It is wonderful to reach out to you once again during our favorite time of the year. Everything comes together in late summer and early fall, as all of our senses are stimulated by the quality of the light, the smells, the colors, the feel of a warm sun on a brisk morning…and of course, the tastes. In Sonoma, and in most agricultural counties, there is an uptick of energy with tractors and lights at 3:00 am in the vineyards; trailers rolling down the back roads and highways with bins stuffed with fruit; and the wineries sometimes open 24hrs/day, alive with the scurry of forklifts and the crushing and pressing of fruit. One of my favorite times is walking in the vineyard as the sun is setting, with Anu at the side, witnessing the vineyard crew prepare the tractors and trucks for a midnight harvest. Though we may be tired, it is at those times we appreciate this industry.
We have had an incredible growing season once again, similar to 2018, with consistent temperatures and an occasional moderate heat spike, then a return to reasonable temperatures in the mid-80s. This is leading to a slightly later harvest with extended hang time, especially with late-September cool weather in the forecast. So far, our early pick varietals - Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay - are showing beautifully. I am especially thrilled with the Tina Marie Pinot Noir, always our first red lot, as it is already showing fantastic character. Keeping fingers crossed the weather continues to be great!
We are also making a few changes around the winery. First, we are moving from completely natural corks, to those that are micro-agglomerated. This switch is not based on economics (they cost the same), and will help us achieve our goal to completely eliminate ‘corked’ wine issues which may occur with a cork that renders a bottle of wine defective. Along with the environmental issue of the diminishing quantity of cork, this is an easy transition for us as we have reviewed the performance of these corks for many years on white wines.
Second, we are moving from three club shipments to two per year (April & October). By moving to Spring and Fall orders, there will be savings on shipping costs and we will have a better window to send wines without worrying about weather holds for heat and cold along the shipping routes and delivery areas.
Now that we have two shipments, it means we have six selections for our club. For October, there are a few of usual suspects: the 2017 Humbaba with its exotic character; the deeply intense and rich 2017 Diener Ranch Petite Sirah; and the 2018 Russian River Pinot Noir displaying crushed red berries and earthy notes. We added a third Pinot to the mix, the 2018 ‘E’ Sonoma County Pinot which is complex and vibrant. I have been playing with Grenache for a few years now, and in the 2018 Sonoma County Grenache I have combined the grapes from two vineyards that complement each other well. Rounding out the list is the brand-new Steiner Syrah from the top of Sonoma Mountain: a stunning wine! It is the brother/sister to another single vineyard Syrah from Atoosa Vyd. that we will feature in April 2020. Both Syrahs, and the Grenache, consist of less than 50 cases each.
We are now into our 17th harvest. We love hearing from you, and we raise a glass and say, ‘THANK YOU’!
2018 ‘E’ Sonoma County Pinot Noir
Produced mainly from Sonoma Coast fruit from the Robledo Vineyard, ‘Maria de la Luz’, and Russian River fruit from the Kalemba Vineyard, the ‘E’ Pinot offers beautiful fresh red berries with an earthiness for complexity. This Pinot is produced with the same methods we employ for the Russian River and the Tina Marie: 15% whole cluster, native yeast fermentation in open top tanks after a five day cold soak. For the ‘E’ we use only neutral French oak barrels for 10 months aging. Easy to drink now, with a soft mouth feel and a supple round finish, this is a Pinot that hits all the notes. 550 cases produced. Drinking window 2019 – 2024.
2018 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
Wow! Our 2018 RRV Pinot leaps from the glass with intoxicating aromas of ripe red briary fruit, a touch of Asian spice and a hint of toasted Goguette sourdough baguette. In the mouth there is an unctuousness and vivaciousness of bright fruit running side by side with red berries, brioche and a hint of sage. Light-bodied and elegant, 70% of this RRV Pinot comes from the Tina Marie Vineyard in Green Valley of RRV. This wine will grow in weight and complexity as it ages in bottle. I fully expect the 2018 to age well for 10 years, though if you’re like me, I like my wines with youth and some maturity, around 5-6 years.
400 cases produced. Drinking window 2020-2028.
2018 Dry Creek Valley Grenache
In 2018 I switched my main source of Grenache to a small vineyard in the hills on the west side of Dry Creek Valley. The cooler climate promotes more of crushed red fruit and spice, and less cola and heavy with black fruit. I also source from another vibrant vineyard in southern Sonoma Valley that produces a lot of spice and blueberry. The combination of these two vineyards has produced my favorite Grenache to date. Blueberry, some crushed red fruit, scorched earth and licorice initiate you to flavors of explosive berries, brioche and licorice. Still a baby, I would experience a bottle now, then have a few to open over the next few years as it fully develops. 50 cases produced. Drinking window 2020 – 2028.
2017 Humbaba Rhône Blend
Year 12 for our iconic wine. Humbaba is our blend of Petite Sirah and Syrah, now nearly equal parts primarily from the Diener Ranch Petite and Sonoma County Syrah, with occasional inclusion of other Rhone varietals. In the case of 2017, we added a good dose of Grenache (15%) and Mourvedre (5%). This rich wine boasts the telltale camphor notes that runs like a thread through Humbaba with aromas of sage, chocolate, sarsaparilla, cardamom, tapenade, and blackberry, is as complex as previous vintages. We choose this wine every time we are serving lamb. As we have a good deal of experience with Humbaba we know this wine will age for 10+ years. 250 cases produced. Drinking window 2019 – 2028.
2017 Steiner Vineyard Syrah
Near the top of Sonoma Mountain and heading toward the Santa Rosa plain rests the iconic Steiner Vineyard. As cool breezes flow in from the coast the heat is moderate, and this lends itself to a cooler climate and long hang time for Syrah. The benefit? Complexity and balance. And with the 2017 Steiner we reaped the rewards. Green olive tapenade, smoked meat, black berries, plum skin, reminiscent more of Côte Rôtie than CA. Rich, with a subtle power, and elegance, this is a gorgeous first release from this world-class site.
50 cases produced. Drinking window 2020 – 2030.
2017 Diener Ranch Petite Sirah
One of my favorite vineyards, and the one that deserves most of my attention for care and love, the Diener Ranch Petite Sirah now commands the longest relationship of any of our vineyards. We will crush our 15th vintage in 10 days. Petite Sirah is brooding, rich, tannic, but with Diener there is elegance and complexity that completes these special wines. Blackberry, plum skin, black pepper, garrique (obscure, I know…think dry under brush and rocks). Extremely long-lived, these wines receive continual critical accolades as wonderful examples of elevated Petite Sirah. Enjoy these wines over the next 14 years.
50 cases produced. Drinking window 2020 – 2033.
Spring has finally sprung, and we are so excited to emerge from the winter gray and into the iridescent greens and warmth of vernal days. The season brings forth renewed hope of another vintage year and all that it promises, and perhaps a Giants team that can become a champion once again…well… at least we can be realistic about another fabulous vintage. The vineyards are now in full bud break and revealing the upcoming potential to be fulfilled in the fall. As we are far behind the start we had last year, the vines are almost guaranteed outstanding weather during their flowering stage, which will lead to a top-notch berry ‘set’, basically the pollination of each cluster that brings forth fully developed fruit. The vineyards may be setting up for another bountiful crop following the nearly historic harvest we experienced in 2018.
Of course we are also looking forward to what lies ahead personally as well. I am hopeful that we are able to do a two-week point to point backpacking trip on the PCT, which will be a first for Melissa, but perhaps a last trip for Anu as his aging hips are beginning to betray his natural inclinations. Paul will be on the golf course for a steady diet of crushing the ball; Patrick will be helping Mary Sue with their rescue horses and their required attention to maintaining their full heath; Janie will be enjoying her hikes with Jerry in Annadel traversing the many trails, and also tending to the many animals for whom she cares most. Sergio will be heading for a month in Mexico, and Sarah will be heading to her countries of origin in Scandinavia. But there is still some work to be done.
In the cellar we finished putting the reds to bed after the harvest and are mindfully preparing the whites and older reds for bottling. This is also the time that I begin to assess the wines we produce and look to see if there are other vineyards we wish to secure for the upcoming harvest. I am currently eyeing an incredible Pinot Noir vineyard in the Anderson Valley, and I am always seeking new sources for Ansar Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab Franc. We also find it very important, and fun, to produce wines that are virtually available only for the wine club. These are wines for which we produce less than 50 cases and come from outstanding vineyards. Stay tuned for two incredible Syrahs and a Grenache coming to you in fall!
For your May Club order, you’ll receive the new 2017 ‘E’ Cuvée JM. This is a ‘GSM’ (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre blend) reminiscent of the wines from southern Rhone. Just last week, this beautiful wine was announced in the competitive North Coast Wine Challenge as Best in Class, with a 95 point score! This is a wine to buy by the case. Your Club shipment will also include the 2017 ‘E’ Cabernet Sauvignon; the Sancerre/Pouilly Fume’ styled 2018 Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc; and of course, the 2017 Tina Marie Pinot Noir. I need to also mention that some of our other high-scoring wines are nearly gone: The 2016 Tina Marie (95pts), 2015 Diener Ranch Petite Sirah (94pts/Cellar Selection), and 2015 Ansar Cabernet Sauvignon (92pts) all have less than 30 cases available. And there is no better time to begin drinking our new 2018 Shamhat Rosé. It comes from whole cluster pressing only, which means it is more delicate and absolutely delicious.
We are so very fortunate having you as our friends. We will continue to strive to produce wines that are interesting to you, and we look to engage with you at every opportunity. Please reach out to us at the winery as this is also where our tasting room is located. We raise a glass and say, ‘THANK YOU’!
2018 Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc
Our barrel fermented and aged Sauvignon Blanc is produced in large puncheon sized barrels for greater freshness (less air), while giving the benefits of barrel aging with lees contact for more texture and complexity. Our SB doesn’t undergo malolactic fermentation so there is brighter acidity that goes extremely well with food. This is the most often consumed, or gulped, wine in our household. The 2018 SB is reminiscent of previous vintages with aromas that are steely with river rock and flint and accompanied by lemon peel, hay, and coriander. The flavors are full with green apple, pineapple, nectarine, and brioche. The wine adds some creaminess from the barrel age on lees that balances off the higher acidity. This wine will actually benefit from a few months aging, and I love to accompany our SB with seared scallops on a bed of thinly sliced green apple and gently sautéed finely cut fennel. Sprinkle a little fennel threads on top.
150 cases produced. Drinking window 2019 – 2024.
2017 ‘E’ Cabernet Sauvignon – Sonoma County
The ‘E’ Cab is our best selling wine and is by far our largest production…and people laugh at me…when I tell them it’s only 1,200 cases. Okay, maybe not such a large production for others, but for us it is gargantuan. Our ‘E’ CS is mainly sourced from Sonoma Valley fruit from the Atwood and Bedrock vineyards, the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak (Mendocino County), and the Diener Ranch in the Red Hills of Lake County, which represents the 10% contribution of Petite Sirah. I use Petite to increase the structure of these wines to bring them to another level of richness and length. The 2017 shows incredible aromas and is in the next league up with its pure currant and blackberry fruit, and a dose of garrique, black spice and a touch of bittersweet chocolate. The aromas give way to currant and blackberry liqueur with a hint of plum skin and new oak in the flavors. The richness of this wine embraces you on the entrance and continues for a very long time: a hallmark of luxury Cabernets. Enjoyable now, and will go on for 15 years.
1,200 cases produced. Drinking window 2019 – 2032.
2017 Tina Marie Pinot Noir – Russian River Valley
On the heels of four excellent vintages comes the 2017 Tina. Our TM shows prominent red fruit with a slight piquant character, and new toasted French oak and brown spice in the aromas. These lead to a creamy warm texture, rich with toasted oak, brown sugar, black cherries, and mace. Long on the finish, the Tina Marie will age for more than 10 years. We now have several past vintages to give us a reference point, and I think that while it is quite enjoyable immediately, optimally a couple years of rest will reward the patient. Better yet, as I like to do, and as there are only 50 cases, get three bottles: one to open now, another in a couple years, another in eight. It’s interesting to see the progression.
50 cases produced. Drinking window 2019 – 2028.
2017 Cuvée JM (GSM Blend) – Sonoma County
Mentioned earlier, the 2017 JM (Janie Mumm, she loves GSM’s) is a pretty wine, as is the hallmark of all the JM’s. Sourced primarily from Sonoma Valley, with a touch of Mourvedre from the Sierra Foothills, the 2017 JM leaps from the glass with complex aromas of Provencal herbs, ripe cherry, sassafras, a little forest floor and white pepper. These give way to a soft entrance and initial flavors of blackberry and red cherry fruit, a little black olive and toasted brioche. It is mouth-watering, lively with vibrant tannins which build late and lead to a long finish. This wine can be matched with a variety of foods, including white cheeses and lighter meats with a savory fruit infused sauce, and can even embrace and enhance darker meats with savory herbs.
95 points, Gold Medal, and Best of Class 2019 North Coast Wine Competition.
200 cases produced. Drinking window 2019 – 2025.
Wow! I am astounded by how quickly time passes: it’s already been a year since the devastating events of the 2017 Harvest. And for all of the characteristics of that growing season, they stand in great contrast to our 2018 harvest, which has been OUTSTANDING!!! This may end up being the largest harvest on record for the North Coast. This extremely long growing season, with moderate temperatures and a few beneficial heat episodes, has pushed the ripening to where it needs to be and led to high-quality fruit, featuring increased flavors and intensity. We have also benefitted from this gargantuan harvest by increasing our production by 33%. Sorry folks, we are now a mega-winery producing 6,000 cases! I hope those that didn’t want us to become a large corporate winery don’t think we’re selling out. Never! That said, the Wine Club selections remain on the small side, with the Grenache, Mourvedre, and ‘Portly’ Petite Sirah clocking in at 50 cases or less for each. “Hand’s on winemaking” is alive and well.
One of the cool things we get to do in the wine business is to experiment and make some ‘special’ wines. Some people make vermouth or a sparkling wine (which we will do someday), but I chose to make a Port-style fortified wine. What prompted me to go this route was my experience with the Diener Ranch Petite Sirah, and how when it still had a little sugar before completing fermentation it really reminded me of vintage Port (existing laws prevent us from putting ‘Port’ on the label). Our first port, and yes, it is all Diener Ranch Petite Sirah, came out in 2015: just 22 cases of 375ml bottles. Well, it was awesome, and our Wine Club and customers thought so too, as we sold out in a few days. It was obvious we hit on something. We bottled another port the following year, and I held back a barrel. I currently have four vintages in the cellar, counting 2018, and have decided to create a ‘solera’ process for our ports. This means we’ll produce a port year-after-year with a portion of most, if not all the vintages going into a blend, as in the case of this first version, V1. The larger percentages are wines that are more current, with less and less of wine from the older vintages. In thirty years, you will have some small percentage of a 30 year old wine being part of that year’s bottling. Each bottling contains fairly high percentages of newer vintages, though there is variation from vintage to vintage, and after many years, the solera evolves much like the wines. It’s kinda geeky, but winemakers think this stuff is fun. The V.1 blend includes 2017 (45%), 2016 (27.5%), and 2015 (27.5%).
The other wines in our November’18 Wine Club include: 2017 Mourvèdre, 2017 Grenache, and 2017 Old Vine Zinfandel. Mourvèdre loves hot weather, as it does very well in the southern France and northern Spain. The Sierra Foothills Calaveras County, provide similar growing conditions with dry soil and warm temps, the conditions needed to properly ripen Mourvèdre. I have been working with the Tanner family for three years and the resulting wines have impressed me with the correct varietal character that is Mourvèdre. Grenache, the most widely planted varietal in the world, is a seductive wine that offers a great deal of complexity, and is not heavy handed in doing so. A bit bigger in structure than Pinot Noir, it still offers the juiciness and complexity of Pinot, though the aromas and flavors are quite different. What mainly attracts me to this grape are the crushed red fruit and Provencal herb components, and the wines are just…pretty! The final wine in our selection is the 2017 Old Vine Zinfandel. A Sonoma Valley vineyard planted in the 1930’s is a field blend of mixed black varietals along with approximately 85% Zin. These wines are always rich and complex and will reward you with a bit of air time by opening the bottle early, or decanting to get the air in to liberate this youthful wine. After being opened for a day it thrilled me with its layers of fruit and structure.
As the holidays approach, we look to gather with friends and family. This is a wonderful opportunity to set aside amplified differences and celebrate what is most important: our connection to one another. What binds us together is what we share in common, and we should cherish these aspects, which have made us appreciate each other for the positive contributions each makes to our lives. As a people we come together over food and drink, so Drink Well, Eat Well and be in good graces with friends and loved ones.
2018 November Wine Club Wines
2017 Sonoma Valley Grenache
Having been in the industry for since 1987, I have the great fortune of establishing relationships with some wonderful people and the vineyards they tend. For our 2017 Grenache I was given the opportunity to source from the Steel Plow Vineyard in Sonoma Valley, an organically farmed vineyard cared for by the guru, Phil Coturri. Very low yields with exceptional care in the right terroir tends to produce excellent fruit, and in 2017 we were not disappointed. Wonderful aromas of crushed red and blue fruit surrounded by a swirl of molasses and a thread of Provencal herbs. These aromas translate to the wine, which has a very soft entrance, and then builds some structure as the tannins kick in. It’s elegant with a grip! More Southern Rhone in style than many Grenache bottlings from California, this complex wine can be enjoyed with a meal that features a little sweetness and tang, or appetizers featuring cured meats like Prosciutto or Serrano, sundried tomatoes, and some Fontina or other floral cheese. 50 cases produced. Drinking window 2019 – 2027. $35
2017 Sierra Foothills Mourvèdre
Mourvèdre is a very popular grape in southern Rhone, Provence, and northern Spain. It is also a varietal that has been in California for well over a century. The Rose’ produced from Mourvèdre is awesome with a lot of peach and watermelon. But, the red version is typically rustic with leather, hints of barnyard, a little road tar, with abundant black fruits, licorice and other accompanying aromas and flavors. These are incredibly well-structured wines and pair positively with both pastured-raised meats and wild game. Our 2017 comes from the family-owned Tanner Vineyard in Calaveras County. The wine features black cherry compote, leather and barnyard aromas, but with a hint of licorice that weaves in and out of the glass. The flavors are rustic and add some baking spice, jammy fruit, and dried Provencal herbs. The wine is soft with tannin coming forward at the mid palate providing the structure I seek in our wines. Our Mourvèdre will continue to develop well for the next 8-10 years. 50 cases produced. Drinking window 2018 – 2026. $35
2017 'E' Sonoma Valley Old Vine Zinfandel
California, like a good many top producing wine regions in the world, has an aging treasure in many of the major wine producing counties. These are the vineyards that were planted over 80 years ago, many approaching 140 years of age. Mostly field blends with a major varietal being featured, the mix of these varietals provide wonderfully balanced and complex wines. Our 2017 OVZin comes from 80+ year old vines planted close to the Sonoma Square. I also augmented this vintage with 20% from the 138 year old Bedrock Vineyard. Besides Zinfandel, these vineyards contain various percentages of Carignan, Alicante Bouschet, Petite Sirah, Black Muscat and others. The aromas leap from glass featuring plum skin, bitter chocolate, black berry and cherry compote, and a hint of black pepper. All these roll right into the flavors with the moderate to full bodied wine. As it is still young, I was struck by the even more powerful aromas on the second night. This portends a very good future of this wine that should age well for 10 years.
245 cases produced. Drinking window 2018 – 2027. $25
V.1 Enkidu ‘Portly’ Petite Sirah
Following the discussion above of our Port-style wine, I offer the following description of the first impressions of the V.1 bottling. The aromas and flavors show heaps of blackberry liqueur, raisins, black pepper and dried sage. The texture is intense, rich and unctuous with tannin providing the support to balance off the moderate sweetness. Extremely pleasing now, but will continue to improve for years to come…maybe up to 30+. Enjoy this hedonistic beauty, especially on those cold and wet evenings.
45 cases produced. Drinking window 2019 – 2040. $35