Posts Tagged ‘women’

Zahtila – 187

Saturday, October 29th, 2005

Zahtila_signIn the past, I have mentioned a great admiration for women winemakers. I have now started an investigation into women-owned wineries. I am very intrigued with the trials and tribulations facing women in what is generally considered a male-dominated industry. For this visit, fate has brought me to visit Zahtila Vineyards, located just a hundred yards north of the Silverado Trail and Calistoga’s Lincoln Road juncture, to chat with Laura Zahtila personally.

Zoe_comes_to_greetDon’t drive too quickly on the main road – the entrance to Zahtila is just on the right and almost hidden by large trees and brush. It would be very easy to drive right past it and head onwards toward Hidden Valley. After parking, I was immediately and warmly greeted by Zoe, the winery dog, who does her duty well as goodwill ambassador. She will guide you up the walkway, past the rose-covered house that acts as the office and administration building, towards the back of the property where the tasting room lies.

Tasting_room_3Laura is relatively new to the wine world. Having done well during the dot-com boom, a passion for wine brought her to Napa when she purchased her first vineyard from the Traulsen family in 1999. This had been a family endeavor with her husband, but they soon realized the passion was all hers and parted ways.

Laura_best_1Laura now has complete control and the business is hers and hers alone and she is learning the business from the ground up. While not having any formal winemaking  training, she relies on a consulting winemaker for much of the technical aspects but ultimately makes all of the blending decisions. The wine has her name so while the buck stops here, she has every reason to be exceptionally proud of what she has created in such a short time! Now moving beyond her own Calistoga vineayrd, she has started contracting for additional grapes and this year released her first Chardonnay.

2004 Napa Valley Chardonnay – From Bocannon fruit, this was a decidedly good first attempt. Clean, crisp grapefruit core with bright citrus pineapple. Very bright, clean entry showing green apple and carved, distinct fruit. $18.00

2003 Zinfandel, Dry Creek – Red berry black fruit with dusty floral tones. Brambleberry dominates the rich mouth entry and shows a hefty chocolate mid-palate. Clean and round, the full flavors produce a distinctive, spicy finish $20.00

2002 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – From Conn Valley fruit, 30% new American oak. Rich ruby red to the edge produces earthy, erotic, smoky bouquet with hints of sage and dried herbs. Medium-bodied, the expansive crisp fruit shows heightened acidity and perfectly integrated tannins. The palate is layered with earth and dark fruit and shows touch of smoke on the finish. $33.00

2002 Beckstoffer Cabernet Sauvignon – From Rutherford fruit, this dark magenta wine produces intense, rich plum aromas with layers of spice, black currant, and a touch of vanilla. Hedonistic in the mouth, the flavors are smooth and complex, a bit sweet on the entry, but rounding out to show opulence and immense quality. Needs to cost more… $48.00

Zahtila Vineyards ~ 2250 Lake County Highway ~ Calistoga ~ CA ~94515 ~ 707-942-9251
$5.00 tasting

Selby – 186

Wednesday, October 26th, 2005

Selby_bldgDowntown Healdsburg is a lovely place to visit; full of quaint shops, delightful art galleries, enticing restaurants, and a handful of tasting rooms. However, if you limit your jaunting to only the square, you will undoubtedly miss one of the best selections of wines — not only in the neighborhood — but in California. Selby Winery has their tasting room a few blocks off the main shopping drag and is definitely worth looking for; almost hidden by overgrown trees just a few doors down from the fire station.

Selby_tasting_roomI was there on a week day and the tasting room was bustling! Full to the brim, Amanda was aptly handling the large crowd. I was patient and waited for it to quiet down. I was fortunate to taste through the entire line-up of Selby wines for a related article I’ve been working on, as well as having the opportunity of meeting Susie Selby in person.

SusieShe is diminutive in stature and has a personal warmth that immediately exudes charm and grace. She initially came to Northern California to help her father out in a small custom-crush winery (those are the kind where serious amateurs make wine for fun). Susie got so enamored with her father’s obsession, that it encouraged her to get a job in a local tasting room. When the bug really hit her, she began serious studies while working as a cellar rat, eventually becoming an assistant winemaker. Now with her her own label, she is entirely self-taught, learning the entire wine industry from the ground up, literally.

Selby_artSince her first vintage in 1993, she has built a reputation that includes having her wine served at the White House on multiple occasions. Robert Redford is so impressed with her winemaking style that she has been contracted to produce the Chardonnay for Redford’s Sundance resort. She has a tasting room (decorated with fabulous art by Clay Vajgrt), and a thriving winery producing 15,000 cases. What impressed me more than anything is the overall quality and integrity of the wine and the fact that Susie is not afraid to take chances as is depicted in experiments along the likes of a Malbec and a Syrah rosé, wines that are just plain fun to drink.

2004 Sauvignon Blanc – Crisp, clear kiwi and pineapple tones without being harsh or strident. $13.00

2004 Rosé of Syrah – The color of a sparkling, almandine garnet. An enchanting rosé because of its varietal integrity, Laura makes this wine solely because she likes to drink it (god bless her!). Explosive cranberry and pomegranate flavors behind a fresh, clean berry aromas with hints of white flowers. Nothing cloying or sweet, this wine is clean, fresh, and crisp. $13.00

2004 Chardonnay, Russian River – Intense nose of kiwi and white melon with a whisper of white peach. Crisp entry and some cream on the mid-palate that is opulent and engaging. Going away from the more butter-rich Clone 4, this is a wine made from the muscat chard of Dijon and Spring Mountain. $28.00

2004 Pinot Noir, Russian River
– Heady perfumey aromas of cinnamon, clove, and cherry. The mouth fills with spicy, cinnamon-covered red hots that is teasing and playful. The spicy fruit flavors are well-defined and invigorating. $32.00

2002 Malbec, Alexander Valley – I am such a huge Malbec fan and this does not fail to impress. Chewy tobacco with layers of soy and miso in the nose. The flavors are redolent with dark fruit, tiered with a rich mineral core. $28.00

2002 Merlot, Sonoma County – With 6% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Cabernet Franc. Redolent nose of black cherry and licorice with a whisper of dried herbs in the back of the nostrils. Black fruit and black pepper enter the mouth, teasing with a touch of plum liqueur. Big, chewy entry is smooth in the center with a perfectly balanced finish. $24.00

2002 Syrah, Sonoma County – 4% Viognier provides a hint of sweetness in this rich, sweet boysenberry wine. Jammy entry with a core of licorice and spice, medium-bodied and easy to drink. $24.00

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County – 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Malbec. Medium-bodied, terroir-driven aromas show herbs and cherries. Rich, sweet entry is smooth and toasty. Not overly complex or chewy, but great body and flavors. $24.00

2002 Zinfandel, Sonoma County – From 65 year old vines. Rich vanilla tones in a smooth, dark entry that displays sultry plum and spice notes. Jammy, spicy, toasty, and a hint of earth. $24.00

2002 Dry Creek Syrah, Vesenaz Vineyard – Only 150 cases made. Terroir-driven aromas with a heady liqueur of blackberry. Inky black red with an even, spicy core and supple, velvety finish. $32.00

2002 Sonoma County Zinfandel, Bobcat Vineyard – Leaving the grapes on the vines a little longer than usual, this is only the fourth vintage of this wine which has a tiny amount of residual sugar. Dark and spicy, the smooth and velvety mouthfeel is ever so slightly sweet, but not enough to coat the teeth. Smooth and intense, the flavors are defined and intense; quintessential zinfandel and after most of the tasting, a culmination in the example of the style that is Susie’s wine. $32.00

2000 Sweet Cindy – This wine is an homage to Susie’s dearly departed sister-in-law, Cindy. It is a blend of late-harvest Gewürztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc with grapes that are fully botrysized. Intense, dark gold orange color, there are hints of earthy, rustic honey with a core of pear. While the wine is sweet, there is a heightened acidity that provides perfect balance and clean flavor.  A bargain at $12.00

Selby Winery ~ 215 Center Street ~ Healdsburg ~ CA ~ 95448 ~ 707-431-1288
$5.00 for four tastes, although many additional bottles are often open and offered.

Carrefour – 167

Saturday, September 24th, 2005

CarrefourshortlabelnoviThere is always a pang of guilt when I am introduced to a Napa-based winery that I had never heard of before. At the Copia Cognoscente tasting, I was wracked with guilt seeing a roomful of unfamiliar names. So I was extremely grateful to a few folks who stuck around during the lunch break to chat with me, first and foremost, Greg and Marilyn Nitz, proprietors of Carrefour Vineyards, along with their winemaker, Kelly De’Ianni (she’s the one on the far left).

Carrefour_2With fifteen acres of grapes that they had previously been selling to Rombauer and still sell to Duckhorn, the 2004 their Sauvignon Blanc is now their first release. Additional grapes planted include most of the Bordeaux varietals with Pinot Noir coming from purchased grapes in Carneros. Great people and great wines — and something new worth looking out for!

2004 Oak Knoll Sauvignon Blanc – Intense green fig and floral bouquet. Grapefruit entry is balanced and vibrant without being astringent. The lemony finish shows depth and elegance. Only 340 cases produced. $16.00

2003 Carneros Pinot Noir – 1,200 cases produced of this new entry on the Pinot market. Bright spicy cherry in the nose mirrors the mouth entry. Tons going on in layers of complex fruit and integrated spice. The overall structure is medium bodied and the finish keeps going. $28.00

2003 Napa Valley Cabernet – 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petite Verdot. Dark, rich purple wine. Still unreleased, the flavors are admittedly young with depth of herb and mineral. Fruit is still tight and I would love to taste this wine in five or ten years. Not yet priced.

Carrefour ~ No address yet available ~ 707-252-9167

Husic Vineyards – 163

Monday, September 19th, 2005

Husic_vineyards_logoFrank Husic has had some astonishingly good luck and some astonishingly bad luck. The good luck is that he has nine acres of prime Stags Leap appellation vineyards which produces 500 cases of one of the more highly sought-after California Cabernets currently on the market.

Husic_1The bad news is that Frank owns 120 acres in the same area and he isn’t allowed to plant them to grape. It seems that those nine acres were planted before an anti-mountain growing ordinance went into affect, preventing the rest of the acreage from being developed.  Frank is pretty philosophical about it all. “It isn’t going to hold us back from planting elsewhere — in fact, we’ll be releasing our first Chardonnay next year.” It is easy to be taken in by his enthusiasm. Having winemaker Celia Welch Masyczek crafting his wine doesn’t hurt either. Masyczek came into view when she created the now much sought-after 1998 Staglin.

Husic_bottleThe bottle is immediately recognizable as different. It is easily the tallest and heaviest bottle on the market. Substantial in size, Frank revels in pointing out the archway design with the names of his family crowning the artistic representation of his hillside vineyard. The two palm trees under the logo name actually exist on the property – a rather odd occurrence in the Napa Valley and one I am glad he represented.

Husic made insider news at the 2004 Premiere Napa Valley auction (an
event where barrel samples are tasted and purchased as futures by
high-roller retailers) when five cases of an un-released, unknown wine
was sold for $13,000. Bottom line? This is a winery to keep an eye on — could it be the next Screaming Eagle?

2002 Husic Cabernet Sauvignon – A mere hint of the earthy terroir of Stags Leap that I often find overwhelming. Some dusty earthy with a core of dark cassis and currant in the nose. Black raspberry and cinnamon hit the tongue first, but a cinnamon that is intensely soft and elegant, blossoming to show layers upon layers of dark brambleberry, blackberry, and dark plum. The finish shows velvety vanilla. Sold out – usually only available and finer restaurants.

Husic ~ Vineyard; 189 Ridge Drive ~ Napa Valley ~ CA ~ 94558; Office; 80 McLaren Avenue ~ San Francisco ~ CA ~ 94121 ~ 707-812-4909

White Lie – 117

Sunday, July 17th, 2005

PlateEarlier this year, I documented a Beringer Blass side-product, TwoTone Farms. I was approached to comment on yet another Beringer product, White Lie Early Season Chardonnay. The public relations kit that accompanied the product is chock-full of incredibly pretty documents explaining that this product is a “premium wine tailor-made for women, [and] by women.” The all-female team is Tracey Mason (Director of Global Innocation), Jane Robichaud (Winemaker), and Bettina Ferrando (New Product Development Manager). There is kitchy comments on the types of lies that women say (“I never got the message,” “I was stuck in traffic,” “It’s not you, it’s me”) and other offensive phrases.

Walt_drinkingThe occasion to blog the Livermore valley over the weekend was also occasion to meet up with my good friends, April and Walt. Walt suggested grilling up some salmon after the day’s blogging and knowing the 100+ degree heat of the area, a low-alcohol, low-calorie white wine might work perfectly with Walt’s salmon.  What I did not anticipate was the great joy to be had in sharing a new-concept wine with scientists…

Walt_swallowingPart of the product’s selling points is that it is lower in alcohol, 9.8%, versus a typical 13.5% chardonnay and that the calorie content is 97 calories per five fluid ounces versus a normal 129 calorie glass. How can this be developed? Well, Beringer Blass has trademarked a technique where the grapes picked earlier in the season, which have a lower sugar content (brix), are fermented all the way to dryness before blending. The assertion is that the resulting wine “tastes crisp and fruity but is also low in sugar, naturally making it low in alcohol and calories.” Yes, it is true the wine is crisp, but almost too much so.

Walt_throwing_upThe crisp entry is harsh with tart acidity. There are faint aromas of lemon peel, but not much bouquet beyond that. The mouth entry is almost painfully strident. What this lead to in our discussion over dinner was Walt’s brilliant question; Would the wine taste better if it were, in fact, a 13% alcohol wine? Here is where the scientists took off and I sat back and marvelled…

April__waltApril is a chemist and Walt a programmer/analyst. Over a flurry of discussion that was more than Greek to me, the two of them debated the amount of neutral alcohol that would have to be added to the existing wine to make a 13% alcoholic wine. A book was pulled from the shelf and calculations were configured; 7 grams of Vodka would be added to 98 grams of the White Lie to produce a wine at 13%. I thought it a brilliant experiment.

AprilThe final result? We tasted both wines a second time — the original 9.8% and the newly-created 13% version. The new wine was a tad more palatable. It definitely had more body, but was still flabby and lacking depth or balance. Much the ensuing discussion revolved around why White Lie was created. It has been established that while men purchase wine to collect, women make up the bulk of the wine-buying market for immediately consumption. But I know of no women that would drink this wine. I do marvel at Beringer Blass’s gumption in breaking new ground and the regard I have for the Two Tone product is an example. But in the case of the White Lie, perhaps there is poetic justice when being asked what I thought and a “little white lie” comes to mind…

With sincerest thanks to April and Walt for a charming and illuminating evening, delightful company, and a fabulous dinner! Hope you don’t mind the pics….