Situated on 75 acres in the rolling hills of Hogback Mountain in Loudoun County, Virginia, Stone Tower grows and produces chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and viognier, as well as Bordeaux-style black grapes such as cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and petit verdot. They also produce very small amounts of grenache blanc, malbec, marssanne, nebbiolo, pinot noir, and roussanne. During this tasting, we had the opportunity to sample three wines. Unfortunately, during my life upheaval, I lost my notes for the viognier, but below are my reviews of the other two wines, the sauvignon blanc and the Wind Swept Hill red blend. As always, your palate may vary.
2016 Stone Tower Winery Sauvignon Blanc, Loudoun County, Virginia, $40 (sample)
Don’t let the delicate gold color in the glass fool you. This is a chardonnay lover’s sauvignon blanc. Although the blend is 90% sauvignon blanc and 10% sémillion, the sémillion influence is notable, with its pleasantly bitter fruit characteristics. However, the sauvignon blanc component dominates the palate with lush, rich tropical fruit flavors and spiciness from French and American oak aging. On its website, the winery compares this sauvignon blanc to those of California, but living here in the Napa Valley, I haven’t experienced a sauvignon blanc quite as voluptuous as this one yet.
2014 Stone Tower Winery Wind Swept Hill, Loudoun County, Virginia $65 (sample) A magenta-brick red color in the glass, this Bordeaux-style blend of 31% merlot, 28% cabernet franc, 28% cabernet Sauvignon and 13% petit verdot, is already showing some age on the palate. Restrained cranberry and plum flavors are accompanied by meatiness, mint, a bite of French and American oak spiciness, and a distinct minerality, so much so that I feel like I am tasting the vineyard soils of Hogback Mountain, and I mean that in a good way.
Both of these wines are still available for sale directly from the winery via their website at this link, and they also ship.
Recently, I had the great honor of tasting a glass of this fantastic 2013 Webster Cellars Reserve Proprietary Red Blend with owners and winemakers Chelli Warnock and Keith Webster. The blend varies from year to year. Sometimes it’s a Bordeaux-style Left Bank blend and sometimes it’s a Right Bank blend. This vintage, it is a Left Bank style blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Petit Verdot, 10% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Franc aged in mostly neutral oak. What I love most about this wine is that it is drinkable now, yet it is also built to last another decade. This is not your typical Napa Valley wine, thank goodness. On the contrary, this wine, with its dark berry palate, fine tannins, and juicy acidity, is so easy to drink with or without food. At only 13.8% alcohol, this beauty tastes like a reunion of Bordeaux and old-school Napa Valley. Only 50 cases made and down to its final bottles. 94 points, James Suckling, if you like to keep score. $95, mailing list only. Join The List at Webster Cellars.
Thank you to Chelli and Keith for opening a bottle and sharing a glass with me!
The day of the event could not have been more beautiful, sunny and breezy. We began at Tin Barn Vineyards, which is one of Sonoma’s Eighth Street wineries. We were greeted by winemaker and co-owner, Michael Lancaster, and the director of communications and operations, Amy Bess Cook, whom I had met five years ago at the 2011 Wine Bloggers’ Conference. Tin Barn Vineyards wines were part of our swag bag that year.
Michael then led us into their barrel room for a tasting of their Coryelle Fields Syrah in different barrel types, to show everyone the difference a barrel can make with regard to aromas, flavors, and mouthfeel. Returning to the tasting room, we tasted additional vintages of the syrah – 2005, 2011, and 2012 – paired with mini quiche Lorraine with bacon. They had me at bacon and I really didn’t want to leave. And in fact, we didn’t leave immediately, as they poured us tastes of more of their wines such as their Desnudos Merlot and Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Mind you, this was all before noon. What a start!
Our next stop was Stone Edge Farm Winery and Vineyards with a tour led by sales and marketing director, Dorothe Cicchetti. I didn’t know this until the day of the event, but the farm and part of their estate vineyards are located on the owners’ private property. Leslie and Mac McQuown purchased this land in 1995 and in 2004, along with winemaker, Jeff Baker, and organic viticulturist, Phil Coturri, created the organically-farmed Stone Edge Farm. The farm produces wine, fruits, vegetables, olives, herbs, chicken, and even beehives. I must admit I felt both strange and special roaming around someone’s private property. I knew that this was a visit that not many people have the opportunity to experience.
After our farm tour, we traveled to Edge in downtown Sonoma, which is the culinary home of Stone Edge Farm, to enjoy a three-course, farm-to-table lunch prepared by culinary director and chef John McReynolds, who was there to not only cook for us, but walk us through each of the courses, while Dorothe told us about the three accompanying wines. What made this meal exceptional (besides the chef!) was enjoying the produce we saw growing on the farm. Lunch was nothing short of fantastic and included:
A spring salad of lettuces, asparagus, leeks, radishes, and burrata (cheese) paired with the 2014 Stone Edge Farm Sauvignon Blanc
Sonoma lamb with potato rosti and ember-cooked vegetables, roasted morel mushrooms with red wine and green garlic butter, paired with the 2012 Stone Edge Farm Surround (Bordeaux-style red blend) and the 2011 Stone Edge Farm Cabernet Sauvignon
The salad was the best I’ve ever had, quite frankly. The Sonoma lamb course paired perfectly with both wines, although my favorite was Surround, which sees less time in a smaller percentage of new French oak, allowing the wine to demonstrate intensity of red and black fruits with a softer mouthfeel and approachable tannin structure. For a brief time, we did indeed live life deliciously in the company of Stone Edge Farm.
After our amazing lunch, we traveled a short distance to The Donum Estate in the Carneros AVA of Sonoma, where we were joined by two more group members and our host for the visit, Laura Micciche. The Donum Estate, led by president and winegrower Anne Moller-Racke since 2001, is a producer of one Estate Carneros Chardonnay and multiple, single-vineyard pinot noirs from 70 acres of vines at the estate in Carneros, the 16-acre Winside Vineyard in the Russian River Valley, and Angel Camp Vineyard in Anderson Valley, Mendocino County.
Laura poured for us a glass of the Carneros Chardonnay and led us on a brief tour of the property, which includes magnificent art curated and brought to the winery by its investors. The tour ended at the barn, which, by the way, opens to a splendid view of Carneros vineyards. We sat at a long table tasting the menu of the day, which included four of their premium pinot noirs. As we tasted each, it seemed as if each one were better than the next, although all of them were beautiful expressions of their single-vineyard sources.
The day concluded with a focus group meeting, this being the first Sonoma Day Camp. During the discussion, I discovered that at least four of the participants did not consider themselves to be very knowledgable about wine, but enjoyed immensely the day that they described as immersive, a breath of fresh air, a conversation about wine, and like being at a friend’s house. I told them that analyzing wine doesn’t mean anything, really. What is most important is did you like it, not the why or what you tasted (or didn’t taste). I hoped I was able to reassure them that at the end of the day, it is the experience, the happy feeling, the enjoyment of a day spent with new friends, that ultimately matters. Life is too short to not savor the sweet life. Viva la dolce vita!
*For more information about DolceVita Safari and its off-the-beaten path excursion options, please visit their website! *
A second chance can happen every day, in every moment that one chooses to change direction or be someone or something different.
In #MWWC18, I wrote about my crisis, which turned out to be a second chance. I was a community college professor living in Virginia who, after the end of long teaching career, moved to Napa, California to begin again in the wine business.
After a few months of living and working here, I realized that my career was not what I wanted. While I will always be appreciative of the opportunity and open door that allowed me to follow this path, I knew early on that I had landed in the wrong place. I would have to tread water for a while to get the experience I needed to move forward. After a year, I began to look for new employment. I didn’t realize that it would take me seven months to find a fit. Finally, in September 2015, I started my journey at Ehlers Estate, my second, second-chance career.
Ehlers Estate, like me, has had its fair share of second chances. Founded in 1886 by Sacramento grocer Bernard Ehlers, the winery flourished under the leadership of Bernard and his wife, Anna, until the early 1920s, when it fell into the hands of a variety of owners, including bootleggers Fred and Manny Domingos, who operated the winery until 1958, through the repeal of prohibition when they could legally operate as Bale Mill Winery. In 1987, French philanthropists Jean and Sylviane Leducq, longtime wine lovers and enthusiasts, gave the winery its current-day, second chance. It took the Leducqs 14 years, until 2001, to cull vineyard parcels to include the stone barn winery built by Bernard and Anna Ehlers in 1886, the original 10-acre property, and the historic olive grove.
In 2009, Ehlers Estate underwent another second chance, the hiring of winemaker and general manager Kevin Morrisey, who himself had faced second chances throughout his life as a cameraman turned winemaker. His internship at Château Pétrus in Bordeaux and his talent and leadership at other Napa Valley wineries such as Stags’ Leap Winery and Etude made him the ideal candidate to take Ehlers Estate into the future.
Ehlers Estate produces 100% estate wines from 100% California certified organic vineyards, managed year around by our full-time vineyard and cellar team headed by winemaker Kevin Morrisey and vineyard and cellar manager Francisco Vega. Ehlers Estate crafts only Bordeaux varietal wines: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot, and sauvignon blanc. The winery produces one 100% cabernet sauvignon wine, the J. Leducq Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as two other cabernet sauvignons, the ‘1886’ Cabernet Sauvignon and Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, which both include blending amounts of merlot, cabernet franc, and/or petit verdot. The remaining merlot, cabernet franc, and petit verdot grapes are given a second chance to shine on their own as single-varietal wines: the Ehlers Estate Merlot (with a touch of cabernet franc), Cabernet Franc, Sylviane Rosé of Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. The only white wine is the Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc.
Each new vintage at Ehlers Estate is a second chance, a new opportunity to showcase the unique terroir of its vineyards located in Napa Valley’s narrowest point between the Mayacamas and Vaca Mountains, as well as Kevin Morrisey’s expression of this terroir and fruit through his hands-on, personal approach to winemaking. The resulting wines are elegant, well balanced, polished, and distinctly Ehlers Estate. As Morrisey says,
Making wines that express our terroir is the goal,” he says. “You can’t always articulate it exactly. But when you taste it, you know it. Just like hearing the accent of someone who grew up within a few miles of you. It’s distinct and recognizable, and it’s the sound of home. It strikes you and cuts through the mix, singular and individual, and intensely and familiar. And there’s no possible way to mimic it. It’s either there, real and recognizable, or it’s not. (http://www.ehlersestate.com/)
Every bottle of Ehlers Estate wine is replete with second chances. The liquid inside is ever-changing and evolving. When opened, each bottle will provide a second chance to be more delicious than before. With each sip, one tastes the progression of second chances across time, from 1886 through today, from Bernard and Anna Ehlers, to the Domingos, to Jean and Sylviane Leducq, to winemaker Kevin Morrisey, and the footprints they have left on this enduring 42-acre estate in St. Helena, Napa Valley.
*This review is an entry for #MWWC22: Second Chance, as described at this link. Voting has been extended through January 29, 2016 due to a first-time-ever, three-way tie. Vote HERE.
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy.
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
~ Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
A little over years ago, I was invited to participate in #VAWineChat with Drink What YOU Like’s Frank Morgan and Trump Winery’s winemaker Jonathan Wheeler. The two sparkling wines, the 2008 SP (Sparkling) Blanc de Blanc and 2008 SP (Sparkling) Rosé were both fantastic and the name on the bottle went mostly unnoticed.
Fast forward to 2015. I was asked again to participate in #VAWineChat, tasting four wines from Trump Winery. I immediately said yes, because I remembered how good the wines were two years ago. However, this time around, just the mention of the name Trump in social media outlets has caused extreme reactions on both ends of the spectrum. I was on the receiving end of some divisive, presumptuous tweets and I found myself in Facebook discussions having to defend my choice to taste the wines. I wanted to say, “It’s wine, for goodness sake!” Some assumed that because I tasted these wines and enjoyed them, I must be sending a message about politics. I was not. From what I have observed and read, some are buying the wines because they love the name or boycotting the wines because they hate the name, without having tried the wines. Has the name Trump trumped what’s inside the bottle? I hope not, because the wines, the livelihood of the winery employees, and the impact on local and Virginia wine tourism and economics are what matter most.
Award-winning Trump Winery (formerly Kluge Vineyard and Estate until 2011), was planted in 1999 and is Virginia’s largest estate winery at 1300 acres with 195 acres planted. In 2013, Wine Enthusiast awarded the 2007 SP (Sparkling) Reserve a score of 91 points, which is the highest rating ever received by a Virginia wine. The president of the winery is Eric Trump, who was named a Wine Enthusiast Rising Star in 2013, and is also a key fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital through The Eric Trump Foundation. The general manager is Kerry Woolard, herself a star in the Virginia wine industry by her own right. Winemaker Jonathan Wheeler has worked for the winery since 2006 and brought with him winemaking experience from Sonoma and Monterey, California; Marlborough, New Zealand; and the Finger Lakes, New York. An estate winery would be nothing without a vineyard supervisor like Rafael Sánchez, who has been with the winery since 2004, and brought with him experience from Salinas Valley, San Joaquin Valley, and Paso Robles, California.
On Thursday, December 10, 2015, a few of us gathered online via Ustream and Twitter, while some met at Trump Winery for this most recent #VAWineChat. We were hosted by winemaker Jonathan Wheeler and Drink What YOU Like’s Frank Morgan. The winery sent those of us who tasted remotely a box of four sample wines along with a beautiful folder of technical sheets and even a tasting mat. This was by far one of the most organized tastings in which I’ve ever participated. I loved that Jonathan led the discussion while Eric Trump jumped into the conversation on Twitter. Frank, of course, was the consummate facilitator. As expected, the wines were very good. Below are my tasting notes.
2009 Sparkling Blanc de Blanc, Monticello, $24.00
This sparkling wine from Central Virginia near Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello is a rich, creamy expression of 100% first-press chardonnay from Trump Winery’s best grapes. It’s weighty and textured in the mouth, with flavors of yeast rolls, tree fruits, citrus, and loads of juicy acidity. You would be hard pressed to find a vintage sparkling wine at this price that is so well made and delicious.
2009 Sparkling Rosé, Monticello, $28.00
Brut Rosé is always a favorite for me and this is no exception. Although only 8% pinot noir (92% chardonnay), the pinot noir characteristics shine. The wine is a pale salmon color and even the frothy mousse reflects some of the color. Bright, red berry fruits dominate the nose and palate. The mouthfeel is creamy and the acid is as lively as the bubbles. This is an amazing value for vintage brut rosé.
2014 Chardonnay, Monticello, $16.00
I’m not quite an ABC (All But Chardonnay) gal, but I have become particular about still chardonnay. Thankfully, this chardonnay is my style: stainless steel fermentation, no malolactic fermentation, a bit of sur lie treatment, and 90% stainless steel, 10% oak aging. This wine is almost clear in the glass with yellow edges. It’s fruit forward, yet round, with bright citrus and tree fruit aromas and flavors, a hint of spice, and lively acidity. What a steal at $16.00.
2014 Meritage, Monticello, $20.00
This pre-release sample is very young, but should come together with more time in the bottle or some decanting, should you decide to open it sooner rather than later. It’s a Bordeaux-style blend (40% merlot, 35% cabernet franc, 20% cabernet sauvignon, 3% malbec, 2% petit verdot) that exhibits a softer side of red with its 13% ABV. It’s medium ruby in color with medium body and fine tannins. The nose and palate are delighted by flavors and aromas of blackcurrant, black cherry, bitter chocolate, and coffee, with a warm, spicy, tart cherry finish. This is a whole lot of wine for $20.00.
No matter which side of politics you find yourself, these wines are worth trying and tasting. The Trump Winery story is one of crafting high-quality wines from locally grown grapes and supporting the local economy. Make your decision whether to buy or not buy based on how the wine tastes, not the name. That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
Cheers to the wines and the people that make them!
When my friend asked me if I would like to visit Opus One, I was a little hesitant. I was afraid it might be too fancy for me, as it has quite a formidable reputation, in Napa Valley and around the world. However, I thought twice about it and decided to say yes; it was the right decision.
Seriously, where has September gone? Where has this year gone? September has been another whirlwind month for me, with a new career and writing opportunities unfolding before my very eyes. My time has become a hot commodity and I feel like I am playing catch up most of the time. However, as has become tradition, below are some of the interesting wines I’ve tasted this month. The two Pennsylvania wines were gifts and the wines from Chile and New Jersey were samples provided by the producers.
Blair 2010 Wedding Cuvée Blair Vineyards is a family owned and operated winery located in Kutztown (Berks County), Pennsylvania that primarily focuses on cold-climate, European grapes like Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Riesling. Ten different grapes varieties grow on 23 acres. The red cuvée is a proprietary, Bordeaux-style blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon, which was originally made to be served at the weddings of two of the Blair family children. It is a medium garnet color and medium bodied, with flavors of black cherry and vanilla and firmer tannins than I expected from this five-year-old offering. I paired this with steak, which brightened the fruit flavors. $19.99 at the winery. This was a gift from a friend.
Galen Glen 2013 Stone Cellar Zweigelt Galen Glen Winery, located in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley AVA and owned by winegrower and winemaker Galen and Sarah Troxell, is the culmination of six generations who have farmed this land. The winery is named after Galen and the property’s shape, a glacially-formed, narrow valley, a glen. Galen Glen produces cold-climate grapes on 20 acres, including Cayuga, Chambourcin, Grüner Veltliner, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Vidal Blanc, and Zweigelt. The Zweigelt is a nice, light-bodied transitional red, perfect for late summer and early autumn. Its crisp and fresh combination of cranberry, black cherry, raspberry, and black currant delights the nose and palate. $16.99 at the winery. This was a gift from a friend.
Apaltagua Colección 2013 Pinot Noir, San Antonio Valley, Chile
The grapes for this limited production Pinot Noir from Viña Apaltagua come from a vineyard that is only 12 kilometers from the Pacific Ocean, a Mediterranean, maritime-influenced climate that is cooler than other grape growing areas of Chile. The wine is a rich garnet color. On the nose, the first scent I detected was cinnamon. While very fruit forward on the palate, a mélange of black cherry, cranberry, raspberry, red currant and blackcurrant fruit flavors, it is also cinnamony, spicy and smoky, with good tannin structure and lively acidity. It is quite young, so I recommend decanting for a short while. Approximately 1392 cases produced. SPR $25. (SAMPLE FOR REVIEW)
Every couple of months, I participate in a Twitter tasting sponsored by Old York Cellars, accompanied by a YouTube video that serves as a good introduction to the wines being discussed. In July, I was unable to participate because it was too hot to ship wine samples. However, they graciously welcomed me back into the Old York Cellars fold for their September tasting. This month’s samples were a couple of their best since I started participating, especially for the price point. A tasting package of the two wines is available for $27.20.
Old York Cellars 2014 Vidal Blanc, New Jersey
According to winemaker Scott Gares, Old York Cellars produces Vidal Blanc, a hybrid variety comprised of Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano Toscano) and hybrid Rayon d’Or (Seibel 4986), because it is more tolerant of cold climates, is disease resistant, and yields about seven tons per acre in New Jersey. Because of its higher sugar levels and acidity, Vidal Blanc is often used to make ice wine. However, Gares crafts the variety as a dry wine. This vintage was harvested at 22 brix. Gares fermented the wine at colder temperatures in stainless steel, using Premier Cuvée yeast, which enhances the wine’s citrus aroma and flavor profile. The wine is a clear, pale yellow-green color. It has a weightier mouthfeel than some whites. On the nose and palate, it is all citrus and mouthwatering acidity, primarily grapefruit, lemon, and lime. I paired this wine with shrimp.
Old York Cellars 2014 Malbec, New Jersey
Malbec has its roots in Bordeaux as a blending grape and in Argentina as a single-varietal wine. Gares uses Pasteur red yeast and malolactic fermentation to create an approachable style of Malbec that even white wine drinkers may enjoy. The wine is medium garnet in color. Softer tannins and acid yield a rounder mouthfeel. Berry flavors such as cherry and raspberry dominate the palate, while oak plays more of a supporting role with regard to structure and mouthfeel, rather than imparting flavor and tannin. Suggested pairings include aged cheddar, lean red meat, and dark chocolate, although this wine is easy to drink on its own. I paired my sample with tri-tip sirloin, which brought out the wine’s darker fruit side.
Of course, these are not the only wines I have tasted this month. If you missed my other September features, Va La Vineyards and Kemmeter Wines, please click the links and enjoy reliving my wonderful experiences. Forthcoming are reviews of Galer Estate and Penns Woods Winery, which have been submitted and are awaiting publication dates.