You’ve done everything you could to get them there. Now it’s up to the people around them (the winemakers) to help take them go to the next level.”

While it’s been a natural fit to elevate her game to meet the need of the winemakers she works with, the harder part of the job has been to have people accept her as a minority and a woman.

“At the end of the day I’m a farmer. So the fact that I am a woman of color is completely irrelevant. Thus, I’m not looking for notoriety, but to get the respect from my male counterparts in the industry,” she says.

In the end, Hopkins says these stories of ingenuity, determination and tolerance are important lessons to share with the with the wine industry as a whole. “If you are afraid to speak up, then how are people going to follow you?” asked Hopkins. “Instead, it’s about being passionate, efficient and standing tall as a close knit community.”

Make your way to Rosé at Gravenstein Grill on April 18th!

Join us for the first event of Gravenstein Grill‘s second annual Summer Wine Series for a taste of the AMAZING new Rosé releases by Sonoma County wineries!

On April 18th, from 5:30-7:30,  enjoy sips and appetizers with these participating wineries; Radio-Coteau, Kokomo Winery, Papapietro Perry Winery, Balletto Vineyards & Winery, Talisman Wines (Official Fan Page), Claypool Cellars, ACORN Winery, Rodney Strong Vineyards, Jigar Wines, The Larsen Projekt, Muscardini Cellars, Halleck Vineyard, RED CAR WINE and many more stylish producers of dry pink wines!

All for $25: Get your TICKETS!

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There will also be live music in outdoor on our Grove Patio, so come ready to eat, drink, mingle and have a great time in West Sonoma Wine Country!

 

Let Fire & Vine heat up your Kitchen!

Hot off a delectable Fire & Vine evening:  A personal food and wine experience featuring Sonoma county locals Chef Pat Langst and myself, Sommelier Christopher Sawyer!

Host either one of Chef Pat’s specially crafted dinners or a “Wine & Cooking Boot Camp” to prep it yourself!  Either partnered perfectly with wines selected by your favorite Sommelier to accentuate the dining experience!  Perhaps these recent photos will entice you to schedule your event?

Please inquire through wine@sawyersomm.com for more details. 
Locally sourced ingredients.
Vegetarian and Gluten-Free options.
Some special diets can be accommodated.

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