Life is better on the corner, the place where great wines meet reasonable prices!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

10 Napa Valley Wineries: Prestige Brands and Amazing Quality

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts,” Albert Einstein 

Writing a Story about the Napa Valley: Any Suggestions? I don't often get asked by other writers who [unlike me] get paid to write stories about the wine scene here in California for recommendations about the wineries, the places I know where some great stories can be found, but just two weeks ago, I did receive such a request. Of course it goes without saying; I was quite flattered to be asked in the first place. That said and being the nice little wine blogger, you know [and hopefully love] that I'm; I quickly whipped together a list and shot it over to the requester via email. 

"The only difference between reality and fiction is that fiction needs to be credible.” ~Mark Twain

Honestly, no fiction here, I really don't mind giving recommendations and I'm always eager to help. When I do, I often attempt to send them to one of the many great folks I've met over the years and besides I can't cover the entire wine scene alone, even with the help of Andy McCallion my all-star contributor.

No writing about wine, wineries and the folks behind the label takes many different voices and the story lines and angles are as vast as the ocean. I hope she does get a chance to visit even one of the wineries I recommended. It was a bit of tough question to address, while some wineries say, "Prestige Brand" just from looking at their amazing curb appeal, still others without the fancy chateau-like facades produce wines of amazing luxury, but without the price tag that could make your wallet want to run for cover. So I tried to come up with a balanced list, something I thought would touch all the bases and below is that list I shared with her.

First, you must visit Carter Cellars, who is in my opinion making some of the very best Cabernet Sauvignon in the valley, hands down. Honestly, I can't afford too many of their wines, [sigh] which are available via allocation only, and while he has no fancy Chateau to gaze at, his wines will make your heart sing and your palate rejoice with the wine-gods. And Mark is about laid back as it gets, completely unassuming. If you do find yourself in Calistoga, please do pay them a visit, their tasting bar is shared with Envy Wines. Editors Note: I don't like vertical images, but it's the only one I have. 

Second: Now here's the place you can snap, video or what ever the money shot. Go to Spring Mountain. Where you will find Vineyard 7 & 8 I did a story on them a few years back. They're grape peeps, you'll love getting to know them, their wines and the tasting room is jaw droppingly scenic. As for their wines, the Chardonnay is off the hook amazing, it's not like any other Napa Valley property, this 100% Spring Mountain Chardonnay and their Cabernet Sauvignon is mind melting good, wines which say luxury all the way. 

Third: This is another money-shot place is Quintessa, believe me, no expense was spared building this place, with gigantic 40 foot doors that open into the vineyard from the crush pad, sweeping panoramas from the roof top. On top of that, the wine is very good as well, but it is a luxury brand. And their story is quite amazing, and for images, you'd be hard pressed to find a better locale.

Fourth: A visit to the Hess Collection. Yes, they do walk that fine line between value wines and wine luxury, but I'd have to say their wines represent a solid "value" to the consumer overall. They have a good selection of wines in many price points and deliver a very consistent product. For the visitor to their tasting, don't forget to check out the amazing art collection, it is quite impressive and changes often and again this money-shot territory for the luxury brand. A great place to see sustainability in action. 

Fifth, a visit to Inglenook is a great place to see a prestige brand up close and personal, with loads of great history. And a historic recent name change, that left a few folks puzzled. Considering the time and effort it takes to build a brand and the crazy effort to revive an old brand, which doesn't necessarily connote prestige at first blush.

Sixth: If you're going to write a story about the Napa Valley wine scene, then you have to visit up to Howell Mountain, to get above the fog. Take a trip to Red Cap Vineyards, the last time I had their wines, they were just stunning, textured and in a word delectable. A small family run operation, where the wine is bigger on the inside, than it appears from the outside.

Seventh: If you need another money shot, then take a drive up to Atlas Peak [also known as Blue Mountain to the locals] to visit the grape folks at Antica in the Atlas Peak AVA, if possible ask to do a tasting from the picnic spot, right outside the caves and overlooking a sweeping vine covered vista. Another prestige producer, luxury wines with price tags to match, but so worth the price of admission if you have the coin. 

Eighth: If you want to visit an historic property, one of the 'old guard' iconic brands of the Napa Valley, than you owe to yourself to visit Beaulieu Vineyard, and inquire about the possibility of not just tasting current releases, I'd ask about doing a vintage retrospective. I had a bottle of theirs from 1994, not stored in ideal conditions and sold for $15 dollars back in the day, that was a stunner. Loads of great history, a great story line and a winery with real depth, delivering a Bordeaux like experience in the bottle, and price points from luxury to the everyday.

Ninth: The quiet and unassuming, often flying under the radar Elizabeth Spencer. A winery that will blow your doors off and they have a great story to tell as well. I've had their wines on many occasions and I'm always impressed with the quality, depth and complexity.

Tenth: Last, but certainly not the least is a great place, easily found along famous Highway 29 which intersects the valley, it is called St. Clement. S
pecifically, I've been a huge fan of their Oroppas and I know with one sip, you too will share my joy. As for pictures the old Victorian Mansion and tasting salon makes for great luxury imagery.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Washington County Highlight: Hawks View Cellars

"We are geographically agnostic, just because we can't grow it here, doesn't mean we shouldn't produce it" ~ AJ Kemp Hawks View Cellars.

Sometimes you never know what to expect when as a writer, walking into the doors of a winery. Because they know that you're there to get a story and they are there to put as pretty of a bow on it, as much as they possibly can. It's kind of like when you attempt to sell your car to a dealer, you may shine it up, vacuum it out and clean up all those fast-food wrappers that you may have forgotten about.

But none of that was the case walking into the professionally appointed and comfortable tasting room of Hawks View Cellars, I got the feeling immediately that it looked as nice for each and every thirsty vino-sapien walking through their doors, like it did when a bus-full of wine writers came tromping in from the Washington County excursion bus just a couple weeks ago. All visits to their tasting room are by appointment. Although the tasting room has a professional feel, our host General Manager and founding Partner Mr. AJ Kemp, felt rather comfortable wearing shorts, a flannel-shirt and flip-flops, what I call "California Casual". A style btw, which indelibly communicates to the consumer, "hey come as you are and spend a great afternoon with us."

But this was not going to be just another hum-drum, hallow, presentation, from a hired-gun known to some folks as PR-flacks; in fact, our welcoming intro was given by their GM AJ Kemp [a guy not afraid to get his hands dirty]. What I heard as he was speaking was good old fashion "passion" the kind that comes from the heart. As I said earlier, there was no teleprompter needed and you could sense the pride of their staff and the look of "yes this awesome to be here", on their face as they poured the wines for us.

Trust me folks; I'm just as jaded as the next guy, it's like "blah-blah okay, uh-huh, been there and seen that" but as I tasted their wines and listened to them speak about how they 'do-things' [technical term] at their winery. I was impressed by the overall quality and the dedication to doing things right. In fact looking up their Mission Statement just today, 

"At Hawks View, we don't define success in conventional terms. We define it on your terms."

I'd have to conclude from the small amount of time I spent with them that afternoon, that their success is not conventional, but is translated into each and every experience for the consumer. I'm saying this winery is going to make some folks heads turn, they are the right track in this wine-writers opinion for producing high-caliber wines at reasonable prices that deserve a place in your cellar and in your glass.

Because I'm now starting to sound like I'm on the payroll [which I'm not] and with no further ado, I present to you my tasting note on each wine I had the pleasure of swirling about in my glass, slurping and yes eventually spitting out. I know for many reading this the whole concept of "spitting" is at the very least odd. But for me to maintain my senses, it's essential wine writing etiquette.

2011 HV Pinot Gris: Weighing at 13% abv, grapes picked mid-November, I found abundant floral notes and the scent of nectar easily escaping from the glass. While on the palate, subtle white pepper, layers of honey, white flowers, and nectarines danced on my tongue. One of the better PG wines I experienced in while in Oregon. It sells for $26 and I scored it 89 points.

2011 HV White Pinot Noir: This style of PN is a relatively new trend on the Orgundian wine scene. This vintage is currently sold out. This wine was really multi-dimensional. Nerd Notes: Blended from two different blocks, rested a bit in a French-Oak [6 months], experiences no Mal, and the grapes are grown on the Wadenswil clone. In the glass you won't find the color as like the very light-hay colored PG, it throws off a bit of a light copper color. A wine fermented dry. Woody, honey and floral aromas dominate and easily find their way to the palate as well. This wine had nice weight and balance. It sells for $26 and I scored 89 points.

2010 SLH Syrah: I really didn't expect to see a Syrah at Oregon producers, but when I later learned the grapes came up from the Santa Lucia Highlands, I was excited to give it a swirl. Loads of white and dark pepper, like taking a whiff pepper corns that were infused with, tar, black cherries, and blackberries, that had been freshly dug out from a pit in the vineyard. The tannins were well integrated and the mouth feel was plush. This wine rested in a combo of French and Hungarian oak before being bottled and only 80% of the stems were removed before fermentation. This wine sells for $40, I scored it an immediate on the spot 92 points and took home a bottle to enjoy at a later time. Nicely done.

2010 Washington Cabernet Sauvignon: The grapes were harvested from the Double Canyon vineyard just across the Oregon border. Which is an 88-acre site located in Alderdale Washington, that falls within the Horse Heaven Hills American Viticulture Area and the vine rows are two miles longs, just above the Columbia Gorge. This wine has not been released at the moment, but they were generous enough to sell me a bottle at the tasting room price of $40. At the time I tasted this wine it had only been in the bottle for just 75 days. The wine is big bold and brooding in the glass leaning toward a PS in color. You'll find loads of blackberry, dark rich ripe plum, pulsates on the palate, plush integrated tannins, and a silky long finish. Folks this wine is a bit more Washington State Merlot for me in style, but if you like this style of burly,           meaty, wine than this beauty is built to please. Grab some for yourself, once it's released, I scored it 92 points. Again, well done.

2009 Hawks View Pinot Noir: Hello Chehalem Mountains AVA. A wine weighing in at %15.57, it's a big 09 style of Pinot, most of the PN which I tasted while recently in Oregon fell into this category. [Editors Note: It's the kind of PN that folks in the anti-flavor league [you know who I mean] will not like or appreciate.] For me the fact that this wine is produced from Pommard and Dijon clone 777 and 667 really brings home for me this wines elegance, which balances its opulent fruit. In a word, this wine is plush. Asked by one of the bloggers in the groups, "uh, does it have Syrah blended in?" an emphatic, but polite "no". This wine has a long lingering finish, plumbed with baking spices and rich dark and red fruits. It's a steal at $35, I scored this wine 93 points. So grab some for yourself before they disappear.
Until next time folks sip long and prosper cheers!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Thanksgiving Uncorked: My Top 10 Wines for the Holiday

"Personally, I love Thanksgiving traditions: watching football, making pumpkin pie, and saying the magic phrase that sends your aunt storming out of the dining room to sit in her car." ~ Stephen Colbert

Another wonderful year nearly ready to put in the can and stored away for posterity. But every year at this time we collectively take time-out to give a "thanks" for our many blessings. I'm especially thankful this year, for the first in many years I'm working full-time in the wine business, and yes this new position will involve making buying decisions as well. Pretty exciting and at the same time a bit sad, because most of my free-time will be swallowed-up commuting back and forth, while I build this new career path, leaving a lot less time for writing.

I know there are a few folks in my age bracket, and I'm mostly speaking to the guys who may be reading this article. It's far too easy to become the grumpy old men, we swore we would never be, yelling and gesturing for the "kid" to get off our collective lawns, even if we haven't kept it up and has now turned a dull shade of brown.

Many of the grumpiest among us, even start to resent holidays, like the one right around the corner, for many it has become far too clichéd, football, pumpkin pies, turkeys and hot sweaters and homes so hot you can get "meat" sweats. Ugh, we let out that collective sigh, speaking for me personally, I do totally 'get' that attitude.

But [yep here it comes] I think many of those "grumps" may just need a couple glasses of decent vino, to help them get over their anti-holiday feelings. So this year when you gather with your families or choose to serve others, use it to embrace them and thank each one of them for being a part of your life, whether you like them or not. I think if we all do that [myself included] we will be better off in the long run. I’m now stepping away from the soap box and returning you to your normally scheduled holiday wine review.

Every year at this time, I give my Top Ten Thanksgiving Holiday Wine "picks" and this year is no exception. I know my post is a bit "danger" close for those wanting to stock up for the holiday, but chalk-up these recommendations for the procrastinators in the audience who've waited for the last minute; to hear about ten tasty selections to brighten up their holiday menus this week. Yes most, but not all of them will be Pinot Noirs. Sorry no white wines to recommend this time around, perhaps next year. 

1. 2010 Chateau Le Thil, Comte Clary: Another very good 2010, but a bit more of a modern style Bordeaux. Still it has a lovely vein of acid, which keeps the abundant red and dark fruit in check. Medium tannins and finish. Drinks like an mid to high priced Napa Valley Cab, which sells for half that price $29.99. With this kind of stellar QPR, you could easily buy 6 or [I know I have] more, and enjoy for many years to come. 

2: 2011 Thomas Fogarty, Santa Cruz Mountains, Pinot Noir: On the nose a wonderful perfume [elegant] of dried strawberries, rich earth, raspberry and pronounced cola aromas. After the first splash down, I found this immediately appealing and approachable wine. You’ll find very generous, round tannins, nicely woven into the wines fabric. A real Pinot Noir lovers wine; soft but lush, presenting a raft of baking spices, cinnamon and sandalwood flavors, with a healthy splash of raspberry cola and strawberry pie filling leading to the plush finish. I found the acidity to be bright and crisp, and refreshing gently carrying abundant but nicely textured fruit. A complex wine, which I believe over delivers for the the price point. If this wine will be your first [as it was for me] experience with Thomas Fogarty or the wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains, a bottle of their Pinot Noir will indeed be a great introduction.

This wine clocked in with a reasonable 12.9% ABV, grown at [various] elevations of 400-2400 feet in Shale and Sandstone soils and aged just 10 months in 3rd year French oak barrels. When you see the bottle, [see above] you may be a bit surprised to find it's sporting its throwback label from 1981 to celebrate their 30th anniversary. This vintage is reportedly going to sell for $36 in the tasting room and, of course wine club members will have first dibs.  As for my score, that is if you keep score? I gave this wine 93 points. This is a wine which has earned my highly coveted, "drink now and drink often" designation. So to the entire team at Thomas Fogarty, I say to you all "bravo-bravo" this wine is a real winner and perhaps one of thee best 2011 wines I've encountered. 

3. Garnet 2012 Sonoma Coast Rodgers Creek Vineyard, Pinot Noir: Another wonderful wine from a single vineyard source, which can be found on a high ridge somewhere near Petaluma and Sonoma. I discovered this wine earlier this year, when I met up with Alison Crowe at her deluxe winemaking sanctuary in 2013.  at In the glass you'll find a wonderful cranberry colored core, floral and baking spice aromas swirling about, leaning toward the strawberry end of the flavor spectrum. On the plate a well-balanced attack of baking spices, red berry fruits and finish is plush. I scored this wine 91 points. Just a fantastic wine from the SBC region. Garnet wines really deliver a consistent wine tasting experience and selling for under $30, it's quite the steal!

4. 2013 Rodney Strong RRV Estate Pinot Noir: This wine is a fantastic bargain at just under $20. I found this wine to have a garnet colored core. The first whiff, reminded me sweet baking spices, rose petals and fragrant strawberries. On palate a nice attack of dusty-spices, sweet vanilla, sandalwood, a silky mouth-feel, and baked strawberries, mouth watering acidity, leading to the plush finish. Adds the perfect score to your holiday menu, I gave this wine a score of 89 points and a hearty buy recommendation. 

5. 2011 Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru: The wine you see above is nothing but classic Burgundy, it's a wine I purchased to celebrate finding a new career path in the wine industry. It's another small step forward in the pursuit of goals to not only talk about wine here, but to expand those skills to the workplace where financial and professional rewards are both realized. Now that said, this wine is complex, textured, sporting that famous 2011 acidity [cool year] and still very taught tannins. 

I say classic, because there is abundant forest floor, think of licking wet mushrooms, or smelling a fallen tree branch that has been on the ground for weeks. Freshly cracked peppercorns and fresh summer bing-cherries jamming on bass and did I say minerality? No, well there's plenty of that to go around as well. You could easily cellar this puppy for years to come, but it's enjoyable now. A word to the wise, decant is the word, sorry to disagree with the author of the wine bible, Karen McNeil who does not like to decant PN, instead she likes to see it evolve in the glass. Trust me, decant this puppy for a full flavored thrill ride. This wine is $54 and I scored it, 93 points. 

6. 2010 Chateau Teyssier, Saint Emilion Grand Cru : Woo-hoo, this wine hit it out of the freaking park, seriously great juice for the price. Jumping from Burgundy to Bordeaux, let's take a trip to tasty town via Chateau Teyssier, a Saint Emilion Grand Cru. This wine, of which I just ordered four more, is mind blowing good for the tiny $29 price tag. A blend of 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc, taunt tannins stretched out over a canvas of rich black fruit, blackberry, dark plums, cassis, some rustic minerality, beautifully textured, coupled with a long finish bringing it all home. It could definitely age for much longer, 2010 was one thee very best recent vintages in Bordeaux and in this bottle, you find out why that is true. My score 91 points. This is case purchase territory.

7. Hahn 2014 SLH PN: In the glass a rich looking strawberry colored core. On the first whiff, wow, a wonderful perfume of dried strawberries, rich earth and raspberry. After the first splash down, this immediately appealing Pinot is soft but lush, presenting a raft of vanilla, cinnamon and sandalwood flavors, with a healthy splash of raspberry and strawberry pie filling leading to the silky plush finish. A great performer from our friends at Hahn whose tasting room is found just 40 minutes from the center of town in Monterey, it has a SRP of $25 and is one of my top pick for this weeks festivities.

8. 2011 Red Mountain, Bel Villa Vineyard, Goedhart Family Syrah: This "Terroir Hunter" wine hails from Red Mountain in Washington State. In the glass you'll find the core leaning toward very dark garnet. On the nose compact ripe blueberry and black-berry fruit, with just a touch of olive aromas leaps from the glass. Really nice mouth-feel, plush and giving, balanced acidity, polished blueberry and blackberry and floral flavors are drawn from the nose, leading to a nicely penetrating finish, with touches of chocolate and espresso rounding out the experience. No score offered, just my hearty recommendation. An extremely well done wine, with plenty to offer for the $25 price of admission

9. 2012 Pinot Gris Orange, Regan Vineyard: This wine represents the perfect last review of the month of August, while it's hot and steamy outside, my insides were treated to the summertime sipping delights of the Regan Vineyard, Pinot Gris Orange. The nose itself I thought was quite captivating, it again reminded me of another Chanel quote.
"Perfume “is the unseen, unforgettable, ultimate accessory of fashion. . . . that heralds your arrival and prolongs your departure,” Chanel once explained.
The nose is pretty unique, burnt dried orange-peels, new baseball mitt [freshly oiled] but not off putting, a funky-monkey that will captivate and compel sip after sip and perhaps even the occasional slurp. It's a wine best served chilled, but not too cold. On the palate, bone-dry, high-acid, more citrus and a distinctive dried orange skins, textured tannins and a fine ground minerality. On the long lasting finish, a very compelling blood orange thang.

For those who like to keep scores, I gave this wine a crisp 88 points. I've not had enough wines of this style to form much of an opinion, but this wine was extremely well executed, firing on every cylinder. If you'd like to grab a bottle of this wine, it can be purchased directly from the winery for $33.

The first sip is a head-back wow, you'll find this wine located on the drink now and drink often aisle, nice heft and the tannins are polished, leading to a lengthy finish. Gamey, herbal and earthy complexity help you get your head around the blueberry and black berry fruit that dominates the mid-palate, while the striking acidity keeps the wine in complete balance for the total package. Selling for a SRP of $29, it's great juice for this price point, it really over delivers and came dressed to impress.

Graham's Six Grapes Old Vines Port: You always need to save room for dessert and what would my blog be without a recommendation on one the tastier options for after dinner than this Fonseca Ruby style port, ready to dress up that pumpkin pie. A wine produced using advanced piston fermentation called, "port toes" and aged four years in neutral wood before being bottled. 

You can find this wine selling for about $20 or less most places. In the glass you can expect an opaque purple leaning toward a deep red colored edge. Sticking you nose the glass expect a raft of compact, intense, blackcurrant and cherry aromas. After the first slurp, wow nice, a fully expressive but firm, plump fruit flavors stretched over mellow tannin structure and a lasting finish.

From my house to yours this holiday season, here's to a Happy and Safe Thanksgiving:; and whatever you do, I hope you uncork some great holiday memories, until next time sip long and prospers cheers!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Burgundy Uncorked: Joseph Drouhin 2009 Morey-Saint-Denis

"Imperfection is beauty, Madness is the genius, and it is better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring." - Marilyn Monroe

Good morning everyone, I trust most of you're ready for the up and coming election tomorrow. It promises to be an epic S-show of that you can be sure. I wrote my own name in on the ballot this time, as I could not bring myself to vote for either candidate, two very unpalatable choices. Now that said, it's time to join the wine party, let's make Wine grape again.

Okay, honestly it already is, except the mega-purple infused puddles of purple goo lining the bottom shelf of most grocery stores. The wine above will make your heart sing, and help you forget about the last two years of squabbling about who will better as the next leader, R or D. If you have Thanksgiving on your mind, then this palate pleasing gem would be a welcome guest at your holiday table.

Funny, I went all the way to Oregon to discover this little gem from Burgundy, but as I've come to find out, there are many wonderful things to be found in unexpected places when you keep your eyes open, and you allow your curiosity take over.

If you've been thinking about putting a toe in the pool of true Burgundian wines, then may I suggest this bottle [pictured above] it would be a good place to get started. The price of admission is $40 to $50 depending on where you shop, but well worth it. I scored the wine 90 points and highly recommend you giving it a swirl.

At Joseph Drouhin, you will find unique balance, one where tradition and modern techniques blend together and come together to create wines which truly characterizes modern winemaking. Whether it's their vineyard management via their on-site nursery, the 100% hand harvesting, open fermenters, and the judicious use of 100% French Oak, one thing you easily take away from their wines is that sense of place, something so often missing in domestically produced juice.

For those of you looking to get your hands on wines which are Organically Certified, you'll be happy to know that starting with the 2009 vintage and moving forward has recently been awarded "organic certification" [an expensive and laborious process] for all grapes grown within its vineyards. As it would happen, the wine is this review spotlight is a 2009 and a fantastic representation of interesting different style of quality in regards to Pinot Noir than you may be used to, but stick with me and you will see this wine makes a great starting point for dipping your toe in the proverbial Burgundian pool [well at least I think so].

There's nothing fancy here, just honest-to-goodness Pinot Pleasure. Is this wine going to set your hair on fire? Uh, most likely not, but what it will do is allure you with its suave sophistication and beckon you to more fully explore this region [if you have not done so already]. In my ever not so humble opinion, this would be the perfect wine to open and enjoy with [yes, I do love a redundant prepostion] your holiday feast; whether it be traditional turkey, glazed ham or even an early Christmas Goose [oh-my], this wine is a foodies friend.

By the way; this just may be a bit of bragging on their part, but does appear to be quite accurate, that the village of Morey is located between Gevrey-Chambertin and Chambolle-Musigny. Here comes the bragging part, "there are five Grand Crus and twelve Premier Crus in this relatively small appellation".

I'd recommend a bit of decanting before diving in, but what you'll find on the nose is dried cherries, raspberries, and sweet leather. The palate shows great structure and weight, but like many of the 2009's it is very approachable, with easily plucked low-hanging fruit, balance nicely with rich earth. The finish is long, lasting. This wine is in my estimation the "complete package" one that will have you wanting more, so be smart order more than just one. Until next time folks remember to sip long and prosper, cheers!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Lenné Estate: A Sense of Wonder

“Youth is happy because it has the capacity to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.” ― Franz Kafka

That sense of wonderment, do you still have yours? Or has it been beaten out you, by a seemingly cynical world? Many of us may recall those bygone years; with our mouths agape looking at this amazing and wonderful world we all live in, but perhaps a bit differently now. I got to thinking about that sense of wonder, on my way home from the Oregon Wine Trail last year. 

I was waiting to catch my flight back to San Diego last year; thinking about all the different and unique styles and variations of Pinot Noir I encountered over the course of a week. Sitting at the gate, I watched two small boys playing on the 'people mover' [boys will be boys] they both were so amazed by this ingenious contraction [a god-send for weary travelers]. They were running on it the wrong way, only to give up for a moment, returning back from whence they came. But they were undaunted in their efforts; they'd try it again, and again. All the while, big ear-to-ear smiles on their faces and carelessly laughing, even though they knew that swimming upstream would result in a return trip, back to where they started. 

It's with that sense of wonder that I introduce you to Steve Lutz from Lenné Estate who I had the great privilege to meet last year during a one of many press trips I took last year before I started working fulltime as the Wine Steward for Vons.  
Lenné Estate is a premium Pinot Noir producing 20 plus-acre vineyard site near the town of Yamhill, Oregon. Just speaking with Steve, you quickly understand, his passion for making world class Pinot Noir and having tasted a good deal of his wines he produces, I'd have to conclude, even after a rocky start in the beginning, his vision has paid off in spades. His operation fits in very nicely with the likes of WillaKenzie, Shea Wine Cellars & Vineyard, Solena, Soter Vineyard and the very well-known Beaux Freres.

Steve, like those kids at the airport I mentioned above, never allowed several of the challenges [35% of the vines were lost in the first year, ouch!] he, his wife and his partners faced just attempting to establish the vineyard in the early days, deter him from his dream and as he has said, "I didn't choose Lenné, it chose me". 

"There are many gray areas in wine, but if there is one truth, it is that great wines come from poor soils." ~ Steve Lutz

He believed in the site and knew deep down, if he could just get those vines established on that awful clay-like, rocky soil called Peavine, [a nutrient poor soil] then his Pinot producing dreams would be realized. Peavine soil is similar to Wilakenzie soil and Steve says, "It's the worst organic soil in the country" it's so inhospitable to young vines, but once established this very unforgiving soil, can impart unforgettable expressions of Pinot Noir, that keep folks running back for more.  

As you can see from the image above, the steepness of the site made farming difficult and the vines were dry-farmed from the start. As a result of the crazy 2003 heat spike, they lost a few acres of newly planted Pommard vines. As our group [myself, another wine writer and Steve’s PR guy] walked through the vineyards with Steve, you could see, he was undaunted by these set-backs and was determined to capture the amazing potential this site offered, but only if he was patient. A lesser person may have given-up and thrown in the towel. Speaking with him in the vineyard, looking at a part of his site he named "kill hill" you could hear in his voice and see in his eyes, he still had that sense of wonderment, you knew he could see the beauty of this site, far beyond what we were looking at in this moment. 

As we were sitting around the table tweeting our hearts out, during a live tweet and taste at Lenne Estate, Steve commented that "I wouldn't trade this site for any other spot in Oregon" and went on to say, "I'm where I want to be". And looking out from our view, sitting on the tasting room deck, we could see nothing but the beautiful Oregon country side, making his point for him in spades. 

"The site started to reveal why you grow Pinot Noir in difficult places: to produce delicious wines totally reflective of one specific place." ~ Steve Lutz

For folks curious about whether or not, Lenné Estate is "organic" or sustainable or maybe even Bio-dynamic? I'll let Steve answer that question, in his own words “Being organic isn't a goal, making great wine is and doing it in a sustainable way is just common sense to us.” I love this straight forward answer to what seemingly is the first question out of every wine writers mouth these days. There is no reason that sustainability and profit [today's bogeyman] can't walk hand in hand, it's a model I've not only heard spoken of, but one I've seen with my own eyes being put into action at many wineries across this country, both large and small. 

This is a very young winery, and vineyard, it was nothing but a gentle sloping pasture back in the early days of the 21st century. After having tasted a bevy of Steve's wines, sitting on the deck of the tasting room, on a brilliant Oregon day [the weather, the week I was there, in two words, picture perfect] I have to conclude this 21 acre parcel has to be one of the very best in Oregon, the Pinot Noir I tasted spoke to me, quite eloquently,  struggle is part of life and sometimes you get to taste the sweet success of perseverance. 

2008 Lenné Estate Karen’s Pommard Yamhill-Carlton District: Steve remarked, that he thought “this 2008 was the vintage of the decade” and that was not the first time I've heard that same comment from many other winemakers in Oregon.  After putting a small splash in my glass, wow the nose just popped, with aromas of fresh baked cherry pie, damp-earth, wild-flowers and sweet spice from time spent in oak.  

The sweet invitation offered by the nose, had me easily surrendering to the first splash down on the palate, boom dark cherries, black cut-tea leaves, brooding tannins, lively acidity easily carrying the abundant red/dark fruit to a lengthy polished finish. This wine sells or sold for $55 but with only 49 cases I’m not sure there is much left to be found.  I scored this wine 92 points; it’s a showcase of Peavine perfection. 

The 2010 Lenné Estate Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton District: Wow, a brilliantly ruby colored wine, shimmering in the glass, gorgeous aromas of sandalwood, summer ripe cherries and fresh cut wild-flowers. 2010 was not a perfect growing season, by any stretch of the imagination, marked by late October rains and a long, cool growing season, leaving the grapes to struggle to find the perfect ripeness. You can taste these factors a bit on the palate, a bit rustic than the 2008 and completely different then the fruit-driven 2009. 

But still, this wine did not fail to impress me with an interesting layer of minerality [ancient sedimentary soils of the Yamhill-Carlton District] swirling about in the background, red berries and dark blackberries mingling nicely with the baking spices and vibrant acidity. This wine sells for $45 and there appears there's still some available for purchase. I scored this wine 90 points.

The 2012 Lenné Estate Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton District: A completely different expression of Pinot than the others, most likely one of Oregon's most perfect growing seasons and also that of many West Coast Pinot Noir producers. This wine is currently not available for purchase, but you should look forward to putting in your order soon as it becomes available. This one will go fast, have no doubt. 

The nose is alluring, sweet baking spices, sandalwood, ripe blackberries and summer florals tease and tantalize the first sip. On the palate you find plenty of freshly baked cherry pie, vanilla accents, softly textured tannins and more mimicking of the nose seem to invite sip after sip and perhaps even the eventual slurp oh-my. I scored this wine 93 points, it has the stuffing to age, but the immediate approachability of this wine, will make being patient difficult. 

The wines I experienced here, were truly impressive and I'd invite you find out what all the fuss is about for yourself, because tasting is believing. I'll certainly be updating and adding the Lenné Estate to my wine tasting recommendation list. I don't want any to miss the opportunity to taste what hard-won success looks like. So if you're in Oregon, tramping around on the Oregon Wine trail, make sure you stop-by and see Steve Lutz in his new tasting room, which should be finished in the very near future. Until next time folk, remember life is short, don't settle for commodity wines, sip long and prosper cheers!

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