Saturday, February 19, 2011

Mustard Season in the Napa Valley - Bouchaine Vineyards and Round Pond Winery

After an absolutely fantastic day in the wine country last week there was rain in the forecast for the coming weekend. But then in the middle of the week a strong wind blew in and pushed back the pending rain until the following week. So, taking advantage of this providential delay in the showers, on Saturday February 12, 2011 I headed out for another glorious sunny day in the Napa Valley.

Round Pond Winery – Rutherford, Napa Valley California

My first stop was Round Pond Winery in the heart of the Napa Valley in Rutherford. Unfortunately, there was very little wild flowers to be photographed in the vineyard. But the absolutely fantastic hospitality (not to mention the great wines) more than made up for the experience.

My first pouring was the 2009 Round Pond Reserve Bovet Blanc, Rutherford ($39). This is aged sur lie (on the spent yeasts) in 100% new French Oak. An aromatic wine of orange and lemon blossoms followed by tropical and dried fruit notes. On the palate it is not quite Chardonnay-like but it definitely has a slight baked apple quality on the finish followed by a prolonged pineapple, peach and mild creamy finish. 

My second tasting was my favorite of the entire line up, the 2006 Round Pond Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford. ($60) A blend of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3.5 % Petite Verdot and 1.5% Syrah this is a very distinctive wine from the run-of-the mill Napa Cabs. It has bright and expressive profile of blackberry preserves, Bing cherries, blueberries and violets followed by a well integrated oak finish. I brought a bottle of this one home!

My third wine was the 2008 Round Pond Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford ($50) A blend of 94% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Petit Verdot. This is a dramatically different wine than the ‘06. It is much more dense and concentrated and very youthful, needing more time to age to better be appreciated. While the ’06 was more fruit driven this one is more earthly and spicy with notes of coffee, pipe tobacco, brown sugar and cloves on the nose. I’d like to revisit this wine in 5-10 years!

Out of chronological sequence, my fourth wine (3rd Cab) was the 2007 Round Pond Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford ($55). A blend of 97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petite Verdot this is wine has a classic profile of what Cab lovers expect of a great Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. It has layers of black currant, blueberries, white pepper, cedar and just a touch of vanilla.

My last two tastings were two more economical wines that they also produce under another label, the 2007 McDonnell Family Syrah and 2007 McDonnell Family Nebbiolo. Neither of these was remarkable and at their price point range ($38) there are much better representations of these varietals to be found elsewhere.

For more information about this winery, check out their web site at:

Bouchaine Vineyards – Carneros, Napa Valley California

After driving up 29 to Rutherford and tasting at Round Pond Winery I headed back south to visit an off-the-beaten path winery in Los Carneros, Bouchaine Vineyards. I was really in the mood for tasting some fine Pinot Noir and was pleased that this winery was exactly what I was looking for, a winey with great wines being served in the appropriate stemware! 

My first wine was a refreshingly crisp 2009 Bouchaine Estate Pinot Cris, Napa Valley – Carneros ($25). A light weight wine with citrus, apple, and nectarine flavors, a notable minerality with a medium length lemony finish. 

Next I did a side by side tasting of two Chardonnays which are derived from grapes from the same vineyard, but produced differently. 

The first was the 2008 Bouchaine Estate Vineyard Chardonnay, Napa Valley – Carneros ($25). This is not your stereotypical overly oaked Chard, it is well balanced. Fermented 70% in oak barrels and 30% in stainless steel, it has well balanced acidity with lemon and lime notes with just a hint of vanilla on the back end.

The second was the 2008 Bouchaine Bouche de Beurre, Estate Vineyard, Napa Valley – Carneros ($30). On the nose I picked up citrus notes but also a hint of a cross between toasted marshmallow and burnt popcorn. On the palate this wine reflects its 100% new oak treatment and full malolactic fermentation as it is richer more full bodied Chardonnay with a creamy smooth texture, with hints of tropical and buttery flavors, yet it also maintains a well balanced acidity.

My next three wines were an awesome lineup of Pinot Noirs, going from lighter to bolder in style and character. None of these are the typical overly fruity styled wines as they all have a tremendous earthly and spicy quality. While they can’t be characterized as “Burgundian” they do display the best that California, Carneros in particular, has to offer. 

The first red was the 2008 Bouchaine Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Rockin’ H Vineyard ($30) Powerful dark berry on the nose with added cocoa in the mouth. A medium bodied wine on the mid palate, with a beefy textured finish which the wine maker describes as “masculine and brooding.”

The second red was the 2007 Bouchaine Estate Pinot Noir, Napa Valley – Carneros ($45). A deeper ruby red than the previous Pinot, it displays a beautiful bouquet of cherry, strawberry, raspberry, cranberry, with a slight root beer / sarsaparilla character to it and just a hint of smoke. It is medium bodied with subtle tannins. It is well-balanced and complex with a lingering finish. This was my favorite in the line up so I brought a bottle home!

The final red wine for the day was the 2008 Gee Vineyard Pinot Noir, Napa Valley – Carneros ($55). This is a very small production wine (250 cases) and of the three it is the biggest close to Burgundian as Carneros can get. The grapes come from the dry farmed Gee Vineyard, a small 16-acre property across the road from the winery. It produces small yields of grapes with intensely concentrated flavors. The wine is then aged in French oak barrels for approximately 11 months, and yet the wine is not “oaky.” Although I favored the previous wine, I suspect that most Pinot Noir fans would prefer this one.

For more information about this winery, check out their web site at:

If you visit either of these wineries, tell them you read about them on California Wine Tasting Adventures!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Mustard Season in the Napa Valley - Cardinale Winery, Rutherford Grove Winery

I hadn’t been out to the wine country since September 2010 (5 months ago), which is probably the longest I have been absent in ten years. California has been getting more than average amount of rain fall this winter and it rained every day that I was on vacation at Christmas time, so I’ve been anxious to get out.

The Mustard Season (February - March) is my favorite time of year for doing photography as the yellow mustard, orange poppies and purple lupines are in bloom and there is no better place to see them than in the Napa Valley. Eagerly anticipating the first sunny weekend in the valley, with clear skies in the forecast for Saturday February 5th I headed out with camera in hand.

Cardinale Winery – Oakville, Napa Valley California

My first stop was at one of the premier wineries in the valley - Cardinale Winery – which focuses on their attention on producing one very high end Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I first visited this winery about ten years ago with a couple friends so I was due for a return visit.

After snapping a few shots around the vineyard and winery, the very kind and hospitable host poured me a large portion of their 2007 Cabernet, which had just been decanted and was a little on the cool side so it took a while to open up. 

So I continuously and vigorously swirled it in my hand, cupping it in my hand on occasion to warm the glass. Once the wine opened up, a full bouquet of black currants, black berries, cocoa, coffee and vanilla with just a hint of anise in the back end could be smelled from across the room. Yet, it was clear that this wine not only needed some warmth and aeration to fully display its character, it was also an extremely youthful wine that would greatly benefit from another decade or so of aging. On the palate the nose is confirmed with a prolonged finish that was enjoyed at least a minute after the first sip.

This is truly a Cabernet lover’s wine which is truly reflective of what the Napa valley is all about! But…. it comes with a stiff price tag - $300 (750mL)

Cardinale Winery is located at 7600 St. Helena Highway in Oakville California. This is a “by prior appointment only” winery so if you want to visit, call ahead and make reservations or check out their web site:

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

Rutherford Grove Winery – Rutherford, Napa Valley California

My next winery was a little further up highway 29 in Rutherford. This was the 102nd winery I have been to since the year 2000.


My first wine was the 2009 Pestoni Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($18.00).This wine is aged six months in stainless steel, 40% in 70 gallon Stainless Steel Barrels sur lie, the French term for “on the lees” in which spent yeast remains in contact with the wine. The wine has a classic of Sauv Blanc profile of crisp grapefruit, lemon zest and slight chalky minerality. I’m short on good Sauv Blanc’s in my cellar so I brought a bottle home.

My second wine was the 2009 Quackenbush Mountain Vineyards Zinfandel ($18). The grapes are sourced from their Estate Vineyard on the eastern shore of Clear Lake. This is a lighter style zin that reminds me of sort of like the smell and taste of liquid raspberry jello with just a hint of cinnamon on the back end. It has 14.6% alcohol which moderate in comparison to a lot of zins from Lodi or the Serria foothills.

My third pour was the 2007 Estate Merlot ($32) and the final two were the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($45.00) and the 2007 Estate Reserve Howell Mountain Merlot ($50.00). Of these, the Howell Mountain Merlot was the best, with more layers of complexity with black cherry, red currents, and olives.

Rutherford Grove Winery is located at 1673 Hwy 29 in Rutherford, California in the heart of the Napa Valley. They are open for tasting 10 am to 4:30 pm daily and no reservations are required. You can contact them at (707) 963-0544 or check out their web site for more information: