Tuesday, June 25, 2013

St. Supéry Vineyards and Winery – Rutherford, California

I first visited St. Supéry Vineyards and Winery about twelve years ago. Since then I have driven by it many times and noticed that the sign in front has been recolored to an almost a bright neon green. In fact, as you can see from the photos and video, the winery is very green.

St. Supéry is located in Rutherford in the heart of the Napa Valley and their wines are very reflective of this distinctive viticultural area. The winery has two estate vineyards totaling 510 acres of Napa Green and California Sustainable Certified Vineyards. 

The Founder

The estate is owned by The Skalli Family based in Paris France. Les Vins Skalli is a wine producer which operates in France and is based in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. He family-owned business has a long history of winemaking with their first vineyard planted in 1920. After acquiring the Rutherford estate, the first St. Supéry vines were planted in 1982 by Robert Skalli. In addition to St. Supéry, the Skalli family owns three wineries in the South of France: Les Vins Skalli in the Languedoc, Côteaux de Diana in Corsica, and Maison Bouachon in Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe. Skalli also has a partnership in Provence to produce dry AOC rosé under the Robert Skalli label. St. Supery imports the Skalli family’s French wines through its SFWAmericas division.

The Winemaker

The winemaker for St. Supéry is Michael Scholz who is originally from Australia and is the 6th generation to grow up on his family’s vineyard in the Barossa Valley. He graduated from Roseworthy College in 1985 and developed his winemaking craft in France and South Africa before returning to California. He was a winemaker at Iron Horse Vineyards in Sonoma then Chief Winemaker at St. Supery from 1996 to 2001. Then from 2001 to 2009 he worked for the Australian owned winery, Wattle Creek in the Alexander Valley. Then in late 2009 he returned to St. Supéry in the Napa Valley.

The Architecture

Center stage on the estate in the midst of the vineyards, gardens, the winery and tasting room is the historic Victorian “Atkinson House.” Joseph and Louis Atkinson, brothers from Philadelphia, built this Queen Anne house and a nearby winery in the 1880’s. Their winery survives as Beaulieu Vineyard and their house is now owned by St. Supéry Vineyards and Winery. St. Supéry Winery has restored the house, both inside and out, and it is open to the public by appointment as a “Wine Discovery Center with a living museum of a late 1800 vintner’s life.”
The Atkinson House
As you walk around the Atkinson House you come to the very modern winery and tasting room. The contrast between the Atkinson House and the Tasting room is striking. It has sort of an art-deco/postmodern design with a lot of sleek straight lines, glass and hard wood. You can sample the wines in the tasting room or in the front at the outdoor lounge or at one of the many tables on the large patio under the trees.
The Wines

While visiting I enjoyed the following wines:

The first pour was the 2011 Napa Valley Virtu - a blend of 60% Semillon and 40% Sauvignon Blanc. This wine underwent 17% Malo-lactic Fermentation (a process of turning laic acid into lactic acid in the juice which softens it), 32% Tank Fermentation (which maintains crispness), 68 % Barrel Fermentation (the minuscule breathing of the barrel softens the sharp edge of the wine) and then it was then aged for 7 Months in 100% French oak but only 35% of it was new French oak which keeps the wine from becoming too oaky or Chardonnay-like. I usually don’t put such details in my reviews but the wine totally reflects the way in which it was made. The wine has very pronounced aromas of lemongrass, grapefruit, a hint of honeysuckle and chalk. On the palate it has pronounced fruit flavors of grapefruit and mandarin oranges. It is light in body, very crisp on the mid palate and then it has rich rounded edges on the finish. Some Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blends can lose their edge and become too soft but this one maintains a wonderful balance of crispness with a round mouth feel on the end. The white Bordeaux-like wine is an excellent summer wine and one that will pair well with seafood, I brought a bottle home for $30.

The second wine was the 2009 Napa Valley Estate Élu.  This is a Bordeaux blend of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot and 3% Malbec. This wine is clear bright ruby red from the base to the rim. On the nose it has aromas of red currants, cherries, black tea and oak. On the palate it has a mouth full of fresh fruit on entry with additional notes of fresh cracked black pepper, spice with a hint of tobacco and oak on the finish. The tannins are fairly aggressive but they are well refined, it has medium body and mouth-watering acidity with a medium+ length finish. If tasted blind, this wine could be mistaken for a left-bank Bordeaux. The wine sells for $65 a bottle.


The third sample was the 2009 Rutherford Estate Vineyard Merlot (100% Merlot). This wine is bright ruby red and it stains the glass when swirled. On the nose it has very a classic Rutherford profile with aromas of dusty cherries, earth, tobacco and tea leaves. On the palate this wine is bone dry with additional notes of wild blackberries, toasted oak and vanilla. It is medium bodied, very crisp and it has a distinctive wet slate minerality on the finish. Many Napa Valley merlots are too soft and fruity, this one is a nice alternative with more of an old-world appeal. The wine sells for $50 a bottle.

The fourth and final wine was the 2010 Dollarhide Estate Elevation – a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Malbec. This wine is clear bright purple at the core to ruby red at the rim. The nose is very tight so it needs a lot of swirling for aeration. But eventually I was able to coax out aromas of black currants, wild blackberries, dark chocolate, dark roasted coffee followed by a hint of dried herbs and oak. On the palate it is very intense and fruit froward with tannins that have a lot of grip and a noticeable amount of oak on the finish. This wine sells for $65 a bottle.

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

To visit or for more information:

St. Supéry Vineyards and Winery

8440 S St. Helena Hwy  

Napa, CA 94558

Phone: 1-707-963-4507


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Turnbull Wine Cellars – Oakville, California

The Turnbull Clan

The name of Turnbull Cellars is derived from The Turnbull Family (or Clan) that hails from the border area between Scotland and England.  According to family legend, the name goes back to when William Roule of Bedrule saved Robert The Bruce (ca. 1300) from a charging wild bull. William jumped in between the bull and the king and proceeded to turn it down to the ground and break its neck. Robert was so gratified that he dubbed him Sir William Turn-E-Bull and then bestowed to him lands in Phillipshaugh on August 15th, 1315. William Roule Turnbull then assumed the motto Rex Servaverim which means, “I Saved The King.”[1]

The Founder

Six hundred and thirty years later a winery was founded by architects William “Bill” Turnbull (April 1, 1935 – June 26, 1997) and Reverdy Johnson. It began as the Johnson-Turnbull Winery in 1979. Bill also designed Cakebread Cellars which is why the two wineries have similar architecture. Bill was born in New York City and was raised in Far Hills, New Jersey. Both of Turnbull’s parents were architects, as was his great-grandfather George B. Post who designed the New York Stock Exchange building. Following in his parents footsteps Bill studied at Princeton University (class of 1956) and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. After graduation he moved to San Francisco and was employed at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and worked on a Big Sur revitalization project. In the early 1960s Bill was involved with the development of the iconic Sea Ranch community in Sonoma County. His co-design team included fellow Princeton alumni Charles Moore, Donlyn Lyndon, and Richard Whitaker as well as Lawrence Halprin and Joseph Esherick. Turnbull was a contributor to Kresge College, the U.C. Santa Cruz, the Foothill Student housing complex at U.C.  Berkeley, and St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Sonoma County, the latter of which he worked on with his second wife and fellow architect Mary Griffin.

Turnbull Changes Hands

In 1993 the winery was purchased by publisher Patrick O’Dell who renamed the estate Turnbull Wine Cellars. Patrick then expanded the winery’s estate property from 21 to 236 acres of Oakville and Calistoga vineyards. The vineyards include the Turnbull Vineyard (14 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petite Sirah, and Sauvignon Blanc), the Fortuna Vineyard (59 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Sauvignon Blanc), the Leopoldina Vineyard (62 acres of  Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Syrah, and Sangiovese), and the Amoenus Vineyard in the western hills of Calistoga (101 acres Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, and  Malbec )

The Winemaker and the Wine

In 1998, Patrick O’Dell hired Jon Engelskirger who had 30 years of experience as a winemaker. Then in 2007 Peter Heitz assumed the role as head winemaker who is a fourth generation winemaker in the Napa Valley. Peter is the grandson of Michael Heitz,  an immigrant from the Alsace region of Germany, who is the founder of ShypokeWines in Calistoga. Following Michael at Shypoke was Peter’s father Gary and his mother Ginny. Subsequently Peter began farming the family vineyard in 1996. Peter has also served as the Assistant Winemaker at Beringer Vineyards (1996  2007) and the Assistant Winemaker at Foster’s Wine Estates Americas (1996  2007).

The Gallery and The Wine

Turnbull Cellars has two tasting rooms. The Reserve Room is located in the Photography Gallery which is freely open to the public. The space’s cathedral ceiling, exposed beams, antique bar and barrels highlight one of the West Coast’s largest permanent photography locales. It features a rotating collection of more than 4,000 pieces of historic black and white photography by notable artists such as Berenice Abbott, Ansel Adams, Margaret Bourke White, Jane Brown, Clarence Sinclair Bull, Marsha Burns, Imogen Cunningham, Judy Dater, Walker Evans, Burt Glinn, Phillipe Halsman, George Hurrell, Yousuf Karsh, Andre Kertesz, Dorothea Lange, Bettina Rheims, Herb Ritts, Roy Schatt, Jock Sturges, Peter Stackpole, Edward Steichen, Paul Strand, Joyce Tenneson and Edward Weston.

While viewing the galley in the Reserve Tasting Room I sampled the following wines:

The first pour was the 2012 Old Vines Sauvignon Blanc. This wine comes from 40+ year old vines in the Fortuna Vineyard. It is crystal clear with aromas of lemon-lime, grapefruit, guava and melon and a hint of chalky minerality. On the palate it is very crisp, light bodied and has an extremely long finish. When I was sampling this wine it was 91 degrees outside and I found this to be extremely refreshing. I brought a bottle home for $28.

The second wine was the 2011 Viognier. Very few wineries in the Napa Valley produce this varietal as there are only about 300 acres in the entire region. Viogniers from warmer California regions such as Paso Robles, Santa Barbera or the Lodi tend to be extremely floral, very tropical with a lot of body, weight and alcohol. Viogniers from the Napa Valley tend to be more reserved, lighter in body and lean making them more food friendly but they can also be very expensive (Darioush is $42!). This wine has subtle notes of coconut, pineapple and melon and on the palate it is slightly creamy with medium body, ample acidity and a long finish. For several years I purchased Turnbull’s Viognier in the in November to serve with Thanksgiving dinner as it is an excellent alternative to the ocean of Chardonnay on the market and during this visit I decided to do so again. The wine sells for $30 a bottle.

The third sample was the 2010 Rosé – a blend of 65% Syrah and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon made in the saignée method. On the nose this wine exudes aromas of dried roses, melon rind, faint cranberries and watermelon. But on the palate it has more ripe berry flavor and is very delicious with perhaps a miniscule amount of residual sugar. Yet it maintains its crispness and has a long finish - it is sure to a hit on hot days! This wine is not currently listed on the web site, nor was it on the tasting list but it is available at the tasting room for $18 a bottle.

The fourth wine was the 2009 Leopolinda Cabernet Franc. This wine is a blend of 82% Cabernet Franc, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest is an even splash of 2% Petite Verdot and 2% Malbec so it is really a Cab Franc dominant Bordeaux blend. This wine has an explosive nose with pronounced aromas of cassis, blackberries, black cherries, mocha and vanilla. On the palate it is rich and velvety with silky tannins, a full body and mouth-watering acidity and the flavors are layered from entry, through the mid-palate and in the finish.  It is very delicious wine that has a long vanilla-chocolaty finish. This was my overall favorite in the line-up but it has a hefty price tag at $60 a bottle.

The fifth pour was the 2009 Fortuna Merlot. This wine is a blend of 89% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Malbec and 1% Petite Sirah. On the nose this wine exudes black cherries, a hint of black licorice and a dash of pepper. On the palate it is silky smooth, medium bodied and a medium length. For my palate this wine is too soft and it probably would have better served before the Cab Franc in the line-up. This wine sells for $55 a bottle.

The sixth wine was the 2009 Fortuna Cabernet Sauvignon – a blend of 95% Cabernet sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec. This wine has a bouquet of black currants, damp earth and a hint of pepper. At the core this wine is very dark, almost black, and ruby at the rim and when swirled it stains the glass. Like the Merlot it is very soft with refined tannins, a medium body with a hint of sour cherries on a medium length finish. The wine sells for $75 a bottle.

The seventh sample was the 2009 Amoenus Cabernet Sauvignon. The Amoenus Vineyard is the one Turnbull vineyard outside of Oakville and it has the distinctive profile of mountain fruit - it is very dark, dense and concentrated, almost black at the core. The nose on the wine is very tight so it requires a lot of swirling to coax the aromas out of it. But patience and a lot aeration brings out intense aromas of black currants, black berries, black licorice and vanilla. On the palate it is velvety but the tannins have a lot of grip. It has a medium+ body, ample acidity and a long finish with hints of vanilla and mocha on the return. The Fortuna Cab was nice but I preferred this one and it also sells for $75 a bottle.

The eighth wine was the 2009 Leopolinda Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is a blend of 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petite Verdot and 3% Malbec. This wine is intense and concentrated in color, and it requires a requires a lot of swirling before it opens up. But eventually I was rewarded with black currants, mocha, dusty earth and a hint of tobacco. On the palate it has BIG gripping tannins, full body and ample acidity. This is a great wine but it seemed to be too young to be drinking now and it will undoubtedly improve over the next five years or more. The wine sells for $75 a bottle.

The final wine was the 2009 Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petite Verdot, 5% Malbec and 1% Merlot. Like the previous three wines, this wine needs some time to open up so decanting and heavy aeration in the glass is a must. This wine is very dark at the core, almost black, and on the nose it has concentrated aromas of black currants, black cherries, dark chocolate, dark roasted coffee, black licorice and vanilla. On the palate it has BIG tannins with great backbone and structure. A truly phenomenal wine that is head and shoulders above many $125+ Cabs I have tasted in the Napa Valley. But, like the Leopolinda it stills seems too young to be drinking now and will undoubtedly get even better in the next 5-10 years. The wine sells for $100 a bottle.

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

To visit or for more information:

Turnbull Wine Cellars

8210 Saint Helena Highway

Oakville, California, 94562

Phone: 1-800-887-6285

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Sojourn Cellars – A Pinot Noir Gem in the Sonoma Square

Sojourn Cellars was founded by Erich Bradley, who was the Assistant Winemaker at Arrowood Winery, and Craig and Ellen Haserot. Their goal was to create a first-class boutique winery with a focus on producing distinctive Pinot noir wines as well as a small production of Cabernet Sauvignon from quality vineyard sources. Their first vintage release was in 2001 with 100 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon and since then they have added Chardonnay to the winery profile.
The Sojourn Cellars tasting room is located in downtown Sonoma. Visitors can sample their wines in a small cozy little house conveniently located among the many tasting rooms and restaurants that surround the village square.

While visiting I sampled the following wines:

The first sample was the 2011 Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay. The grapes are sourced from Sangiacomo Family Vineyards who provide high quality fruit for a number of premium wine producers. This wine is straw in color with lofty aromas of lemon custard, caramel, roasted marshmallows and a hint of pistachio. On the palate it is light bodied, very crisp and has a prolonged finish. A very seductive wine that stands out from the mélange of California Chards on the market, this wine sells for $45 a bottle.

The following wines were sampled side by side. I first went through them all making notes on the nose and then went through them again going back and forth between them making notes on the palate.

The second pour was the 2011 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. In the line-up this wine is the most fruit forward with aromas of strawberries, cherries and a hint of smoke. On the palate it is fairly weight with medium- weight, it is very crisp and has a medium length finish. This wine sells for $39 a bottle.

The third wine was the 2011 Rodgers Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast. The grapes are sourced from the Silverado Winegrowers, a low-key but influential vineyard company that now controls about 10,000 acres along the California coast. In 2000 they took a lease on a hilltop site north of Highway 37 between Petaluma and Sonoma. The first vines were planted around 2001 and today it consists of an 83.5 acre vineyard on 297 acres comprised of well-drained and complex soils with layers of lots of volcanic tufa and ash. This wine is more intense than the previous wine with pronounced aromas of strawberry preserves, raspberries, damp earth and a hint of smoke. On the palate it is medium bodied with mouthwatering acidity and a silky texture in the mid palate. This was my favorite in the line-up and I brought a bottle home $48.

The fourth pour was the 2011 Gap’s Crown Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast. Gap’s Crown is a 138-acre Sonoma Coast vineyard that supplies Pinot Noir to more than more than 20 wineries including top producers like Kosta Browne, Patz and Hall and MacPhail. The land is owned by Bill Price, a financial investor who has invested in several leading California vineyards and wineries. Gap’s Crown  Vineyard is located in the foothills of the Sonoma Mountain, east of Rohnert Park, in the cool and windy Petaluma Gap in southwestern Sonoma County. The vineyard offers a variety of soil types at elevations ranging from 300 to 800 feet above sea level. It was first planted in 2002 and it includes 106 acres of Pinot Noir and 32 acres of Chardonnay. The profile of this wine seems like a blend of the two previous wines. It has the fruit-forward character of the Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir but the earth and smoke notes of the Rodgers Creek Pinot Noir with additional herbal accents on the finish. This wine sells for $54 a bottle.

If you are a Pinot fan and you are planning a trip to Sonoma, Sojourn Cellars is a definite “must visit”!

For more information or to visit:

Sojourn Cellars

141 East Napa Street

Sonoma, CA 95476

Hours: 10 am to 5 pm

Phone: 1-707-938-7212

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Kamen Estate Wines – Stellar Wines at the Sonoma Square

The Founder

Kamen Estate Wines was founded by Robert Mark Kamen. Robert grew up in a city housing project in the Bronx but then rose up beyond his humble beginnings to earn a Ph.D in American Studies from the University of Pennsylvania. He is most widely known as an American screenwriter as he has been writing for major motion pictures for over 25 years. He is best known as creator and co-creator of the 1984 film Karate Kid (starring Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita), the 1981 film Taps (starring George C. Scott and Timothy Hutton, with Ronny Cox, Tom Cruise, Sean Penn, and Evan Handler in supporting roles), and the 1995 Napa Valley featured movie A Walk in the Clouds (starring Keanu Reeves, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Anthony Quinn, Giancarlo Giannini). Robert has also been a collaborator with French writer, director and producer Luc Besson as they worked together on the 1994 Natalie Portman and Jean Reno thriller The Professional, the 1997 sci-fi action film The Fifth Element (starring Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, and Milla Jovovich) as well as the 2002 film The Transporter (starring Jason Statham, Qi Shu, and Matt Schulze), and the 2008 action-thriller Taken (starring Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, and Leland Orser).

The Vineyards

In 1980, prior to creating Karate Kid, Robert came to Sonoma to celebrate the sale of his first screen play. While hiking the rugged hillsides of the Southern Mayacamas Mountians, he came upon a 280 acre property with panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay. The land was undeveloped as it was without roads, water or electricity. But, a week after viewing the property he purchased the land with the goal to grow the highest quality mountain grown Cabernet Sauvignon.

Initially the fruit grown at Kamen Estate was sold to premium Sonoma wineries. But then tragedy struck in 1996 with a wild fire destroyed half of the vineyard along with Robert’s home. Rising out of the ashes Robert decided to not only regain what was lost but take on a new venture in creating his own wines. During the replanting new selections of Cabernet clones were chosen and different rootstocks were used and three years later came the first release of Kamen Estate Cabernet Sauvignon in 1999.

The Tasting Room

The Kamen Estate Wines tasting room is located in downtown Sonoma. It is small with a simple no frills tasting bar but conveniently located among the many tasting rooms and restaurants that surround the village square. They also offer private tours and tastings in their mountain vineyard and experience the views of the Mayacamas Mountains and San Francisco Bay. During the tour guests will taste four wines complemented by artisanal cheese and charcuterie. These tours are available by advance appointment only.  

The Wines

While visiting the tasting room in downtown Sonoma I sampled the following wines:

The first sample was the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc. The wine is a blend of 100% Estate Grown Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Musque. Musque wines are clones of varietals that are muscat-like. Sometimes the resulting wines are so successful that they become a distinct varietal. For example, Gewürztraminer is a musque of Traminer that has now eclipsed its parent in popularity. The vines for the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc are grown at elevations of 1100’ to 1450 feet in certified organic and biodynamic vineyards. It is clear water-white with a tint of green when viewed at the right angle. On the nose it has vibrant aromas of lemon-grass, grapefruit and wet stone. On the palate it is light in body, very crisp with a refreshing long lasting finish. This is a hallmark California Sauvignon Blanc, but it is also one of the most expensive I have ever tasted as it sells for $45 a bottle.

The second pour was 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon – Sonoma County. The wine is made of 100% Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon grown at elevations of 1100’ to 1450 feet in certified organic and biodynamic vineyards. This wine is ruby red with expressive aromas of blueberries, black cherries and a very distinct wet slate minerality. On the palate it is very delicate and velvety with refined tannins. It has a medium body and a medium+ length finish. A very nice Cab but a bit steep at $80 a bottle.

The third wine was the 2010 “Writer’s Bock.” This is a proprietary blend of 40% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Petite Sirah.  It is dark purple, almost black, at the core to violet at the rim and it stains the glass when swirled. On the nose it exudes aromas of cassis, dark chocolate, new leather and a hint of smoke. On the palate it delivers intense and concentrated flavors of black cherries, mocha and a touch of spice. It is full bodied with gripping tannins, ample acidity and has a lengthy silky finish. An absolutely delicious wine, it sells for $58 a bottle.

The final pour was the 2010 Syrah. The grapes for this wine come from three distinct one acre blocks: High Block at 1400’ in elevation with south-southeast exposures, Middle Block at 1200' with due south exposures and Low Block at 1100' facing northwest. It is inky purple and stains the glass when swirled. On the nose it has aromas of black fruits, smoke, bacon fat. On the palate it is medium bodied with ample acidity and a medium length finish. A delicious wine but this is probably one of the most expensive Syrahs with this type of profile that I have ever tasted, it sells for $70 a bottle.

For more information or to visit:

Kamen Estate Wines

111B East Napa Street

Sonoma, California 95476

Phone: 1-707-938-7292

Open Saturday and Sunday 1 – 5 PM.