Category Archives: People

Tasty New Releases: Germany, Austria and beyond

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.

Gunter Kunstler of Weingut Kunstler celebrates a German goal in a World Cup game televised at the tasting in SF.
Gunter Kunstler of Weingut Kunstler celebrates a German goal in a World Cup game televised at the tasting in SF.

“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.”

Two tasty interpretations of the 2013 vintage from Weingut Hexamer in the Nahe region.
Two tasty interpretations of the 2013 vintage from Weingut Hexamer in the Nahe region.

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.

From the Kamptal region of Austria: Peter Schleimer of Schloss Gobelsburg and Vincent Brundlmayer of Brundlmayer.
From the Kamptal region of Austria: Peter Schleimer of Schloss Gobelsburg and Vincent Brundlmayer of Brundlmayer.

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.


US vs. Belgium: It’s time for a frothy perspective

As much as I talk about wines, I must say that today’s World Cup game matching the United States vs. Belgium makes it impossible for me to resist my love for fine Belgium brew. Of course this includes the fine beers made by the Trappist monks at Notre-Dame de Scourmont Abbey in Chimay and other top producers in country like Duvel, Affligem and Leffe, as well as talented brewers who are making their stylized versions here in the United States like Ommegang Brewery in Cooperston, N.Y. and New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado.

CHIMAYWith that being said, here’s a link to the tasty article I wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle Food & Wine section in May 2003:  “U.S. acquiring a taste for Belgian ales / Fruity, spicy, rich and brewed by monks“.

It’s also worth mentioning that I was quite honored to find out there is a reference to this article on the Wikipedia page for the Chimay Brewery. Pretty cool!

In short: No simple beers. No simple game. Long live fine Belgian beer, but today go Team USA!

Cheers, Christopher

P.S. For more information on the Chimay Brewery, their specialty beers and the fine cheese made by the Trappist monks, visit

Fifty Years Later: The historic Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines at Bacigalupi Vineyards

This past weekend, Helen Bacigalupi and her family celebrated the 50-year anniversary of planting the original blocks of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes at the famed Bacigalupi Vineyards in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley.

helen b blogIt’s a story that began more than six decades ago when Helen married Charles Bacigalupi, a Sonoma County native, whose grandfather had a winery on Chiquita Road and who grew up filling jugs of wine straight from the barrel for customers who shopped at his family’s Bacigalupi Market on Fourth Street in Santa Rosa.

After meeting in college, the young lovebirds were married and moved to Healdsburg, where Charles established his long-term career as a dentist and Helen worked a short stint as a pharmacist before she took on her new role as the family’s official ranch keeper and accountant when the Bacigalupis purchased the old Goddard Ranch on Westside Road in 1956.

At the time of purchase, the hillside property featured 16 acres of vineyards planted with a classic field blend of Zinfandel mixed with Alicante Bouschet, Golden Chasselas, Muscat and Mission. But back then the more lucrative crops on the property were fruit trees and small walnut orchard. So to make ends meet, Helen and Charles bought ten pure-bred Angus steers from the nearby MacMurray Ranch owned by actor Fred MacMurray and raised them and the offspring on the pasture land at the ranch over the next 15 years.

In 1964 the focus on grape growing on the property started to change, when the family planted a new 14 acres parcel of vineyards which included Chardonnay and the first Pinot Noir vines planted on Westside Road.

Once these new vineyard blocks were established, the Bacigalupis began selling grapes to Rodney Strong and the Foppiano and Seghesio families. In 1973, Helen sold 14 tons of Chardonnay to Chateau Montelena, which eventually became 40 percent of the master blend in the famous wine that won over the French in the famed Paris Tasting in 1976.

Helen’s tale of how the wine made it to Paris starts when she received a call from Mike Grgich (the Chateau Montelena winemaker in 1973) saying he would like to buy some of the Bacigalupi Chardonnay grapes he had heard so much about. After an agreement was reached, she sold the winery 15 tons. But, according to Helen, getting the fruit from Russian River Valley to Calistoga was not such an easy task.

“It took me six trips to the winery and I hauled the grapes with my little Volkswagen pickup and a custom-made trailer. It was a little scary because the Volkswagen didn’t have the guts to get over the hill from Alexander Valley to Calistoga in Napa Valley. So I would gun it at the bottom and pray to God that nobody got in my way going up the hill to slow me down. If that had happened, I never would have made it.”

Fast-forward three years. Helen was baking a cake to celebrate the Bicentennial anniversary on July 4, 1976 when the phone rang and it was Mike Grgich. He told her then that we had won the Paris Tasting against the French. He also inquired about buying more grapes, but she had to tell him I was sorry because they were already sold.

Helen went on to say that the impact of the Paris Tasting took several years. “Today it’s still impacting the wines made in Northern California but I don’t think that people here understood how important the award was at the time,” says Helen, now 89 years young. “On the other hand, the French felt the impact immediately!”

At the end of the 1970s, the family partnered with Peter Friedman of Belvedere Winery and bottled its first vineyard designate Chardonnay as part of the Grapemaker Series. A few years later, the 1982 vintage won the Sonoma Harvest Fair Sweepstakes and the wine was eventually served at the White House. But after a decade of national distribution, the Bacigalupis ended their partnership with Healdsburg Wine Growers, Inc and made its last bottles of the Belvedere Bacigalupi Chardonnay in 1987.

As the demand for premium grapes expanded, the family began developing vineyards on newly purchased properties, including a 15 acre parcel on Lytton Station Road in Alexander Valley in 1973; the Bloom Ranch adjacent to the original Bacigalupi property in 1983; and the Frost Ranch on Westside Road in 1993.

Over the past two decades, most of the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah grapes grown on the properties have been sold to a wide range of boutique producers, including Wiliam Seylem, Armida, Fantesa, Graton Ridge, Rudd, Tudal, Arista, Gott, Venge, Gracianna and John Tyler Wines (a brand started by Charles and Helen’s son John and his wife Pam began in 2002). But today, a portion of the precious fruit is being used by winemaker Ashley Hertzberg, who was hired by the family in 2011 to create a new series of Bacigalupi wines that are primarily sold to high-end restaurants and at the new tasting room at the base of the Goddard property.


In memory of the great winemaker Bob Sessions of Hanzell Vineyards

In honor of the great Bob Sessions, the emeritus winemaker at Hanzell Vineyards in Sonoma Valley, who passed away last week; here’s a link to my article “History Captured in a Bottle” on the Sessions Vineyard Pinot Noir that ran in The Tasting Panel Magazine last September. Bob was an iconic man, who myself and many others learned a lot from, and he will be greatly missed. -CS