Saturday, October 31, 2009

California Women Winemakers, Part 3


As seen in the two previous editions of this article, California Women Winemakers have successfully made their mark on the wine industry in California. As with all winemakers, the women contingent has come into this profession by a variety of methods, some via the professional training at UC Davis and others via their “on-the-job” training using their own initiative making their distinct mark on winemaking in California.

Winemaker Anna Monticelli of Esca Winery earned her degree from UC Davis and then headed off to Bordeaux, France for her first harvest in 2000. During her undergraduate years she spent a year at the Sorbonne in Paris and took summer courses in Rome and Cracow. Upon her return to California she was Assistant Winemaker at Seavey Vineyard and then Assistant Winemaker for cult cabernet winery, Bryant Family Vineyard, before moving on to the top Winemaker position at Pina Napa Valley. Wine is important in her family with her position at Pina and her husband, Mario, working as the Winemaker of Trinchero Napa Reserve.

During their spare time, Anna and Mario formed Esca Wines of Napa Valley. “Esca”, Italian for Allurement, is an expression of their winemaking style. They believe life is to be enjoyed on a daily basis and a civilized life is enjoying fine food and great wine with good friends around the dinner table. The Esca 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley is elegant and focused. The nose reveals blackberry, blueberry and currant flavors with underlying floral tones. The hints of tobacco, leather and coffee combined with the long finish makes this an elegant wine by itself or with food. The tannins are surprisingly smooth. In addition to the Napa Valley Cabernet, this wine includes 8% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot. It goes well with prime rib or lamb chops.

Alexia Johnson of Monte Verde Vineyards in Morgan Hill was born and raised in Spain and developed a taste for Spanish varietals at an early age. Alexia Johnson and her husband Todd were avid home winemakers. They started with 300 Merlot vines planted in 2000; growing to a hobby in 2003; and on to a passion in 2006 as they continued planting over 1300 vines, adding Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo; and culminating as a award-winning bonded winery in 2008. The first release was only a little over a year ago and they only produce 300 cases per year. Yet, they already are winning awards for their wines. Not too bad for a backyard (albeit big backyard) operation! Alexia continued her education in winemaking via the Wine Production for Distance Learners from UC Davis Extension.

The Monte Verde 2007 Merlot from Villa Palma Vineyards in Santa Clara Valley is a dark medium bodied wine is bursting with dark cherry and blackberry flavors with medium levels of tannin and a touch of spice, including clove and cinnamon. It is a very versatile wine that can be paired with a range of foods including flank steak, roast chicken or even a bacon cheeseburger. As you can expect for a winery this size, every wine is truly hand-crafted. The grapes are specially selected and fermented in small lots based on vineyard designation. Only French oak is use, producing wines with balance and great quality.

For more info:

California Women Winemakers, Part 2


As seen in California Women Winemakers, Part 1, we learned that there are many women winemakers producing some of the top quality wines in the state. In the last 15-20 years a new breed of women winemakers has come on the winemaking scene. Two of these winemakers were covered in part 1; this article covers a few more of these superlative women winemakers.

A trailblazer in the industry is Pam Starr. She says that there are over 25 notable young women to watch in Napa Valley winemaking and that women get the best of both worlds: the breakthroughs of women winemakers who emerged in the 1990’s and the new winemaking techniques. Pam has a passion for winemaking. After graduating from UC Davis she began to hone her techniques at several wineries throughout California before joining Spottswoode Estate winery in 1991. At Spottswoode she came to appreciate the winery customers and that winemakers are working for the customer and they need to appreciate the customer’s needs. While at Spottswoode, as she was searching for the right Sauvignon Blanc grapes she came across some vineyards at the old Crocker estate at St. Helena. Joining forces with Charlie Crocker they formed the Crocker & Starr label to resurrect the old winery on the estate. Today they are producing 2400 cases a years of fine Napa Valley wines. In 2004 the Crocker & Starr Sauvignon Blanc was names the No. 12 wine in the world on Wine Spectator’s annual top 100 list!

In addition to Crocker & Starr, Pam is a busy consulting winemaker for several other wineries in the valley, such as Adastra, and has joined forces with winemaker Drew Nieman to create a red wine blend called “Bridesmaid”.2004 Bridesmaid Red Blend explodes with flavors and aromas of dark berry fruits, currant, coffee, chocolate and integrated oak tannins. The texture is creamy polished, classy and plush. It pairs wonderfully with grilled meats and game, sharp cheeses, nuts and chocolate. This is a combination of several wines picked up from different wineries after their blends are complete. The

Winemaker Morgan Clendenen came to winemaking from a different direction. She graduated with a Psychology degree but soon developed a passion for wine, attending as many tasting events as she could in her native North Carolina. She eventually landed a position in sales with an Italian wine importer and then on to a boutique wine importer. A move to California brought her to a sales/marketing position Robert Sinskey Vineyards where she met her future husband Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat winery in Santa Barbara County. Her desire to produce her own wine continued to grow, but she lacked skills needed. When Au Bon Climat was offered some Viognier grapes, rather unknown grape in the area at the time, she saw this as an opportunity to be an innovator with this grape. People told her that the Sanford and Benedict Vineyard where the grapes were grown was too cold for Viognier and it would never ripen properly, but Morgan is one who thinks outside the box and felt that this Viognier was special. Taking a line from a William Butler Yeats poem, she named her new winery, Cold Heaven.

Morgan has focused on Viognier and Cold Heaven now produces Viognier from several different vineyards in Santa Barbara County, along with some Syrah. She tries to dispel the misunderstandings about Viognier and makes a wine with the acidity works with a variety of cuisines. Acidity is like salt to food, and you have to have enough of it to bring out the other flavors. Cold Heaven has a minimalist oak philosophy using neutral oak, 5-10 year old French barrels. The Cold Heaven 2008 Viognier from Vogelzang Vineyards in Santa Ynez Valley is full of lush tropical fruits and exotic white flowers overlaying an invigorating acidity, keeping the wine fresh and lively. Care at harvesting insures that the wine has that sleekness you expect in a fine Viognier. This wine is great for Thanksgiving dinner pairing well with turkey and pumpkin pie. It also goes very well with Asian foods and curry dishes.

For more info:

California Women Winemakers, Part 1


Women make up 52 percent of the adult population and purchase 57 percent of the wine consumed in the United States. They represent a huge market that was often overlooked until recently. Studies have shown that in general, women have more taste buds than men, and that more women are supertasters.

The first woman winemaker in California was Josephine Tychson when she founded her winery in 1886 after the death of her husband. Kate Warfield was a leading vineyardist at Ten Oaks Vineyard in 1877. Maryann Graf was the first woman winemaker to graduate in enology in the 1960’s.

According to a study by the Wine Institute, 10 percent of California’s winemakers were women in 1890. In 1990 that figure was again about 10 percent, but today 15-20% of the winemakers are women. A new breed of women winemakers emerged in the mid 1990’s as the high tech boom spurred on demand for high-end products.

In Napa Valley you will often find that behind that $150 bottle of Cabernet is a woman winemaker. Sally Johnson is the winemaker for Pride Mountain winery and she says, “It is a great time for women in this industry because there are no barriers to being successful!”

Let’s take a look at a couple California Women Winemakers: Kristi Koford is the winemaker at Elizabeth Rose Wines in Napa Valley. Kristi started as a Senior Enologist at Robert Mondavi Winery and moved on to become the Assistant Winemaker at St Supery and then to Alderbrook Vineyards and Winery where she was the winemaker producing 50,000 cases annually of a wide variety of wines. Kristi’s 2008 Elizabeth Rose Sauvignon Blanc comes from 100% certified organic grapes from Yountville area of Napa Valley. It exhibits multiple layers of fresh tropical aromas and flavors, along with guava, gooseberry, guava and kiwi fruit. Minerality lingers in the finish.

Celia Welch was born and raised in Oregon as the daughter of an avid wine collector and home winemaker. Combining her fascination with flavors and aromas with her scientific knowledge, she went to UC Davis to study Enology. After graduation she expanded her knowledge working at wineries around the world including Australia, New Zealand, the East Coast and the Northwest. She returned to California to join Silverado Vineyards, then moving on to Robert Pepi Winery and Staglin Family Vineyard. Then she moved on to be a consultant for a selection of ultra-premium Napa Valley wineries. She is a member of the Winemaker’s Hall of Fame of the Women for Winesense.

At Hollywood and Vine Cellars Celia has developed their “2480” 2006 Chardonnay using fruit from Atlas Peak, one of the premium winegrape growing area in Napa. This Chardonnay displays sweet floral aromas of pear blossoms, apricot and jasmine along with sweet apple cider aromas. On the palate the texture is rich, soft and fully ripe. You will detect soft yeasty notes and sweet fruit flavors with a finish of tropical fruit and a touch of lemon zest.

For more info:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Black Ridge Vineyards in Santa Cruz Mountains


Black Ridge Vineyards was founded by Jim and Cheryl Landes and Fred Faltersack who purchased the Black Ridge property in 1999 and were determined to product the best wine possible from their beautiful estate vineyards in the hills above the Lexington Reservoir near Los Gatos. While the property was used as a vineyard in the early 1900’s, Prohibition forced previous owners to replant the property in prune trees and later it was a Christmas tree farm. The vineyard’s location gives it protection from the coastal winds and lingering fog and the elevation provided a full day of sun.

On the 20+ acres of vineyard the yare growing Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Viognier, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. Their grapes are not only used for the Black Ridge wines but also for other local winemakers including Fleming-Jenkins and more. Vineyard manager Ruben Balderas nurtures the grapes to deliver winemaker Bill Brosseau with the quality fruit he needs to produce wines that not only reflect the location, but deliver the high-quality, approachable wines desired by wine lovers.

Current releases include several red wines including a Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and a Bordeaux blend.

The 2007 Pinot Noir has a beautiful red color and on the nose you detect the cherry and blueberry you expect from a fine Pinot with lingering vanilla and pepper aromas. You might also detect a hint of mint and crème brulee. As you taste this wine you will immediate fine an abundance of cherry, cola and cranberry flavors. This is a wine that is just what you need for a Thanksgiving dinner with rich flavors but not overbearing, matching well with turkey, cranberry and yams.

The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon is a very approachable Cab delivering the dark fruits you expect from a fine Cabernet with soft tannins. This style goes will with a variety of foods, drinking well now and over the next few years.

Black Ridge 2006 Merlot was a particular joy. On the nose the fruit flavors of currant, dark cherry, blueberry and blackberry were intense with hints of vanilla and smoky bacon. The same fruity flavors come through on the palate along with notes of minty white chocolate.

The famous San Andreas Fault runs through one of the upper vineyards on the estate, inspiring the name of the Black Ridge Bordeaux blend, the 2006 San Andreas Red. This blend of 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot is bursting with aromas of raspberry, cherry, pepper and spice. It has good acidity and rich tannins that indicate that, while drinkable now, will continue to deliver for many years to come.

Their new tasting room first opened earlier this year and is currently available for tasting the third weekend of every month form 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is a wonderful place to visit; sampling wines in their tasting room decorated with treasures from the owners worldwide visits. Out on the patio you can sip your wine while admiring the Santa Cruz Mountains and the nearby Lexington Reservoir.

For more info: Black Ridge Vineyards

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Campbell Wine Trail - four boutique wineries in the heart of Silicon Valley

Is Campbell the food and wine capital of Silicon Valley? You might think so. Campbell is the Orchard City, birthplace of fruit cocktail, home of the Professional Culinary Institute training chefs and sommeliers, and location of many fine restaurants. Plus, First Fridays’ in downtown, is an opportunity to sample the cuisine in downtown Campbell. Now you can also visit the Campbell Wine Trail? Yes, Campbell is home to four wonderful wineries along the very compact Campbell Wine Trail.

The Campbell Winemakers Studio, located at 165 Cristich Lane, is home to four wineries, Pinder Winery, Travieso Winery, Heart’s Fire Winery, and Stroth-Hall Cellars. The facility backs up to Hwy 17 and, if you have been around the valley for a while, you will remember seeing the Winchester Drive-In theater sign as you drove along Hwy 17 on your way home from the beach. Campbell Winemakers Studio is near that location.

At this time of the year as winemakers for all four wineries are bringing in their fruit and crushing their grapes for the next vintage, you will see lots of activity around Cristich Lane utilizing their common equipment. In the case of all four wineries, the founders started as home winemakers and perfected their craft and their desire to make high quality wine.

John and Marie Pinder of Pinder Winery are the creators of the Campbell Winemakers Studio and lease space to the other three wineries. Pinder makes a variety of noteworthy wines including Viognier, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel.

Heart’s Fire Winery was founded by partners Dan and Julie Scheve and Brian and Kristin Link. The name “Heart’s Fire” reflects their passion for making wine. They concentrate on California Zinfandels and Petite Sirahs, using grapes from Sonoma and Mendocino Counties.

Stroth-Hall Cellars owners, Paul Stroth, Sequoia Hall and Stu Slack, concentrate on fine Syrahs that reflect their terroir in some of the best producing areas in California.

Travieso Winery owners, Ray Sliter and Mats Hagstrom, focus on rich full-bodied red wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Syrah blends.

Be sure to visit the short but interesting Campbell Wine Trail where you can visit four boutique wineries in the same location in the heart of Silicon Valley.

For more info:

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Treasure Island Wine Fest – featuring a treasure of Lodi wines

Lodi Wine Country is hosting the Treasure Island Wine Fest in the heart of San Francisco Bay on Sunday, October 11 between 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. The event is at 291 Avenue of the Palms on Treasure Island and is accessible by car from the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge.

Enjoy the hidden treasures of wines found in Lodi, plus hors d’oeuvres from Wine Valley Catering, educational seminars on wine/cheese pairing, certified green sustainably grown grapes, and Zinfandels from Lodi. And, since this is the last day of Fleet Week in San Francisco Bay, you will see the U.S. Navy Blue Angels performing overhead!

Lodi Wine Country lies to the east of the Sacramento River Delta between San Francisco Bay and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. The area is perfect for growing wine grapes with a classic Mediterranean climate of warm to hot days and nights cooled by the breezes off the San Francisco Bay. This allows the grapes to soak up the warm sunshine during the day producing the firm tannins and rich sugars while relaxing during the cool evenings.

Wine growing history in Lodi extends back to the 1850s when wine grape were planted in the area along with the grain and vegetables that fed the miners in the nearby Gold Country. Lodi winemakers continued to grow into the 20th century and in 1986 the Lodi Appellation (American Viticulture Area) was founded. This unknown wine growing region flourished in the 90’s and into the 21st century with Robert Mondovi developing his Woodbridge operation and many winemakers and growers starting several boutique wineries in the area. Today Lodi is home to over 70 wineries with thousands of acres of premium wine grapes. Lodi leads the industry in sustainable viticultural practices, preserving the land for generations to come.

Lodi is best known for its full-bodied Old Vine Zinfandel but also offers a wide variety of wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and many Italian, Spanish and Portuguese varietals.

Come visit the Treasure Island Wine Fest and sample the treasures of Lodi wine in a refreshing and exciting venue. Over 40 distinct varietals and 200 wines will be featured at Wine Fest. Tickets are $55 per person online, of $65 per person at the door. Parking on Treasure Island is complimentary for event guests.

For more info: Treasure Island Wine Fest Information and Ticket Sales