Puneet in California: Day 5

California Day 5 – Napa to Sonoma Coast

A great drive from Napa to Sonoma Coast through such A.V.A’s as Alexander Valley and Russian River. The drive along the Sonoma Coast is quite awesome, with the eerie mist swirling around you, next to steep drops to the sea. We arrive at Fort Ross on the Sonoma Coast, make our way up Timber Cove Road and into Seaview Rd (Flowers is at No.14500 Seaview Rd). As if by magic we pop out of the Ocean Mist. Immediately the sun and temperature hit us.

It’s quite impressive, The vineyard sits on either side of a canyon which is literally the San Andreas fault line. The soils are multiple including a lot of soil similar to Burgundy – Volcanic Schist, but also red iron/clay. The steep hills are not terraced but instead close planted straight down the steep slopes. The whole site is farmed Biodynamically. Every 15th row is a crop of flowers with various functions for the eco system, and multiple cover crops. The site we have come to is the Camp Meeting Ridge site – 35 acres, elevation 1,400 feet. The Sea View Ridge is about 10km south and can be seen in the distance from Camp Meeting Ridge.

 

We walk onto the back deck of the house for the tasting, and what an incredible view.

 

 

2016 Sonoma Coast Rosé
Provencal style  – light onion skin, well balanced, light red and raspberry fruits, gentle vanilla touch of spice – very good.

 

2015 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
9-11 months oak – hints of wet stone and shortbread – citrus and stone fruits – some hazelnut and light toast – delicious.

 

2014 Camp Meeting Ridge Chardonnay
19 months oak – 1,000 cases per year – more fatty creme brûlée – second half shows the classic sea salt mineral oyster shell aspect – exceptional.

 

2015 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
Distinct mossy character – clean red fruit ripe and integrated tannins – seamless – strong pinot noir typicity.

 

2014 Camp Meeting Ridge Pinot Noir
Beautiful warm brown earth notes, exceptional fragrance and perfumed notes – which takes this into Premier Cru + territory.

 

2014 Seaview Ridge Pinot noir
Meatier – took a while for the nose to open up, also more acidity – bigger all round – concentrated red fruits. Will please those Otago Pinot lovers. (The vineyard is higher elevation and iron rich).

 

That evening I revisit the 2013 Hirsch Chardonnay – clearly a cult wine here, almost the younger protegé of Flowers (although the two vineyards are not connected in any way). It is expensive – but quite possibly even more Burgundian in style than Flowers. It is not quite as fatty as flowers and the palate broadens out as you taste – with more mineral and saline elements. Anyway, I managed to finish a bottle of it, and then thought I saw the coming of the New Messiah as the sun set over the Pacific – so it must be quite good.
 
THE END OF THIS CALIFORNIA WINE EXPERIENCE

 

Puneet in California: Day 4

California Day 4 – St Helena to Geyserville

 
The day begins at Coppola – Dhall and Nash’s first winery from California.
It’s busy – memorabilia meets wine. But similar to Bogle, literally behind all the glitz is a 2 million bottle a year operation – Coppola is now the 12th largest wine producer in America, and of course privately owned by Francis Ford Coppola. His aura is everywhere, from his wines and film memorabilia to his favourite dishes on the restaurant menu.

 

Emily and Amy meet me and we taste some wines from the large range…

14 Votre Sante Chardonnay – Large mid palate – cream and then more cream.

 

15 Rosso & Bianco Cabernet Sauvignon – A hint of eucalyptus, some stalk but not displeasing.

 

13 Elanor – Petite Syrah / Zinfandel – Lovely aromatics – blue black fruit and spice.

 

13 Archimedes – 80% Cabernet Sauvignon / 10% Cabernet Franc / 10% Merlot from Alexander Valley. 21 months in new French oak. Lovely tannins – a sign of good Cabernet here – not too soft – still grainy but ripe and integrated.

 

15 Diamond Claret – I find the eucalyptus again – red fruit – more aggressive tannin.

 

Excited to be hosting Emily in New Zealand again sometime between June and August, and also to have their consent to start trading Coppola in Australia.

 

In the afternoon we visit Spottswoode – what a joy.
10,000 cases a year produced vinified off of 28 blocks in one site in St Helena. We meet MaryPat and also the owner Beth. Beth’s mother and father had upped sticks and moved to St Helena from Southern California in 1972. Beth’s father was a Doctor and wanted to have a house for his five children somewhere rural where he could work a tractor. In 1972 The valley was much more rural and still not focused on wine growing – many other crops were grown including walnuts and prunes. In1975, Beth’s father died unexpectedly aged just 44. Beth’s mother Mary was left with 5 children and a ship to run – For a few years, Mary sold their fruit to prominent vineyards to survive. In 1978, Mary’s friends the Duckhorn family and the Schafer family told her that the Estate Cabernet was just too good, and they encouraged to bottle under Spotswoode and join them in a similar adventure. Following this their early winemaker Tony Soter (now in Oregon and with high acclaim) encouraged the estate to go organic in 1985. As you can imagine, this was quite a big step at that time. People who went organic were seen as crazy.

 

I tasted the wines as Beth regaled this story to me,

2016 Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc
Fermented 60% stainless steel / 35% new and used oak and 5% concrete
Bloody nice – a rockiness to the wine that I really like together with a ‘leesy’ texture and good acid

 

2014 Lydenhurst Cabernet Sauvignon
Before the estate was owned by the Spotswoode family, it was owned by the Lyndenhurst family 100+ years ago. 20 months French oak (40% new) 90% cabernet sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Malbec, 2%merlot
Oh so yummy and approachable.blueberries, blackcurrants, cassis, leather, fireplace ash, ripe powdery tannins (now when I taste a good cabernet, the tannins are ripe and integrated with a fresh palate – no coarseness whatsoever, regardless of youth) – just exceptional – nothing at all like this in New Zealand.

 

2014 Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
100% French oak (60% new) – aged 20 months 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot
Oh wow! First of all, cellar this! great tannins, oh so fresh, beautiful fruit – incredible integration between fruit and secondary characters – as if they are one – jeepers this is so good.

 

Later that night, we are gifted with a bottle of 2013 Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon. Can a day get any better! We get Taj to sleep – room service! The special of the house truffle chicken – 2 hour cook time. I crack open the Duckhorn – all I can say is – yes it is that good!
Tomorrow we head to Spring Mountain to visit Schweiger – and to the West Coast and visit Flowers

Puneet in California: Day 3

California Day 3 – Clarksburg to St Helena

 
A crackerjack day. I thought I was walking into the hangars for the new Boeing 777 – But no – it was the Bogle Barrel room – 7-8 rooms – each larger than an aircraft hanger – approximately 1 kilometre long. You could not see from one end to the other – the horizon was in the way. 12,000 barrels per year – Thousands upon thousands of Barrel ferments – each vineyard – vinified separately – incredible. The rooms are specially designed to cope with the massive CO2 emissions during ferment, as well as the massive temperature rise of so many fermenting barrels. The attention to detail is impressive. Anthocyanin and tannin count, mass spectrometers for acids. No sugar or acid additions. The guy doing the lees stirring looked more like a guy off of an Ebert building site –  but then no wonder – he had to traverse barrel mountains like girders on a skyscraper. This new winery was established in 2009 – it really does incorporate all of the modern technology and is a sight to behold – the wines, for example, are gravity fed with minimal intervention… The walkway for the tall tanks is the highest elevation in Clarksburg. The American flag together with the Bogle flag flies proudly from the centre of the winery. The Bogle wines truly do over deliver for the cost.

 

We drive for an hour and twenty minutes into Napa. We arrive at HdV. After Bogle, we are not sure if we have driven into someone’s back yard by accident – which happens to have a couple of tanks and barrels in the back. Little did I know what a sensational tasting was in store. Guillaume the assistant winemaker is busy racking a couple of barrels, and James the Manager meets me. Other than the two of them there is Stephane the chief winemaker – and of course, Aubert…he may not be there but his presence is every where. The first thing that James tells me is that Aubert is an extremely humble person. For him a winery is a winery – no time for flash ‘add ons’ – everything is about the vineyard and the wine expression – we sit in the tiny room adjacent to the winery. I’ve already noticed that they love their Fuders’ – several big barrels in dark dingy corners of the room. Theo Gisen told me that Fuder’s were German – Aubert de Villaine believes that they are Burgundian…

 

The Hyde vineyard is in Carneros. It is 150 acres in total supply several of the greatest wineries in Napa and Sonoma. 23 acres are specifically for HdV. The first vines were established in 1978, and although not certified – Organic practices are 100% employed. The vineyard contains a shallow alluvial soil and then hits heavy clay. Larry Hyde has helped the natural drainage by building larger drainage channels throughout the vineyard to alleviate any high water issues. This has created the phenomenon that is the Hyde Vineyards.

 

We proceed to taste a truly exceptional lineup:

 

2014 De la Guerra Chardonnay
20% fermented in concrete egg – no new oak, The vineyard was planted at the north end of the Hyde vineyards in 2010. Only 250 cases are produced annually with 80 cases for export. I can’t believe the vines are so young – James simply smiles. He does that a lot over the course of the tasting – the knowing smile of someone who knows that you are experiencing a sensory euphoria. The mealy taste I know so well comes through, the balance a mid palate of cream texture, a rounded wine and grace and length – exceptional – and this is the quaffer.

 

Guillaume tells me that 2013 was a great year, but 2014 was an incredible Chardonnay year, possibly the best ever in Napa. An early Spring leads to an early bud burst for Chardonnay and a very long ripening period. Concerns about a drop off in acidity towards the end of ripening due to the length of the season did not eventuate, creating amazing flavour profiles in the Chardonnay. On top of this, there was an Earthquake on August 24th.

 

2014 HdV Chardonnay
Wow – 20% Malo, 20% new oak, 11 months in barrel, 4 months in tank, 1 year in bottle. The wine has lilts and phases – The bouquet is truly aromatic – Guillaume says that all wines are aromatic if you pick at the right time – early stone fruit, through the classic mid palate roundness and cream, constant hints of gunpowder flint (from a purposeful slight reduction technique during the 4 months in tank, through to a beautiful minerality and salinity, with lingering finish. You can taste the vineyard. Superb.

 

2013 Ysabel Pinot Noir from the Van de Camp Vineyards in Sonoma (150 cases produced)
Elevation is high for this vineyard at 1700 feet. Aubert had been resistant to make pinot noir in California for a long time. Rightly so, he did not want to make anything which might detract from the almighty DRC. However, this vineyard changed his mind. It’s not in the Hyde vineyard stable in Carneros, but from the oldest and highest vineyard in Sonoma (planted in the early 1960’s)
The wine is beautiful and rustic with a textural richness. The aromatics sing (something in common with all HdV wines).

 

The Ygnacia we did not try but this is planted from much younger vines planted in 2010 from 7 ‘secret’ sites around the region. The wine shows violets and bright fruit and is as different to Ysabel as one can get. Both are worthy enough for Aubert.

 

2014 Californio Syrah
Oh my God moment! Maybe I do love Syrah after all! 350 cases produced. Some production was lost in the 2013 Earthquake. Violets, all the way through blue fruits to cocoa powder, spice box, and powerful with terrific length – ‘off the charts’ good. selected from 2 blocks in Hyde and 3 clones.

 

2013 Belle Cousine
I now find out the Pamela Hyde (Aubert’s wife) is actually Larry Hyde’s cousin. Larry and Pamela are the same age and grew up together – hence Belle Cousine. 70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. Red and blue fruits, aromatics bursting, fresh yet rich – will age to plush no doubt. Guillaume stresses that whilst many neighbours add acid, their natural acidity helps the wines to age incredibly. The wine reminds me of the Dominus we had recently – then I am told the Merlot is the same clone. These guys have taken a slice of California with a touch of Pomerol and the result is magnificent.

 

Then I fall off of my seat – the last wine.
2015 Vinehill Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon from Yountville.
This vineyard is owned by the Phillips family and is used for the top Harlan wines. It dates back to the 1880’s.  The wine is clean as a whistle, cassis, blue and red fruits, graphite all the way through – beyond good! Only 2 barrels made and already sold to Aubert’s friends and the most wealthy wine collectors in the World for an undisclosed price. It was a ‘you had to be there’ moment.

 

Tomorrow – Coppola, Spotswoode and possibly Schweiger – a strong tip from James at HdV for incredible Cabernet at very reasonable price.

Puneet in California: Days 1 & 2

California – Day 1 – Sacramento

 It turns out that Sacramento, 90 miles North East of San Francisco is the ‘farm to fork’ capital of America. The city boasts some 1.5 million acres of farm land surrounding the region – many of which are artisanal producers, and the restaurants are proud to source prolifically local.

 

My first wine of the trip – I pick up the menu – ‘eenie, meeni, minie, mo’ – my finger lands in the Cabernet section – lucky! A glass of the 2014 Quilt Cabernet Sauvignon at USD$26.  A good start – blueberries, velvety, simple, not a million miles from our Cupcake ‘Red Velvet’, although with more power and structure.

 

It wasn’t till a few moments later as I tucked into my ‘Grange Burger’ (medium rare) – that I realised quite how amazing my choice of meal was – Sacramento immediately vindicated its ‘farm to fork’ status to me. Tomorrow I visit Jody Bogle.
 

California – Day 2 – Clarksburg

Bogle is in Clarksburg. Clarksburg is a small picturesque farm community of 300 and dates back to the gold rush. The soils are heavy clay on a flood plain, protected by levees. The river was a prime trade route in the late 1800’s and the first half of the 20th Century – there is an old time worn picture of a thousand ducks all heaped on each other being barged down the river towards the coastal cities. At the entrance to the tasting venue is Jody Bogle’s grandfathers 1918 Ford Model T Truck. It’s not the only old truck you see as you drive around this agricultural heartland. The place really is beautiful; splendid trees, along babbling streams, brooks and rivers – hills in the distance and exceptionally fertile soils. In fact Dana the winemaker tells me that Vigour is the issue here. The vines themselves are big and bushy – no issues with fungal disease in this dry, breezy environment.(The Delta Breeze keeps the area on average 5-8 degrees Celsius lower than surrounding regions including Napa) environment.

 

We meet Jody, all smiles and warmth in the beautiful garden behind the tasting barn. Jody gladly informs us that Dhall and Nash are now Bogle’s leading importer in the World having just muscled ahead of Japan. We get to tasting:

 

2012 Bogle Blanc de Blancs – a lovely creamy mid palate – would you expect anything else!
2015 Bogle Reserve Chardonnay – 100% oak aged / 100% malo / 24 months on lees / batonage for every barrel every 2-4 weeks. 80% American Oak / 20% French Oak.

 

We spent some time discussing the American Oak – one of Bogle’s secret weapons. They use an American Oak called World Cooperage from a Cooper called ‘1912’ – The oak is heavily fired to its smoke point.
We also talk about the Batch selection for the Reserve wines. Every vineyard is vinified separately, and the best barrels selected for the Reserves. Winemakers Dana and Eric make the first cut and the final selection is done by a larger team including the family. The family work with their own vineyards and growers in 9 A.V.A’s;

 

Clarksburg – Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Petite Sirah
Mendocino – Petite Sirah, Pinot noir, Zinfandel
Russian River Valley – Pinot noir, Sauvignon blanc
Sonoma – Cabernet Sauvignon
Oakley – Old Vine Zinfandel, Old Vine Mourvèdre
Lodi – Old Vine Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Sirah
El Dorado County – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot
Amador County – Old Vine Zinfandel
Monterey – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc

 

 We continue to taste;

 

2014 Bogle Viognier – Perfumed, fragrant – tangerines, hint of cream – a must have.

 

2015 Russian River Pinot Noir – Toasted characters mix with light spice and earth (I must confess my pinot noir radar has been off recently – the nose felt a little closed but it could have been me.)

 

2012 Bogle Sonoma Reserve Merlot – Very plush indeed – but still with enjoyable graininess from the tannins – very nice.

 

2014 Reserve Zinfandel – Amador County (Amador and El Dorado are in the foothills and completely dry farmed and certified sustainable). Juniper, concentrated and rounded – a must have.

 

2014 Malbec – Monterey – plush again – some cedar notes.

 

2014 Reserve Petite Sirah – Toasted, spicy plum.

 

2013 Phantom – Zin, Mourvèdre blend 2-3 years in oak – tannins – less fruit secondary characters – more coarse.

 

2014 Petite Verdot – El Dorado County – Possibly one of the most unique wines I’ve tasted and could only be from America – Chargrilled flavours, spice box like the mix rub for your deep south pork ribs – a must.

 

2014 Reverence – Bordeaux Blend – Michael was asking about the Reserve Cabernet – well this has become the Reverence – blended with other Bordeaux varieties – well balanced  and elegant – must have

 

Tomorrow I visit the Bogle winery to meet the two brothers Warren and Ryan, and also Chief winemaker Eric and to see the legendary barrel room. I also head over to Carneros and meet James at HdV

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