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.