Interviews

An Affinity

An Affinity

50 years ago, on June 15th, 1963 a young couple  with an Affinity for each other were married in Sierra Madre, California.

"Just Married" June 15th, 1963

“Just Married” June 15th, 1963

They had met by chance in the spring of 1960 while riding their bikes on a street in Woodside, near Palo Alto, California. He noticed her minding her own business, riding her bike, and at the next stop light he rode  up next to her and said hi.  She said hi back.  They chatted for a moment and then the light changed and they continued on.  To the next red light, where they talked a bit more.  After a few more intersections he finally got the nerve to ask her to go for a coffee.  There’s nothing like a refreshing cup of coffee after a bike ride!  She agreed and that is how an Affinity, a deep affinity which has spanned 53 years, began.

She was attending Stanford studying communications and journalism. He was fresh out of a 4 year tour with the Coast Guard.  His last year was spent on Annette island near Ketchikan, Alaska.   After they married, they first moved to San Francisco where he began studying economics at San Francisco State University.  By this time she had graduated from Stanford and was working for an advertising agency.

Graduating from the University of Chicago, 1966

Graduating from the University of Chicago, 1966

After he earned his BA in economics, they decided to move to Chicago so he could obtain his Masters at the University of Chicago Business School.  He attended school all year round to avoid having to spend any more winters in Chicago, and by 1966 he had his MBA and they moved back to the San Francisco area once again.

In San Fransisco, she worked in public relations and eventually started her own PR firm in 1972.  During this time he worked in marketing, real estate and asset management.  One of the things they had enjoyed since before they were first married was visiting Napa Valley.  They shared an Affinity for exploring the wine world and joined the San Francisco Vintner’s club.  This is where they learned about fine wines and were exposed to Napa Valley “mountain wines” for the first time.  They became intrigued with making mountain Cabernet Sauvignons.

Exploring Napa Valley on summer break from college in the early 1960's

Exploring Napa Valley on summer break from college in the early 1960’s

Trying to find a way to become involved in Napa Valley,  he began putting together investment groups to purchase vineyards in the 1970’s.  At the time there were only about 7 or 8 wineries in the valley, quite different from the Napa Valley of today.    Eventually a prime vineyard site became available on Mount Veeder.  The land turned out to have a wine history dating back to 1874.  He and a colleague organized an investment group to buy the site, with the vision of reviving it.  In 1978 he successfully sold the property to Donald Hess of Switzerland and stayed on to help develop and manage the project.  Eventually they renovated the old Christian Brothers Mont La Salle winery to process the fruit from the vineyard and start The Hess Collection winery. He then became general manager of the Hess Collection Winery.

Moving to Napa, 1980

Moving to Napa, 1980

During the early years on Mount Veeder, he would commute from San Francisco, but in 1980, their dream of of living in Napa Valley was finally realized when they moved into the then-quiet, small town of Napa with their six year old son, Bryan.  During this time she continued to work as a PR consultant

In 1990, thanks to his efforts, the Mount Veeder Appellation received its own A.V.A. status and he went on to consult on Spring Mountain’s A.V.A. application.  By 1990 the opportunity to start his own winery with friends from his Chicago MBA class presented itself and he left The Hess Collection.  He aquired mountain vineyard sources and began making high-elevation Cabernet Sauvignons in 1992.  10 years later, in 2002, they built a state of the art winery and vineyard at the summit of Howell Mountain.

Making mountain Cabernet in the early 1990's

Making mountain Cabernet in the early 1990’s

Who am I talking about?  Robert “Bob” & Lynn Craig!  I first met Bob at a wine event in Phoenix a few years ago, and then I met both of them in Napa in 2011.  On June 14th, 2013 I was in Napa and visited them at their busy tasting room.  While tasting some of the new releases I asked them many questions about the past.  Robert Craig’s flagship Cabernet Sauvignon is named “Affinity” in case you didn’t know.  This wine is one of the most affordable highly rated Cabernets that Napa Valley has to offer.

Breaking ground on Howell mountain in 2000

Breaking ground on Howell mountain in 2000

In our conversation I learned that they were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary the next day, and while tasting “Affinity” and talking with them I realized their amazing affinity for each other.

Bob and Lynn celebrating their 50th anniversary at the opera in Vienna

Bob and Lynn celebrating their 50th anniversary at the opera in Vienna

Special thanks to Lynn Craig for providing all the photos and for proof reading!

Links:

Robert Craig Wine Website

Previous Weekly Wine Journal Articles on Robert Craig:

Affordable California Cult Wines – Part 5 – Robert Craig


How one Napa Valley producer has found success by focusing on Quality…

Dinner with the Craigs!

A video of me driving on Howell Mountain with the Craigs

See more photos on the Weekly Wine Journal’s Facebook Page

A visit to Rutherford Grove and Pestoni Family

The entrance to Rutherford Grove winery

The entrance to Rutherford Grove winery

A visit to Rutherford Grove and Pestoni Family Winery

My summer 2013 tour of Napa Valley included a visit to Rutherford Grove Winery.  The tasting room and winery is located on the St Helena Highway, just outside of St, Helena.

Beautifully landscaped Rutherford Grove Winery property

Beautifully landscaped Rutherford Grove Winery property

The first thing you’ll notice about Rutherford Grove Winery is the amazing landscaped property.  You can’t see it from the road, but once you get up to the actual winery and tasting room you’ll notice all the flowers and gardens, and off to the side there is a huge grass field and picnic BBQ area that can accommodate hundreds of people.

Wine-maker Alejandro Alfaro

Wine-maker Alejandro Alfaro

On this visit I met tasting room manager Bonnie Zimmerman and wine-maker Alejandro Alfaro, and tasted through a wide variety of Rutherford Grove wines, as well as some of the Pestoni family wines.

The Pestoni family has been involved in wine making in Napa Valley for 5 generations, but current owner Bob Pestoni, didn’t immediately follow in the family footsteps.  He started a disposal company first.  And Napa Valley is very lucky that he did.  Bob actually discovered a bacteria to help recycle all the organic waste in the wine making process.  Every year he produces over 12,000 tons of organic compost fertilizer to be used in vineyards all over Napa Valley.

Alejandro Alfaro is now the head wine maker for both Rutherford Grove and Petsoni Family wines.  He has an interesting background in wine making.  While a lot of wine makers these days are graduates of U.C. Davis, Alejandro gained his knowledge and skills in wine making from hands on experience.  Alejandro has been working in the business for over 18 years and has done it all from vineyard management to cellar work, to wine production, and retail sales to wine making.  He joined Rutherford Grove and Pestoni in 2010 after working with an impressive list of small production high quality clients.  The most striking thing about Alejandro is that he is a genuine, down to earth, friendly guy.  Unassuming and humble.  Which is interesting, because I really think that comes across in the wine style.  All wines have their strong points and niches, and the impression I get from Alejandro’s wines is they are unassuming and humble.  But they’re not boring.

The private tasting area, which is located right in the cellar.

The private tasting area, which is located right in the cellar.

The 2008 Pestoni Estate Reserve Cabernet from Howell Mountain is  an amazing wine.  It’s remarkably approachable for such a young mountain wine.  This wine scored 94 points from Wine Enthusiast and won a gold medal at the San Francisco Chronicle wine competition in 2011. With only 350 cases produced and priced at only $65 a bottle it is quite a steal.  The next day at the Taste of Howell Mountain I had a chance to taste the 09 vintage and it was perhaps even better!  I also had a chance to taste the 2008 Estate Reserve Merlot, also from Howell Mountain.  This is also a great value, with only 300 cases produced and priced at $50 a bottle. The wine was a gold medal winner at the 2012 San Francisco Chronicle wine competition and scored 92 points from Wine Enthusiast.  It’s a Cabernet lovers Merlot, nice and big and bold.photo(136)

Other stand-outs include the Rutherford Grove Estate Sauvignon Blanc and the Estate Sangiovese.  The Sauvignon Blanc has a good citrus like  acidity with an apricot aroma on the nose, making it a refreshing summer sipper. At only $18 and only 600 cases produced for the 2012 vintage this wine will probably go fast.

The Estate Sangiovese is only available through the wine club and tasting room.  Only 300 cases were produced and it runs $35 a bottle.  It’s a big bold and dense wine with the fine dusty tannins that the Rutherford area is so well known for.

If you’re taking a trip to Napa Valley, I would recommend stopping in at the Rutherford Grove winery to taste their wines.  Reservations are not required to taste the wines, though you might want to contact them ahead of time if you want to meet Alejandro.

Contact Rutherford Grove Winery  Here

Wine Maker Interview | Peter Mondavi

Wine Maker Interview | Peter Mondavi

Last month I had the chance to sit down and interview wine maker, Peter Mondavi. Yes, Peter Mondavi, nephew of Robert Mondavi, son of Peter Sr. Mondavi and owner of the Charles Krug Winery in Napa. He brought with him the latest offerings from the Charles Krug Winery and we sampled them over dinner at the Phoenix City Grille, in Phoenix Arizona. After dinner, and a wide ranging conversation I conducted an interview based on some of the topics we had talked about. I’ve broken the interview down into three smaller parts for youtube consumption.  I will provide wine reviews on the wines we tasted in some upcoming posts.

Part one:
http://youtu.be/PvM5wIwi-RY
Part two:
http://youtu.be/IgiDw9-ddHU
Part three:
http://youtu.be/ZLGx_AOOuWc

Robert Craig video interview | part one

Earlier this year I was fortunate to get some one on one interview time with Napa Valley wine producer Robert Craig.  He was in Phoenix for the official release of the new 2010 “Affinity” his flagship wine.  Those of you who have been following this blog are well aware of my affinity for Robert Craig Wines and Bob and his wife, Lynn.  If not, do yourself a favor and read up on why I consider Robert Craig Wines to be “Affordable California Cult” wines.

Video interview, part one

Robert Craig Winery | Phoenix tasting

This past January I attended a Robert Craig Winery wine tasting held at Garage Wine & Tap in Phoenix, Arizona.  Mr Robert (Bob) Craig was on hand to talk with guests and answer their questions and show case the brand new release of his flagship wine the 2010 Affinity.

a picture of robert craig and weekly wine journal writer Tim Hilcove

Robert Craig & me

If you don’t know Robert Craig, then lets start with a little background:

Robert Craig is responsible for the Mount Veeder and Spring Mountain American Viticultural Areas (A.V.A’s)  He is a Napa pioneer, and started out putting together real estate deals in Napa in the late 1960’s early 70’s. During this time he came across an offer he couldn’t refuse for some potential vineyard land which he later sold to Donald Hess and then stayed on as vineyard manager during the 1980’s.  In 1992 Robert Craig started his own winery and in 2002 he built a state of the art winery and started a small vineyard on  some prime land on the top of Howell Mountain situated right between Black Sears Vineyard and Outpost.  An interesting factoid about Bob is that he was in the Coast Guard in the 1950’s and was stationed off the very southern panhandle of Alaska just a few hours from where I grew up as a kid.   A while back I wrote a 5 part series on Affordable California Cult Wines, Robert Craig was one of them.  Check out that post HERE.

image of Robert Craig wine label

2009 Affinity

SO!  How was the wine you are probably asking.  Very, very good.  I started out with the only white wine made by Robert Craig, the 2010 Durel vineyard Chardonnay.  This is a very nicely balanced Chardonnay, not too much oak, in-fact very little, and not overly buttery.  This is a much more Euro style Chard than a California butter and oak pile-driver.  I mingled with the guests and tried to gauge their “affinity” for the chard and even though most people were there for the reds, they actually were pleasantly surprised by this wine.  I’ve had it before and new to expect good things, and I wasn’t disappointed.  Next up was the ’09 Affinity followed by the brand new 2010 Affinity.

2009 Zinfandel

2009 Zinfandel

Both are stellar, and very approachable right now.  Only minimal decanting might be required and certainly no extra again, although like most fine wines these will improve with age.  I was eager to get into the mountain fruit and so I moved over to an additional tasting station near the back of the restaurant that was serving Robert Craig’s 2009 Black Sears Vineyard Howell mountain Zinfandel, and the ’08 and ’09 Howell Mountain Cabernets.  Robert Parker gave the ’09 Howell mountain cab 96 points.  Most Napa Valley Cabernets scoring 96+ points are in the $300 range. Compare that to Robert Craig’s price tag of $80 and you can easily see why I put him in the Affordable California Cult Wines series.

garage wine and tap interior

Inside the Garage

Near the end of the evening I sat on a bar stool next to Bob and a gentleman approached him and asked a very good question: “How do you make these wines so approachable at such a young age, especially the mountain fruit?”

Bob answered, it’s all about vineyard management.  Picking the fruit at the right time and to a large extent only picking the fruit.  Picking by hand, meticulously sorting out stems and substandard fruit, and also harvesting at the right time.

Currently the 2009 Affinity is at select Costco’s or you can order it online at RobertCraigWine.com

Visit Garage Wine & Tap, it’s a nice venue for tasting wine and its built inside of an old garage in central Phoenix

Interview with wine negociant Cameron Hughes

If you’ve ever bought wine at Costco, you’ve most surely come across Cameron Hughes Wine Lot Series.  Cameron has built a formidable brand out of rescuing high end “orphans” and repurposing them for the value driven consumer who appreciates high quality wine.

Cameron was recently in Scottsdale, Arizona for a wine dinner at Tommy V’s Urban Grille, with tickets being sold exclusively through select Costco’s.  I managed to sit down with Cameron for a few minutes and asked him about his business model, production levels and future plans, as well has his prognostication for what wine region may be “hot” in 2013.

Cameron Hughes Wine website

Photos from the wine dinner on the Weekly Wine Journal Facebook Page

Arizona wine maker Darin Evans

Arizona wine maker Darin Evans

arizona wine

Darin Evans

Darin was pouring his award winning wines at the 2012 Arizona Wine Grower’s Association “Festival on the Farm at South Mountain” on November 17th.  I presumed because Darin is relatively young that he was new to the wine business, but as you’ll find out in this interview, I was wrong!