Saturday, June 30, 2012

Lynmar Estate Winery – A Garden of Eden in Sebastopol, California

After visiting Mauritson Family Wines in Healdsburg and then Merry Edwards Wines in Sebastopol last weekend I headed a little further down the road and around the corner to Lynmar Estate Winery. As you turn from down Frei Road, the winery is completely hidden from the view of the roadside. So as you turn into the driveway and pass by a neighboring house and then go through a large hedge of trees. Once you do you’ll suddenly find yourself at an absolutely beautiful winery which features an open-space tasting room with breath-taking vistas of vine covered hills surrounded by stunning colorful botanical and vegetable gardens.

Lynmar Estate Winery is part of the Russian River Valley AVA. The estate was purchased by Lynn Fritz in 1980 and was originally used as a vacation home on which he developed by adding trees, shrubs and grape vines incrementally transforming it from a pasture to a vineyard with lush gardens. Then in the early 1990s the Lynmar Estate Winery was established as it began producing and selling wine. In 2008, after achieving success with the wine, Lynn and his wife Aniysa moved into the vacation house making the 100-acre ranch their permanent home.

Sustainable and organic agriculture govern the vineyard activity. It borders the Laguna de Santa Rosa, a 250 square-mile watershed that is home to mammals, reptiles, native plants and migrating birds. The vineyard and winery team uses the most habitat-friendly farming techniques and is sensitive to the needs of this ecosystem. 

The estate has 40+ acres of grape vines, nine of which are over 40 years old. Their Quail Hill Vineyard was originally planted in 1971 and has some of the oldest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines in the Russian River Valley. While the older blocks are valued for their balanced fruit, a phased replanting of Quail Hill Vineyard in 1996 was begun to better match each sub block with its optimal clonal selection and rootstocks. This replanting program includes 71% of the vineyard and was completed in 2005. 

While visiting I tasted the following wines:

My first wine was the 2010 Laguna Ridge Chardonnay. This wine was barrel fermented in 60-gallon French oak barrels (5% new) and underwent partial (50%) malolactic fermentation. The wine was then aged for 11 months sur-lie, with weekly stirring of the lees. On the nose I picked up faint aromas of white flowers, orange blossoms, dried pears, apricots, apples, butterscotch, caramel and a hint of toasted marshmallows and vanilla. On the palate it is well balanced with refreshing acidity and a lingering medium (+) length finish. This is a spectacular Chardonnay that sells for only $20 a bottle and in my travels I have found wines like this to cost $30(+) so it is very reasonably priced. I brought one home to share with friends.

The second pour was the 2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. The wine is bright ruby in color with fruit driven aromas of BIG fresh black cherries, blackberries, spice and a hint of vanilla. It is very soft and fruit driven, definitely a “drink now” wine. There are many Pinots like this in the $30 - $35 range so at $40 a bottle it isn’t competitively priced.

The third wine was my favorite in the line-up, the 2008 Freestone Cuvee Pinot Noir. A blend from two sourced vineyards, 50% Freetsone Vineyard and 50% Hawkhill Vineyard.

The Freetsone Vineyard is owned by Joe Phelps who is known for the Napa Valley meritage. Insignia. In 1999, Joe Phelps, his son Bill, and the Joseph Phelps Vineyards management team purchased a former dairy farm of 89 acres in Freestone located in the true Sonoma Coast ostensibly to grow Chardonnay. It turned out the site was equally suited to Pinot Noir. Planting began in 2000 with staged replanting until 2007. The Freestone Vineyard Estate consists of three distinct properties. The Pastorale Vineyard was planted to 34 acres of Pinot Noir and 21.7 acres of Chardonnay at the end of Freestone Flat Road. The Pastorale Vineyard was then joined by two other nearby vineyards following the acquisition of additional property: Quarter Moon Vineyard (41 acres of Pinot Noir), and Ferguson Vineyard (6 acres of Pinot Noir) which is farmed under a long-term lease.

The Hawk Hill Vineyard is owned by Paul and Vicki Michalczyk and it was named for the Red Tail and Cooper’s hawks that are seen regularly at the vineyard. The vineyard is situated on the western edge of the Russian River Valley appellation in a very cool site a mere six miles from the Pacific coast, just east of the small village of Freestone. In this extremely cool vineyard, these downward trained shoots bring their leaves into close proximity with the soil, which radiates just enough extra heat to keep the vines going when nearby vineyards have defoliated. This briefly extended ripening period helps push the fruit toward perfect ripeness and flavor development.

A 50/50 blend of grapes from these two vineyards, the Freestone Cuvee was aged 14 months in 60 gallon French oak barrels (62% new). This wine exudes floral and herbal aromas with complex layers of black cherries, red plums and cinnamon stick. This wine sells for $42.50 a bottle and I brought one home to add to my collection.

The fourth and final Pinot was the 2008 Hawk Hill Pinot Noir. All of the grapes are hand-harvested early in the morning and immediately transported to the winery where they were hand-sorted before being de-stemmed and transferred without pumping into small (2.5 and 5 ton) open-top fermenters. This de-stemmed fruit was then cold-soaked for 7-8 days at 50°F before allowing native yeast fermentation to begin. Each fermentation was punched down by hand 2 to 4 times per day as needed. Total skin contact time was 14-18 days depending on the lot. The new wines were then drained (with skins gently basket-pressed) and lightly settled overnight, then put into barrels where the secondary, malolactic fermentation occurred. Racking was minimal, with aging on light lees until the final blend was assembled. This wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered. On the nose it is bolder than the previous Pinots with wild blueberries, blackcurrants, red plums, strawberries and a hint of anise. On the palate it has superb balance of acidity and silty tannins. It is a great wine but there are many like it in the $45-$55 range on the market. Yet this wine sells for $70 a bottle!

To visit or for more information:

Lynmar Estate Winery
3909 Frei Road  
Sebastopol, CA 95472
Phone: 707-829-3374

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Merry Edwards Winery – The Queen of Pinot in Sebastopol, California

 Merry Edwards, who is well known as the “Queen of Pinot,” is one of California’s first female winemakers. She began her career as a winemaker at Mount Eden Vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1974. She went on to become the founding winemaker at Matanzas Creek in 1977 and remained there until 1984. For the next decade, Merry consulted for numerous wineries, large and small, in Oregon and many diverse appellations of California. Along the way she has done Pinot Noir clonal research and responsible for the Mt Eden clone.

 In 1997, she founded Merry Edwards Winery which specializes in Burgundian varietals with a focus on the unique terroir of the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast. Today Merry and her husband, Ken Coopersmith, now manage five estate vineyards: Coopersmith, Cresta d’Oro, Flax, Georganne and Meredith. They also maintain collaborative relationships with several other dedicated growers to supplement this estate production. In 2001, a barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc blend was added to the portfolio.

 In 2008 Merry and Ken completed their state-of-the-art boutique winery facility on the site of Coopersmith Vineyard where visitors can receive a personal introduction to their wines in the very tiny tasting room. I really enjoy this small party tasting which allows for a lot of interaction with the very knowledgeable host. 

While the wines themselves are a bit pricy the tasting is free. So, if you consider the average charge in the Napa Valley for tasting alone (which range from $10-$65 but most are around $25) and the average price of high scoring Napa Valley wines ($55+) and compare it with the averaged cost of the free tasting and price Merry Edwards’ wines, they are actually very fairly priced considering the high scores they receive from well known and popular wine critics.

While visiting I tasted the following wines:

My first wine was the 2009 Russian River Pinot Noir. This is a fairly dark ruby wine with big ripe aromas of black cherries, plums, and cinnamon. On the palate it has more tannin than what you might expect from a Pinot and fairly high acidity followed by a medium (+) length finish. A really nice wine for $42 a bottle.

The second pour was the 2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. A light ruby colored wine that exudes fresh cherries and cedar. On the palate it is softer and lighter than the previous wine and is definitely read to drink NOW. The wine probably should have been poured first and it is moderately priced at $36 a bottle.

The third wine was the 2009 Georganne Vineyard Pinot Noir. This wine is similar in appearance to the previous wine but on the nose and palate it exudes Bing cherries, hints of anise and a wafting smokiness. On the palate has fresh acidity, subtle refined tannins and a medium (+) length finish. This wine sells for $54 a bottle.

The fourth and final Pinot was my favorite in the line-up, the 2009 Klopp Ranch Pinot Noir. This wine is darker in appearance than the previous wines with red plums, pomegranate, strawberries and a hint of oak on the nose with supple tannins and good acidity on the palate and a medium (+) length finish. This wine sells for $54 a bottle and I brought one home to add to my collection.

The final wine of the visit was the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc. This is a refreshing wine with pronounced floral and tropical aromas followed by stone fruits, fresh lemon, white grapefruit and a hint of chalk. On the palate it is surprisingly soft lacking the sharp crisp acidity that I look for in a Sauvignon Blanc. This wine sells for $30, which is twice the price of comparable wines on the market. While Merry Edwards makes great Pinots, I’d have to say “pass” on this one.

To visit or for more information:

Merry Edwards Winery
2959 Gravenstein Highway North
Sebastopol, CA 95472
Phone: 707-823-7466, 1-888-388-9050

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mauritson Wines – The Home of Rockpile Zinfandel in Healdsburg, California

After seeing Clay Mauritson on last week’s episode of The Wine Down (episode #38) I was inspired to travel to the Dry Creek Valley to visit the Mauritson  Family Winery and sample the wines mentioned on the show. If you have not seen this episode you can check out here or on The Lip TV’s web site:

The Mauritson family has been growing grapes in Dry Creek Valley since the late 1800’s, initially selling their fruit to other wineries. Six generations and 130 years later, they decided to begin making wine under the Mauritson family name.
 The current generation’s great-great-great grandfather S.P. Hallengren, a grape growing pioneer in the Rockpile region, first planted vines in 1884, and then shipped his wine back to Sweden which wasn’t a particularly profitable business model. But by the early 1960’s the family homestead and ranch grew to 4,000 acres when all but 700 ridgetop acres was “acquired” (stolen by the U.S. government under eminent domain) by the Army Corps of Engineers in order to develop Lake Sonoma. Those vineyards originally planted are now under water.

For the next 30 years, the Rockpile property was primarily used for sheep grazing.

Clay Mauritson and his brothers grew up on the family farm working around the winery. But unlike his brothers Clay had no desire to stay in the family business when he went off to college. However, after returning from college in the mid 1990s he had a revived desire to work in the wine industry and yet remain independent from the family business. So, he went to work for other wineries to learn the trade of winery operations by working for Kenwood (who was a client that bought fruit from his family), Taft Street and Dry Creek Vineyards.
 Then Clay was ready to return to the family business and in 1998 he released the inaugural Mauritson Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel. Clay's wife Carrie soon joined him, leading the family business’ marketing operations. Soon after that inaugural release, they then planted 34 acres of Rockpile vineyards in eight distinct blocks. The combination of low air moisture, poor soils, and moderate temperatures proved to be ideal for growing superior grapes which quickly began to be noticed by many wine producers. The Rockpile AVA was then established in 2002.
 The family vineyard includes 120 acres in Alexander Valley, 110 acres in Dry Creek Valley, and 40 acres in Rockpile. They also have close relationships with longtime growers throughout Sonoma County, which enables them to source and manage their preferred blocks from each vineyard throughout the growing season and select the most premium fruit during harvest. Their wine portfolio includes Dry Creek Zinfandel, Grower's Reserve Zinfandel, Dry Creek Sauvignon Blanc, Alexander Valley Chardonnay, Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon, Rockpile Zinfandel, Rockpile Petite Sirah, Syrah and Rockpile Port-styled wine made from the traditional Portuguese varietals.
 While visiting the humble but inviting tasting room which was opened in April 2004 I sampled the following wines:

The first wine was the 2011 Rosé, Rockpile Vineyard. This wine is made in the Saignée method  in which a red wine intensified by bleeding lighter juice from the grape must which is then made into a Rosé. This wine is a blend of 33% Cabernet, 31% Malbec, 25% Merlot, and 11% Cab Franc from the Rockpile “Buck Pasture” Vineyard and the “Gloeckner/Turner” Vineyard. It was fermented 100% in Stainless Steel and then aged 6 months in 50% Stainless Steel and 50% used French Oak. On the nose and palate I picked up fresh cranberries, strawberry candy and watermelon. On the palate the wine is dry and crisp with fairly high acidity and no tannins with a fairly lengthy finish.  Rarely in California do wineries make Rosés from Bordeaux varietals so this is truly a unique wine that sells for $19 a bottle and if I didn’t already have a large collection of Rosés I would have brought one home.

The second pour was the 2010 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, a blend of 97% Zinfandel and 3% Petite Sirah from both Estate and sourced vineyards. This wine spent 14 months in 80% French and 20% American oak barrels. On the nose it has aromas of BIG fresh black and red berries followed by Hawaiian Fruit Punch. On the palate it has more dried fruits, plums, blackberry jam and black licorice. The wine is dry but fruit forward with medium tannins and a fairly lengthy finish. Although it has 15.2 % alcohol by volume it is well balanced with no heat. This is a classic Dry Creek Zin and it sells for $29 a bottle

The third sample was the 2010 Rockpile Zinfandel, Rockpile Ridge Vineyard. A blend of 95% Zinfandel and 5% Petite Sirah this wine spent 15 months in 50% French and 50% American oak barrels. This Zin is distinctly different from the previous wine. Whereas the first Zin had a Fruit Punch character to it, this one displays a blend of black cherry pie, blackberries and spice. On the palate it is bigger, rounder and more full-bodied with drying tannins and a hint of vanilla on the tail end with a medium length finish. Although it is slightly higher than the previous Zin at 15.5% alcohol by volume, it is well balanced with no heat. Both Zins are really well made but I’ve got plenty in my cellar. This wine sells for $37 a bottle.

The fourth pour was the 2009 Rockpile Cabernet Sauvignon, Rockpile Ridge Vineyard. This wine is a Bordeaux blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot, and 1% Malbec. It spent 22 months in 97% French and 3% American oak barrels. This wine is ruby red with dominant aromas of licorice and eucalyptus notes up front with delayed notes of black currants and dusty cocoa in the background. On the palate it has BIG mouth drying tannins, high acid with black fruits, black currants, and bitter chocolate dominating the palate. This wine seems WAY too young to be drunk now and needs more time for the flavors to develop and become more integrated. I have no doubt it will dramatically improve with age. This wine sells for $47 a bottle.

My final wine was the most unique in the line-up, the 2009 Rockpile “Independence” Red Wine, a blend of 25% Tinta Cão, 25% Touriga Nacional, 25% Sousão, 25% Tinta Madeira. This wine was aged 20 months in 80% French and 20% American oak barrels. The grapes for this wine were crushed via being foot stomped in the traditional Portuguese fashion. It is ruby red and it stains the glass when swirled. On the nose it has black and red fruits, blueberries, blackberries, figs and vanilla. On the palate is only semi-sweet, with good acidity and it has a silky-velvety feel on the mid palate. They call this wine a “port” and yet other than a slight sweetness (3% R/S) and 18.3% alcohol by volume it doesn’t have the texture, viscosity or heaviness of traditional ports.  If you’re looking for a sweeter red wine that isn’t as overbearing as many ports can be, this is a great wine for $35 a bottle. So, I took one home to share with friends.

 To visit or for more information:

Mauritson Family Wines
2859 Dry Creek Road
Healdsburg, California 95448
Phone: 1-707-431-0804

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Alexander Valley Vineyards – The Home of Cyrus Alexander in Alexander Valley, California

During my recent trip to the Alexander Valley two weeks ago, after visiting Lancaster Estate and Field Stone Winery, I ate lunch and then visited my third and final winery of the day - Alexander Valley Vineyard.

The valley and the winery were named after the 19th century pioneer and explorer Cyrus Alexander. A native of Pennsylvania before coming to California, Cyrus was a fur trapper in the Rockies and then later was involved in gold mining in California. In 1840 he was hired by a Captain Fitch to find several thousand acres suitable for ranching. So, at the age of 35 Cyrus Alexander rode horseback from San Diego to the Alexander Valley where he acquired the land from the Mexican government. Fitch then asked Alexander to establish and manage the ranch where he bred thousands of horses as well as large herds of cattle and sheep. As a reward for his labors Cyrus was given a large parcel of land on the eastern side of the Russian River, later named the Alexander Valley, where he built a home for his large family on a knoll alongside a creek. He also went on to build the valley’s first schoolhouse.

The estate remained in the Alexander family until 1962 when it was purchased by Harry and Maggie Wetzel. Today, the house built by Cyrus Alexander is the home of the Wetzel family, and the schoolhouse is now the Wetzels’ guest house. But the Alexanders are still at the winery. Up on a hill, under a huge oak tree behind the winery as Cyrus and Rufina Alexander are buried along with five of their ten children. Not far away in Healdsburg, is the George Alexander House, a Queen Anne Victorian house built in 1905 by Cyrus’ tenth child, George, and his wife, Nellie. Today it serves as an ornamented bed and breakfast inn.

After purchasing the property, the Wetzel family then restored the residence and planted the property with premium grape varieties establishing Alexander Valley Vineyards. The winery is a family-run business with Hank Wetzel, the oldest son of Maggie and Harry, serving as the winemaker. In 1974 Hank earned a B.S. in Fermentation Science from the University of California, Davis. For his senior project, he developed a plan for a small winery, which became the blueprint for Alexander Valley Vineyards.

As winery construction commenced in 1975, Hank’s wife Linda set up Alexander Valley Vineyards’ accounting system. She and Hank were the only employees, so she helped with the first harvest later that year. With the arrival of her first child in 1976, Linda assumed dual roles, managing the office while raising her family, balancing the needs of business and babies. Hank and Linda’s four children grew up with Alexander Valley Vineyards, in their home next door to the winery.

Hank’s younger sister, Katie Wetzel Murphy, joined the family business in 1979. She serves as ambassador for the family business traveling the country representing the winery. Now the third generation of Wetzels has joined the winery with Harry Wetzel IV serving as the assistant winemaker while younger brother Robert is the National Sales Manager.

The Wetzel Family Estate now grows 14 grape varieties, cultivated on 150 prime acres of diverse sites stretching from the banks of the Russian River up onto the hillsides. Alexander Valley Vineyards produces 100,000 cases annually, 17 varietal wines and proprietary blends. Seventy-five percent of Alexander Valley Vineyards’ production is red wine. Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon constitute roughly half of total production. Other varietals include Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Gewurztraminer, Syrah, Sangiovese, Viognier, and Cabernet Franc. Cyrus, a limited production, proprietary red wine, named in honor of the pioneer Cyrus Alexander, is Alexander Valley Vineyards’ flagship wine.

The tasting room has an extensive portfolio and while visiting I sampled the following wines:

My first wine was the 2008 Alluvia, a co-fermented blend of Syrah, Viognier and Grenache. This wine is light ruby in color with fresh cherries, orange peel and licorice on the nose. On the palate it is medium bodied, has medium tannins and fairly high acidity. It is a welcomed nice alternative to the run-of-the-mill mélange of red wines on the market. This wine sells for $35 a bottle.

My second wine was 2006 Big Barrel Syrah. On the nose I picked up dried black fruits, beef jerky, forest floor, leather and a hint of herbs. On the palate it has BIG gum gripping tannins and high acidity. This wine sells for $35 a bottle.

The third white sample was the 2009 Primativo, a blend of 75% Primativo and 25% Zinfandel. This wine displays fresh cherries, brown sugar, and spice. On the palate it has good acidity and displays dried black fruits on the finish. A nice wine but a bit pricy at $40 a bottle.

The fourth wine pour was 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a dusty-earthy wine with black fruits, anise, and a hint of mint on the nose. On the palate this wine displays dried fruits, toasted oak and has BIG tannins with a firm grip. This wine sells for $40 a bottle.

My next pour was the 2005 Cyrus, a blend of 76% Cabernet sauvignon, 10% Cab Franc, 2% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot. On the nose I picked up cassis, black cherries, dark chocolate, anise and dried herbs. After 7 years of ageing this wine still displays big tannins on the palate and good acidity so you could drink it now or hold on to it for a few more years. A nice wine but not competitively priced at $65 a bottle.

My next pour was the 2006 Cyrus, a blend of 58% Cabernet sauvignon, 5% Cab Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot. Still youthful in appearance, this wine is deep garnet and violet in color with aromas of dried currants, duty earth, forest floor, cigar box, and black olives. On the palate it is dry with supple tannins, medium-full bodied with a long earthy finish. This wine sells for $65 a bottle.

My final sample in the line-up from the tasting room was the 2007 Cyrus, a blend of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. This wine is garnet in color and on the nose it displays blackberries, new leather, dark chocolate, caramel and a hint of anise. On the palate this wine has BIG tannins that are astringent and have a lot of grip. Undoubtedly this wine needs some more time in the bottle before it calms down or a big fat steak to bring it into balance. A nice wine for $55 a bottle. If I were in the market to buy a BIG Meritage, of the three vintages of Cyrus that I tasted I’d buy this one.
I then did a tour of the wine cave where I was afforded the opportunity to do barrel sample tasting of their Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and the Cyrus from both American and French barrels. Unfortunately, because the cave is dimly lit and having my hands busy carrying a wine glass and spitting cup I wasn’t able to take any notes. But, in general I’d say I was a lot more impressed with the barrel samples for although the tannins were extremely gripping the wines were very fresh and vibrant.

To visit or for more information:

Alexander Valley Vineyards
8644 Highway 128
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Tasting room hours: Daily 10 am – 5 pm (except major holidays)
Cave tours are available daily at 11 am and 2 pm.
Phone: 1-800-888-7209; 1-707-433-7209

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Field Stone Winery – The Home of Old Vine Petite Sirah in Alexander Valley

After I visited Lancaster Estate I headed down the road to Field Stone Winery, the home of old vine Petite Sirah. The Field Stone Winery and vineyard estate is located just 7 miles from Healdsburg and 14 miles from Calistoga on Highway 128, which links northern Sonoma County to the Napa Valley.

118+ Year Old Peite Sirah Vines

The site of Field Stone Winery was originally founded by Wallace Johnson who was a graduate from Cal Tech and a mechanical engineer who manufactured many of his own inventions. He also served as the Mayor of Berkeley, California. During his term of service he utilized the “cut and cover” technique to build the Bart system in the city of Berkeley.
In the 1960’s Wallace purchased the site which at the time was just an old back roads farm with an old white farmhouse in the middle of an overgrown 10 acre Petite Sirah vineyard adjacent to a dilapidated redwood barn. After purchasing the property Wallace’s first goal was to revive its vineyard. In 1964 and 1965 Wallace hand-harvested and sold the Petite Sirah grapes to Lee Stewart, the vineyard consultant and vintner of the original Souverain Winery on the Howell Mountain slopes of Napa Valley (now Burgess Cellars). Both Stewart and Wallace were pleased with the results, which motivated him to further develop the vineyard property beyond the remnant of the Prohibition restricted 10 acres.

Wallace then the restored the old redwood barn and century-old farmhouse which was the home and farm office of the first Italian family that planted the vineyard and barn in 1894. During the vineyard planting Wallace hired a carpenter to raise the historical “Ghost Winery” barn.
Wallace also designed and built the winery which is a unique stone structure that is embedded into the hillside. The technical concept of the winery is an old one and you’ll see it in many like in older historic pre-Prohibition California wineries. Rather than using extreme stress to press grapes, the winery is designed to utilize gravity flow to gently press (not “crush”) the grapes. Once the grapes are harvested they can be taken immediately to the winery to be pressed via their own weight utilizing the force of gravity and then drained into a cold, underground stainless steel fermenter. In contrast, when modern high-end winemaking equipment (including pumps) are used, while they do a very good job of treating the grape berries gently, winemakers still need to carefully monitor the process to ensure that the berries are being broken open without crushing the seeds and that only an acceptable level of MOG (Matter Other than Grapes) is making it through to the fermentation tanks. Another advantage of the design is that being a stone facility imbedded into the hillside and mostly underground it is like a wine cave. Therefore winery has a naturally cool environment so it does not require energy an extraneous amount of energy to keep the wine at desired temperatures.

When Wallace suddenly died from a stroke in 1979 at 66 years old, the winery then became the property of the Reverend Dr. John Staten, a Presbyterian minister, and his wife Katrina Staten - the daughter of Wallace Johnson. The Rev. Dr. John Staten received his B.A. in history and philosophy from Stanford University in 1960, and then attended Princeton Theology Seminary to study ancient biblical languages and literature. Following the receipt of his master’s degree from Princeton, he entered the University of Chicago in 1964 to study for his Ph.D in Theology. His book entitled Conscience and the Reality of God, was published by Mouton de Gruyter in Berlin. Upon inheriting the winery, John then added “winemaker” to his list of titles, becoming one of the few theologian-vintners in the wine business.

After tasting and being pleased with the 1977-80 vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah with these Bordeaux and Rhône varietals, John then planted a new Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard using budwood from three renowned Napa plantings (BV1, the source for Beaulieu Vineyard’s George de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet, the May Family Vineyard, the source of Joe Heitz’s acclaimed “Martha’s Vineyard” Cabernet, and the Old Niebaum vineyard block, the source of the early Niebaum estate Cabernets). This 41 year old vineyard and its heritage clones are the source for the winery’s award-winning Staten Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.Subsequently, in the 1990’s three Merlot clones were planted in the red rocky soil alongside the Petite Sirah vineyard. In addition Syrah and Viognier were planted at the recommendation of André Tchelistcheff. The Merlot vineyard was then named, in his honor, the “Tchelistcheff Vineyard.” In the late 1990’s, John and his son Ben Staten, who serves as the winery’s vineyard manager, added Sangiovese Grosso (Brunello di Montalcino clone), to their estate vineyard.

The tasting room has an extensive portfolio and while visiting I sampled the following wines:

My first wine was the 2010 Vineyard Select Gewürztraminer – Russian River - Floodgate Vineyard. The wine is very floral on the nose and dry on the palate, very soft and creamy but with refreshing acidity and a medium length finish. This wine sells for $19 a bottle.

My second white wine was the 2010 Vineyard Select Sauvignon Blanc – Alexander Valley – Redwood Ranch. Somewhat muted on the nose, on the palate it has notes of lemon-lime and a hint of herbs. Otherwise it is somewhat “blah” and boring, lacking any refreshing qualities that one should expect from this varietal. This is surprising considering that their neighbors (Lancaster and White Oak) both produce phenomenal Sauvignon Blancs. This wine sells for $20 a bottle.

The third white wine sample was the 2010 “Staten Family Family Reserve” Viognier – Alexander Valley – Estate Bottled. I am a BIG fan of Viognier, but not of this one. It has mild floral aromas on the nose but on the palate it only has some mild stone fruit and it lacks vibrancy.  It also seemed to be served a bit too warm which may have been contributing factor to its less than stellar appeal. This wine sells for $25 a bottle.

The fourth white wine pour was 2009 Vineyard Select Chardonnay – Russian River – Hopkins River Ranch. On the nose I picked up BUTTER, butterscotch, caramel, and dried peaches. On the palate it is well balanced, not overly oaked and has notes of hazelnut on the finish. A definite improvement over the previous wines but at $25 a bottle there are many like it in the $10-$15 range.

My next pour was the 2011 Vineyard Select Rosé of Petite Sirah – Alexander Valley – Heritage Rock. This wine is made from their 118+ year old vines. This wine is bright pink and on the nose it has aromas of cranberries, watermelon and a hint of spice. On the palate it tastes of dark black fruits as well as pomegranate and it has good acidity and a lengthy finish. I have a collection of Rosés made from Grenache, Syrah, Zinfandel, Cab/Merlot and Pinot Noir. This was my first made from Petite Sirah and I took one home to add to my collection for $20.

As I said, Field Stone has a very long profile of wines so keep in mind that I am spitting into a cup and drinking water along the way…

My first red wine was the 2009 Sangiovese – Alexander Valley. On the nose I picked up dark cherries, dust, cinnamon stick and dried plums. On the palate the nose is carried through. However, Sangiovese is normally a very acidic wine yet this one seemed rather flat. This wine sells for $25 a bottle.

My second red wine sample was the 2008 Vineyard Select Merlot – Alexander Valley – Andre’s Block. This wine displays dark cherries, baker’s chocolate, toasted oak and pie crust on the nose. On the palate is full bodied with supple tannins but like several other of their wines, it lacks vibrancy and freshness and is kind of just “there.” This wine sells for $25 a bottle.

The third red wine pour was the 2010 Vineyard Select Syrah – Alexander Valley – Marion’s Block. This wine is really dark and inky displaying blackberries, cherries, plums, dried fruits and herbs. On the palate it is really dry and has tannins that will make your teeth stick to your gums which should mellow out in a year or two. A remarkable improvement over the previous wine, it sells for $25 a bottle.

My fourth red wine sample was the 2008 Vineyard Select Cabernet Sauvignon – Alexander Valley – Wally’s Block. This is a big earthy, dusty wine with black fruits (currant, blackberry) and dark chocolate on the nose and palate. On the palate it is surprisingly soft with a medium length finish, so it may be at the “drink me now” stage and not intended for ageing. This wine sells $30 a bottle.

The fifth red wine pour was the 2008 “Staten Family Family Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon – Alexander Valley – Estate Bottled. Similar in fruit character to the previous cab with additional notes of black licorice and oak. On the palate it has really good tannin structure and acidity. In fact the tannins have a lot of grip so this wine should age well. This wine sells for $40 a bottle.

My sixth red wine sample was the 2008 “Staten Family Family Reserve” Petite Sirah – Alexander Valley – Estate Bottled. The grapes from this wine come from their 118+ year old vines. This wine is dark, inky and stains the glass when swirled. On the nose it has intense blackberries, plums, dark cherries and black licorice. On the palate it has refined tannins that have a bit of grip on the gums and really good acidity. I’d say this is their best wine in the line-up and is fairly priced at $35 a bottle.

My final sample in the line-up was the 2008 “Staten Family Family Reserve” Petite Sirah Vintage Port– Alexander Valley – Estate Bottled.  This wine is also made from their 118+ year old vines. This wine displays blackberries, dark chocolate and has surprisingly good acid and tannin structure. It is deliciously SWEET but not syrupy and has a lot of heat on the finish. An enjoyable Port-like wine but a bit steep at $50 a bottle.

To visit or for more information:

Field Stone Winery
10075 Highway 128
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Phone: 1-707-433-7266; 1-800-54-GRAPE (1-800-544-7273)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Lancaster Estate – A Premium Winery in Alexander Valley, California

This past weekend I made my third visit to the Anderson Valley wine country. I first toured this area in July 2011 when I visited Robert Young Winery and more recently I visited the old vines of Sausal Vineyards and White Oak Winery.
The valley has a similar climate and scenery as the Napa and Sonoma Valleys with beautiful rolling hills and oak tree lined vineyards. The most noticeable difference is that this beautiful countryside is less traveled by tourists, even though it has easy freeway access to Highway 101. But as soon as you get off the freeway and head east, you find yourself immediately traveling down beautiful narrow winding oak tree lined roads interspersed with horse ranches, farms and old barns.
My first stop in the Anderson Valley this past weekend was at Lancaster Estate, a family owned winery dedicated to producing estate grown and bottled Bordeaux varietal wines. Tucked away in the canyons and valleys of the Chalk Hill wine trail, Lancaster features picturesque hillsides, a modern wine production facility with a comfortable tasting room. The winery also features an impressive wine cave with an additional seating rooms where visitors can sample a selection of wines after taking a tour. The estate was previously Maacama Creek Winery but in 1995 the Lancaster family purchased this absolutely spectacular vineyard and then built the current facilities.
The first wine which I sampled in the tasting room was the 2011 Samantha’s Sauvignon Blanc which is named in honor of the owner’s daughter. This wine is aged in stainless steel and French Oak to retain brightness and expression of fruit. This wine is very aromatic and on the palate it is light, crisp and refreshing with layers of lemon zest, grapefruit and tropical notes followed by a very long finish. An excellent wine which sells for $30 a bottle.
After sampling the Sauvignon Blanc I did a tour of vineyards with Mike Madigan who is one of the most knowledgeable winery tour-guides I’ve ever met – a real professional. It is not uncommon to visit tasting rooms in which the server/host doesn’t know anything about wine other than how to pour wine into a glass. Mike is the exception, he knows all about the winery’s history, the vineyard’s soils, the varietal clones... you name it. We drove up into the hills to over look the vineyards and then did a tour of the wine cave where I sampled the following estate red wines:

The first was the 2008 Sophia's Hillside Cuvée 2008. This wine is fruit forward with layers of ripe black cherry, black currants, chocolate, black licorice and vanilla with a hint of dried herbs. On the palate it has soft chewy tannins, is well structured and has a medium length finish. A superb ready-to-drink-now wine, I brought a bottle home for $42.

I then sampled two wines side by side, the 2007 and 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. The ’07 is 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Malbec, 9% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petite Verdot. The ’08 is 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Malbec, 2% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petite Verdot. The ’07 has big fresh fruit on the nose with Bing cherries, blackberries, currants and cocoa powder. This is a very exciting and racy wine that is fresh and lively on the nose with supple and refined tannins on the palate and great acidity. The ’08 is earthier and dustier and yet is very intriguing with layers of evolving dark black fruits, black licorice and mint. On the palate it has chewy tannins and seems more old-world and Bordeaux-like than the ‘07. While both wines were spectacular, I preferred the second Cab and brought one home to add to my collection for $70.
 Having visited seven wineries in the area, I can confidently say that Lancaster Estate is head and shoulders above their neighbors. They are truly producing world class wines and the tour and service is absolutely outstanding. But, if you’d like to visit the Estate you’ll need reservations. To contact or for more information:

Lancaster Estate
15001 Chalk Hill Road
Healdsburg, CA  95448
Phone: 1-707-433-8178