Saturday, July 12, 2014

J Vineyards & Winery – Healdsburg, California



The process and equipment necessary for making still wine and sparkling wine are quite different from each other. While they both begin as a still wine, sparkling wine then goes through a secondary fermentation process either in a tank (known as the Charmat method) or if done in the traditional method (also known as méthode champenoise, in Champagne France) it takes place in the bottle.[1] 
Antique Riddling Rack
The traditional method requires a different kind of bottle plus a means of riddling the bottles (either by hand on a rack or with a gyropalate) in order to consolidate the spent yeast (lees) for removal and a different type of bottling process. Due to the extra equipment involved and the additional labor wineries in California tend to focus on either making still wine or sparkling wine. 
Gyropalates
While some wineries that focus on still wine may sell sparkling wine, more often than not they only make the still wine and then another winery puts it through the secondary fermentation and bottling process. Likewise, while many wineries that focus on sparkling wine will also bottle a small amount of still wine it tends to be more of an after-thought rather than any serious focus on high quality. All they are doing is bottling some of their still wine that would normally go through the secondary fermentation to make sparkling wine.
This is one of the things that sets J Vineyards & Winery apart from many others as they are dedicated to producing both high quality still and sparkling wine and they wear both hats very well.
The Winery and Vineyards

J Vineyards & Winery was founded by second generation vintner Judy Jordan who is following in the footsteps of her father, Tom Jordan, who established Jordon Winery & Vineyard in 1976 in Healdsburg, California.
But Judy didn’t immediately jump into the wine business with her family. Before starting her own wine career she graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Earth Sciences/Geology. She then worked in Geophysics at Western Geophysical Corporation in Denver, Colorado. With this experience she returned to the family business and put her knowledge in marketing, soils and geology into making wine.
Then in 1986 Judy founded J Vineyards & Winery and created hallmark wines such as her signature J Vintage Brut and J Late-Disgorged Vintage Brut. Then a decade later she purchased the former Piper Sonoma winemaking facility south of Healdsburg in the Russian River Valley. There she launched two single-vineyard Pinot Noirs named after her children, Nicole and Robert Thomas, and a Pinot Gris made from Cooper Vineyard. 
Cooper's Vineyard
Today J Vineyards & Winery has 9 sustainably farmed estate vineyards planted on over 200 acres with a wide variety of alluvial soils in the Russian River Valley. In 1999 the tasting room opened where guests can not only experience the wines but also enjoy food and wine pairing on the patio.
The Wines
While visiting, I toured the winemaking facilities including the barrel room while tasting the following wines:

2013 Cooper’s Vineyard Pinot Gris

This is a clear white wine, pale straw in color with minor hint of green on the rim and low viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderate intense aromas of lemon-lime, canned peaches, melon, under ripe banana and a hint of floral soap. On the palate it is dry but fruit forward with medium+ acid, medium body and a very long finish with lingering tropical notes. This wine sells for $30 per bottle.

2012 Bowtie Vineyard Chardonnay

This is a clear white wine, straw in color with moderate intensity and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of peach, yellow apples, apricot, Crème brûlée, caramelized apples and a hint of creamed corn. It is dry with a medium+ acidity, it is full bodied with medium+ alcohol and a long finish. This is definitely a California-style Chardonnay and yet it is well balanced and not overly oaky or buttery. This wine sells for $45 per bottle.

2012 Russian River Pinot Noir

This is a clear ruby wine of moderate intensity with a hint of garnet at the rim and medium viscosity. On the nose it has subtle aromas of cranberries, black cherries, hints of smoke, bacon fat, cola, clove and spice. On the palate it is fruit forward with medium- tannins, medium+ acidity and a medium+ length finish. This wine has all the hallmarks of great Russian River Pinot Noir and it sells for $37 per bottle.

Brut Rosé Sparking Wine (NV)

This wine is made from 66% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, and 1% Pinot Meunier with a portion of the Pinot Noir being left on the skins to impart color. This is a clear salmon pink wine with very tiny bubbles and low viscosity. On the nose it has subtle aromas of ripe strawberries, cranberries, and kiwi fruit. On the palate it is dry and tart with medium+ acidity, it is light bodied and it has a moderate length finish. This wine sells for $38 per bottle.

Cuvee 20 Sparking Wine (NV)

This wine is a blend of 54% Chardonnay, 44% Pinot Noir, 2% Pinot Meunier. This is a clear white wine, pale straw in color with low concentration, tiny bubbles and low viscosity. On the nose it has subtle aromas of apple, pear, maraschino cherries and a hint of yeasty bread. On the palate it is has a touch of sweetness, it is very crisp with medium++ acidity, it is light bodied and it has a moderate length finish. This wine sells for $28 per bottle.

To visit or for more information:

J Vineyards and Winery
11447 Old Redwood Hwy
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Phone: 888-594-6326

[1] There are also those who simply inject carbonation like making soda pop, but the quality tends to be very low.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Williams Selyem Winery– Healdsburg, California



When sommeliers talk about California Pinot Noir the Russian River Valley is quite often the preferred region and when a list is made of favorite wineries Williams Selyem is always within the “Top 10”. This winery has been hailed by many of my friends and fellow Pinotfiles so it has been on my “must visit” list for quite some time. So, with my 48th birthday coming up the first weekend of July I made a reservation and celebrated the day experiencing some of the best California Pinots I have ever tasted. These wines have extremely limited distribution and tend to get significant markup in the very few retail stores that carry their wines. The winery has no sign at the entrance indicating its location on the Westside Road and reservations are required far in advance. In fact I made my appointment about 6 weeks prior to my visit.
The Winery
Williams Selyem Winery was founded by Burt Williams and Ed Selyem who began their enological endeavors under the Hacienda del Rio Winery label in a garage in Fulton, California. Their first wine was a 1981 Zinfandel and quickly thereafter they began making Pinot Noir
In 1998, they were ready to move on and sold the winery to New York businessman John Dyson, who hired Bob Cabral as Executive winemaker. Bod had previously worked as winemaker for De Loach, Kunde, Alderbrook and Hartford Court and guided Williams Selyem to become the iconic winey it is today with new vineyards and crafting the winery’s trademark elegant style and overseeing the construction of a $14.8-million winery. However, after serving as the chief winemaker for 16 years he will be stepping down at the end of 2014 and has visions of creating his own label.[1]

The Wines


While visiting I sampled the following wines, but the descriptions below hardly do them justice:
2012 Vista Verde Vineyard, Limestone Ridge Chenin Blanc

This is a clear white wine, pale straw in color with low viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderate intense aromas of candied lemons, yellow flowers with hint of a salty minerality and a slight gun-flint smokiness. On the palate it is dry and very crisp with HIGH acid, it is light bodied and a medium+ length finish. This wine sells for $35 per bottle.
2012 Unoaked Chardonnay, Russian River Valley

This is a clear white wine, straw in color with moderate intensity and medium viscosity. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of lemon, white peaches, and green apples. It is dry with a medium+ acidity, it is medium bodied with medium alcohol and a medium length finish. The wine is a bit austere but if you prefer a California Chards done in a Chablis-like style you’ll enjoy this wine. This wine sells for $39 per bottle winery but it retails for $69 at a local wine shop.
2011 Block 10 Estate Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

This is a clear ruby wine at the core that transitions to magenta at the rim, it has moderate intensity with and medium viscosity. On the nose it has pronounced intense aromas of ripe cherries, plums and strawberry preserves, fresh roses, hints of smoke and bacon, followed by a touch of clove and spice. The nose on this wine is very fruit forward and it is quite seductive as well. I don’t think I have ever come across a Pinot that immediately made me say “WOW!” at the first sniff. On the palate it is very soft on entry with silky medium- tannins, medium+ acidity, it is has medium+ body and an extremely long finish. This wine sells for $85 per bottle.
2012 Westside Road Neighbors Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

This is a clear ruby colored wine with medium intensity and moderate viscosity. On the nose it has moderate aromas of Bing cherries with hints of cola, a hint of smoke, black pepper and anise. On the palate it is dry with medium- velvety tannins, medium+ acidity and a long finish. This wine sells for $69 per bottle at the winery but it retails for $110 at a local wine shop.
2011 Bucher Vineyard Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

This is a clear ruby colored wine with medium intensity and moderate viscosity. On the nose it has moderate aromas of Bing cherries, strawberries, mushrooms, forest floor with hints of dried herbs, a hint of smoke, black pepper and anise. On the palate it is dry with medium silky tannins, mouthwatering medium+ acidity and a long finish. This wine was not as fruit forward as the previous Pinots and it has more of the mushroom-earthiness that I prefer so it my favorite wine in the line-up. I brought one bottle home for $59.
To see more pictures of Williams Selyem Winery, check the link below to Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography:


To visit or for more information:
Williams Selyem Winery
7227 Westside Rd
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Phone: 707-433-6425


[1] http://www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/49602?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=williams-selyem-winemaker-bob-cabral-stepping-down-wine-spectator

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Windy Oaks Estate Winery – Corralitos, California



Jim Schultze made his money in the tech industry but developed his winemaking skills in Australia and Burgundy. In 1996 Jim and his wife and Judy Schultze founded Windy Oaks Estate Winery and planted their first 3 acres of Pinot Noir on a windy ridge located at 1,000 feet overlooking the town of Corralitos and the Monterey Bay. Three years later they released their first vintage, the 1999 Pinot Noir. The following year they built a new winery, planted an acre of Chardonnay and expanded their Pinot Noir to a total of 26 acres. Grapes are also sourced from an adjacent 7 acres and a 4-acre vineyard in Aptos.
During my visit to the winery I met Jim and Judy Schultze’s son, Spencer Schultze, and while sampling the wines he told me about his enology training in the Winemaking Certification program at UC Davis and his time spent as an intern at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard in Chablis. He now serves as the assistant winemaker along with Lucas Orme who also completed the Winemaking Certification program at UC Davis and works in vineyard management.
The vineyard is mostly above the fog line which protects the grapes from heat spikes during the Summer so the temperatures range from the 70s during the day and drop to the 40s at night. In fact, while I was visiting there was very little blue sky as the fog was drifting in and out of the vineyards from the adjacent forest. The vineyard is planted to 115, 667, 777, 828, 2A and Pommard Clones and is farmed according to sustainable, organic principles.
The winemaking style employs the use of a basket press and is non-interventional with no additives (ie enzymes, acid) and is followed by a 4 to 6 day cold soak for optimum extraction. They use at least 50% wild yeast with most of their wines and the fermentation lasts 25-30 days. No racking is done once the wine is the 3-year-old air dried tight grained French oak barrels and they age their Pinot Noirs for 18-25 months with a high percentage of new oak (50% up to 75% in the Reserve). The modern estate winery is all gravity-driven with a state-of-the-art bottling line that permits minimal oxygen which enables the wines to go through little or no bottle shock.
The Corralitos Wine Trail
Windy Oaks Estate Winery is part of the “Corralitos Wine Trail” which was initiated by Craig Handley, proprietor of Pleasant Valley Vineyards. The wine trail is home to 4 other small family-owned wineries including Natal Vineyards, Nicholson Vineyards, Pleasant Valley Vineyards, and Alfaro Family Vineyards.
The Wines

The tasting room is located within the winery which has a large opening to a patio across from the vineyards where visitors can lounge while sampling the wines. After touring the vineyards I sampled the following Pinot Noirs:
2012 Diane’s Block Estate Pinot Noir
This is a clear, bright ruby-red wine with medium- intensity and medium viscosity. On the nose it has subtle aromas of tart strawberries, cranberries; it is very savory with intense clove and pepper followed by hints of cola, earth and dried herbs. It is dry with medium tannin, medium+ acidity, medium body and a medium length finish. This was one of my favorites in the line-up so I brought a bottle home for $45.
2012 100% Wild Yeast Estate Pinot Noir
This is a clear, bright ruby-red wine with medium- intensity and medium viscosity. On the nose it has subtle aromas of strawberries, cranberries with minor notes of smoke and a hint of spice. On the palate it is dry with medium- tannin, medium+ acidity, medium- body and a medium length finish. This wine sells for $55 per bottle.
2010 100% Whole Cluster Estate Pinot Noir
This is a clear, light ruby-red wine with a tinge of garnet; it has medium- intensity and medium viscosity. On the nose it has subtle aromas of tart strawberries, cloves, dried herbs cloves, cola and a hint of black pepper.  It is dry with medium- tannin, medium+ acidity, medium- body and a medium length finish. This wine sells for $55 per bottle.
2011 Proprietor’s Reserve Pinot Noir
This is a clear, bright ruby-red wine with medium- intensity and medium viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of tart strawberries, cranberries, and black cherries. It is very savory with intense clove and pepper followed by hints of cola, earth and dried herbs. It is dry with medium tannin, medium+ acidity, medium body and a medium length finish. This is similar to the Diane’s Block, but with a lot more intense aromas and flavors. It was my favorite in the line-up so I brought a bottle home for $60.
To visit or for more information:
Windy Oaks Estate Winery
550 Hazel Dell Road
Corralitos, CA 95076
Phone: 831- 786-9463