Napa and Sonoma wineries are open for business, folks – as today’s trade sample proves.
“Animo” in Italian means ‘heart’ or ‘spirit’ – an apt descriptor for this wine, and the Wine Country community.
Michael Mondavi Family Estate represents ‘Old Growth’ Napa, a firmly rooted fourth-generation winery with a prestigious pedigree. In 1996, they purchased Animo vineyard atop Atlas Peak, and Heritage Block in 2006.
Farmed sustainably employing 19th century trellising, Heritage Block contains Sauvignon Blanc vine cuttings sourced from Oakville’s historic ToKalon vineyard, vines considered the oldest in North America, and directly traceable to Bordeaux’s famed Château d’Yquem.
Animo Sauvignon Blanc seamlessly blends this old world heritage with a new world indomitability. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “If wine be the music of love, pour on!”
Wine: Animo 2015 Napa Valley Heritage Sauvignon Blanc
Today broke like any other. Alarm, bird song, coffee. A rush to dress and gas and nudge onto Hwy 17 towards San Francisco for a day of tastings and bubbles studies.
No time to check social media. Until the first ping.
“Are you ok?” Ping “?” Ping. “Fire in Sonoma.” Ping. “Fire in Napa.” “Are you ok?!”
Ping. Ping. Ping. Scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram brings a bombardment of incomprehensible images – images of trees, homes, wineries in flames. Wineries I recognize. Homes of people I know. Trees that once shaded memorable drives through remarkable Wine Country.
Napa and Sonoma burning.
And then reality intrudes. My reality. My wine writer life. Car parked, roster checked, spit cup and wine glass presented, and wine tasting begins.
Wines presented by importer+distributor Veritas Wine at High Treason for Becky Wasserman & Co., a bespoke Burgundian wine agency representing an elite portfolio of artisan domaines. Expect more on this bedrock of Burgundian wine culture in future posts.
But not today. Today thoughts and prayers go out to Napa + Sonoma.
You can find out more about how to help by following the Napa Register.
Quick – which Napa Valley boasts over four centuries of winemaking?
Answer: Artesa Winery. Their labels sums up it up succinctly: “Est. Barcelona 1151, Napa 1991.”
A new world scion of Spain’s prominent Codorníu family’s cava empire, Artesa Winery estate comprises 350 acres in Carneros, replete with a sleek guest facility designed by Barcelona architect Domingo Triay that sprawls hillside like an exotic odalisque, ornamented with a world-class art collection and recently revamped Tasting Salon. But Artesa’s wines emerge the real treasure in this haven to artistry.
‘Artesa’ means “hand-crafted’ in Catalan, and Portuguese-born Director of Winemaking Ana Diogo Draper imbues both still and sparkling wines with old world soul and new world attitude. My samples represent their 2015 pinot noir production, and a bonus sample of the Codorníu Cuvée Clasicocava from Barcelona as a textural/cultural contrast.
About the 2015 Napa Harvest: A fourth consecutive year of drought yielded small quantities but high quality fruit throughout Napa.
Wine:Artesa Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir | Los Carneros – Napa Valley
Lauren Ackerman at the Ackerman Heritage House in Napa, California. Image: Courtesy Ackerman Family Vineyards.
As I prepare to attend the International Pinot Noir Celebration later this week, I wanted to alert you of the recent publication of my interview with Lauren Ackerman of Ackerman Family Vineyards and Ackerman Heritage House in Paris-based BKWine Magazine.
To appreciate Grgich Hills Estate wines, you need to understand the wine maker. In order to understand the wine maker, you have to appreciate his struggle.
For wine maker Miljenko “Mike” Grgrich, struggle defines his existence. Like his vines, he has had to dig deep to bear the rich fruit that crafts the sweet wine of his life.
Rejecting life in former communistic Yugoslavia, eventually garnering praise as an esteemed Napa artisan winemaker instrumental in Chateau Montelena’s historic Judgement of Paris award-winning chardonnay – Grgich embodies the character so evident in his wines.
In 1995, Grgich broke ground on another winery in his native Croatia, Grgich Vina.
Farmed organically, Grgich wines exude a soulful, old world freshness and immediacy, sans pretension.
Alone or with food, these wines welcome your palate, like an old friend.
Palate: Muskmelon, Honey Crisp apple, supple hint of toasted nut. Lack of malolactic fermentation plus bio-dynamic farming reveals a stunning girl-next-door who needs no makeup to invite her to dinner.
Suggested Pairings: Local seafood, roasted chicken, grilled pork, creamy cheeses.
Wine:Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Fume Blanc (aka Sauvignon Blanc.)
Kevin Morrisey, Ehlers Estate artisan winemaker. | Image: Ehlers Estate.
Ehlers Estate, Napa, CA. | Image: Ehlers Estate.
Kevin Morrisey’s life reads like a movie script – not surprising, given his former profession. The storyline reads something like this: Cinematographer turns wine maker. Wine maker lands gigs with legends like Jean-Claude Berrouet of Bordeaux’s Château Pétrus before settling in at Old-World inspired Ehlers Estate in Napa.
Today, the Red Thread™ talks to Kevin Morrisey about his unconventional career path, incredible good fortune, and the fine art of wine making.
r/T ™: What made you leave cinematography for wine making? Any similarities between the two ‘art’ forms?
KM: I loved working with cameras and lighting, working on productions, and shooting in visually amazing locales with all sorts of talented artists. It was great. But as a line of work it was very “fast lane” and felt more suited to young single people, and I wasn’t planning on being a young single person all my life.
I was always an international spirit. In college I hung out with an international crowd, and we were into wine, cooking, talking, and staying at the table for hours and hours enjoying bottles and bottles. I’d take trips to wine country, actually many wine regions, and so I made a conscious decision to change careers, or rather re-invent myself. That meant going back to grad school at Davis full-time – a huge commitment, but I’ve never looked back. I’ve been very lucky.
There are many similarities between filmmaking and winemaking. When you approach your work as an artist, it’s the same. You have ingredients, script, actors, vineyards, terroir, weather; you have a vision, you have a crew, you need organization, you have a lot of expensive equipment and need to employ and manage a lot of specialized technical help.
You need to master the technical and scientific aspects so that you can free up the artistic and creative process. You have editing, you have blending. And in the end, you have a finished product which will be appreciated, discussed, and critiqued by others. And then you start on a new production or vintage and apply what you learned from the last one. For me it’s all the same, and the organizational experience I’d had in the film world made it very easy for me to take over an intense winemaking facility.
Artisan winemaker Kevin Morrisey of Ehlers Estate crafts world-class wines of exceptional grace, elegance and finesse.| Image: Ehlers Estate.
Interior of Ehlers Estate historic stone barn, now the gracious boutique winery’s cozy tasting room.| Image: Ehlers Estate.
r/T ™: Do you consider wine making more of an art, or a science? Which part of wine making do you enjoy most?
KM: Winemaking is a natural process. And it’s high stakes. I get to make wine from grapes once a year, so yes, I better have a solid understanding of the science that I’m dealing with. Thinking scientifically gets me through the fermentation process and into barrels, with clean, sound, balanced dry wines that have been maximally protected from any premature deterioration, be it microbial or oxidative. That’s the science of capturing the best that the fruit has to offer. But as far as the big picture’s concerned, it’s a creative process all the way. Science has always been inextricably connected to the creative. I love the whole journey every year. I even love bottling. It’s when we get to sign and frame the art we’ve created.
r/T ™: You have an enviable list of mentors spanning both Old and New worlds, including Jean-Claude Berrouet at Château Pétrus in Bordeaux, and Robert Brittan of Stags’ Leap Winery in Napa. How has each mentor influenced you as a wine maker? Any ‘voice’ haunt you more than the others while you’re in the vineyard or cellar?
KM: I’ve been very fortunate. And don’t forget Tony Soter of Etude. I was with him for two years, and he was extremely generous with his knowledge and experience. And Bob Bolan, a brilliant winemaker, who is now at Bremmer. It takes a long time to make a bottle of wine, and learning to taste and blend and manage the production from Brittan and all those others we mentioned is a debt I hope to someday repay. The yogis say that when you’re ready to listen everyone is your teacher. I hear the voices of all my mentors and teachers all the time in the cellars and in the vineyard—except when I’m blending, then I close the door, blast the rock and roll music and go it alone!
r/T ™: You have dual French/American citizenship. How, if at all, does this duality inform your philosophy/approach to wine making?
KM: It’s not so much the French / American aspect. We got the French nationality formalized so our daughters would have options and opportunities to live, work, or go to school in Europe. But it’s true that I’m not really a California boy either. I’m international in my approach to everything. Making wines with a sense of place is easier when you’ve experienced life in a lot of other places.
Ehlers Estate is a member of California Certified Organic Famers. | Image: Ehlers Estate.
r/T ™: Ehlers Estates vineyards are certified organic. Why is farming organically so important to you as a wine maker?
KM: Let’s just say that making wine or preparing food for people is a very intimate act. I’m making something that I am then asking you to take inside your body. That’s quite personal, and it’s a responsibility that I take very seriously. So yes, all organic. I like to eat that way at home and I’m glad that we do that at work. Also it’s more fun to spread manure and compost than bags of chemicals. The big thing is also synthetic chemical pesticides. I just don’t want any living thing exposed to that stuff.
Harvest Time at Ehlers Estate vineyards in Napa. | Image: Ehlers Estate.
Ehlers Estate vineyard enjoys a contiguous, Old World layout, quite unique in California’s New World wine growing regions. | Image: Ehlers Estate.
r/T ™: Talk about the terroir of Ehlers Estate. It’s a contiguous estate vineyard, painstakingly assembled by owners Jean and Sylviane Leducq with the assistance of legendary enologist Jacques Boissenot. Briefly touch on how the terroir(s) within the five (5) major blocks differ, and how these differences, in conjunction with the vineyard’s unique microclimate, influence varietals/flavor profiles? Do you have a favorite site?
KM: Basically, the land at the base of the hills that run the western side of the Napa Valley is comprised of cobbly, rocky, super well-drained loamy soils. It’s referred to as the bench. Nothing like “valley floor,” which is heavier soil with a lot more clay. Below St. Helena you have Rutherford, Oakville, Yountville; all that benchland on the west side of the valley is pretty golden cabernet soil. North of St. Helena, the bench continues, and there are a bunch of great properties sitting here on that very same benchland. The highest ground at Ehlers Estate is on a soil type called Perkins Loam, and most of the rest of the estate is on Bale Loam. These are winemakers’ dream soils. We also have a little hill out back that is much older volcanics, called Aikens Loam, which makes for a very complex and spicy Cabernet. Aikens Loam is what you find on Howell Mountain. All of our land is stellar. It’s pretty warm up here, and quite breezy too. We’re at the narrowest point of the valley, what we call the pinch. The winds are stronger and that cools us down quiet nicely on the hot summer afternoons. The signature of our terroir, for me, is the tannin quality. Great vineyards are considered great because of the tannins, and if there is one common theme among all of the wines from this estate, all varieties, all vintages, it’s the tannin structure. Powerful wines that are at once chewy and velvety smooth, soft, well structured, with a long finish. You can’t achieve that with winemaking tricks, that’s the land. The “1886” Cabernet is a blend of the Perkins parcels and the little hill.
Ehlers Estate 1886 Cabernet is named after the stone barn built on the estate in 1886. The winery has one of the oldest olive groves in Napa. | Image: Ehlers Estate.
Ehlers Estate historic stone barn, completed in 1886. | Image: Ehlers Estate.
r/T ™: As a wine maker, anything in particular about Napa Valley and/or St. Helena that inspires you most, compared to other wine regions? Any vintage for which you’re especially proud? Any challenging vintage(s)?
KM: Well 2011 was a challenging vintage, cold and rainy, very non-Californian. We made very good wines that year, but I’m sure glad that wasn’t my first vintage as a winemaker or it might have been a disaster! I love making wine here in Napa Valley, and I love this estate. There are so many great wines being made from so many different regions around the world and when you drink those wines its like taking a trip to their origins. One of the things I appreciate here is that all of our wines are top-tier, all 100% estate, so all of our wines taste like handmade wines that come from our forty acres. The Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Verdot, “1886” all taste like part of a family; siblings with common traits and individual charms and personalities.
r/T ™: Anything else you care to share about Ehlers Estate?
KM: I should mention that we’re one of those historic California Wineries, established in 1886. We receive the guests for tastings in the old stone winery building. All of our vineyards are right here. We’ll show the visitors anything they want to see. We’re definitely worth a visit. I love to make the rounds of the tasting room whenever I can to greet customers and answer questions. It’s a pretty special place.
r/T ™: Finally, if your experience as a winemaker has taught you anything, it’s taught you…?
KM: …that in the end, it’s just wine.
All proceeds from the sale of Ehlers Estate wines funds international cardiovascular research through the philanthropic Leducq Foundation.
The etched heart logo on each bottle of Ehlers Estate wine reflects this.