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!

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