Monday, July 31, 2017

Hall Rutherford Winery Estate Appellation Tasting

Hall Rutherford Winery Estate Appellation Tasting

Our visit to the Hall Rutherford Estate has been one of the highlights of previous Napa Valley trips so we recommended it as one of the short list visits to son Ryan and Michelle for their recent Napa trip. Based on his glowing report and recommendation, we decided to return to Hall for a tasting of their new releases during our recent Sonoma Napa Wine Experience 2017.

Like Del Dotto and some of the other top Napa producers, Hall have significantly expanded their operations, facilities, number of labels, and achievement of top ranked, most highly acclaimed ultra premium labels including the spectacular 99 and 100 point ranked wines which we tasted below.

We wrote in earlier visit blogposts about the spectacular Hall Rutherford estate and cave tours at the Rutherford estate sitting in the Sacrashe Vineyard, above Auberge du Soleil Relaix au Chateau, below the Hall estate residence. The facility has hospitality rooms above the wine production area, barrel caves and tasting room below.

The magnificent caves are sculpted into the mountain with bricks brought from an Austrian castle and features alcoves that create a galley of sculpture art.

The magnificent tasting room (shown left) at the end of the barrel cave features a large table for thirty guests underneath a massive chandelier fashioned from a thousand year old grape vine.

We were hosted this day by 'Wine Educator' Bob Childs (pictured below).

In the hospitality center, before we walked down the hill to the winery, barrel and tasting room caves below, we tasted:

Hall T-Bar-T Sonoma County Alexander Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2016

Walts "the Corners" Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2014

The lower level winery underneath the hospitality center houses the large stainless steel cooling jacket shrouded fermentation tanks. Even the production facility is bathed in the light of artistic neon lights overhead. The custom built tanks are contoured to fit into the room. Centered between the adjacent rows of tanks are double doors that enter to the caves. The long barrel lined cave doubles as an art gallery with the many alcoves featuring sculpture artworks. At the end of the cave is the entrance to the tasting room.

We tasted the Hall Appellation tasting flight featuring the latest releases of a selection the Hall premium and ultra-premium labels from the different Napa appellations paired with specially prepared appropriate culinary chef's selections.

The Hall Appellation Tasting flight:

Hall "Bergfield" Vineyard St Helena Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 

This is from the Hall St Helena Estate Vineyard in the St Helena appellation which surrounds the town in a crescent shape to the north, east and south. St Helena is also the site of Hall's large St Helena operations on Hwy 29 just south of town with winery, production, and a hospitality center that offers the range of Estate and Hall branded labels. The ultra-premium and Platinum labels are reserved for the esteemed Rutherford site.

Winemaker Steve Leveque's notes: "The highly aromatic nose carries aromas of boysenberry, warm pie crust, brown spice, with floral and earthy undertones. Exotic flavors of wild berry coulis, 5-spice, black tea and cedar come through on the palate. Dense, lush and powerful tannins lead into a long and intensely fruity finish.

Hall Diamond Mountain Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

It was fortuitous and fitting to taste a Diamond Creek appellation selection following our visit to the legendary Diamond Creek Vineyards on Diamond Mountain earlier in the week. 

Like Diamond Creek's, Hall's description of the Diamond Creek appellation speaks to the porous volcanic derived soils which are memorialized in the Diamond Creek single vineyard designated labels.

Winemaker Steve Leveque's tasting notes: The flavors and aromas of this wine reveal a dusty and earthy character interwoven with notes of black cherry and German chocolate cake. Dense, silky tannins with a dark chocolate-like texture express age-worthy wine. The full power of this wine unwinds into a lengthy finish in the glass.

This wine was awarded 97 points by Robert Parker Wine Advocate.

I plan to acquire the '15 vintage of this label and look forward to comparison tasting it against the Diamond Creek Vineyards releases we acquired this week.

Hall Exzellenz Rutherford Sacrashe Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

This is sourced from the Sacrashe Vineyard that lies just above the winery adjacent to the estate residence. We hold some of the earlier single vineyard designated wines from this vineyard dating back to 1998. Who knew this would evolve and progress to such heights? Not often does one get to taste a 'perfect' wine. of course perfection is in the eyes ('eyze') of the beholder. This wine got 100 points from Robert Parker.

Parker wrote of this wine; "This hails from the foothills of Rutherford and refers to Kathryn Hall’s ambassadorship to Austria between 1997 and 2001. A prodigious wine with beautiful floral notes intermingled with blueberry, blackberry, black raspberry and graphite, the wine hits the palate with a full-bodied force, but nothing seems pushed, cloying or out of sync. Gorgeously pure blue and black fruits cascade over the palate, a full-bodied presentation with remarkable purity and complexity. The finish is a good 45-50 seconds, and while there is significant tannin, the extravagance of the fruit and glycerin generally conceal it. This is a remarkable, one-of-a-kind, world class Cabernet Sauvignon that should prove compelling for at least another 30-40+ years."

Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate. 100 Points.

 Hall Jack's Masterpiece Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Another 'perfect' wine by most anyone's standards, this one got 99 points from Mr. Parker, as close to perfection as possible. This was another memorable wine of epic proportions.

Son Ryan obtained some '13 (birth year of his daughter (our grandaughter) Marleigh) during his recent visit, which is all gone. I'm planning to get the '15 on the upcoming release (birthyear of two grandkids, Jessie and Reid).

"The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Jack’s Masterpiece, which is a blend from their finest vineyards, displays super-sweet tannins, an opaque purple color and beautiful crème de cassis, blueberry and blackberry fruit. Its flawless integration of acidity, tannin, wood and alcohol and its opulent, full-bodied mouthfeel make for a true elixir and fabulous Cabernet Sauvignon to drink now or cellar for 25-30 more years. I would still try to defer gratification for 2-3 years prior to drinking this big boy."

Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate 99 Points.
Hall Bishop Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 

Our wines were paired with:

Applewood Smoked Trout Creme & Truffle Marieke Gouda

Sonoma duck Terrine & Cave-Aged  11 Month Gruyere

Cacciatore Salumi & Dolcelatte with Fig Conserve

Joseph Phelps Napa Valley Winery Tasting

Joseph Phelps Napa Valley Winery Tasting

A highlight of our Pour Boys  2017 Sonoma/Napa Wine Experience was a private tasting at the spectacular Joseph Phelps Vineyards and Winery hospitality center. We tasted a curated selection of current release Napa Valley and Sonoma Coast wines, including Insignia and Phelp's single-vineyard Pinot Noir. 

The Phelps winery, tasting facility sits overlooking Phelp's vineyards nestled in its own Spring Valley above St Helena on the western facing foothills of the Vaca range that form the eastern face of Napa Valley. 

The new magnificent tasting facility recently underwent a sixteen-month expansion renovation of the original winery building repurposed into a reception area, a Great Hall, six private tasting areas, a library of older vintages, a barrel room and a state-of-the-art kitchen. The facility features the signature exterior redwood design and massive trellis entryway from a relocated bridge, and opens onto a terrace with numerous seating spaces for private tastings with valley and vineyard views. 

Joseph Phelps is second and third generation family-owned and operated with vineyards and wineries in Napa Valley and on the western Sonoma Coast. The late Joseph Phelps, a successful construction executive and entrepreneur started the business in 1973 when he purchased a 670-acre former cattle ranch in Napa Valley. 

Today, the business is overseen by Joe’s son, Bill Phelps, who joined the business in 1998 after a successful career in law.  The winery’s Board also includes Joe’s daughters, Leslie, Laurie and Lynn. In 2016, third generation Elizabeth Neuman and Will Phelps, joined to run Business Development and Marketing, as part of the winery’s executive management team, and Allie Phelps joined the winery’s hospitality team where she is working in the culinary program.

All Joseph Phelps wines are 100% estate-grown, sourced from grapes grown on 390 acres of vines in Napa Valley on eight estate vineyards in St. Helena, Rutherford, Oakville, the Stags Leap District, the Oak Knoll District, South Napa and Carneros, and from 100 acres over two vineyards on the western Sonoma Coast. 

Our Phelps wine tasting was held in the tasting room shown left. Our tasting flight consisted of the following wines:

Joseph Phelps Sauvignon Blanc 2016 St Helena 

Joseph Phelps Freestone Chardonnay Pastorale Vineyard Sonoma Coast 2014

Joseph Phelps Pastorale Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2013

Joseph Phelps Quarter Moon Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2014

Joseph Phelps Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Joseph Phelps Napa Valley Insignia 2011, 2013, 2015

Tasting notes:

Joseph Phelps Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
Winemaker's Notes; The  2014  Cabernet  Sauvignon  highlights  blackberry,  dried  blueberry  and  violet  with  notes  of   graphite  and  cloves  followed by opulent layers of  black currant jam, roasted coffee, tobacco, dried fig and vanilla bean. A full-bodied, deeply concentrated wine with supple tannins and a lengthy finish.

This is a Bordeaux varietal blend of 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, and 2% each Malbec and Cabernet Franc. 

Dark garnet colored, medium-full bodied, blackberry and black currant fruits with hints of anise, spice and cedar with smooth lingering tannins on the finish. 

RM 91 points. WA 92 AG 91

Joseph Phelps Napa Valley Insignia 2011

Insignia is Phelp's flagship wine and was California’s first proprietary red Bordeaux-style blend. There have now been over forty vintages of Insignia which is one of the most iconic wines in Napa Valley. The 2002 vintage was awarded “Wine of the Year” by Wine Spectator magazine in 2005, and in November 2013, Robert M. Parker, Jr. of The Wine Advocate awarded Insignia three perfect 100-point scores for the 1991, 1997 and 2002 vintages, calling it “one of the world’s finest Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated blends." 

This is a Bordeaux varietal blend of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Merlot, 11% Petit Verdot, 4% Malbec and 1% Cabernet Franc.  

100% estate-grown from Napa Valley  vineyards:
• Stags Leap District, 20% Barboza Vineyard and 17% Las Rocas Vineyard
• St. Helena, 21% Home Ranch Vineyard
• Oak Knoll District, 20% Yountville Vineyard
• Napa Valley, 13% Suscol Vineyard
• Rutherford, 9% Banca Dorada Vineyard

WA 93 AG 93

The ultimate test of a winemaker is to producer quality wines in challenging lackluster years such as 2011 which was cool and wet with rains at the wrong times such as late in the growing season. Never-the-less, Phelps produced a respectable, high quality Insignia. 

Winemaker notes: The 2011 Insignia is layered with aromatics of  dark fruit, cardamom, tobacco, Herbs de Provence and graphite on the nose. Fresh and lively this elegant wine boasts bright red cherry, blackberry and espresso throughout the palate with supple tannins.

Dark garnet colored, full bodied, smooth and nicely balanced blackberry and black currant fruits with notes of tobacco leaf, hints of cedar and anise with moderate tannins on the lingering finish. 

RM 92 points. 

Joseph Phelps Napa Valley Insignia 2013

Phelps Insignia barrel tastings are accommodated from these barrels which hold $225,000 worth of wine!

Winemaker's notes: Deeply pigmented, the 2013 Insignia opens with heady blackberry and plum aromatics laced with baking spices, cardamom and espresso. Focused and fresh, this exceptionally concentrated wine showcases elegant tannin structure and a silky mouthfeel layered with dark fruit, sweet vanilla bean, cracked black pepper and bittersweet chocolate.

Blend: 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot, 3% Merlot, 3% Malbec and 1% Cabernet Franc 

100% estate-grown Napa Valley  vineyards: Stags  Leap  District  (28%  Las  Rocas  Vineyard  and  11%  Barboza  Vineyard),  Napa  Valley  (22%  Suscol Vineyard),  Rutherford  (16%  Banca  Dorada  Vineyard),  Oak  Knoll  District  (12%  Yountville  Vineyard)  and  St.  Helena  (11%  Home  Ranch Vineyard).

WA 98 WE 98 

Dark inky purple colored, full bodied, intense, concentrated, smooth, polished, a symphony of well integrated layers of black raspberry, blueberry and blackberry fruits, accent tones of graphite, espresso, dark mocha, hints of vanilla and pepper with nice acidity and smooth silkly tannins.  

RM 96 points.

Joseph Phelps Napa Valley Insignia 2015

Our host Michael Cawelti
Phelp's Wine Educator
This is a Bordeaux varietal blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec and 2% Cabernet Franc.  

The 2015 vintage promises to be another blockbuster following the string of great 2012, 2013, and 2014. The 2015 production yields were tiny resulting in rich concentrated fruits. 

Tasted from a barrel drawn bottle sample, this was dark inky garnet colored, full bodied, rich concentrated, nicely polished and balanced, sinewy black berry and black raspberry fruits, notes of mocha, and vanilla, with hints of graphite, minty cedar, turning to smooth silky tannins on a long finish. 

RM 95 points. 

Phelps Vineyards and Winery Estate - 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Chateau St Jean Sonoma Reserve Private Tasting

Chateau St Jean Sonoma Reserve Private Tasting

Our Pour Boys 2017 Sonoma Napa Wine Experience started on the Sonoma Coast and worked east along the Russian River Valley ending up in Sonoma Valley at one of its crown jewel estates, Chateau St Jean. Bill C., a wine club member arranged for a special Reserve private tasting. 

The estate is one of the most picturesque and authentic in the Sonoma Valley and is more civil and hospitable than some of the garish ostentatious properties in the more highly commercialized Napa Valley. This was a perfect buffer and transition from the more relaxed Sonoma County to the Valley as we transitioned to spend the coming week in Napa (Valley).

Private tastings are held in the cottage (shown right) across the courtyard from the hospitality center. 

We've visited the estate and done tastings there numerous times over the years. Sonoma Harvest '09 - Chateau St Jean and again Sonoma Valley Wine Experience 2009 - Chateau St Jean.

Founded in 1973 in the Sonoma Valley, Chateau St. Jean is the quintessential Sonoma winery. Chateau St. Jean produces an extensive portfolio of Sonoma County wines sourced from their estate in Sonoma Valley and other estate vineyards up in Alexander Valley, including several vineyard designated wines, and limited production Reserve wines. 

Chateau St. Jean was the first Sonoma winery to be awarded the prestigious “Wine of the Year” award from Wine Spectator Magazine for its 1996 Cinq Cépages, a Bordeaux style blend of “five varieties”,  the crowning achievement cementing their longstanding recognition as a leader in vineyard designated wines.

We hold more than a dozen vintages of their flagship Cinq Cépages Cabernet Sauvignon - a Bordeaux Blend as well as numerous other labels from this producer. 

Margo Van Staaveren has been Winemaker for more than 30 years and uses her vineyard and winemaking expertise with Chateau St. Jean to continue the tradition of highlighting the best of each vineyard site to produce exceptional wines.

While we have collected St Jean wines for decades, this was an adventurous tasting exploring and discovering new white and red labels from the outer reaches of Sonoma Coast and Sonoma County. This was especially interesting as we spend the first couple of days getting better acquainted with appellations setting the stage for more immersive focused visits in coming trips.

The wines:

Le Seul Sonoma Coast Reserve Chardonnay 2014

Winemakers notes:

Chateau St. Jean’s second vintage of Le Seul Chardonnay hails exclusively from the incredible Gap’s Crown vineyard in the Petaluma Gap area of Sonoma County. The stunningly beautiful Gap’s Crown vineyard is located on the western edge of Sonoma Mountain and ranges in elevation from 300’ to 840’. The vineyard is heavily influenced by cool ocean breezes and a natural fog pocket that stalls over the area allowing the fruit to ripen slowly over the course of the growing season. This results in perfect balance between sugar development and phenolic ripeness.

The 2014 vintage of Le Seul Chardonnay hails from the incredible Gap’s Crown and Sun Chase vineyards, both located in the Petaluma Gap area of Sonoma County. These stunning vineyards on the western edge of Sonoma Mountain ranges in elevation from 300 to 840 feet. The vineyards are influenced by cool ocean breezes and a natural fog pocket that stalls overhead, allowing the fruit to ripen slowly over the growing season. This results in perfect balance between sugar development and phenolic ripeness. 
Highly regarded Dijon clones were selected for this wine. Chardonnay ENTAV clone 548 (55%), a low-yielding clone with small clusters, brings concentrated aromatics of tropical fruits and depth to the wine. Dijon clone 124 (45%) ripens later, lingering on the vine to bring mineral notes and a tight structure. While the grapes from clone 124 were whole-cluster pressed upon arrival at the winery, the clone 548 grapes were destemmed and held on the skins for 12 hours to impart richness and structure to the final wine. This wine was barrel fermented and aged sur lie exclusively in small French oak barrels for 16 months; 64% of the barrels were first-fill.

Chateau St Jean Sonoma County Reserve Chardonnay 2014

Winemakers notes: The 2014 Chateau St. Jean Reserve Chardonnay offers complex aromas of both sweet and savory notes including lemon crème pie, nectarine and toasted almond and spiced tea. The nose rings true on the palate with layered flavors of cantaloupe melon and mango, lemon curd and baking spice. The well structured wine is balanced with a warm, rich texture and expressive acidity. The finish is pure and lingers with a classic lemon oil flavor that is a hallmark for the Sonoma County Reserve Chardonnay.

Chateau St Jean Sonoma County Reserve Pinot Noir 2014

Chateau St Jean Sonoma County Cinq Cepages Red Blend 2013

As the name indicates, Cinq Cepage for 'five flavors' or 'five varieties' is a blend of the Bordeuax varietals in the Bordeaux style. Cinq Cepages Blend has been a favorite since the early nineties, before it was awarded Wine Spectator's Wine of the year, mid-decade. We still hold a dozen vintages of this wine dating back to that era. This is a remarkably consistent quality blend especially considering the large production each year. It typically offers a high QPR for such quality sophisticated wine. Here are the winemakers' notes for this vintage.

The 2013 growing season in Sonoma County was long with mild temperatures resulting in very high quality fruit coming into the winery. The 2013 Cinq Cépages captures the highlights of this vintage. The opening bouquet offers layers of aromas including black raspberry, sweet currant, lifted perfumed violet and notes of baking chocolate. Secondary aromas of roasted coffee and nuanced notes of Earl Gray tea and spice add complexity.

The aromas lead to a plush palate with depth of flavors including raspberry compote and dark chocolate. The full-bodied wine is rich and refined with well-integrated, ripe tannins giving good structure. In signature Cinq Cépages form, this wine combines the strength of the diverse Sonoma County region to create an approachable, well-balanced and elegant wine.

The 2013 Cinq Cépages (“Five Varieties”) is a blend of the classic Bordeaux grapes consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon (76%), Merlot (13%), Cabernet Franc (5%), Malbec (3%), and Petit Verdot (3%). All five varietal components are used each vintage to create the stylized blend that is Cinq Cépages. Before blending, each component is aged separately for twenty-three months exclusively in French oak, with just over half of all the barrels being new (51%). Once the components are assembled, the blend spends almost an entire additional year in the bottle before release.

RM notes:

This was dark inky purple colored, medium full bodied, complex, rich and concentrated black berry fruits with layers of anise and graphite with tones of oak and spices on a smooth lingering tannin finish.

RM 93 points.

Chateau St Jean Sonoma County Reserve Malbec 2013

This too was delicious and is limited availability only from the winery.

Winemaker's notes:

The Reserve Malbec was blended with a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon (6%) to round out the final vintage. Individual lots of each variety were aged separately for 28 months exclusively in small French oak barrels with only 5% being new barrels. Barrel by barrel, each lot was tasted and the most outstanding Malbec barrels were selected and then blended with specific lots of Cabernet Sauvignon to complete the final wine.

This 2013 Reserve Malbec offers bright aromas of boysenberry and blackberry fruit, subtle clove spice and a high-tone violet floral note. The inviting nose leads to a full, plush palate with powerful yet well-integrated and smooth tannins. Flavors of boysenberry jam, black cherry and spice are distinct on the palate. The wine is round with balanced acidity leading to a lengthy and flavorful finish. 
Winemaker Margo Van Staaveren has championed Malbec and believes the variety flourishes in Sonoma at selected sites. It has become one of her favorite wines to bottle as a varietal. The Malbec for this wine comes from the Asti Vineyard in Alexander Valley at the northern end of Sonoma County as well as the St. Jean Estate vineyard in the heart of Sonoma Valley. The beautiful 2013 growing season resulted in wines with great depth of flavor, intense color and excellent balance. The Malbec consistently ripened with a concentrated core of fruit balanced by bright acidity.

Chateau St Jean St Jean Estate Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2014

This was a bonus pour beyond scope of our planned tasting and it was a real treat. Dark inky purplish garnet colored, full bodied, concentrated forward black raspberry and black currant fruits accented by sweet floral tones, spicy acidity and an undercurrent of mocha. Loved it! Limited release, available only at the winery.

RM 92 points.

Chateau St. Jean Sonoma Valley St. Jean Estate Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2014

This was a bonus pour beyond scope of our planned Reserve tasting at the Chateau and it was a real treat.

This is sourced from St Jean Sonoma Valley estate vineyards and was aged for 21 months in American Oak. 

From a follow on post, Tonight's tasting was consistent with my tasting notes from that visit to the Chateau when I wrote, "I like this wine: Dark inky purplish garnet colored, full bodied, concentrated forward black raspberry and black currant fruits accented by sweet floral tones, spicy acidity and an undercurrent of mocha and hint of clove spice. Loved it! Limited release, available only at the winery."

RM 92 points.

Porter Creek Russian River Valley Estate Visit Tasting

Porter Creek Russian River Valley Estate Visit Tasting

While we focus on targeted producers' select private wine tastings on our wine country trips, one of the greatest joys is discovering a new producer. Typically, these discoveries are smaller producers whose labels are not in wide distribution back in our states. Invariably, they're discovered during a drive by pop in visit which we allow for once or maybe twice per day. In retrospect, these often turn out to be highlights of the trip, and become sources for small boutique wines that we continue to collect going forward.

Its a double edged sword serving and sharing undiscovered 'no-name' producers' labels with friends. While its fun to experience a new undiscovered wine, its dauntingly tempting serving a wine that is not available to acquire after discovery. While, one may not run out to the local wine shop to pick up a couple bottles, in the modern era, almost all producers are available and can be acquired on-line, (unless you're in one of the few states that prohibit importing wine into their bounds (such as Indiana)).

So it was, on our just completed 'Pour Boys'  Sonoma/NapaValley Wine Experience that we came upon Porter Creek Vineyards and Winery during our recent drive through the Sonoma County and the Russian River Valley.

Porter Creek is a small father-son operation run by George and Alex Davis, named for the Porter Creek tributary that runs down to the Russian River. They focus on organic hillside grown, single vineyard designate wines from varietals from Burgundy and the Rhone, those best suited to the terrior of the Russian River Valley, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Viognier. They also produce an estate Zinfandel and a Carignane sourced from Mendocino.

Quite different from the opulence and commercialization of Napa Valley, Sonoma's Russian River Valley is still idylic, laid back, hospitable, and enthusiastically energetic to showcase their high quality wines. Smaller, as yet undiscovered producers such as Porter Creek, represent significant value QPR (Quality Price Ratio) to the high end aggressively marketed
big-name branded labels from Napa producers which are sourced from the same appellations and terroir. Of course, many factors go into making wine, yield and viticulture, the wine making and blending, but small producers who exercise the same care and controls, can produce equally compelling wines as the premium labels.

Under the direction of owner/winemaker Alex Davis, Potter Creek strives to produce quality wines creatively and reasonably so as to maintain high QPR affordability. 

Porter Creek is as unpretentious as could be in their historic one room tasting hut built with hand made redwood beams, decorated with local artwork, with its colorful sweet scented wisteria covered trellis, up the gravel road, nestled between the cottage farm house and a free range egg chicken coop.

The Davis family acquired the Healdsburg estate and vineyards in the 1970's which already had vines on the property that were planted in the 'Old Vine Block' as early as 1974. They were early pioneers when they started producing Russian River Valley Pinot Noir in 1982, made still today in the old world classic Burgundian style.

Alex Davis was featured in the San Francisco Chronicle "Porter Creek's Alex Davis: Winemaker to watch in a 2011" in their WINEMAKERS TO WATCH 2011, by Jon Bonné, Chronicle Wine Editor in January of that year.

Alex spent his childhood in the vineyards and wine barn, earned a degree in Enology at Fresno U., and after college worked at producer Sonoma Cutrer.

His wine education for Pinot Noir was cast when he went to the home of Pinot, Burgundy in France, and worked the harvest at famous properties Domaine Georges Roumier, with its holdings in the grands crus Bonnes Mares and Musigny, and then spent time at Meursault's Domaine Michelot.

He studied viticulture at the University of Dijon for two years, where he met  Philippe Guigal, of the legendary Rhone producer. Alex was one of the first foreign interns to ever work a harvest at Guigal. He returned to California in 1997 to take over as winemaker of the family business at age 26.

Porter Creek sources fruit from their own vineyards and a couple neighboring growers - the vineyards forming a crescent around the wine estate property. Today, Davis focuses on the Porter Creek signature Estate Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay, but he also produces some Rhone varietals, Syrah, Viognier and a Carignane sourced from a Mendocino vineyard planted in 1950. He also produces a Zinfandel that is sourced from the vineyard just across the road.

On our chance drive by pop in visit we were hosted by Jonathan Demichael, Tasting Room Manager (left). The tasting room was full of revelers and we almost moved on but Jonathan persisted and served us on the picturesque patio under the pleasant perfume of the wisteria covered trellis.

After initial introductions and overview of the property and wine selections, we learned Jonathan, a musician before turning Sommelier, was a fellow Hoosier and still had ties back to IU and Bloomington.

We stayed on and explored the Porter Creek portfolio and had a wonderful relaxing visit. We ended up acquiring several cases and are eager to re-visit and share our discovery back home.

Porter Creek Wines tasted:

Porter Creek "Haley Marie Cuvee" Russian River Valley Viognier - Timbervine Ranch 2014 

Winemaker's Notes: In the spirit of its northern Rhone counterparts in Condrieu, this wine possesses a weight and richness rarely found in New World Viogniers. Beautiful nuances of mango, pear and nectar. Balanced, round and capable of aging.
Porter Creek "George's Hill" Old Vine Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2014

Porter Creek "Fiona Hill Vineyard" Estate Bottled Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2014

Porter Creek "Old Vine" Mendocino County Carignane 2014

Porter Creek "Timbervine Ranch" Russian River Valley Syrah 2013

 Porter Creek Russian River Valley Zinfandel 2014

Highlights of the tasting for me were the Chardonnay, Pinot and the Syrah, (shown left) of which we acquired a mixed case with Dr Dan, who also acquired cases including some of the Viognier and the Carignane.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Diamond Creek Open House 2015 Release Tasting

Diamond Creek Open House 2015 Release Wine Tasting

We opened our 2017 Napa Valley Wine Experience with a visit to the iconic Diamond Creek Vineyards for their release tasting of the 2015 vintage Diamond Creek releases at an Open House held at the Estate. We were treated to a vineyards tour by second generation step-son general manager Phil Ross (left with Pour Boys, Bill, Dan, Rick) and his wife Mary, who shared stories of the legendary founder Al Brownstein and the history of the estate. We know Al was the visionary pioneer who brought Bordeaux varietals to Napa Valley but we learned the original vines were actual cuttings from the legendary Bordeaux first growth Chateau Latour, shared with Al during his visit there in the early seventies.

Phil shared stories of the development of the property and Al's passion for designing and building the eleven waterfalls and crafting the lake and parks by sculpting and managing the flow of Diamond Creek that winds through the property.

Diamond Creek is synonymous for terroir with their iconic vineyards named for and memorializing the three distinct soil types that comprise the three distinct vineyard sites on the property - Volcanic Hill with its lighter ash soil white slope facing south, Red Rock Terrace with its north-facing slope in red, iron-rich soil, and the pebble stone texture of the five acres at Gravelly Meadow, part of an ancient riverbed, the coolest site of Diamond Creek's three main vineyards.

Al was ahead of his time in developing, marketing and branding three different single vineyard designated wines devoted to the three vineyards. Today they are the quintessential example of the distinction afforded micro-climate and terroir based labels, based on their soil types, and angle and slope configuration to the daily sun.

We learned this day that there are 60 different soil types in Napa Valley, half of the soil types found in the entire world, and that Gravelly Meadow is composed of the same soil as found in the Rutherford appellation on the central valley floor, having been washed down from the slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains the form the western slope edge of the valley.

Actually, there are four vineyards and single vineyard designated wine labels if you count the 3/4 acre Lake Vineyard that is only produced and released in special vintages - sixteen times in the forty years of production on the property. Other years it is blended into the other wines.

We toured each of the four legendary vineyards and the gardens that Al crafted on the property with Phil sharing stories of their development and evolution over the years. Amazingly, the creek, dam and lake survived eighty inches of rainfall last winter, twice the norm for a season.

The day culminated in a tasting of the just bottled soon to be released 2015 vintage of the three vineyard designated wines. Hosting the event was Boots Brownstein (right), co-founder and matriarch of the family and the vineyards/winery. It was a pleasure meeting her again, having met her during our winery visit and private tasting during our Napa Wine Experience back in 2011.

The wines:

We continually debate which is our favorite which I akin to selecting your favorite of your kids ... In my case, probably like others, it changes from vintage to vintage, and over time as the wines evolve and mature, and under the circumstances, as the different profiles will pair differently with foods, cheeses and the like. Always a fun experience when you have the luxury or privilege to do a comparison tasting.

At these price points, for most of us, these are special occasion wines. We have many fond memories of previous tastings of Diamond Creek Cabernets.

Linda and I served a flight of Diamond Creek magnums at son Ryan's wedding to Michelle Diamond. In addition to the horizontal selection of each Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon from magnums we also served several birth year vintages.

Birth year wines - Bill and Beth C, served birth-year vintage 1982 Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow Cabernet Sauvignon from double magnum at the wedding of their son Will.

Then, they served Diamond Creek Napa Valley Red Rock Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon 1984 from magnums at son Drew's wedding reception dinner. They featured 1989 vintage Diamond Creek Lake Vineyard for son Matt's wedding rehearsal dinner.

I opened Dan's daughter Hillary's birthyear labels when he announced her wedding engagement at one of our wine dinners.

Sis Jan and Bro-in-law Bill, who accompanied us to our Diamond Creek private tasting served Diamond Creek at Gala Wedding Celebration Dinner at niece Krista's wedding celebration.

The 2015 release tasting:

Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

The first of the three labels tasted, it immediately became my favorite, and the benchmark against which the others were compared. This was the most vibrant and expressive fruit of the three, although the others' fruit gave way to more complexity with layer of accent flavors.

Dark inky garnet colored, full boded, rich, concentrated black raspberry black berry fruits with notes of sweet clove spice, hints of floral and cassis and black pepper with a long pronounced finish of smooth well balanced tannins.

RM 93 points.

Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

This was more complex than RRT above as it added another layer of complexity with notes of smoke and cedar or camphor. Dark inky garnet colored,  full bodied, blackberry and black cherry fruits accented by tones of anise, graphite and camphor and cedar.

RM 94.

Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Like the Gravelly Meadow, this was also more complex than RRT above as it added another layer of complexity with notes of smoke and cedar or camphor. Dark inky garnet colored,  full bodied, blackberry and black cherry fruits accented by tones of smokey cedar and camphor turning to notes of anise and graphite on a long complex smooth tannin finish.

RM 94. 

Phil Ross and Boots Bournstein are in charge of managing Diamond creek today.
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Phil Ross and Boots Bournstein are in charge of managing Diamond creek today.
Read more at: