Amy Butler Talks about Carignan

This is another new venture for us at – video!

We went to the 2014 Garagiste Festival in Pasa Robles and caught up with some amazing women in wine, not least of all was Amy Butler. We first ran across her at an Hospice du Rhone, back when she was working at Edward Sellars. Now, she’s the consulting winemaker at LXV (a post that will be coming soon) and has her own label, Ranchero Cellars.

Amy’s big thing is the carignan grape (also spelled carignane). We’ll let you look at the video to tell you why. We’ve tasted the wine and it was awesome!

La Motte – All the Way From South Africa

Edmund Terblanche of La Motte

One of the advantages of massive tastings like Hospice du Rhone is that you get to try wines that are harder to find and from places you don’t get to see every day.  Such as South Africa.

We met a couple of really interesting producers from there, including Edmund Terblanche, of La Motte, in the Franschhoek Valley in the Cape winelands.  It being Hospice du Rhone, Terblanche was pouring the winery’s shiraz wines.  Yes, shiraz is the Australian name for syrah, but apparently, it’s also the preferred term in South Africa, too.

“That’s the name that we’ve grown up with,” Terblanche said.  “But you’ll find in South Africa you have people using the syrah word, as well.  People probably want to express some style or something.  But you taste the whole line-up, the shiraz, the syrah, you can’t really taste the difference.”

So naturally, we had to ask what makes a South African syrah unique.  All lot of things, Terblanche said.

“There’s such a lot of influences here,” he said, explaining that people can imitate the rest of the world or they can make a more unique wine.  “With the influences from two oceans, with the altitude and some of the oldest soils in the world, we can definitely make something unique.”

Selling it to the rest of the world can be challenging.  Terblanche explained that because La Motte is one of the older wine brands in South Africa, having started in 1995, they do sell about 70 percent of their wine in South Africa.  However, they are trying to branch out – having had some success selling to the United Kingdom and Germany.  But they do want to reach the U.S. and are actively looking for the right representation to do just that.

La Motte vineyards

“It’s extremely difficult to introduce the category of South Africa,” Terblanche said.

But that was why he was at Hospice du Rhone.

Needless to say, getting wine from La Motte here in the States won’t be easy, but the wines are available in Canada.  And here’s the website, in case you happen to be in South Africa,

Irish Family Vineyard 2007 Viognier

Type: Dry White
Made: In Calaveras County, California, With viognier grapes
Plays well with: seafood, salads, mild cheeses


The 2007 Viognier from Irish Family comes with the expected florals in the nose – honeysuckle in this case. A grape of the Rhone region wines in France, viognier has an instantly recognizable nose of flowers like honeysuckle or citrus like tangerine peel and also honeyed. A little blended into syrah contributes aromatics to a traditional red wine in the Rhone from France. Viognier is a handy grape to have around.


There is a flinty minerality as well that wasn’t covered by oak because there wasn’t any oak added. Steel fermentation and neutral barrels (barrels that have already given up all their oak flavors) allowed the flavors to concentrate. Crisp acidity gives a cleansing of the palate that plays well with seafood, salads and cheeses.

Chateau d’Aqueria 2007 Rose Tavel

The good folks at Blackwell’s wines and spririts were featuring Chateau d’Aqueria 2007 Tavel when we wandered in there a couple months ago. The winery is one of the oldest in the Tavel region of France’s southern Rhone region (French wines being labeled after where they’re grown and made rather than by the grapes in them, with each region using basically the same grapes to make the wine, anyway, so a Bordeaux is always going to have cabernet sauvignon and merlot in it, no matter who in Bordeaux made it). Tavel is best known here in the States – when you can find it – for its dry rosés.

We at OBG love well-made rosé. We love drinking it and we love making it. Rosé, when made dry, is a fun wine full of fruit and ready to drink with all kinds of foods, from ham to cheese to more strongly-flavored fish to just about anything too strong for a white, but not heavy enough to compete with a red.

Modern commercial winemakers will sometimes bleed off some of the freshly crushed juice of red wine grapes to concentrate the color, aroma and flavors in the remaining skins and juice. But good winemakers would never dump the stuff they bled off. Good winemakers use it to make rosé – fermenting it until it’s nice and dry and crisp.

The label on the Chateau d’Aqueria Tavel just listed the blend of grapes that went into it: Grenache, Clairette, Cinsault, Mourvedre and Borboulenc, but alas, not what percentage of which. That the grapes are listed on the label at all is in consideration of the U.S. market.

The blackberry nose and other red fruits opened up to some spiciness in the mouth and a light mouthfeel that cleansed the palate with nice, dry tanins.

Three things you need to know about rosés. The first is that they are meant to be drunk young and are not to cellared. The 2007 Tavel seems to be doing well. The second thing is that many roses are small productions and supplies can be limited. The final thing you need to know is that Blackwell’s was selling the Tavel for twelve dollars and we figure it probably didn’t last at that price. That being said, the folks there are so great, we’re sure they’ll find something just as good at just as good a price.

Robledo 2006 Pinot Blanc

Pinot blanc, one of the 22 varietals common to the Rhone region of France, has become a star in its own right.  Here in California, there are a few plantings in Paso Robles and Lake County.  And it was from Lake County that the Robledos got their grapes for their 2006 bottling.
The aroma of peach and related stone fruits fills the glass with a hint of something special and different. That something is the gooseberry and grapefruit flavors that blend with the peach taste.  This is a cool region grape, but there is no grassiness like you often find in a sauvignon blanc grown this way. This pinot blanc is dry and has a lush mouthfeel.
The Robledo pinot blanc is a good wine to serve with a soft buttery brie, water crackers and fresh fruit. Or chilled and paired with fresh mozzarella on sliced tomatoes with fresh basil and balsamic.  Either one would nicely liven up an outdoor concert at a park near you.

Halter Ranch 2006 GSM

hrgsmGSM is shorthand – 1980s Australian shorthand –  for a classic Rhone blend of three grapes – Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. The basic formula will vary from year to year as one grape stands out over the others. The 2006 contains 45 percent grenache, 33 percent syrah and 22 percent mourvedre. The nose is full of cedar, cherries and berry fruit. The fruits are dry in the mouth with no residual sweetness but lots of flavor and acids that show off the brightness of the grenache and yet allows the spiciness of the syrah to display itself on the back of the palate.
The syrah is the part that would make this a great wine for a steak au poivre – steak with a pepper sauce. As great as this wine is right now, it can lift the gloom of a winter’s night alongside a stew or a standing rib roast.  Try it instead of a cabernet sauvignon. The Halter Ranch GSM should age nicely over the next several years if you can’t decide on the perfect occasion.

Halter Ranch – Growing the Good Stuff

Courtesy Halter Ranch
Courtesy Halter Ranch

Every so often, it doesn’t hurt to remember that wine is, ultimately, an agricultural product and that you get grapes by farming them.  Fortunately, when Mitch Wyss came in to grow grapes for Halter Ranch Winery owner Hansjorg Wyss, he came in as a farmer.  However, one with not much experience growing wine grapes.

“It was a real trial by fire,” said Leslie Wyss, Mitch’s wife.  But Mitch is still there and it’s not because of a family connection.  He and Hansjorg are not related.  Leslie explained that Mitch is of Swiss ancestry and Hansjorg is Swiss.

“It’s not an uncommon name there,” Leslie explained.

She said that they are farming 250 acres, but their production is actually rather small, about 5,000 cases.  The wine, itself, is made by winemaker Bill Sheffer.  Leslie said that one of the reasons the grapes are so good is the soil, which is rich in limestone, not unlike some of France’s most renowned grape-growing regions in Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley.

Courtesy Halter Ranch
Courtesy Halter Ranch

“We’re growing Bordeaux varietals and Rhone varietals that are really nice,” Leslie said.  “But I think we’ll mostly be Rhone.”

The main Bordeaux varietals, of course, are cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc, with syrah being the best known of the varieties of grapes grown in the Rhone Valley.

Halter Ranch is located on the west side of Paso Robles, on Adelaida Road.  You can find their website here.

Carmichael Sur Le Pont 2005 Monterey County

surlepont_revised_chivalryWhile the Carmichael Sur le Pont is not technically an oddball bottle of wine.  The fact that it is made up of 80 percent syrah means it can be legally called a syrah, and that’s hardly oddball these days.  But that other 20 percent of lesser known grapes adds something really special to the final product. We promise tastings of grenaches, mouvedres and carignans in the future. But for now they are all present in the 2005 Carmichael Sur Le Pont, with 14 percent mouvedre, 5 percent carignan and 1 percent grenache.
These are all Rhone varietals, meaning they are largely grown in and inspired by the winemaking in the fertile valley surrounding the Rhone River in France. Unlike the five Bordeaux grapes (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot, malbec and cabernet franc), there are 22 grapes grown in the Rhone Valley, so you can just imagine all the possible blends. Where do we start? Right here!

The wine Sur le Pont is named after the French children’s tune “Sur le pont D’Avignon,” or On Avignon’s Bridge, Avignon being one of the primary cities in the Rhone (and also more infamously known as the base for a series of Roman Catholic popes/non-popes, who during the Middle Ages tried to take over).

The wine has the nose of blackberries and cola. The taste has some dry fruit, but it’s not jammy.  Instead the wine is lightweight in the mouth without being cloying or burning with excessive alcohol.  In fact, at 14.3 percent, it’s almost a lightweight compared to the hot (high in alcohol) syrahs that are often made today.  This makes it an excellent companion to meat off the summer grill or winter stews of lamb or beef. The acids keep the palate stimulated and can handle sauces that are not spicy or terribly sweet – a mushroom gravy comes to mind.