Nueva Buena Vista by Jean-Charles Boisset

Jean-Charles BoissetRecently I had the pleasure of having lunch with Jean-Charles Boisset, President of Boisset Family Estates, at Carmichael's to discuss his future plans for recent purchase Buena Vista Winery.  Jean-Charles (JC) has been involved with wine his entire life and practically grew up in the vineyards.  The Boisset family is well known as winemakers and exporters, and owned property in Burgundy, the Rhone Valley and southern France before visiting California.  JC and his family really took to the west coast and loved the winemaking potential and history.  This lead to JC rooting himself and his family there and purchasing famous wineries & vineyards such as Raymond, DeLoach, Lyeth, and as of April 2011, Buena Vista.

When JC looks to purchase a winery it must meet certain criteria: able to create excellent wine and have rich history.  Buena Vista was the perfect fit as it is probably California's most historic winery.  It was started in 1856 by Hungarian immigrant Count Agoston Harazthy.  The Count was a pioneer and innovator- he started California's first commercial winery (Buena Vista), built the first wine caves, introduced over 300 grape varietals, created the first Traditional Method sparkling wines and introduced California wines to Europe, winning gold medals and accreditation.  Now the tradition can live on as JC carries the torch and makes Buena Vista fully organic (as he does with all of his wineries) and has changed to Gravity-Flow, one of the first in the area.

At our lunch I was able to taste a few wines which will be available at very reasonable prices (most at $20 or less) which makes them extreme value selections.  There will be four different lines:

  1. Sonoma.  A new vintage-style label is made to both impress and deliver with varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel.  I tasted the 2011 Chardonnay which carries a lighter weight, supple fruit and both butter and slight oak, and the 2010 Zinfandel which is an amazing bargain with dark jammy fruit, spice, toastiness and a puff of smoke.  I was also impressed by the 2008 "The Count" Founder's Red Wine, a blend (which I had to guess!) of Zinfandel, Syrah and Merlot.  I love blends and this one hits on all points: great fruit, a variety of secondary flavor like mocha and spices, and a lengthy finish.
  2. Carneros.  I love this region for the complex thin skinned fruit it can produce with the cool ocean breeze, and Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir are part of the line.  I tasted the 2009 Pinot Noir which has an elegant earthiness combined with tasty fruit.  Looking forward to the other varietals.
  3. Private Reserve.  This house label has been revived and involves fruit sourced from Sonoma's best vineyards.  A lineup of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel will be the best there is to offer.
  4. Vinicultural Society.  Small production wines to honor the ancient society begun by the Count in 1863.  Currently they boast wines named after Agoston's children.  Arpad's is a select Zinfandel, Otelia's is a select Pinot Noir and a vintage Sparkling Brut is also available.  ($32-45)

I definitely enjoyed tasting these wines and really like JC's jovial personality and style.  I think it translates to his personal life, business, decisions and relationships.  This French legend is already an American pioneer and star in the making.  I look forward to seeing his future ventures and tasting the wines!


Wine in Woodinville and Chateau Ste. Michelle


Before our WBC or Bust group was to set off east from Seattle to Walla Walla, we had a chance to break in the bus on a short trip to Woodinville, a former suburb of Seattle.  There are over 50 wineries in Woodinville and we were on our way to its most famous, Chateau Ste. Michelle, which has been around since the repeal of prohibition, when it was known as Pommerelle Wine Company.  Now it is nothing short of ginormous, with a large number of lines: Columbia Valley wines which bring out regional and varietal character, Indian Wells brings out new world nuances, Single Vineyard, Ethos Reserve with old world style, Artist series Meritage blend, Domaine Ste. Michelle sparkling wines, Eroica Riesling collaboration with German winemaker Ernst Loosen, Limited Release wines for club members and Col Solare, a red wine collaboration with Tuscan winemaker Marchese Piero Antinori.


We embarked on a tour of the winery led by Lynda Eller (Director of Communications) and winemaker Wendy Stuckey.  We went through the winery's long history and partnerships, and saw their large fermentation tanks and multiple storage barrels.  Later, we were treated to a wine tasting and food pairing conducted by John Sarich, winery Culinary Director.  We tasted four different Rieslings: 2007 & 2008 Eroica ($24), 2009 Columbia Valley Riesling ($9) and 2009 Cold Creek Vineyard Riesling ($15), Spiced Dishes & Rieslingpaired with three spicy samples: Indian Spiced Prawns & Tomato Chutney, Sesame Seared Halibut with Orange-Basil Thai Curry, and Currywurst.  I always love comparing different vineyards and vintages against eachother, as this is the best way to catch subtle and interesting differences.  Also, Rieslings pair very well with both exotic and inflamingDuck & Red Wine spice because of the grape's high acidity, citrus fruit profile and varying degree of sweetness.  We were then offered up Roasted Duck with Cherry Merlot Sauce, Sweet Potato Cake and Manchego Cheese paired with three reds: 2007 Canoe Ridge Estate Merlot ($22), 2006 Cold Creek Vineyard Merlot ($28) and 2006 Artist Series Meritage ($50), a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot.  Merlot and Meritage wines are a great pairing for rich duck dishes while Manchego, a rich sheep milk cheese, blends greatly with Merlot's silky tannins.  We finished off with 2005 Ethos Late Harvest Riesling ($35) with a lemon cookie and berries.  This fantastic dessert wine meshed well with the citrusy, butter cookie flavor.


Northwest Totem WinesAfterward, we met a slew of Woodinville winemakers at Willows Lodge: Northwest Totem Cellars, BetzBetz Family Family Winery, DeLille Cellars, DiStefano Winery, William Church Winery, Hollywood Hill Vineyards, Brian Carter Cellars, Novelty Hill/Januik Winery, Sparkman Cellars, Cuillin Hills Winery, Baer Winery, Des Voigne Cellars and Barrage Cellars.  There I met Bob Betz and his daughter Carmen, and tasted the best wine of the entire trip, 2008 Betz Family La Côte Patriarche Syrah ($55) from Red Willow Vineyard in Yakima.  An inky, black/dark purple color, with deeply spicey, floral, smokey aromas and deep dark fruit, black pepper and a touch of dried, cured meat on what seemed to be an endless palate.  This wine was so complex and lasting that I couldn't stop thinking about it!  I tasted so many good wines that it's hard to mention them all, but Hollywood Hill Vineyard Malbec, DeLille Cellars Grand Ciel and Northwest Totem Cellars Cabernet Franc were a few standouts.


The Barking FrogIt was a small walk to the other side of the lodge to The Barking Frog, where we were in for a killer lunch prepared by Chef Bobby Moore paired with more DeLille Cellars wines.  It kicked off with Grand Marnier Prawns and led to Seared Sea Scallops.  We finished with Dark Chocolate Coffee Ganache.  I would have been happy to call it a day after that perfect lunch on their outdoor patio, but we were in for more tastings and fun back in Seattle.  More on that in the next post!

Memorial Day at the Arboretum

The Arboretum of South Barrington

I was looking forward to some family, sun and fun on this Memorial Day weekend, and today we took a drive to the Arboretum of South Barrington.  It’s pretty much an outdoor shopping mall surrounded by gardens and trees with almost everything you need to see or do available.  There are shops, restaurants, festivals, a cinema, clock tower, brick sidewalks and a bowling alley/bocce ball court.  There’s also ample parking- but just remember where you last saw your car!


We were hungry, so we headed to Pinstripes Bowling, Bocce & Bistro first.  This gigantic facility has a bowling alley, bocce ball courts, a banquet hall, WiFi, a bar, a fire pit and both indoor and outdoor seating.  We were loving the warm Windy City weather and went for a seat on the patio, and were ready for a drink.  My wife loves the Arnold Palmer (half iced tea/half lemonade) and I opted for an ice cold Peroni on draft.  I checked out the wine list and while it has many pedestrian choices like Ecco Domani, DaVinci, Castle Rock and Joel Gott, it does offer some hard to find wines like Teruzzi & Puthod “Terre di Tufi”, ZD Chardonnay, Argyle “Nuthouse” Pinot Noir, Rubissow “Les Trompettes” and Quintessa.  The menu is Italian influenced with panini, soups, pasta and pizza, but also contains American favorites like sliders, cobb salad and ribs.  We split the Tomato Mozzarella Bruschetta and Beef Tenderloin Sliders.  The bruschetta was amazing- ripe cherry tomatoes, ciliegine mozzarella, toasted crostini brushed with sweet balsalmic and arugula salad.  Everything worked so well together and it was very tasty.  The sliders were delicious and I couldn’t figure out which was softer: the bread or the beef!  The steak was so tender and was topped with sweet peppers and cippolini onions.  They were surrounded by a lick-the-plate bordelaise sauce and topped with crispy shoestring potatoes drizzled with truffle oil.  Our server, Amanda, was not only very informative and helpful on our first visit, but also very attentive- she heard us talking about the Meatball Sliders and brought us a sample to try!  They were excellent as well.  I don’t know how anyone could order an entrée after all that, so it was time for dessert.  Pinstripes offers free cheesecake to anyone who checks in on Foursquare, so we took advantage of it.  My wife said it was one of the best cheesecakes she ever tried- it was brûléed and moist with a crunchy crust and served with strawberry sauce and fresh strawberries.  We decided to bypass the bowling/bocce until next time and walk the Arboretum.


It was great to stroll in the open fresh air and pick which shops we wanted to stop in.  We checked out Yankee Candle, LOFT, Sur La Table, Anna Shea Chocolates and Panera for coffee.  We also stopped by Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant.  They make wine in Orland Park from fruit grown in California, Michigan and here in Illinois, and have four restaurants in Burr Ridge, Orland Park, Wheeling and South Barrington.  We were greeted by went for the tasting, which included one sparkling, three whites, three reds and a dessert wine.  The sparkling wine was a combination of Chardonnay with natural peach fruit and turned out to be my favorite.  It was dry, tasty and refreshing with a load of fruit flavor which lasted.  Their whites, a lineup which included Riesling, Chenin Blanc and a blend, were all good and exhibited nice fruit flavor, light spice and sweetness.  The reds showed promise as well, with a peppery Syrah, a light drinking Cabernet Sauvignon and their Lux Merlot, which has discriminating selection and significant oak aging.  Finished up with a very good Pomegranate dessert wine, which was just as tart as it was sweet.  All in all, I recommend their wine club, especially if you live close to one of their tasting rooms.  That’ll give you the best options and an opportunity to taste your purchase.


A great weekend which included all the essential elements: family, food, fun, sun, beer and wine.  Throw in a prayer for all my fellow veterans, current service member and those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and that makes a perfect Memorial Day.  Let me know how you spent your weekend and make sure to try the Arboretum!

Reynoso Family Vineyards Wine Review

I recently received free wines to sample from Reynoso Family Vineyards and was not just happy with the flavor, but their story as well.  They come from an Alexander Valley winery with a Chicago twist.  The owners, Joe and Elena Reynoso, were career Chicagoans.  Joe was a trader and wine collector, while Elena was

in fine wine sales.  Their passion for wine led them to California when a 550 acre parcel in Alexander Valley came available in 1994.  After some hard work and planting, they were ready to make wine and began in 2001 and have been making it ever since.  Now let's get to some of the wines I tried:

  • Sauvignon Blanc.  This is a crisp, clean straw colored wine.  It is very intense on the nose with big citrus, floral aromas and light peppery spice.  The mouth has tasty pink grapefruit and bright acidity.  A nice natural wine.  Available for around $12.  (WG 86pts.)

  • Long Gamma White.  This is a new wine from the Reynoso Family and it turned out to be my favorite.  A smooth blend of 60% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Viognier and 15% Gewurztraminer and full of aroma and flavor.  This is a fruit bomb- grapefruit, peach and apricot with smells of rose petals and ginger.  The perfect summer wine!  Available for around $12.  (WG 90pts.)

  • Syrah.  A bold, full bodied red with great expressions true to the varietal.  Dark plum, black pepper and a touch of ye ole barnyard.  A medium length but it a was bit hot with alcohol burn on the finish.  A good food wine.  Available for around $18.  (WG 85pts.)

  • Cabernet Sauvignon.  The wine is also deep ruby red and full bodied.  It has focused fruits with dark berries and cherries along with toasty oak.  The tannins are medium and it does have good acidity.  A smoother Cabernet with a lengthy finish, but again there was some alcohol burn on the finish.  Available for around $24.  (WG 85pts.)

I really love their white wines.  They are full of fruit, have crisp acidity and great finishes.  The reds need a little work as they are slightly out of balance with the alcohol, but good wines.  I see alot of potential with this producer.

You can pick these wines up all over Chicago: Wine Discount Center, The Artisan Cellar, Whole Foods, Lush Wine & Spirits, Armanetti's, Ben'z Wine & Spirits, The Poison Cup, Galleria Liqueurs, and at these restaurants: Keefer's, Kamehachi (I'd love the Long Gamma with sushi!) and Stained Glass in Evanston.

Hope you enjoy these wines- I did!

Chicago Community Crush Kick-Off

Team Chicago Community CrushThis past Wednesday, Community Crush: Chicago was launched at our kick-off party held in Rogers Park.  Taste Food and Wine was our host, and they are an awesome wine shop and Euro deli, which had ample space to accomodate all new members of the Community.  Onhand were  four Community Crush: San Francisco 2008 Pinot Noirs to taste, each very different, and gave all a sneak peak at what our Pinot Noir could be like next year. 

This was the first of what will be many gatherings and chances to meet other people who are enthusiastic about wine and Chicago.  Make sure to join the Community online, become part of our wine's life cycle, and say hi to both myself and my co-leader Carol Ludwick.  Our next event is being held at South Loop Wine Cellar next Wednesday, September 16, from 6:30-8:30pm.  We will be tasting more Crushpad wines, and tasting some freshly picked Pinot Noir grapes from the Two Pisces Vineyard, the source of our 2009 wine.  See you there!

Community Crush Chicago

Winemaking.  It can be mysterious and seem difficult.  I want to start off by saying that anyone can make wine.  ButCrushnet without access to quality vineyards, equipment, winery space, and expertise, making a great wine is almost impossible.  But thanks to Crushpad, the average person has access to all of this.  Choose your varietal, and your grapes will be gathered from California or Bordeaux single vineyards, then turned into a full barrel (about 500 bottles)of great wine by their experts, with prices starting at $5,700. 

Now if you don't want to make that kind of commitment, Crushnet might be for you.  You can be involved with a community barrel, or one that you started with friends, with commitment starting at one bottle purchase.  And for Chicagoans, we have been given the unique opportunity to become part of a remote hands on experience in the Crushnetcreation of a wine.  I have just become co-leader of Community Crush Chicago, an interactive experience with the 2009 vintage of the Two Pisces Vineyard Pinot Noir.  For the low price of $26 per bottle, you will have access to a post-harvest grape tasting, winemaker Noah Dorrance, video updates and live streaming of the wine, post-fermentation and barrel sample wine tasting, designing of the label, and parties with your community of fellow Chicago winemakers!  A full barrel of wine or 511 bottles will be made, so make sure join the group, reserve your bottles, and join the community.

Night Harvest

Night HarvestThis is a photo of a harvest worker in Chile, gathering grapes by spotlight under a midnight sky.  I recently received it from a friend of mine who works with Casa Lapostolle in Chile. 

The winery experimented with this practice for the first time last season with their Sauvignon Blanc at the Las Kuras vineyard in Cachapoal.  The experience was such a success, they decided to perform night harvesting in 2009 at all of their three estates!  This made quite a difference as the workers were cool and relaxed while experiencing quiet, soothing moonlit nights.  They also felt more in tune with nature, and able to enjoy work more.  The harvest started on February 25th, and ended on April 25th with the harvesting of Carmenere from Apalta.

The experience yielded not only a great work environment, but also a superior product.  When the grapes are able to cool down from the daytime sun, they can be picked at an optimum temperature.  They will not be sitting under a hot sun, heated up further from interacting with other hot grapes and hot air in gathering bins.  This would oxidize the grapes and release complex compounds, robbing them of alot of the aromas and flavors they can give the wine.  Only time will tell if the winemakers can take the juice and make a great '09 vintage, but they have an excellent start.  We will look forward to further updates from Casa Lapostolle in Chile.

WCWG Lynfred Winery Tour and Tasting

img_0974It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, a great day for a trip to Lynfred Winery in Roselle, Illinois.  Thanks to a generous donation by Lynfred 2008 Grape Spitting Champion, Mike Miley, we were about to enjoy a free wine tasting at the oldest, continuously run, bonded winery in the state.  Our trip out was an easy one, as we took the Metra train at Union Station to Roselle, a 47 minute ride.  We were met by a big yellow school bus and were off to the winery!

Lynfred resembles many of the other Roselle homes from the front, with its large front porch and welcome appearance.  But when you walk around the side, you see just how large it really is.  It has become not just a winery, but also a Bed & Breakfast, and a bakery, making fine artisanal breads daily.  The building is gorgeous with balconies, outdoor seating, and grey stone walls covered in ivy.  It was started in 1979 by Fred and Lynn Koehler (whom it was named after).  What started as a retirement hobby became a success.

We walked inside and were greeted by a bustling tasting room, full of cheer and shopping.  Over fifty different wines are available for tasting and purchase, anything from Illinois Chardonel (a cross of Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc), to fruit wines (Peach, Apricot, Cherry, Strawberry), sparkling wines and ports, and award winning Cabernet Sauvignon.  img_0987Much of the fruit used to make the wines comes from out of state, from California to Michigan.  Our tasting began with the 2005 Viognier, which is full and applely, with a touch of spice.  We then moved to the cellar tasting room, and were surrounded by barrels of aging wines.  We ran through a tasting of nine wines total: 2006 Chenin Blanc, 2006 Unoaked Chardonnay, Sweetheart White and Red Table Wines, 2006 Barbera (my favorite), 2005 Merlot, Blackberry Wine, and a Strawberry Port.  I could tell each one of their wines was treated as something special, as they all distributed great character, and lasting good finishes.  I don't normally get involved with wines made from fruit other than grapes, but I was very impressed as each gave more than I expected.  It was apparent the winemaker, Andrés Basso, took great care with each of his products. 

We were later taken through the winery by our tour guide, Matt.  He explained the winemaking process from grape to bottle, and was very knowledgeable of each Lynfred product.  The facility was immaculate.  The meticulous nature of the wine is a part of every aspect of Lynfred, from the cellar, to the detail of the design and architecture, to the soft and delicious baked bread.  It was an unforgettable experience and I look forward to more visits in the future.

img_0990After the tour, we headed over to Pilot Pete's.  It is located right next to Schaumberg Regional Airport.  We were able to see helicopters and Cesnas take off and land just outside the window, while we enjoyed lobster nachos, calamari, and the house blend red wine, created by Lynfred.

The event was a success and I want to thank Lynfred Winery (especially Matt), Mike Miley, Barb img_0981the bus driver, Pilot Pete's, and all in attendance.  I hope to have more events just as fun in the future!

Sonoma Wineries- All Aboard!

If you are staying in Sonoma, there's a variety of wineries within bicycle distance.  I know what you're thinking- not sure about the drinking+bicycling thing.  This is not a bad idea if you do not plan on drinking too much, plus it beats driving a vehicle!  At any rate, we were off and riding toward a couple of wineries on a sunny Sonoma day.

We first visited Bartholomew Park Winery.  The property was originally home to Agoston Haraszthy, a Hungarian nobleman who traveled America and became the "father of American wine".  The winery now offers organic estate wines overseen by Jim Bundschu, of Gundlach Bundschu.  All are small batch with most being under 1000 cases produced.  We tasted the entire line:

  • 2007 Sauvignon Blanc- a fruity white with a smooth richness, despite the absence of oak or malo.  Best SB we tasted on the trip!

  • 2005 Desnudos Vineyard Merlot- good mix of spice and fruit for this silky red

  • 2005 Estate Syrah- full bodied and very complex with dark fruit, smoke, and earth

  • 2005 Estate Zinfandel- excellent depth and long flavor.  Slight sweetness, very rich.

  • Two Cabs: '04 Kasper Vineyard, '03 Estate- both will be great wines, are still youthful, and need aging.

The only way to purchase these wines is either at the estate or through their club. 

We later stopped at Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery.  There is no winery in the US that has been producing wine on a continual basis while being family owned than Sebastiani (since 1904).  They have a wide array of wines to choose from, over twenty, and all are reasonably priced, quality selections.

Sonoma is also surrounded by many other wineries: Gundlach Bundshu, Gloria Ferrer, Viansa, Buena Vista, and Ravenswood.  Enjoy the wineries if you visit Sonoma City and happy hunting!

Bubbly at Domaine Chandon

On our drive back to the Inn, we had one last stop to make in Yountville- at Domain Chandon.  It is a gorgeous and gigantic estate surrounded by vineyards and a stream.  We walked in to see a huge retail area, which we checked out while we awaited our tour guide.  Their wine array is about as large as the estate- there are over twenty current releases, with anything from Pinot Noir Rose to Sparkling Red.

We finally met Chandon Ambassador Stephanie Wolden and we were off to the winery.  Most of the grapes had already been harvested by August 3rd, due to increasingly hot summers.  It is important to remember that when making sparkling wine, the grapes should still have a relatively high acid level, to maintain a traditional and crisp style.  The juice was being fermented in very large stainless steel tanks. 

We then went down to the cellar where riddling was taking place.  This is a process where the dead yeast cells are slowly moved to the neck of the bottle, for removal, as it is rotated upside down.  It used to be done manually, but technological advances have made the use of gyropalettes commonplace.  There was also an assembly line which freezes the yeast cells, removes them (disgorging), adds dosage (adjustment of sweetness level), corks the bottle and labels it.  This process takes twenty minutes per bottle!

Stephanie then took us for a tasting in the Salon where we tried their Prestige Cuvee and Classic tastings, seven sparkling wines in total.  The étoile Rosé was our favorite with spice, weight, and excellent fruit essences, excellent for summers, lighter fair and cheeses.  Stephanie's enthusiasm and knowledge of the wines rounded out our tasting. 

Knowing the quality of their still wines (I have their Pinot Meunier at ENO) I could not resist grabbing some of the Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.  The bottle never made it back to Chicago, as we splurged and opened it the following evening!  It had excellent body for a Pinot with lively cherry fruit, spice, and even some tobacco on the finish.

I normally see Chandon classic sparkling wines on sale at Binny's for about $12/bottle so stock up if you enjoy the bubbly.  Thanks again to Chandon and Stephanie!

Visit at Blackbird

Next visit led us to a small artisanal winery, Blackbird Vineyards.  We were greeted at the farmhouse by Heather Yargus, Blackbird's sales and marketing associate.  The house was full of antiques and paintings- it felt like Little House on the Prairie meets the Guggenheim.  We then were introduced to the wines.

Blackbird began as a vision by proprietor Michael Polenske.  He sees the Oak Knoll District in Napa as having the same capability with Merlot as Pomerol in Bordeaux.  The wines are crafted by winemaker, Sarah Gott of Joel Gott Wines and formerly of Joseph Phelps and Quintessa.  They have garnered high praise and scores from many writers and connoisseurs.  We tried two of them:

  • 2007 Arriviste Napa Rosé- 80/20 Merlot and Cabernet Franc, has great pink color with lots of fruit and a bit of spice.  The finish was medium and seems to be a good summer wine.

  • 2006 Illustration- mostly Merlot with some Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc, has a rich dark ruby color, and full body.  Black fruit accompanies floral components, leather, and chocolate.  It has very natural flavors due to being unfined and unfiltered.

If you get your chance to grab one of their wines, take it.  They are low production, fine quality, and definite collectors items.

Sorting Grapes with Rob Lawson and Tuck Beckstoffer

First stop on our second day in Napa brought us to see Robert Lawson of Pavi Wines at the Napa Wine Company.  Rob gave us each a glass of his Pavi Napa Valley Pinot Grigio and brought us out to the winery.  He and his crew were busy since before sunrise harvesting, and now it was time for hand sorting.  Tuck Beckstoffer showed up to help us sort and we found out he and Rob grew up together in the valley.  My wife and I dug into the conveyor belt of organic Pinot Gris grapes and began to remove unhealthy grapes, stems, and leaves. 

This is not common practice at all vineyards but in Napa Valley, over 90% of grapes are hand-sorted.  It was alot of fun for us but a full day of harvesting, sorting, and crushing in 100 degree weather would be draining for anyone.  After the Pinot Gris was sorted, it was on to the fermentation tanks. 

The wine had been fermenting in large stainless steel tanks for about five days, converting the ripe sugars and yeast to alcohol.  Rob opened the tank into a pitcher and poured us each a glass.  The juice had a cloudy dull pink hue and was very fruity with sweet apricot and peach flavors.  The cloudiness of the wine would eventually settle and leave a clear dry white wine.

We then went to Bonded Winery Number 9, where Ghost Block and other great wines are tasted.  We tried two more Pavi wines, their Napa Dolcetto and Italian Pinot Grigio.  Rob and his wife, Pavi, started making the wines in 1998 from Italian varietals and eventually Italian vineyards to reflect her heritage.  If you want an authentic Napa experience, check out the Napa Wine Company and maybe you will have Rob making a wine for you!

Hanging with Tuck Beckstoffer

Our last stop on our first day in Napa was with Tuck Beckstoffer of Vinifera Vineyards, Beckstoffer Vineyards, 75 Wine Co., and Private Reserve Jets.  From the moment we met and shook hands, I knew that Tuck was my kind of guy.  He was business and casual at the same time, with a warm and welcome demeanor.  When we sat down to try some wines I knew I was in for some prime tasting.

The Beckstoffers have been working with grapes and acquiring land in California since 1969, and Napa since 1975 (hence the name 75 Wine Co.).  They are now the largest private landholders in Napa Valley and source grapes out to such wine greats as Paul Hobbs, Plumpjack, Broman, Merryvale, Provenance, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, and Clos du Val.  Tuck himself has worked at Cakebread Cellars and Far Niente.  All of this and being part of the 1987 America's Cup winning Stars and Stripes crew make for the right person to drink some vino with.

We tried four of his wines:

  • 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley- this 100% stainless steel organic white was in tune with my buds.  It had a good amount of citrus, though not as much grapefruit as I like (ala New Zealand).  Still, it was a bit tropical and had a nice creamy texture from sur lie aging.

  • New Bordeaux like blend- this is a new release from Tuck which was still was sans label.  It is a Sauvgnon Blanc/Semillon blend which had more floral components and body than the '07 Sauvignon.  Can't wait to see this one in the Chicago market.

  • 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Amber Knolls Vineyard- with a floral and tart red fruit nose which leads into dark fruit flavor, spice, earth, and chocolate.  Has fine body and aging potential.

  • 2005 Vinifera Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley- another fine Cab with added leather and pepper components. 

Tuck has a mission-

"We are committed to producing and offering hand-crafted wines from the finest vineyards in California at a reasonable price in a package that will compete for attention in the finest restaurants in the world."

Have to love some high quality Napa wines which fall into the $15-35 price range!  Now, you cannot get these wines everywhere as Tuck is picky about who he lets vend his wines (which is a good thing) but I have seen some of them available for online purchase.  Pick them up if you get the chance.

We left 75 Wine Co. bound for Sonoma and some rest.  But we would get a chance to see Tuck again the next day...

Grgich Hills Cellar

Driving down I-29 in Napa, I could not help but stop by one of my favorite producers, Grgich Hills.  The winery was started by a man I idolize, Miljenko "Mike" Grgich.  Mike came to America from Croatia with nothing and has become one of the leading wine producers in the nation.  His ability to work with new equipment, innovations, and techniques has created a world class reputation.  He worked with Andre Tchelistcheff at Beaulieu Vineyard (BV), Robert Mondavi, and created the 1976 Paris Wine Tasting winning Chardonnay, 1973 vintage Chateau Montelena.  After the Paris Tasting, he struck out on his own at Grgich Hills. 

The property is welcoming and simple.  I noticed on the way in a sign stating the estate is both biodynamic and organic certified- a suggestion from his nephew, Ivo Jeramaz.  Ivo has been with Mike for two decades and his wine background goes back to Croatia, growing grapes and making wine with his family.  Mike and Ivo were also able to create a winery in Croatia, Grgic Vina, in Dubrovnik.  Mike may have some great help, but at 85 years of age, he is still very active at the winery.  We hoped to speak with him but he was very busy with scheduled visitors and harvest.

We were greeted by Connor, a California native who was very knowledgeable about both the winery and the wines.  The tasting room is offset by both stainless steel fermentation tanks and oak aging barrels- nice to be surrounded by future great wines!  Here is what we tasted:

  • 2007 Napa Fume Blanc- this Sauvignon Blanc was aged in oak and sur lie, giving it good body.  Great tropical and citrus fruits, oak, and oily texture.  Long finish.

  • 2006 Napa Chardonnay- this is the first vintage of both biodynamic and organic certification.  Mike's Chardonnays are always done in Burgundian style- oak aged with no malolactic fermentation, leaving a crisply acidic full bodied wine with great floral, citrus, mineral, and honeyed components.

  • 2005 Napa Chardonnay, Carneros Selection- this is the best of the best.  More contact with new oak makes this wine more rich and nuttier.  Tropical fruits and creaminess shine through with elegance.

  • 2004 Napa Merlot- is a Merlot meant for aging with rich tannins and structure.  Has a silky texture along with dark fruit, spice, and cedar.

  • 2005 Napa Zinfandel- a rich dark color accompanies lively fruit, leather, and earth.  This wine gains great structure from the addition of Petit Syrah.  Perfect pizza wine.

  • 2004 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon- a complete balance of body and fruit, this wine also gives off floral and chocolatey components.

Every wine we tasted is of the best quality and not only garner high WG scores, but also high scores from all expert tasters and writers.  The price tag on these wines are very moderate for the quality, ranging from $30-135 and considering the cellaring potential, all are a steal.

Napa Valley Stop #1- Duckhorn Vineyards

After renting a Dodge Caliber in San Francisco, the Windy City Wine Guy and wife drove up to Napa Valley.  It was a hot September day and the views along the way were well worth the short trip.  After passing through St. Helena, we arrived at Duckhorn.  Started by the Duckhorn family in 1976, they have been producing Bordeaux varietal wines for over 30 years.  The entire company was sold to GI Partners in 2007 and still holds up to great wine standards. 

After entering the Estate House, we were introduced to their entire current vintage portfolio by Danny Rodriguez.  Danny's pride and knowledge for the product was almost as incredible as the wines themselves.  After our tasting we were taken on a tour by Ryan Moore, Retail Operations Director and a former Windy City dweller.  We walked through the vineyards surrounding the house, which were recently harvested Sauvignon Blanc vines.  A few grapes were left behind so we sampled them- what a treat!  Our next stop was to the winery- juice was fermenting in large stainless steel tanks waiting to be put into new 100% French oak barrels for at least 16 months aging (20 months for estate wines).  If you ever get a chance to smell an aging room then go for it- the smell of oak and wine is amazing. 

Here is a list of the wines we sampled:

  • 2007 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc- great tropical fruit and body from 20% new oak and sur lie aging.  Contains 25% Semillon. 

  • 2005 Napa Valley Estate Grown Merlot- this is a full rich style from an excellent vintage.  Earth, tobacco and leather accompany spice on the nose while silky fruit and berries flow on the mouth.  Also blended with some Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot.

  • 2005 3 Palm Vineyard Merlot- a bit more tannin, earth, and more prevalent chocolate and toast.  Not as silky but great finish.  A higher % of blending varietals involved in this wine.

  • 2005 Howell Mt. Red- Over 90% Merlot makes this a juicy and smooth wine.  The flavors are more compex with herbs, dark fruit, and minerals. 

  • 2005 Napa Cab- ageworthy with strong tannins, grippy dark fruit, and long finish- asking for beef!

  • 2005 Patzimaro Vineyard Cab- great minerality, acidity, and tannin.  The deep dark fruits mingle with mint and pepper.  Good amounts of Cabernet Franc and Merlot in the blend.

  • 2005 Monitor Ledge Cab- dark dried fruit, cocoa, baking spice, and vanilla make this a delicious wine.  Merlot and Petit Verdot for deep color added to the blend.

The wines can be a bit pricey, but they are collectible and always garner great scores.  Have them shipped or look in your local wine shops.  Also keep on the lookout for the other wines which fall under the Duckhorn Company- Goldeneye and Migration Pinot Noir, Paraduxx Zin/Cab blends, and Canvasback Rhone/Cab blends. 

I want to thank Ryan, Danny, and Duckhorn for making our first morning in Napa a memorable experience!