Tag: gewurtztraminer

At Moshin Vineyards gravity is good for the wine

At Moshin Vineyards gravity is good for the wine

We usually don’t think of wine and gravity going together.  When I knock over a glass of wine, gravity causes the precious juice to fall to the floor.  Or worse yet, when the 2014 Napa earthquake struck, gravity maliciously conspired with shaking of the Earth to cause many bottles of wine to plummet to their sad demise.

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This stylish hutch held 110 bottles of wine at 3:19 a.m. on August 24, 2014
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Thanks, gravity. Thanks a lot.

Perhaps you can see why we generally think of wine and gravity as mortal enemies.  But there is a method – more common in Europe –where gravity plays a key (and useful) role in the winemaking process.  In most winery operations grapes and juice are moved around mechanically via conveyors, pumps and other machinery.  This movement can change the way in which the juice is extracted, oxidized, tannins are released, etc.  In gravity-flow winemaking, after the crush process the wine moves to fermentation, cellar and bottling all via gravity with no pumps or other mechanical assistance.

In 1989, Rick Moshin had a dream to step away from his day job – teaching mathematics at San Jose State University – and run his own winery.  He knew that he wanted to make wine using the gravity-flow method and that he would have to find a property that could accommodate that approach.   Optimally, gravity-flow operations are found on properties that are sloped.  Rick Moshin found the perfect property along Westside Road in Sonoma’s Russian River.  He purchased 10 acres and started the arduous process of building out the winery.  Gravity-flow winemaking is not for everyone: it can be more time-consuming and expensive to produce wine.  But this method is particularly appropriate for the delicate and thin-skinned Pinot Noir grape.  Below is Moshin’s diagram of their gravity-flow process (courtesy of their website).  Visitors can take a tour with a prior appointment, something we recommend simply because it is so different from tours at other wineries.

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Welcome to Moshin Vineyards
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Hummingbird sculpture in front of the tasting room
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And a hummingbird on every bottle

We stopped by Moshin Vineyards during a recent 3-day vacation in Sonoma (yes, we live in Napa and “traveled” the 40 miles to the Russian River to overnight for 3 days).  We absolutely loved our visit to Moshin; it punched every item on our list: beautiful location, high-quality wines, and fantastic people.  The tasting experience was quite enjoyable and, we must add, quite the bargain compared to some of our Napa Valley tastings.

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We don’t see too many $15 tastings in Napa Valley anymore

During our tasting we had the opportunity to taste quite a few wines – as usual, more than are typically offered .  When the tasting room staff knows you enjoy the wine and are interested in learning more and possibly buying, they will almost always pour more.  We tasted several white wines including the Moshin Sauvignon Blanc and two different Russian River Chardonnay offerings, each from a different vineyard location.

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Dueling chardonnay

As you would expect from a Russian River winery, Moshin produces Pinot Noir, in fact quite a few different versions from multiple locations across Sonoma as well as different vineyards within Russian River.  We really enjoyed their Russian River Pinot Noir which we found to be a classic representation of the varietal from that  region:  full-bodied, earthy, with notes of mushroom and, dare we say, forest floor.

 

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Who doesn’t love this color?

At Moshin, though, the red wines are not just limited to Pinot Noir. We also tasted a Syrah and a Merlot, both of which were special wines.  We actually purchased a bottle of Merlot – a wine more often found in Napa Valley.  Moshin’s Merlot – produced from grapes grown in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley – had strong dark fruit aroma and flavor with hints of chocolate.

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A fantastic Merlot

How do you top off a great wine tasting? If you’re lucky, with a sweet dessert wine.  At Moshin we had the treat of experiencing their luscious Moshin Potion, a late harvest blend of Gewürztraminer and Viognier.

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Dessert in a bottle

We couldn’t resist taking a bottle of this home with us along with the Merlot and several of the Pinot Noir offerings.  We’ve added Moshin to our list of Sonoma “must return” wineries and we’ll be back soon.

John & Irene Ingersoll

August 15, 2017

 

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Did Napa Need Another Tasting Room?

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Outland Wines tasting room in downtown Napa

The answer is yes.  Napa does in fact need another tasting room.  This might be a surprising conclusion in a Valley with nearly 500 wineries and a downtown that already has many wine bars and tasting rooms.  However, many of Napa Valley’s wineries are not open to the public, in many cases because the artisanal, low-production nature of the business makes it virtually impossible to sustain a winery tasting room and staff.  Outland Wines, the newest spot to taste wines, is an important addition to the local scene because it provides a place where three separate wine makers and wine labels can showcase themselves to the public.

This past weekend was Outland’s grand opening which we learned about through the best local source we have.  No, not Facebook or Twitter or even the local paper. Our source is the uber-connected Darcy who seems to know everyone and everything in town, including that Outland was opening.  We met Darcy and her beau at the new tasting room to taste wines from the three producers whose wines are presented at Outland Wines:  Poe Wines, Farella Vineyards, and Forlorn Hope.

When we arrived the place was already hopping – wall-to-wall people, every table and chair occupied, and more than a few people chilling in front of the wine bar.

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Enthusiastic turnout for grand opening of Outland Wine tasting room

We love the idea of wine cooperatives, which harken back to the early days of Napa Valley when wineries and wine makers worked together to achieve success for themselves individually with the understanding that it would enable success for all  (See our post on another Napa wine cooperative:  Holman Cellars).  Once we got our bearings we realized we were facing a daunting problem (yes, definitely a First World problem, or more precisely, a Napa Valley problem):  which wines to taste.  Because there are three wineries at Outland, and each makes wine from multiple varietals, trying one of everything would have been fun …until it wasn’t.

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Too many wines to try in one sitting?

We debated between two approaches:  stick with a single winery and taste all or most of their offering; or, pick a few wines from each label to taste.  Because we had no prior experience with any of the wines, we opted to try different wines from each of the wine makers.  One of us tried the 2015 Forlorn Hope Chenin Blanc and the other the 2013 Forlorn Hope Gewürztraminer.

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Side-by-side comparison

The Gewürztraminer (on the left) fermented on its skins for a period of time which accounts for that lovely orange complexion.  While its typical aromas of honey and lychee seemed to promise a sweet finish, the wine was in fact dry with zero residual sugar – a lovely, crisp and balanced finish.  The Chenin Blanc was also balanced and a nice wine but did not have the character and uniqueness of the Gewürztraminer.

As part of our agreed-upon plan to try each of the wineries’ offerings, we moved to Farella where we tasted their Merlot and Malbec, both of which were solid wines, structured and balanced.  The price for these wines is far below the Napa Valley average, making them a bargain based on their quality. We also had the opportunity to taste  Farella’s 2002 proprietary red blend, Alta, poured out of a magnum; this was a fantastic wine with the type of depth, sophistication and character you would hope for from a 15-year-old red blend.

Before leaving we tried two of the Poe Winery Pinot Noir offerings – the 2013 Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sonoma) and the 2013 Manchester Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir (Mendocino).  We enjoyed the aroma on both wines; on the palate, we found the finish to be delicate and muted, certainly not the strong, heavy finish generally found with Sonoma Pinot. The two Poe Pinot Noir offerings were more reminiscent of traditional Burgundain-style Pinot and the subtle finish could result from the fact that the wine is unfined and unfiltered.

While the three wineries produce a wide range of different wines, there is an overall philosophy that binds them together:  minimal intervention in the making of the wines and letting the varietals show their true aroma, flavor and character.  Our recent visit to Outland leaves us wanting to try more wines from each of the three producers and, of course, return to the wine bar soon.

To find out more about Outland or to schedule a time to taste, visit their website:  Outland Wine Bar.

John & Irene Ingersoll

March 14, 2017

Old-fashioned new wine co-op in Napa

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When winemakers used to work together

Today we made our third visit to Holman Cellars, a winery in Napa where some really interesting wines are being made.  What keeps drawing us back is the unique setup at Holman Cellars, where there are multiple winemakers and wine labels working out of the same space, sharing the same crush pad, and learning from each other’s successes (and occasional mistakes).  This may not sound so unusual but today’s Napa Valley is dominated by huge estate vineyards and high-volume wineries producing tens of thousands – or in some instances, hundreds of thousands – of cases annually.  Many wineries are owned or being acquired by international mega-corporations, including some of the most well-known family wineries in the Valley.  Without question, the wine industry has turned into a very competitive business.

It bears remembering, however, that before Napa Valley was one of the worlds’s most respected wine regions, wineries were still struggling to find the right balance of viticulture and enology.  The wineries of mid-20th Century Napa Valley – Mondavi, Beringer, Freemark Abbey, Inglenook – realized that they could not succeed individually, but rather would need to succeed together.  In 1944, seven vintners formed the Napa Valley Vintners, which today boasts over 500 members.  There are many stories of the early “pioneer” winemakers helping each other out with tools or equipment, lessons learned and shared successes.

This “pioneer” spirit is alive and well at Holman Cellars, which is also home to Newberry Wines and Cadle Family Wines.  This afternoon we had the pleasure of being hosted by Brian Newberry, the man behind the Newberry label.

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Brian Newberry telling us his story

Brian makes wine using the same small crush pad as Jason Holman and Kevin Cadle and they also share barrels and other equipment.

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Barrel room tasting spot at Holman Cellars

Compared to many other wineries, their space is small but they have a cozy tasting room as well as a large table for tasting inside the barrel room itself.  We tasted the white wines in the tasting room and moved into the barrel room to taste the reds.

One of the great things about wine tasting at a cooperative location like Holman is that you get to try wines from multiple labels.  Each time we’ve been to Holman, we’ve seen each of the winemakers pour not only their own wines but also the wines from the co-op partners.  This afternoon we had the chance to taste not just Brian’s Newberry label but also a couple of Kevin’s Cadle Family wines as well as a wine from Jason Holman’s Uncharted label.

Our first wine was a 2015 Newberry Chenin Blanc, a real treat for us as there are very few wineries in Napa that still make wine made from this grape variety.

In the 1980’s there were still over 2,000 acres planted to Chenin Blanc, compared to less than 100 acres based on a recent survey.  Vineyard owners have systematically torn out Chenin Blanc and replaced the acreage with vines that make more economic sense:  Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.  Brian Newberry was able to find a unique vineyard in Yolo County, tucked up against the Sacramento River, and works closely with the vineyard owner to grow and deliver the best grapes for his Newberry Chenin Blanc.  We really enjoyed the wine which was crisp, bone-dry (no residual sugar), and aged in a combination of stainless steel and neutral French oak.  In other words, “our type of white wine”:  balanced with strong acidity and minerality but with plenty of fruit flavor on the finish.

Our second white wine was from Kevin’s label – 2015 Cadle Family Gewürztraminer.  Like the Newberry white, the Cadle Gewurtz was crisp and dry but also a nice balance of acidity/minerality and fruit flavor.

Too often, Gewürztraminer can be overly sweet and syrupy, drinking more like a dessert wine than something you want to consume on its own or with appetizers or fish.  Cadle’s version, however, was made the way we enjoy it and could definitely be enjoyed with or without food (we’re imagining a good book and a fire).

After tasting these two whites, we moved to the wooden table inside the barrel room to taste three red wines – one each from the Newberry, Cadle and Holman labels.  Our first red wine was a 2015 Cadle Family Sangiovese, a full-bodied wine with flavors of black fruit, spices and medium tannins on the finish.

Kevin sources the Sangiovese grapes from Knights Valley in Sonoma County, a location that has elevations ranging from 500 to over 1,000 feet.  We have had Sangiovese wine from a few wineries in Napa Valley, one in Oregon, and several in Italy and we would stack the Cadle offering up against any of them.

The second red wine offering was Newberry 2014 Cabernet Franc, a varietal that more often is used for blending with other wines, typically Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.

Not so many wineries make a single-varietal Cabernet Franc, although several in Napa Valley now do.  The Newberry Cab Franc was simply delicious with a velvety mouthfeel and plenty of acidity and spice to complement the cranberry and cherry flavors.

Brian sources his Cab Franc fruit from Rutherford, one of the best sources in all of Napa Valley for Bordeaux-type varietals.  The vineyards that he pulls his fruit from are at a high elevation, around 600 feet above sea level.  We were intrigued by the color of the Cab Franc – ruby and garnet but much lighter than we often see with wines made exclusively from this varietal.  Brian’s Cab Franc was translucent and could almost have passed for a dark Pinot Noir.  Newberry refuses to add color as other wineries admit to doing.

Our final red wine was a proprietary red blend from Jason Holman’s Uncharted label.

The 2012 Uncharted red blend was also delicious but different from many of the other red blends that we have tasted in Napa Valley.  Jason sources his fruit from Coombsville, a well-known AVA in Napa Valley, but his wine is more complex than many other wineries’ proprietary red blends.  It is typical of Napa red blends to be super high in alcohol and very fruit-forward – a style that we enjoy drinking from high-quality producers, by the way. However, Jason’s Uncharted Proprietor’s Blend balances the flavors of dark fruit with acidity and minerality and strong tannins on the finish.

Having tasted wines from three winemakers in the Holman cooperative, it is clear that a singular approach to making wines binds them together:  buying high-quality fruit and making wines that are clean, crisp and true to the terroir where the grapes were grown.  Another thing that binds these winemakers together is their interest in exploring varietals that are not necessarily “typical” of Northern California wine regions.  Brian, Kevin, and Jason are making a wide range of different wines and willing to source them from different vineyards both in Napa Valley and elsewhere.  As we were leaving the wine tasting today, Brian showed us a barrel that Jason Holman is using to age a wine blend that, if we heard him correctly, holds 43 separate grape varietals!  What emerges from this barrel may be a fantastic and delicious blend … or it may be a horrible disaster.  Either way, the guys are going to enjoy the process of having experimented with something new – the kind of pioneer spirit that marked the early days of Napa Valley and is starting to show itself again in some great micro-wineries across the Valley.

John & Irene Ingersoll

December 30, 2016

A 158-Year-Old Family Winery

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Cabernet Sauvignon at Gundlach Bundschu, Sonoma, California

Living in Napa, literally within walking distance to local wineries, we often get locked in to our hometown wineries.  For the past few years, we have  been working our way up and down the Napa Valley and mostly ignoring wineries in neighboring Sonoma.  This weekend, we decided to break out and get out of town and try something a bit father from home.  Not that far from home, mind you – we went about 10 miles away to Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma.  We have found their wines at restaurants over the years and were mostly familiar with their white wines.  Also, we have driven by the entrance to the winery every time we drive out of Napa.  Today, we decided it was time to pay them a visit.

Rather than just a tasting, we signed up for a tour and tasting because the description of the tour was so intriguing.  Beyond the typical walk around the winery and visit to the barrel room, the  Gundlach tour involved jumping into a jeep-type vehicle and driving around through the vineyards and, ultimately, having our tasting in the middle of the vines.  This seemed too good to pass up.

When we arrived and joined our fellow tour participants, we met our guide.  Surprisingly, our tour guide turned out to be Rob Bundschu, 158 years removed from the original Bundschu that started the winery. Appropriately billed as the “Commander of Hospitality,” Rob packed us all into a Pinzgauer 712, an Austrian army vehicle that comfortably seated the 8 of us taking the tour.

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Pinzgauer 712 – Our Ride Around the Vineyards

As we drove around the vineyard, named Rhinefarm, we got a sense of the history of Gundlach Bundschu.  Rob took us through history of the winery, which opened for business in 1858, started by two german immigrants (you guessed it, Gundlach and Bundschu).  From their native Germany, they brought cuttings of traditional varietals such as Gewürztraminer.  Today, six generations of Bundschu’s later, they are still making a German-style Gewürztraminer but have also added a number of other wines to their repertoire.  Among them are such Sonoma standards as Zinfandel, Chardonnay and Pinot, but also some wines not as frequently found in Sonoma:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Tempranillo.

 

From 1858 to 2016, Gundlach Bundschu has been through a number of ups and downs.  The 1906 San Francisco earthquake nearly destroyed the company as its tasting room was located in San Francisco.  Not long after the winery recovered from the earthquake and moved its headquarters to Sonoma, an even more devastating challenge came along:  Prohibition.  From 1920 to 1933, the sale of alcoholic beverages, including wine, was illegal in the United States. During that time, Gundlach Bundschu, along with most other U.S. wineries, closed down – most of them forever.  Fortunately, in 1973, 40 years after the end of prohibition, Gundlach Bundschu reopened and began selling wines again.  Today, the winery makes and sells about 30,000 cases a year – one-tenth of the volume it made and sold prior to prohibition.

After taking us around most of the 32o acres of Rhinefarm, Rob stopped the Pinzgauer and we got out and sat down for our tasting in a quaint seating area right in the middle of the vineyard.

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Tasting in the Vineyard

First, Rob poured the Gewürztraminer, a very balanced white wine with no residual sugar.  Unlike others of this varietal, the Gundlach Bundschu Gewürztraminer was balanced, with aromas and flavors of fruit balanced by a nice acidity.  Following the white wine we tasted a lovely Pinot Noir, a Zinfandel and then a Cabernet Sauvignon, all paired with a cheese plate.  When we finished these wines, Rob put us back on the Pinzgauer and we drove back towards the main winery building.  But instead of taking us to the main entrance, Rob took us through the barrel room, which can hold over 2,000 barrels.

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 Barrel Room at Gundlach Bundschu

Finally, we made our way back to the main part of the winery for our final wine – a Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. We enjoyed this final wine in the quaint tasting room with the rest of our tour group.

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Gundlach Bundschu Tasting Room
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Tasting Room

Driving by the winery so many times, we could not have imagined how large the Gundlach Bundschu estate is, nor how expansive their visitor area would be.  In addition to the tasting room, they have a separate area to buy wines by the glass and a large section of seating.  This generation of Bundschu’s has built an impressive marketing and sales team and the winery clearly has developed a reputation as a must-visit location in Sonoma.  The parking lot was filled with dozens of cars when we arrived and people were continuing to arrive when we left around 4:30.  The winery is not our usual “hidden gem,” as many others have discovered it as well.  However, it is a beautiful location, they make great wines, and, unlike other large-scale operations, they are still a family business, even after 158 years.  What’s not to love about that?

John & Irene Ingersoll

July 16, 2016