Monday, February 25, 2013

Bennett Lane Winery – Mustard Flowers in the Calistoga Vineyards

The forecast for this past weekend was sunny with clear skies and mid-day temperatures in the low 60’s – perfect for doing wine country photography during the Mustard Season. So I returned to the Napa Valley in search of a winery that has vineyards blooming with mustard flowers and yet one that I had never been to before, or at least had never reviewed. 

Since the year 2000 I have visited 121 wineries in the Napa Valley but many of those were before I began this blog, photography and videos. There are also many vineyards in the valley that have beautiful vineyards laden with the golden wild flowers but they are not associated with a specific winery. Of course there are also many wineries that I have not visited but don’t have any mustard flowers so I’ll sample their wines some other day. 

Searching for a “new” winery to visit was a bit of a challenge but as I drove into Calistoga I noticed that there were several wineries with mustard flower in their vineyards that had not been there just a couple weeks ago. I visited some of these wineries many years ago, but had not reviewed them. So for the next couple weeks if we continue to have sun and clear skies I’ll be revisiting and reviewing these wineries.

After driving through the valley up highway 29, I passed through Calistoga (the most northern end of the valley) and decided to keep on driving just to see if there was anything of interest. To my surprise and sheer delight I came across Bennett Lane Winery where the vineyards were exploding with mustard flowers. Back in 2003 I visited the tasting room shortly after they had opened. The winery is located at the northernmost end of the Napa Valley, where the valley floor meets an intersection of the Vaca Mountain Range and the Mayacamas Mountains. So not only did the vineyards have plenty of flowers but the mountains are provide a beautiful background in the picture. The winery itself is done in a hacienda-style and has a large water fountain in the front.

The winery is owned by Randy and Lisa Lynch who purchased Bennett Lane Winery in 2003. He formerly raced NASCAR and now owns his own NASCAR West race-car team, and on occasion a race car is on the winery premises.

While visiting I sampled the following wines:

The first pour was the 2009 Reserve Chardonnay. On the nose I picked up pears, apples, cream, butter and vanilla with underlying tropical notes of mango and pineapple. On the palate this wine is rich and creamy, medium (+) bodied with crisp acidity and a prolonged finish. Definitely a full-malolactic style wine and yet the butter isn’t over the top and all the various components are well balanced and harmoniously integrated. A really nice Chard for $45 a bottle.

The second sample was my favorite in the line-up, the 2008 Maximus. A proprietary blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 14% Syrah and 4% Cabernet Franc this wine has pronounced ripe fruit aromas of cherries, cassis, and boysenberries. On the palate it is fruit forward with refined velvety tannins, refreshing acidity, it is medium (+) bodied with a prolonged finish. It is an explosive wine that reminds me of St. Francis’ Claret which is also made up of Bordeaux varietals but it has Zinfandel rather than Syrah in the blend. In comparrision this wine has a lot more “umph” and costs a bit more at $35 bottle. Yet it tastes more like a $50 a bottle. I liked this wine so much that I brought two of them home.

The third wine was the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine has pronounced aromas of plums, dark cherries, black currants and chocolate with a touch of earthiness. On the palate it is fruit forward on entry followed by a velvety mid palate transition and then it has a prolonged cocoa and dark chocolate finish. It is full bodied with firm and yet supple tannins and medium acidity and a prolonged follow through on the finish. A great wine but a bit steep at $55 a bottle.

The final pour was the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose on this Cab is not as pronounced as the ‘06 and it has more fruity aromas of cherries, red currants and just a hint of black licorice. On the palate it is fruit forward, medium bodied, it has refined tannins and bright acidity. Whereas the ’06 is darker and earthier this one is more delicate. I prefer the ’06 to this wine which sells for the same price at $55 a bottle. But, it would be interesting to revisit this wine in 2015 and see how it develops.

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

To visit or for more information:

Bennett Lane Winery
3340 Highway 128
Calistoga, CA 94515
Phone: 1-707-942-6684 / 1-877-629-6272

Monday, February 18, 2013

2013 Mustard Season Napa Valley




 St. Helena


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Cosentino Winery – Yountville, California

 Vineyard Across the Street from Cosentino Winery and Mustards Restaurant

Having spent the previous Saturday scouting out the Napa Valley for the best place to photograph mustard flower laden vineyards, visiting a winery in St. Helena and another in Calistoga, I decided to return to spend several hours focusing on just taking more pictures. The difficulty was, having visited 121 wineries in the valley since the year 2000 there were few wineries with the wild flowers that I had not already visited. But, I couldn’t leave the valley without visiting at least one tasting room. So, I decided to visit Cosentino Winery which is adjacent to the Mustards restaurant and across from one of the most flower laden vineyards with very gnarly vines.

Cosentino Winery was founded by Mitch Cosentino in 1980 with its inaugural vintage released in 1981. The wines were produced from small lots of grapes acquired from some of the leading growers of California’s North Coast counties including Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake, and Sacramento Counties under the labels of Cosentino Wine Company and Crystal Valley Cellars. Today they produce a limited production of wines with a focus on Bordeaux varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot as well as two Meritage blends (The Poet and The Novelist). They also produce Burgundian varietals such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as well as Sangiovese and Zinfandel. In 1989 Cosentino’s release of “The Poet” (1986 vintage), was one of America’s first designated and licensed Meritage Bordeaux-blend wines. Today, there are over 200 other wineries producing Meritage style wines.

In 1990 Cosentino Winery moved to its current located in Yountville and began its quest to establish long term relationships with the valley’s top vineyards. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s Cosentino Winery grew in quality and reputation. But then due to financial difficulty the 70,000-case winery closed its doors and was subsequently purchased by the Santa Rosa-based Vintage Wine Estates. They then brought back the founder Mitch Cosentino to help stabilize the brand.[1]

While visiting I sampled the following wines:

The first pour was the 2011 Barrel Select Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast. On the nose this wine is very fresh and fruit-forward with aromas of strawberries, raspberries, pomegranates, cinnamon and spice. On the palate it is medium bodied, with medium + acidity and it has a very long finish. If you prefer your Pinots to be on the earthy, mushroomy side (as I do) this wine is not for you but if you like fresh, bright, crisp fruity Pinots this wine will suit your palate. This wine sells for $40 a bottle.

The second sample was the 2006 Estate Merlot. On the nose this wine has explosive fruit with pronounced aromas of black cherries, ripe plums, and milk chocolate. On the palate it is extremely soft and round with good acidity and a medium length finish. This wine is so approachable and easy-to-drink that it would be very easy to finish an entire bottle. If you know someone who says they don’t like red wines because of the harshness of tannins, then this wine is for them. Personally, I would prefer more tannin, more backbone and a wine that has enough structure to stand up for a hearty steak. This wine sells for $50 a bottle.

The third wine was the 2008 “Poet”, a Meritage blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet franc, 15% Merlot. In comparison to the previous pours, the nose on this wine wasn’t very expressive with muted aromas of black currants, black cherries and a faint hint of mint. On the palate it is shockingly soft with medium (-) tannins, medium acidity and a medium length finish. I was underwhelmed by this wine that previously sold for $65 a bottle but now sells for $45.

The final wine was the 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. On the nose I picked up subtle notes of black cherries, black currants and a hint of mint. On the palate it is fruit forward, slightly sweet, extremely soft but it has good acidity and a medium (+) length finish. A nice wine but there are many like it on the market for far less than $80 a bottle.

Overall, I would characterize Cosentino’s wines as fruit-forward, soft, and easily approachable. But for me they are too soft and lack the structure and back bone that I look for and expect from expensive Napa Valley premium wines.

To visit or for more information:

Cosentino Winery

7415 Saint Helena Highway

Yountville, CA, 94599

Local Telephone: (707) 921-2809

Toll Free: 1-800-764-1220

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Acacia Vineyard – Mustard Season in Carneros, California

After driving through the 30 miles of the Napa Valley (from Carneros to Calistoga), taking pictures of the vineyards most heavily populated with mustard flower vineyards along the way and visiting Hetiz Cellar, I headed back south to Los Carneros to do some wine tasting at Acacia Vineyard. The winery is located in the back roads of Carneros, just two miles from San Francisco’s San Pablo Bay which provides a cool climate with summer fog needed for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Acacia was founded in 1979 by Michael Richmond. Then in 1986 the winery was sold to the Chalone Wine Group which was then acquired by Diageo Chateaux & Estates.[1] Since the 1990s, Acacia’s annual production has been around 55,000 cases, with the majority being Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and around 1,000 cases of sparkling wine. Acacia also produces an economy priced “fruit bomb” line called Caviste Wines which you can find at World Market for about $10.

The winery is built with a utilitarian architecture. While it isn’t very esthetically pleasing it seems very efficient for winemaking. The tasting room is small but the facility has garage-like roll up doors that provide convenient access to surrounding 42-acres of the Marina Vineyard. In fact, immediately behind the tasting room is the barrel room and in the adjacent room are the towering fermentation tanks, destemmers and various other types of wine-making equipment. So, if you’re not bellied up to the simple tasting bar or standing at oak barrel being used as a table you’ll more than likely sample their wines in the production area. They also have one small outdoor seating area in the parking lot.

While visiting I sampled the following wines:

My first sample was the 2010 Winery Lake Estate Chardonnay. All grapes were whole cluster-pressed and barrel-fermented for 10 months and aged Sur-lie.  On the nose I picked up subtle notes of lemon curd, pears, apples, and a hint of butter. On the palate it is very crisp with medium ++ acidity, medium body, it is well balanced with a very long finish. If you don’t like the stereotypical California oaky Chards and find the stainless-steel Chardonnays to be too austere, this this wine is for you and it is reasonably priced at $35 a bottle.

The second pour was the 2010 Russian River Chardonnay. This wine is barrel fermented and aged Sur-lie. After 14 months in barrel, the wine was first cold stabilized, then sterile filtered and bottled. The profile of this wine is significantly different from the previous Chardonnay with more tropical fruits, melon, coconut, a hint of marshmallow and popcorn on the nose. On the palate it has more body, and has a fuller, rounder mouth-feel with medium + weight. It has a medium length finish and while it has noticeable California styled oak-influence and butteryness, it isn’t over the top. Another really nice wine, this one sells for $45 a bottle.

 Lone Tree Vineyard

The third sample and first red was the 2010 Winery Lake Estate Pinot Noir. This wine is made from a blend of four clones; the Swan clone, the Hanzel clone, the Mt. Eden clone, and the Pommard clone. This wine displays a classic Carneros profile with notes of strawberries, raspberries, and a hint of spice. On the palate it has medium + acidity, medium tannins and a medium length. A nice wine for $49 but there are many like it on the market for $30-$35.

The fourth wine was the 2009 Redding Ranch Pinot Noir, Marin County. On the nose this wine displays a hint of smoke, bacon fat and a potpourri floral bouquet with a hint of spice. It reminds me of a spicy Christmas candle. On the palate it has medium tannins, medium + acidity and a prolonged finish. This was my favorite in the line-up, and although it was about $20 more than I wanted to pay I brought one home for $65.

The fifth wine was the 2009 Barrel Select Pinot Noir. Only 200 cases of this wine were produced and it represents what the winemaker believes to be the best of barrels. It is similar to the previous wine with more smoke and more intense fruit and spice, but it isn’t as floral. I think the Redding Ranch Pinot had better balance and this one cost $4 more at $69 a bottle.

 Marina Vineyard overlooking the San Pablo Bay

I then tasted two Syrahs which were not on the menu but were on the current release list.

The first was the 2007 Scott Ranch Syrah. The vineyard is a mountain-slope site in the Sonoma Coast appellation. This wine is inky-dark with aromas of blackberries, licorice, and intense black pepper. On the palate it has tight gripping tannins and is full bodied with an unusual amount of sediment and what may have been tartaric crystals in the bottom of my glass. This wine was listed at $45 a bottle but on-line it sells for $27 a bottle.

The second was the 2008 Kick Ranch Syrah, a vineyard located on an exposed south-facing slope of Spring Mountain above St. Helena. A blend of 98% Syrah and 2% Viognier, on the nose this wine has aromas of blackberries, violets, and a hint of black pepper. On the palate it is softer and more well balanced than the previous wine with softer tannins, more fruit a hint of sweetness and a well-balanced medium length finish. This wine was listed at $45 a bottle but on-line it sells for $27 a bottle.

 To visit or for more information:

Acacia Vineyard

2750 Las Amigas Road

Napa, CA 94559

Phone: (707) 226-9991 ext. 2

1-877-226-1700 ext 2 (toll free)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Heitz Cellar – The Beginning of Mustard Season in St. Helena, California

This is one of my favorite times of the year to visit the Napa Valley as it uniquely blossoms with an abundance of mustard flower, California poppies and a sprinkling of purple lupines. This bright yellow weed is particularly beautiful when it surrounds old vines that, without their canopies, look like miniature gnarled trees. The 2012-2013 winter season has provided an unusually high amount of rain so I anticipate the Napa Valley will be particularly golden this year. We had some cold rain showers on Thursday and Friday, but with crystal clear blue skies in the forecast on Saturday I headed up to the valley with camera in hand.

After driving around a bit in the valley from Carneros to Calistoga to scope out the most flower-laden vineyards, my first stop was at Heitz Wine Cellar’s tasting room in St. Helena. I had first visited this winery about ten years ago, and though they didn’t have a lot of flowers in their vineyards I wanted to revisit this historic winery.

The winery was established in 1961 by Joseph (Joe) and Alice Heitz. Joe was born in Princeton, Illinois, but then moved to California while enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. In 1951 he earned a B.A and M.A degree in viticulture and enology at U.C. Davis in 1951. His wine making career began at Gallo and then in he further honed his craft at Beaulieu Vineyard working under André Tchelistcheff as an assistant winemaker for ten years. 

Then, after teaching for four years in the enology program at California State University, Fresno Joe and his wife Alice bought a small 8.5-acre vineyard from Leon Brendel named “The One & Only” for $5,000. It was originally planted with Grignolino, a red Italian wine grape variety commonly grown in the Piedmont region.

Then in 1964, they acquired 1898 stone winery with its 160-acre vineyard property in Spring Valley, in the eastern hills of St. Helena. It then became the winery and their home, with the original winery retained as a visitor’s center. The pictures shown here and in the video are from the vineyards and tasting room in St. Helena, not the original winery.

In 1965 they established an exclusive agreement with Tom and Martha May, owners of the 34-acre Martha’s Vineyard in the Oakville AVA. This wine is blended with other Cabernet grapes in their Napa Valley Cabernet and it is also bottled as a single-vineyard wine. In 1976, a similar exclusivity agreement was established with Barney and Belle Rhodes, owners of the 18-acre Bella Oaks Vineyard in the Rutherford AVA. Then in 1984 the estate purchased the Trailside Vineyard in Rutherford, having previously purchased fruit from the site, and introduced it as a single vineyard bottling in 1989.

Joe Heitz suffered a stroke in 1996 and later died on December 16, 2000, at the age of 81. Joe was succeeded by his son David Heitz who was born in 1950 and became a winemaker in the late 1970s, having worked at the estate for many years. 

Today Heitz Cellar’s portfolio of wines includes not only their signature Cabernets, but also a Chardonnay, Zinfandel, their inherited specialty Grignolino and a traditional Port.

While visiting I sample the following wines:

The first pour was the 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. On the nose I picked up aromas of red and black currant, a hint of anise and vanilla. On the palate it has refined medium tannins that have a little grip on the gums, it has medium (+) acidity with well balanced alcohol and a long finish. A nice wine for $45 a bottle.

The second sample was my favorite in the line-up which was the 2007 Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyard is located in Rutherford and it shows on the nose the trademark characteristics of this AVA. In comparison to the previous Cab, this wine is darker, richer and earthier with notes of plums, black cherries, black currants, and a hint of black licorice. On the palate it is full bodied with a soft, opulent round mouth-feel and silky tannins. It is well balanced and is a great expression of this phenomenal vintage. I was very tempted to buy a bottle, but I already have a fairly large collection of Cabs and the $75 price tag was about $25 more than I was willing to pay.

The third pour was the 2008 Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is radically distinct from the previous wines with intense aromas of cassis and black licorice dominating the nose and palate. After the initial impact, I then picked up subtle underlying notes of eucalyptus, mint, dark earth and dark chocolate. The wine has a shocking $200 price tag and while it was a great wine, I’d much rather have two of the ’07 Trailside Vineyard Cabs and save $50.

The final wine was a real treat, the Heitz Cellars “In Grade” Napa Valley Port. There are a lot of “ports” produced in California that are made from Zinfandel, Petit Sirah, and other non-traditional grapes (especially in the central valley) and I find them to be simple, sweet and at times a bit syruppy. So, I am thrilled when I can find a Port produced from classic Portuguese varietals as they tend to have more complexity and layers of flavor. This wine is made from Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Sauzao, Tinta Cao, Tinta Bairrada, Tinta Madeira, Tinta Amarela and Bastardo and it is a blend of the 2005, 2006 and 2007 vintages. On the nose I picked up aromas of dried fruits, dates, raisins and brown sugar. On the palate it is silky with good acidity and an extremely long finish. Although it has 18.5% alcohol it has no heat on the nose or palate. However, although I was spitting most of my wine samples, I found that this one will warm your tummy when it is swallowed. This wine sells for $20 for a 350 ML bottle and $35 for a 750 ML bottle which I think is a great value, so I brought one home.

To visit or for more information:

Heitz Cellar
436 St. Helena Highway
St. Helena, CA 94574
Phone: (707) 963-3542