Doing Things the Right Way Is Good for Everyone

EarthFriendlyIn yesterday’s blog, we initiated a round of applause for winners of the first California Green Medal: Sustainable Winegrowing Leadership Awards, which were announced and presented recently at the University of California at Davis.

The first Leader Award went to Fetzer Vineyards, while the first Environment Award was presented to Benziger Family Winery.

Today, we tip the hat to the recipients of the Community Award and the Business Award. Here are excerpts from the California Green Medal media release…

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The Community Award, given to the vineyard or winery that is a good neighbor and employer using the most innovative practices that enhance relations with employees, neighbors and/or communities, went to Nord Vineyard Services.

With 400 acres of family partnership vineyards at 10 locations throughout Napa Valley, Nord Vineyards recognizes that the long-term viability of the vineyards requires sustainable business and farming practices. Nord frequently invites professionals and the public to its vineyards, including hosting hundreds of neighbors as part of Napa Grapegrowers’ and Napa Valley Vintners’ “Afternoon in the Vineyards.”

Nord Vineyards owners and employees are active in the industry and in their community by serving on numerous boards, committees and task forces. They also participate in research experiments and extension of new technologies and techniques.

The Business Award, given to the vineyard or winery that best demonstrates smart business through efficiencies, cost savings and innovation from implementing sustainable practices, went to Trinchero Family Estates.

Committed to environmental stewardship, charitable giving and responsibility, Trinchero Family Estates was recognized for efficient and innovative sustainability practices that serve as a model for the wine industry.

Vineyards are managed to balance desired quality, necessary inputs and water use, while wineries strive to minimize water, waste and energy use in both their Napa and Lodi facilities.

Trinchero also focuses on sustainable packaging such as light-weighted bottles and recycled glass, as well as alternative packaging such as Tetra Pak and 100% recyclable and lightweight PET mini bottles. The expansion of the company’s Lodi facility with state-of-the-art bottling and warehousing means being closer to the majority of its grape supply, reducing the associated truck miles and emissions.

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Sustainable, environmentally friendly practices are not limited to California. They are being embraced and implemented worldwide, as this featured Earth Friendly Collection by Vinesse demonstrates.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Wineries Honored for Environmental Efforts

fetzerWe’re continuing our end-of-the-week focus on wine and the environment by giving a round of applause to the winners of the first California Green Medal: Sustainable Winegrowing Leadership Awards, which were announced and presented recently at the University of California at Davis.

Here are excerpts from the media release on the awards luncheon…

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The California Green Medal was developed by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, California Association of Winegrape Growers, Lodi Winegrape Commission, Napa Valley Vintners, Vineyard Team and Wine Institute as a way to showcase some of the leading wineries and vineyards committed to sustainability.

More than a dozen of California’s regional winery and winegrowing association partners also helped to promote the new awards, which were selected by a panel of wine and sustainability experts.

The Leader Award, given to the vineyard or winery that excels in the “3 E’s” of sustainability — Environmentally sound, socially Equitable and Economically viable — was presented to Fetzer Vineyards.

As a true pioneer in sustainability in the wine industry, Fetzer Vineyards has been blazing a trail for earth-friendly practices since 1968. Fetzer was the first winery in California to operate on 100% renewable energy in 1999, is the largest U.S. producer of organic winegrapes certified by CCOF, and the first Zero Waste certified wine company in the world.

Energy, water, waste, vineyard inputs, packaging, recycling and many other metrics have been measured at Fetzer since its early history. The company has a full-time sustainability manager and an eco-team made up of employees in all departments who work together to integrate sustainability innovations and activities.

The Environment Award, given to the vineyard or winery that best demonstrates environmental stewardship through maximized environmental benefits from implementing sustainable practices, went to Benziger Family Winery.

With all of its estate properties Demeter Certified Biodynamic, this family winery created “Farming for Flavors,” which was third-party certified by Stellar in 2007 before other sustainability certifications were available. Benziger also had the first Biodynamic wine in Sonoma County.

The winery holds annual “Hot Topic” seminars for growers that focus on water conservation, reduction in inputs, biodiversity, soil biology, composting and efficient use of equipment. Over the past two years, Benziger has focused on using technology and industry experts to learn more about practices that guarantee the most efficient use of resources.

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Tomorrow: A look at the winners of the Community Award and the Business Award.

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Posted in Wine and the Environment

All Month, NVV Shines Spotlight on ‘Green’ Vintners

nvv_solar_panelsWe’re finishing up a month devoted to Mother Earth and making this a better place for all of us to live.

I’m proud to be part of an industry that takes environmental issues and sustainability seriously. Sure, a skeptic could say that grape growers and winemakers embrace “green” practices simply because it’s in their best interests — and it is.

But there’s no denying that many farmers and vintners are going above and beyond when it comes to their vineyard and cellar practices. With that in mind, I thought I’d devote the rest of this week’s blogs to wine and the environment — beginning with this interesting media release from the non-profit trade association known as the Napa Valley Vintners…

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The NVV is participating in the California wine industry’s Down to Earth Month celebration by highlighting the renowned wine region’s signature environmental program, Napa Green. The NVV also invites consumers to enter to win a reusable Napa Valley shopping bag by submitting a photo of how they support sustainability in their own community.

“We’re proud of the Napa Valley wine industry’s long-standing efforts to protect our environment, from the founding of the first Agricultural Preserve in the U.S. in 1968 to helping create the Napa Green Certified Land and Winery programs in the early 2000s,” said Linda Reiff, President and CEO of the more than 500-member trade association.

“Throughout April, we’re sharing stories, photos and social media posts about what our vintners are doing through Napa Green to support the principles of Down to Earth Month, and we look forward to seeing photos from consumers who share our commitment to sustainability.”

Napa Green is an environmental program requiring outside, third-party certifications for both vineyards and wineries. To achieve land certification, owners must take a holistic view of their property, improve biodiversity, reduce soil loss and eliminate the use of harmful pesticides throughout their entire parcel. Winery certification requires reducing water and energy use while increasing overall waste diversion. Recently, the NVV made the commitment that all of its eligible members would be in the Napa Green program by the end of the year 2020.

Today, more than one-third of all the vineyard land in Napa County is certified Napa Green and more than 4.5 million cases of wine are produced at Napa Green-certified wineries. Last year alone, Napa Green wineries helped save 3.5 million pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

From now through the end of April, the NVV is featuring profiles of vintners who are curtailing water use, conserving energy and reducing winery waste on the Down to Earth section of its website, napavintners.com/D2E.

From the same web page, consumers can submit their sustainability photos for the contest by logging in to their Facebook account and completing the entry form. NVV will select 25 winners based on the creativity, quality and spirit of sustainability conveyed in each photo.

Winners will receive a reusable Napa Valley shopping bag. Get those photos ready, though, because the deadline is today.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Taking a Day to Explore Long Island’s North Fork

nofohousetourImagine making a vacation out of planning a vacation.

That’s exactly what will be happening on Saturday, June 6, when the 2nd annual Spring House & Farm Tour takes place on the North Fork of Long Island.

The first event last year was organized by some of the local bed-and-breakfast inns, and included tastings of locally made wines. This year, another element has been added: a pair of farm stops.

In a nutshell, here’s how it works: You buy a ticket for $75 (online at www.nofohousetour.com). You then bring that ticket with you on June 6, when you’ll visit B&Bs and two farm stops. At each stop, there will be either wine from a local winery or beer from a local brewery to try with food from local restaurants.

And at the B&B stops, there also will be live music.

So, you could simply make a day of it and have a great time, or you could bring along a notepad and a pen, and jot down your impressions to help you plan a summer vacation for a full weekend or a week.

Even better, proceeds from ticket sales will go to help fund the Long Island Farm Bureau and the Peconic Land Trust, two groups that are dedicated to preserving the quality and tranquility of the North Fork.

The 2nd annual Spring House & Farm Tour promises to be a fun day, and it may well lead to many more fun days for you this summer and beyond. After all, as we’ve noted in a previous blog, there’s a lot for wine drinkers to love about the North Fork of Long Island.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Joseph Phelps: A Fond Farewell to a Napa Valley Legend

joephelpsI never met Joseph Phelps, but I felt like I knew him.

Phelps died on April 15. He was 87. Like Robert Mondavi and a handful of others, Phelps was a pioneer in the Napa Valley.

Like Mondavi and his compatriots within that famous valley, Phelps focused on Cabernet Sauvignon, but his winery was noted for a Cabernet-based red blend called “Insignia,” crafted with varieties historically connected to France’s Bordeaux region.

He also was one of the first of the so-called “Rhone Rangers,” a group of California vintners who were making red blends from grapes historically connected to another growing region of France: the southern Rhone Valley.

Grenache. Syrah. Mourvedre.

Phelps called his Rhone red “Le Mistral,” and it opened my eyes to new combinations of aromas and flavors… and those combinations opened up a whole new world of food pairing possibilities as well. Life doesn’t get much better than having an expertly prepared leg of lamb with a glass of “Le Mistral.”

One of the fascinating things about the world of wine is how specific varieties or combinations of varieties can taste quite distinct depending upon where they’re grown and who is making them.

Besides in the Rhone and now in California, cuvees of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre also are made in Australia, where they’re known simply as G-S-Ms.

My palate has long found the Rhone Valley versions to be on the earthy side, showcasing the unique “terroir” of that part of France. The G-S-Ms from Down Under tend to be all about the fruit — big “gobs” of it, with the wines fairly high in alcohol.

And then there’s “Le Mistral,” which typically splits the difference, deliciously marrying the fruit notes of the grape varieties with the “terroir” of Monterey County — long the source of the grapes for this special bottling — all complemented by just the right amount of oak barrel spice.

Beginning with the 2007 vintage, “Le Mistral” separated from the Phelps winery, becoming its own entity under the Ventana Vineyards umbrella, but with the same growers and winemaker involved.

Now, the man who brought to California a taste of the Rhone and made it his own is gone. R.I.P., Joseph Phelps. I may not have gotten to meet you, but my palate will never forget you.

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Posted in Editor's Journal

Love Asparagus? Yes, It Can Be Paired With Wine

SauvBIn case you missed it, there are some pretty nice wines on sale in this week’s Cyber Circle offering that is devoted to Sauvignon Blanc. Check it out here.

We usually recommend Sauvignon Blanc as an ideal pairing partner for seafood, including seared scallops, grilled shrimp and even sushi. But it also is one of the few wine varieties that matches well with asparagus and dishes that include asparagus.

This dish proves the point. Because of its assertive flavors, we suggest chilling the wine a bit longer than you normally would; in this case, as little bit colder would be a good thing.

This recipe yields 4 servings.

ASPARAGUS WITH CHEESE SAUCE

Ingredients

  • 400 grams asparagus
  • 25 grams butter
  • 25 grams flour
  • 300-ml. milk
  • 50 grams cheddar cheese, grated
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pepper to taste

Preparation

  1. Snap the ends off the asparagus and discard.
  1. Grill or steam the asparagus by your favorite method while you prepare the cheese sauce.
  1. Place the butter in a small saucepan and melt over a low heat.
  1. Remove from heat and stir in the flour with a wooden spoon to form a paste.
  1. Carefully add one-fourth of the milk, slowly incorporating it into the paste without allowing lumps to form.
  1. Return to a low heat and continue to add the remainder of the milk, again ensuring that it is fully mixed in without lumps forming.
  1. Add the grated cheese and keep stirring until the sauce thickens and the cheese has melted.
  1. Place the asparagus on plates and pour a small quantity of cheese over each serving.
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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

Vintage Memories from the ‘Year of the Cat’

alstewartLong-time readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of Al Stewart, the singer/songwriter who gained his greatest fame with the hit single, “Year of the Cat.”

Fellow Al Stewart fans probably know that he is a big-time wine aficionado who has been featured in the pages of Wine Spectator magazine. He even put together an entire album of wine-related songs, which we wrote about in this blog.

We’ve also written about how Stewart’s interest in wine has rubbed off on two of his guitar players over the years.

I’ve seen Stewart in concert literally dozens of times over the years, in venues ranging from the tiny McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, California, to the much larger Universal Amphitheater, which was part of the Universal Studios complex in Los Angeles. No matter where I may have been living at the time, if Stewart was coming to town, I made a point of going to see him.

Tomorrow night, I’ll be seeing him yet again at a venerable venue called The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, California, not far from the famous mission. This one promises to be special because it will be the first time I’ve had a chance to attend an Al Stewart concert with my future, second and final wife, Michelle.

It’s hard to believe that more than 14 years have passed since I wrote the following concert preview story. It’s even harder to believe that almost 39 years have passed since I attended my first Al Stewart concert.

But this “blast from the past” includes enough “wine stuff” that I thought it might be fun to share it with you here. So here it is — from the February 1-7, 2001 edition of the Northern California Bohemian…

SAN RAFAEL SINGER/SONGWRITER AL STEWART

GIVES HOMAGE TO THE FERMENTED GRAPE

Summer 1976

Universal Amphitheater

Los Angeles

Nearly every seat of this magnificent, open-air concert venue has been filled for a performance by Al Stewart, whose “Year of the Cat” single and album has instantly transformed a Scottish folk singer into an American pop icon.

I am 18 years old, and my date for the evening is a stunningly beautiful 17-year-old blonde named Sheryl. It had taken me a full year to muster the courage to ask Sheryl out. When she readily accepted my offer, I was flabbergasted.

Stewart and his band put on a memorable show, blending love songs from his early recording days with the history-tinged folk/pop/rock tunes of “Year of the Cat.”

By the time we make the drive back from L.A. to Sheryl’s bayside home on Newport Beach’s Balboa Peninsula, it is a quarter past 1 a.m. We exit my forest green Ford Pinto hatchback and walk to the wood and stained-glass front door of the house.

Without saying a word, and with no prompting (other than telepathic) from me, she leans in and kisses me on the lips. She then looks in my eyes and quietly says five words that have haunted me ever since: “That could become habit forming.”

I smiled sheepishly, told her I had a great time, returned to my car and drove the remaining half-mile to my home. I did not sleep at all that night. Torn between a burning desire to develop a new “habit” and the teenage anxiety that I may not live up to her expectations, I never asked Sheryl out on a second date.

And she looked in my eyes but I turned them away

Finding no words fit to say

And I hated myself, but could not move,

I was shattered in my confidence,

But it was no sense at all, but too much sense

That took me to the bridge of impotence.

— From Al Stewart’s “Love Chronicles,” 1969

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Fall 1989

Ritz-Carlton Hotel

Dana Point, Calif.

Now divorced for three years and the father of a stunningly beautiful 10-year-old daughter, I have been enjoying wine for about five years, and writing about it for two. But I have never tasted the heady, sweet, European elixir known as Port.

That changes on a hillside garden terrace overlooking the Pacific, where I join several hundred fellow imbibers at a three-hour vino free-for-all involving more than a hundred wineries from around the world.

Up until now, my wine experiences have been limited to California bottlings, with the odd French Burgundy or Bordeaux added to the mix on special occasions. As I sample one Port after another, of varying vintages and pedigrees, my mind and taste buds are awakened to a vast new world of possibilities.

Then it seemed that I was traveling

Through the granite hills of Dao

With a vineyard spread in front of me

In a carriage headed south.

Night came with the skies aflame

And all that I saw

Was all mine to claim.

— From Al Stewart’s “King of Portugal,” 1988

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July 18, 1999

Conejo Creek Park

Thousand Oaks, Calif.

It’s about an hour before Al Stewart is due to take the stage for a now all-too-rare performance. The sound-check completed, Stewart joins me for a pre-arranged interview on the splintered seats of a park picnic table.

Knowing that he has discussed and dissected his songs with countless journalists over the years, I decide to focus on another topic of mutual interest: wine. Inevitably, there is a musical link.

“We’re all familiar with Andy Warhol’s observation about everyone getting 15 minutes of fame,” Stewart says. “For me, in retrospect, it was ‘Year of the Cat.’”

And that remains the one song fans expect him to play at every concert. But Stewart says he doesn’t mind, because it provided the wherewithal for him to invest heavily in wine.

He has spent untold hours exploring the cellars of historic French wineries, and today, as a resident of San Rafael, lives just a stone’s throw from the Sonoma County and Napa Valley wine regions.

Stewart has been collecting wine for more than three decades, and is amused by the fact he now gets more ink in wine publications than in music periodicals. “When the Wine Spectator devotes a whole page to you, but you’re not in the music magazines anymore, it’s kind of odd,” he says.

Odd? Perhaps. But there is no denying the artistic link between making good music and crafting fine wine. Even though technology is used in both pursuits, nothing gets done without human intervention, interpretation and passion. Nothing of any lasting worth, anyway.

Stewart says his wine collection has dwindled to “a little over a thousand bottles” in recent years, but he figures that’s plenty to carry him “happily into senility.”

I’m sometimes trapped by the close confines

Of the age I’m born into

Though there were others worse than mine

Well I miss what I can’t do.

Join the feast of Ancient Greece

See Alexander’s library

Maybe clink a Champagne toast

With a jazz age dancing queen.

— From Al Stewart’s “Josephine Baker,” 1988

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Jan. 28, 2000

The Palms Playhouse

Davis, Calif.

On a brisk, breezy evening, not far from the university that has educated countless winemakers and grape growers, a capacity-and-then-some crowd patiently waits for Al Stewart to take the stage.

When introduced, he is greeted warmly. On this night, he begins his performance with an apology. He says he has been battling the flu, and his voice is a bit raspy.

“But after eight bottles of Evian and two bottles of wine,” he says, “here I am.”

At one point between songs, he speaks of just returning from Los Angeles, where he had been recording with guitarist Laurence Juber, an alumnus of Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles Wings band (on the run).

“A record company approached me about making an album about wine,” he says. “I remember pausing for a moment and thinking, ‘This must be a dream.’”

By the end of the year, the dream had become reality in the form of “Down in the Cellar,” a 13-cut CD devoted almost entirely to fermented grapes.

“Touts Les Etoiles,” an ode to Dom Perignon, is sung partially in French, while “The Shiraz Shuffle” pays homage to the wines of Australia. Most of the tunes embrace Stewart’s trademark historical perspective.

And one, in particular, takes me back nearly a quarter of a century to an unforgettable kiss.

You’ve got this impulsive nature

Maybe you were born that way

Sometimes it leads you into danger

Sometimes you can make it pay

On a night like this one

Fly a red balloon

On an endless beach of summer

Under a wine-stained moon.

— From Al Stewart’s “Under a Wine-Stained Moon,” 2000

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That’s the end of that story, but it is not the end of this story.

You may have noticed that when I wrote about the wine-tasting event that took place at the Ritz-Carlton in the fall of 1989, there was no mention of having a date that night.

That is because just a few days before the event, the woman I had asked to accompany me called and let me know she couldn’t go. I would not hear from her again until two summers ago, after we’d each raised our children, lived our lives and endured unhappy marriages.

Today, that woman is my fiancée. And knowing her as I do now, all I can say is she would have loved the Port that was served that night, twenty-five-and-a-half years ago. I hope she loves tomorrow night’s Al Stewart concert just as much.

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Posted in Editor's Journal

The Ultimate Wine and Music Experience

mountainwineryA very cool place to enjoy an outdoor concert is The Mountain Winery in Saratoga, California.

It’s sort of like Ravinia, north of Chicago, or L.A.’s Hollywood Bowl — only with a much sharper focus on food and wine before the show. The venue, after all, is a winery.

Choices range from a quick pre-concert bite (grilled pizzas and gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches take center-stage) at The Plaza Bistro to The Plaza Grill (casual dining on the Plaza Deck) to the Vineyard Wine & Martini Bar (an outdoor lounge) to a pair of restaurants (The Chateau Deck Restaurant and the Backstage Brasserie) serving multi-course, prix fixe meals. And for something entirely different, there’s The Mountain Creperie and Candy Shop, serving specialties both sweet and savory.

Many people in Northern California visit The Mountain Winery — the historic home of Paul Masson — multiple times during the concert season. But if you can go only once, I recommend the “Ultimate Night Out Package,” which includes:

  • One premium top-priced reserved seat.
  • One pre-show, three-course prix-fixe dinner on the elegant Chateau Deck.
  • One glass of estate wine.
  • VIP preferred parking.

So pick an artist or a date, and make plans to have a memorable wine and music experience. Tickets go on sale this coming Monday at www.mountainwinery.com.

Here’s the 2015 season calendar:

  • May 22 — Erykah Badu.
  • June 6 — KC and the Sunshine Band / Jody Watley featuring Shalamar
  • June 9 — Peter Frampton / Cheap Trick
  • June 11 — Gordon Lightfoot
  • June 12 — Audra McDonald
  • June 14 — Paul Rodgers
  • June 18 — Brian Wilson / Rodriguez
  • June 19 — Little Big Town / David Nail and Ashley Monroe
  • June 20 — George Thorogood & the Destroyers / Brian Setzer’s Rockabilly Riot
  • June 21 — Brit Floyd (“The World’s Greatest Pink Floyd Show”)
  • June 22 — Willie Nelson & Family / Alison Krauss & Union Station
  • June 24 — Smash Mouth / Toad The Wet Sprocket
  • June 27 — Bell Biv DeVoe / Doug E. Fresh
  • June 28 — The Roots
  • July 1 — New Jack featuring Blackstreet / Ginuwine / Tank / SWV
  • July 2 — Rob Thomas / Plain White T’s
  • July 7 — Boz Scaggs / Aaron Neville
  • July 9 — Ozomatli featuring Sheila E
  • July 10 — Amos Lee / David Gray
  • July 11 — David Gray / Amos Lee
  • July 12 — Jake Shimabukuro
  • July 14 and 15 — Harry Connick Jr.
  • July 16 — Lyle Lovett and His Large Band
  • July 17 — Creedence Clearwater Revisited / Dennis DeYoung
  • July 18 — The Whispers / Stephanie Mills
  • July 19 — Zap Mama / King Sunny Ade & His African Beats
  • July 21 — Sugar Ray / Better Than Ezra / Uncle Kracker / Eve 6
  • July 22 — Barenaked Ladies / Violent Femmes / Colin Hay
  • July 23 — Jim Gaffigan
  • July 24 — Blondie / Melissa Etheridge
  • July 25 — Big Head Todd & the Monsters / G. Love & Special Sauce
  • July 29 — Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo / John Waite
  • July 30 — Boston
  • July 31 — Spandau Ballet
  • August 4 and 5 — Sheryl Crow
  • August 6 — Huey Lewis and the News
  • August 7 — Gladys Knight / The O’Jays
  • August 8 — Juanes
  • August 13 — Ziggy Marley / Steel Pulse
  • August 14 — Chris Isaak
  • August 15 — Orquestra Buena Vista Social Club “Adios Tour”
  • August 16 — Maze / Frankie Beverly
  • August 18 — Michael Franti & Spearhead
  • August 19 — Diana Krall
  • August 21 — Ron White
  • August 23 — Jill Scott
  • August 25 — Colbie Caillat / Christina Perri
  • August 26 — Heart
  • August 28 — The Fab Four (“The Ultimate Tribute”)
  • September 1 — Pink Martini
  • September 2 — The Gipsy Kings featuring Nicolas Reyes and Tonino Baliardo
  • September 4 — Neko Case / Robyn Hitchcock
  • September 5 — Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
  • September 6 — The Psychedelic Furs / The Church
  • September 8 — Yes / Toto
  • September 11 — ZZ Top / Blackberry Smoke
  • September 12 — Eddie Izzard
  • September 15 — Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • September 17 — Rodrigo y Gabriela
  • September 20 — ABBA The Concert (“A Tribute to ABBA”)
  • September 25 — ABC / Wang Chung / A Flock of Seagulls / Naked Eyes / Animotion / The Flirts / Gene Loves Jezebel / Boy Don’t Cry
  • September 26 — The Beach Boys
  • September 27 — Kristin Chenoweth
  • September 30 — Cooder-White-Skaggs (Ry Cooder / Sharon White / Ricky Skaggs)
  • October 1 — The Doobie Brothers
  • October 3 — Chicago
  • October 7 — UB40 / Astro / The English Beat
  • October 10 — Galactic and Macy Gray — Alone and Together
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Posted in Wine Buzz

MacRostie Estate House: Setting a New Standard

Estate House PatioOver the past three decades, MacRostie Winery and Vineyards has established itself as one of the Sonoma Coast of California’s defining wineries, and a leader in a bright, balanced and age-worthy style of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Today, MacRostie is guided jointly by winery founder Steve MacRostie and the talented up-and-coming winemaker, Heidi Bridenhagen, who together are making the finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir bottlings in the winery’s storied history.

Using grapes farmed by legendary winegrowing families — including the Duttons, Sangiacomos, Martinellis and Bacigalupis — as well as from MacRostie’s own Wildcat Mountain Vineyard, the Sonoma Coast wines from MacRostie have established themselves as benchmarks, offering a rare intersection between labor-intensive small-lot winemaking and the complexity that can be achieved only by working with the finest vineyards.

And now, there is a new place where wine drinkers can learn about and savor these special wines: the MacRostie Estate House in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley.

The unveiling of the Estate House is the culmination of a long-time dream for MacRostie, who founded his winery in 1987. Many are saying that it sets a new standard, bringing something elevated, new and gorgeous to Russian River Valley wine country.

To achieve their vision, MacRostie and his team sought out three of the most creative and acclaimed firms in the business: Gould Evans for architecture, Roche+Roche for landscape architecture, and Grant K. Gibson for interior design. Because they were able to create the Estate House from the ground up, every detail was thoughtfully considered. Both aesthetically and experientially, the MacRostie Estate House is warm, welcoming and beautifully open in its design.

Located just five minutes from the Healdsburg Square, on a picturesque hillside, the Estate House is surrounded by beautiful vineyards and meadows. This setting was a key inspiration for Gould Evans, providing a backdrop for the gracefully modern architecture.

The Estate House features multiple indoor venues for seated wine tastings, and three expansive patio terraces with beautiful valley and vineyard views. The 20-acre property also includes a 13-acre estate Pinot Noir vineyard (named Thale’s Vineyard, after MacRostie’s wife) and a winery designed exclusively for fermenting Pinot Noir in very small one-ton lots.

In a given vintage, it is not uncommon for MacRostie to do as many as 130 individual fermentations of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with a focus on Pinot. This keeps different vineyards, blocks and clones separate. While this is an incredible amount of work, when it comes time for blending, it gives Bridenhagen and MacRostie an amazing palette of flavors with which to work.

This diversity has also allowed MacRostie Winery to enhance its portfolio, adding a Russian River Valley Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as a handful of sought-after vineyard-designate wines from throughout the Sonoma Coast.

And now, with its numerous indoor and outdoor venues, and multiple seated tasting flight options, the MacRostie Estate House offers an array of experiences and environments for enjoying those wines.

While each area has its own aesthetic, the overall design combines modern elegance with the inviting character of beautifully grained woods, richly hued leathers, abundant glass and gorgeous landscaping that incorporates MacRostie’s Scottish thistle motif. The Estate House will also offer numerous special visitor experiences throughout the year, including barrel samplings, rotational tastings and interactive “roll up your sleeves” educational programs, all of which will begin in the months ahead.

• MacRostie Estate House is located at 4605 Westside Road, Healdsburg, CA 95448. Guests are welcome daily from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m., and all tasting experiences are seated, with reservations recommended. Call 707-996-4480 for reservations and directions.

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Posted in Wineries of Distinction

2 Schools of Thought on Filtering Wine

Modern winery fermenting processOne of the most common practices in winemaking comes very near the end of the process. It’s called filtering, and it has both supporters and detractors in the vintner community.

Filtering is one of the tools in a winemaker’s tool box that can be used to bring a beautifully hued wine of great clarity to the marketplace. That’s important because even though a wine that appears slightly cloudy normally has no flaws, it may appear “not right” to the consumer.

When it comes to how a bottle of wine is presented on a retail shelf, and how the wine in the bottle looks, that old saying definitely applies: Appearance is everything.

Let’s take a closer look at the two schools of thought in regard to wine filtration.

Those who do not support use of the process say that it may remove certain natural compounds that contribute to the wine’s aging potential, its strength and its flavor — in a word, its personality.

Vintners who believe strongly that filtration can be harmful often will have the word “Unfiltered” printed on the front label of the wine bottle. They want the world to know that what they are about to taste is what the winemaker intended them to taste.

Those who support the filtering process explain that, over time, it’s possible for an off-flavor to develop in a wine bottle — a flavor that could have been avoided had filtration been undertaken.

Often, commerce plays a role in determining whether a wine undergoes filtration. As one veteran winemaker noted, “You’re much more likely to see an ‘Unfiltered’ wine that’s made in limited quantities — a few hundred cases or less. That way, if something does go wrong in the bottle, the loss is sustainable.

“At the other end of the spectrum” he added, “you’ll never see an ‘Unfiltered’ wine that has production of a few hundred thousand cases. It’s just too much of a risk for a winery to take; if the winery is under-financed, one bad vintage could put it out of business.”

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Posted in In the Cellar
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