Scot Covington, Trione Vineyards and Winery

We just had a great time hosting Scot Covington, winemaker for the highly regarded Trione Vineyards and Winery in Sonoma. Trione is not a nationwide brand, they are known for their small lot productions. So, I ask what brings Scot to Asheville. "A very small plane," he says. 
 
Scot Covington has an extensive and commendable biography of experience. But, lets be honest here, what we wanted to know was why his name, "Scot" only has one "t." I know. I know. You are thinking shallow. Well, we will get to the wonky stuff but the explanation for the lonely "t" actually turns out to be interesting.
 
"My grandfather was Scottish from the Orkney Islands, a Scot" says Scot, "my father wanted my name to reflect our heritage." Hence, Scot. 
 
OK. Back to the bio. In the beginning when the Trione Family decided to work wine on their Home Ranch in Alexander Valley, they set out to find a one-stop shopping winemaker with design, construction and winemaking experience. WOW. That's a lot to ask. Enter Scot Covington.
 
Scot says: "The Trione Family basically gave me a blank piece of paper and said "design your winery." WOW, again. Scot designed a straightforward winery for small lots and "hands-on-winemaking.' Mission accomplished.
 
Scot brought years of experience and expertise to the challenge. After graduating with a degree in Enology from California State University, Scot worked in Sonoma County, South Africa and Australia. His mentors included Bill Bonnetti and Merry Edwards. I am tired of saying WOW, but WOW!
 
Trione sells grapes from their 650 acres to other wineries, some of the BIG names you would recognize, but Scot keeps the "top 3 percent" for Trione. That said, this is a good time for me to say that what you get in a Trione bottle will cost you more from one of the well known, mass marketed nationwide brands. Blind Tasting anyone?
 
While Scot respects Napa, let's be clear, he is a big proponent of Sonoma wines. We tasted 4 of Scot's Sonoma County Wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.
 
The Sauvignon Blanc was the hit of the tasting. The style is a little more fuller bodied and a touch smoother than you would find in a bottle of the varietal from New Zealand. I asked Scot if his wine work in South Africa had any influence on the style of his Sauvignon Blanc. "Yes, definitely. This wine is stylistically between Marlborough and Loire."
 
The Chardonnay was lovely. If you like French, this bottle is for you. Scot recommends this Chardonnay with a "plate of salmon and mashed potatoes!" I might add a healthy dollop of butter and chives but that's just me....
 
Since there are literally zillions of bottles of domestic Pinot Noir, I asked Scot what he wants customers to know about his Pinot Noir."Trione Pinot Noir is classic Russian River with a core of deep black cherry fruit, forrest floor, leafy." What is the perfect food partner?"Wild mushrooms," says Scot.
 
The Cabernet 2011 was spectacular. Scot posts his notes about all of his wines on the Trione website. Awesome! About the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Block Twenty-One (reaad: here's your wonky stuff!):
 
Our Block Twenty One Cabernet is a selection from the Trione Cloverdale Ranch, located on the western flank of the Mayacamas Mountains, in the northern portion of Alexander Valley. The vines, planted in 2001 with Bordeaux clone #337, grow in clay and sandy loam soils underlain with a high percentage of gravel. Cabernet Sauvignon grown in this ideal terroir develops deep, concentrated flavors and fine, smooth tannins. Cases produced: 707 six-packs 
 
The wine is a classic Bordeaux blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot and 2% each of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Growing season 2011 was relatively cool, thus promoting slow ripening, full flavor development and complex structure. We hand-harvested and fermented each variety, then moved the wines to barrel, where they aged six months. Once we determined our blend, we returned the wine to barrel for an additional twelve months, to 'marry' the varietals. We used tight-grained French oak barrels (45% new) from coopers Taransaud, Vicard and Bossuet. Alcohol: 14.4 percent by volume TA: 6.41 g/l pH: 3.75 Tasting 
 
Notes: Complex aromas foretell rich flavors of black currants, allspice and a hint of clove. Full bodied with velvety texture, smooth tannins and an extensive finish, this Cabernet blend will age in the bottle 10 years.
 
 
Scot also does a Zinfandel for Trione. He says he consulted with Carol Shelton, the undisputed Goddess of Zin, about plantings for the Zinfandel. She and he nailed it.
 
I asked Scot, because I knew you would want to know!! if he does a Rose for Trione. Indeed he does. "100% Pinot Noir." We are working on bringing it to you.
 
And, settle down, I did ask if he had a dog. "I am in the process of adopting a liter of Brittany Spaniels." Scot promises to send pictures. In the meantime, we took a picture with a pinata just to get the excitement started. Now me, I would have figured Scot for a Scottish Terrier.
 
But that's just me.
 
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Barnaby, Olga, Lexi and The "J Turn"

 

We caught up with Teutonic Winemaker and Owner, Barnaby Tuttle, on his way to Home Grown in Asheville for lunch. Barnaby was eating his way through Asheville! After the Teutonic Tasting @MetroWnes on Friday Night, he went two doors down to Gan Shan downing a bowl of Drunken Noodles and a healthy serving of Bok Choy. He woke up hungry at Midnight and had frozen pizza burned to charcoal on the bottom and cheap BIG BOX beer. Yes, even winemakers DO crazy when on the road!
 
Barnaby is a Portland, Oregon native. Before his current incarnation, he was an iron worker and worked for an autowrecker that salvaged vintage car parts from the 50s, 60s and 70s. Hold that thought - both jobs become very important later........
 
Before we go further, let's set the Tuttle stage. Barnaby is married to Olga who drives a 62 Plymouth Valiant at the Dragstrip in Woodburn, Oregon (http://www.woodburndragstrip.com/). Lexi a Border Collie mix with some way cool ears (see below) gleefully joins the pack a little later. Moving on......
 
Barnaby decided to go down a different path and took a job at a restaurant in Portland. Until that moment, Barnaby's path and that of wine had not crossed. So, not because he was interested because he really wasn't, but because the restaurant needed someone to learn about wine, Baranby was sent to wine classes.
 
The class was based on blind tasting. Barnaby found this process valuable as he was "forced to analyze and look deeper." One day the instructor brings in a series of bottles of Pinot Noir from different areas. Barnaby became fascinated with the difference in the bottles as a result of the different terroirs, "just a block away." Who knew? Now Barnaby knows. His path has crossed that of wine.  He becomes the wine buyer at the restaurant.
 
Back at the restaurant, Barnaby met a German Importer. One thing leads to another and to Germany and tasting a lot of German wine and meeting German winemakers and finally to Barnaby telling Olga: "I got to quit my job and make this stuff!" I ask how Olga took the news. "She was concerned but she knows that once I make up my mind, I follow through." And so he did......
 
Starting Teutonic on a shoestring budget, Barnaby says his experience at the autowrecker came in mighty handy. He built his own machines, designed a process for stacking barrels, was able to repair his forklift and benefited from his understanding of the "flow" of production. "And frankly," Barnaby says: "I would not have been able to afford to start the winery without this experience."
 
Teutonic Wines are intended to complement food, lower in alcohol (9 to 12%) and a little higher in acidity.  Wines are made in neutral barrels so that the flavor of oak does not overpower the wine and the delicate flavors of some dishes.
 
But who is Barnaby outside the winery?
 
What is your favorite part of being a winemaker? "Discovering the unexpected. Being surprised by what a wine becomes. And then traveling the country presenting the wines. I met so many interesting people."
 
What do you drink if not your own wines? "Mostly, the wines made by my friends. I like Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc." (BTW, friend of the shop and one of the MetroWines favorites, John Grochau, lives down next door to Barnaby's Grandmother.)
 
What do you do in your spare time? "I work on old cars if I can, but, honestly, I am working all the time. I am consumed by this!" The hard and constant work has paid off. Barnaby has been successful in placing his wines in a number of states including New York, Washington DC, Texas and is very close to placement in England, Norway and Japan.
 
Favorite movie? "Spinal Tap."
 
TV guilty pleasures? "Old shows like Perry Mason and Rockford Files." Here, I tell Barnaby that I am also a Rockford Files fan and ask whether Olga can do the famous Rockford turn. "Oh, you're talking about the J Turn! Not yet but I'll suggest it to her!" Stand by Portland for Olga working it in a parking lot near you soon. Oh yeah!
 
What would you do if not a winemaker?  Barnaby is interested in linguistics, specifically accents. 
 
"Language is oral history." The pervasive regional dialects, according to Barnaby, tell centuries of stories and global movement. Barnaby says that in one small German village he visited there were 6 dialects! The winemaker by day sounds pretty far into this subject. "I think you could map world migration considering language with an overlay of DNA." WOW! 
 
Barnaby noticed my New Orleans accent and said that I should be proud of it. "Think of the confluence of cultures that went into making that unique sound." I feel good!
 
Bottom line? What do you want readers to know about who YOU are. "I am a working class guy who made good."

 

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Ray Signorello

* THIS JUST IN: NEW REVIEWS FROM ROBERT PARKER on SIGNORELLO WINES *

95+

2013 Signorello Estate Padrone

The 2013 Proprietary Red Padrone, the winery’s flagship wine, is a blend of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc

aged 21 months in 100% new French oak prior to being bottle unfiltered.

This wine exhibits an inky purple color, notes of graphite, blueberry, blackberry, a hint of cocoa and a dense, full-bodied superrich mouthfeel with good acidity and strong, but well-integrated tannin.

Give this wine 6-7 years and drink over the following 35-40.

- Robert M. Parker, Jr. (October, 2016)

 

98

2015 Signorello Estate Chardonnay Hope's Cuvee Napa Valley

The best Chardonnay I have ever tasted from Ray Signorello has to be the 2015 Chardonnay Hope’s Cuvée.

With its tiny yields, old vines and unfiltered style of keeping the wine nine months in barrel (of which half is new French oak and the rest used),this wine is absolutely spectacular.

The wine has a Montrachet-like richness with profound concentration from the tiny yields, loads of caramelized citrus, honeysuckle, white peach, melons and a touch of brioche.

It is full-bodied, but great acid, purity and length make for an incredible wine from this old vineyard’s clay and loamy soils.

Drink over the next 10-12 years as this has every indication of being long-lived.

- Robert M. Parker, Jr. (October, 2016)

 

95

2015 Signorello Estate Seta (Semillon /Sauvignon Blanc)

He makes one of the more intriguing and fascinating proprietary white blends, the 2015 Proprietary White Seta, which is 66% Sauvignon Blanc and 34% Semillon aged nine months in two-thirds

French oak and bottled unfiltered (somewhat of a trick, since there is no malolactic).

This is a serious Haut-Brion Blanc-like wine with notes of lanolin, sealing wax, caramelized citrus, honeysuckle, a touch of tangerine and exotic fruits.

The wine is medium-bodied and concentrated, with great acidity and freshness. The sad thing is, less than 100 cases were produced.

- Robert M. Parker, Jr. (October, 2016)

 

NOW BACK TO REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAMMING:

Big. Bold. Bella. This will become clear as you read on. Ray Signorello says, "my passion is wine." I know what you're thinking. Yada Yada. What winemaker doesn't say that? But there is a difference in the intensity here. This guy means really, really means it. And there is no better proof than Signorello Wines. "I am always in the pursuit of excellence," Ray says, "but perfection is elusive."
 
    But if the judgment of Robert Parker is the quantifiable definition of excelllence, Ray Signorello is pretty darn close.  The 2013 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon received 94 Points and the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Padrone brought in 97+ points.
 
   According to the website, which BTW, is one of if not THE best winery website I have ever seen.... (And this just IN: the website is being updated. Same address, new stuff HERE)! "Signorello Estate is a one-of-a-kind reflection of a wholly unique Napa Valley hillside vineyard and terroir. Planted and cultivated by the Signorello Family since 1977, these grapes are the foundation of their richly structured, intensely flavored Estate wines. Ray Signorello, Jr. has left no stone unturned, no philosophy unexplored, no ancient or modern viticulture and winemaking idea untried in his decades-long quest to produce the perfect Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon for his customers."
   Ray Signorello hosted a Burger Lunch at Red Stag in Asheville today for some of his customers. He shared what was very, very obviously his passion for wine. In the beginning, Ray was working toward a career on Wall Street. He started making wine as a hobby and 28 years later, he has carved a real niche in the Napa Valley Cabernet Market. Located on The Silverado Trail, Signorello is in good company with wineries including Shafer and Stag's Leap.
   The philosophy is simple Ray says, "we keep our hands off the process as much as we can." That said, the wines are unfined and unfiltered. While Signorello Wines do a table proud now, they are built to last. Made with all French Oak, and only French Oak!!, the focus is, Ray says,"on collectors." The Reds can go over 20 years in the bottle. Even the Chardonnay can do 10!
   Competition is tough in the wine business but Ray stays the course. "We do not pander with over oaked-under fruited wines," he says. "And I would not bottle a wine that I would not drink myself."
   So, yes, these barrel fermented wines are as you might expect from Napa Valley "big" and "bold" but here's the "bella." Instead of being a big, bold, brash, perhaps even sloppy, just big for the sake of being BIG, smothering food in a wash of fruit flavored motor oil (sorry, I might have gone a little too far there), Signorello wines are partners. "Our wines are geared for food," says Ray. "The style is more Euro with good acidity and structure.
 
    As it is not all that common to hear a California winemaker emphasize food compaibility. So I ask Ray why? "Might be my Italian heritage that dictates the food and wine interplay."  Oh yeah. What do you drink, Ray, when not opening a bottle of your own? What is a good pairing? "White truffles and Barolo, maybe a little tagliatelle." Rays says without hesitation.
   Ray was also inspired by his visits to Old World wine estates. He insists that his visitors to his winery experience his wines with their "natural companions: food." But at Signorello Estate, it's not just talk. The winery has an on-site chef. Equipped with a full-sized professional kitchen stocked with gourmet meats, artisan cheeses and vegetables fresh from estate gardens, the Estate Chef creates dishes harmonized to bring out the subtle nuances in Signorello wines.
 

   The Signorello Estate Chef will guide you through a five course pairing experience explaining the pairing philosophy and describing each creation. This is a wine and food experience unlike any other in the Napa Valley.  Want to go? In my head, I am already gone. "The Enoteca Signorello" is a 2 hour adventure on Thursday through Monday, March through November starting at noon for $175 per person. 

   Back to reality! Ray Signorello stopped by the shop last night and hosted a tasting of his wines. I had a chance to ask a few more questions while Ray graciously juggled a crowd of abot 30 wine fans. He appears in personas you see him in his stock photo, that is, sophisticated, sport jacket, Italian leather shoes, nice haircut.

   So it came as quite a surprise when I asked Ray his favorite movie and he said "Gladiator" so fast my head was spinning. I don't know why I was not expecting that answer. But I just wasn't. Not that anyone can't respect even love "Gladiator" but I just wasn't expecting it. Ray loves the view into Roman life and remains partial to all things Roman.  But would Ray ever grow Italian grapes in California? Maybe a Sangiovese? I say other California winemakers do. "No," Rays says as quickly as he let loose on "Gladiator!" Ray thoroughly and professorially explained, with a lot of complicated wine terms but, basically, California is for Cab!

What Ray poured:

FUSE: Ray chose to the name to emphasize the fusion of varietals. This blend of 86% Cabernet, 8% Cabernet Franc and 8% Petite Verdot received 90-92 Points from Robert Parker in Wine Advocate. Parker said: "This wine was still in barrel and shows loads of espresso roast, blackcurrants, and hints of white chocolate and spicebox in an elegant, yet authoritative, medium to full-bodied style." 

And addressing the harvest, Parker said: "2013 may turn out to be the finest vintage I have experienced in tasting North Coast varietals over the last 37 years. it's a game changer in terms of the consistency of quality, the depth of quality, and the across-the-board excellence for so many wines."

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

“The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate is a beauty. Inky purple-colored, with notes of charcoal, graphite, blackcurrants and blueberries, the wine is dense, opulent, full-bodied, fresh and full. It should drink well for up to 20 more years.” 94+ Points Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate, October 2015 

WINEMAKING NOTES: Traditional French winemaking practices: native yeast fermentations, extended maceration (each lot averaged 25 days on the grape skins) and pump-overs twice a day. The 2013 vintage aged for 22 months in 64% new oak from Troncais, Nevers and Alliers, coopered into thin-staved, medium-plus toast Chateau Ferre barrels by coopers Tarransaud, Saury, Darnajou and Nadalie. To preserve fruit intensity and body, the wine was not filtered prior to bottling

And 2012 PADRONE

“This is a fabulous wine, meant to evolve over three decades. It offers up notes of charcoal, scorched earth, blackcurrant, blackberry, chocolate and a touch of espresso. A wine of great intensity, full-bodied opulence and a multilayered mouthfeel, this is a formidably endowed, serious Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated wine from vineyards with some of the best fruit on the estate. Drink it over the next 30 years.” 97+ Points Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate, Oct. 2015

WINEMAKING NOTES: Traditional French winemaking practices: native yeast fermentations, extended maceration (each lot averaged 25 days on the grape skins) and pump-overs twice a day. The 2012 vintage aged for 22 months in 100% new oak from Troncais, Nevers and Alliers, coopered into thin-staved, medium-plus toast Chateau Ferre barrels by coopers Tarransaud, Saury, Darnajou and Nadalie. To preserve fruit intensity and body, the wine was not filtered prior to bottling on September 5, 2014.

And finally, you're thinking that I forgot to ask about the winery dog. Au contraire!  Ray does not have a a dog of his own because he travels so often. BUT, there is a winery dog. And a mighty happy one with a vineyard full of friends!

 

 

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Quincy Steele

I told Quincy that the purpose of these interviews is to get to know the winemaker personally. The truth is that we can read about their wines on their well done websites. And, let's face it, with winemakers also working to market their wines and answering questions from retailers and writers like me! they may have necessarily developed some standard operating answers.
 
So let's get right to the point. "Quincy, do you have a dog?"
 "I do," he says. "A Border Collie Collie, Oona. She spends every day with me chasing rabbits at the winery." Sounds like a great day to me I say! "Yeah, she loves it. Oona came from a farm so she is in her element."
 
Quincy is the son of legendary winemaker and winery owner, Jed Steele. "I was always around wine." Quincy remembers how the Steele Dynasty started. "My father would drive around with his wines in the back of a truck and not return home until all the wines were sold!"
 
Quincy seems to have the heart of a poet. Before he turned full on to winemaking, he was studying history and english with intentions to teach. But then he says "the wine bug bit me."
 
Quincy is Assistant Winemaker for Steele and now has his own labels: Shooting Star, Writer's Block and Calvino Jones. "As winemakers, we look for good vineyards, the best sources, concentration of fruit." Quincy says of the core work.  "Because winemaking is basically farming."
 
Quincy poured his shooting Star Zinfandel, Writer's Block Petite Sirah, Calvino Jones Mountain Wine Elaboration and Steele Aligote to a crowd of about 30 @MetroWines. The Aligote was a break out star!
 
Aligote under the Steele label, from a vineyard in Sunnyside, Washington is a Steele specialty. "There are only about 5 acres of Aligote in the United Staes," Quincy says. "Steele is the only or one of the only wineries making wine from Aligote."
 
Quincy is particularly proud of his Shooting Star Zinfandel. "Many Italian winemaking families settled in Mendicino so many of the vines are 50 years old." Made from these sturdy vines, Quincy says "Shooting Star Zinfandel is a great value for the high quality."
 
But Quincy keeps his poetic heart in the wine. Take a look at the back of a bottle of Writer's Block.  A different writer waxes poetic on the back of the label for each varietal changing with each vintage.
 
"From dryland to highland and flats and mountains...deep roots put down, tapping ideas as well as terroir. Always as much an unapproachable lady, fortunately secretive and seductively shady. a fictitious myth this zinfandel of mine." Colin Davis
 
"Bear with me. Normally words trip off my tongue like hundreds of curbside drunks trying to hail the same taxicab," so says the back of the bottle of Counoise. "The bottle temptress is green, smoky green of lichens and cool thickets where lovers escape from parched Augusts and prying eyes," the writer says of Syrah.
 
The wines under the label Calvino Jones are Quincy's work inside and out. Calvino Jones Mountain Wine Elaboration is a blend of grapes from 15 different vineyards. Quincy made the wine with another winemaker and designed the label. "I wanted a fun label but also one that reflects the wine," he says. "Most labels have nothing to do with what's in the bottle!"
 
Writer's Black Wines are food friendly and versatile. Never over the top or too big as, let's tell it like it is, some California wines can be.
 
But back to the business of wine. Quincy has worked in vineyards and wineries in all around California, Australia, Argentina and Burgundy, many trips to Burgundy, back and forth to Burgundy, Burgundy, Burgundy, Burgund!
 
All of this experience, travel and forward thinking have brought Quincy to a new endeavor:  Working with several other winemakers on a project addressing the inherent "energy" in the winemaking process. The research focuses on whether to ever "intervene in the process" and, if you do, when, how and why. Quincy would always prefer to "do the hard work at harvest" and then "let it flow."
 
So Quincy makes great wine. But who is he? I ask few questions to try to find out!
 
Favorite movie? Quincy says movies that show the search for "who you are" but in "a light way."
 
Song? Quincy answers this one quickly: "Watching the Detectives by Elvis Costello."
 
Desert Island Wine? "Pinot Noir. It goes with the kind of fruit and vegetation you might find on most islands." Which one, I ask. Quincy is pretty specific about his one and only one wine question! "A single vineyard Burgundian style."
 
If you are not serving Steele wines, what will we find on your dinner table? "Burgundy. I go back and forth there quite a bit."
 
Going out now on a big and bold and plainly apparent limb, I ask Quincy if his wines French influenced? "Definitely." No surprise there!
 
I ask Quincy what he wants people to know about his wine. "It's about the land."
So says the poet winemaker.

 

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Kent Rosenblum

"Don't give up your day job." That's how Kent Rosenblum, veterinarian, explained his venture into the wine world. 
 
While working as a veterinarian in Montana, Kent took a trip to California and was bitten by the wine bug or, as he says, "I fell in love." He started buying grapes and making wines, for the most part, in his basement. 
 
It was a big deal in 1978 when Kent turned out 400 cases. He sold his wines to family and friends. Lots of them. But as is turns out, it was actually All of them. "The wine made a profit so I thought I would make more," Kent says, "but I ran out of friends!"
 
One step forward, as they say, and two steps back. But Kent kept at it and won a gold medal in 1979 at a California fair. "Of course, you must remember" Kent says humbly, "there were only 130 winemakers at the time in California!"
 
I asked Kent if there was a "special bottle" in his life. "Yes," he says. "One that changed my life." 
 
Until 1987, Kent was still working as a veterinarian seeing small exotics, birds and reptiles as clients. When he could, Kent had been experimenting with refining techniques, that would later become legend! including "cold soaking grapes before fermentation."
 
That same year, a small winery in Emeryville, California calls Kent saying they heard he was the "Zin Guy" and they needed help. The fermentation process had come to a STOP.  
 
Kent goes to the rescue. He found the wine to be "still sweet." Realizing this would take some work to resolve and wine remedies outside the walls of this winery, Kent offers $2 per gallon. Kent's new passion was costly and even at that rock bottom price of $2 per, Kent says "I needed a loan to make it happen!"
 
But the stars were aligned and Kent worked his "Zin Guy" magic. To kickstart the fermentation process, Kent needed to heat the wine so that the yeast in the grape juice would get active. He did. The yeast did. It worked. Kent also pumped in another Zin of his making and the blend "took off," Kent says "the wine turned dry." 
 
The $2 per purchase resulted in Kent having a LOT of wine in his basement which was, at the time, his winery. He decides to send a few bottles, one might speculate just to have a few less bottles in the basement!, to the San Francisco Wine Competition. 
 
You guessed it. Kent wins. Within a day, he has 300 orders for his wines. But Kent didn't even have a label for his winning wine. "One day I was a veterinarian managing my office," Kent says, "and the next day I was a winemaker. This was the defining moment."  
 
Within a year, Kent went from $75,000 to $750,000 in sales and became known for his expertise in making wine. He was popularly promoted from "The Zin Guy" to "The King of Zin," a title he retains!
 
 
These days, Kent's daughter, Shauna, is the winemaker. The winery called Rock Wall, homed in an old hanger next to a bird sanctuary in Alameda, California has become a California wine landmark. "Rock Wall is the original urban winery," Kent says.
 

While his veterinary days are in the past, animals are still front and center. Take a look at the Rock Wall Rock Hound label. That guy playing the guitar sporting the Ray Charles Sunglasses is Sunny, Shauna's blind pitbull.

 
Everything turned out great, actually beyond great, for Kent Rosenblum leaving his profession and turning winemaker. But, bottom line, winemaking is a tough business. And as Kent says: "Don't quit your day job."
 
About Rock Wall Winery:
 

About Us

The etymology of our name: Rock Wall Wine Company is located on the former Alameda Naval Air Base which was decommissioned in 1997 and turned over to the community and is slowly being converted to civilian use. The name Rock Wall refers to the defensive perimeter wall built during WWII in the San Francisco Bay to protect the base from Japanese air to sea torpedoes. All military installations on the west coast created similar protective barriers. This wall is visible from our facility as well as elsewhere on the base. The wall has also been a popular fishing location for local anglers looking for striped bass.


The Rock Wall Wine Company represents a new chapter in the East Bay winemaking scene. The winery offers wine lovers one of the most unique experiences in the wine world.  Shauna Rosenblum is the winemaker for Rock Wall Wine Company. She learned everything she knows about winemaking from her father Kent Rosenblum who is CEO.

The Rock Wall Wine Company is founded on the philosophy of the right grape in the right place and are the result of many long-term relationships with acclaimed vineyards. Grapes are sourced from all over California which creates a diverse winemaking environment, complete with different grape varieties, styles and regional flavor profiles.

Ideally situated in Alameda, California, the winery boasts spectacular views of the San Francisco skyline, and more importantly its locale allows the winemaking team to be regionally centralized - ensuring that whether Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, Zinfandel from Sonoma County, Petite Sirah from Contra Costa County or Chardonnay from the Santa Lucia Highlands, the winemaking team is able to handle the fruit soon after it is picked.

Housed in a converted 40,000 square-foot airplane hangar the winery is located on what was once a Naval Air Base. Also known as Building 24, the hangar is due north of a defensive rock wall which made up the perimeter of the base. Taking their name from this protective wall, the Rock Wall winery building has been retrofitted with state-of-the-art winemaking equipment.

A unique concept, Rock Wall Wine Company is, in essence, an urban winery that services the East Bay. Through the wine center, the Rock Wall owners look forward to continuing the legacy of urban winemaking as well as providing an environment whereby making, tasting and learning about wine is fun!

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Poderi Parpinello. Sardegna!

"Paolo, will you live to be 100?"
"Probably not. I have stress!"
That's what Paolo Parpinello, Winemaker for Poderi Parpinello in Sardegna, said when asked about the recent outcry that Cannonau, a grape indigenous to Sardegna and the star of one of his most popular wines, is, in essence, the fountain of youth!
 
I ask Paolo how did this fountain of youth stuff get started? "On the Today Show," says Paolo in a way that lets me know he has been asked this question many times. 
Apparently, a writer named Dan Buettner opined in his book "The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and living Like the World's Healthiest People, that, with regard to people around the world who live the longest, the Cannonau grape may be contributing to their longevity. Sardinians drink three to four small (3-ounce) glasses of wine a day on average, spread out between breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a late afternoon social hour in the village. "One might argue, Buettner says, "that the all-day small doses of this antioxidant-rich beverage could explain fewer heart attacks." 
 
The Cannonau grape made wine is "one of the reasons," Paolo says, for the long lives in Sardegna "but not the only reason."  According to Paolo, bottom line, "It's the lifestyle." 
All red wines have the same antioxidant proprieties. There was a time when all we talked about was the French Paradox. The French eat all those all those heavy sauces and creamy cheeses and steak frites and Napoleons and yet they live longer than us. The thinking was that the red wine was the lifeline. But the residents of Sardegna are living even longer! "Some live to 115!" Paolo says.
So why is Sardegna different? "It's the food, the pollution free atmosphere," Paolo says. "There are no nuclear plants, no dangerous electromagnetic fields, no big power towers." I think he is saying, in essence, a lot less cell phones.
And it's the way people view work. "The shepherds take their time. They eat cheese at lunch." Paolo explains. "Two glasses of wine for lunch and two for dinner!"
But don't go thinking we are talking about one or two shepherds here. Shepherds represent a substantial percentage of the population in Sardegna. There are a LOT of shepherds because there are a LOT of sheep! "More sheep per capita than New Zealand," Paolo tells us. "Two sheep for every person!"  A LOT of sheep means a LOT of good Pecorino Cheese.
 
I ask Paolo what's this Cannonau grape all about? "The grape is indigenous to Sardegna," Paolo says. In the glass, Cannonau is deep red in color with red fruit and spice on the nose. Made Parpinello style, the wine is dry and elegantly full bodied. "I made this wine in more of a modern style, more popular," Paolo says.
And if I may interject here and it is worth the double negative, in my experience in the store, you just cannot NOT like Cannonau! The varietal is great with red meat, game and cheese, especially Pecorino! but can handle some seafood as well.
 
Paolo shows me where Sardegna is on the map. It's out there a bit and closer to Spain than I recalled from my dismal and relatively uninformative geography class in 4th grade.
 

"Sardegna was settled by Catalans 600 years ago. Some of the street signs in Alghero are written in Catalan and the Catalan dialect is still spoken in some parts" Paolo says. 

And a little Spanish crept over into Poderi Parpinello. "My Vermentino is called Ala Blanca," says Paolo. "The word for white in Italian is Bianca."

Who knew? Clearly, Sardegna is A most interesting place in the world. Much like Sicily, EVERYONE was there from the get go. Fast forward to the 15th century.

History tells us that in 1469, the heir to Sardinia, Ferdinand II of Aragon, married Isabel of Castile, and the Kingdom of Sardinia, now separated from Corsica, was set to be inherited by their Habsburg grandson, Charles I of Spain. In order to defend their Mediterranean territories from raids of those confounded Barbary Pirates, the successors of Charles I fortified the Sardinian shores with a system of coastal lookout towers leading to development, such as it was in 1469, along the coast.

The Kingdom of Sardinia remained Spanish for approximately 400 years, from 1323 to 1708.  Spanish traditions, customs and culture were absorbed, and to this day, as Parpinello told us, Catalan is spoken in the western city of Alghero.

OK. Back to regularly scheduled programming.......
The Paparnello Family moved to Sardegna from The Venetto in 1964. "My father and his father were winemakers," says Paolo. "Always." And his father was "always" in the field tending his vineyards. "My mother would say that my husband has only a relationship with the vineyards," says Paolo, "he is there from sunrise to sunset."
Parpinello Wines are sold across the US with some of the biggest outlets being on the west coast in California, Washington, Oregon and in Chicago.
Here you can find Parpinello Wines on the menu at Chiesa in Montford. And that is where Parpinello joined us for dinner after the "on the house" tasting @MetroWines.
 

 
Chiesa rolled out the red carpet for his visit welcoming Paolo on their way cool, daily updated blackboard and on the menu! Paolo took pictures of everything and his FB page is looking all Asheville right now!
Check it out  HERE.
 
The entire Parpinello Family is involved in wine. Paolo's sister, with a degree in Agronomy and Oenology is a professor and her husband is a consultant who has worked with UC Davis, but Paolo is the winemaker and international representative for Parpinello. That's lot of work. Paolo has stress! 
When Paolo takes a break, he likes to go to Portugal.
 
You should take a break. If you have not tried Parpinello Wines, do yourself a favor, go over to Chiesa and go Sardegna!
About Poderi Parpinello HERE.
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Buglioni: The Accidental Winery

The Accidental Winery
 
"What do we do now?" That's what the Buglioni Family said in 1993 when they looked out the window of their new house and saw a 12 acre vineyard full of grapes a month from harvest.
 
The Buglioni Family was in textiles. All they intended to do was buy a house the family could share. They had not planned on a vineyard, a harvest or being winemakers.
 
But here it was. Acres of grapes. So they sat down and set a plan.
 
"We went to the best wineries in Valpolicella asking if they wanted our grapes," says Mariano. "We were not asking to sell the grapes. We just did not want to throw them away."
 
When the winery saw the quality of the grapes, they were very interested in the crop.  OK. Sure. But, now what? Mariano tells us that he asked the winery to send people to guide The Buglioni Family through the process of harvest.
 
The Buglioni Family did have one advantage in this difficult situation. Being in the textile business, they had a lot of employees handy with a scissors! After being advised on the correct type of scissors for cutting grapes off vines, that being a secateur, 30 textile workers set to harvesting! 
 
"One of our friends rode through the vineyard on a scooter with a basket offering paninis for the workers," Mariano says."We completed the harvest in 3 days!" The harvest was a hit and The Buglioni Family decided to do it all over again every year. "We harvested the grapes this way from 1993 to 1999!" 
 
Things started to take a turn for the future along about 1998. "My father began renovations of the old house," Mariano says. "He decided to set aside a room just in case the family decided to make their own wine."
 
In 1999, construction was finished and, in 2000, a winemaker was hired! But the winemaker and consultants were making the same wine at Buglioni that was widely available.  Mariano says the family decided they wanted wines with "our own style, our own personality." 
 
What do we do, again? Mariano went to the university and requested names for the 3 best winemakers. Diego Bertoni, 23 years old, was hired and he remains the winemaker.
 
Buglioni was in the wine business! The winery started selling and selling to the point of needing an agent. But the family hit another snag. "Since the agents knew we had been in the textile business," Mariano says, "no one took us seriously."
 
That said, The Buglioni Family, now mightily determined to break into the wine business, came up with yet another plan. They opened Osteria del Bugiardo in 2005 in Verona. The wines were a HIT. Buglioni got the respect they so well deserved. And they landed an agent.
 
The first wines exported outside of Italy went to Switzerland and that country remains one of the biggest markets for Buglioni, particularly Buglioni Amarone. The Buglioni style is appealing to the international travelers who frequent Switzerland for banking and commerce.
 
Mariano poured  Buglioni Gargenaga, Valpolicella Ripasso and Amarone here @MertoWines for about 40 customers. We found the Gargenaga, think Soave, smooth with better body than you might expect. The Valpolicella Ripasso was bright and and full without being overpowering, and the Amarone was easy on the palate and just well done. I get why they like it in Switzerland!
 
Mariano suggested pairing his amarone with langoustein! Say what? Charlie Stanley of Cork & Fork @MetroWines says: 
 
"While most people associate Amarone with richer, red meat dishes such as braised beef, osso buco, or short ribs, it has much more flexibility. 
 
Consider the wine makers suggestion of a simple seafood pairing. Begin by procuring 3-4 high quality langoustien, more commonly known as Norway Lobster in Europe. Now here is the crazy part. Don't cook them. Split each langoustien down the center axis creating two mirror sides. Now drizzle a small amount of high quality, extra virgin olive oil over the langoustien followed by some finely chopped Italian flat leaf parsley. 
 
There remains just one more step. Open a bottle of Amarone that has a slight chill on it, and enjoy your feast." 
 
Back to the story....Now, having been successful in both endeavors, does Mariano prefer the textile business or the wine industry? "Definitely the wine business because it is true, it's real," says Mariano. "Wine is shared at tables all around the world with food and friends."
 
And so we tested his theory! Mariano joined us for dinner at Chiesa in Montford where owners Robert and Melissa hosted us at the community table.
 
"Valpolicella means," says Mariano, "the valley of many wines." Valpolicella was, according to Mariano, one of the first wine making regions in Italy. 
And it is monumentally beautiful. About 15 miles from the heart of Verona and from there about another 30 to Milano, this is pretty much a dream world.
 
Over dinner, I asked Mariano where a person who lives in Valpolicella !! goes on vacation? "Greece, Sicily. This year, maybe Puglia."
 
Is there is a winery dog? "Yes. A boxer."
I wonder if Mariano needs a dog sitter while he is in Puglia.

 

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Suzanne Groth

"We do not hire "rock star" winemakers or wine consultants that pop in and out at Groth," says Suzanne Groth.  "We look for dedicated winemakers invested in our wines who will watch the wine through the entire process." Groth winemakers have been working with the winery for three decades. "We make certain that there is a multi year overlap to insure passing down techniques and insuring consistent quality." 

 

   Suzanne was in Asheville to host a dinner at The Grove Park Inn.  The wines paired perfectly with the perfectly prepared dishes. Groth wines are bold on the nose and palate but within bounds setting them apart from many California wines that are just about being BIG. While you could certainly enjoy Groth Wines solo, particularly the Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay, these are unquestionably food wines.  

   So how did we get to this point....................

  Graduating from Lewis and Clark College in 1992 with a BA in art history, Suzanne entered the art world, working in a gallery.  But soon, she decided on a career in wine. After spending four years with the Henry Wine Group, a California wine distributor, selling fine wine to restaurants and retailers in the San Francisco Bay Area,  Suzanne says, “It was only after selling other people’s ‘wine vision’ that I was able to appreciate how very special Groth Vineyards was.”  She returned to the family business in 1998, working several years in wine sales and Public Relations before becoming VP of Sales and Marketing in 2009.

   Suzanne's parents, Dennis and Judy Groth, are Bay Area natives and lived there until they decamped to Napa Valley in 1985. Dennis, a CPA was a partner at Ernst and young before joining Atari in 1978.

  In 1981, the Groths purchased a 121-acre parcel in Oakville adding a second 44 acre vineyard in 1982. Totaling These vineyards are the primary source of grapes for the Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc wines produced by Groth.

   Established in 1982, Groth crushed the first grapes for their own wines that same year. Production increased quickly to 30,000 cases by 1984. By 1985, the winery needed full-time attention from Dennis and Judy, so they moved their family to the Oakville property. And the rest is, as they say, history. "When we arrived in Oakville, vineyards were planted with Charbono but my father believed that this could be great cabernet country," Suzanne says. "And now, the area is considered one of best areas in world for elegant cab."

   Suzanne tells the story that sounded similar to the experience of Chateau Montelena in "Bottle Shock." Making wine is a labor of love and an expensive one. The Groths were facing an uphill financial battle and feared they might lose the farm, literally. "My father had to sell some of the land he loved." But out of the blue, Suzanne says, the Groths got a call from a friend who said that Robert Parker had just awarded 100 points!! to Groth Cabernet Sauvignon.

   Groth has come a long way. The winery has produced well balanced wines for decades and their work has not gone without notice and BIG notice.  Groth Sauvignon Blanc was served at The White House dinner welcoming Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of Great Britain!

   And despite her many responsibilites at the winery, Suzanne still works her art. She gave us all a print at the dinner. Her work is much like the wine, dynamic but within bounds.

   And I did not forget to ask if there was a winery dog. "Two Pugs," Suzanne says, "they come to work with me everyday."

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Jesse Lange and Maggie

BIG Night @MetroWines. BIG. Jesse Lange, Manager and Winemaker for Lange Estate Winery, A Wine Enthusiast Winery of the Year, poured to talk about and taste his Pinot Gris (90 Points, Wine Enthusiast) 2013 Pinot Noir ( 91 Points, Wine Enthusiast and 90 Points from Robert Parker) and Pinot Noir Reserve (93 Points, Wine Enthusiast). BIG.
 
So here's the scene: Customers are anxiously waiting for the three bottles set to show. We are loving the Pinot Gris. We all agree that the creamy palate would be great with Asian food, like some of those big, spicy shrimp from Gan Shan Station. Oh yeah! And the 2013 Pinot Noir followed by The Pinot Noir Reserve left us behaving a little bit badly (Come on, you know we were.) asking for more!
 
Jesse read the crowd. BIG became BIGGER. He went to his car and pulled out a Pinot Noir Freedom Hill for us!. WOW! This is a spendy bottle. "A little heavier in body," says Jesse, "big and bold dark fruits." We ask if Jesse has more bottles. Turns out there is a 6 pack traveling with him. Within in minutes that was past tense. A customer bought all 6 within seconds of tasting this lush Pinot Noir with hints of black peppercorns, oak spice and, Jesse says, "guava notes." 
 
Now that the crowd has settled down, I can chat a bit with Jesse. He is an easy going, nice guy who loves the wine biz, the land, his family and Maggie (we will talk about HER later). Jesse lives on the Lange Estate with his wife and family in Dundee Hills, Oregon.
 
Having lived in Portland, about 30 miles southwest of Dundee Hills, I seize any opportunity to check in on the place. We talked a little politics, specifically, Oregon Governors Neil Goldschmidt and John Kitzhaber, both promising politicians caught up in scandals of their own making.  "Why do men destroy their careers like that," Jesse says.  
 
Jesse is a lot younger than yours truly so he does not remember the election and re-election of Bud Clark, the Portland bar owner, who was elected Mayor on the strength of his bar patrons and fans of a poster he made titled "Expose Yourself to Art." And he does not remember my boss, Oregon Commissioner of Labor Mary Wendy Roberts.
 

Ok, back to the winery...

From Santa Barbara, Jesse has been in the wine world since he was "three years old" helping his parents on the farm. He trained at New Zealand's Lincoln University while a student at Oregon State then spent two years "as a cellar rat" for winemaker Bruce McGuire at Santa Barbara Winery. Jesse joined the winemaking team at Lange in 2004. He is responsible for winemaking but also vineyard oversight, distribution and general management. Busy guy.
 
Jesse looked over our collection of Oregon Pinot Noir Wines. "Thank you for supporting Oregon Pinot Noir!" Having served as President of The Dundee Hills Winegrowers Association and President of the famed Oregon Pinot Camp, Jesse knows the winemakers at most of the wineries shown on our shelves including Grochau Cellars, Shea, Elk Cove, Ken Wright, and Patricia Green.
 
So Jesse has all these awards and high ratings for his wines, chairmanships and extensive knowledge. Awesome but what's really important here? Right. The winery dog! 10 year old winery dog, a golden Retriever named Magnum but most affectionately called Maggie. "I walk the vineyard and pull a cluster to check the grapes. I taste a grape from the top, middle and bottom for quality and ripeness, Jesse says. "Maggie follows and does some tasting herself!" 
 
 
But, Jesse adds, while Maggie loves Willamette Valley Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, she does not like Malbec or Grenache. "She won't even sniff the stuff!"  And after working the fields for many years, there is no changing her mind. "It's hilarious to try and present her those varietals!"
 
 Come back Jesse! Bring Maggie!
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Hugues Romagnan, Pol Roger

We were pretty close to a bubbly paradise @MetroWines last week when Hugues Romagnan dropped by, talked, tasted and taught.
 
Hugues Romagnan has been Export Manager at Pol Roger since 2012. He studied Political Sciences and Economics obtaining an MBA at Lyon Management School and a Master at Dijon Argo Engineer School. But the passion for wine came from his grandfather, a winemaker in the Rhone Valley. When he is not traveling the world bringing the magic that IS Pol Roger to his anxiously awaiting customers, Hugues lives in Reims. 
 
Really Hugues? Some fabulous life! Are you just trying to make me cry?
 
I told Hugues that it sounds like he has the best and easiest job in the world. How hard does the Pol Roger Representative have to work to convince you to buy Pol Roger? Exactly. Hugues could not in good conscious deny it.
 
Anyway, Hugues was off to New Orleans after his visit to Asheville. Always interested in my home town, I asked him where he was staying. "The Monteleone." When I was 10, I thought there could be no more glamorous, no better place than The Monteleone on Royal Street in the French Quarter. Now, after having done a little traveling, although far less than I would like, I can say there are certainly more gilded, way more GLAM, more historical, but no better place! Hotel Monteleone has a history of rooming acclaimed authors including Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Truman Capote and more recently, Anne Rice. And now, Hugues!! More History here: http://hotelmonteleone.com/history/
 

If Hotel Monteleone is history in a building, Pol Roger is history in a bottle. "The winery," says Hugues, "unlike many in France, has remained family owned since its founding in 1849."  Hugues told us about an organization, Primum Familiae Vini, started in 1991 by family owned wineries. Information here: http://www.pfv.org/en/.

 

Primum Familiae Vini

The same business concerns

The decision of an annual gathering

Robert Drouhin and Miguel Torres realized that they not only shared a dedication to excellence and a commitment to traditional winemaking values, but had many similar business concerns. 

Their conversation inspired the idea of an annual gathering where a select group of representatives from the world's leading wine families could share their collective talent and knowledge in the pursuit of greater excellence.

The following year their plan came to fruition. 

They set up the base of an informal association of family-owned companies which today remains unique in the wine world, and probably also in the wider business world. It transcends geographical borders while maintaining the common business link of vineyard ownership and winemaking. 

Today, PFV members continue to exchange experiences of the wine trade, gain insight into future trends and explore solutions to their business challenges.

 
If selecting wines from a family owned winery is important to you, Hugues suggests that you look for the organization logo on the back of the bottle:
 
Inline image 1
 
And the Champagne making tradition and historical methods have never wavered. "There are only 10 Riddlers left in "Champagne and" Hugues says "four are with Pol Roger!" Riddling is turning the Champagne Bottle by hand ever so slightly to help consolidate sediment for better and easier removal.  "This links us to the past," says Hugues. WOW. The word is overused but, let's just say it, that's awesome!
 
Pol Roger has been appointed by Buckingham Palace as an official supplier to The Royal Family. And if you read our articles in The Laurel of Asheville, you know about the Winston Churchill Connection. But just in case you missed it: http://thelaurelofasheville.com/lifestyle/breweries/grape-vine-wine-preferences-indulgences-winston-churchill/
 
"We produce 100% of our Champagne in our own winery," says Hugues. "That means nothing is out-sourced and we control quality from vineyard to bottle." Indeed they do!
 
Hugues looked around at our bottles and pointed out the winemakers he knows PERSONALLY! including Janasse, Family Perrin,  Drouhin. "I sit on boards with these winemakers" There goes that amazing life again. Hugues!
 
Hugue says this was his first time in Asheville but he will be back. "It's beautiful here." Oh, and BTW, he loved the shop."You have a very good and diverse collection." I told Hugues that our philosophy @MetroWines that we believe that wine is about food, family, friends and community. Hugues said, "I can see that from your collection of wines. It is important to share the history and the story of the bottle. That is all part of the wine."
 
Hugues thanked us, believe that, thanks us!!! for carrying Pol Roger! Really Hugues. Now I am going to cry. How sweet is that?
 
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John Grochau Interview

 
John Grochau is such a likable, easily accessible guy, that he has been interviewed a LOT of times and told his extraordinary story as many.  He has already been asked all the fun stuff: what would you be doing if you did not make wine; what would you drink at dinner aside from one of your wines; what's your favorite wine region apart from Oregon? And he has movie reviews on the Grochau Cellars website. So there!
 
 
That said, this is sort of our story about Grochau Cellars.
 
Before our shop on Charlotte Street, we had a small, very small shipping business located in Arlington Virginia. We were so small that it was difficult to find distributors who would "distribute" to us. We were able to convince Ed and Barbara at Wine traditions in Falls Church and James at Roanoke Valley Wine Company to take us on.
 
James introduced us to two wines from which we have never departed: Paitin Barbera Serra and Grochau Cellars GC Commuter. The truth is that we pretty much built the business on the back, the very strong back of GC Commuter. The bottle was such high quality for such a reasonable price that, even with shipping, GC Commuter was a great buy.
 
 
We were thrilled to find we could still offer GC Commuter here on Charlotte Street through Haw River Wine Man. The bottle has always, and there is no reason to believe that will ever change, been one of our best sellers.
 
So, it was a BIG DEAL for us to meet John Grochau and say thank you. He was just like you might have imagined him from his interviews, straight forward, genuine, well settled and real likable. 
 
John was born in and returned to Beaverton, Oregon, just outside of Portland. As I worked in Portland Oregon years ago, we talked a little about my connection to the city reminiscing about the one of a kind grocery chain, Fred Meyer, my old neighborhood of South Burlingame, Barbar Boulevard, the old restaurants, the new restaurants, the lightrail and the bridges. 
 
And we talked John's connection to Asheville. The conversation centered around a couple, now living in Asheville, who joined us for the tasting. Turns out they met John almost 30 years ago in Portland where he was working in a bike shop. The couple helped him land a job at a restaurant in Portland.  They think, and John agrees, that this was one of those turns in the road that put him on the wine making path.
 
Once John decided to make wine, unlike many who start in this business, he had no real financial backing. He bought grapes from area vineyards and made small batches building his reputation as a skilled winemaker the old fashioned way through determination, know how and flat out hard work. The Portland turned Asheville couple says John used the same great meticulous care to fix bikes and transferred it to making wine.
 
And how did Grochau Cellars get to Asheville? Mike Tiano, a partner in haw River Wine Man read a story about Grochau Cellars Pinot Noir in a wine publication. The article also said that John Grochau was introduced to wine and the winemaking landscape in his early 20s while racing bicycles for a French team in the Loire Valley. Also a cyclist, this revelation definitely appealed to Mike. So Mike called John and we called Mike.
 
The only thing left to ask is about the "winery dog!"
 
 
Direct from John Grochau on the winery dogs. That's the kind of guy he is!
 
2 winery dogs
 
Stella, 14.5 year old Border Collie/ Chow mix.  Aka: Fuzzball, fuzzykins, fuzzy pants.  Sweet and stubborn, good dog days are over, does what she wants which isn't much.  Looks like she is part panda 
 
Olive, 4 years old border collie/poodle.  Loves chasing tennis balls and chasing (2 kills that I know of) squirrels.  Goofy and playful torturer of stuffed animals.

John Grochau
Grochau Cellars
 
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Francoise le Calvez Interview

"It's a family business!" 
 
We spoke with Francoise le Calvez as she poured and discussed five of her wines under the Coupe Roses label.
 
 
Francoise and her enologist husband, Pascal Frissant, work Coupe Roses in the Minervois Appellation with passion and state of the art technology. But in the end, as Francoise reminds us, a "it's family business."
 
Francoise began her journey into wine with her father. The PH of the soil in the vineyards was not optimum. Her father found a soil researcher who concluded that "the roots were not going deeply enough to have the best expression of the soil." The problem was resolved but it is a constant labor of love. "We are always working on the soil," says Francoise, because when you get right down to it, "it's all about the soil."
 
At Coupe Roses, in the village of La Caunette in Minervois, Francoise and Pascal make authentic wines, "wines of the soil,"  and"wines that express the "slow work of nature." Francoise describes her wines as an "expression of the terroir" and a "universe of sensory poetry."
 
Champs du Roy Blanc is an aromatic, dry blend of Grenache Blanc and Muscat. 
Francoise says the grapes for this wine are chosen "because of the chemical composition of the soil."
 
Fremillant Rose is based on 40% Mourvedre blended in equal parts of Cinsault, Grenache and Syrah. "Each grape gives character to the wine." The wine has an interesting color leaning, as Francoise says "toward violet!"
 
 
Ahhhh, Bastide. "The nose is quite strong." Bastide, made of equal parts Carignan and Grenache with about 5% Syrah, pairs with food or can go alone. "It's a Bistro Wine!" Francoise says there is a lot of discussion in France about Carignan. Noting that French wines in Languedoc are most often Syrah based, Francoise reminds us that there was a time "when wines were up to 90% Carignan." The varietal is, Francoise says with determination, "very good when it's young" and "we must save Carignan!" 
 
Vignals is a "rich and intense" wine made in steel tanks to bring out "the best in the grapes."  Vignals is 60% Syrah with 30% Grenache and a touch of Carignan. "Varietals are vinified separately to determine how the varietals will perform."
 
Pouring the Grenache, Francoise says: "This is a perfumed wine. The strong aromas come from the herbs, rosemary, thyme and lavendar, growing in the soil." A blend of Grenache with 10% Syrah, the  wine is aged in oak barrels making it a bit, Francoise says,"more subtle."   A lot of aromas and flavors here. I even found tobacco on the nose. Francoise likes the "cherry finish."
 
Orience is mostly Syrah with 10% Grenache. Aged in 30% new oak barrels, this is the heavy hitter but in no way too much. Francoise finds "Szechuan pepper notes on the finish."
 
As Francoise pours, discusses her philosophy and the characteristics of each wine, she often repeats with a smile as well as conviction, whats in her heart and what it's really all about at Coupe Roses:  "It's a family business." And that says it all.
 
You can find Bastide on the menu at AMBROZIA.
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Bruwer Raats Interview by Skype

I met Bruwer Raats two years ago at a wine pairing lunch. His commitment to his winemaking was immediately obvious but, as the conversation went on, his commitment to his land, his community and his family were equally obvious. And by the time that last Cabernet Franc blend crossed my palate, you could say with certainty that RAATS Wines and RAATS were class acts.
 
We talked with Bruwer Raats on travel by SKYPE from Stellenbosch @MetroWines on April 2nd.  He, with his son in tow, had pulled over on a tree lined road to take the call and talk with his fans. Now, that's dedication and just down-right nice! Bruwer lead us through a tasting of Chenin Blanc Original, Old Vine Chenin Blanc, Red Jasper, Cabernet Franc and his mega-HIT, Compostella. 
 

Not to be short but nothing more could be said about RAATS Wines than has been said with accolades by respected wine publications worldwide including Wine Spectator, Stephen Tanzer of International Wine Cellar, Riscura Red Hot Wine Awards and Wine Advocate. 

 
In his Cape Fearless article in The Wine Advocate, Neal Martin scored RAATS Wines between 89 and a whopping 95.  WOW! And Wine Spectator listed RAATS as one of the Top 100 Wineries in the World. See what I mean? What more could we say.
 
So RAATS wines are great but what about the winemaker? You probably already know that the original partnership was between Bruwer, his brother Jasper and their father Jasper Senior, and that he trained at esteemed South African estates as well as Cakebread in Napa, California, and that he sources his grapes from very specific soil types from vines 25 years old or older, and that he believes that "The best viticultural soil for Chenin Blanc in all the land is undoubtedly located in and around Stellenbosch," and that all grapes are hand picked and that there is "extraordinary attention to detail" in the making of RAATS Wines. EXHALE.......

But you might not know Bruwer, as a result of and testimonial to his winemaking skills, has been the winemaker for Indaba since 2008. Indaba says "He brings extensive knowledge and personal devotion to Indaba, aiming to create handcrafted wines that are stylistically fresh, juicy and approachable."
 
That's great too. But what Bruwer wanted us to know about his association with Indaba is that Indaba has taken their "commitment to education in the vineyard" up to the next level with the WELL Project (Winelands Education of Living and Learning) in South Africa. The project will support child development by providing infrastructure, learning materials and teacher training at schools established for wineland worker's children.
 
And that kind of concern extends to his philosophy of winemaking. Bruwer said he will not, I repeat, will not cut corners. "When you put your name on a bottle, you represent yourself, the generations before you, your family and what you stand for."
 
As for style, Bruwer summed up what he says separates RAATS from a lot of winemakers: "At RAATS, we do not make monster wines. There are enough monsters in this world!" 
 
And that style all started with Bruwer's passion for Cabernet Franc. When he started working with Cabernet Franc, Bruwer says his father, who eventually came around to see his vision, said "why can't you just be normal and plant shiraz?"  While Bruwer will tell you that it is his goal to produce the "pure expression of Cabernet Franc," on some level, his father was right because"everything that can go wrong will go wrong with Cabernet Franc." Bruwer's blockbuster, best selling Cabernet Franc Blend, "Red Jasper," is named for his father.
 
We asked Bruwer if he hoped his son would be a winemaker. Bruwer said he wanted to avoid imposing what is really "a parent's vision" on his son. "I would tell him what my father told me "to think for himself, to follow his heart."
 
And all that, commitment, dedication and yes, heart, are in a bottle of RAATS.

 
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Interview with Robert Fiore Kral of Robert Walter Selections

How does a bottle of wine go from a small French farm to a small retail shop in Asheville? Robert Fiore Kral of Robert Walter Selections tells all.

 

“Pairing wine with the right food and creating a total experience. This is my passion.” That’s what Robert Fiore Kral of Robert Walter Selections, an Asheville wine import company that focuses on wines from small family farms, said when asked why he does what he does.

 

Robert was always around good wine. “My mother is German and my father is Austrian. I was raised in Germany where wine is part of the fabric of the country,” Robert says of how his interest in wine started. “We traveled around Europe and wine was just part of life.”

 

Robert began his wine career in Asheville working at GreenLife.  “I found myself gravitating toward the wine section,” he said. “Soon, my professional evolution was completed and I was all in for a career in wine!”

 

To further his knowledge, Robert worked seven years with a local wine distributor. He then took his expertise to Bouchon where he selected wines for the menu.  “Six years later, I began to seriously consider starting an import business.”

 

Robert saw a hole in the market. “There were very few German red wines,” Robert observed. “All you saw on shelves from Germany was Riesling. I thought German Reds could be my niche!”

 

But Robert soon found that bringing a wine to market is not for the faint of heart! In North Carolina, retailers and restaurants must buy wines from a North Carolina Distributor. When a wine is imported, it is either turned over to a Distributor to sell or the importer wears two hats and also handles distribution.

 

“Both require financing,” Robert said. “That’s when reality set in.”  “Passion can sometimes get in the way of the best business choice.”

 

So despite his enthusiasm for German Red wines, Robert knew a small market like Asheville could not support a little known new entry. “A small importer could not buy enough wine to meet the distributor’s demands and, worse,” Robert realized, “the small family farmer could not produce enough wine!”

 

While he still imports German Reds, Robert decided to also import wines from other countries. “I find wines by attending trade shows, visiting wineries, recommendations from industry people, and from wineries seeking an importer.”

 

After a wine is selected to import, Robert must submit the label for federal government approval. Once approved, Robert says smaller loads are shipped from LeHarve, France, to New York then trucked to Asheville. “An entire palette of wines would ship from Marseilles directly, usually to Charleston.”

 

But what makes all this work worth it? Robert talks of a recent trip to France. “I don’t speak French,” he says, “I am usually accompanied by an associate to translate.” But on a recent trip to the Loire Valley, Robert was on his own.

 

Robert was invited to lunch at Chateau de L’Aiguillette, a small family winery that produces “muscadet,” which is to oysters what Chianti is to red sauce. “There was a table with eight family members, none of whom spoke English.” Robert said. “We both spoke as much of the other language as we could and filled in with drawings on post it notes to communicate!”

 

“These are wines that you will only be able to taste because a small family produced it with care, a small importer committed to bring the wines to this country,” Robert summarizes, “and a small independent retailer invested in making the wines available to the community.

 

 

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Tupaq, Bob Marley and Rotie's Sean Boyd

 

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A significant number of wine customers as well as critics believe that winemakers just plain take themselves too seriously. It's not like winemakers are navy seals trying to capture ISIS leadership or emergency room doctors trying to save a child victim of a drive by shooting.  Customers are starting to want to know more about who made the wine. So, what we try to do in Unfiltered is reach the real winemaker, to go beyond the wine tech talk and website dry goods, and let you know who made the wine.
 
A winemaker is, in the prurist form, a farmer, and then an agricultural chemist and finally a marketer. Tonight we meet Sean Boyd, owner and winemaker for Rotie in Walla Walla, Washington, who has his hand in every step of the process.
 
While both the appearance and demeanor of Sean Boyd might surprise you, his wines will delight and engage you. Sean was @MetroWines to discuss his wines with a group of about 40 very interested customers. Before Sean introduced his wines, we tried to get inside the real Sean Boyd. Here we go...........
 
John Oliver did a piece on his HBO show last week joking that "Americans are so casual and they prove it by drinking wine out of a box." Will there ever be a day when Rotie is in a box? "No. The wines are my babies. My babies get the best. The best is a cork." 
 
OK but what about selling to restaurants? "I do offer kegs to restaurants but this is high quality, fresh and straight from the barrel."
 
I share with Sean our philosophy @MetroWines that wine is about food, family, friends and community. He agrees but puts it a little differenty. 
Sean: "Wine is secondary to people. What I mean is that a wine can taste bad to you but that same bottle shared with friends will taste great. So the wine hierarchy is friends, food, wine - and we are the stewards of the wine."
 
Before being a steward of wine, you were a geologist working in oil and gas exploration. Do these two endeavors have anything in common. Here, I am expecting Sean to say something about the soil but....
Sean: "I need action. I need to be constantly working. Chasing big projects. Constantly learning.(Sean does address the soil later in his presentation. Very interesting about that "glacial lake," the "volcanic soil", the "good drainage" but back to our search for Sean..)
 
OK. As stewards of the wine, I ask if we should label wine bottles to indicate if there are any additives or any substances used in the processing. 
"Yes. Label it." Sean says making wine is a long process from planting to bottle and can sometimes, often, maybe always be "a money pit."
 
Noticing the bottle of Three Legged Red from Dunham Cellars, another Walla Walla Winery, Sean says: "Eric Dunham was one of the biggest influences on me as a winemaker." This makes me smile as we here @MetroWines had Eric Dunham on skype from his cellar for nearly an hour and felt like we knew him. "Eric was one of the most awesome dudes in the world." More smiles. "He was always helping people. He was really about people." 
 
It's pretty obvious that Eric had more than just a professional influence on Sean, it's personal too. "Sometimes I think," says Sean, "I am going to pull an Eric. And by that I mean...you know how you are at the airport set for a business trip that you need to take to Boston or wherever but your mind wanders and you start thinking maybe I will just go to Costa Rica today instead. Well, Eric really would go to Costa Rica!" Now Sean smiles.
 
Who else had a real impact on your winemaking? "Claude Gros. I was working as an assistant winemaker and the winery owner brought in Claude Gros to consult. I took copious notes for 3 years! Claude still consults with Sean at Rotie. "He is almost a therapist." (About Claude Gros from Jancis Robinson: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/claude-gros-chameleon-consultant)
 
Anyone else?
"Definitely. Rich Funk of Savaia." (http://www.saviahcellars.com/)
 
Your wines are in the Rhone Style. Do you speak French? "Maybe I should. When I was a kid, my father worked in Libya and he and my mother, who was French Canadian, took me on trips to the south of France quite often." The red table wine there, as it is throughout most of France and Italy, was great. It's a reflection on the chef so it's usually great." So, you became used to the good stuff at an early age? "Yes"  
 
You can have dinner with anyone past or present? Who? What wine?
"Bob Marley and Tupaq. These are the leaders of our time."  What wine? "I would start with a White Burgundy and then whatever Bob wants."

If a film was to be made of my chaotic life, I see Kristin Wiig playing me. Who plays Sean Boyd in "The Washington Wine Story?" "No one would be interested in that story." OK, but let's just say someone did make the movie, who plays you? "Someone dead hot sexy." Sean laughs but I think he means it. 
 
We can find out the details about your wines on your website and, as you said, you will talk wine tech in your presentation so let's take a quick step off the farm to get a better picture of Sean Boyd. I like blue but it is too sedative to really catch my attention. Orange is nice but it screams. What color highlighter do you use? "I only read manuals." OK. But if you wanted to highlight parts of the manual what color highlighter would you use? "I don't use one."
 
Ok. How about this one...Which one of your wines works with Chicken McNuggets? "Oh come on."
 
OK. You just gotta laugh. You really do.
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Dinner with Valle Dell'Acate

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Unfiltered2: "Dinner with Valle Dell'Acate
 
It is rare to sit down to dinner with a winemaker, even more rare the winemaker being Italian, and extraordinarily rare for your winemaking dinner guest to be a sixth generation Italian woman winemaker from Sicily, a place Eric Asimov called "one of the most exciting wine regions in the world." 
 
But so it was on one recent night at Cucina 24 in Asheville. I had the honor and pleasure to share a bottle of Grillo and Frappato with Gaetana Jacono Gola, the owner of and winemaker for Valle Dell'Acate in Sicily. Gola divides her time between her home in Milano that she shares with her husband, an architect in the city, and "the farm in Sicily."
 
A former pharmacist, Gola returned to the family business with a plan to focus on indigenous varietals. "We live in a land rich in history, where wine enjoys long standing traditions. We are in a faraway place, rife with beauty and mystery, where we planted vines before phylloxera arrived, and again after it passed. How could we help but enthusiastically embrace our own varietals and our own wines."  
 
Her decision to venture out and her successful efforts working the wine world room have put Sicilian wines front and center on the international table. Gola is proud to say that the biggest market for her wines is "The United States followed by Japan."
 
And, after thinking about it, the two wines we shared that evening would be perfect for Japanese cuisine. Both pair with vegetables and fish as well as lighter meats. And the Zagra, Gola points out, "even works with asparagus!"
 
Versatility, besides old vine varietals, is one of the great advantages of Sicilian wines. "As you move north through Italy,  says Gola,"the wines tend to be heavier and less versatile than a varietal such as Frappato which pairs comfortably with meat or fish." 
 
In addition to the harvest!, as brand Ambassador for Cerasuolo di Vittoria, serving as a member of The Wine Business Executive Program, and traveling the world representing Valle Dell'Acate, Gola spends a lot of nights away from home. When asked what would be a comfort meal at home, Gola said "a flaky white fish and a bottle of Zagra". "But," she said, "depending on the rest of the dish, Frappato works very well too."
 
What does Gola want us to know about her wines? "The soil in Sicily makes all the difference. Frappato vines are grown in clear red soil and Grillo in yellow soil. In fact, there are seven soils for our seven wines." Gola invites us to read more about the soil on the Valle Dell'Acate website HERE.
 
Italy has, since time began, always been known for great wine but Italy is now stepping up to take a leadership role internationally on issues of sustainability. And Gola is a part of the well recognized effort. "If you can," she says, "come to Expo 2015, called Feeding the Planet. Energy for Life. in Milano."  
 
The Expo will showcase more than 140 countries who will offer solutions for issues concerning health, safety and providing sufficient food for everyone. "Over the 6 month show," Gola enthusiastically tells us, "Expo expects 20 million visitors." 
 
The Expo is particularly important to Gola as she supports and her winery follows sustainable farming practices. And as the recently appointed Ambassador for "Women for WE-Expo" a project of Expo Milano 2015 in connection with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Gola will have a substantial role in spreading the message.
 
To summarize her philosophy about wine, Gola says: "Wine leads you out on an adventure to discover new places and people, new territories and history "
 

Click HERE to read all about Valle Dell'Acate.

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Mike Merriman Interview

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Mike Merriman was @MetroWines on February 19th. He poured his Chenin Blanc and Pinot Noir. The very first barrel of wine bottled by Merriman received 90 points from Wine Spectator. And his wines have just continued to garner higher ratings and smashing reviews.

Mike was a good sport and agreed to an interview.  In what we hope will become a regular feature here @MetroWines, check out the first interview for "UNFILTERED":

 

Interview with Mike Merriman, owner of Merriman Wines. He joined us here @MetroWines in  Asheville, North Carolina, for a tasting of Merriman Chenin Blanc, Cummins Road Pinot Noir 2012 and Merriman Estate Pinot Noir 2012.  His beard was gone and he had new glasses. Here’s the rest of the story:

 

Thank you for pouring at MetroWines in Asheville, North Carolina. We are a neighborhood wine shop but also the home of The Asheville School of Wine and  The Blind Tasting League.   

Do you blind taste? 

    Mike: I love to blind taste. 

What’s in this bottle? 

    Mike: Could be Eucalyptus but I’m going to say Frankincense.

Unbelievable. You must be one amazing blind taster! 

    Mike: Not really. Blind tasting is tough. A group of Oregon Winemakers get together periodically in Portland, sit around a table, and blind taste each other’s wines.  Not one of us can self identify. One night, one of the winemakers described a wine as the most amateurish swill he had ever tasted. It was his wine.

Let’s talk about how a highly regarded winemaker like you got started.  Did you go to U.C. Davis? 

    Mike: SMU in Dallas.

No way! Me too. I have a degree in Communications. What does a wine guy study at SMU? Botany? Punnett Squares?  The Medici?

    Mike: Economics. 

I see. But then you went to U.C. Davis?

    Mike: No. Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.

Wow. Is that what you would be doing if you were not making wine? Some kind of music?

    Mike:  Definitely. I am a composer. I would probably be a music theory teacher. 

Without getting too technical, music theory, as I understand it, is the study of the elements of a composition all the way through to what constitutes music.

    Mike: Pretty much.

And word is that you make your own music. They say that you play a mean piano.  Besides your own compositions, whose work makes you turn up the volume? 

    Mike: John Adams. I like post minimalist work. More developed than minimalist  pieces by composers like Philip Glass.  Don’t get me wrong, I like Philip Glass. I just like Adams better.

But did you know that you can get a Philip Glass ringtone?

    Mike: No. Adams wrote three operas.  You have probably heard of “Nixon in China” about Nixon’s 1972 groundbreaking trip to the country or “Death of Klinghoffer,” the opera based on the hi-jacking of the passenger liner Achille Lauro.

Me? I’m struggling to tell the difference in Mozart and Beethoven. But I trust you. Back to wine. So then you went to U.C. Davis?

    Mike: No. I did income tax.

So, your economics degree came in handy after all.

    Mike:  Came in handy a couple of times.  I had joined the “Beer Revolution” in Texas and began brewing. This took me to a Fermentation Science course at the University of Oregon in 1997. But, along about this time, beer industry revenues were trending down. I got lucky. On a class field trip, I met David Reilly there who owns Owen Roe. He took me to a harvest. I loved it. The rest is history.

Are you the winemaker?

    Mike: One of two. I work with Eric Brasher, a trained oenologist and viticulturalist, who was the head winemaker at Owen Roe. 

What do you want consumers to know about your wine?

    Mike: The way the wines are made. The grapes are hand picked and hand sorted and the wine is made in small quantities. Even the wax on the bottle is hand dipped. We use only sustainable viticultural practices. And we are certified Salmon Safe which means our farming practices help to protect streams and rivers and control soil erosion.

Speaking of soil, some say your soil is what gives your Pinot Noir its distinct taste

    Mike: We have willakenzie soil which is sandy and rocky. You could say that the marine influences in willakenzie certainly contribute to deeper blue fruit but there are many factors in addition to soil that account for aromas and flavors.

Now that you are solidly a part of the wine making business, if you could, what would you like to change about the industry? For more information, check our website. 

    Mike: The three tiered system. I would like to sell directly. Give consumers more options.

Who would you like to know drinks Merriman Wines?

    Mike: Sponge Bob. I like him. 

Do you ever think about brewing again

    Mike: No, but I still love a good saison.

A good saison goes with what movie?

    Mike: “Godfather Part One,” “Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure” or “Tommy Boy” with Chris Farley.

Your first wine received 90 points from Wine Spectator and the ratings and reviews have just gone up since then. Congratulations. Anything else we should know?

    Mike: I never went to U.C. Davis.

 

 

 

 

 

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