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Date: Monday, 26 May 2014 07:17

I first met Craig Camp in Oregon, where he was running Anne Amie vineyards, and where he had already proven to be one of the most internet-savvy individuals I had ever seen in the wine business. An early industry blogger, Craig was just as earnest in person as I found his writings to be online. I got to know Craig in fits and starts, as online interactions and occasional meet-ups in Oregon migrated from acquaintance to friendship.

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And then one day, Camp announced he was coming to Napa. I must admit to being slightly shocked at the news, so deeply did I associate Camp with the Willamette Valley. But having gotten to know the dedication and passion that Camp brings to his work, I trusted that whatever he was doing, it was going to be interesting.

Sure enough, a few months later Camp let me know he was now managing a label in Napa called Cornerstone Cellars, which had been around since the early Nineties, but which I had never come across. A few weeks after that, and every few months since, samples from Cornerstone have shown up at my doorstep. As a result, I've been able to both watch the evolution of this winery under Camp's leadership, as well as taste its progression towards the vision that Camp has for its success.

After spending a college semester abroad in Salzburg, Austria, and as he describes it "drinking my way through Austria and France," Camp got his start in the wine business on the sales side, first working for auction house John Hart, and then soon after co-founding the Direct Import Wine Company in 1979. He represented a large book of business ranging from Becky Wasserman's Burgundy portfolio to Neil Empson's Italian wines to California stars such as Shafer, Spottswoode and Calera. When that company was sold to Paterno, he packed his bags for Italy.

"I stayed there for three years. I hung out in Barolo doing dirty work, working the cellars, translating, doing anything I could do to learn winemaking," recalled Camp when I sat down with him this winter to talk about where Cornerstone was headed.

After his three year ramble through Northern Italy, Camp returned to Oregon where he joined Anne Amie Vineyards for several years before moving to Napa. While in Oregon he happened to meet Jeff Keene, a New Zealander who at the time was working for Havens winery in Napa, specializing in cooler climate wines with an unusual amount of restraint for their New World origins.

"When I landed at Cornerstone and decided to look for a winemaker, Jeff was an easy choice, because I already knew that we spiritually agreed," said Camp.

Keene, a self described "military brat" grew up mostly in Auckland and trained as a food scientist. He worked in a lab in New Zealand for eight years doing research on many things, including Sauvignon Blanc.

"I got bored of working in a lab," recalled Keene. "Two years before I got to that point my boss had left and set up the first postgraduate program at Lincoln Univeristy outside of Christchurch. I thought to myself, 'well, I've got a science background, why shouldn't I go learn winemaking and viticulture?'"

A year later, Keene had finished that postgraduate degree and was getting his feet wet at Dry Lands Estate in Marlborough.

"I was in my mid twenties and I wanted to get where I wanted to get quicker. I was on the fast track," said Keene. "I always wanted to work at places where I could get exposed to everything. At Dry Lands I did the night shift. There were only a handful of us there, so they taught us everything."

Keene then looked overseas, and thanks to a classmate, got an introduction to Havens winery, where he started as an intern and over eight years eventually rose to be the winemaker. From Havens he made the easy jump to Peter Franus winery, whose wines were made in the Havens facility.

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In 2008 Keene got the call from Camp, and he joined in time to help finish the blending for the 2007 vintage. Keene arrived to find a winery undergoing serious change.

Cornerstone Cellars was founded in 1991 by two doctors from Memphis Tennessee, one of whom, Michael Dragutsky, now owns the winery. An accomplished physician and professor of Internal Medicine, Dragutsky built his Gastroenterology practice into something of an empire. He now runs the 12th largest GI group practice in the country, and somehow in his free time he also started a company that does high-end system integration for custom home entertainment systems.

A lifelong wine lover, Dragutsky came to Napa following a dream of having his own tiny wine label. From its founding in 1991 to about 2007, Cornerstone's production grew from about 300 cases to 1500 cases. As with many such projects, making the wine was the easy part. Selling it was another thing entirely. Dragutsky finally realized he needed to bring in some outside help, and found his way to Camp through a "friend of a friend."

Cornerstone's production now sits comfortably around 10,000 cases, and bears almost no resemblance to the winery's earliest incarnation. No longer just a boutique label owned by absentee proprietors, Cornerstone has become a well-recognized brand, and a consistent producer of high quality wines across a spectrum of price points.

More importantly, and much more interestingly, Camp and Keene have gradually and carefully been dialing the winery into their vision for what Napa's next generation wine might look like.

"First and foremost, I wanted to make wines I could drink," said Camp, who freely admits his palate is Euro-centric. "We're looking for balance, finesse and elegance. We want acid, structure and lift, and playfulness on the palate."

"This is a challenge in Napa," added Keene. "We want, when you taste the wine, for it to come alive in your mouth. But we've got lots of extremes of weather to deal with here, so we're finding vineyards that work for the style of wine that we're making."

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The two have settled on about 5 core growers that supply most of the fruit they work with, as well as the teams to manage them. Camp and Keene continue to work with these growers to refine their approach, and feel that with the 2010 and 2011 vintages, they finally have wines that represent what they are trying to achieve.

And what might that be? Well, to my palate, these are wines that have a buoyancy to them, and a brightness that can sometimes get lost in the thick richness of dark power that comes with many a Napa Cabernet in particular. Keene's cool climate background certainly shows through, as the wines have excellent acidity and don't shy away from an herbal savory component. Many of the wines also tend to have quite restrained oak signatures.

Rather than just a single proprietary cuvee, the winery now has a broad portfolio of wines across a large number of price points, and from many different grape varieties. This variety has, at times, seemed somewhat confused.

"This is an evolutionary process," said Camp in his defense. "We have been willing to go where the wine takes us. I didn't want to write a business plan based on specific grapes and wine profiles. We simply decided we were going to grow and explore and see when we get to a set of wines that fit our vision for what we want to make and sell."

For what it's worth, that vision seems to be settling towards a solid portfolio of Bordeaux grape varieties, with an expected emphasis on Cabernet Sauvignon, along with an increasing focus on Syrah.

Oh, and then there's the Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.

You can take the boy out of Oregon but apparently you can't take the Oregon out of the boy. Shortly after he took over the reigns at Cornerstone, a series of conversations with winemaker Tony Rynders led to the creation of a set of Cornerstone Pinot Noirs and a Chardonnay, which continue to be made by Rynders each year.

Cornerstone continues to evolve, but like the rapidly shortening line of a tether ball accelerating towards the pole, the wines of Cornerstone are beginning to gravitate towards a quality and consistency that is quite admirable, and the equal of any of Napa's stalwart producers. Camp and Keene seem to be laying the foundation for becoming a fixture in the valley. Their Yountville tasting room has already become one of the town's most visited, and thanks to Camp, the winery has quickly become among the most successful industry players in social media and new internet technologies such as geofencing.

It has been a great pleasure watching Cornerstone Cellars coalesce over the past few years, and it will be even more fun watching it shift into high-gear now that it has seemingly settled into a comfortable groove. If you don't know these wines, I highly recommend you find some of the 2010s in particular.

Full disclosure: some of the tasting notes below were made from press samples I received from the winery.

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CURRENT RELEASES:

2012 Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, Napa, California
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of golden apples, and candied lemon rind. In the mouth, bright juicy lemon rind and a hint of wheat and golden apples mix with a beautiful bright acidity and good length. Aged in 2-3 year old used French oak barrels. 900 cases made 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30 click to buy.

2011 Cornerstone Cellars "Stepping Stone" Syrah, Napa, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass. This wine smells of beautifully aromatic black pepper, cassis, and crushed dried flowers with a hint of red apple. In the mouth, lean cassis and black cherry fruit have a nice herbal brightness to them mixed with a bit of green wood. Faint, leathery tannins linger on the finish along with that woody character. Includes 5% Merlot from Carneros. 40% new French Burgundy barrels. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $35

2011 Cornerstone Cellars "Stepping Stone" Cabernet Franc, Napa, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of crushed hazelnuts, dried flowers, and dusty farm roads. In the mouth, gorgeously bright cherry, tobacco, cocoa powder, and crushed green herbs have perfect balance, and wonderfully silky texture. Poised, and elegant, with excellent acidity, this is a characterful and delicious rendition of Franc from Napa. Outstanding. 50% new French oak. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $40

2011 Cornerstone Cellars "Stepping Stone" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of wet earth, tobacco, and bright cherry fruit. In the mouth, beautifully bright cherry and tobacco flavors mix with cocoa powder and a hint of black licorice as the wine finishes. Excellent acidity and very good length, with notes of dried herbs on the finish. Delicious. Wonderfully light on its feet and eminently drinkable. Faint dusty tannins. 50% new French oak. 14.3% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $40

2010 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of wonderfully bright cherry and tobacco and cedar notes. In the mouth the wine has a wonderful claret brightness and fantastic acidity, delivering flavors of cherry, crushed green herbs, tobacco, and cedar. Juicy notes of cherry, with hints of fennel seed and wet earth linger in the long finish. Comes from fruit on Howell Mountain and Oakville. 65% new French oak for 22 months. Includes 13% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $54 click to buy.

2010 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dusty earth and dark black cherry. In the mouth powdery muscular tannins wrap around a core of black cherry and bing cherry fruit tinged with cedar and cocoa powder. Rich and dark without being overripe or thick. Burly but not fat, this wine will do nicely with a couple of years in the bottle, though it is quite tasty now. Includes 10% Merlot from Carneros. .75% new French oak for 22 months. 14.7% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $69 click to buy.

2010 Cornerstone Cellars "The Cornerstone" Red Blend Napa Valley, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dusty earth, bright cherry fruit, and wonderful floral notes weaved in between the dark fruit and hints of tobacco. In the mouth violets and licorice mix with dark cherry fruit and gorgeously supple tannins that caress the palate, shifting like a gauzy veil across the face of the bright fruit. The wine has an effortlessness to it that is quite juicy and delicious. There's a stony quality to the wine that is quite compelling. A blend of 82% Cabernet from the Oakville Station. 11% Merlot from Carneros, and 7% Cabernet Franc from St. Helena. 100% new French oak. 14.9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $150 click to buy.

2010 Cornerstone Cellars "Corallina" Rosé of Syrah, Napa Valley, California
Pale coppery pink in the glass, this wine smells of candied orange peel, dried berries, and dried herbs. In the mouth it is silky and juicy with bright strawberry jam and cherry flavors. Dry and crisp and just what you want from a rosé. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $13 click to buy.

2010 Cornerstone Cellars Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light ruby in the glass with purple highlights, this wine smells of raspberry and cherry with hints of cedar. In the mouth, wonderfully bright raspberry and cherry flavors have a green herbal note that seems tied to the supple, rippling tannins that firmly grasp the edges of the mouth. Excellent acidity and notes of forest floor and citrus peel linger in the finish. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $50 click to buy.

2010 Cornerstone Cellars "Stepping Stone" Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry with hints of cedar. In the mouth, excellent acidity brings flavors of cherry and raspberry to life, wrapped in a fleecy blanket of fine-grained tannins. Bright flavors of citrus peel linger with raspberry in the finish. Tasty. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $32. click to buy.

2010 Cornerstone Cellars Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light greenish gold in color, this wine smells a little of the mineral waxiness of Chapstick mixed with lemon pastry cream. In the mouth wonderful grapefruit and cold cream flavors mix with a stony underbelly of the wine that is prickly thanks to excellent acidity. Lean and cool, with a slick silky feel, this wine has a wonderful reserved quality about it. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $40 click to buy.

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OLDER VINTAGES:
Here are some of the tasting notes from my archive of tasting notes on Cornerstone wines made in the last three or four years.

2007 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Medium to dark ruby in color, with a hint of purple, this wine smells of cherry fruit and candied violets. In the mouth flavors of cherry cola and cassis mix amidst bright acidity and faint but muscular tannins. The cassis is the dominant flavor in the finish, which is nice and long. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2009 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of rich black cherry fruit and cassis. In the mouth, dark cherry, cassis, and licorice notes mesh with a creamy coffee quality that is tied to the very well integrated new oak flavors in the wine. Muscular but not bulky tannins ripple beneath the dark surface of this wine, while cocoa powder lingers in the finish. Excellent acidity. 14.9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $65. click to buy.

2009 Cornerstone Cellars "Stepping Stone" Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and violets with hints of green herbs. In the mouth the slightest hint of green bell pepper mixes with cherry, plum, and lightly tacky tannins. Good acidity makes this wine quite drinkable, as cocoa powder and plum linger in the finish. 14.25% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $34. click to buy.

2009 Cornerstone Cellars "The Cornerstone" Proprietary Red Wine, Napa Valley, California
Inky garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and tobacco. In the mouth, smoky flavors of black cherry and tobacco are gripped by thick, drying tannins while scents of sweet new oak ride somewhat roughshod over the fruit. The oak dominates the finish as the tannins dry out the mouth. Good acidity. Seems like it would have been a nice wine with a bit less oak. 14.9% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $250. click to buy.

2009 Cornerstone Cellars "Stepping Stone" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dark black cherry fruit and a hint of licorice. In the mouth black cherry fruit and black licorice flavors mix with cocoa powder and muscular tannins. Good acidity, but the fruit and tannins are quite powerful. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $65. click to buy.

2009 Cornerstone Cellars Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of brown sugar, raspberries and cedar. In the mouth, the wine offers strong raspberry flavors with juicy acidity and a hint of earth to keep the wine from being too fruit driven. Long finish. Very pretty. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $50

2006 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine has a nose of black cherry, wet dirt, and pipe tobacco. In the mouth it has excellent acidity, lightly drying tannins, and flavors of wet dirt, black cherry, and hints of fennel seed that linger in the finish. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2005 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of rich black cherry, wet earth, and cassis. In the mouth it is broad shouldered and burly, with aggressive, leathery tannins that wrap around a muscled core of black cherry and leather. Notes of cedar and a light sense of candied lavender emerge on the finish. Score: around 9. Cost: $75. click to buy.

2007 Cornerstone Cellars "Stepping Stone" Grenache, Red Hills, Lake County, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry, raspberry, and cedar. In the mouth it is velvety with nice acidity and soft tannins that grip flavors of cherry, wet earth, and chocolate. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $35



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Author: "--" Tags: "Ramblings and Rants"
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Date: Sunday, 25 May 2014 06:22

box_o_wine.jpgHello, and welcome to my periodic dig through the samples pile. I'm pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.

This week included Clos du Val's 2009 Stag's Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon, which was as wonderfully balanced and restrained as it always is, ready to age for the long haul.

In the Cabernet department I also received the latest release from Mt. Brave, made by the talented Chris Carpenter. This wine is more ripe and modern than the Clos du Val, but still a model of restraint compared to some in Napa. I loved its juiciness.

I get a lot of samples from MacPhail Family vineyards and often find the wines to be over-oaked, so I was thrilled to taste the 2011 Flyer and find it balanced, juicy and delicious. And while we're talking about Pinots, the Adelsheim is definitely worth seeking out for its unusual herbal character and overall complexity.

Finally, one of the best surprises this week was the dry Gewürztraminer from Gundlach Bundschu. Bright, light, and missing the bitter edge that can often accompany this grape, this was one of the best domestic renditions of the grape I've had in some time.

All these and more below. Enjoy!

2010 Monteverro "Tinata" Red Blend, Tuscany, Italy
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cassis and black cherries with a hint of violets. In the mouth bright violet and cassis flavors mix with the sweetness of new oak, that also brings with it some drying tannins. The fruit is so pure and bright however, that it's hard not to like this wine, despite its very modern, polished stylings. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $95. click to buy.

2012 Ridge Vineyards "Benito Dusi Ranch" Zinfandel, Paso Robles, Central Coast, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of licorice and blackberry pie. In the mouth, juicy blackberry and blackberry bramble lean towards the herbal side of things as a leafy 09_sldcs_bottle.jpgnote complements the pure blackberry jam fruit. Faint, dusty tannins, and good acidity. 14.8% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $27. click to buy.

2010 Mt. Brave Red Blend, Mount Veeder, Napa, California
Inky garnet in color, this wine smells of cassis, black cherry and tobacco. In the mouth rich black cherry, graphite, tobacco and the vanilla of new oak mix with a smoky espresso quality that is quite compelling. Rich, dark, and woodsy, this wine nonetheless has excellent acidity that cuts through the fine grained powdery tannins that coat the mouth. 14.4% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.

2011 Macphail "The Flyer" Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of struck match and cranberry compote. In the mouth, cranberry and cherry flavors have a bright juiciness, thanks to excellent acidity. The faintest of tannins dance in the background. A citrus note lingers in the moderate finish. Tasty. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2013 Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc, Rutherford, Napa, California
Palest gold, near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of cut grass and gooseberries. In the mouth bright green apple and gooseberry flavors have a lime zest sharpness to them, and the acidity cuts like a knife. Lean and angular. 12.9% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $17. click to buy.

2011 Adelsheim Vineyards "Ribbon Springs" Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of marijuana resin, raspberries, and green herbs. In the mouth the wine has a wonderful balance between green herbs and raspberry fruit. A hint of tomato leaf lingers in the finish along with a peaty quality that is quite arresting. Excellent. 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $68. click to buy.

2009 Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag's Leap District, Napa, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of green herbs, black cherry, and wet earth. In the mouth, dusty tannins surround a core of graphite, black cherry, and wet earth that is tinged with green herbs and a faint cedary quality. Gorgeous acidity and lovely texture round out a pitch perfect performance. Outstanding. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2010 Vidigal "Brutalis" Red Blend, Lisboa, Portugal
Inky, opaque garnet in color, this wine smells of woodsmoke, black cherry, and cassis. In the mouth, massive black cherry flavors are surrounded by muscular, grainy tannins. Decent acidity keeps the fruit from being flabby, and notes of cedar and licorice emerge in the finish. Doesn't show much of its 15% alcohol, and therefore doesn't quite live up to its brutal name, which is just fine with me. A blend of Alicante Bouschet and Cabernet Sauvignon. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50.

2012 Gundlach Bundschu "Estate Vineyard" Gewurztraminer, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of rose petals and lychee. In the mouth the wine has a wonderful delicacy, with excellent acidity and beautiful lychee and orange peel freshness that sits on top of a mineral core. Outstanding. Completely dry and refreshing. 14.5% alcohol Score: around 9. Cost: $18. click to buy.



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Author: "--" Tags: "Wine Reviews"
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Date: Saturday, 24 May 2014 05:29

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Sunlit Canes
A vineyard in Sonoma County ready for winter pruning catches the evening light.

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Author: "--" Tags: "Vinography Images"
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Date: Friday, 23 May 2014 05:55

This week a bottle of 1995 California Rosé sold at auction for a winning bid of $37,200.

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Go ahead and pick your jaw up off the floor. It took me a while to recover from this news myself. As much as I would love to trumpet this sale as the ultimate proof that rosé has finally earned the respect it deserves as a world-class wine, the fact remains that this absurd price merely proves what we all knew already: namely that the fine wine auction market is ridiculously out of touch with reality, not to mention any truth about what wine really means.

The specific wine sold was a bottle of Sine Qua Non's Queen of Hearts, a limited quantity wine produced by oddball winemaker Manfred Krankl. Krankl's idiosyncratic wines are among the most sought-after California wines thanks to a combination of their scarcity and their critical acclaim by critics, in particular Robert M. Parker, Jr.

While Sine Qua Non wines trade at elevated prices on the auction market, sometimes up to more than $2000 per bottle, this particular bottle marks an astronomical apogee for the winery.

Does this sale really represent anything different than a bottle of DRC selling for tens of thousands of dollars? Not really. While this sale price represents an oddity, both for the fact that the wine hails from California, and that on top of that it is a rosé, the reason for the ridiculous price here is the same.

Whoever bought this bottle obviously didn't buy it to drink. It will sit on a shelf somewhere in someone's collection, likely next to a complete set of other Sine Qua Non wines. This bottle was the equivalent of the 1952 Mickey Mantle baseball card.

But unlike baseball cards, which have no other value or meaning apart from being collectible, wine has another purpose. I've tasted a bottle of Krankl's rosé, which I recall not caring for very much. But irrespective of how I felt about that wine, or any other Sine Qua Non wines, they are made to be consumed, and achieve whatever potential and intent their maker had in that moment of consumption.

Treating wine as a trophy is sad.



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Author: "--" Tags: "Ramblings and Rants"
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Date: Friday, 23 May 2014 05:23

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On Saturday May 17th, 2014, wine writer Tim Patterson died of complications from brain cancer following surgery to remove a brain tumor. Regular readers will know that Tim was the co-editor of the book review section here on Vinography, and author of a good share of the book reviews that were posted on Vinography.

In fact, the whole idea to review wine books on Vinography was Tim's idea. We met several years ago at the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers, and he proposed the idea to me over a glass of Zinfandel.

Our irregular collaboration over the past few years was a great source of pleasure for me, and more than a little humor. Tim possessed a sharp and very sly wit, as well as an excellent ear for prose, as his last review of a couple of wine and food pairing books so beautifully demonstrates.

Tim's writing on Vinography was almost certainly the most inconsequential part of his substantial body of work, which included regular columns in Wines & Vines, and the widely praised Home Winemaking for Dummies, among many other bylines.

Tim's garage wines were well known among the community of Bay Area wine writers, and many of us got a chance to sample them each year at the Wine Writer's Symposium, often with pleasure. His yearly bottling parties were all but legendary.

I knew Tim's health wasn't so great, but his death came as quite a shock to me this week, and I sorely regret the fact that I did not have the opportunity to say goodbye to someone I considered to be a truly wonderful human being, and was happy to call a friend.

Tim was remembered by several others this week, including his editor at Wines & Vines, Jim Gordon, and his friend and fellow writer Frances Dinkelspiel, from whom I've stolen this lovely image of Tim above. I encourage you to read both of their pieces, which speak better than I can about his full career.

Goodbye friend. Enjoy the endless harvest.



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Author: "--" Tags: "Ramblings and Rants"
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Date: Thursday, 22 May 2014 04:29

I consider it a fact, and a welcome one, that we have reached a point in American wine culture where pink wines, and the people that willingly drink them are no longer stigmatized. No longer do most men find their masculinity threatened by a nice glass of rosé, nor do most people assume that if you're drinking something pink, it must be white la-nuit-en-rose-logo-website.pngZinfandel.

Quite the opposite, in fact. Rosé consumption in this country has been skyrocketing, with sales growing in the double digits every year for the past five or six years. Ironically, while much of the acceptance for pink wines has come through the efforts of American advocates, most of the good rosé being sold on these shores comes from elsewhere.

But no matter. People have discovered the joys of pale pink wine, and that is most important, especially as we head into warmer weather.

Which brings us to an event called La Nuit en Rosé, which sounds pretty much like the best think to happen on the Hudson River in quite some time.

On June 13th and 14th, a swanky ship will be departing for a four hour cruise past the stunning Manhattan skyline. On board will be 85 different rosés, oysters, appetizers, pastries, live music, and beautiful people.

What's not to love?

Sixty bucks gets you onto the hottest party in June in New York. If I was anywhere close, this would definitely be how I'd spend that weekend. You can learn more about the event online.

La Nuit en Rosé 2014
7:00 PM to 11:00 PM, June 13th and 14th
353 West Street, Pier 40
New York, NY 10014

Tickets are a mere $60, which, as wine tasting events go, is a steal. Get 'em online before they can't be gotten anymore.

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Author: "--" Tags: "Wine Activities"
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Date: Monday, 19 May 2014 16:30

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Living for all intents and purposes in the epicentre of California wine, I find it less than easy to consistently explore America's other wine regions, let alone immerse myself in them. Tasting wines from elsewhere in the country takes a special effort, but often pays great dividends.

My recent trip to Washington State served to remind me of this fact. I came away (in truth as I always do from my irregular Washington forays) terribly impressed with the region's wines and their potential. In point of fact, I have come to believe that on a dollar for dollar basis, the state of Washington produces the highest quality wine in America.

Wine grapes were planted in Washington state as early as 1825 by early traders and pioneers, but no records exist of those grapes ever producing wine amid what was largely a wilderness (the impressive resident Native American culture notwithstanding). The German and Italian immigrants arriving later in the century began to plant grapes (initially Cinsault) on the dry, eastern side of the state and had a minor cottage industry of wine production up and running just in time for it to be effectively wiped out by Prohibition in 1917.

Read the rest of the story on JancisRobinson.Com.

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is available only to subscribers of her web site. If you're not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It's only £6.99 a month or £69 per year ($11/mo or $109 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.



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Author: "--" Tags: "Ramblings and Rants"
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Date: Sunday, 18 May 2014 06:56

bigstock-Jail-Head-In-Hands-1414114.jpgYou know, it's pretty rough when you defraud some people of millions of dollars and then you have to go to jail when you're found guilty. Especially when you've got a defense team of lawyers that hardly seems to have tried to get you acquitted.

But alas, that was wine counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan's fate this past Autumn. Apparently he doesn't like it too much. I dare say it's a pretty big change from his coastal mansion, fast cars, and dinners at the top restaurants in Los Angeles.

In a brilliant display of the same twisted logic used to defend him against fraud charges, his lawyers recently filed a brief with the court petitioning for his release, on the grounds that he has already done enough time.

Their argument? That his crime was defrauding only the very rich who have many millions to spare anyway. They probably should have checked with Bernie Madoff's defense team to see how well that line went over.

But then again, we live in a country where you can sue for millions because you overload your shopping bag and a bottle of wine drops on your foot and breaks your ankle.

I'm not sure, though, what planet you'd need to be on to imagine that after just a couple of years in jail, your client had done enough time against what might be a sentence of up to 40 years.

The prosecutors, for their part, say Kurniawan should get no less than 14 years.

His sentencing has been scheduled for May 29th.

Man in jail courtesy of Bigstock.



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Author: "--" Tags: "Ramblings and Rants"
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Date: Saturday, 17 May 2014 05:31

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Ivy Sunset
An ivy covered wall at a vineyard estate glows in the evening light.

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Date: Friday, 16 May 2014 05:13

domaine_labbedine-2.jpg

Few things excite me more than getting a peek into the birth of a promising new winery. Especially when such beginnings are humble and hard fought.

I knew I was in for something good when I pulled up in the driveway of Chateauneuf-du-Pape's newest winery only to find a tin shed on a slightly overgrown lot. We leapt over large puddles in the muddy gravel of the driveway to take shelter under the corrugated metal overhang that shielded the door, and were met by the young and delightfully cheerful Nathalie Reynaud, who sweetly began apologizing (through an interpreter) for everything from the rain to the chilly and drafty mess of her tiny winery to her poor command of English.

When I asked to use the restroom before we started tasting, her eyes got big, and her face reddened with embarrassment. Poor girl. Two minutes into the meeting and I've managed to leave her mortified as I head outside to take a leak in her shrubbery.

I never did find out whether there were plans to add a bathroom. I was too busy falling for the guileless charm of a farm girl forging her own way in the world.

The Reynaud family has been farming in Châteauneuf-du-Pape for five generations, and for several decades they have owned a small lieu dit, or vineyard plot, named l'Abbe Dîne (pronounced almost as a single word -- "labbedeen"), which means "The Abbot's Dinner."

"A long time ago during the religious wars, soldiers came to make sure the local abbot wasn't celebrating mass," said Reynaud, "and the story goes that the nuns told the soldiers 'go away, he's having his dinner.'"

Or, the plot's name may have just been bastardized from Les Bedines, which refers to bedines, the smaller red pebbles that are part of the rocky soils of the region.

Either way, Reynaud's family had long been farming the land for a local cooperative. Reynaud grew up, like many kids in the region, enjoying wine, and feeling like there was an opportunity to do more than just send their grapes off to the local co-op.

"We had good land, for a long time," said Raynaud. But moving to making their own estate wines wasn't so easy. Renynaud faced the double challenge of convincing her father to move to bottling their own wines as well as the fact that it should be done by the hand of a daughter, after a long line of fathers and sons.

Reynaud studied estate management and worked at several estates, including Vieux Telegraphe before solidifying her determination to start her own winery. She went back to study winemaking, and worked in vineyards, and to make a little extra money she did some social work.

After scrimping and saving for eight years, in 2012 she and her father purchased the small building and a few tanks, and exercised a contract right to keep 70 percent of her grapes from the 40 acres that her family farms. In five more years, she can get the remaining 30%.

"It was just a question of money," said Reynaud, by way of explanation for how she convinced her father. "With selling your grapes to the cooperative, you can't make a living enough for two people on the land we have."

For help in the cellar, Reynaud asked superstar consultant Philippe Cambie, whose influence in the region is legendary. Reynaud's husband had worked with Cambie at Clos de Caillou, and thought he would be a good person to help get the fledgling project off the ground.

Cambie has become somewhat famous for tailoring his winemaking advice not only to the terroir that each of his clients has available, but also to their personalities. In the case of l'Abbé Dîne, he and Reynaud settled on a very traditional approach.

"We don't use any wood," said Reynaud. "We want to know what the terroir tastes like. Every plot is different and we want to taste it."

Each parcel of the family's holdings, the majority of which are on the sandy soils of the region, are vinified separately, as are the different grapes (though they mostly grow Grenache). Fermentation takes place in steel, and aging in cement before bottling.

Several of the family's vineyards are outside the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation, so the domaine also makes a few Côtes-du-Rhône wines as well.

Reynaud's shyness faded a bit as we settled in to tasting her first couple of vintages and it became clear that I was enjoying the wines. The fact that most of her vines are in sandy soils comes through the wines in a bright floral intensity that is quite charming.

If Reynaud was a little shy, her father was even more reticent, fidgeting with a silent geniality in the background, as if quite out of his element, but pleased as punch to see both his first vintage, and his daughter's handiwork shown to the world.

And he should be proud. These first releases suggest many more good things to come from l'Abbé Dîne.

domaine_labbedine-3.jpg


TASTING NOTES:
It's not clear which wines will be brought into the US besides the Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which I believe will retail for $65 or so once it arrives. I don't know who the importer will be, so those interested in these wines may have to be a little patient.

2013 l'Abbé Dîne Rosé, Vin de Pays de Vacluse, France
Pale coppery pink in the glass, this wine smells of bright orange peel and red berries. In the mouth, bright flavors of orange peel and red berries turn bitter towards the finish. Crisp and bright but somewhat angular. Still, quite tasty. 60% Mourvedre, 40% Caladoc (a cross between Grenache and Malbec). 14% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9.

2013 l'Abbé Dîne Côtes du Rhône Blanc, France
Palest greenish gold in color, this wine smells of crisp fuji apples. In the mouth it has a touch of sweetness to it that makes the pure apple flavors quite charming. A hint of domaine_labbedine.jpgbitterness enters the finish that makes the wine slightly out of joint, but it has been bottled quite recently so this may smooth out over time. Made from 100% Clairette. 13% alcohol. Score: around 8.5.

2013 l'Abbé Dîne White Blend, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, France
Light gold in the glass with a hint of green this wine smells of crisp apples and a hint of exotic citrus. In the mouth the wine has a light sweetness to it with apple and pear flavors mixed with a nice white floral character. A bitterness creeps into the finish, but not to the point of distraction. 50% of the wine is fermented and aged in wood. A blend of 98% Grenache, and the rest being Bourboulenc, Clairette, and Roussanne. 15% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9.

2012 l'Abbé Dîne Côtes du Rhône, France
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of mulberry and crushed green herbs. In the mouth, beautifully crisp and bright mulberry and black cherry flavors have a wonderful freshness thanks to excellent acidity and great minerality. 80% Grenache, 18% Syrah, and 2% Mourvedre grown on sandy soil. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9.

2012 l'Abbé Dîne Côtes du Rhône Villages, France
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of garrigue, violets, and blueberries. In the mouth blueberries, cassis, and black cherry fruit flavors have a nice bright minerality to them along with a hint of underlying earthiness. Good acidity and long finish. A blend of 80% Grenache and 20% Mourvedre grown on the round stones of the region with vines at an average age of 60 years.14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.

2012 l'Abbé Dîne Red Blend, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, France
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of beautifully floral mulberry and black raspberry fruit mixed with a bit of garrigue. In the mouth the wine has a bright mulberry and black cherry character that is very delicate and floral, wrapped in light powdery tannins and a cocoa powder earthiness. Elegant and quite beautiful, with excellent acidity and a hint of bitterness in the finish. 90% Grenache (from 120 year-old vines grown on sand), 9% Syrah, 1% Mourvedre.15% alcohol. Score: around 9.



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Author: "--" Tags: "Boutique Wines, Undiscovered Wines, Wine..."
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Date: Sunday, 11 May 2014 05:43

box_o_wine.jpgHello, and welcome to my periodic dig through the samples pile. I'm pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.

This week's dive into the samples pile held a few gems, including a well-aged version of one of Germany's greatest Rieslings. Go figure. Who sends phenomenal, well-aged Spätlese to journalists? Germans, I guess. In any case, I was more than happy to pop open that Dönnhoff and take a swig. You should too.

A few other Rieslings made an appearance this week, including a dry one from Peter Jakob Kuhn, an excellent biodynamic producer in the Rheingau that I visited last summer. This one is slightly severe, but a pretty wine nonetheless.

On the other end of the spectrum (or the universe, depending on your point of view) I also enjoyed one of the newest releases from Nickel & Nickel, whose 2010 wines seem to be striking all the right notes.

There's an interesting Pinot Noir from Italy's Alto Adige there too, along with a beautiful example from the Willamette Valley as well.

All these and more below. Enjoy!

oberhauser_Brucke_2008.jpg2008 Dönnhoff "Oberhäuser Brücke" Riesling Spätlese, Nahe, Germany
Yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd, candied apples, and a hint of diesel fuel. In the mouth, the wine has a fantastic texture that silkily delivers bright candied citrus, lemon curd, and wet stone flavors electric with bright acidity. Beautifully balanced and lightly sweet, this wine goes down effortlessly. In its adolescence, the wine hangs between the more mature notes and the fruit of youth. Like the first scruff on the baby fat chin on its way to manhood. 8.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $55 click to buy.

2011 Smith Madrone Chardonnay, Spring Mountain District, Napa, California
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of cold cream, lemon curd, and melted butter. In the mouth, bright lemon zest and lemon curd flavors mix with wet stones and grapefruit pith. Excellent acidity and brightness, with a nice airy finish.Only the faintest hint of toasted oak wafts above the juicy fruit. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $28 click to buy.

2011 Adelsheim "Bryan Creek" Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Pale garnet in color, this wine smells of forest floor, raspberries, and wet wood. In the mouth, beautiful forest floor and loamy darkness swirls with raspberry and redcurrant flavors that have the bounce of excellent acidity. Faint, powdery tannins scrape gently at the edges and top of the palate. Good acidity and beautiful dark mysteriousness. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $62 click to buy.

2010 Nickel & Nickel "C.C. Ranch" Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, black tea, and tobacco. In the mouth, suede-like tannins wrap around a core of bright cherry fruit that has an angular quality. Flavors of cherry, tobacco, and tea mix with darker earth notes and only the barest hint of oak. 14.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $80 click to buy.

2009 Dr. Pauly Bergweiler "Bernkasteler Badstube" Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of mandarin oranges and just the faintest hint of struck flint. In the mouth, juicy and bright flavors of mandarine oranges tinged with a hint of pear and rainwater bounce merrily across the palate. Excellent minerality and balance. Fantastic acidity makes the mouth water, and if the complexity is perhaps not as deep as it could be, well that is easily forgiven. Lightly to moderately sweet. 9% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $28 click to buy.

2007 Tenuta Lageder "Krafuss" Pinot Noir, Sudtirol, Alto Adige, Italy
Pale ruby in color, this wine smells of red apple skin, mulling spices, and leather. In the mouth leather, forest floor, and red apple skin flavors have a pleasant bitterness and nice smoothness. The long finish has a forest floor earthiness that is quite pleasant. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $60 click to buy.

2008 Peter Jakob Kühn "Jacobus" Riesling Trocken, Rheingau, Germany
Light gold in color, this wine smells of mandarin orange segments in syrup mixed with diesel fuel. In the mouth, tart lemon and grapefruit flavors mix with a paraffin note, and linger with orange zest in the finish. Excellent acidity, though perhaps a bit austere. Tastes completely dry. 11.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $23 click to buy.

2008 Hooked Riesling, Nahe, Germany
Light gold in color, this wine smells of candle wax, oranges and pears. In the mouth the wine is faintly sweet and offers simple but appealing flavors of pears, apples, and mixed citrus. Good acidity keeps everything quite juicy and bouncy across the palate. 9.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $13 click to buy.



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Author: "--" Tags: "Wine Reviews"
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Date: Saturday, 10 May 2014 05:35

vinography_desktop_two_tone.jpg

Two Tone
A Sonoma County vineyard shows two distinct colors of autumn that glow electric against the foggy sky.

INSTRUCTIONS:
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Author: "--" Tags: "Vinography Images"
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Date: Wednesday, 07 May 2014 06:53

taste_Wa_2014_crowd.jpg
Every spring, as new buds strain to burst out on trees still rainswept and windblown, Seattle plays host to its annual celebration of Washington State Wine. Every time I attend Taste Washington, I find myself asking why I don't visit every year. It is one of the best large scale tasting events in the country, and that's even before we begin talking about the wine.

Held in the large convention center near the Seahawks' stadium, the event features wine seminars, food vendors, cooking demonstrations, and about ten people shucking oysters constantly during the event. The food alone makes the event worth attending, but of course the wine pushes it over the top.

Simply put, not even most residents of Washington state pay enough attention to Washington wine, which has two huge things going for it:

1. It is much less expensive than California wine, as a rule.
2. It suffers far less from being overwrought with oak, ripeness, and showmanship.

Whenever I attend Taste Washington, I kick myself for not owning or drinking more Washington State wines. Those who know the state at all tend to think of it as a red wine producer, and in particular, home to the Bordeaux varieties. This is true, but there are far more facets to the state, including exceptional Rhone-style wines, very competent Rieslings, and even some Loire varieties.

At the moment, the state's wine industry seems to be gnawing its lower lip, trying to figure out whether or not it has an identity crisis (somehow every wine region seems to think it needs a signature grape variety or wine style -- why, I'm not sure). Who knows where that will end up, but in the meantime, there's nowhere else in the United States where you can get such high quality wine for around $25.

Just check out some of the prices on my favorites from the tasting below. Most wines of this caliber in Napa would cost $15 to $30 more, and you can double that amount for Cabernet.

If you haven't done yourself the favor of exploring the wines of Washington state, I suggest you start now, and mark your calendar for a trip to Seattle in early April next year for the next installment. I know I will be.

taste_Wa_2014_crowd-3.jpg

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5

2011 Array Cellars "Dijon Clone, Otis Harlan Vyd." Chardonnay, Yakima Valley, Washington $32
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of stony lemon and juicy grapefruit. In the mouth, bright, juicy grapefruit, lemon curd, and wet stone flavors linger for a long time in the finish. Great acidity and brightness.

2012 Cadaretta Winery "SBS" White Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington $23. click to buy.
2012 Efeste "Feral" Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, Washington $20. click to buy.
2012 Pomum Cellars Riesling, Yakima, Washington $16. click to buy.

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2012 Airfield Estates Winery "Lightning" White Rhône Blend, Yakima Valley, Washington $20
2012 Alleromb "La Reyna Blanca" Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington $56
2012 àMaurice Cellars Viognier, Columbia Valley, Washington $34
2011 Array Cellars "Conner- Lee Vineyard" Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington $32
2012 Avennia "Oliane" Sauvignon Blanc, Yakima Valley, Washington $25
2012 Buty Winery Chardonnay, Walla Walla Valley, Washington $??
2013 COR Cellars "ALBA COR" White Blend, Columbia Gorge, Washington $18
2012 Januik "Cold Creek" Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington $30
2012 Tamarack Cellars Viognier, Columbia Valley, Washington $24
2012 Two vintners "O.g." Gewurztraminer, Yakima Valley, Washington $??
2012 Waitsburg Cellars "The Aromatics " Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington $17
2012 Woodward Canyon Chardonnay, Washington State, Washington $44

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2012 Alleromb "La Reyna Blanca" Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, Washington $50
2011 AntoLin Cellars Riesling, Yakima Valley, Washington $14
2011 Array Cellars Chardonnay, Washington State, Washington $25
2011 Buty Winery White blend, Walla Walla Valley, Washington $??
2012 Figgins "Estate" Riesling, Walla Walla Valley, Washington $30
2012 L'Ecole No 41 "Estate Luminesce" White Bordeaux Blend, Walla Walla Valley, Washington $20

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2011 AntoLin Cellars Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington $19
2013 Bartholomew Winery "Upland Vineyard" Aligote, Snipes Mountain, Washington $19
2012 Efeste "Evergreen" Riesling, Ancient Lakes, Washington $20
2012 Nefarious Cellars "Consequence" White blend, Columbia valley, Washington $20
2012 Nefarious Cellars "Estate" Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington $20

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5
2012 Apex Cellars Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington $15
2013 Charles Smith Wines/K Vintners "Kung Fu Girl" Riesling, Ancient Lakes, Washington $12
2012 Patterson Cellars "Melange Blanc" White Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington $23

PINK WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
NV Syncline "Scintillation Brut Rose" Champagne blend, Columbia Gorge, Washington $30
2013 Bartholomew Winery Rosé of Carmenere, Columbia Valley, Washington $15

PINK WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2013 COR Cellars "Rosae" Rosé of Cabernet Franc, Columbia Gorge, Washington $18


taste_Wa_2014_crowd-4.jpg

RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5

2010 Efeste "Nana" Red Bordeaux Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington $44
Quite sadly, I lost my tasting note on this wine, likely due to fat fingering my iPad at some point when I was making other notes. Suffice it to say, this wine was awesome. click to buy.

RED WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5

2011 Betz Family Winery "Pere de Famille" Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington $68
A medium dark purple in the glass, this wine offers wonderful floral and cassis aromas that make the mouth water. In the mouth, juicy cassis, violets and black cherry flavors are bright with excellent acidity. Fine grained, taut tannins stretch like a skein of musculature around and through the fruit. Long finish, and seemingly quite ageworthy. click to buy.

2012 Two vintners Syrah, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington $??
Dark garnet in color, this wine has a light funk to it with dark earth and cassis aromas backing up the hint of leather. In the mouth, flavors of cassis and blackberry are beautifully bright and juicy thanks to excellent acidity. Long and pleasurable.

2011 Betz Family Winery "La Cote Rousse" Syrah, Red Mountain, Washington $55
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cassis and blackberry fruit. In the mouth smooth, taut tannins wrap around a core of wet earth and juicy blackberry fruit. Somewhat brooding and dark, but not dense. Excellent acidity.
2009 àMaurice Cellars "Fred the Hummingbird" Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Washington $47 Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cassis and blackberry. In the mouth, a juicy body of stony blackberry, cassis, and earth flavors is enlivened with great acidity. Fabulous long finish, with faint tannins. click to buy.

2011 Andrew Will "Sorella" Red Bordeaux Blend, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington $70
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of juicy black cherry strained through dark earth. In the mouth, thick tannins envelop a core of dark loamy cherry flavors. Good balance, but the tannins are muscular and tense, and could do with a few years to mellow. click to buy.

2011 Avennia "Arnaut" Syrah, Yakima Valley, Washington $48
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of rich cassis and blackberry aromas. Despite this rich aroma, the wine is decidedly lean in the mouth, offering stony flavors of blackberry that have a lovely mineral quality thanks to excellent acidity. Very long finish with supple tannins. click to buy.

2008 Boudreaux Cellars "Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington State, Washington $100
Deep ruby in color, this wine smells of cherry, graphite, and tobacco. In the mouth, bright cherry fruit merges with a slight spicy note, and both are dusted with very fine grained tannins. Beautifully juicy acidity, and a long finish. 13.9% alcohol. click to buy.

2010 Bartholomew Winery "Reciprocity - Cab/Carmenere" Red Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington $28
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of green bell pepper, cherry, and earth. In the mouth the wine has a wonderfully mineral quality with juicy herbal-tinged cherry fruit and smooth, taut tannins. Great acidity and brightness. Long finish. click to buy.

2012 Syncline Grenache, Columbia Valley, Washington $25
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of strawberry and cherry fruit. In the mouth spicy cedar, strawberry, cherry, and earthy forest floor aromas are shot through with fantastically great acidity. Practically no tannins to speak of. A blend of Grenache and Cinsault. click to buy.

2010 Owen Roe "Red willow" Cabernet Sauvignon, Yakima Valley, Washington $36
Medium purple in color, this wine smells of cherry and green herbs. In the mouth, flavors of cherry, green herbs, wet earth, and wet stone nestle into a bed of supple suede-like tannins. Great acidity keeps the fruit juicy and bright. click to buy.

2011 Andrew Will "Two Blondes" Red Bordeaux Blend, Yakima Valley, Washington $52
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of juicy black cherry fruit. In the mouth, the wine delivers much the same: a core of juicy black cherry, powdered with faint tannins and bouncy with excellent, bright acidity. Long finish.

2011 Pomum Cellars Graciano, Snipes Mountain, Washington $30
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of spicy cedar and dry herbs. In the mouth the wine offers a medley of cherry, blackberry, and dry herb flavors dusted by light tannins and boisterous with bright juicy acidity. Medium-bodied and quite cheerful, with a long finish. Excellent.

2010 àMaurice Cellars "Night Owl" Red Bordeaux Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington $35 click to buy.
2010 àMaurice Cellars "Owl and Crown" Red Bordeaux Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington $35 click to buy.
2010 àMaurice Cellars "Morris Graves" Red Bordeaux Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington $35
2011 Avennia "Sestina" Red Bordeaux Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington $55 click to buy.
2011 Avennia "Gravura" Red Bordeaux Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington $36 click to buy.
2011 Avennia "Justine" Red Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington $40 click to buy.
2009 Buty Winery "Columbia Rediviva (Library Selection)" Red Blend, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington $50 click to buy.
2011 Cadaretta Winery "Springboard" Red Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington $??
2008 Efeste "Tough guy" Red Blend, Red mountain, Washington $55
2010 Efeste "Upright" Merlot, Red Mountain, Washington $39 click to buy.
2007 Gramercy Cellars Syrah, Walla Walla, Washington $45 click to buy.
2010 Gramercy Cellars "Lagniappe" Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington $60 click to buy.
2010 Gramercy Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington $48 click to buy.
2011 Owen Roe "Chapel Block" Syrah, Yakima Valley, Washington $55 click to buy.
2011 Pomum Cellars Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington $32
2011 Southard Winery "Lawrence Vineyard" Red Rhône Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington $22 click to buy.
2011 Syncline "Boushey" Syrah, Yakima Valley, Washington $35 click to buy.
2012 Two vintners Syrah, Walla Walla, Washington $??


RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9

2011 CAVU Cellars "Alder Ridge Vineyard" Barbera, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington $30
Medium purple in color, this wine smells of grapey bright cassis and blackberry aromas with a hint of cedar. In the mouth tangy blackberry and orange peel flavors have a nice acidic edge to them, and quite faint supple tannins.

2009 Balboa Winery "Mith" Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Washington $45
2009 Balboa Winery "Eidolon" Red Blend, Walla Walla Valley, Washington $75
2008 Brian Carter Cellars "Solesce" Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington State, Washington $??
2009 Brian Carter Cellars "Byzance" Red Rhône Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington $34
2008 Brian Carter Cellars "Le Coursier" Red Bordeaux Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington $34
2011 Buty Winery "Rediviva of the Stones" Red Blend, Walla Walla Valley, Washington $60
2006 Buty Winery "Columbia Rediviva (Library Selection)" Red Blend, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington $50
2011 Cadaretta Winery Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington $35
2009 CAVU Cellars "Les Collines Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Washington $35
2009 Charles Smith Wines/K Vintners "The hustler" Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Washington $45
2009 Col Solare "Col Solare" Red Bordeaux Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington $75
2002 Col Solare "Col Solare" Red Bordeaux Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington $75
2011 COR Cellars "Hogback Ridge Vineyard" Malbec, Columbia Valley, Washington $28
2011 COR Cellars "McKinley Springs Vineyards" Petit Verdot, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington $26
2009 Covington Cellars Sangiovese., Walla Walla Valley, Washington $36
2011 DeLille Cellars, Doyenne "DeLille Cellars Four Flags" Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, Washington $65
2011 DeLille Cellars, Doyenne "DeLille Cellars D2" Red Bordeaux Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington $42
2010 Figgins "Estate" Red Bordeaux Blend, Walla Walla Valley, Washington $85
2010 Gorman Winery "The Bully" Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, Washington $50
2011 Gorman Winery "The Pixie" Syrah, Red Mountain, Washington $45
2011 Gramercy Cellars "L'Idiot du Village" Red Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington $42
2011 L'Ecole No 41 "Estate Ferguson" Red Bordeaux Blend, Walla Walla Valley, Washington $60
2010 Long Shadows - SAGGI Red Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington $45
2011 Nefarious Cellars "Estate" Syrah, Lake Chelan, Washington $30
2010 Northstar "Premier" Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington $85
2010 Northstar Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington $40
2011 Pomum Cellars "TINTO" Tempranillo, Columbia Valley, Washington $30
2011 Soos Creek Wine Cellars "Ciel du cheval" Red Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington $30
2011 Southard Winery "StoneTree" Syrah, Wahluke Slope, Washington $24
2010 Tamarack Cellars Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington $28
2012 Two vintners Zinfandel, Walla Walla, Washington $??

RED WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2010 Alleromb "Scarline Vineyard" Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington $110
2010 AntoLin Cellars "Estate" Carmenere, Yakima Valley, Washington $25
2011 Apex Cellars "Catalyst Red Wine" Red Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington $20
2011 Apex Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington $20
2009 Balboa Winery "BalBOA Constrictor" Red Bordeaux Blend, Walla Walla Valley, Washington $36
2009 Brian Carter Cellars "Tutturosso" Red Blend, Yakima Valley, Washington $34
2011 Cave B Estate Winery "Cave B Vineyards" Tempranillo, Columbia Valley, Washington $33
2009 CAVU Cellars Syrah, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington $??
2011 Charles Smith Wines/K Vintners "River Rock" Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Washington $45
2009 Covington Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Washington $36
2011 DeLille Cellars, Doyenne "Doyenne Aix" Red Rhône Blend, Red Mountain, Washington $38
2011 Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Washington $89
2007 Gramercy Cellars Tempranillo, Columbia Valley, Washington $??
2011 Januik Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington $25
2011 Januik Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington $30
2011 L'Ecole No 41 "Estate Grown" Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, Washington $35
2010 Long Shadows - CHESTER KIDDER Red Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington $50
2011 Nefarious Cellars "Spinner" Red Blend, Wahluke slope, Washington $30
2009 Northstar "Walla Walla" Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, Washington $50
2010 Northstar Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington $40
2011 Soos Creek Wine Cellars "Sundance" Red Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington $20
2010 Tamarack Cellars Sangiovese, Columbia Valley, Washington $25
2012 Waitsburg Cellars "Three Red Blend" Red Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington $25

RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2012 Airfield Estates Winery "Runway" Merlot, Yakima Valley, Washington $18
2011 Airfield Estates Winery "Aviator" Red Bordeaux Blend, Yakima Valley, Washington $30
2010 AntoLin Cellars "Estate" Malbec, Yakima Valley, Washington $25
2012 Buried Cane Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington $14
2010 CAVU Cellars "Horizon red" Red Blend, Columbia valley, Washington $??
2011 Charles Smith Wines/K Vintners "Northridge Vineyard" Merlot, Wahluke Slope, Washington $45
2010 Covington Cellars "Olsen Vineyard" Petite Sirah, Yakima Valley, Washington $40
2010 Long Shadows - SEQUEL Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington $50
2011 Patterson Cellars Tempranillo, Columbia Valley, Washington $30
2011 Patterson Cellars Cabernet franc, Columbia Valley, Washington $38

RED WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5
2010 Bunnell Family Cellar "Boushey Vineyard" Sangiovese, Yakima Valley, Washington $22
2007 Lodmell Cellars "Lodmell Cellars Estate Merlot" Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington $33
2009 Page Cellars "Preface" Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, Washington $37

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Author: "--" Tags: "Wine Reviews"
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Date: Saturday, 03 May 2014 06:40

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Sentinels
The sun emerges through the fog behind a stand of trees bordering Jordan Vineyards in Sonoma's Alexander Valley.

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Author: "--" Tags: "Vinography Images"
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Date: Friday, 02 May 2014 06:14

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We're funny, us humans. We like to draw these imaginary lines on the earth and give names to the places on either side, and then we treat those figments of our imaginations like they mean something. The mental model of a map becomes so ingrained in us that when we look at the world around us, its as if we can see those imaginary lines.

Grapes, of course, don't care much for maps. They like to grow where they like to grow, just as the soil that makes this so meanders without regard to the political boundaries we draw in the air above it.

Despite our stubborn insistence on the reality of our imaginary borders and boundaries, sometimes the grapes get the last word. No matter how they sliced it, the folks who were tasked with the problem of establishing the Columbia Valley American Viticultural Area couldn't reconcile the brutal reality of one of the world's greatest geological structures (a gorge formed when a huge ice dam broke and the Missoula Floods carved the river valley in a giant cataclysm of water and ice) with the much more recent division between two states. As a result, the Columbia Valley AVA exists in both Oregon and Washington, and grapes grown in either state can bear the name of the same AVA.

Casey McClellan's family hasn't paid that much attention to borders either. They've been farming in the Northwest for four generations. In the late 1800's his great-great-grandfather's family were barley and wheat farmers in the panhandle of Idaho and in Washington. Eventually they and their descendants made their way down through Washington into Oregon, trying their hand at fruit trees as well as grains.

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McClellan's father grew up on the family farm in Oregon, but he was the first generation that was clearly not destined for farming. James McClellan went to medical school and became a doctor, but after about twenty years, he realized that he was missing a part of himself. A part that his childhood memories of working on the farm captured perfectly. So James McClellan convinced a fellow doctor to buy a piece of land in the very northern part of Oregon, and in the very southernmost part of the Columbia Valley.

Not content, however, to merely follow in the footsteps of his forbears, McClellan decided that in addition to apples, he was going to plant Cabernet, despite very little precedent for such planting in this neck of the woods.

"It's not like there were lots of other vineyards there," says Casey McClellan. "When my dad bought the land and we started planting in '82, it was just a big field with nothing in it."

Casey McClellan, despite his father being a doctor, grew up working on farms from the age of twelve. "I picked strawberries, worked in the hazelnut orchards, took care of sheep, you name it," he says. While most farm hands were drinking beer at the end of their long days, Casey was drawn to wine.

"For reasons I can't possibly imagine now, I started drinking Mosel Rieslings in my late teens," he says, bemused. "It's not like my parents were serving them, or anything, but somehow that's just what I discovered and what I liked."

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McClellan, like his father, went away to college thinking that his career lay elsewhere. Halfway through his pharmacy degree in 1980, McClellan took a three month trip to New Zealand where he spent a lot of time drinking wines that had yet to be recognized in the United States. And then in 1982, during the summer, he came home to help his father and his father's business partner plant a 24-acre plot of land that would become known as the Seven Hills Vineyard.

He can't quite describe what happened to him during that summer.

"Being out in the vineyard, I got a chance to see where it all started -- where the wine came from in a very real sense. Somehow putting all those vines in the ground synthesized my growing interest in wine and my family's history of agriculture and something just clicked. Everything made sense for the first time, and I knew I needed to switch careers."

A bike trip through France and Germany with his eventual-wife-to-be after graduation cemented the deal. He finished pharmacy school, got married, and enrolled in U.C. Davis' enology and viticulture program in 1985.

In 1987 the McClellan family was ready for its first harvest, which they crushed at Waterbrook winery (a few miles down the road in Washington), and in 1989 the family opened their own winery in the Oregon side of the border.

"This was before everyone knew that Oregon was going to be all about Burgundian wines," says McClellan. Back then, the idea of planting Cabernet and Malbec in Oregon was new, but it wouldn't sound nearly as crazy as it would today, when everyone thinks of Oregon and Pinot Noir," says McClellan.

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The family planted another parcel of grapes on the Washington side of the border in 2002, and seeing which way the wind was blowing for Cabernet, they moved the Seven Hills Winery a few miles up the road to Walla Walla.

"For nearly ten years, we were Eastern Oregon's only winery, and that's about how long it took for it to be clear that the story of Cabernet and Merlot was a Washington State story, not an Oregon one. An old mill building came up for sale, and we decided that we needed to move."

The family now farms about 20 acres of their own vineyards, and has another 30 acres under long term contract, including about six acres of that original vineyard Casey's father planted in 1988, that is known as the Seven Hills Vineyard, thanks to a road of the same name that pre-dated the vines. Importantly, and somewhat confusingly however, the Seven Hills Vineyard is not owned by the McClellan family. They sold the vineyard in 1995 to Norm McKibben, and bought long term contracts on the oldest blocks of the vineyard. Norm, in turn, sold the vineyard to an asset management company in the Midwest. Both McKibben and the asset management company planted more than 1700 more acres of vines, about 225 of which can still bear the vineyard designation of Seven Hills Vineyard.

In short, there is Seven Hills Winery, and there is Seven Hills Vineyard. The winery makes some wine from Seven Hills Vineyard, but so do a lot of other people. But most are not using fruit from the vines that McClellan and his father planted in the early Eighties.

Seven Hills Winery produces about 15,000 cases of wine each year, all made by McClellan, who has been making the wine since his first vintage as winemaker in 1988. In those 25 years, McClellan has developed a style and a philosophy about winemaking that he describes as staying true to the Northwest. For him that means lower alcohol, brighter acidity, only modest use of new oak, traditional practices in the cellar (including the use of his beloved ancient bladder press and propagating his own strains of Chanson and Steinberg yeasts for his whites). He hasn't fined a wine in over ten years, he claims, though he prefers the consistency he gets in his wines filtered at the level of one micron.

"It's not abusive to the wine, and it reduces disappointment while preserving texture," he says.

The red grapes are hand picked (earlier than most of his neighbors) and fermented at low temperatures, with careful control over maceration and pressing strength to yield wines that tend to be more on the elegant side. The use of at most 25% to 40% new oak means that these wines sing with the bright essence of fruit and soil without a caked on complexion of wood.

The wine is made in the beautiful old mill building that McClellan and his wife purchased in downtown Walla Walla, which also houses their tasting room and a restaurant owned by another party.

I visited the winery in early April as a spring Thunderstorm swept across the valley. I ducked into the tasting room to find McClellan and his wife preparing for their trip to the annual Taste Washington trade show. Luckily for me, they had conducted a rather extensive retrospective tasting of more than 20 years of wines the afternoon before, so I had the pleasure of repeating that event at my leisure while chatting with McClellan about his more than 25 years of making Washington State Cabernet.

The wines were holding up beautifully, and more than anything showed an incredible consistent vision by McClellan through the last 20 years. When other wineries swung towards bigger, riper, and oakier styles, Seven Hills kept right on doing what it always had done. As a result, McClellan finds himself squarely back in the middle of a trend towards higher acidity, less ripe Cabernet. In other words: bullseye.

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TASTING NOTES:

2010 Seven Hills Winery "Klipsun Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, Washington
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of bright black cherry and tobacco. In the mouth, juicy black cherry and bright fresh cherry fruit is tinged with wet earth and forest floor notes that offer a lovely bass note to a bright treble of fruit that bursts with fantastic acidity. Lovely cocoa powder notes linger in the finish. Faint, smooth tannins. Outstanding. 14.9% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $29. click to buy.

1999 Seven Hills Winery "Klipsun Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, Washington
Dark ruby in color this wine smells of leather and forest floor. In the mouth, dried cherry and dried flowers mix amidst powdery tannins. Notes of graphite and wet earth linger in the wine along with redwood bark and a hint of nutmeg. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $N/A

2011 Seven Hills Winery "Ciel du Cheval Vineyard" Red Wine, Red Mountain, Washington
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dried flowers, dusty roads, and cherry fruit. In the mouth, sandpapery tannins wrap around a core of cherry and leather that is deeply steeped in dark soil. Still in its shell, and needs some time to come out. Good acidity. A blend of 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 15% Petit Verdot, and 14% Cabernet Franc.14.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2005 Seven Hills Winery "Ciel du Cheval Vineyard" Red Wine, Red Mountain, Washington
Dark ruby in color, this wine smells of exotic flowers, black cherry, and tobacco. In the mouth the wine has a gorgeous floral note on top of a core of bright cherry and cocoa powder fruit. Fantastic acidity keeps the saliva flowing, and fine grained supple tannins wrap the tongue in a fleecy blanket. Wonderful length and presence. A blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, and 5% Cabernet Franc.13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $N/A

2001 Seven Hills Winery "Ciel du Cheval Vineyard" Red Wine, Red Mountain, Washington
Dark ruby in the glass, this wine smells of graphite, old saddle leather, and forest floor with a hint of red fruit peeking from beneath. In the mouth, gorgeous graphite and green herbs mix with bright juicy cherry fruit that is utterly mouthwatering. Gorgeous pine duff and tobacco notes linger for a long time in the finish along with an almost citrusy-mouth-puckering brightness. Fine grained, powdery tannins coat the mouth. A fantastic wine. A blend of 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, and 15% Cabernet Franc.13% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $N/A

2011 Seven Hills Winery "Seven Hills Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Washington
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of rather pretty black cherry, cassis, and a bright violet note that takes you quite by surprise. In the mouth, the wine offers bright and juicy black cherry and cassis flavors with slightly tacky tannins. Not as broad and generous as this wine might be in a warmer year, but still quite pretty and pleasurable. Excellent acidity and nice length. 13.7% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $38. click to buy.

2010 Seven Hills Winery "Seven Hills Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Washington
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright cherry, a bit of new oak (an unusual signature for these wines, which tend to be low in new oak), and earthy tobacco. In the mouth, bright cherry and black cherry flavors have a juicy acidity that leans towards citrus qualities. Wonderfully tobacco and earthy notes grace the wine and linger through a long finish. Powdery tannins are quite smooth and supple. Delicious. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $38. click to buy.

2005 Seven Hills Winery "Seven Hills Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Washington
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of forest floor, fresh and dried cherries and a hint of miso, In the mouth, the wine beautifully balances a red miso paste umami character and lush cherry fruit. Excellent acidity keeps the fruit lively and powdery tannins linger for a long time in the finish. Excellent. Includes 4% Merlot. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $N/A

1998 Seven Hills Winery "Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Washington
Dark ruby in color, this wine smells of pine duff, graphite and dried flowers. In the mouth flavors of dried flowers, cedar shavings, and leather mix with dried cherry fruit and wet earth. This wine is turning quite beautifully towards the savory end of things, with notes of dried herbs and earth that linger in the finish. Excellent acidity.13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $N/A

1991 Seven Hills Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Washington
Medium to dark ruby in the glass, with a hint of bricking at the rim, this wine smells of garrigue, saddle leather, and graphite. In the mouth, slightly grainy tannins wrap around a core of faintly sweet cherry fruit that is buffeted by breezes of wild herbs. Excellent acidity still makes the wine quite mouthwatering and delicious.12.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $N/A

2011 Seven Hills Winery "Seven Hills Vineyard" Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, Washington
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of pretty perfumed floral, plum and cherry fruit that is quite compelling. In the mouth, gorgeously juicy and bright plum and cherry fruit has a bouncy and mouthwatering quality. Beautifully supple tannins surround this core of fruit and linger through the finish, lightly coating the mouth. Fresh, bright, and utterly drinkable, this is an outstanding wine. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $32. click to buy.

2002 Seven Hills Winery "Seven Hills Vineyard" Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, Washington
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry, cedar and sandalwood. In the mouth the wine has stunning brightness with cherry, orange peel, and mulling spices all mixing under a blanket of beautiful powdery tannins. Long and juicy. In phenomenal shape and drinking perfectly. Remarkable. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $N/A

1998 Seven Hills Winery "Seven Hills Vineyard" Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, Washington
Medium to dark ruby in the glass with hints of orange, this wine smells of sweet cedar and cherry fruit. In the mouth, cherry and sandalwood, and cedar notes mix with a dried flower and forest floor savoriness. Good acidity and supple, faint tannins. Includes 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Score: around 9. Cost: $N/A

1998 Seven Hills Winery "Klipsun Vineyard" Merlot, Red Mountain, Washington
Medium to dark ruby in the glass with definite orange highlights at the rim, this wine smells of cherry and cedar and pine duff. In the mouth plum and cherry fruit mix with forest floor and wet earth as notes of dried flowers linger in the finish. Supple tannins are slightly drying. Includes 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $N/A

1991 Seven Hills Winery Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington
Medium orange-gold in the glass, this wine smells of butterscotch, dried orange peel and roasted nuts. In the mouth faintly sweet orange peel and dried honey flavors take on a savory nuttiness plus a nice saline kick. The acidity is soft and filigreed at this point. Quite pretty. 11.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $N/A

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Author: "--" Tags: "Boutique Wines, Older Vintages, Red Wine..."
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Date: Monday, 28 Apr 2014 05:05

anderson_pn_festival.gifCalifornia Pinot Noir lovers take note. Wine lovers with a free weekend, listen up. It's Spring, and the wine events are coming fast and furious. It seems like every week there's a new wine tasting to go to. But some are more worth paying attention to than others.

Anderson Valley is known for two things in California, and not coincidentally, it has more or less two major wine tasting events per year. The first, the International Alsace Varietals festival took place a few months ago.

The second is the annual Pinot Noir Festival. If you're a fan of Pinot Noir and you don't have plans for the weekend of May 16th, I seriously recommend it. It's definitely worth the three-hour drive.

Not only is this a gorgeous time of year in the Anderson Valley, but the Pinot Noirs on offer include a few of the better ones in the state. This isn't a huge tasting, and consequently you'll find very few huge wineries there. Instead you'll find a bunch of small, dedicated growers and producers pouring their (mostly) small production wines.

The event kicks off at the Boonville Fairgrounds on Friday May 16th with a day of technical sessions, followed by a BBQ at Foursight Wines.

Saturday features the grand tasting and winemaker dinners, and those who choose to stay through Sunday can wander around to the many open houses hosted by the valley's wineries.

Participating wineries at the grand tasting include: Angel Camp, Ardzrooni Famil Wines, Balo Vineyards, Baxter Winery, Bink, Black Kite Cellars, Breggo Cellars, Brutocao Cellars, Cakebread, Champ de Reves, Chaname, Copain, Donum Estate, Drew Family Wines, Elke Vineyards, Foursight Wines, Frati Horn, Fulcrum Wine, Goldeneye Winery, Greenwood Ridge Vineyards, Handley Cellars, Harmonique Wines, Husch Vineyards, Knez, La Crema, Lazy Creek Vineyards, LuLa Cellars, Maggy Hawk, Navarro Vineyards, Panthea, Phillips Hill, Philo Ridge Vineyards, Roederer Estate, Saintsbury,Scharffenberger Cellars, Toulouse Vineyards, Twomey Cellars, Waits Mast, William Selyem, Wind Racer, Witching Stick, and Zina Hyde Cunningham, among others.

The full conference details can be found on the event web site.

17th Annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival
2014 Grand Tasting
Saturday, May 17, 11:00 AM - 3:00 PM
Goldeneye Winery
9200 Highway 128
Philo, CA 95466
707-895-3202

Tickets to the Grand Tasting are $105 and should be purchased online as they almost always sell out. The Friday technical conference tickets are $95 (yes there is wine to taste at this event), the BBQ is $50, and the winemaker dinners are $125 a pop (though there are only a couple of seats left for this one).

If you are driving up for the event, I recommend giving yourself a bit of extra time to get there. Perhaps drive up in the morning and have some breakfast before the tasting.



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Author: "--" Tags: "Wine Activities"
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Date: Sunday, 27 Apr 2014 07:19

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For most lovers of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Château de Beaucastel needs no introduction. One of the largest, most storied, and most respected estates in the region, its documented history goes back to the 16th Century, and its history as a wine estate, back to the 19th Century. As a modern wine producer, its reputation remains inseparably tied the Perrin family, who began shepherding the estate in 1909, and continue to do so today, three generations later.

Farming 291 mistral-swept acres in the northernmost portion of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation, Beaucastel remains one of the largest domaines in the appellation. The Perrin family has farmed their land organically since 1950 and began experimenting with biodynamics as early as 1974. They remain strictly dedicated to using all thirteen (or 15 or 18 depending on how you count mutations) of the permitted grape varieties in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, as well as to cultivating many old vines, in particular Roussanne and Cunoise.

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For many years Beaucastel's red wines included a much higher percentage of Mourvedre than most other producers in the region, thanks in no small part to the friendship between Jacque Perrin and the Tempier family in Bandol. Many more producers have been increasing the amount of Mourvedre in their blends in the past 10 years, partially as a means of moderating the alcohol level of their wines, as Mourvedre tends to ripen at lower sugar levels than the more popular Grenache grape.

Winemaking at Beaucastel involves harvesting many separate parcels of different grapes and fermenting them separately. Those red grape varieties that tend to oxidize quickly, such as Grenache, get fermented in cement tanks, while grapes that need more oxygen, such as Syrah and Mourvedre, get placed in wood tanks. Occasionally the Syrah will include some whole clusters and stems, but generally most of the red grapes are destemmed, while the white grapes are whole-cluster pressed.

Fermentations are generally inoculated with a strain of yeast that the Perrin family continues to select and cultivate, and each tank is dealt with as an individual, whole batch of wine to be made without a recipe or template. After fermentation, the wines age in a combination of large oak casks and smaller oak barrels of varying age and size.

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Beaucastel has become quite well known over the years for a rather unique process that involves flash heating of the freshly crushed grapes before fermentation, in particular Grenache. Contrary to popular belief, this technique is not used in all, or even most vintages. This process, which both breaks down cell walls of the grape and kills some of the enzymes that contribute to oxidation, speeds extraction of color and flavor from the grape skins. Some years, in particular the most challenging vintages, a faster extraction process can reduce the presence of undesirable flavor compounds and keep the fresh qualities of the Grenache fruit.

My recent visit to Chateauneuf-du-Pape wouldn't have been complete without a stop at Château de Beaucastel. I sloshed up the driveway on a frigid, rainy day at the end of January to be met by general manager Marc Perrin, who suggested we do something a little different when it came to tasting that morning. Instead of tasting the new releases, he offered the opportunity to taste a few of the worst vintages on record.

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It was an offer quite in keeping with the weather outside, and just the sort of thing I would enjoy doing on such a morning. Before we we tasted, Perrin, who came back to work in the family business in 2002 after a career in marketing and Internet design, walked me around the winery while we talked about where Beaucastel and the appellation as a whole were headed.

"I started blending with my father when I was 15, and back then harvest used to be around September 15th," recalled Perrin. "Now we are beginning August 25th. The last 20 years have been about serious climate change for us. Where we used to rush to bring grapes in before the rain, now we have summer, and then another summer after that. This is quite favorable to Mourvedre, in particular, since that grape always used to be difficult to ripen."

When I suggested that perhaps the decision to plant so much Mourvedre might have been somewhat prescient on the part of his grandfather, Perrin laughed. "My grandfather was doing yoga in 1970. He made so many great decisions here. He planted Cunoise when no one else was, and now we have 60 year-old Cunoise. You need a great place, and smart ancestors, and then you try hard not to mess it up."

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"I'm not sure I'm the best person to ask about trends in our region," admitted Perrin. "We are more Beaucastel than we are Châteauneuf-du-Pape, if you know what I mean. I definitely see people using more Mourvedre, and that's good, because Grenache can be excessive. It's also quite advantageous. In 2013 Grenache had a lot of shatter. If you are mostly Grenache, then in 2013 you were in trouble. The balance of grapes lets you balance the climate."

When prompted for other trends, Perrin suggested that "whole cluster is definitely a trend now, I think in part due to people like Jamet in Côte-Rôtie. What's funny is that a lot of people are just claiming they do whole cluster. It's kind of chic now for journalists."

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We paused for a moment in the depths of the winery's cellar for Perrin to explain an entirely new program that the winery will begin bringing to market this year.

"Starting at the end of the 1980s we began keeping at least 20,000 bottles of each vintage," said Perrin. "Provenance is so key when it comes to quality, we decided that we wanted people to be able to experience older vintages under the best possible conditions." Now the estate has begun to release back vintages of their wines, primarily to restaurants, bearing the label "Beaucastel Oenotheque." In addition to the vintage date, the label bears the specific date the wine was removed from the Beaucastel cellars.

This program provides consumers with a remarkable opportunity to experience pristinely cellared wines at a level of condition that has become exceedingly rare in the marketplace. As a larger producer with a wide distribution, Beaucastel's wines often pass through many hands before they get to consumers, and not all those hands treat the wines with equal care.

The tasting that followed our tour was evidence enough of just how much perfect cellar conditions can mean for a wine's performance.

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1989 Chateau de Beaucastel Red Blend, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône Valley, France
Perfectly medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of bacon fat, cedar, and garrigue, with a hint of redcurrant fruit. In the mouth gorgeous flavors of exotic woods, smoked meats, raspberries, cherry and wet stones swirl in a beautiful melange. Incredible breadth and length, with a phenomenal seamlessness and balance. Stunning mineral and cedar finish. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $240. click to buy.

1990 Chateau de Beaucastel Red Blend, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône Valley, France
Medium ruby in color, this wine smells of bacon fat, cedar, and exotic incense with a hint of dried flowers. In the mouth the wine has fine grained tannins that have a supple tension to them. Still coiled tight, the cedar, cherry and sandalwood flavors are more linear than the '89 but no less compelling. Gorgeous acidity and balance. Great length and poise. This wine has a long way to go yet. The finish is deeply mineral and resonant. Stunning. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $200. click to buy.

1991 Chateau de Beaucastel Red Blend, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône Valley, France
Pale ruby in color, with bricking towards the rim, this wine smells jaw-droppingly of lilacs and other dried flowers, with a hint of smoked meats. In the mouth the wine has a tangy redcurrant and cedar quality with a gorgeous wet stone and forest floor note that lingers through the finish. The tannins are supple and woody, with a hint of bitterness. The year was widely regarded as a poor vintage, as it was quite cold. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $??

1997 Chateau de Beaucastel Red Blend, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône Valley, France
Medium ruby in color, this wine smells of beautiful cherry and raspberry fruit, wet stones, and a bit of crushed green herbs. In the mouth the wine is still a bit compressed, more narrow, with mineral and wet earth character along with cherry and raspberry fruit that are all held firmly in the grip of powdery tannins. The finish is a little shorter, but the acidity is excellent, and the deep minerality of the wine shows through. 1997 was a cold, rainy vintage, and widely dismissed as a poor year. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $70. click to buy.

2001 Chateau de Beaucastel Red Blend, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône Valley, France
Medium to dark ruby in color this wine smells of wet stones, bright cherry and raspberry fruit, with a hint of woody forest floor and dried flowers. In the mouth muscular, but supple tannins wrap around a core of cherry and raspberry fruit scented with cedar and crushed green herbs. Gorgeously balanced, with mineral and earth on the one side, and bright juicy acid and fruit on the other. Long finish, outstanding purity. Wow. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $100. click to buy.

2008 Chateau de Beaucastel Red Blend, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône Valley, France
Medium to dark ruby in color, this wine smells of mulberry and wet stones, with a hint of dried fennel seeds and crushed herbs in the background. In the mouth, tight tannins wrap around an equally compact core of raspberry and cherry that sits on top of a deep earthy and mineral core. Good length and breadth. A cold and rainy vintage with yields down roughly 50% from normal. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $70. click to buy.

2009 Chateau de Beaucastel Vieilles Vignes Blanc, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône Valley, France
Light to medium gold in the glass, this wine smells of honeysuckle, lemon curd, and wet stones with a hint of chamomile. In the mouth the wine is powerfully rich, with nearly-sweet lemon curd, honeysuckle and chamomile flavors. A minerality sings underneath the wine, and the acidity, like in a hermitage blanc, is quite subtle and filigreed, but beautiful and does exactly what it needs to as a balance to the ripe fruit. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $140. click to buy.

beaucastel-7.jpg



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Author: "--" Tags: "Older Vintages, Wine Reviews"
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Date: Saturday, 26 Apr 2014 06:35

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Cluster and Post
A cluster of grapes drapes over a row end-post.

INSTRUCTIONS:
Download this image by right-clicking on the image and selecting "save link as" or "save target as" and then select the desired location on your computer to save the image. Mac users can also just click the image to open the full size view and drag that to their desktops.

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Author: "--" Tags: "Vinography Images"
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Date: Thursday, 24 Apr 2014 06:12

box_o_wine.jpgHello, and welcome back to my periodic dig through the samples pile. It's been some time since I've had the opportunity to pry open some boxes and taste through what's inside, but I hope to be back to it with regularity now that things have settled down a bit at work. So I'm very happy to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles of sample wine that have crossed my doorstep recently.

This week's dive into the samples pile unearthed a very solid set of debut wines from a brand new producer named Ernest Vineyards, whose labels bear a striking oil painting of Ernest himself, apparently a relative of the owner. These wines aren't highly available in the market, but presumably can be purchased by contacting the winery directly.

The latest vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon from Clos du Val doesn't disappoint. It's no surprise that in a cool year, this winery made a wonderfully restrained and earthy wine.

I was quite pleased to taste the Barbera from Stark wine company, which offers a pitch-perfect rendition of the grape, and suffers from none of the over-ripeness that can characterize a number of Italian grape varieties made in the Sierra Foothiils.

Finally, it was quite nice to be introduced to Storm vineyards, who are making wine from a vineyard I have become quite fond of down in Santa Barbara's wine country. Their Pinot does justice to the site, and despite being quite young, is quite pleasurable.

All these and more below. Enjoy!

2010 Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of tobacco, black cherries, and crushed green herbs. In the mouth tobacco, cola, and black cherry flavors have a hint of green bell pepper to them as they swirl in a beautifully silky mix on the tongue. Nice earthy tobacco notes with a hint of umami linger in the finish. Fresh and juicy thanks to excellent acidity clos_du_val_cab_2010.jpgand nary a trace of oak. Delicious. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $25 click to buy.

2012 Stark Wine Company Damiano Vineyard Barbera, Sierra Foothills
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of crushed mulberries, juniper berries, and a touch of violets or other floral notes. In the mouth the wine has a fantastic bouncy acidity that makes flavors of cherry, mulberry, and dried flowers quite juicy and bright. An orange peel quality enters the finish. Barely perceptible tannins skirt the edges of the mouth. Quite quaffable. Gets more expressive and floral with some air.14.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $36 click to buy.

2012 Storm Presqu'ile Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of spicy cedar, cranberry, and raspberry fruit. In the mouth, flavors of dried herbs, cedar, cranberry and raspberry have the greenish twang that suggests whole cluster fermentation. Excellent acidity makes the flavors pop and shimmer. Very faint tannins. 13% alcohol. 85 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $48 click to buy.

2010 Gundlach Bundschu Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Valley
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of chocolate covered cherries and chocolate covered raisins. In the mouth, flavors of cherry, green herbs, tobacco and a hint of oak are nicely knit together by juicy, bright acidity. Well balanced and cheerful, this is a nice little Cabernet. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $35 click to buy.

2012 Ernest Vineyards "The Jester" Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of honeysuckle and golden delicious apples. In the mouth, flavors of golden delicious apples, mandarin oranges and a hint of honey have a nice brightness to them thanks to good acidity. There's a nice silky texture too, which lingers through the finish with a hint of marmalade. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $28

2012 Ernest Vineyards "The Bombardier" Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma
Light greenish gold in color, this wine smells of golden delicious apples and a hint of buttered popcorn. In the mouth the wine has a classic profile, with silky textured flavors of lemon curd, golden delicious apples, and mixed citrus zest. Good acidity brings a brightness and a snap to the flavors and there's a hint of stony chalkiness that lingers in the finish. 13.9% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $38

2012 Ernest Vineyards "Dutton Ranch Rued Vineyard" Chardonnay, Green Valley, Sonoma
Light greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of pink grapefruit, wet stones, and white flowers. In the mouth bright grapefruit flavors mix with the toasty nuttiness of oak. Lemon curd and citrus zest notes vie for attention with the wood, and ultimately win, though there's a light bitterness of oak in the finish. Excellent acidity and juiciness. 13.4% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $42



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Author: "--" Tags: "Wine Reviews"
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Date: Tuesday, 22 Apr 2014 05:21

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Two weeks ago I had occasion to return to Japan, a place where I left a small piece of my heart in 2001, when I ended my nearly two-year stay in Tokyo. My tenure in Japan was mostly characterised by perpetual exhaustion, as I put in the long hours required to set up and launch a branch office for the consulting company for which I worked at the time, but even 80-hour weeks couldn't prevent me from falling in love with the people, the culture and, of course, the food.

For this reason I read with some interest, and more than a little dismay, Ned Goodwin's farewell to and near-condemnation of the country's wine culture (See Why Japan has lost its MW). The picture he paints of the way the country's relationship to wine has evolved doesn't match my own experience - neither during my residence there 14 years ago nor during my recent visit.

I moved to Tokyo in 2000 nearly on a whim. I had just broken up with my girlfriend and cemented my vow to never have roommates again by purchasing a house in San Francisco. Two weeks after I received the keys, the internet consulting company I worked for asked me if I would be willing to help start their Japanese operation. The closest thing I had to dependents, a group of about 20 orchids, were quickly fostered by a couple of willing friends, and I jumped into what would prove to be one of the most difficult and rewarding chapters of my life.


Read the rest of the story on JancisRobinson.Com.

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is available only to subscribers of her web site. If you're not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It's only £6.99 a month or £69 per year ($11/mo or $109 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.



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Author: "--" Tags: "Ramblings and Rants"
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