Monthly Archives: July 2014

Sonoma County Harvest 2014 Begins in July!

IMG_1982J Vineyards and Winery began its 28th Annual Harvest with Pinot Meunier from Nicole’s Vineyard at 10 pm on July 30, 2014 one of the earliest harvests in memory.   J Vineyards is generally one of the first wineries in Sonoma County to begin harvest due to the earlier harvest for sparkling wine grapes.

J Vineyards and Winery released a statement saying that, “The 2014 growing season is very similar to the 2013 season, but the 2014 harvest is tracking about five to seven days earlier than 2013 due to the recent hot weather in Russian River Valley. The yields look very balanced with beautiful, small-to -medium berry clusters on the vine. The J winemaking team foresees that this great crop will produce an outstanding 2014 vintage.”

J memoryThe grapes arrived to their Healdsburg winery facility this morning where Founder Judy Jordan and Winemaker Melissa Stackhouse joined employees and media in toasting the 2014 Harvest with J Cuvée 20 and dedicating it to Kerry Manahan-Ehlow.  Kerry was J’s VP of Global Sales for the last three years and passed away earlier this month. The harvest mantra will be “Keep Calm and Kerry On.”  

Judy Jordan with Scott Zapotocky, new Director of Vineyard Operations announnced the acquistion of two new estate vineyards on the “True” Sonoma Coast near Annapolis.  These are pinot noir vineyards and they are very excited about their ability to expand their pinot noir offerings.  All of the Sonoma County pinotphiles feel the same way.

Judy and MelisJudy-Melissasa lead us down the red carpet to the J Bubble Room for an airing of the new J Vineyards and Winery terroir video on Geology versus Site which features a funny and fun-loving battle between Judy and Melissa on whether geology or site dominates.  Judy passed out rocks as we entered the room, so it was pretty obvious she would come down on the geology side.  I can’t wait for them to post this to their youtube site.

ToastWe adjorned to the veranda for a champagne bunch prepared by J Executive Chef Erik Johnson who is celebrating his one year anniversary at J Vineyards and Winery this month. J’s commitment to youth and our community was continued with a presentation of internships, mentorships, and scholarships.  Judy closed with anniversary awards to many employees, some 12 and 15 year awards, showing what a dedicated team she has fostered.

Many of the photos in this article were taken by the J Winery Marketing staff and I thank them for the use of the photos.

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Small Vines with Guided Balance yield Classic Wine

Paul Something about Burgundy (France) seems to be unusually inspiring to growers and winemakers in Northern California. Here we create wines with balance and style that we believe (perhaps prejudicially) rival any wine in Burgundy.

Burgundy’s primary grapes are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and its most famous vineyards are in the hands of the men who work them.  The best of these vineyards are classified as Grand Cru.  This is a story about Burgundian grapes and our own Grand Cru farmer (vigeron, in France) that grows them in Sonoma County.  Paul Sloan at Small Vines is our vigeron.

Burgundy since the Middle Ages has defined much of what we take for granted about these classic grapes, especially Pinot Noir. The Church with an educated workforce had time to cultivate vines, experiment, and observe/record variances in vineyards.  It became old-school which plots of land and which methods of growing were the best for their grapes, so that in the late 1800’s when a phylloxera disaster occurred, only the best vineyards were worth replanting.  The Grand Cru vineyards of Burgundy continue to produce some great wines.

In talking about the vineyards where fine wines are grown, the term terroir (pronounced “ter-wah-r” or “ter-wah”) is used.  The definition is often “a sense of place” implying that the soil and climate impart a personality to the wine.   But terroir stands for so much more than soil and climate, as any farmer will tell you, it is a complex combination of conditions to be gently guided year after year in the face of every challenge Mother Nature concocts.  So the most often overlooked element of terroir is the person who tends the grapes and makes the wine (in France there isn’t even a word for winemaker it is just vigeron). This is why our local vigeron, Paul Sloan at Small Vines, is so important.

GrapesMany of us know our local farmers via roadside stands or farmers markets, because there is an increased awareness about food quality – we want our food to be fresh and healthy.  We believe this type of food comes from a balanced environment that we can recognize.  But when it comes to wine, we lack a reference for a balanced vineyard. Instead, we rely on a vigeron’s standards to develop and maintain a precise and controlled method for tending his vines that creates a healthy balance in the vineyard.  In Burgundy, the quantity of fruit and the size / shape of the vine are regulated. The goal of these restrictions is to limit grape crop size to improve quality thus protecting the reputation of their wines. In the U.S., we lack a historical persceptive or desire to develop such planting standards.  So our vigeron spends time year after year walking the land, breathing the air, listening to the leaves rustle in the wind, smelling the earth and the soils and the underbrush, sensing how the temperature and wind patterns shift hour-to-hour, determining alone what creates his balanced vineyard.

Paul follows Grand Cru standards for his vines, but it is more than regulations it is his meticulous attention to everything from canopy management, to cluster distribution, to crop load that creates an environmentally soft footprint and his perfect vine balance.  It is a labor intensive, detailed monitoring that is this vigeron’s personal standard.  It is an expensive method of farming both in the vineyard development costs (twice as many plants, stakes, etc.) and the year-to-year labor costs.  Each vine requiring twice the attention as many other viticulturists might allocate to their vines.  It would definitely be easier to farm the way others do.  Paul’s vineyards require attention, but they reward him, which is exactly the point.  Some times we forget the basics – it doesn’t always take fancy gadgets or the latest technolgy – sometimes just the simple, caring hands of a diligent farmer.

Paul’s mantra is “the smaller the vine the better the wine” which derives from the fact all the great wines of the world are made from lowish yielding vines. However, it is not true that simply having low yields or small vines will ensure wine quality. What is of equal importance is the circumstances under which those low yields were obtained. If not well managed a vineyard will never produce grapes capable of creating fine wine, so it comes down to vigernon that farms it.

Small Vines

It is said Burgundy wines appeal to the heart, I know they reach the heart of at least one vigeron and his family because it is reflected in their love of the vines and the land on which they are grown.

One of my great pleasures with wine is that its story never ends!  My wine and viticulture exploration is filled with evolving knowledge and dedicated men and women that love the vine.  They graciously share their hard-earned knowledge and collaborate to make this sensual treat we imbibe ever more delicious.  What I truly love about wine is the context—the people, the place, the story – those that make it and those that share a glass with me. Paul and Kathyrn Sloan (our vigeron’s wife) are two of these dedicated individuals with gracious sharing hearts that want you enjoy wine as much as they enjoy growing the grapes and making their wine.

Having been a consumer of Small Vine wines now for many years, I have become a believer, because I find their wines to be complex, structured, and interesting.  A wine that is in harmony; a wine that is as balanced as is the vineyard in which it is grown.   Paul’s small vines do create better wine.

To get some of these wonderful wines, often requires an allocation, but reach out to Kathryn Sloan and I am sure she will find a bottle or two to share. Add good friends and family, and you have the perfect combination.

Small Vines
Phone 707.823.0886
Fax 707.823.0887

#SmallVines #Burgundy #GrandCru #PinotNoir #Wine #SonomaCounty

Benziger Pinot Experience

HistoryBenziger Family Winery is just that a family winery – still run by the family that founded it in the 1980’s, some of whom you will probably encounter when you visit as three generations are as active in the winery as they are in their community (Glen Ellen, Sonoma County, CA).

In the beautiful rolling hills of Sonoma Mountain, Benziger is a destination with something for everyone – take a self-guided walk through their biodyanmic® garden, enjoy a picnic lunch with a bottle of Benziger wine (on weekends you might get a wood-fired pizza) or visit their tasting room. But at Benziger you can expect more.  A novice can get up close and personal with a vineyard on a Biodynamic® Vineyard Tram Tour or a wine enthusiast can go behind-the-scenes with the Benziger Partners Estate Wine Tour & Exclusive Wine Tasting, but for the true pinotphile (Pinot Noir fanatic) the only option is the Pinot Experience

BenzigerThe living room of the original family ranch house is set up as a Pinot Parlor to savor Benziger’s limited production, elegant Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir in the warmth of the Sonoma Valley.

Our host, Nick, began with a bit of West Rows Chardonnay to warm up our palates and then moved to the Pinot Noirs each of which was perfectly matched with a canapé.  These wines included the Signaterra Bella Luna Pinot Noir from the Green Valley of the Russian River Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area) and three Pinot Noirs from the de Coelo vineyard (outside Bodega) in the Sonoma Coast AVA – Terra Neuma, Quintus and Arbore Sacra.

Pinot 4There is an ever increasing movement toward balance in Burgundian grapes (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay). Producers, especially along the Sonoma Coast of Northern California, are seeking a different direction with their wines, both in the vineyard and the winery. They are focusing on balance and an expression of terroir.  These producers exhibit more restraint (less manipulation) in the cellar and talk about finish versus big taste.  This Renaissance of style is becoming one of the hottest topics in the wine world and is displayed in the Sonoma Coast Pinot Noirs from Benziger.  The three Sonoma Coast wines have the distinct Pinot Noir mouthfeel and exhibit different subtleties in flavor and finish all based on vineyard block and clonal blend.  For those who appreciate the subtle nuances these wines can provide, this is the experience for you.

BD1No Benziger tour is complete without an understanding of their commitment to the land and farming – every wine comes from a vineyard that is third-party certified as sustainable, organic or Biodynamic®.  They call it character and conscience – wine that tastes good and is good for the environment.  For an explanation of the differences between sustainable, organic, and Biodynamic® see the Benziger Green Farming webpage.  We toured the Sonoma Mountain Biodynamic® Discover Trail, a self-guided walk through a bio-dynamic environment with information on biodynamics in a lush garden.

Benziger has won many awards with its wines including 2011 Winery of the Year at the San Diego International Wine Competition where their wines won four platinum awards and one silver; 2012 Best Sonoma Valley Winery; and numerous individual wine awards on their extensive collection of wines sure to please any palate.

If you can’t personally visit Benziger you can order most of their wines from their website or by joining their wine club, but here is a virtual tour from their You Tube channel.

Benziger Pinot Noir Experience
$40 per person/$30 for Wine Club Members
11am & 2pm daily
Reservations require 24 hours advanced notice. If your date or time is not available, or for groups larger than 6 please contact us at 707.935.4527. 

Benziger Family Winery:  
1883 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen, CA 95442 | (888) 490-2739
Click here for driving directions
Open daily from 10am – 5pm 

#Benziger #PinotNoir #SonomaCounty #WineTasting

What Gives Sonoma County its “Sense of Place” – Summer 2014 Place Project at SSU

Place ProjectHow does one talk about place in Sonoma County without a reference to our agricultural and viticultural roots?

Today, SSU’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) kicked off its TASTE MATTERS lecture series which will feature guest speakers from food and wine industry. This is the second part of their Summer 2014 Place Project supported by a grant from the Bernard Osher Foundation and a contribution from Connie Codding.

In June, the Place Project hosted a series of explorations into natural and cultural history of Sonoma County, on topics of History, Art, and Science that toured off-campus locations as diverse as Sonoma Plaza and Osborn Preserve.  In July, the Place Project begins its sensory series – TASTE MATTERS.

Today, Evan PTaste Mattersontoriero President/Winemaker/Viticulturist at Fogline Vineyards and Board member of the Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Association and Duskie Estes Owner/Chef at ZAZU Kitchen + Farm and Owner at Black Pig Meat Co. regaled us with tales of their adventures in Sonoma County and why place matters to them!

Evan comes from an Italian-American family where his father made wine in the garage, but it was the grapes that come from the Petaluma Wind Gap that created a sense of place for him.  These grapes blown by the wind, develop an intensity that is unique to the Wind Gap and helps him create his signature Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah based wines.  Fogline Vineyards Tasting Room is located at 875 River Road in Fulton just down from John Ash and the Vintners Inn.

Duskie, ever the consummate story-teller, runs an authentic Farm to Table Kitchen, growing produce with farmer Milo Mitchel and operating Black Pig Meat Co.  ZAZU Kitchen + Farm supports local agriculture and farmers buying what they don’t produce from Sonoma County neighbors.  ZAZU Kitchen + Farm is active in the Snout to Tail Movement (utilizing ever part of the pig) and says you can support sustainable, local farmers by voting with your dollars.  They are located in the Barlow Center at 6770 McKinnley #150, Sebastopol.

OLLI Banner SSU BannerThe TASTE MATTERS series is ongoing through-out July and can be taken as a single class or in multiple classes.  The “Place Project” will culminate with Place Matters on July 29, 2014, and will bring together students from all three OLLI campuses to document, discuss and create a “sense of place” in Sonoma County. Presented at the new Student Center (Ballroom A), the event will include three panels comprised of OLLI SSU students from all three campuses (main campus, Oakmont and Healdsburg), and chaired by faculty from three different SSU departments: Margie Purser, Anthropology; Ray Johnson, Wine Business; and Steve Estes, History. Each panel will explore a different aspect of place:

  • Place as Identity
  • Place as Memory and Legacy
  • Place as Community

Regional historian Gaye LeBaron will provide opening remarks, setting the scene for the discussions that follow. Creative expressions of place will include a juried art exhibition of work by OLLI students representing the complexity of place in Sonoma County, and a published anthology showcasing place-based writings from OLLI students. The selected artwork will be on view in The Hub, and local historical societies and museums will open their collections to OLLI students as part of the project. Finally, a concert by SSU students will root attendees in the performance of place. 

For additional information please see the SSU website.