Deborah Hall has announced her retirement as a winemaker after her most recent vintage is released this Spring. Besides the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay famous throughout the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, Gypsy Canyon Winery also has a historic plot of Mission vines dated 1887 or thereabouts. This is the source of her “Ancient Vines Angelica”.
We at OBG had the pleasure of having lunch and a tour one May afternoon several years ago. Ms. Hall was and is a fine hostess and generous with sharing her knowledge and passion for the wine, the vines and her rescue project of saving dogs destined for the dog meat trade in South Korea. Her Ground Boots label series of wines is her fundraising source for this effort and they are no lesser wines than her Gypsy Canyon label.
We have heard that both the Angelica and Ground Boots labels will be continuing into the future. Make the effort to find Gypsy Canyon wine and, if you see Deborah in person, be sure to thank her for her work.
We posted this video of our tour back in 2015….
This is a redux from a post we ran four years ago on méthode champenoise and why you want to look for it on the label of your Valentine’s Day bubbly. And since Valentine’s is (gasp) next week, we thought we’d share it again.
We tasted Breathless Sparkling Wines a couple years ago at the Family Winemakers tasting event and loved them. Turns out there was a good reason why – they’re made by a friend of ours, Penny Gadd-Coster. Penny’s the Executive Director of Winemaking at Rack & Riddle, a winery and custom crush facility in Hopland, California. (A custom crush facility is a place where people with grapes can go to make wine commercially without buying and/or building a whole winery.)
Breathless is owned by Rebecca Faust, co-owner of Rack & Riddle, and her two sisters Sharon Cohn and Cynthia Faust.
So when we wanted to find out how to pick a good bubbly for Valentine’s Day, it only made sense to talk to Penny about Breathless, and other sparklers.
What are the different sparkling wines?
Sparkling wine, of course, is the generic term for wine that has bubbles in it – or intentionally made with bubbles in it. You can sometimes get bubbles in wine that’s not supposed to have them, but that’s a different issue. Champagne is the stuff from the Champagne region of France and you really shouldn’t call wine Champagne unless it’s actually from there. Never mind that darned near everybody does, including us.
Penny explained that there are some differences between Champagne and California sparklers.
“Probably from a California or a Western U.S. standpoint, the difference is fruit,” she said. “You don’t get that out of most French Champagnes, so that makes them a little bit unique. We can ripen the grapes a little bit more and bring out those flavors.”
Like most French wines, Champagne has a little more acid and will often taste a little chalky, unlike sparkling wines from California.
“You compare these to a French Champagne and they’re a lot more fruit forward,” Penny said. “They can have the acidity, but you actually know that there’s chardonnay in there, that there’s pinot noir in there.”
Oh, yeah, French Champagne and most California sparkling wine are made from either chardonnay – called blanc de blanc, or white from white (grapes), or pinot noir – called blanc de noir, or white from black (or red grapes). All grape juice is white, red and pink wines get their color from soaking the juice in the skins before fermenting them.
Look for Méthode champenoise
For that special night out, if you’re not getting an actual Champagne, Penny recommends looking for the words “méthode champenoise” on the label. This means it was made like they make Champagne in Champagne, France. The wine is fermented and bottled, then goes through a second fermentation in the bottle, which produces the bubbles. Other bubblies are made by the charmat process, which means they shot the fermented wine through with carbon dioxide, basically, like they do with sodas.
“The made in the bottle wine is going to be a lot more elegant,” Penny said. “You’re going to have nicer, smaller bubbles. You’re going to feel more elegant.”
She did point out that méthode champenoise tends to be more expensive because it’s a lot more labor intensive. Nor are charmat-style bubblies that bad. They can be perfectly nice. But we are talking special occasion here.
As for what to serve with your bubbly, well, anything your fuzzy little heart desires. That’s the great thing about sparkling wine, it literally goes with just about everything. Penny suggested having a sparkling rosé if you’re serving a heavy meat dinner, such as a standing rib or steak. If you’re doing something a little on the spicy side, then you might want the slightly sweet bubbly labeled “extra dry.” No, it doesn’t make sense, but that’s how it goes sometimes.
In any case, bubbles make it special and that’s what you want for Valentine’s Day – or any other special occasion. Even if it’s just surviving another week.
Less than a month after devastating fires ravaged Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties, the Wine Bloggers Conference was held in Santa Rosa, one of the hardest hit areas in the wine country fires.
We watched with the rest of the country as the news of the fires came through our various screens. Needless to say, our first concern was for our friends in the area (they were okay), then the countless others who lost their lives, their homes, and their businesses. But as the flames died down, we began to wonder whether Santa Rosa would still be able to host WBC 2017.
The answer came pretty quickly – not only was the hotel able to host, the surrounding associations and wineries were eager to have us. Even better, while no one wants to diminish just how bad the fires were, the vineyards did what vineyards do. They acted as a firebreak, meaning that the fires could have been even worse.
Yes, there were some wineries that were damaged, including a few, such as Paradise Ridge, that were completely destroyed. But the vast majority of the wineries remain intact and open for business.
But they all say the best way to get the region back on its feet is something we like to do anyway – visit and buy wine. Heck, even Sean, from Paradise Ridge, said that they had some inventory that had been stored elsewhere and they could really use the sales now. The site is fully operational and even has a whole section on the fires and how they’re planning to come back.
Since this is the time of year people like to plan vacations, think about Northern California’s wine country.
The business side of wine is not usually that interesting to consumers. But talking to consultant and author Sandra Taylor, whose latest book is The Business of Sustainable Wine, was a complete blast. We drifted a bit off target, dissed producers who put girly labels on wines to try to sell them to women, talked about climate change in France and Europe, talked about the Wine MBA from the Bordeaux School of Management in France (yeah, it’s for real, and Taylor holds one).
“The industry is doing a really lousy job marketing to women,” Taylor said, adding that women buy more wine than men. Then (very cleverly getting us back on track) she pointed out that women tend to be more sustainably-minded. “They want to know it’s a sustainable wine.”
She spent 22 years working as an executive for Kodak and Starbucks, then became a consultant, specializing in helping wine brands be more sustainable, which means using agricultural practices that are kinder to the planet, conserving resources such as water, behaving in a socially responsible way to their workers.
What is sustainable wine?
Taylor did point out that organic wine, biodynamic wine and natural wine all fall under the heading of sustainable wine. Growing grapes organically or using biodynamic traditions, as well as making natural wine (or wine that happens naturally without the addition of commercial yeast or other cultures) are all practices that are considered sustainable. But sustainable practices can include spraying some non-organic pesticides or other chemicals to protect a grape crop, for example. And there is also the social justice aspect of treating your workers well which is part of sustainability. You can grow perfectly organic grapes, but would not be considered sustainable if you treat your workers badly.
Part of the trend, Taylor says, is that climate change is having a negative effect on a lot of wine growing regions. But a lot of it is that the demand for sustainable wine is growing. Some of it, she explained, happened because the retailers were getting worried.
“Basically, retailers don’t want to be embarrassed,” she said. “They’ve had enough bad experiences.”
But also, the growers and producers, themselves, are seeing the benefits of the practices.
“They are convinced that it’s the right thing to do,” Taylor said. “The energy and the waters costs are lower. My costs can go down. It’s better for the health of my workers.”
Consumers want it
The trick is finding a way to let consumers know that this is a good thing when they see “sustainable” on a label. Taylor says that a lot of millennials are already asking for it, whereas some very high-end wines are made sustainably and don’t have it on the label.
She thinks it’s a bigger draw now than it might be in the future when it becomes more common. South Africa, New Zealand, Italy and even France are starting to be more sustainable. Wineries in California and Oregon are getting more involved, and in the Paso Robles area, the industry has made a major effort to get their wineries and vineyards practicing sustainability.
“They’ve done a really good job,” Taylor said about Paso Robles. “Their goal is to get as many wineries as they can under the tent.”
A lot of this is really insider stuff, but the bottom line is, the industry is going to respond to demand. And if consumers demand sustainable wine, that is, buy it, ask for it and tell their friends about it, then winemakers and growers are going to adopt sustainable practices.
“It’s the consumer who has the most power,” Taylor said.
It was several years ago, at a Garagiste Festival in Paso Robles, that we ran across a vendor hyping self-swirling wine glasses. Of course, our first thought was, seriously? How lazy do you have to be?
That being said, they were rather attractive, with nice big bowls and a narrow mouth, and Anne thought they might be fun to test for a blog post. So she bought a pair in spite of Michael’s protests. Hey, they weren’t that expensive and they are pretty.
We planned to test them, but once we got the glasses home, we discovered that they have a flaw so fundamental, you have to wonder why the manufacturer hadn’t thought of it. You can’t set the glasses down.
Well, you can, but they aren’t very stable. And while they don’t swirl enough to actually aerate the wine, we’re not betting our best chairs that a glass will stay in place well enough to grab a sip while reading the latest Donna Andrews mystery (How the Finch Stole Christmas – it’s hysterical, as usual).
We forget who made them – it’s not important, anyway. The real point is that this is a cautionary tale. Ninety-nine percent of the gadgets and gizwatchies out there meant to “enhance the wine experience” don’t do squat. All you really need to enhance the wine experience is some good food or some good people you care about. Preferably both.
This is important to remember at this time of year, with the holiday gifting season relentlessly bearing down on us. If you have a wine lover on your list, your best bet is to buy that person some wine. If you feel like you don’t know enough to do it well, then either find a good, non-chain wine store, and talk to the nice people behind the counter (and leave if said people look down their long-bony noses at you), or get a gift certificate to a good, non-chain wine store. Or better yet, offer a dinner out with your wine-loving friends.
It’s not about the gadgets and gizwatchies. It’s always going to be about the wine, and that’s what makes it good.
We received a selection of wines from the Idaho Wine Commission and have been slowly writing up the tasting notes. We saved the best for last.
There was, apparently, a mix-up and we got two bottles of the Huston Vineyards 2014 Malbec. Oh, darn. Not. This was really a lovely, rich wine, perfect for a nice meaty meal.
Michael noted the deep ruby, almost black color, and got black fruit (like blackberries) and earth on the nose. It’s a spicy wine, in that there are hints of different spices and some peppercorn, alongside the blueberry flavor. Better yet, the oak is there, but subtle and gentle. It’s a very smooth wine with decent acidity and a decent finish.
We drank one bottle with a steak dinner and the other with our favorite cheese, dried sausage, and olives combo. It paired beautifully with both and was just as nice by itself.
Like most surveys of a region, you’re not going to like everything. It’s how it goes. But overall, we have to say there are some nice wines coming out of Idaho. So, if you see one on a shelf near you, give it a try. It will almost certainly be drinkable. It might even be a gem.
The Idaho Wine Commission sent us a mixed case of the group’s wines, and we’ve been tasting them and featuring some of the winemakers.
Getting wine samples can be a lot of fun, but it can also be a little dicey. So there was some significant relief when we tasted the Cinder Wines 2014 Small Lot Series Sauvignon Blanc. We love sauv blanc and this was one worth drinking regularly.
Michael noted that the color was clear and pale yellow. The nose was lightly scented, but without some of the funkier notes that sauv blanc can get (often called boxwood, gooseberry or cat pee, never mind that no sauv blanc we’ve had has ever smelled anything close to cat pee).
The flavor was dry and crisp, just the way we like it. Michael got some flavors of lemon and pear and noted that it was juicy with clean fruit.
Not only is this a nice sipping wine on a warm evening, it’s a great food wine. We drank ours with a vegetable risotto and it was perfect.
P.S. Happy Beaujolais Nouveau release day. We normally do a post on this fun little new wine at this time of year, but this post got bumped for the Marisa Taylor GoFundMe.com repeat back in September. We still love the Beaujolais Nouveau for Thanksgiving – the lighter new wine works well with just about everything on your Thanksgiving table. But we also like merlot and sauvignon blanc, too.
The Idaho Wine Commission sent us a mixed case of the group’s wines to get the word out that there’s some tasty wine in Idaho. And given what we’ve been tasting, there are. Including this one.
Michael was really looking forward to this one. He loves dessert wines and the Koenig Vineyards Botrytis Single Berry Late Harvest Riesling was everything he likes.
Botrytis is actually a fungus and usually means your grapes (or other fruit) have gone rotten. But the form known as noble rot actually adds to sweet wines, such as Sauternes and this late harvest riesling.
Another thing that makes this wine interesting is that riesling is often made as a sweet wine, but not necessarily a dessert wine. German rieslings are usually off-dry and great with spicy foods. But they aren’t as thick and heavy as a dessert wine, which this one most definitely is.
Michael got strawberry and melon on the nose, and thought it was nicely balanced, without any “heat” from too much alcohol. It also had a rich mouthfeel and wasn’t cloying.
We were given a case of wines from the Idaho Wine Commission as part of their efforts to let people know that there is not only wine in Idaho, but some very tasty wine, at that.
Like many in her profession, Meredith Smith, winemaker at both Sawtooth Estate Winery and Ste Chapelle, actually did something else for a living before deciding she’d rather make wine.
“When I was about 36 years old, I was doing real estate development in Texas,” she said. “I had signed up through a Washington state viticulture program.”
She finished the program two years later, but it was another two years before she quit her job and started out at Sawtooth with a harvest job. Idaho attracted her because she had lived there and had been drinking wines from the region for some time. By the time her harvest job ended, she was the assistant winemaker, taking over as winemaker at Sawtooth in 2012, then adding winemaking at Ste Chappelle to her duties in 2016.
The two wines we got from the wine commission were Smith’s 2013 Trout Trilogy Carmenere from Sawtooth and the 2012 Petit Verdot from Ste Chapelle, two varieties that Smith says you wouldn’t think would do well in her relatively cool climate area, about 3,000 feet above sea level.
“Carmenere surprises me that it does well here,” she said, adding that carmenere and petit verdot are both late ripening varieties. “When I’m harvesting carmenere, it’s October 31, but for some reason it just seems to perform.”
Michael noted the carmenere’s dark color and got a fair amount of spice on the nose. The first taste was a little tart and mid-palate, there was a hint of bitterness. He also tasted some cherry flavor.
The thing is, it’s best as a food wine, but with either milder foods, such as roasted potatoes or vegetables, or something really strong like lamb.
As for the petit verdot, Michael noted the characteristic dark, inky color. The nose was filled with berries, and the taste had some oak, but the tannins were pretty low, making this more of a cocktail wine. It was pleasant, but didn’t really stand out.
We were given a case of wines from the Idaho Wine Commission as part of their efforts to let people know that there is not only wine in Idaho, but some very tasty wine, at that. We’ve gotta be honest – not everything in the case was stellar, but this one was pretty darned good.
The thing with the 2012 Snake River Valley Sangiovese from Williamson Orchards & Vineyards is that it is a food wine with a hey nonny. It’s okay as a sipper, but if you want it to shine, you’ll drink with your favorite pizza or spaghetti bolognese. It is almost a prototype sangiovese and that’s a good thing.
Michael noted its dark garnet color. He thought the nose was pretty oaky but caught some strawberry notes. The body was decent with good acidity and lots of red fruit flavors, including cherry, cranberry, and raspberry.
But again, it needs food, otherwise, it can be a bit in your face. Like most sangiovese.