Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Franciscan Estate Winery – St. Helena, California




Although Franciscan Estate Winery was my #132 winery to visit in the Napa Valley, I was no stranger to their wines. Years ago I was studying Bordeaux blend wines so I bought individual bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Malbec in order to learn the profile of each wine. I then bought numerous well-known bottles of Meritage (the California name for a Bordeaux-style wine) and then sought to retro-engineer the wine in order to determine what each grape contributed to the blend. It was during that study of Bordeaux blend wines that I bought a bottle of Franciscan Estate Winery’s Magnificant. Since then I have been wanting to visit the winery and taste their other wines as well.

The History of Franciscan Estate Winery


In 1960 Agustin Huneeus began his wine career as Chief Executive Officer of Concha y Toro in Chile and under his leadership Concha y Toro grew to become the country’s largest winery. Then in 1971 the political climate changed in Chile which led Agustin to leave his home country fleeing to the United States. He then became the head of Seagram's worldwide operations overseeing wineries in seven countries, including the United States. 


One year later, in 1972 Franciscan Estate Winery was founded by a group of lawyers and doctors from San Francisco who decided to turn their for passion wine into a business. Then in 1985 Agustin became partner and acting President of Franciscan Estates which now a division of Constellation Wines. Under his leadership, the struggling company was reorganized and revived into a successful group of premium wine estates with an emphasis on estate grown grapes. In 1999, Agustin sold his interest in Franciscan Estates and went on to develop Quintessa into a world-class wine estate. In August 2003 Janet Myers became associate winemaker at Franciscan after working in the Margaret River region and Beaulieu Vineyard, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and Louis Martini. Today Franciscan Estate Winery remains committed to its tradition of producing small batches of premium wines averaging from 150 to 1,500 cases.

The Wines


While visiting I sampled the following wines:

2013 Franciscan Estate Chardonnay


This is a clear white wine, pale straw in color withy medium+ viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of baked apples, canned pears, ripe peaches and lemon zest with hints of caramel, butterscotch and creamed corn. On the palate it is more peach and citrus driven. It has medium+ acidity, it is full bodied and has a medium+ length finish. It is well balanced, not overly oaky or buttery and a great value at $18 per bottle.

2013 Franciscan Estate Fountain Court White Wine


A blend of 76% Sauvignon Blanc and 24% Muscat, this is a clear white wine, very pale straw in color, almost water white, with moderate viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of mandarin oranges, tangerines, guava, canned pear juice, ripe melon and a hint of white flowers. On the palate it is slightly sweet with medium+ acidity, it is light in body and has a clean medium length finish. This would serve well as an aperitif or go well with spicy Indian or Asian cuisine or any dish that you might normally serve an off-dry Riesling. This wine sells for $28 per bottle.

2012 Franciscan Estate Merlot


This wine is a blend of 82% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Malbec, and 2% Syrah. It is an opaque / semi-clear red wine, dark ruby at the core to pink at the rim with medium+ viscosity and slightly staining tears. On the nose it is clean with moderate intense aromas of ripe black cherries, boysenberries, blackberries, blueberries, violets, cocoa, a hint of mint, cedar and spice.  On the palate it is dry with moderate - moderate+ tannins, it is medium bodied and has a moderate length finish. This is not your typical soft fruity Merlot as the tannins actually have a little bit of grip and it has more black and blue fruit notes than just the common red cherry characteristics which is undoubtedly due to the additional Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Syrah. This wine sells for $23 per bottle.

2012 Franciscan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon


This wine is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 3% Malbec, 2% Petit Verdot, and 1% Cabernet Franc so it is actually more of a Bordeaux blend. It is an opaque red wine, dark scarlet at the core to ruby at the rim with medium+ viscosity and slightly staining tears. On the nose it has subtle aromas of black currants, blackberries, dark chocolate, a hint of mint and eucalyptus with a touch of tobacco, bay leaves and dried herbs. On the palate it is dry with medium+ tannins, it has medium body and a medium length finish. A well-balanced wine with good structure that will improve over the next few years, it sells for $29 per bottle.

2011 Franciscan Estate Magnificat


This wine is a blend of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot and 6% Petit Verdot, and 3% Malbec. It is an opaque red wine, scarlet at the core to ruby at the rim with medium+ viscosity and staining tears. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of black and red currants, black cherries, cocoa, tobacco, black licorice, black pepper, a hint of mint and sage. On the palate it is dry with refined medium+ tannins, medium acidity, and a medium+ length finish that lingers with herbs and spice. A highly complex wine, it sells for $55 per bottle.

2005 Mt. Veeder Reserve Napa Valley Red Wine


Mount Veeder Winery was founded by Michael and Arlene Bernstein and their first release was the 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon. In 2008 the winery was purchased by Franciscan Estate. It is located in the Mount Veeder AVA on the west side of the Napa Valley. Although it is the largest AVA within valley (25 square miles) it has a limited production as it produces only 1.3% of valley’s grapes from about 1,000 acres of vineyards. Whereas valley floor vineyards produce about 4 tones per acre, these mountain vineyards are produce only around 2.5 tons per acre for Cabernet Sauvignon, which is about half the Napa Valley average. Mount Veeder Winery’s vines are planted on wide terraces of earth cut into steep slopes at elevations of 1,000 to 1,600 feet, above the valley floor. The winery is not open to the public but the wines are available in the Franciscan Estate Winery tasting room.

The 2005 Mt. Veeder Reserve Red Wine is a blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot and 7% Malbec. It is an opaque red wine, dark ruby at the core to garnet at the rim with a hint of brick red with medium+ viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of dried cherries, plums, baked blackberries, maple, black olive, tobacco and a touch of earth. On the palate it is dry, velvety on entry with medium+ refined tannins that glide across on the mid-palate, it has medium+ acidity and a medium+ length finish. A complex wine that is probably at its prime and is definitely ready to drink now. This wine sells for $120 per bottle and I brought one home.

2010 Mt. Veeder Rosenquist Cabernet Sauvignon


The Rosenquist vineyard is one of Mount Veeder’s three estate ranches at an elevation of 1,500-1,600 feet above sea level. The wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. It is an opaque red wine, dark scarlet red at the core to ruby at the rim with medium+ viscosity and staining tears. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of black currants, blackberries, dark chocolate, a hint of smoke, beef jerky, dark roasted coffee, and caramelized brown sugar. On the palate it is dry with velvety medium+ refined tannins, medium+ acidity, and a moderate length very complex finish. This is an absolutely phenomenal wine, it sells for $100 per bottle.

To visit or for more information:

Franciscan Estate Winery
1178 Galleron Rd
St Helena, CA 94574
Phone: (707) 967-3830
http://www.franciscan.com/

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Hall Wines – St. Helena, California




It had been a while since I had been up to the Napa Valley (my last visit was in May) so I made a trip up to the #1 wine region in the United States and visited Hall Wines.  My first and only stop for the day at Hall Wines in St. Helena, the #131 winery I have visited in the Napa Valley since the year 2000.

The Founders


Hall Wines was founded by Kathryn (Walt) Hall and her husband Craig Hall who have two children. Craig Hall is a successful businessman, investor and is chairman and founder of Dallas-based Hall Financial Group. Craig is also the author of five books, the most recent being Timing the Real Estate Market: The Secrets to Buying Low and Selling High.

Kathryn has been involved in the California wine industry since her family first purchased a vineyard in Mendocino County in 1972. The Walt family owns 63 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sauvignon Blanc in the Redwood Valley and has sold their grapes to such wineries as Fetzer, Parducci, and Beringer. Kathryn managed the family vineyard from 1982 to 1992. During this time she produced Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon under the label Walt Vineyards.

In addition to living in the wine world, Kathryn has an A.B. in Economics from U.C. Berkeley, a J.D. from the U.C. Hastings College of Law and she has had a distinguished career as a successful attorney. She also co-founded the North Texas Food Bank, served on the United States House of Representatives Hunger Advisory Committee, and was the director/vice president of the Texas Mental Health Association. Kathryn has served on the National Advisory Council for Violence Against Women and as a trustee of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She also served as the United States Ambassador to Austria from December 1997 to July 2001.

After her return to the United States, she has resumed her role as proprietor of Kathryn Hall Vineyards. Continuing upon her experience promoting American agriculture in Austria, in September 2001 she was appointed to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Technical Advisory Committee (ATAC) for international trade.

The Winery


Hall Wines has two tasting room and winery locations in the Napa Valley, one in St. Helena and the other in Rutherford. Their vineyard collection features 5 Certified Organic estates encompassing more than 500 acres of Bordeaux varietals; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc.


The winemaker for Hall Wines is Steve Leveque who crafts 15 Cabernet Sauvignon wines each with its own distinctive profile which reflect the various unique terroirs of the Napa Valley.

Hall Wines utilizes high-density plantings in the vineyard and has two gravity-flow wineries. They are also very eco-friendly as site maintains one acre of solar panels on its roof and uses 100% recycled water throughout its processes, which is particularly important as the state of California has been experiencing a serious drought this year.

Inside the tasting room, out on the balcony and in the courtyard Hall combines modern art and architecture with comfortable luxury, and warm hospitality for their guests.


Adjacent to the modern winery, the Hall family has meticulously restored the 1885 Bergfeld Winery which they purchased in 2003. It was originally built by a New England sea captain named Peterson and was subsequently owned by Robert Bergfeld, head of one of the first families to make wine in Napa Valley. The Bergfeld Winery and changed hands many times until prohibition ended. After prohibition it was operated again under the Bergfeld Winery name until 1994 when it became Edgewood Estate.


The Wines

While visiting I sampled the following wines:

2013 Hall “T Bar T Ranch” Alexander Valley Sauvignon Blanc


This is a clear white wine, pale straw in color with minor tint of green around the rim with medium viscosity. On the nose it is clean with medium+ to pronounced intense aromas of white grapefruit, lemon, under ripe pineapple, white flowers and lemon pith. On the palate the nose is confirmed, it is very crisp with medium+ acidity, medium bodied and it has a long clean and refreshing citrus finish. It was around 95 degrees outside so this was a very refreshing wine. I brought a bottle of this wine home for $30.

2012 Walt “The Corners” Anderson Valley Pinot Noir


This is a clear red wine, ruby at the core to pink at the rim with medium viscosity. On the nose it has medium+ intense aromas of strawberry jam, raspberries, clove, cinnamon and a hint of cola. On the palate the nose is confirmed, it is very soft on entry with medium- tannins, it has mouth-watering medium+ acidity and a medium+ length finish. A well-balanced wine, it sells for $65 per bottle.

2012 Walt “Savoy Vineyard” Anderson Valley Pinot Noir


This is a clear red wine, ruby at the core to pink at the rim with medium viscosity. On the nose it has medium+ intense aromas of red plums, very ripe strawberries, with hints of dried herbs, smoke, bacon fat and root beer. On the palate the nose is confirmed, it is very soft on entry with medium- tannins, it is medium bodied with medium+ acidity and a long finish. Although this wine and the previous Pinot were both from the Anderson Valley, “The Corners” Pinot reminded me more of the Russian River. I loved them both but I preferred the “Savoy Vineyard”. This wine sells for $65 per bottle but unfortunately it is available to Club Members Only.

2011 Hall Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

This is an opaque dark ruby red wine with minimal rim variation and medium+ viscosity with slightly staining tears. On the nose it had moderate intense aromas of cassis, black cherries with a hint of green bell peppers, cocoa powder and touch of vanilla. On the palate the nose is confirmed, it is soft on entry with moderate velvety tannins, medium acidity, medium+ body and it has a long finish. This is a very easy-drinking wine and yet well balanced. The green notes are common for this vintage and yet they aren’t overbearing in this wine, in fact I prefer it to the stereotypical fruit bombs that are overblown with vanilla. This wine sells for $45 per bottle and I brought a bottle home.

2011 Hall “Ellie’s” Cabernet Sauvignon

This wine is a Napa Valley blend of 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc and 3% Merlot. It is an opaque dark ruby red wine with minimal rim variation and medium+ viscosity with slightly staining tears. On the nose it has intense and concentrated aromas of blackberries, black cherries, and black currants with hints of black licorice, freshly cracked pepper and cedar. On the palate the nose is confirmed, it very refined medium tannins, medium acidity, it is full bodied and has a long fruit driven finish. This wine sells for $80 per bottle.

2011 Hall “Kathryn Hall” Cabernet Sauvignon
 
This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon fruit selected from a number of vineyards in the valley stretching from St Helena to Howell Mountain to their Sacrashe estate vineyard in Rutherford. It is an opaque dark ruby red wine with minimal rim variation and medium+ viscosity with slightly staining tears. On the nose it has intense and concentrated aromas of black currants, cassis, chocolate covered cherries, dark chocolate, violets and damp earth. On the palate the nose is confirmed, it very refined medium tannins, medium acidity, it is full bodied and has a long fruit driven finish. This wine sells for $135 per bottle, members only.

All of the wines I tasted at Hall were spectacular, all of the Pinots had a very seductive bouquet and the Cabernets were well balanced and delicious. I highly recommend visiting Hall on your next trip to the Napa Valley!

To see more pictures check out Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography:


To visit or for more information:

Hall Wines
401 ST. Helena HWY South
St. Helena, California 94574
Phone: (707) 967-2626

Saturday, July 12, 2014

J Vineyards & Winery – Healdsburg, California



The process and equipment necessary for making still wine and sparkling wine are quite different from each other. While they both begin as a still wine, sparkling wine then goes through a secondary fermentation process either in a tank (known as the Charmat method) or if done in the traditional method (also known as méthode champenoise, in Champagne France) it takes place in the bottle.[1] 
Antique Riddling Rack
The traditional method requires a different kind of bottle plus a means of riddling the bottles (either by hand on a rack or with a gyropalate) in order to consolidate the spent yeast (lees) for removal and a different type of bottling process. Due to the extra equipment involved and the additional labor wineries in California tend to focus on either making still wine or sparkling wine. 
Gyropalates
While some wineries that focus on still wine may sell sparkling wine, more often than not they only make the still wine and then another winery puts it through the secondary fermentation and bottling process. Likewise, while many wineries that focus on sparkling wine will also bottle a small amount of still wine it tends to be more of an after-thought rather than any serious focus on high quality. All they are doing is bottling some of their still wine that would normally go through the secondary fermentation to make sparkling wine.
This is one of the things that sets J Vineyards & Winery apart from many others as they are dedicated to producing both high quality still and sparkling wine and they wear both hats very well.
The Winery and Vineyards

J Vineyards & Winery was founded by second generation vintner Judy Jordan who is following in the footsteps of her father, Tom Jordan, who established Jordon Winery & Vineyard in 1976 in Healdsburg, California.
But Judy didn’t immediately jump into the wine business with her family. Before starting her own wine career she graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Earth Sciences/Geology. She then worked in Geophysics at Western Geophysical Corporation in Denver, Colorado. With this experience she returned to the family business and put her knowledge in marketing, soils and geology into making wine.
Then in 1986 Judy founded J Vineyards & Winery and created hallmark wines such as her signature J Vintage Brut and J Late-Disgorged Vintage Brut. Then a decade later she purchased the former Piper Sonoma winemaking facility south of Healdsburg in the Russian River Valley. There she launched two single-vineyard Pinot Noirs named after her children, Nicole and Robert Thomas, and a Pinot Gris made from Cooper Vineyard. 
Cooper's Vineyard
Today J Vineyards & Winery has 9 sustainably farmed estate vineyards planted on over 200 acres with a wide variety of alluvial soils in the Russian River Valley. In 1999 the tasting room opened where guests can not only experience the wines but also enjoy food and wine pairing on the patio.
The Wines
While visiting, I toured the winemaking facilities including the barrel room while tasting the following wines:

2013 Cooper’s Vineyard Pinot Gris

This is a clear white wine, pale straw in color with minor hint of green on the rim and low viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderate intense aromas of lemon-lime, canned peaches, melon, under ripe banana and a hint of floral soap. On the palate it is dry but fruit forward with medium+ acid, medium body and a very long finish with lingering tropical notes. This wine sells for $30 per bottle.

2012 Bowtie Vineyard Chardonnay

This is a clear white wine, straw in color with moderate intensity and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of peach, yellow apples, apricot, Crème brûlée, caramelized apples and a hint of creamed corn. It is dry with a medium+ acidity, it is full bodied with medium+ alcohol and a long finish. This is definitely a California-style Chardonnay and yet it is well balanced and not overly oaky or buttery. This wine sells for $45 per bottle.

2012 Russian River Pinot Noir

This is a clear ruby wine of moderate intensity with a hint of garnet at the rim and medium viscosity. On the nose it has subtle aromas of cranberries, black cherries, hints of smoke, bacon fat, cola, clove and spice. On the palate it is fruit forward with medium- tannins, medium+ acidity and a medium+ length finish. This wine has all the hallmarks of great Russian River Pinot Noir and it sells for $37 per bottle.

Brut Rosé Sparking Wine (NV)

This wine is made from 66% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, and 1% Pinot Meunier with a portion of the Pinot Noir being left on the skins to impart color. This is a clear salmon pink wine with very tiny bubbles and low viscosity. On the nose it has subtle aromas of ripe strawberries, cranberries, and kiwi fruit. On the palate it is dry and tart with medium+ acidity, it is light bodied and it has a moderate length finish. This wine sells for $38 per bottle.

Cuvee 20 Sparking Wine (NV)

This wine is a blend of 54% Chardonnay, 44% Pinot Noir, 2% Pinot Meunier. This is a clear white wine, pale straw in color with low concentration, tiny bubbles and low viscosity. On the nose it has subtle aromas of apple, pear, maraschino cherries and a hint of yeasty bread. On the palate it is has a touch of sweetness, it is very crisp with medium++ acidity, it is light bodied and it has a moderate length finish. This wine sells for $28 per bottle.

To visit or for more information:

J Vineyards and Winery
11447 Old Redwood Hwy
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Phone: 888-594-6326

[1] There are also those who simply inject carbonation like making soda pop, but the quality tends to be very low.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Williams Selyem Winery– Healdsburg, California



When sommeliers talk about California Pinot Noir the Russian River Valley is quite often the preferred region and when a list is made of favorite wineries Williams Selyem is always within the “Top 10”. This winery has been hailed by many of my friends and fellow Pinotfiles so it has been on my “must visit” list for quite some time. So, with my 48th birthday coming up the first weekend of July I made a reservation and celebrated the day experiencing some of the best California Pinots I have ever tasted. These wines have extremely limited distribution and tend to get significant markup in the very few retail stores that carry their wines. The winery has no sign at the entrance indicating its location on the Westside Road and reservations are required far in advance. In fact I made my appointment about 6 weeks prior to my visit.
The Winery
Williams Selyem Winery was founded by Burt Williams and Ed Selyem who began their enological endeavors under the Hacienda del Rio Winery label in a garage in Fulton, California. Their first wine was a 1981 Zinfandel and quickly thereafter they began making Pinot Noir
In 1998, they were ready to move on and sold the winery to New York businessman John Dyson, who hired Bob Cabral as Executive winemaker. Bod had previously worked as winemaker for De Loach, Kunde, Alderbrook and Hartford Court and guided Williams Selyem to become the iconic winey it is today with new vineyards and crafting the winery’s trademark elegant style and overseeing the construction of a $14.8-million winery. However, after serving as the chief winemaker for 16 years he will be stepping down at the end of 2014 and has visions of creating his own label.[1]

The Wines


While visiting I sampled the following wines, but the descriptions below hardly do them justice:
2012 Vista Verde Vineyard, Limestone Ridge Chenin Blanc

This is a clear white wine, pale straw in color with low viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderate intense aromas of candied lemons, yellow flowers with hint of a salty minerality and a slight gun-flint smokiness. On the palate it is dry and very crisp with HIGH acid, it is light bodied and a medium+ length finish. This wine sells for $35 per bottle.
2012 Unoaked Chardonnay, Russian River Valley

This is a clear white wine, straw in color with moderate intensity and medium viscosity. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of lemon, white peaches, and green apples. It is dry with a medium+ acidity, it is medium bodied with medium alcohol and a medium length finish. The wine is a bit austere but if you prefer a California Chards done in a Chablis-like style you’ll enjoy this wine. This wine sells for $39 per bottle winery but it retails for $69 at a local wine shop.
2011 Block 10 Estate Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

This is a clear ruby wine at the core that transitions to magenta at the rim, it has moderate intensity with and medium viscosity. On the nose it has pronounced intense aromas of ripe cherries, plums and strawberry preserves, fresh roses, hints of smoke and bacon, followed by a touch of clove and spice. The nose on this wine is very fruit forward and it is quite seductive as well. I don’t think I have ever come across a Pinot that immediately made me say “WOW!” at the first sniff. On the palate it is very soft on entry with silky medium- tannins, medium+ acidity, it is has medium+ body and an extremely long finish. This wine sells for $85 per bottle.
2012 Westside Road Neighbors Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

This is a clear ruby colored wine with medium intensity and moderate viscosity. On the nose it has moderate aromas of Bing cherries with hints of cola, a hint of smoke, black pepper and anise. On the palate it is dry with medium- velvety tannins, medium+ acidity and a long finish. This wine sells for $69 per bottle at the winery but it retails for $110 at a local wine shop.
2011 Bucher Vineyard Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

This is a clear ruby colored wine with medium intensity and moderate viscosity. On the nose it has moderate aromas of Bing cherries, strawberries, mushrooms, forest floor with hints of dried herbs, a hint of smoke, black pepper and anise. On the palate it is dry with medium silky tannins, mouthwatering medium+ acidity and a long finish. This wine was not as fruit forward as the previous Pinots and it has more of the mushroom-earthiness that I prefer so it my favorite wine in the line-up. I brought one bottle home for $59.
To see more pictures of Williams Selyem Winery, check the link below to Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography:


To visit or for more information:
Williams Selyem Winery
7227 Westside Rd
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Phone: 707-433-6425


[1] http://www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/49602?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=williams-selyem-winemaker-bob-cabral-stepping-down-wine-spectator