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By Leah McNally

Did you join us for the 2012 Women for WineSense Grand Event in Napa Valley May 4th -6th? This year’s line-up officially started with The Grand Tasting at Mondavi Winery on Friday Evening. Fifteen individual wineries, Volcanic Mineral Refresher of Ashland, Oregon and a selection of Washington wines presented by Washington winemaker, Judy Thoet were featured along hors d’oeuvres and chocolate. Grand Dame Margarite Mondavi welcomed us in conjunction with National President Rebecca E. Moore. The evening was mild and the wines were fantastic, and the colorful light-up rings, compliments of Stella and Dot Jewelry that came with the welcome bags made everything more glamorous.  There is nothing like a group of women, dressed to the nines with glasses of wines and twinkling lights on their fingers to set the mood.

Some members took advantage of Friday morning as well for pre-event tours and tastings and those lucky ones (who didn’t have to be at work like I did on Friday) visited some of the most exclusive wineries in the valley- Harlan Estate, Peter Michael, Rudd and Joseph Phelps. Saturday was devoted to more winery tours, and vintner dinners at Idell Family Vineyards of Sonoma, Linked Vineyards in Santa Rosa and Domaine Chandon in Yountville.

Sunday featured the Grand Event Educational Seminars. I attended three that focused on wine and food pairing, including a chocolate tasting and an overview of the wines of Texas. There were two panel discussions – Making Wine a Women’s World that focused on the new generation of millennial women winemakers and Career Ambitions/Career Transitions: Making Wine Your Industry.

My favorite moment of the day was the luncheon and an inspiring awards ceremony. The WWS Hall of Fame award went to Ramona Nicholson of Nicholson Ranch in Sonoma, who spoke to us about the challenges and rewards of raising a family and a winery at the same time. The Rising Star awards featured several notable women. Kathleen Inman is the winemaker and owner of Inman Family Wines in the Russian River Valley, and creates Pinot Noir from her vineyard and winery which is entirely powered by solar energy. Kathy Johnson and Stacy Lill created O Wines in Woodinville, Washington. O Wines gives 100% of its net profits to fund educational scholarships and mentor low income youth. We also recognized our own Professor Liz Thach of Sonoma State University, who was awarded the title Master of Wine in 2011- one of only seven women in the U.S. who hold that title. The Lifetime Achievement award recognized Lorraine Helms of Rochester, New York. With 30 years in the wine industry and as a certified Sommelier, Lorraine founded the Rochester WWS chapter and is currently the head of the Wine Education department at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Thank you to all the volunteers and sponsors who put so much effort into making The Grand Event a reality. You did a great job! If you didn’t attend this year, I hope you can make it in 2014 for the next Grand Event. Cheers!

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The month of August is designated as a time to celebrate “Wine on America’s Table.” This is a tradition upheld by the ten US chapters of Women for Winesense, and a time to reflect on the importance American wine plays in creating a congenial atmosphere with family and friends when consumed in moderation and with food.  But how did this tradition start and why is it important? 

The story begins in the late 1980’s when several female winemakers living in Napa were shocked when their young children came home from school one day and asked “Mommy, why do you make drugs?” After consulting the local school to find out that the topic of lecture that day was drugs and alcohol, these female winemakers decided to start an organization to educate Americans on how moderate consumption of wine can increase quality of life and to celebrate wine as part of the US agricultural heritage.  Thus Women for Winesense (WWS) was born in 1990. 

Part of the education is the month-long event called Wine on America’s Table.  It is an opportunity to sit down during the long, warm and relaxing month of August with family and friends, to eat good food and wine made in America, and to celebrate our heritage. 

After all, wine is an agriculture product, one which Thomas Jefferson encouraged.  According to American Vintage by Paul Lukacs, Jefferson wrote, “No nation is drunken where wine is cheap…. and we have every soil, aspect and climate of the best of wine countries.” 

Wine on America’s Table also celebrates the more than 6000 wineries which operate in the US today — many of which are small family operations.  It also highlights the fact that the US is the 4th largest wine producing nation in the world. 

And so in August, WWS chapters across the US will celebrate wine in moderation as part of our national heritage. Event themes include wine dinners, wine picnics, wine and the Sunday dinner, wine at the Presidential Table, childhood education on wine, cooking with wine, wine from different traditions in the American Melting Pot, and other related topics. 

The Napa/Sonoma Chapter will hold its special wine celebration at Fortunati Vineyards, a private estate nestled in the heart of Napa’s Oak Knoll District.  WWS members and guests will enjoy a leisurely Sunday afternoon amongst the vines.  Alfresco dining tables will be setup in the vineyard.  Wines from Fortunati, Cuvaison, and Sebastiani will be paired perfectly with Rob Larman’s mouth-watering pork, beef and chicken menu.  For more information see: http://www.womenforwinesense.org/content.aspx?page_id=87&club_id=540956&item_id=164658 

For more information on Women for WineSense, see http://www.womenforwinesense.org/.  For more information on American wineries, see http://www.wineamerica.org/.

Seguin Moreau Entrance SignOn July 14th, Bastille Day, members of Women for WineSense, along with their guests, gathered at Seguin Moreau Napa Cooperage to celebrate France’s Independence Day and learn a bit about its long history and the barrel’s relationship with wine.

Kicking off the presentation while attendees enjoyed Valley of the Moon’s Sonoma County 2009 Pinot Blanc and crepes was Seguin Moreau’s President, François Peltereau-Villeneuve, discussing the history of barrel-making as well as its current usage.

We were all surprised to hear from him that only 2% of all wine produced globally is aged in barrels. The vast majority of wine produced is aged in other vessels, such as tanks made from concrete or stainless steel (if aged at all). Considering that wooden barrels have been used to store wine for upwards of 2,000 years, from Rome’s years of glory to the present, you might have thought market penetration would be much greater by now!

In point of fact, there was a time when demand for oak was nearly outstripping supply. The ascent of oak barrels for wine storage had its beginnings in the chateaux cellars and for transporting wine on boats. In addition, France’s oak forests were heavily logged for building military ships.

Audience Listening to Seguin Moreau CEOJust imagine: Something round in shape is simply easier to transport when your FedEx truck is driven by a horse with a cart. And if the barrels, heavy as they are, were square in shape, there’d be no moving them by hand either. Knowing what a beating product took in transportation (not unlike today!), barrels designated for transport had thicker staves, to protect them and the product on their journey to the end destination.

This demand, coupled with the fact that French oak trees cannot be harvested until maturity, around 100-150 years old, placed enormous stress upon France’s forests. What if there were no oaks left to make wine barrels? Mon Dieu! And so the French government stepped in to regulate the sustainability of their forests, though originally to ensure a consistent supply of timber for the warships. Now the ONF, or French National Forests Office, administers the sale of the regulated oak wood.

Fast forward a few centuries and the demand for wine barrels dropped dramatically after World War I and during  Prohibition in the U.S. It wasn’t until the early 1950s that demand picked up again. What with good winemaking skills that had dipped precipitously during Prohibition, Americans weren’t aging wine much—in oak, redwood, concrete or anything. The use of oak barrels for fermenting and aging in the United States came hand in hand with the boom of the Napa Valley. It wasn’t until Robert Mondavi advocated a return to Old World winemaking practices in the 1960s that a resurgence in demand began.

Enjoying the bright and refreshing 2008 Spring Mountain Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc with fresh crepes, Seguin Moreau’s leader continued on about modern barrels. Recently developed and introduced to the market, Seguin Moreau’s Fraîcheur barrels are made with acacia wood heads (and French oak staves), imparting unique floral and fresh characteristics. Some winemakers find this ideal for their white wines.

Francois Peltereau-Villeneuve

Francois Peltereau-Villeneuve

Throughout Mr. Peltereau-Villeneuve’s commentary, attendees asked lots of questions about barrel-making and the winemaker’s interaction and training with the barrels. We were surprised to learn that in the U.S. there is almost no schooling on the myriad effects of oak and toasting levels on the wine. And Stephane Vivier, winemaker of our third wine: 2010 Vivier Rosé of Pinot Noir, chimed in to mention that he received but four hours of training about wine and barrels in Dijon, France.

Stephane indicated that winemaking is a life-long learning process, and the winemaker experiments with different barrels, toasting levels and cooperages (they all have different styles) with his (or her!) wine over many vintages to find the right mix of barrels. Eventually winemakers cull down barrel selection to the ones that consistently work for them and the wines’ styles using oak to accentuate the wine and to lift it—but in the background.

Enjoying our first French wine of the evening, St. Louis Chardonnay VDP Comte Tolosan 2009, Chris Hansen, Seguin Moreau’s sales manager, explained it is common for wineries to purchase barrels from a number of different cooperages. This is so that they can mix and match the various cooperages’ wood and toasting styles with their wine for the aging process.

Each vintage is racked into a variety of barrels from new to one-use (one to three years of age) to neutral (18 months or older) from a variety of cooperages. From this mix the winemaker produces the final blend. And, of course, each wine and each vintage is produced from vines under different geologic and climatic conditions – just as the wood from which the barrels are made were grown with different conditions.

Combined with the fact that the atmospheric pressure present at different times of the day will cause the fire (and thus the toasting of the wood) to vary, the cooper has to be very skilled to take this into consideration in order to ensure consistency in toasting wood. 

All cooperages have different standards for toasting. There is no recipe and thus no industry standard as to what makes up light, medium or heavy toast in a barrel. Then there are often different barrel sizes for different varietals. For example, Burgundy barrels (60 gal.) are most often used to age Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and other white wines. Burgundy barrels usually receive Medium Long toasting. Traditionally, Bordeaux barrels (59 gal. – names originated from their corresponding region) are for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and other red wines. The result of all these options? About a million or more possibilities in aromas and flavors for the finished wine!

Wrapping up his presentation while guests enjoyed the final, French wine, Chateau La Tarciere Muscadet 2009 Sèvre & Maine, Sur Lie, along with some heavenly sugared lemon crepes, François’s key take-away point was that the greatest barrel, the best wood, cannot make bad grapes into great wine. Without the finest grapes to begin with the barrel cannot transform the wine into superb wine.

As some attendees moved into to another room to watch a video about Seguin Moreau’s forest-harvest-to-barrel-cellar product, others commented how astounded they were “that any consistency can be achieved in the barrel wood and fruit interactions given the number of variations at play in the wood alone!”

Some were surprised to hear barrels came from other countries. Besides France, barrels are made from oak trees in America, Hungry, Russia and other European countries.

One thing was clear as guests wound up their visit: There’s a lot to learn about wine barrels, and some of them will return to Seguin Moreau soak up more knowledge on the nuances of the wine barrel.

About Seguin Moreau

Their main cooperage is in Merpins, in Bordeaux. They also have a cooperage in Burgundy, which was established in 1991 in an old grain cooperative—in the center of the town of Chagny, next to the legendary vineyards of Chassagne-Montrachet. And Women for WineSense attendees visited at the Napa cooperage, which was established in 1994 to serve Californian and U.S. winemakers.

For more information, visit Seguin Moreau’s website or view one of many videos on their barrel-making process on YouTube. Many thanks to Lynae Anderson for her expertise on Seguin Moreau and the art of barrel-making for this article!

If you love the rich velvety taste of a big red Malbec wine, then you may also want to experiment with Malbec from Cahors, France.  Cahors is actually the original home of Malbec, and in the Middle Ages it was famous for making “black wine” from this grape.  Though many would argue that Argentina now reigns as world champion producer of Malbec, Cahors winegrowers produce a range of styles from dark, brooding and earthy to modern and fruity.  Interestingly, Cahors was exporting wine long before the Bordeaux wine industry even started.

In June I had the opportunity to visit some of the wineries of Cahors with my sister, and we were very enchanted with the charming countryside filled with vineyards, wild flowers, and mellowed limestone chateaux.

The City of Cahors on the River Lot

The ancient city of Cahors is situated on a dramatic peninsula in the middle of the Lot River.  It was originally settled by the Celts before being taken over by the Romans in 50BC.  We actually saw the stones of an old Roman amphitheater when we parked in the garage under Gambetta Square.  Also equally fascinating was the beautiful and ancient Valentre Bridge spanning the river with its two towers and curving arches.  We had a quick lunch at a sidewalk café before stopping by the Tourist Office for a wine map of the region.  They sent us out of the city via Pradines where many of the chateaux are clustered.  I asked to visit a large winery, as well as a small one.  They called ahead to Cave des Cotes d’Olt to make an appointment for us, and then suggested we just drop by other wineries to see if they were open.  The wineries in this region do not charge tasting fees, but she warned that some of the owners may be working in the field as most were small family operations.

Caves des Cotes d’Olt

Caves des Cotes d’Olt is a large cooperative with multiple labels at different prices points.  It is housed in an impressive stone building, and was a good place to start as an introduction to the region’s famous malbec grape.  The lady operating the tasting room couldn’t speak English, but we managed with my smattering of tourist French.  Her first question was whether we liked “pas tannic” or “plus tannic.”   I requested that we start with the low tannin reds after tasting some  roses.  All three malbec roses were  delightful with a dry, off-dry, and semi-sweet style.  The latter reminded me of a white zinfandel.  All three were very refreshing and fruity,  under 4 euros per bottle, and would do well in the US market.

Moving onto the reds, we tasted through 5 different labels (spitting, of course) starting at 4 euros and going up to 16 euros at the high end.  The first Malbec was a 2009 unoaked in a simple and fruity style with smooth, though large tannins.  The next three were the traditional black and brooding malbecs of Cahors with earthy notes, dark fruit, huge tannins and a
higher acid than Argentinean malbecs.  My sister, Michelle, didn’t care for them that much, but I ended up buying the 2002 Le Paradis Cahors which was aged in new oak for 16  months.  It won a gold medal at the Challenge International Du Vin Competition and was 14.80 euros.

I then asked if we could try another wine with less tannins and the lady brought out a 2010 Demon Noir Malbec which received a gold medal from the 2011 Concours des Feminalise Competition in Beaune (a women’s wine competition!).  This wine amazed me because I thought I was tasting a malbec from Argentina or California.  It was completely New World in
style with very ripe and sweet fruit complemented by big, velvety tannins.  The label was also New World with an adorable and quite memorable “demon.”  I asked if they were exporting the wine, and she said she wasn’t sure – or perhaps didn’t understand my question.  I can’t help but wonder if this is one of Cahor’s competitive responses to the tidal wave of Argentina sweeping the world.  Michelle loved it and immediately bought a bottle for the very nice price of 4.80 euros.

Chateau St. Didier, Chateau de Grezels and Prieure de Cenac

After leaving Cotes d’Olt we drove around the small roads winding through the malbec vineyards trying to decide which chateau to visit next.  There were many choices with good signage pointing towards charming limestone houses surrounded by flowers.  Finally we decided on a group of 3 wineries making wine in one location near the River Lot — Chateau St. Didier,  Chateau de Grezels and Prieure de Cenac.  Walking into a large room with a sign that announced “Degustation and Vente de Vin” (wine tasting and sales), we were greeted by a nice lady who led us to the tasting bar and poured 4 wines from the 3 estates, with the 4th being a rather expensive special vineyard selection.  All of the wines were in the traditional Cahors style with massive tannins, dark fruit, and truffle notes…but I was impressed with the fragrant berry nose of all the wines.  I ended up buying the 2007 Chateau de Grezels Cahors for 5.80 euros.  It was aged in oak for 12 months and was a selection of the 2011 Le Guide Hachette Des Vins.

The whole conversation was again in French, but we were able to understand that 20 to 30% merlot had been added to the wines.  Later I checked the official percentage of malbec that is required for Cahors and found it is 70% minimum, but wineries are allowed to add up to 30% of merlot and/or tannat.

The vineyards around the chateaux appeared to be wider spacing than Bordeaux – perhaps 4 by 6 feet with a single caned pruned arm (guyot).  The vines were allowed to grow quite high for France – at least 5 feet.  The whole area is charming, beautiful, and non-touristy which makes it very enjoyable to visit.

What's in the GlassIn the past week and a half, a number of wine events occurred in my life that got my gray cells working overtime. First, I attended a lovely dinner of wine bloggers, wine writers, wine critics and wine makers. I am none of these, but I am an avid reader of wine publications. And this is due to my desire to learn as much as possible about the business, its marketing and sales, and what makes great wine.

There were reportedly upwards of nineteen bottles on the table, a few of which I did not, sadly, get to sample. Conversation was quite lively as various parties chimed in with their opinions on specific wines, geographic characteristics for growing and farming techniques, alcohol levels, and much more. My goal was pretty much to soak up the knowledge floating across the table and try not to embarrass myself too much as the least knowledgeable one at the table. Overall, I don’t think I did too badly.

The second event was a small blind tasting. I have historically been horrible at these, and the trend continued that night. It should be noted that the majority of wines poured were French, an area of wine knowledge for which I have far less understanding than I do for the wines of the U.S. (But I usually completely bollix domestic blind tastings as well.)

After the blind tasting I felt suitably humbled with a rather permanent sensibility it will always be three step forwards and a minimum of two steps back for me in wine knowledge, from my lips to my brain. Somewhere along the way the synaptic connections just don’t get made as the libation slips past my olfactory senses, over the taste buds, and down my gullet.

My wine education of domestic production has always been more along the lines of knowing where the edge pieces of the puzzle are located–even if the pieces in the middle are missing or heavily jumbled. I can make sense of what I’m drinking, where it came from, and the general characteristics of the terroir. The wines of France, on the other hand, seem something akin to Mr. Spock’s 3D chess games – way too far beyond my ken to even grasp the outer edges of the game.

Since the French use an entirely different system of identifying their wines (by geographic location and not by varietal), I can’t compare puzzle to puzzle or the sizes and shapes of the pieces of French wines to U.S. wines. France’s wines are a whole separate game, and I’ve yet to get a handle on the rulebook.

Sure, there are regions from which I love the wines the French produce. There are wineries whose product I love. But it’s continually frustrating because I can never compare wines from the U.S. with wines from France. It’s an apples-to-oranges exercise in futility. (And it’s not that I’m trying to determine if one wine is better than another in comparison.)

We humans seem to have a ongoing desire to compare things. It’s one way we learn, evaluating one similar item against another. Our brains are just wired this way.

They even managed to compare wines in the famous Judgment of Paris in 1976, when the real experts were able to compare U.S. wines side-by-side with some of the finest French wines. (Why can’t I makes sense out how to line them up side-by-side?)

It would seem I am not the only American with this frustration. As I lamented my lack of French wine understanding (for which I frequently turn to the blog stylings of Samantha Sans Dosage to up my educational level), lo and behold a number of articles landed in my inbox on this topic.

The first grabbed my attention as a marketer: “French wine industry ponders shift in marketing strategy.” That’s a pretty substantial move for an entire industry. What could possibly spur an entire industry – one long steeped in history and tradition – to shift its thinking and strategy so dramatically? The answer dropped in my box but a few days later: “French wine consumption drops by three billion bottles.” Ouch!

The message (to the French) appears to be coming through loud and clear: Adapt or perish! The latter is unlikely and undesirable to happen. But given the sorry state of wine consumption in France alone (the intake per capita has dropped precipitously in one generation), they know some dramatic changes are in order. But what should they be?

The French method of organizing and categorizing wine is vastly different than here in the States. (And remember, I have a hard time myself understanding how it all works. So this explanation will be quite bare bones!) Given French wines have been around for thousands of years and the formal system of ranking and categorizing their wine has been around for hundreds of years, it was originally based upon the most common logic of its time: geography.

Rule #1: Sell your wine to everyone close by. Transportation costs are then lowest. They’ll remember your wine if you describe it as being ‘over two hills in that direction.’ This system has worked for hundreds of years.

Rule #2: Once you’ve sold to everyone nearby, expand your market further geographically. Now the folks farther away need more information in order to remember if your wine is better than the guy’s ‘three hills in that direction.’ Along comes a ranking system to designate if the wine ‘two hills over’ is of better quality (for a variety of reasons) than the one grown ‘three hills away.’

Are you confused yet? Well, this system worked just dandy for a few hundred years when folks with but a single horse and buggy didn’t travel far (nor did the wine), so it was easier to keep straight in their heads what wine came from which location.

Fast forward a century or two and several major changes have taken place which have resulted in this long-standing system not working nearly as well as the French would like. Aye! There’s the rub!

The biggest monkey wrench is that the U.S. doesn’t categorize, organize or prioritize its wine production by geography. (Napa Valley wineries and producers will vociferously argue this point – and they’re right to a certain degree – but that’s getting ahead of the story.)

Much to the French’s endless frustration, American wines (above and below the 49th Parallel) are identified primarily by varietal before geographic origination. The French probably gave little thought to this deviation from their own system when it was established long ago–before the U.S. producers made wine that amounted to a hill of beans.

But now this is a problem, the U.S. is gaining market share and France is losing market share – even in their own backyard. Furthermore, Italy’s wine exports continue to kick *ss in the U.S. (And they do actually list the varietal on their labels!)

So what should we all do about this conundrum? How should we make sense of it all? I, for one, do not wish the French to change how they make their wine one iota. I aspire to understand it and identify it better (and to drink a lot more of it!) I do believe the time has come for the French to squeeze varietal names onto their labels (however small they wish to make it in size). This option was granted to them in 2004, but it is difficult to change an industry’s practices so entrenched in tradition and history. But a second challenge remains: the French are far more accepting and understanding of blended wine, of which a great deal of production includes several varietals. They won’t all fit on the label! (We don’t squeeze them all on our labels here either.)

Americans have less understanding of and greater resistance to making blended wine purchases. Some are suspicious that a blend must represent a great vat of unknown leftover wine that’s been dumped together (which is hardly the case). Others simply view blends as a great gamble to purchase than something that’s identified as “California Chardonnay” – another misconception.

As a consumer, I see my wine education much as Lewis and Clark must have seen America: “What? Another mountain to climb on the other side?!” I’ll continue to lumber off to blind tastings in hopes that my abilities improve the longer I’m at it. I’ll continue to try new (to me) French wines, seeking out mnemonic devices so that I get one step closer to identifying them correctly in a blind test.

As a marketer, I hope French wine producers evaluate their options from the point of view of what will best help the consumer better understand their product(s) faster and easier. (Speed and simplicity improve the ‘likability’ factor of a product much more, spurring purchases.) A little sensibility in marketing goes a long way in increasing sales.

For another perspective on wine education, check out The Return on Investment of Wine Education.

Appellation Series LogoWith the launch of our first ever Appellation Series event this Thursday, I ran across this blog post (reprinted below), from Ann Reynolds of Wine Compliance Alliance, that seemed highly apropos to our theme.

I asked Ann a little bit about the Sonoma AVA history, and here’s what she had to say. Enjoy the post.

Q: What was the first AVA to be created in Sonoma County?

A: Sonoma Valley in 1982. It also happens to be the smallest AVA in Sonoma Co at 4,000 acres. The last (most recent) Sonoma Co. AVA to be created is Bennett Valley in 2003. Sonoma County currently has a total of 13 AVAs within its borders.

How An AVA Is Born

by Ann Reynolds

I just read a really good article on a new AVA that has been submitted for the Coombsville area in Napa. If approved it would become the 16th sub-AVA within Napa Valley.

http://www.winesandvines.com/template.cfm?section=news&content=88234&htitle=Will Coombsville Get an AVA%3F

AVAs have grown in numbers rapidly in the last 5 years. The process that happens behind the scenes to create them may look simple, but involves detailed research.

Wine Compliance AllianceThere are currently 197 AVAs, or American Viticultural Areas in the US. An AVA is a specifically defined grape growing region that can be used on a wine’s label to offer further background about the wine’s “blood lines” so to speak. The approval of an AVA comes from the Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau. (TTB) The major step before that approval comes from the submission of a petition from members of the wine industry who desire to see an area they hold dear become the next name on the TTB’s official list. Just what are the required items for this petition that gets submitted to the TTB? A brief list of 4 items.

Item # 1, Name Evidence. It must be clearly associated with an area in which viticulture exists. (Uh, Duh) The name and evidence which supports its use must come from sources independent of the petitioner. Where might that evidence come from? Maps, books, magazines, or road names just to list a few. Petitioners are required to submit copies of the name evidence examples to back it up.

Item # 2, Boundary Evidence. This is an explanation of how the boundaries were decided upon for the parameters of the proposed AVA. This evidence needs to list commonalities within the proposed area as well as how those common characteristics make it different from areas immediately outside of it.

Item # 3, Distinguishing Features. These are the specific details which must be submitted in narrative form that are common to the proposed area which make it unique in the following categories: climate, geology, soils, physical features and elevation. Each of these categories must be described as to how they make an impact related to viticulture and once again how they specifically differ from sorounding areas outside of the proposed boundaries

Item # 4, Maps and Boundary Description. The petitioner needs to submit actual USGS maps clearly marking the boundaries of the proposed AVA. Along with this marked map they must also provide a detailed narrative of those boundaries, designating a starting point and describing the entire boundary in a clockwise direction from that point and leading back to it. This narrative description must refer to easily recognized reference points on the USGS map.

This is not the complete breakdown of the AVA petition and approval process but gives you a basic overview of what they are looking for. Over the last 15 years in the industry I’ve watched as AVA after AVA has been approved. I’m a believer in their role as a guide to the consumer about useful background for wine shopping and appreciation purposes. Wine is a product very much about the “where” of it, so AVAs play (for US wines) a hugely significant role in that.

For more info here is a link to the TTB’s AVA page: http://www.ttb.gov/wine/ava.shtml

Ann Reynolds is a wine compliance educator and trainer with over 20 years in the Napa wine industry. She instructs courses focused on the nuts and bolts of winery compliance systems and through her business, Wine Compliance Alliance, provides guidance to wineries with on site compliance training and system development. Ann is also the author of The Inside Story of a Wine Label: For Those Who Like To Think While They Drink, available as an ebook and in soft cover.

It’s been nearly 200 years since Russian colonists planted and cultivated grapes at Ft. Ross in 1812, an early settlement in what is now Sonoma County (aka Sonoma AVA – the appellation we celebrate 6/9/11). Appellation Series LogoThen it was those Franciscan Friars who got busy with winemaking at the northernmost mission, San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, in 1823. Jump forward two centuries and we’ve got some fantabulous Sonoma County wines to show off Thursday!

With more than 55,000 acres now under cultivation in the county, Sonoma’s wine industry is so revered it’s generated upwards of 13 sub-appellations – all highly coveted for their unique terroirs and contributions to building fine wine brands — and it commands impressive prices for the fermented juice of the vines.

In but two short hours this coming Thursday, we’ll sample from three of the best. Here are their stories:

Roessler Cellars

From their own websites: Roessler Cellars began in 2000 when long-time restaurateur Roger Roessler and experienced winemaker Richard Roessler merged talents to produce their first vintage of Pinot Noir. Inspired by a winemaking friend to “buy a few grapes” and “make a little wine,” the brothers sourced Sonoma grapes from the celebrated grape-growers, the Sangiacomo family. Over the years, they added new vineyards to their portfolio and grew from 225 cases of the original Sangiacomo fruit, to over 7,000 cases of 17 single-vineyard and appellation designated Pinots and 4 single-vineyard Chardonnays. The simple idea to “buy a few grapes” and “make a little wine” snowballed into the creation of a truly diverse and quality-focused enterprise.

The map of Roessler Cellars’ select growers stretches from the Santa Rita Hills of Santa Barbara to northern Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Though our label’s wide assortment of vineyards reflects our passion and commitment to the Pinot and Chardonnay varietals, our company was born out of a gamble.

Having spent over 40 years in the restaurant business, Roger Roessler had a natural attraction to winemaking. His restaurants’ wine lists resembled this interest, increasingly emphasizing high-end, single-vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In 1993, his newest location, the Swiss Hotel, was situated in the heart of wine country on the Sonoma plaza. While managing the restaurant, the local Pinot fruit and scenery captivated him, so much so that Roger made Sonoma his permanent home.

Richard Roessler’s business career was in Southern California, but he frequently made trips to Sonoma after his brother’s move to wine country. The culmination of Richard’s regular visits occurred in 1999, when his brother suggested crafting premium wine under the Roessler Cellars label. Richard shortly followed Roger to Sonoma and the work of creating fine wines began.

After their first vintage, Roessler Cellars quickly evolved into one of the premier producers of handcrafted Pinot Noirs in the U.S., sourcing fruit from many of the finest coastal vineyards on the continent. The gamble of relocating and investing in premium grapes was not a timid wager. However, the result of the work, patience and investment has been the cultivation of a library of first-rate Pinots and Chardonnays. The story of their beginning is similar to the story of their outlook toward the future. They have invested heavily in a variety of high-quality grapes to create the best wines possible. But more than anything, they hope your enjoyment of their wine exceeds the pleasure they had creating them!

Roessler Cellars 2008 Griffin's Lair Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

2008 Griffin’s Lair Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($46) – Griffin’s Lair is located in the Sonoma Coast appellation, a few miles north of San Pablo Bay in the Lakeville area. Concentrated and complex, this wine is a blend of Pommard, Swan and Dijon 115 clones, and is a great expression of the unique character of the vineyard.  Complex and dark, our Griffin’s Lair Pinot Noir shows off the classic character of this Sonoma Coast vineyard. The aromatic profile is full of dark, foresty scents and a meaty, savory character with just enough eucalyptus, fennel, and mint to add lift. Bright fruit on the palate joins the darker tones from the nose, providing a broad mouthfeel that stretches through a lingering finish of currant, earth tones, and leather. 269 cases.

Roessler Cellars 2008 Gap's Crown Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir2008 Gap’s Crown Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($46) – Gap’s Crown sits high up on the slopes of the Petaluma Gap, where cool ocean breezes blow inland from the Pacific to create a terrific climate for growing Pinot Noir. Roessler harvests a classic combination of clones from different sections of the vineyard, with the fruit character of Dijon 667 and the structure and depth of Dijon 115 coming together in a complex expression of the site.

Starting out with low, creamy tones and woody, dusty notes, our 2008 Gap’s Crown Pinot Noir opens into a dense, rich nose full of berry-fruit. Deep, dark flavors mingle with a brightening streak of black cherry and raspberry as subtle hints of violets and bay laurel build towards a finish laced with picholine olives. The wine continues to open up over a few days, maintaining its richness and depth with balanced fruit. 248 cases.

Roessler Cellars 2008 Shea Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir2008 Shea Williamette Valley  Pinot Noir  ($50) – Originally planted in 1989, the Shea Vineyard holds 135 acres of some of the finest Pinot Noir in Oregon. Dick and Dierdre Shea farm the vineyard with an eye toward sustainability and take great care in providing remarkable fruit that is a pleasure to vinify. At 400-600 elevation in the heard of the Yamhill-Carlton district, the vineyard boasts sedimentary soils, sloping terrain, and a variety of clones, all contributing to the final complexity and nuance of this wine.

A layered perfume of red raspberry, violet and rosemary leads to an interweave of ripe red fruit, earth, mineral, and spice.  The generous mid-palate surges within a balanced frame, transcending to a long finish of vanilla and black cherry. 143 cases.

Great interview with Roger Roessler on YouTube.

Review here and here.

P.S. The Tasting Room was built in the 1920s by the Sebastianis.

Adobe Road Winery Logo

Renowned sports car racer and entrepreneur Kevin Buckler and his wife, Debra, own adobe Road Winery. Adobe Road Winery produces award winning Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Grenache, Meritage, Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir, Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Zinfandel and Dessert Wines exclusively from Sonoma and Napa County sources. The tasting room is located in Sonoma, California.

In 1992 Kevin founded The Racer’s Group (TRG) and grew it into an internationally prominent manufacturer and distributor of performance Porsche parts, while simultaneously building a career as a successful endurance sports car racer and team owner. Kevin’s accomplishments as a driver include class wins at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona (2002) and the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans (2002), an overall win at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona (2003), and the title of Porsche World Cup Champion in 2002. As a team owner, Kevin has directed the growth of The Racer’s Group into an internationally acclaimed racing team.

With friends, the Bucklers started making “garage wine” which, after prodding from enthusiastic friends, started commercially bottling under the Adobe Road label in 1999. Through Kevin’s good connections, he has acquired grapes from some very prestigious vineyards, which he handcrafts into extremely limited-production wines. The awards that followed inspired the all out effort to make Adobe Road Winey the premier small lot winery of Sonoma County. With the goal of producing exceptional wines by handcrafting small lots of red and white varietals exclusively from Sonoma and Napa Counties, the Bucklers have dedicated themselves to seeing their vision through to reality, and the results are paying off.

Adobe Road 2006 Cabernet Franc Knights Valley2006 Cabernet Franc Knights Valley Bavarian Lion Vineyard ($40) – The Knights Valley has always produced a classic, velvety varietaly correct Cabernet Franc and this was achieved again for this vintage. True to form, this well-balanced wine is loaded with earth tones and bright cranberry on the nose. The cigar box base with nutmeg tendencies will echo on the palate. 275 cases.

Complex and inviting, with a generous mix of ripe plum, black cherry and berry fruit that’s supple, balanced, deep and persistent, picking up a nice black licorice note. There’s wonderful persistence on the finish, with firm, integrated tannins. 
- Jim Laube, Wine Spectator, 10-7-09; Wine Spectator – 91

Video here on their website, and a review here.

Hawkes Vineyards and Winery

The Hawkes family has been growing grapes in the Alexander Valley for more than 30 years. Today they own and farm three vineyards, all planted on sparsely soiled hillsides, and all yielding small amounts of highly intense fruit. When launching the Hawkes label, their aim was to translate their extraordinary standards for the quality of the grapes into extraordinary wines.

Their newest vineyard, planted on Chalk Hill Road in 1996, is named the Pyramid for the extremely sharp, often terraced hills on which it grows. The entire Pyramid Ranch is nearly 120 acres, only 18 acres of which are planted, all in Cabernet Sauvignon. By having chosen and developed this ranch for the sole purpose of producing Cabernet Sauvignon, and by limiting cultivation to such a small area, not only are they able to guarantee ideal conditions for farming, but are also able to leave the vast majority of the ranch as wild land.

The Home Ranch Vineyard, which is bordered to the north by a forest of Douglas Fir and oak, and to the south by a tributary of the Russian River, is planted in Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay.

The Home Ranch itself takes the shape of a small valley, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot planted in the thin chalky soils of its surrounding hills and Chardonnay growing in the slightly richer soils of the foothills below. As a result of this layout, the Cabernet and Merlot receive the benefit of greater exposure to the elements and exceptional drainage, while the Chardonnay often spends much of the day shrouded in the fog flowing off the Pacific Ocean and through the Russian River Valley.

The Home Ranch Vineyard’s unique geography, together with minimal irrigation and a program of aggressive thinning in the Spring, ends with the red grapes in loose clusters of thick-skinned, densely flavored berries. This is particularly true of the Cabernet Sauvignon, where the upper hills often yield less than two tons to the acre.

In 2002, when they decided to launch their own label, they asked Herman Froeb, an old family friend who has been making wine from our grapes since the early 1980s, to be their winemaker. He accepted. Herman’s intimate familiarity with our farming philosophy and the character of our grapes produce wines that show a knowledge and respect for the particulars of each vineyard and variety. Each year they choose a small percentage of the grapes they grow for their own wine. They preserve the quality of this fine fruit by harvesting it when it is ripe, not over-ripe, and by giving it the oak aging it demands to be its best, no more. Hawkes wine is made exclusively from fruit they grow, with both farmer and winemaker involved in every stage of the wine’s evolution, from the vine, to the barrel, to the bottle.

Hawkes Vineyards and Winery 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley2006 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) – Estate grown and produced in the Alexander Valley. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged in barrel for 20 months, 40 percent new French oak. A blend of fruit from two hillside vineyards: 40 percent from our Pyramid vineyard, 30 percent from our Stone Vineyard and 30 percent from our Red Winery Road Vineyard. Black Cherry. Plum. Currant. Elegant. Balanced. 800 cases. 14.1% ABV, bottled June 2008.

The Red Winery Road Vineyard, 22 acres in all, is planted in Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It is a long, narrow rectangle, running from the floor of the Alexander Valley, up to the base of the Mayacamas Mountains. The Hawkes Family have been working this farm for more than 30 years now, searching for root stocks to match the field’s unusually varied soils. That they chose the Red Winery Road Vineyard for the source of their inaugural vintage is a testament to the fine results of this long effort.

Hawkes Vineyards and Winery 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Pyramid2006 Hawkes Pyramid Cabernet Sauvignon ($60) – Volcanic soils. Dark Fruits. Showy. Huge. Estate grown and bottled in the Alexander Valley. 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged in barrel for 30 months, 50 percent new French oak. From the best of fruit on our rugged Pyramid Vineyard, located in the hills between Chalk Hill and Knights Valley. Just 150 cases produced. 30 Cases available.

2003 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Library Wine ($40) – Leather and spice aromas give way to blackberry flavors, along with balanced tannins and acidity.  The fruit is ripe enough for instant gratification, but the wine’s structure makes it suitable for aging.  Yum.

Learn more from this YouTube video on Hawkes.

Reviews of their tasting room here and here. (Click logo above to visit Hawkes’ website.)

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