Interviews

A taste of Bouchaine

A taste of Bouchaine

Bouchaine-wines

It’s always an interesting thing for me to meet a wine maker or wine personality for the first time.  You never know what to expect, the personalities are as varied as wine itself.

Recently, I had the pleasure of dining and talking with Greg Gauthier of Bouchaine Vineyards.  I walked into the dimly lit steakhouse and in the back at a table by himself sat a man with a table of wine bottles and a few boxes of wine by his side.  He greeted me warmly and said they were still getting the private room ready, and would I like to grab a beer while we wait.  So we went over to the bar which allowed us to begin our conversation.

We sat and drank water instead of beer.  It was at least 110F outside in the Phoenix summer heat.  I asked him how he was enjoying the weather.  He smiled and chuckled.  The private room became ready a few minutes later and we continued our 3 hour conversation there.

Greg brought some of the current line up of Bouchaine Vineyards wines out including several Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.  As we began sipping he asked me to hold off for a minute, he summoned the wait staff and ask them to bring an olive, a piece of lemon skin, some salt and a few other morsels.  He carried out a little sensory experiment for me that was quite fascinating.  Try the unoaked chardonnay, then drop a piece of lemon skin the size of a small nail head in the glass.  After only having been in the glass for a few seconds, the wine was completely changed and overpowered by lemon citrus, yet it still tasted quite nice.  It tasted just like a New Zealand style sauvignon blanc.

These taste experiments lead into a discussion about the current marketing strategy of Bouchaine.   It’s not really a strategy like one hatched up by Don Draper, more like an approach to explaining the wines.   It’s Greg’s job to travel the country with his wines and talk with chef’s and restauranteurs and try to get them to see these wines as companions to food.  Not just companions but soul mates.  Just as the lemon skin changed the Chardonnay, I could now imagine that wine pairing very nicely with a salmon ( Pacific, NOT farmed) with lemon juice dressing.  Or something along those lines.

When the waitress came back we inquired about the salmon on the menu.  Is it Pacific or Atlantic salmon?  This is a question that you should really ask any time Salmon is on the menu and a huge pet peeve of mine.  But that’s a topic for another article.  After the waitress explained that it was special organic Atlantic salmon, Greg and I both said almost in unison “I think I’ll have a steak”

We tasted through the wines while Greg gave me a brief history of the Bouchaine operation.  Bouchaine is the oldest continuously operating winery in the Carneros District.   The Carneros District is one of only a few American Viticultural Areas (A.V.A’s) located in two counties.  The Carneros district is located in both Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley at the edge of San Pablo bay.  The area is prone to fog and cool ocean breezes and is really ideal for Chardonnay and Pinot noir.

The wines

Bouchaine, 2011 “Chene d’Agent” Chardonnay, Carneros Napa Valley

Bouchaine-Chardonnay-bottle

This is a crisply acidic and refreshing wine, loads of citrus some nice mineral notes.  Fermented in stainless steel and weighing at 13% alc, this is really a very refreshing take on the typical massive alcoholic butterbombs that are all too common in California wine these days.  Only 246 cases produced.

Bouchaine, 2011 Estate Vineyard Chardonnay, Carneros Napa Valley

Bouchaine-estate-chardonnay-bottleThis wine is a completely different style than the last, and equally interesting.  The wine was aged in 15% new French, American and Hungarian oak, with 50% undergoing malolactic fermentation.  With a production run of just over 6,000 cases this wine should be readily available in most fine wine stores and dining establishments.  “You probably won’t find it on your local grocery shelf though”  Greg said.    The wine has a much softer mouth feel than the previous wine, a nice hint of butterscotch.

Bouchaine, 2012 Estate Vineyard Pinot Meunier.  Carneros, Napa Valley

Bouchaine-pinot-meunier-jpgThis wine saw 11 months in 33% new French oak barrels and weighs in at 13.85% alcohol.  A little over 400 cases were made. First, a little about Pinot Meunier…  one of 3 noble grapes used in the production of Champagne,  very rarely used in the production of dry red wine.  Closely related to Pinot Noir.

This wine really reminded me of South African Pinotage.  A really robust backbone of tannins, black plums, pine forest, smokey oak, cinnamon.  Very complex. This was definitely my favorite of the night

Bouchaine, 2010 Pinot Noir, Carneros.

Bouchaine-pinot-noir

I forgot to ask Greg why the labeling was different on this bottle, no mention of Napa there.  This wine also saw 11 months in 33% new French oak with alcohol almost identical to the Pinot Meunier at 13.8% With production at a little under 10,000 cases this wine should be available at most wine shops and restaurants.  This is a good solid cool climate Pinot Noir that Carneros is so well known for.  Flavors of strawberry, red cherry with a little spice and earth.  Robust acidity and tannins.

The rest of the night was spent just talking about a wide range of subjects, a lot to do with wine, but also a lot to do with life.  Greg’s humor really started to come out a little later on.  He has a very understated sense of humor.  We had talked about the weather with the manager briefly and she mentioned that our waitress had a mild case of heat stroke a few days before whilst riding her bike in the midday Phoenix summer heat (115F).   When the waitress returned Greg very casually mentioned: “I hear you enjoy riding your bike…”

“Not in this heat”  she said.

On my next trip to Napa I will definitely be taking a side trip to Carneros and Bouchaine vineyards. It’s really very close, literally about 15 minutes from downtown Napa.  Hopefully Greg will be there to show me around!

http://www.bouchaine.com/Home

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

napa valley view

A Visit to Keever Vineyards

A Visit to Keever Vineyards

I was first introduced to Keever Vineyards by a gentleman named Chilli Davis at a wine tasting in Scottsdale, Arizona and was immediately hooked, the wine was incredible.  This past June while visiting Napa for the Taste of Howell Mountain Christine Piccin with Mackenzie Agency (PR) was kind enough to set me up with a private tasting (actually all the Keever tastings are private) on VERY short notice.  Because of intermittent cell service I missed the confirmation of my appointment but Olga Keever was nice enough to leave me a phone message.  I called back and a guy named Bill answered. He said he would wait for me.

Keever Vineyards, adding the personal touch

Keever Vineyards, adding the personal touch

I arrived an hour and a half past the original appointment time and was greeted by Bill.  Bill Keever, owner.  When I walked in the tasting room, which is actually a massive two story architectural marvel I noticed some wines set on the counter.  Then I noticed a big card which read “Welcome Tim!”

Bill took me on an extended tour of the building, the production facilities, the cave, the vineyard and back to the tasting room for more wine.  All along the tour I was able to ask questions and Bill answered freely.

Keever-vineyards-19One of the things I learned is that Bill graduated from Napa Valley high school and ended up becoming the CEO of Vodafone Asia region.  His base of operations for most of his time overseas was Germany and the Netherlands and it was during this time that his exposure to wine occurred in a big way.  They moved back to Napa in 1999 and Bill finally retired in 2003.  Eventually they came across some property right next to the Veterans Hospital right near Yountville.  If you’ve ever driven north on Highway 29 from Napa to St Helena, on the left hand side of the road just as you’re getting into Yountville there’s a big white building on the west side of the road, nestled up against the foothills of the Mayacamas range.  The property was actually a horse training facility complete with a small outdoor arena.  Bill said this was really convenient because all of the surrounding area has massive rocks in and on the ground that need to be removed prior to planting a vineyard.  Luckily this had already been completed and also the land had been leveled out nicely as well.

stunning view from the tasting room

stunning view from the tasting room

The next step in pursuing the dream was to find a wine maker.  Bill enlisted the help of a friend and well known Napa Valley consultant to find a top notch wine maker and eventually Celia Welch agreed to be their wine maker.  For those of you not familiar with Celia Welch she was named Food & Wine Magazine’s winemaker of the year for 2008.  She has been a consulting wine maker rock star for over 25 years.  She stated with Staglin and currently works with Kelly Flemming, Scarecrow, Barbour, Hollywood & Vine and others.   Celia has her own label, Corra wines as well.  Celia helped the Keevers with more than just the wine making, she was instrumental in the layout and design of the facilities as well.  In effect Celia manages them, not the other way around.

Inside the tasting room/house

Inside the tasting room/house

Bill poured me a glass of the Keever Sauvignon Blanc and we took a tour of the production facilities, which is one of the most pristine, clean and organized facilities I’ve ever seen.  It’s as if there has never been any wine made there, spotless.  This, in large part is Celia’s influence.  She is a stickler for sanitary wine making conditions.  This interesting interview from Wines and Vines goes into more depth on that subject: ( winesandvines.com )  The wine production area is gravity fed an interesting and unique feature.  All of the open top stainless steel fermentation tanks are not bolted to the floor.  They are movable.  The fruit comes in on a mezzanine level above the tank room and goes thru the de-stemmer and is sorted and all the good fruit is then dropped through a hole into a waiting tank beneath.  The tanks are switched out by forklift.  Rather than bring the fruit to the tank, they do it the other way around, by bringing the tank to the fruit.

production facilities

production facilities

Room for 100 of your closest friends

Room for 100 of your closest friends

Next, we headed into the wine cave.  Although not the biggest by any means, it extremely clean, and the tunnel itself is actually pretty wide.  In the middle it opens up into a big room where there is enough room for a table and 100 of your closest friends.  There’s even a wine vault at the end, with a little table for two behind the glass wall.

After the cave we walked back around the front of the property and took a look at progress of the grapes.  Bill laughed that his granddaughter loves to eat the little grapes, especially as they become ripe.

The vault

The vault

We ended up back in the tasting house and I sampled through the Keever Vineyards current offerings ( I’ll be posting these reviews in future updates).

If you’re into high quality Napa wines and cabernets in particular you should definitely look into Keever.  If you’re in Napa and want to visit be sure to make arrangements ahead of time as the vineyard is protected by a large gate, so you can’t just show up, all tastings are by appointment only.

Keever Vineyards Website

 

 

Mike Dunn on Petite Sirah

Mike Dunn on Petite Sirah

On my recent trip to Napa Valley for the 19th annual Taste of Howell Mountain I had a chance to visit Dunn Vineyards and Retro Cellars up on Howell Mountain.  After a tour of the vineyard and cave led by Kara Dunn I got to sit down and try out some wine and chat.  While sipping Retro Cellars Napa Valley and Howell Mountain Petite Sirah Mike offered up some insight into the grape and other varieties that do well in the Howell Mountain micro climates.

A visit to Ladera on Howell Mountain

A visit to Ladera Vineyards on Howell Mountain

 

Ladera, Howell Mountain.

Ladera, Howell Mountain.

My annual pilgrimage to Napa Valley this year (2014) included a visit to Ladera Vineyards on Howell Mountain.  Howell Mountain is a sub AVA (American Viticultural Area) of the larger Napa Valley AVA and is located in the northern end of Napa Valley near Saint Helena.  I had planned to visit Ladera in 2013 but I missed my flight out of Phoenix and arrived too late to meet anyone.  This year I made arrangements to arrive a full day ahead of any winery visits!

I wanted to visit Ladera because for the last several years now I have been a huge fan of their Howell Mountain Cabernet.  I was first introduced to Ladera by Wine Library and Gary Vaynerchuk.  I ordered 6 bottles of the ’04 Howell Mountain cab and have enjoyed them immensely over the last several years, and unfortunately they are all gone now.  I’ve enjoyed other vintages at fine steak houses across the country including Smith & Wollensky in Las Vegas.

On this visit I was lucky enough to have a personal tour with Ladera’s proprietor, Pat Stotesbery.  We toured the restored winery building, which was originally built in 1886.  Pat showed me the multi level building which actually works as a gravity fed winery.  The grapes are brought in at the top level, and sorted and sent down to the next level for crushing and finally at the lower level comes the fermentation and bottling and entrance to the cave system.

Ladera's Caves

Ladera’s Caves

The cave system is interesting.  It’s actually in a circle with off shoots here and there, and a really cool area for special tasting parties.  The cave system covers about 18,000 square feet.  Pat pointed out a very interesting architectural feature: The tunnel for the cave is lined up directly with the entrance to the building.  This is difficult to do because the tunnel for the cave was dug the other way…meaning they tunneled from underground towards the underground walls of the building and tried to line it up so that the tunnel would be directly lined up with the large entrance doors on the opposite side of the fermentation tank room.

Private tasting room in the cave system

Private tasting room in the cave system

Pat also pointed out another architectural feature on the outside of the building.  On some of the walls, the massive stone bricks are flush and on others they stick out like misaligned legos.  This was done because back in the 1880’s there were plans to make this building larger on the one side and so they left the bricks like that so they could fit the addition in where the original structure left off.

I sat outside on the patio and tasted through the current Ladera offerings with Pat while I quizzed him on his former life.

“I’ve actually re-invented myself a couple of times”  he said.  Originally he studied accounting, and then he started a cattle ranch in Montana.  This ranch was actually used as the location for the Robert Redford movie “A River Runs Through It”  and yes that great fly fishing river ran right through his property.  The Stotesbery’s acquired Ladera in the late 1999 and undertook the massive renovation of the vineyard and original winery structure.

The Wines

Ladera 2010 High Plateau Cabernet Sauvignon

 

Ladera High Plateau Cabernet

Ladera High Plateau Cabernet

This wine is 98% Cabernet and 2% Petit Verdot blended from Laderas Howell mountain and Diamond Mountain estate vineyards.  Each of the 5 lots that make up this wine were fermented separately in open top fermenters and then aged in 60% new French Oak for 22 months.

This wine very similar to Ladera’s flagship “Howell Mountain” cabernet.  Except that it retails for $65 instead of $85.  This wine has a lot of nice fruit and tannin to it.  Black fruit with a hint of spice.

Ladera 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain Stile Blocks

Ladera Howell Mountain Stile Blocks

Ladera Howell Mountain Stile Blocks

This is Ladera’s newest offering and is positioned between their Napa Valley Cabernet and the Howell Mountain Cabernet. It’s also 98% Cabernet 2% Petit Verdot, and all Howell Mountain fruit and retails for $50 a bottle.

Ladera 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain

Ladera Rerserve Howell Mountain Cabernet

Ladera reserve Howell Mountain Cabernet

This year Ladera added the word “Reserve” to the name of their previously named “Howell Mountain” wine.  Pat explained that everyone always asked him if he had a “reserve” wine and everyone else seems to have a “reserve” wine so he figured that the Howell Mountain cab really is the reserve wine and added reserve to the label. There, now its reserve.  This wine is 100% Cab and 100% Howell Mountain estate fruit.  The wine was aged in it’s separate blocks for 21 months in 100% new French oak and bottled without fining or filtration.  Only 2000 cases were made, retail price $85.

Ladera’s Howell Mountain cab has been one of my steakhouse favorites.  This wine has been extremely consistent over the years and goes extremely well with prime cuts of red meat.  This is a big bold, “decadent” (described on their website) wine.  One more recent vintages I recommend decanting for a few hours.  I recently drank the last bottle of ’04 Howell Mountain Cab and really wished I had purchased a lot more.  It’s really aged nicely.

Ladera 2010 “S” Howell Mountain Cabernet

Ladera "S"

Ladera “S”

This wine is the only wine that makes reference to the Stotesbery family with the big “S” in the label.  This wine is really only available to wine club members.  Only 97 cases were made.  Its the best fruit from the best lots, it’s simply the best of the best when it comes to Ladera.   Retail price is $175 and there is a limit of 3 bottles per customer.

 

 

 

 

Interview with Mike Dunn, Part 1 | Dunn Vineyards Retro Cellars

I had a chance to sit down with Mike and Kara Dunn at the Dunn Vineyards Estate on top of Howell Mountain and talk a little bit about wine.  First I tasted Mike and Kara’s new project “Retro Cellars” and then I tasted a selection of Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernets.

Randy Dunn started Dunn Vineyards over 30 years ago on some land near high up on Howell Mountain.

An original structure dating back to the 1800's.  The vine in the fore ground is over 100 years old

An original structure dating back to the 1800’s. The vine in the fore ground is over 100 years old

Some of the original structures from the 1800’s are still on the property.  This includes a white two story house that serves as the laboratory and business offices of the winery.  This building was actually a rest house for the pony express back in the 1800’s.

My visit included a tour of the vineyards as well as a walk into the massive cave system that Randy Dunn constructed.  I’ll talk more about these things as well as the actual wine I tasted in upcoming posts…

Here’s part one of the interview with Mike.  In it he discusses how he actually “came back” to wine and how he came to make Petite Sirah.

Napa’s Next Generation| Mike Anderson MTGA Wines

Napa’s Next Generation | Mike Anderson MTGA Wines

There’s a new generation of Napa wine makers emerging and while the wines they make do pay a certain amount of hommage to their heritage, they are also blazing a new path and a new name for themselves. One such wine maker is Mike Anderson. I discovered Mike through Instagram and then I gathered information through a series of emails

WWJ: How did you get into wine, what’s the back story?

Mike Anderson, MTGA Wines

Mike Anderson, MTGA Wines

Mike: I got back into the wine industry sort of haphazardly. Originally I had no desire to get into the wine industry but after graduating college I had a job offer at the tasting room at Raymond Vineyards just outside of St. Helena and since I didn’t have any other job prospects I moved back home to take the offer. After about a year I started taking some more wine-focused courses at the Napa Community College to get some more background on the science and numbers side of winemaking and winegrowing. By this point I had worked a couple harvests and was continuing to work on the hospitality side of things as well. In 2010 I was able to purchase a small amount Merlot, about one ton from just outside St. Helena, to give winemaking a decent shot. I ended up with two barrels and as the aging process went on I was pulling samples for friends and family to try. The questions that came up every time were, “What is the label going to be?” and “How much are you going to sell it for?” At that point I hadn’t even consider that but I got the ball rolling with permits and label design. Come July 2012 I bottled my first vintage, just over 40 cases of 2010 Merlot which I officially released the following February. Within three weeks I was sold out and looking to start gearing MTGA wines up further.

mtga-wine-bottleWWJ:  Forgive me if I’m mistaken, but are you related to Todd Anderson – Conn Valley Vineyards?

Mike:  That is correct. MTGA are my initials officially stands for Michael Todd Gustaf Anderson. The back story is that my dad wanted me to be Todd Jr and my grandfather Gus Jr. However my mother kindly intervened so I was named Michael after an uncle of mine. So the label is a “tip of the cap” to my family but also that story.

WWJ: Did you grow with vineyard life? What kind of work did you do as a kid?

Mike: I did grow up with vineyard life. It was, and still is, very much the family business. Growing up I experienced every aspect of the process from planting vines, harvest and other vineyard work, cellar work, bottling and so on.

WWJ: What did you study in college?

Mike: In college I studied criminal justice and sociology. This focus was largely because It was junior year and I needed to declare something. I didn’t have any real desire to pursue a career in those fields.

WWJ: Why did you decided to get back into the wine business and work at Raymond?

mike-anderson-mtga-winesMike: I started working at Raymond in 2008 between school years and when I was home for long holidays. At that time it was just for some extra cash. When I graduated in 2009 however it was one of the worst job markets on record, I had bills to pay so I was going to take a job wherever I could get one. It just so happened that Raymond offered me a position that I could start in as soon as I got home. From there Raymond Vineyards eventually became a part of Boisset Family Estates and I worked my way into the marketing department. At that point I was enjoying the wine industry thoroughly and was pursuing my own wine project.

WWJ: You make Merlot and Riesling.. which Conn Valley doesn’t make right?  Was this a conscious choice?  What other varietals are you interested in?

Mike:  You are correct, Conn Valley does not make Merlot or Riesling. I chose Merlot largely because there only a handful (if that) of great ones in the valley and I wanted to take on the challenge of convincing folks that Merlot could bring a lot more to the table. Riesling is one of my favorite varietals because of its versatility so when I was able to find a great source from the Sonoma Coast is ended being a perfect fit. As far as other varietals go I do wanted to get some Pinot Noir into the lineup and a Bordeaux style blend which will probably be more Right Bank in style. I have wanted to see what producing a sparkling wine would be like, because I am a sucker for good bubbles, but that is a little further down on the wish list right now.

WWJ: What is your current production?

Mike: As of today I am on the 2011 Merlot vintage; 138 cases were bottled in total. I have also just bottled up 41 cases of a dry Riesling from the Sonoma Coast. I continue to have a day job that keeps me busy during most of the week, MTGA Wines is what keeps me busy on my weekends.

These days you can find Mike managing the Clif Family tasting room, Velo Vino, in St Helena.

Keep an eye out for his wines, if you can find them!  Or contact Mike through his website (http://mtgawines.com ) to get on his mailing list.

Follow Mike on Instagram @MTGAWINES

Follow Mike on Twiter @MTGA_Wines

 

 

Arizona Winemakers Talk about Terroir

Arizona Winemakers Talk about Terroir

Arizona  winemakers Maynard James Keenan of Merkin Vineyards and Caduceus Cellars, Anne Rancone of Lightning Ridge Cellars, Kent Callaghan of Callaghan Vineyards, Rob Hammelman of Sand Reckoner Vineyards, Curt Dunham of Lawrence Dunham vineyards and Cynthia Snapp of Javelina Leap Vineyards all talk about the terroir in Arizona.

The discussion was held at the 2013 Arizona Wine Grower’s Association Festival on the Farm in Phoenix, Arizona.

Take a look at all the photos on my Facebook page ! http://www.facebook.com/weeklywinejournal

Twitter:  @WKLYwinejournal

Maynard James Keenan on Arizona Wine | part one

Maynard James Keenan on Arizona Wine | part one

Arizona wine maker - Maynard James Keenan

Arizona wine maker – Maynard James Keenan

Caduceus Cellars wine maker Maynard James Keenan and vineyard manager Chris Turner speak about Arizona terrior at the 2013 Arizona Wine Grower’s Asscociation “Festival on the Farm”

Maynard James Keenan on Arizona Wine | part two

Maynard James Keenan talks about Arizona Wine

Arizona wine maker - Maynard James Keenan

Arizona wine maker – Maynard James Keenan

Maynard James Keenan was one of the wine makers who spoke at a forum on Arizona terrior at the 2013 Arizona Wine Grower’s Association “Festival on the farm”.  He spoke a little bit about what makes his vineyard site unique while guests were treated to the 2008 Caduceus Cellars “Judith” (sold out)

For more pictures visit Facebook.com/weeklywinejournal