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,

Chateau Climens: The Prodigy of Noble Rot

Chateau Climens Wine Bottles

The sweet wines of Chateau Climens

Chateaus Climens, also known as the “Lord of Barsac” is indeed a very noble wine. The estate is situated in the village of Barsac, within the Barsac-Sauternes appellation, on the left bank of the River Garonne in Bordeaux. Barsac-Sauternes is a tiny enclave in the Graves region and is known for producing some of the finest sweet wines in the world.

The Chateau Climens vineyard area covers 29 hectares, with an average production of 3,000 cases per year. The terroir is extremely chalky, with limestone, sand and clay which is ideal for growing Semillon.

Chateau Climens was first officially registered in 1547. In over four and half centuries the property has only ever belonged to five families, which is fairly unique in Bordeaux. This also means the land has been very carefully looked after. In 1885 when the Bordeaux Classification system was established for the Medoc and Sauternes region, the supreme quality of Chateau Climens’ wines was instantly recognised. It is second only to Chateau d’Yquem.

Chateau Climens Winery

The Roberol family first owned Climens and it was passed down from generation to generation until 1802 when it was sold to Jean Binaud, a local wine merchant. The land changed hands between two more families and then in 1855, just after the vineyard had acquired its Premier Cru status, the estate was taken over by the successful printing family Goungouilhou who kept it for over a century.  

In 1971 Lucien Lurton, owner of Chateau Brane-Cantenac and Chateau Doisy Dubroca, was drawn to the finesse of the Chateau Climens wines and its unique terroir and decided to purchase the property. In 1992, his daughter Berenice Lurton took over the reins and has worked ever since with enthusiasm and determination to ensure the wines continue to shine. In 2010 she started following biodynamic practices and in 2014 they were fully certified. This is unusual in Sauternes and shows great vision and dedication in protecting the environment whilst striving for healthy vines which will produce the highest quality fruit.

Chateau Climens Vineyard in Barsac France

The Barsac vineyards of Chateau Climens

Perhaps the most unusual aspect of Chateau Climens, however, is that it is 100% Semillon. Most Sauternes are a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Sauvignon Blanc helps raise the acidity in the wines, however Chateau Climens’ unique terroir and limestone soils enable their Semillon to retain enough levels of acidity, whilst reaching perfect ripeness and flavour profiles without needing to blend.  

All this contributes to Chateau Climens being one of the most revered sweet wines in the world. It is revered not only for its complexity and opulent flavours, but also its freshness, minerality and finesse.


Despite the fact Climens means “infertile land” it is obviously perfect for vines and in particular Semillon, on which noble rot flourishes.  Noble rot is essential for creating these very special sweet wines.

Noble rot is a microscopic fungus, it’s official Latin name being botrytis cinerea. It needs certain climatic conditions to flourish – these being damp early mornings, followed by warm, sunny Autumn days. If it’s too dry then noble rot will not set in. If it’s too wet it can become the more undesirable, damaging grey rot. It can therefore be a rather tense time for the vignerons come early Autumn as despite all their hard work they are at the whim of Mother Nature.

Fortunately, the microclimate in Barsac-Sauternes is very suitable for noble rot to flourish. Positioned near the Garonne River and its tributary Ciron, there is plenty early morning mist rising up from the water and the days are generally warm and sunny in the beautiful Bordeaux Autumn.

As noble rot penetrates the skin of the grapes, moisture starts to evaporate. The grapes shrivel and the sugars and flavours become more concentrated. The rot also triggers reactions within the grape creating other flavour profiles, adding to the complexity of the wines.

Noble rot on Climens grapes

Noble Rot on the Climens grapes

The grapes can only be picked when they reach a legal must rate of 221g/l. This means several pickings or “tries” have to be made over a week or so to ensure only grapes at their optimum level of sweetness and acidity are picked.

This very high sugar level means that even when fermentation stops, at an alcohol level around 13.5%, there remains a high level of residual sugar.  These naturally sweet wines also contain high natural levels of acidity, which gives them beautiful balance and elegance.

The Chateau Climens wines are fermented in oak barrels, with about 20% being new oak.  They are then aged in oak for 20-24 months. This adds another level of complexity to the wines.

The small volumes, intense manual labour and investment in barrels all contribute to the high cost of these wines but also to their extremely high quality and uniqueness.

Chateau Climens wines can be enjoyed young, when they are really fresh and vibrant, yet they also have great aging potential – up to 40 or 50 years – and will therefore develop and take on different flavours and characters as they mature. They are intriguing and almost mystical and can be enjoyed at any stage of their development.

We hope you enjoy your Chateau Climens, when, wherever and with whom you decide to open a bottle of this rare and exquisite wine.

Chateau Climens wine glasses

The sweet, golden wines of Chateau Climens

[All photos courtesy of Chateau Climens.]

Franz Haas: One of the Finest Producers from Alto Adige

Franz Haas vineyards in Alto Adige

Franz Haas vineyards in Alto Adige, Italy

Looking for something a little different? Tucked up in the mountains of the Alto-Adige in the far north of Italy, we are thrilled to have discovered a hidden gem – the Franz Haas Winery.

Franz Haas wines are refreshing, exciting and dynamic offering new flavours and textures. Since its establishment in 1880, the Franz Haas Winery has endeavoured to produce top quality wines. Their grapes are sourced from 55 hectares of vineyards which are a mix of those they own, rent or contract.  The estate has been lovingly passed down for seven generations, each one taking on the name of their father, Franz Haas. The current owner and winemaker is technically named Franziskus, but still goes by the name of Franz.

Franz Haas Winemaker Franziskus Haas

Current owner and winemaker Franziskus Haas

Although steeped in history, the wines are modern and visionary combining the best of tradition with the best techniques and philosophies of the twenty-first century. The family has always strived for excellence and the current Franz Haas has pushed the boundary even further – upwards in fact! Grapes grown at higher altitudes offer wines of wonderful elegance and purity, however, due to global warming, Haas felt some of the refreshing acidity and delicate flavours were starting to decline. He took a pioneering leap and decided to plant new vineyards higher up the mountains, some even at 850m above sea level. The fruit from these higher vineyards, as well as from following biodynamic practices has led to Franz Haas producing some of the finest wines in the region. They offer wonderful finesse and fragrance and are a true expression of their terroir.

Franz Haas vineyards in Alto Adige Italy

Franz Haas vineyards in Alto Adige, Italy

Apart from being unique and prestigious wines, Franz Haas stands out from the crowd with their beautiful, eye catching labels.  Simple but dramatic, they were designed by the esteemed artist Riccardo Schweizer who used to paint with Picasso, Chagall, Cocteau, Paul Éluard and Le Corbusier. When Franz released his new range of wines in 1990 his wife, Maria Luisa Manna presented the labels to him as a lucky omen. Many years on, these artistic labels still attract attention.  They reflect the quality and creation within the bottle as well as without.

Franz Haas Winery produces a range of wines, their most famous being Manna, named after Haas’s wife. It is a delicious and unusual blend of white grape varieties and one of the most versatile wines ever produced for food matching. It was launched in 1996 and was specifically created to accompany all the courses of a traditional long Italian lunch which as we know includes a huge range of flavours and textures. The blend is Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Kerner and Sauvignon Blanc.

Franz Haas is also driven to produce high quality pinot noir – a more unusual variety for this region, yet one he feels will work well in the cool climate conditions. Known as Pinot Nero in Italy, Haas picked his first vintage in 1987 and released it in 1990 under the new, show stopping Schweizer labels.

Pinot Nero grapes in the Franz Haas vineyards, Alto Adige

Pinot Nero grapes in the Franz Haas vineyards

The estate also produces a wonderfully fruity pinot grigio which is pure, elegant and refreshing.

Lagrein is a seductive red variety which is now being trialled in New Zealand. However, it is indigenous to the North of Italy where they have been making these enticing wines of dark red and black fruits with a hint of spice for centuries.

There is no doubt that the passion and vision of the current Franz Haas and the six previous Franz Haas’ have together created a legacy of wines which capture the essence of the mountainous Alto-Adige region as they celebrate elegance, purity, fragrance and class.


2016 Franz Haas Manna

A versatile, complex and unique blend named for Franz’ wife – created to match with a widely impressive variety of foods.


2016 Franz Haas Pinot Grigio

Fragrant elegance with a delightfully full freshness.


2015 Franz Haas Lagrein

Made from Lagrein, an indigenous grape variety known for its velvety texture, that is currently seeing an exciting resurgence.

Caroline Frey: Viticulturist & Winemaker at Paul Jaboulet Aîné

Caroline Frey of Paul Jaboulet Aine Wine

Caroline Frey of Paul Jaboulet Aîné

Caroline Frey is a highly talented and passionate winemaker and viticulturist, quickly making a name for herself in the French wine industry. Her family took over Paul Jaboulet Ainé in 2006 and she has continued to produce the high quality wines for which they are famous, as well as stamping her own mark on them.

Frey grew up in the Montagne de Reims in the Champagne region of France. Her father Jean Jacques, a property investor, had a strong passion for wine and bought some vineyards there when she was just a child, so she grew up in tune to the rhythm of the vines and a taste of the industry. He later invested in some of the Champagne houses and in 2000 he purchased Chateau La Lagune, a third growth in Haut Medoc, Bordeaux. Caroline had always loved horses and had been an equestrian champion, however, she felt her destiny was to be in the wine industry so enrolled at Bordeaux University. There she studied and was fortunate enough to have Bordeaux legend Denis Dubourdieu as one of her professors. She undertook her internship at Ch. Reynon and graduated top of her class. In 2004 she ran her first vintage at La Lagune.

When the family acquired Paul Jaboulet Ainé in 2006 she also took up the role of winemaker and viticulturist there. Caroline Frey is fast becoming one of the top winemakers in France, admired for her persistence for quality which begins in the vineyard. Under her leadership the Paul Jaboulet Ainé vineyards were certified for Sustainable Farming and she now follows organic and biodynamic practices.

Caroline Frey of Paul Jaboulet Aine Wine

Caroline Frey of Paul Jaboulet Aîné

In 2010 the winery itself got an upgrade and a state of the art gravity flow system was installed, meaning gentler handling of the wines, further improving quality.

As she strives for perfection and to make each vintage better than the last, Caroline is producing wines that not only reflect their true terroir, but in the process she is protecting the environment and preserving the land for future generations.

Paul Jaboulet Aine Vineyard

Paul Jaboulet Aîné Vineyard


[All photos courtesy of Domaines Paul Jaboulet Aîné]

Paul Jaboulet Aîné: One of the Finest Wine Estates in History

Paul Jaboulet Aine

Domaines Paul Jaboulet Aîné

Paul Jaboulet Aine

Mention the Rhone Valley to anyone around the world and a small chapel perched upon a vine clad hill is likely to be one of the first images that springs to mind. Not only is the image romantic, it is so closely associated with being one of the best Syrahs in the world, it evokes a myriad of emotions – admiration, respect, envy and desire. Winemakers around the globe aspire to make Syrahs of this complexity and intensity, such is the reverence in which it is held. La Chapelle in Hermitage is one of the finest and most iconic vineyards in the world. It belongs to Paul Jaboulet Ainé.

Almost two centuries ago, this famous vineyard was established by Antoine Jaboulet. Hermitage is a small commune in the Northern Rhone Valley and the La Chapelle vineyard slopes down to the banks of the beautiful Rhone River. The chapel, after which it is named, was built in 1235 and sits at the top of the hill. It is small and simple, yet one of the most powerful images in the world of wine. The region Hermitage is so called after the hermit that used to live there alone on the hill.

Paul Jaboulet La Chapelle Chapel

The Hermitage chapel built in 1235

It is believed that the Romans and maybe even the Greeks produced wine in this region, however, it was Antoine Jaboulet’s plantings in 1834 and focus on quality which really started to establish the region as one of the major wine producing regions of the world. When he died, the land was passed on to his sons Henri and Paul, who subsequently gave his name to the company – Paul Jaboulet Ainé (Ainé meaning the elder in French). The business was passed down from generation to generation, expanding as they planted more vineyards in other appellations along the Rhone Valley. Having started with the small plot of land in Hermitage, they now have 120 hectares, producing fine wines from twenty six other appellations including Cornas, Crozes-Hermitage, Gigondas, Cotes Rotie, Condrieu and Chateauneuf-du- Pape. They also produce some of the best Cotes du Rhone wines, with Parellel 45 well known for over delivering on price.

La Chapelle is made from 100% Syrah and is a blend from their top sites including the revered vineyards of Les Bessards, Le Meal and Les Rocoules. There is also a La Chapelle blanc which is made from 100% Marsanne. With vineyards in Condrieu, Paul Jaboulet Ainé also produce some top class viognier, and grow other indigenous Rhone Valley grapes such as Grenache and Mourvedre as relevant to the various appellations.

Paul Jaboulet Syrah

Syrah grapes in La Chapelle Hermitage

Syrah Grapes in La Chapelle

During the latter half of the twentieth century Gerard Jaboulet worked tirelessly to promote Rhone Valley wines around the world, further increasing their reputation. When he passed away suddenly in 1997, Philippe and Jacques Jaboulet took up the reins for the next few years.

In 2006, Jean-Jacques Frey bought Paul Jaboulet Ainé. The Frey family have become increasingly important in the French wine industry having significant interests in Champagne as well as purchasing Chateau La Lagune in Haut-Medoc in 2000 and Château de Corton André in Burgundy in 2014. Caroline Frey, the daughter of Jean-Jacques is the winemaker and viticulturist for Paul Jaboulet Ainé. She graduated from Bordeaux University in 2004 where she studied oenology and she is fast becoming one of the top winemakers in France. Following biodynamic practices and with the installation of a brand new gravity flow winery she is producing stunning wines, striving to make them better and better each year. She strives for excellence and for the wines to truly reflect their terroir, whilst having minimal impact on the environment, thus preserving it for generations to come.


[All photos courtesy of Domaines Paul Jaboulet Aîné]

Maison Billecart-Salmon 2018 Bicentennial: A Family Story

“Give priority to quality, strive for excellence”

This has been the motto passed down from generation to generation of the Billecart family. In 2018, as Billecart-Salmon celebrates its bicentenary, it would appear this motto has been passionately followed. Two hundred years since its foundation, Billecart-Salmon champagnes continue to achieve high international acclaim and are enjoyed in homes and top restaurants around the globe. It is a wonderful success story of a hard-working family who have continued to follow the dream and high standards set by their ancestors Nicolas François Billecart and Elisabeth Salmon who founded the Champagne House in 1818.

Nicolas Francois Billecart Elisabeth Salmon

Nicolas François Billecart and Elisabeth Salmon

The couple were given a parcel of land, close to the charming village of Mareuil-sur-Ay in the heart of Champagne, as a wedding gift by the Salmon family. They decided to focus on producing top end sparkling champagnes. Although red and white wines had been produced in Champagne for many centuries, the art of creating quality sparkling wines by a controlled and consistent method was still in its infancy. Billecart-Salmon are therefore considered amongst the group of pioneers who helped establish the modern, hugely successful champagne industry as we see it today.

The House is now run by the seventh generation of the family, brothers François Roland Billecart and Antoine Roland Billecart. Their father Jean Roland Billecart, now 90 and with the experience of over 70 vintages under his belt, is still involved with the company. In 2010, François’ son, Nicolas joined the business meaning there is the rather special situation of three generations working together, following their family motto and striving to improve and perfect their wines each vintage.

Billecart-Salmon Family

Brothers Antoine & François Billecart with their father Jean Roland-Billecart (middle)

Their wines are made from the traditional champagne varieties – chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, which come from some of the best sites in the region. They own 15 hectares, including Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards across the Vallee de la Marne and the Cotes des Blancs.

Billecart-Salmon Vineyard

Billecart–Salmon are particularly well known for their more unusual practice of “double cold settling”. This method leaves the must from the pressings to sit for 12 hours, allowing all the solids to settle to the bottom of the tank. It is then racked to another tank, cooled down and left for another 48 hours to allow any further solids to settle to the bottom of the tank. This is a gentler way of handling the wine and ensures the juice is purer before fermentation begins. It is believed this practice adds elegance and finesse to the wine. They first started using this method in 1952.

During the 1950s they also started producing the rose style champagnes for which they are now most famous.

Following their motto of “give priority to quality, strive for excellence”, Billecart Salmon built a new state-of- the-art winery in 2001, proving that although they incorporate successful traditional techniques into their wine-making, they also embrace modern technology when it serves to further improve the quality and efficient production of their wines.

Finesse, balance and elegance are the hallmark of Billecart-Salmon champagnes and on their 200th anniversary, we pay tribute to this family’s continued success of producing champagnes of this outstanding quality. We look forward to celebrating their enormous success over the coming months and invite you too, to raise a glass to the Billecart family.

Billecart Salmon

For dates of the upcoming Billecart-Salmon Bicentennial celebrations, please click here.


[All photos courtesy of Champagne Billecart-Salmon]

Demeter Zoltán & the Tokaj Foundation

Demeter Zoltan TokajThe Hungarian wine industry has had a tumultuous history over the last century suffering from both natural and political disasters.  At the end of the 19th century, Hungary was ravaged by phylloxera, with many traditional varieties being replaced with French rather than local varieties.  The Trianon dictate, the global recession in the late 1920s, and then World War II meant life was tough with little time to focus on luxury and leisure.  Then came the Communist era. This was a period when the focus was very much on quantity rather than quality in most areas of production including the wine industry.  

For the majority of people in Tokaj, the era of creating outstanding and unique traditional wines seemed a distant or forgotten art and an era that belonged to their ancestors.  

However, for the last twenty years, wine professionals in Tokaj have worked extremely hard to resurrect these exquisite, traditional wines and to educate the world about their unique qualities. Among these professionals, Demeter Zoltán, founded in 1996 with the intent to take a full and active part in the recognition and rediscovery of Tokaj terroir and its wines. Supported by the Tokaj Foundation these creative winegrowers have used indigenous varieties to produce seductive wines which reflect both their terroir and tradition. They have succeeded in resurrecting a glorious taste of the past and injecting a warm glow of amber and gold back into the region.

Demeter Zoltan Vineyard

The Tokaj Foundation was established to encourage creativity in the region and rediscover the almost forgotten traditions.  This includes winemaking as well as other local customs. In December 2017 the Tokaj Foundation organised a huge concert in the local cathedral to celebrate their success and the riches of Tokaj.  

Tokaj Foundation Concert

Not only have they reconnected with their ancestors, but recreated local products and customs to pass on to future generations ensuring the history and local traditions of Tokaj will now live well into the future.

Check out our Demeter Zoltán Wines below:


Demeter Zoltan Veres Tokaji Furmint Wine

2015 Veres – Tokaji Furmint

This dry wine is scented with heady white flowers, green apple with a palate to match with the addition of lime


Demeter Zoltan Eszter Tokaji Cuvee Wine

2013 Eszter – Tokaji Cuvée (500ml)

Ripe stone fruit jump out of the glass. The wine is a beautifully crafted balance between fruit and vineyard. Honeyed and oily with a crisp acidity playing yin to the fruit weights yang


Demeter Zoltan Tokaji Aszu Hold-volgy Wine

2007 Tokaji Aszú Hold-völgy (500ml)

Complex spice and savoury notes from Botrytis rich fruit at harvest. Well integrated and balanced



Demeter Zoltan Narancsbor Orange Wine

2015 Narancsbor Orange Wine

Grippy phenolics across the palate, sandalwood, pohutakawa honey and sweet fenugreek notes develop.  This wine is complex and needs air to open up its tight core of flavors.  The finish is dry and stony with an oily viscous texture

Weingut Schloss Lieser – Producer of Some of the World’s Finest Riesling


Pure and bright – seductive and sensual. The many guises of Riesling are what makes it such an alluring and highly revered varietal. Schloss Lieser is a master at showcasing the diversity of this amazing varietal and their wines are sought after around the world.

Situated in the picturesque Mosel Valley, the castle was built in 1875 with the winery added in 1904. Schloss Lieser was, however, in a very run down state when Thomas Haag took it over in the 1990s. Yet through hard work and his huge passion for Riesling, Haag has turned Schloss Lieser into one of the top Riesling producers in the world and restored the estate to its former glory. Thomas comes from a highly regarded dynasty of Mosel winemakers. His grandfather established the well-known Fritz Haag wine estate and decided to focus solely on producing premium Rieslings. Wilhelm Haag, Thomas’ father, succeeded Fritz, and became Winemaker of the Year in 1994, again showing their dedication to this varietal. Thomas and his family also focus solely on Riesling, producing all styles from dry to sweet, including four Grosses Gewächs. A passion for Riesling is definitely in the Haag blood.

Schloss Lieser Estate

The Schloss Lieser castle built in 1875

The vineyards are planted along the River Mosel on south or south-west facing sites on the very steep, slate slopes. These are premium spots as warmth from the sunshine, radiation from the heat absorbing slate soils and solar reflection from the river help the grapes fully ripen in this northern, cool climate region. The warm summers with cool nights and the long autumns enable the grapes to ripen slowly, thus developing optimum flavours and a wonderful racy acidity.

All work is carried out by hand on these steep slopes. Traditionally in the Mosel, each vine is attached to an individual stake as this enables the workers to work horizontally instead of vertically. Haag, however, has broken tradition and recently introduced wire training for some of their vines. He believes this allows them to be worked more easily and keeps yields low.
Several passes are made during vintage to pick the ripest grapes for the various styles, again adding to the intensity of the workload.

Schloss Lieser River

Vines of Schloss Lieser overlooking the Moselle River

Haag’s philosophy is “as little as possible, as much as necessary” as he aims to pursue a very natural cultivation of the vineyards which he believes maintains his responsibility to the environment.

The Schloss Lieser Rieslings therefore not only reflect the incredible Mosel terroir but also the passion and dedication of the Haag family.

Check out the Schloss Lieser Rieslings below:


Schloss Lieser Niederberg Helden Riesling Auslese

2016 Schloss Lieser Niederberg Helden Riesling Auslese

Pale gold. Rich, deep, complex mineral aroma. Complex, concentrated, and piquant on the palate.


Schloss Lieser Niederberg Helden Riesling Spatlese

2016 Schloss Lieser Niederberg Helden Riesling Spatlese

Pale gold. Very fine, elegant mineral notes. Elegant, fresh, and racy with a lots of grip.


Schloss Lieser Niederberg Helden Riesling Trocken GG

2016 Schloss Lieser Niederberg Helden Riesling Trocken GG

Pale gold. A masterly scent of peaches and classy exotic fruits. Great complexity with an infinite elegance.


Schloss Lieser Feinherb

2016 Schloss Lieser Riesling Feinherb

Pale gold. Slate-like fruit aroma. A juicy, piquant and salty Riesling.


Schloss Lieser Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett

2016 Schloss Lieser Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett

Pale gold. Very fine, clear and precise perfume. Ripe lemon flavours. Piquant and slate-like on the palate.

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