Napa & Sonoma Trip: Day Three

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars vineyard

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars vineyard

When arriving at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, we walk into an incrdible landscaped and architectural phenomenon. Each place seems to outdo the last. Liz, the wife of the current winemaker Marcus, is our host. The Stag’s Leap district is about 7 minutes from Rutherford (I find that Rutherford is my epicentre of Napa, a bit like Beaune for Burgundy – although there really is no town at all at Rutherford, just a little Taqueria and the Rutherford Grill, a restaurant that does good ribs, steak and Cajun chicken.

What can I say, the vista to the vineyards and the Mountains behind is incredible. Again the most excellent tasting when it comes to service and preparation – glass ware, temperature of wines, promotional material and tasting menus/mats.

We walk around the winery. A Spanish architect has been brought in to design stupidly amazing buildings. The barrel hall was the True James bond set. There are several kilometres of underground pathways in red rock – not too dissimilar to Champagne. This was the brainchild of Warren Winiarski’s (founder) daughter. In the centre of this barrel maze is a concrete centre piece with a huge swinging silver pendulum from the roof supposed to signify Earth and life and Napa, and 5 lights on each corridor entrance in the shape of comets representing each vineyard that Warren bought only when a new comet came into our solar system – honestly they may as well have passed out the LSD at this stage.

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars barrel room

We walk past the original wine cellars from, you guessed it, the early 1970’s. Outside are clay imprints of hands in frames along the wall. Maybe about thirty or so. Each hand represents someone influential who has helped in the story of Stag’s leap – hence the ‘Hands of Time’.

Puneet in front of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Hands of Time wall

‘Hands of Time’ wall

nd of course the thing that made Stag’s Leap super famous – it was the red wine that won the 1976 judgement of Paris tasting. The region is very good at making the Judgement of Paris tasting the turning point in history.

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars wine tasting

Tasting the Stag’s Leap wines

2016 Karia Chardonnay: Toast and hints of honey – good upfront flavour and quite textural.

2016 Arcadia Chardonnay: Oyster shell and mineral – really nice – beautiful expression. My second best Chardonnay after Kongsgaard.

2017 Oveda Sauvignon Blanc: Very grassy! Bursting with aromatics, summer fruit salad.

2015 SLV Cabernet Sauvignon: Excellent – beautiful grippy tannins, rocky slate and concentration. So as we sat, the SLV Vineyard was in front of us and FAYE was just behind the tree line. It has volcanic soil and produces smaller berries with thicker skins – the wine follows this terroir to typicity.

2015 FAYE Cabernet Sauvignon: Alluvial soils – larger berries, thinner skins. A more aromatic wine, juicier, more rounded.

2015 Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon: A really delicious wine – black currants, violets, aromatics, incredible length and concentration – very layered.
Winner of Best Red Wine in the 1976 judgement of Paris. Original Warren Winiarski picked the cask 23 from block 4 of the SLV Vineyard. Warren was Robert Mondavi’s first assistant winemaker. Nathan Faye was the owner of the original land for Stag’s leap. Today the Cask 23 is the best possible blend between SLV and FAYE.

Puneet and family at Stag's Leap Wine Cellars vineyard


Inglenook vineyard, California

We head back to Rutherford to end the fairy tale visit. We enter the site and park up to walk to a small chapel with all glass walls. Inside is the most modern looking person. All white with a white desk, white screen and white floor. I check in and get the ‘all clear’ – back to the car and through the Inglenook gates – it really is like drama and anticipation – Francis Ford Coppola is the King of theatre, in every element of his life and work.

Coppola had lunch with Robert Mondavi in 1975. Mondavi told him to buy Inglenook. The place had been established in the late 1800’s by Gustave Niebaum – his name is still on the estate – Niebaum Coppola. We drive to the state. The most impressive building ever – a big turret ivy over large arching double doors, each the entrance to a large cavernous cellar. The main entrance with the huge stair case and so on.
Coppola however only started releasing Inglenook wines from 2011. There are of course Inglenook wines from the state going back decades but these were not commercially available.

2015 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon: Graceful, elegant, refined as usual with the super premium reds. Big red and black fruit and lovely ripe tannins.

2015 Ingelnook Rubicon (Cabernet Sauvignon): The Rubicon is the vineyard at the back of the state. Exceptional – a wine to age – concentrated, ripe and big tannin.

Inglenook vineyard

…and with that we bought a baguette from the bistro with local salami and cheese – ate this by the tall tree and pond on the Estate and then headed back to San Francisco.

Napa & Sonoma Trip: Day Two


Duckhorn Vineyards in Napa Valley

Glorious day at the Duckhorn Vineyards
BRANDS: Duckhorn Vineyards | Paraduxx | Goldeneye | Migration | Decoy | Canvasback | Calera

When you enter the Duckhorn Estate, just on the side of Howell Mountain – down the Silverado trail, just outside Rutherford, you begin to see how the super premium side works. Incredible landscaping, beautiful buildings, impressive cellar doors. We are greeted by the Head of Sales and Marketing Pete Przybylinsk. He’s been with them for over 20 years and was the first employee who was not a Duckhorn. The owners were not only named Duckhorn, but loved Ducks – hence the label. They realised that the area that they were in was more elevated and with more loamy and volcanic soils – they decided to focus on Merlot. This really could be the best Merlot in our portfolio…

Wine tasting at Duckhorn Vineyard, Napa Valley

Tasting the Duckhorn wines

2014 Merlot: Beautiful, exceptional mid palate roundness, full but then plenty of length at the back.

2014 Three Palms Merlot (Wine Spectator Best Wine of 2018): Layers and layers of red and black fruit, a rum raisin property and beautiful concentration – intense but not jammy and perfumed. Duckhorn always bought fruit from the Three Palms vineyard, but actually bought the vineyard a few years ago and have farmed the vineyard organically since then – they attribute the rise in quality to this.

2016 Duckhorn Chardonnay: Southern end of the Napa Valley (where it is cooler). Fresh, beautiful weight, light toast and even hints of white chocolate.

2015 Decoy Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon: Black fruits and an early attack of upfront flavour. Very much a varietal of Cabernet Sauvignon, a slight dip and rise at the back of the palate . Good tannin – better than quaffable. Decoy is the entry level brand for Duckhorn and we will have to go here eventually. It is one of the most popular Cabernets in the USA retailing at $19.99.

Paraduxx – Yountville: Paraduxx is the winery which produces one wine only – a red blend. Yountville is an A.V.A in its own right (as well as home to the French Laundry – read more on this later). The blend is a mix of Bordeaux varieties plus Zinfandel. Some spice on the palate, very supple and smooth – very drinkable.

2014 The Discussion Cabernet Sauvignon: Excellent – ageable but drinking now, round very long, delicious length. The story goes that the owner and winemaker had a big discussion about the best blend – Cabernet or Merlot dominant. In the end the owner won with a Cabernet dominant wine.

Grgich Hills

Grgich Hills Estate in Napa Valley

Visiting the Grgich Hills Estate in Napa Valley

I met with Maja. She is a Grgich (not by name) and they are very proud of several things at Grgich:

  1. Being Croation – I don’t think I need to tell you about the pride and winemaking background of Croations. Maja showed me evidence that Zinfandel originally came from Croatia – they do not buy into the Primitivo story.
  2. Their founder Mike Grgich (who celebrates being 95 this year) was the winemaker at Chateau Montelena in 1976 when they won the Judgement of Paris – best white wine.

Maja’s father is the winemaker now – he is the nephew of Mike Grgich. Mike’s daughter Valerie runs the estate. They work with indigenous yeast and are extremely proud of the Chardonnay from their estates – they have a number of vineyards across Napa, including their main estate in Rutherford. They invest in Fuders.

Wine barrels at Grgich Hills Estate

Wine barrels at the Grgich Hills Estate

Grgich Hills Estate Wine Tasting, Napa Valley

Tasting the Grgich Hills wines

We tried:

2014 Chardonnay: Definitely wild yeast ferment. Nutty and large – all french oak – lovely leesy texture and less tropical fruit ripeness.

2014 Paris Tasting Commemoration Chardonnay: Exceptional length, balance and viscosity . Very graceful – not as overtly powerful as the 2014 Estate. They make this Chardonnay in exceptional years as a tribute to the Chardonnay that won the judgment of Paris tasting. 1 year in small oak barrels, 6 months in Fuder.

2013 Zinfandel (Castiloga): Aged in 650l Fuder. Plenty of fruit, good structure and supple tannin. They learnt that the clusters are large with big shoulders. The sun is not able to ripen past the large shoulder to the rest of the cluster. At Grgich they cut off the shoulder – they lose fruit but find they gain in even ripeness.

2013 Old Vine Cabernet – Yountville: Lovely red and black fruit. Earthy and supple tannin.

2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: Incredible silky tannins – the tannins alone make this delicious. Fruit and acidity still holding up, although I don’t feel like this wine has too many more years. A number of producers (notably Caymus) do not go down the single vineyard route – they source from numerous growers from what they consider small parcels of the best sites around Napa. That is why in some cases you see the wine with the specific AVA (e.g Yountville or Three Palms) and in some cases it is simply Napa Valley blend as in this case.


Yountville vineyards in Napa Valley

We stroll to Yountville from Rutherford – a toy town. We follow the people through a lovely little sculpture walk to some beautiful market gardens with the most incredible artichokes I have ever seen. Of course we look over the road and there is the ‘French Laundry’ buzzing on a beautiful evening. Shana takes the obligatory photo. Pete at Duckhorn tells us the next day that we won’t escape from there at less than $1,000 per head, and although it is good, if you expect something superhuman you wont be happy. It is a very good and very expensive restaurant – no more, no less. It made me think that in this global and interconnected world the good stuff can get so hyped up by millions of followers that the following becomes bigger than the reality. Anyway, it’s still on the bucket list.

We stroll a little further and go into a place – Boedega – Italian roots, which on the posh scale is still up there. Beautiful Californians with immaculate dogs littered the place. Taj was given honorary dog status and we entered as walk ins and were given a tall table near the bar. We had 3 or 4 starters as they looked so good as our meal in a shared plate way. Exceptional food.

Wines from Coravin:

2005 Heitz Cellar Martha’s Vineyard: Took a while to open up, and then what I am learning with so many expetional Napa Cabernet’s its the silky tannins and the everlasting fruit that make these wines so seductive. Still nothing here to surpass Stag’s Leap or Spotswoode for instance.

2014 Kongsgaard Chardonnay: OMG moment – possibly the best wine of the trip (together with Duckhorn Three Palms Merlot). It was perfect balance of toast, texture, lees, acid, fruit and flavour. The next day I contact the winery. Evan Frazier tells me they are bottling and very busy. I thank him for the wine and tell him that we will see him next year for sure!


BRANDS: Caymus | Mei Soleil | Emmolo

The Wagner Family of Wine are another member of the ‘Royal’ set of families in Napa. Father Chuck Wagner, who makes all the Caymus wines, daughter Jenny makes Mei Soleil, and son Charlie makes Emmolo. The other son Joe made and sold Meomi and now has Copper Cane which is outside the family interests – the rich black sheep if you like. Between Chuck, Charlie and Jenny they each have specific varietals that only they may produce. No other family member may make the same varietal. I really learnt a lot from the tasting. A set menu, with menu card and tasting mat. Order form with order bags at the ready subtly placed on the table at the end of the tasting. Again, like many other wineries, their first commercial year was 1972, prior to this the land was family owned with plum and walnut.

2016 Mei Soleil Reserve Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands: Barrel fermented aromatic, tropical, light to medium toast. Textural and good mouth feel – Chablis meets Napa kind of.

2016 Mei Soleil Reserve Pinot Noir: Black earth, cherry and cola notes.

2015 Emmolo Merlot: Very toasty and big. Cinnamon on the nose, big fruit. Deep and plush palate, not typical of Merlot. A blockbuster type wine.

2015 Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: 12-15 months in Oak. Blueberry, fresh, silky tannins soft and lovely. Exceptional and drinking so well now – best wine of the set. Of the 16 AVAs in Napa, Chuck Wagner blends this Cabernet from between 8-10 different AVAs.

2015 Caymus Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: 22-25 months in Oak. In 1984 and 1990 this wine won the World’s Best Wine in Wine Spectator Magazine – the only wine to have done this twice. Considerably more layered, still young and brooding hints of espresso and licorice.

Oak wine barrels at Caymus Winery

Napa & Sonoma Trip: Day One

E & J Gallo – Frei Ranch

Frei Wine Ranch in Sonoma County, California

Frei Wine Ranch in Sonoma County, CA

We travelled up North into Dry Creek County, almost at the top of Napa, where we were given the number of a road. No signs, we nearly miss a small dirt entrance. We turn into a dirt lane that takes us around a vineyard to Frei Ranch. We park and walk into a very impressive glass building nestled into the trees. Here we learn that Frei Ranch is pretty much the first piece of land bought by Ernest and Julio Gallo in Napa. We jump straight back into the hosts’ 4×4 and begin to drive around the Estate. Ernest and Julio bought the vineyard in 1974. It was a bold move but lead to them being the kingmakers in the region. Their aim was always to make the best wines at affordable prices. Ernest was the business man, Julio the winemaker. The winery is still family owned and the descendants of Ernest still stay on the sales and marketing side, while the descendants of Julio still stay on the wine making side. The story goes that Ernest said that he could sell more than Julio could produce. Julio would say that he could produce more than Ernest could sell.

Puneet Dhall at Frei Ranch, Sonoma County, California

Puneet at the Frei Ranch

We take a stop mid vineyard and taste the Talbott Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Central CoastThe wines are very well made – showing typicality, balance and great length. The Talbott Chardonnay is creamy with good oak integration and ripe stone fruits. Similarly the Pinot Noir shows good red fruit, mossy characters and is very tasty.

Next we drive to the barrel room. It looks like the entrance to one of the Hobbit’s homes. We walk into one of the biggest underground cellars I have ever seen. It like a James Bond secret lair (although we find an even better James Bond Secret Lair at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars – read later). Here we taste the Frei Ranch wines; the Chardonnay. Again, great Lees and texture – big fruit and large – this would work very well in NZ.

Frei Ranch underground barrel cellar

Frei Ranch underground barrel room

Puneet Dhall and son in Frei Ranch barrel cellar

Puneet and son, Taj, in barrel room

We drive around to the winery and it is large. The largest tanks along one line are so modern and super smart that they can actually be worked from an iPhone app. The commitment to quality is incredible. The pipes transporting must have absolutely no sharp corners, only gentle curves, so as to reduce must damage. When you see this you begin to understand how the wines are so good even though produced at considerable volume.

Large wine tanks at Frei Ranch

Large wine tanks at Frei Ranch

Signing off until tomorrow,

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.


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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