Saturday, November 6, 2010

Mi Sueno Winery - a dream come true

Mi Sueno means “my dream” in Spanish and the story of Mi Sueno Winery is a dream come true.  Owner/winemaker Rolando Herrera is living his dream, starting as a dishwasher in Auberge du Soleil to owner and winemaker for his own highly regarded boutique winery in Napa Valley. 

But this dream goes back even further.  Rolando worked alongside his grandparents in El Llano in the Mexican province of Michoacan.  Here he learned his early lessons in agriculture.  And here he learned how there were special soils and areas of the mountains surrounding the town that were especially good for growing fruits and vegetables, his first lesson in “terroir”.  

In search of a better life, his parents brought the family to Napa Valley in 1975.  While the family returned to Michoacan five years later, Rolando had his taste of his dream in Napa, where opportunities were greater than in Michoacan.  With a better education he strived for better opportunities than just working the fields and set his dream on owning a winery.

In 1985 Rolando went to work for the summer at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.  Over the next 20 years his journey towards his dream progressed though various high profile wineries, building from his foundation at Stag’s Leap through various other positions until he became Director of Winemaking at Paul Hobbs Consulting where he learned much about the development and maturing of boutique wine programs.

The 2007 Chardonnay from Los Carneros uses grapes from the Tierra Blanca Vineyard that is managed by Rolando Herrera.  The aromas and flavors will remind you of a lemon meringue pie with a creaminess and lemon flavors but you will also find green apples, orange blossom and honeysuckle in the flavors.  There is also a dash of spice and oak to enrich its beauty.  The acidity matches well with the flavors and texture for a well rounded wine.  The price is $21.

Mi Sueno 2007 “El Llano” Napa Valley red wine is named after Rolando’s family home town in Michoacan and is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Syrah.  This wine is not a “formula” but rather a creation from Rolando.  Each vintage might have different percentages of Cab and Syrah, but his goal is to produce a wine that is right with that year’s grapes.  It has a wonderful intense nose of dark black fruits with a strong dose of white pepper and spice.  On the palate you will detect cassis, cranberry and slight cocoa leading to a long finish.  It has a velvety mouthfeel and rich texture.  The price is $40.

The 2006 Syrah is from Herrera managed vineyards in the Coombsville region of Napa Valley.  It delivers a rich mixture of black fruits and violets with strong notes of pepper and spice with overtones of leather and coffee that lead to a great finish.  The price is $45.

The 2007 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is a single vineyard designate wine coming from the Ulises Valdez Vineyard in Sonoma.  This wine has only been produced for a few years and is a real crowd pleaser.  The inviting deep ruby red color invites you to sample the aromas and flavors of both red and black cherry, cranberry and pomegranate with great notes of spice and a cherry cola flavor.  It has a slightly old world character of minerality and earthiness.  The price is $48 for this limited quantity wine.

Learn more about the great wines from Mi Sueno at the Mi Sueno Winery website.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Zaca Mesa Winery & Vineyards - where experience matters

Zaca Mesa Winery is one of the pioneer wineries in Santa Barbara County.  It was the first California Central Coast winery to appear in Wine Spectator’s Top 10 back in 1995.  Their wines cross all lines, being served in the Clinton White House and at President Reagan’s 80th Birthday party.  Many major winemakers in Santa Barbara County got their start at Zaca Mesa.  And Zaca Mesa was the first winery in the county to plant Syrah and many other Rhone varietals.  At Zaca Mesa experience matters, and this experience has lead them to be one of the champions of Santa Barbara County.

Zaca Mesa got started by a group of friends in 1972 who came together to plant their vineyard.  They tried several varietals but by the early 90’s they determined that the rolling hills on the Zaca Mesa property were best suited for Rhone varietals including Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Viognier and Roussanne. 

The vineyards are located in the northern most section of Santa Ynez Valley AVA.  As an east-west oriented valley, the vines are greatly influenced by the Pacific Ocean with its cooling morning fog and afternoon breezes.  The sandy loam soils are remnants of pre-historic sand dunes that now lay 1500 feet above sea level.  This higher elevation offers lower temperatures overall and greater variance of daily temperatures resulting in grapes that mature slowly and develop and abundance of flavors.

To protect this site, Zaca Mesa embraces sustainable winegrowing techniques.  This reporter has visited the vineyards of Zaca Mesa hugging the mountain tops overlooking the valley.  Each vineyard is surrounded by open space for wildlife while providing a buffer to their neighbors and preserving the natural ground water.

Viognier is representative of the vast experience at Zaca Mesa.  The 2009 Viognier is the eighteenth vintage of this aromatic white wine.  Zaca Mesa has 37 acres of Viognier, representing 16% of Santa Barbara County’s total Viognier plantings.  With intense aromas of white peach, honeysuckle and floral, this wine will invite you to taste its flavors of apricot, lychee, melon, space and a touch of citrus.  It has minerality reminding you of old world wines, but the fruity flavors found in new world wines.  “Viognier is such an elegant, outgoing varietal,” says Zaca Mesa winemaker Eric Mohseni.  “It’s hard not to be taken in by its exotic aromas, if it’s done right.”   And all of this for only $20.  Try it with Thai foods or oysters.
Syrah is engrained in the history and experience of Zaca Mesa, being the first Syrah plantings in the county.  The vineyards contain over 90 acres of Syrah.  

The 2006 Syrah was aged in 30% new French oak for 16 months.  You will enjoy the deep rich color with the aromas and flavors of blackberry, coffee, boysenberry, sage and clove.  The slight smokiness is prevalent on the nose.  The wine is well balanced mixing the acidity, tannins and flavors into a great food friendly wine.  This is the wine to share with friends over a meal of grilled meats or rack of lamb with rosemary.  Winemaker Eric Mohseni states, “The ’06 Syrah is lithe and food-friendly like it’s always been, never over the top – that’s just not what our estate fruit calls for.”  The price is only $25.

For more information, visit the Zaca Mesa website and you will learn why visitors rave about the wines from Zaca Mesa.  Or, better yet, visit their tasting room along Foxen Canyon Road in the Sana Ynez Valley region of Santa Barbara County.  They are just north of Los Olivos.