Wednesday, July 31, 2013

W.M. Harrison Vineyards and Winery – St. Helena, California



The Harrison family has been making wine in the Napa Valley for over century and the roots of the family tradition go back for centuries in Italy. William (Bill) Harrison’s maternal grandfather Antonio Perelli-Minetti immigrated from Italy in 1902. Antonio was a graduate of the Royal Institute of Viticulture and Enology in Conigleano, Italy. His father Guisippi, had a winery in Italy and wrote books on wine.[1] Bill grew up around his grandfather’s winery in the San Joaquin Valley, A. Perelli-Minetti and Sons. In 1966 Bill began working for the California Wine Association (CWA), a company owned by his grandfather and his uncles. There he held various wine sales and marketing positions in New York, New England, the Southwest and California. In 1978 Bill moved to the production side of the winemaking business as Operations Manager at his A. Perelli-Minetti and Sons. This million-case winery produced table wine, dessert wine, sparkling wine, vermouth and brandy. In the early 1980's both the California Wine Association and A. Perelli-Minetti and Sons were sold.[2] Bill then decided to start his own company, Estate Bottling, which provided wineries with a mobile bottling service and it is still in operation today. At the same time, Bill moved to the Napa Valley and founded W.M. Harrison Vineyards and Winery in the Rutherford AVA in St. Helena. In 1993, after years of selling grapes from his Rutherford estate, Bill released the first wine under his own label.

The Vineyards

W.M. Harrison Vineyards and Winery’s estate vineyards consists of 10 acres of 5 of the Bordeaux varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Malbec and Merlot. They are planted along the foot of the eastern hills of the valley. The Rutherford region encompasses the soils from three alluvial fans that are primarily gravelly, sandy and loamy. These fans are formed from shattered, well-bedded sandstone found on the hills above the valley. The soils at the vineyards are classified as Bear Creek Loam on the Napa Valley soil survey from 1935. Approximately 18 inches to 4 feet below the surface is tufa, a white layer of soil comprised of decomposed volcanic ash. W.M. Harrison also sources premium grapes from the Sangiacomo Vineyard to produce their Carneros Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.


The Wines

While visiting I sampled the following wines:

The first wine was the 2011 Carneros Chardonnay, Sangiacomo Vineyard. This wine displays aromas of citrus, lemon custard and hints of butterscotch. On the palate it is medium bodied with medium acidity and a medium length finish with a hint of hazelnut on the return. A classic Carneros profile, this wine sells for $32 per bottle.

The second pour was the 2011 Pinot Noir. This wine is light ruby red in color with aromas of fresh strawberries, cranberries and light plum notes. On the palate it is medium bodied with medium acidity and delivers a spicy medium length finish. A hallmark Carenos Pinot Noir, this wine sells for $38 per bottle.

The third wine was the Estate Cabernet Franc. This wine is dark ruby red which slightly stains the glass when swirled. On the nose this wine delivers intense, concentrated blackberries, black licorice, spice and a hint of herbal notes. On the palate it has aggressive tannins, medium body, medium acidity and a prolonged finish. This is without a doubt one of the best Cab Francs I have ever tasted in the Napa Valley. This wine sells for $45 per bottle.
The fourth wine was the 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon - a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cab Franc and 5% Merlot. On the nose this wine has medium intense aromas of black currants, black cherries, and a hint of cedar and tobacco. On the palate it has BIG tannins, medium body and a medium length finish. This wine sells for $50 per bottle.

The final wine was 2009 Rutherford Red - a blend of 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Petit Verdot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec, and 5% Merlot. On the nose this wine delivers layers of cassis, blackberries, dark cherries, dark chocolate, vanilla, and a hint of anise. On the palate it has good structure and is well balanced with medium+ tannins, ample acidity and a medium+ length finish. I have visited W.M. Harrison several times over the past 10+ years and as before I preferred this Bordeaux blend to many of the neighboring versions (Opus One and Quintessa to just name a few). Yet this wine sells for less than half the price at $75 per bottle so I brought one home.


To visit or for more information:
W.M. Harrison Vineyards and Winery
1443 Silverado Trail 
 St Helena, CA 94574
Phone: 1-707-963-8310

[1] http://mpmwines.com/history.htm
[2] http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2245&dat=19800506&id=j98zAAAAIBAJ&sjid=SzIHAAAAIBAJ&pg=6092,676896

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Markham Vineyards – St. Helena, California



History
Although it has had several owners since its inception, Markham Vineyards has the distinction of being the fourth oldest continuously operated winery in Napa County. Markham Vineyards was in 1874 by Jean Laurent, an immigrant from the Bordeaux region of France, who came to California in 1852 during the California Gold Rush. Two decades later he founded the winery in 1874 and shortly thereafter his wines were distributed across the United States in the 1880s. He then died in 1890 but the winery continued to operate during the prohibition, the great depression and two world wars under a succession of owners. 
Then in 1978 vintner Bruce Markham purchased Laurent’s winery and combined it with vineyards in Yountville, Oak Knoll and Calistoga and changed the name to Markham Vineyards. Then in 1988, Markham Vineyards was sold to Japanese wine and spirits producer Mercian Corporation. Over the next four years they spent millions of dollar renovating, expanding and replanting doubling the capacity of the vineyards.
Architecture


The architecture of Markham Vineyards combines both historic and modern elements, with its old stone and concrete façade, and its subdued red metal roofing supported by round wooden columns. Reflecting the style of its current owners, the entrance way lined with dual lily-filled Koi ponds and water fountains. 
 

The Tasting Room has an atrium with a large fireplace and the Visitor Center is also home to the Markham Gallery which currently features iconic rock and roll photos (Jimmy Hendrix, Led Zepplin, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Rolling Stones etc.) from the 60’s and 70’s by Rolling Stone’s first chief photographer, Baron Wolman. 


Winemaker
The winemaker for Markham Vineyards Kimberlee Nicholls. She graduated from Willamette University with a degree in biology. Kimberlee moved from the small coastal town of Long Beach, Washington, to California. In 1989 she began working at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars as a laboratory technician and then became the lab director. In 1993, Kimberlee joined Markham Vineyards’s winemaking team as an enologist to establish an extensive laboratory program. After four years of working in the vineyards and in the winery, she was promoted to associate winemaker in 1997. She then became the winemaker for Markham as well as for the La Jota Vineyard Company, a winery acquired by Markham Vineyards in 2001.  
The Wines
While visiting I sampled the following wines:
The first two wines were both Sauvignon Blancs but from different vintages, the 2011 and 2012. This 2011 has pronounced aromas of white grapefruit, melon rind, and a distinct jalapeno character on the nose. It has medium- body, very high (medium+) acidity and a long finish. The 2012 is quite different, on the nose it has hints of tropical fruit, lemon-lime and a spicy hint of anise. It is slightly heavier on the mid palate with medium body, medium acidity and a medium length finish. Between the two I preferred the 2011. Both wines are reasonably priced at $15 per bottle.
The third wine was the 2011 Chardonnay. This was 100% Whole Cluster Pressed and 100% Barrel Fermented in 32% new French oak but it only went through 44% malolactic fermentation so it isn’t an overt-top- butter ball. On the nose I picked up canned pears, bananas, caramel apples, marshmallows, Crème brûlée and butter. On the palate it is full bodied with medium acidity and a medium+ length finish. It is a well-balanced California-style Chardonnay that is value priced at $18 per bottle.
The fourth wine was the 2011 Merlot, a combination of 87% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petite Sirah and 2% Cabernet Franc so it is similar to a Meritage blend. This wine is bright red ruby in color with aromas of duty cherries, cola and a hint of cedar and spice. It has medium bodied with medium acidity and surprising aggressive tannins and a medium length finish. It is well balanced and fairs better than other wines I have tried from this difficult vintage. This wine sells for $25 per bottle.
The fifth wine was the 2009 Cabernet Franc, a blend of 91% Cabernet Franc and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is clear bright ruby red at the core with intense aromas of licorice, brown sugar, dark cherries and vanilla. On the palate it has aggressive tannins, it is medium bodied and seems earthier than on the nose with additional notes of earth and tobacco. On entry it begins somewhat tannic but then transitions to silk on the mid palate. It is medium bodied with sufficient acidity and a medium length finish. This wine sells for $42 per bottle.
The sixth wine was the 2009 Petit Verdot, a blend of 84% Petit Verdot and 16% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is clear dark ruby at the core with pronounced aromas of dark cherries, sweet vanilla crème and black licorice. It has aggressive yet well refined tannins, a medium body, ample acidity with additional notes of tart cherries and sweet oak on a medium length finish. Bottling Petit Verdot used to be a rarity but it seems to be more common now, especially in the Napa Valley and this one is a fine example so I brought one home. This wine sells for $42 per bottle.
The seventh wine was the 2008 Altruist Cabernet Sauvignon, made from 100% Cabernet with 100% Estate Grown fruit. This wine is clear dark cherry red with aromas of cassis, anise, new leather and a hint of cherry lozenge on the finish. On entry it is fruit forward with a medium body, medium acidity and a medium+ length. This wine sells for $55 per bottle.
The eighth wine was the 2008 Philanthropist Cabernet Sauvignon – Yountville Estate. This wine is also made from 100% Cabernet with 100% Estate Grown fruit. This wine is dark red and displays pronounced aromas of dried cinnamon, anise, wild blackberries, black cherry, and black plums, on the nose. On the palate it is fruit forward, medium+ bodied, with aggressive up front chewy tannins and a medium+ length finish. This wine sells for $55 per bottle.
I then sampled two sweeter wines, the perfect way to finish a tasting!
The ninth wine was the 2012 Muscato, made from 100% Muscat Blanc. On the nose it has a beautiful bouquet of orange blossoms, mandarin oranges and fresh cut melon. On the palate it is off-dry, medium bodied with medium acidity and a prolonged finish. It is well balanced and not cloyingly sweet. It isn’t sweet enough to be a dessert wine and would pair well with spicy Asian or Indian dishes. This wine sells for $20 per bottle.
The final wine was the 2012 Muscat Blanc, also made from 100% Muscat Blanc. On the nose this wine has medium+ intense roams of lemon-lime, canned pineapple, canned peaches, and melon. On the palate this wine is sweet (8.4% r/s) but not syrupy, very refreshing with a medium body and ample acidity. This wine sells for $24 per bottle.

To visit or for more information:
Markham Vineyards
2812 St. Helena Hwy North
St. Helena, CA 94574
Phone: 1-707- 963-5292

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Chateau Boswell – St. Helena, California





As you travel along the northern Silverado Trail through St. Helena you will come to Chateau Boswell Winery. Chateau Boswell was founded and designed in 1979 by R. Thornton Boswell under the direction of one of the most influential winemakers in the Napa Valley, André Tchelistcheff. The elegantly designed stone building with unique turrets, resembling many chateaus in France, was constructed using hand-quarried stone from the Silverado Trail.


In 1997 Susan and R. Thornton Boswell expanded the estate vineyard to hillside organically grown plantings. Susan also designed their 11,000 square foot wine caves that are tucked behind the chateau and embedded 65 feet below the surface into the hillside. One of the unique features of these wine cases is the ability to view the volcanic geological history in the layers of soil and stone as they left many of the wall surfaces exposed.



In 2002 the family started a separate winery, Jacquelynn Wines, under direction of Josh and Jacquelynn Peeples.  Visitors can take a tour of the wine caves and sample a number of Chateau Boswell and Jacquelynn Wines premium Sonoma Chardonnays and Napa Valley Cabernets. 



The Wines

While visiting I sampled the following wines:

The first pour was the 2010 Jacquelynn Cuvée Blanc - Sonoma County. This wine is a white Bordeaux blend of 50% Sauvignon Blanc and 50% Semillon aged in 35% New French Oak, Sur lies with bâtonnage. This wine is clear straw-yellow with slow forming tears. On the nose it has aromas of lemon curd, lemon zest and pistachios. On the palate it is rich and round with medium+ body, mouth-watering acidity with additional notes of dried pineapple on a very prolonged finish.  The Semillon and the style in which this wine is made takes the sharp edges off the Sauvignon Blanc creating an almost California Chardonnay-like feel to the wine. This wine sells for $45 a bottle.

The second wine was the 2010 The Voyage Russian River Valley Chardonnay. The grapes are sourced from five vineyards in Sonoma - Dutton Ranch House Block, Morelli, Rued, Ritchie and Sebastopol. The wine is aged in 60% new French Oak, Sur lies with bâtonnage. This wine is clear and golden with pronounced aromas of lemon, tropical fruits, toasted coconut, marshmallow and popcorn. On the palate it is it rich and zesty with crisp medium+ acidity and full bodied and a lengthy finish. The wine is well balanced and a fine example of a California-style Chardonnay. This wine sells for $75 a bottle.

The third wine was the 2010 Dutton Ranch Rued Vineyard Chardonnay. This wine was aged in 25% New French Oak, Sur lies with bâtonnage. This wine is similar in profile to the The Voyage Russian River Valley Chardonnay, but not as pronounced on the nose. On the palate it is softer with stronger flavors of popcorn, marshmallows and additional notes of lemon pie filling on the finish. This wine sells for $85 a bottle.

The fourth pour was the 2010 Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay The wine is aged in 75% new French Oak, Sur lies with bâtonnage. On the nose this has displays aromas of pears, apples, and barbequed pineapple skins. On the palate it is medium+ bodied, very creamy and it has a very long finish. This wine sells for $85 a bottle.

The fifth sample was the 2011 Chateau Boswell Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, is produced from their organically grown hillside vineyard fruit. This is a very young wine from a very challenging vintage. On the nose it displays aromas of green herbs, tart cherries, and raspberries. On the palate it is silky on entry with medium tannins and medium body with a medium length finish. This wine sells for $185 a bottle.

The final wine was the 2011 Jacquelynn Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon, a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot. This wine delivers aromas of black currants, wild blackberries, tart cherries and a hint of dried herbs. On the palate it is silky, medium bodied with ample acidity and a prolonged finish with additional notes of cocoa dust and a hint of black pepper. This wine sells for $175 a bottle.


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


To visit or for more information:

Chateau Boswell
3468 Silverado Trail  
St Helena, CA 94574
Phone: 1-707-963-5472

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Quintessa – St. Helena, California





Along the Silverado Trail in the Napa Valley embedded into an east facing east hillside you’ll find the Quintessa winery. A vineyard extends out from the winery to the roadside and if you take a hike over the hill you see their other vineyards on rolling hills surrounding a lake in a secluded valley. It is truly one of the most spectacular views in the Napa Valley. But this winery is about more than beautiful scenery, it is Agustin Huneeus’ vision to produce a wine that rivals the finest of Bordeaux.



The Founder

Quintessa was founded by Agustin and Valeria HuneeusAgustin was born in Santiago, Chile, and he began his wine career over fifty years ago. In 1960, Agustin became chief executive officer of Concha y Toro and under his leadership it grew to become Chile’s largest winery.



Then the political climate of Chile changed when Marxist Salvador Allende became president in 1971 and subsequently Agustin left his homeland. Following his success at Conch y Toro, Agustin was chosen to lead Seagram’s worldwide operations, overseeing wineries in seven countries, including the United States.



Then in 1985 he became partner and acting President of Franciscan Estates in the Napa Valley which produces a Bordeaux blend called Magnificant. Under his leadership, Franciscan Estates became a successful producer of premium wine estates which then, along with Robert Mondavi Winery, became a division of Constellation Wines. During this time, Huneeus also developed two well-known Chilean brands, Caliterra and Viña Errázuriz. Caliterra is in The Colchagua Valley and was originally a joint venture with Robert Mondavi. Then in 2004 Viña Errázuriz acquired the Mondavi family’s 50% share in Caliterra.




In 1989, Agustin and his wife Valeria acquired the St. Helena property in the Rutherford AVA to build the Quintessa estate. It was originally part of the Caymus land grant which was purchased in the 1940s by George Mardikian (November 7, 1903 – October 23, 1977), a high profile restaurateur who founded the Omar Khayyam restaurant in San Francisco in 1938. Mardikian had intended to turn the land into a premium wine estate but then he died having never fulfilled his dream. 




In the early 1990s, Agustin expanded his enological pursuits in his homeland in the Casablanca Valley in Chile which has as an ideal climate, soil composition and topography for grape growing. Originally there were less than 100 acres were planted but soon Casablanca Valley became a major wine growing region.  He then established Veramonte estate, with a modern winemaking facility and Chile’s first Napa Valley-style visitor center and Neyen winery in Chile’s Apalta Valley.



In addition to the Quintessa estate, Agustin’s current vineyard and winery projects include Faust Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Illumination Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, and a partnership with Washington’s Longshadows Vintners.  In 2009, the Huneeus family developed a partnership with Joan and Walt Flowers of Flowers Vineyards and Winery which is dedicated to producing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the Sonoma Coast.  In 2010, the Huneeus family partnered with winemaker Dave Phinney and Orin Swift Cellars to take ownership and direct sales of two wines. The first was a Napa Valley red blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Charbono and Grenache called The Prisoner. The second is Saldo, a Zinfandel from historic vineyards in Sonoma, Napa, Lake, Amador, Mendocino, and Contra Costa County.


Following in his father’s footsteps, Agustin and Valeria’s son Agustin F. Huneeus has worked in the family business for more than two decades. Although he was raised in the family wine business form birth his wine career formally began in 1989 at Franciscan Estates.  Then, in the early 1990’s he returned to Chile, he took a leadership role managing his father’s newest wine ventures, Caliterra and Viña Errázuriz.



After two years, he returned to the United States to attend Northwestern’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management where he earned an MBA.  Later in 1996, he returned to Franciscan Estates to lead sales and marketing, and plan the launch of Veramonte.  In 2004, following the sale of Franciscan Estates, he joined forces again with his father to run a family-owned and operated company wine brands including Quintessa, Veramonte and Faust.

The Vineyards



While there are other wineries that specialize in making a California version of an ultra-luxury Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot, Quintessa uniquely incorporates the often forgotten Carménère. This grape was originally planted in the Médoc region of Bordeaux, France, where it was used to produce deep red wines and occasionally used for blending purposes in the same manner as Petit Verdot. But this red varietal practically disappeared from European vineyards in the mid-19th century when it was abandoned after the Phylloxera plague in France. It was most likely mixed with Merlot cuttings in Chile in the 19th century and not until 1994 was identified in vineyards that were thought to be Merlot. Today it is become Chile’s signature grape and it has been part of Quintessa’s profile for over five years although in 2010 it represented only 2% of the final blend while Cabernet Sauvignon made up 92% of the blend.



The Quintessa estate includes a valley, lake, river, five hills, four microclimates and many soil types. The 170 acres of vineyards include Cabernet Sauvignon (129 acres), Merlot (26 acres), Cabernet Franc (7 acres), Petit Verdot (4 acres), and Carménère (4 acres). The winery uses only the best grapes from these vineyards to create their one Bordeaux-style blended wine. 



The Wines



While visiting I sampled the following wines:



The 2011 Illumination Sauvignon Blanc, a blend of 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Semillon. On the nose this wine exudes aromas of lemon-grass, grapefruit and a hint of chalk. On the palate it is medium bodied with crisp acidity with a prolonged finish with notes of lemon drop on the return. This wine sells for $40 per bottle.




I then did a vertical tasting of four vintages of Quintessa side by side. The wines are sold in 3 and 6 packs in wooden boxes, so the following prices reflect what the wine could cost if it were sold per bottle:



The first was the 2006 Quintessa - a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Carmenère. On the nose this wine has intense aromas of black fruits, plums, dark cherries, damp earth and Dutch licorice. On the palate is very silky on entry and yet the tannins have a firm grip. It is medium bodied with ample acidity and a medium+ length finish. This was my favorite in the line-up and it sells for $165 per bottle.



The second vintage was the 2008 Quintessa - a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Carmenère. This wine displays a bouquet of subtle notes of dark cherries, cassis, with a hint of milk chocolate, earth, forest floor and tar. On the palate it is silky on entry with velvety tannins that have a little grit to them. It is full-bodied, with has ample acidity and a distinct prolonged vanilla finish. This wine sells for $155 per bottle.



The third wine was the 2009 Quintessa - a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. This wine was very tight on the nose and needed a lot of coaxing to get any aromas out of it. After several minutes of exuberant swirling I picked up subtle aromas of tart cherries, red currants, bell pepper and a hint of dried roses. After coming back to this wine after sampling the next, I picked up additional notes of dusty cherries and vanilla crème. This wine sells for $150 per bottle.



The final wine was the 2010 Quintessa - a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Carmenère. Surprisingly, although this wine was relatively youthful it was more pronounced on the nose and palate than the previous wines with intense aromas of damp earth, dark chocolate, dark cherries, cassis and vanilla. On the palate it has very soft and silky tannins, medium body and a medium length finish. This was my second favorite in the line-up, this wine sells for $145 per bottle.




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


To visit or for more information:



Quintessa

1601 Silverado Trail

St Helena, CA 94574

Phone: 1-707- 967-1601

Monday, July 1, 2013

Michael David Winery – Lodi, California







The Northern California wine countries recently experienced some record temperatures for this time of the year. In Napa and Sonoma it was 92 degrees and the Lodi Wine Country hit 106 degrees. It is times like these when summer time favorites like Sauvignon Blanc or a Rosé practically sell themselves. However, wine country travelers need to keep in mind that it can be extremely dangerous to leave wines the car for even the shortest amount of time, so it always advisable to keep a cooler in the trunk.



Fortunately the following weeks received some relief as coastal fog cooled off and the cooling effect of the delta returned the Northern California back to normal. Following the heat wave I traveled out to Lodi to revisit Michael David Winery and do a tour of the historic estate at the Bare Ranch Vineyard.



The Founder



The name of Michael David Winery is a combination of two brother’s names, Michael and David Phillips. Their family has farmed in the Lodi region since the 1850’s and the 6th generation of grape growers, Kevin and Melissa Phillips, continue to the viticultural heritage. Their ancestor’s agricultural business began by growing citrus, apples, peaches, cherries, and pear trees. The transition to growing vitis vinifera was driven by the demand for grapes for home wine-making during the Prohibition. By the 1970’s the family had extensive vineyards that was foundational to Lodi becoming a viticulutural area. In fact, most wines from this region were simply labeled “California” and the region was mostly known for producing mass production “jug” table wines. But times and the quality of wines in this region have changed as the wineries here now proudly designate their wines with the Lodi AVA (American Viticultural Area).



Bare Ranch

 

Located about 5.4 miles from the winery and tasting room is Michael-David Winery’s Bare Ranch. In 2007 they purchased this stunningly beautiful property that features a historic Arts and Crafts (Craftsman) home that was built in 1903. The estate was originally named Rancho del Oso Winery (Spanish for “Bear Ranch”) and it was an operating winery until the early 1950’s.[1] It was under the management of Dan Bedford and it had a cooperage capacity of 250,000 gallons. The primary wine produced was Carignan and they also produced Sherry and Port-styled wines. The still, which was four stories high, was capable of making 50 proof gallons for fortifying brandy. Today most of the original buildings remain on the property.[2]




The Bare Ranch estate is surrounded by beautiful gardens, a trickling stream with a waterfall and 180 acres of vineyards. After acquiring the estate, the Phillips Family spent a year and a half renovating the home. They then turned the historic estate into an event center where guests can rent the facility for special events and enjoy Michael-David Winery estate wines.

 

A tour of the ranch begins with driving over an arching wooden bridge that crosses over a small pond and a beautiful wrought-iron gate. Visitors then drive down a long pine tree lined driveway to the entry of the estate.



As you walk through an archway and head towards the estate, you follow along a winding path on which you pass by a trickling waterfall and stream. The view then opens up to a beautiful botanical garden in front of a Craftsman home, a picturesque sight for having an outdoor wedding or hosting an event. On the other side of the property is an adjoining pool and another garden area with fountains. The historic building is encompassed by an expansive lawn and a low stonewall that allows visitors to view the surrounding grapevines.



The Winemakers



Michael David Winery has a team of winemakers that includes Adam Mettler and Derek DeVries along with assistant winemaker/laboratory manager Jeff Farthing.



Adam Mettler is a 5th generation Lodi wine grape grower who studied winemaking at the U.C. Davis and San Joaquin Delta College and has a B.S. degree in Enology with minor in Chemistry from CSU, Fresno (class of 2002). He is also the winemaker for his family’s winery, Mettler Family Vineyards. He then furthered his craft by taking a seasonal position in South Australia and then returned to the USA to join the winemaking team for Fenestra Winery in the Livermore Valley in late 2002. Three years later in 2005 he joined the Michael-David winemaking team.



Derek DeVries comes from a 4th generation farming family and is also a graduate of CSU, Fresno with a major in Enology and a minor in Viticulture (class of 2004). After graduation he began his winemaking career in Lodi at Turner Road Vintners. Then in 2007 he joined the Michael David Winery team as Assistant Winemaker/ Cellar Master, at Michael David.



Jeff Farthing has a B.A. degree in Biology from University of Kansas (class of 1998).  He then went on to become the first person to receive an M.S. degree with the combined disciplines of Viticulture and Enology from CSU, Fresno (class of 2004). He also received the Graduate Student Achievement Award from the Viticulture and Enology Department as well as the Andre Tchelistcheff Scholarship Award in 2004. Jeff has been on winemaking teams for Fresno State Winery, Quady Winery in Madera, Stonehouse Vineyards and Winery in Shenandoah Valley as well as Beaulieu Vineyard, Daviana Winery and Rutherford Hill Winery in the Napa Valley.



The Vines and the Wines

 

All 750 acres of the family’s vineyards are third party certified. Starting with the 2011 vintage 100% of the Lodi grown fruit crushed at Michael David Winery is certified sustainable. Michael-David Vineyards produces eight brands of distinctive wines including 6th Sense Syrah, 7 Deadly Zins, 7 Heavenly Chards, Incognito, Earthquake, Don’s Lodi Red Windmill and Sparkling Duet. One of the most well-known of their wines is the “7 Deadly Zins” which is widely distributed and it is one of the largest selling Zinfandel in the United States, second only to Ravenswood’s Vintner’s Blend.

After touring Bare Ranch I headed to the tasting room and winery on Highway 12 (Kettleman Drive) where I sampled the following wines:



The first pour was the 2012 Incognito White – a blend of 63% Viognier, 21% Chardonnay, 7% Muscat, 5% Sauvignon Blanc and 4% Roussanne. This wine is clear pale straw yellow in color. On the nose it has pronounced floral aromas followed by a bouquet of lemonade, mandarin oranges and dried pineapple. On the palate it is crisp with a medium(-) body and a lingering citrus finish. It is a pleasing white wine that might pare well with lighter chicken dishes. The wine sells for $18 a bottle.



The second wine was the 2011 Ancient Vine Cinsault. The grapes come from Lodi’s oldest producing vineyard planted in 1885 by Joseph Spenker. It is head trained and dry farmed by Kevin Phillips and the vineyard team. This wine is light ruby red in color to pink at the rim. On the nose it has explosive aromas of pomegranates, cranberries, watermelon and cherry jubilee. On the palate it is medium bodied, with crisp acidity and a hint of herbs and anise on the finish. The general profile of this wine is not typical for this varietal as it is almost rosé-like and could undoubtedly be enjoyed slightly chilled. The wine sells for $25 a bottle.




The Earthquake series which includes a Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and a Cabernet Sauvignon is Michael David’s upper tier of wines. They tend to be heavier and more intense with higher alcohol levels. Yet they remain under $30 per bottle. I have tasted previous vintages of these wines and with the exception of the Cabernet I have found some vintages to be out of balance as they have too much heat on the finish. However, the 2011 vintage was a cooler year and so where the California Coast, the Napa and Sonoma Valleys and other regions struggled to get their grapes ripe, the central valley was getting Napa’s weather. The result is that Lodi may be able to have lower alcohol levels and maintain control for their 2011 vintage wines.



The third sample was the 2011 Earthquake Zinfandel. This is the first wine I have had of this vintage of any red wine from Lodi. I have experienced a few barrel tastings of 2011 Napa Valley Cabs and they all seemed too green as if the grapes failed to achieve optimum ripeness. So, if this wine is a good representation the Lodi 2011 vintage then this will be the place to go. 2011 Earthquake Zin is dark ruby at the core with intense aromas of jammy raspberries, plums, black currants, dark cherries and vanilla. On the palate it has aggressive tannins, it is full bodied with medium acidity, it delivers a velvety texture on the mid palate and ends medium+ length finish. The alcohol on this wine is 15.5% and yet it is well balanced with no heat on the finish which was a pleasant surprise! I think it would be best served with barbequed meats that have spicy rubs, meaty pizzas or served as a cocktail. This wine sells for $26 a bottle so I brought one home.



The fourth wine was 2010 Inkblot Petit Verdot . This wine is dark black at the core to dark ruby red at the rim and it stains the glass when swirled. On the nose it exudes intense boysenberries, cassis, dark cherries, milk chocolate and vanilla. On the palate it is silky smooth on entry and yet the tannins have a lot of grip on the back end. It is full bodied with medium+ weight, medium acidity and a medium length finish. The alcohol on this wine is 15.5% and yet it is well balanced. This wine sells for $35 a bottle.




The fifth pour was 2010 “Lust” Zinfandel. This wine is dark purple at the core to violet at the rim. On the nose it has aromas of concentrated dried dark fruits, raisins, and black licorice. On entry it is seemingly semi-sweet, very soft with silky tannins and a full bodied mouth-feel and a prolonged finish. It is a luscious wine that is almost dessert-like that is sure to satisfy hedonistic oenophiles with the “Lust” they are looking for in a wine. The alcohol on this wine is 16.9% and yet it has no heat. While many people who are looking for something over-the-top will enjoy this wine I preferred the Earthquake Zinfandel. This wine also comes with an insane price tag at $59 a bottle.



The final pour was… not available!



The only Cabernet Sauvignon from the Lodi region I have ever really liked has been Michael David Winery’s Earthquake Cabernet Sauvignon. But the only time I have had it when I purchased a bottle from a wine shop. Several years ago, when I was working at Borra Vineyards nearby, I stopped the tasting room to sample the wines. But they were not pouring the Cabernet Sauvignon. So, when revisiting the tasting room I was disappointed that they were again sold out of and not pouring the most recent vintage. I called a couple shops in the area to see if they had any in stock but to no avail. However, when I got back to the Bay Area I stopped at a local wine shop and they had in stock 3 bottles of the 2010 Earthquake Cabernet Sauvignon. I asked a salesperson if they had any more and he said, “We get a limited allotment so that is all we have.” So, without tasting it I bought all three bottles. I then looked on-line and many other places that have it listed are sold out as well.



The following day I opened a bottle to have with my dinner.



The final wine, which I tasted at home, was the 2010 Earthquake Cabernet Sauvignon. According to Michael David Winery’s website it has “a bit of Petite Sirah blended in.” This wine is deep, dark black at the core to purple at the rim and it stains the glass when swirled. On the nose it has intense concentrated aromas of cassis, dried plums, blackberry pie and vanilla. On the palate it is fruit forward on entry, full bodied with medium+ weight, silky medium intensity tannins and mouth-watering acidity. The weight of this wine (which is probably due to it having 15.5% alcohol) and dried dark fruit notes clearly identify it as coming from a hotter region than the Napa Valley. But other than that I have had many Napa Valley Cabs that sold for $40+ that were similar. When this wine was available it sold for $26 a bottle, which is the same priced I paid at a local wine shop.



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






To visit or for more information:



Michael David Winery

4580 West Highway 12

Lodi, CA 95242

Phone: 1-209-368-7384  / Toll Free: 1-888-707-WINE





[1] Why it is named “Bare Ranch” and not “Bear Ranch” is a mystery.
[2] Lodi News Sentinel, September 18, 1936: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2245&dat=19360918&id=3fIzAAAAIBAJ&sjid=7-4HAAAAIBAJ&pg=5183,1464156