Tag Archives: Napa Valley

Columnist offers quick tutorial on Champagnes and Sparkling Wines


By Justin Manjorin | Wine & Food Editor

When I think about Champagne or Sparkling wines, memories of happy times resurface — weddings, anniversaries, milestone birthdays, or business deals that worked out well.

We think this way because Champagne and Sparkling wines have long been associated with nobility, wealth and festive occasions. Although, with the rise of the Middle Class in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Champagne producers targeted this group for advertising campaigns in the hope of increasing sales. It worked as the Middle Class had aspirations to move up in status. Not only was this easy, but it was pleasant!

The focus of this article is about sparkling wines. It doesn’t matter whether it is called Champagne (Fr.), Cava (Sp.), Sparkling wine (US) , Asti (It.), Espumante (Port.), Sekt (Ger.), Sovetskoye Shampanskoye (USSR) or one of the many other designations depending on where it was made. As it turns out, Sparkling wine in one form or another is made in many places throughout the world and it comes in many colors from pale yellow, to rose and deep red.

A very popular myth is that Champagne was invented by a Benedictine monk named Dom Perignon. While he did make contributions to production and quality, Christopher Merret, an English scientist, 40 years before Dom Perignon is credited for documenting experiments whereby sugar was added to wine to induce secondary fermentation, which gives the wine the bubbles.

Although not widely used until the 19th century, this is the “methode champenoise” used to produce Champagne today. The cheaper versions of sparkling wine uses the “Charmat” method, which involves stainless steel tanks and high pressures. An example of this style would be Andre or Totts. I drank these when I was quite young and can recall interesting headaches as a result.

In the early days of Champagne production, it was not unusual to lose 75 percent or more of the production due to exploding bottles. The French glass produced with wood burning furnaces wasn’t strong enough and it wasn’t until the English started manufacturing bottles using coal furnaces that a bottle strong enough to withstand the pressure was produced.

By International Agreement and French law, only sparkling wine produced in the Champagne area of France is entitled to use the name Champagne and the type of grapes used in the production and how much sugar is added are also regulated. Champagne produced in the 19th century was much sweeter than the “Dry” or Brut Champagnes produced today. In fact, when dry Champagne was first introduced, it was not popular and one critic said it was a “brute” of a wine. This word is now used to describe dry or Brut Champagne.

I have always had a fondness for Champagne and my favorite is Moet & Chandon Imperial. This costs around $36 per bottle and is a great wine for the price. However, with the numerous demands on my wallet at this time of year, I have been searching for alternatives that are satisfying and less dollar demanding. The obvious choices would be Italian or Spanish Sparklers. Although good and reasonably priced, I find many of them to be a little too sweet for my taste. If you like the sweetness go with them. Examples can be found in the major food stores around New Bern.\

There are three sparkling wines made in the United States that I would have no problem recommending for your Holiday enjoyment. All of these wines exhibit apple and pear tastes with a note of citrus on the finish. In addition, they have long lasting bubbles that add to the experience and as you know Sparkling wines go with almost everything from appetizers to desserts.

What they all have in common is that they are either subsidiaries of existing Champagne houses or they are closely related to existing producers in the Champagne area of France. Chandon and Mumm are produced in California and Gruet (a personal favorite) is made in New Mexico. All of these are available locally and retail for less than $22 per bottle.

These, in my opinion, are the closest in appearance and taste to the wine that comes from Champagne in France. Chandon has made sparkling wine in Napa for 30 years and Champagne in France for 250. The wine shows their expertise. Mumm has not been around quite as long, but the Black label Brut is a good wine with a decent finish. The Blue label is fairly sweet and I would opt for a Moscato, if I were drinking sweet sparkling wine.

The Gruet extended family makes Champagne in France and Sparkling wine in New Mexico. They started selling Sparkling wine in 1987 and now make seven varieties, selling in excess of 100,000 cases a year. The Blanc de Noir is quite good with tropical notes and a faint citrus taste. With great attention to detail, the wine is ‘kept on the yeast’ (en tirage) for two years. This leads to a creamier finish and a larger number of smaller bubbles, which gives a clean taste and a much better experience.

As far as I know in this area, Gruet is only available at Cravin Wine (514-2675) in James City.

Questions or comments can be sent to Justin@compassnews360.com

No looking back after the 1979 ‘ French Wine Olympiads ’ put Oregon’s vineyards on the map


By Justin Manjorin | Wine & Food Editor

Oregon is one of my favorite states to visit, and I especially enjoy Portland. I was fortunate enough to go there on business many times and actually had time to vacation once or twice. I am now taking you to the Willamette American Viticultural Area.

Located West and South of Portland on the ‘wet or western side of the Cascade Mountains,’ this AVA is so large that it will require more than one column.

The Willamette AVA has a climate that is fairly mild over most of the year with cool, wet winters and warm dry summers. The moderating influence of the ocean creates a growing environment especially suited for cool climate grapes, particularly Pinot Noir. With a longer growing season and more daylight, the Pinot Noir grape develops more flavor and complexity while keeping a fair amount of residual acidity for balance.

The soil in this AVA is a mixture of volcanic substructure and old seabed. Throw in a mixture of boulders, rock, and gravel – deposited by floods which ended about 10,000 years ago — grape vines here are forced to produce extensive root systems leading to a more complex juice. Also, the lower productivity ultimately evolves into more complex wines.

As I have mentioned before, Pinot Noir is one of my favorite wine varieties. I keep a number of different examples in the house. There will be an article dedicated to this grape.

The Willamette AVA , to date, has been divided into 6 sub-AVA’s which are Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, Yamhill Carlton and the latest addition, Chehalem Mountains.

Sub-AVA’s are designated due to a particular micro-climate or differing soil or exposure to wind and sunlight or even elevation. Before a sub-AVA is designated, all of the reasons for the differentiation must be examined.

As I listed the sub-AVA’s in alphabetical order, why not start with Dundee Hills? Located about 28 miles southwest of Portland and about 40 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, this sub-AVA is comprised of about 50 vineyards and 25 wineries. The soil is a six-foot thick layer of silt, clay and red volcanic dirt, which has eroded from lava over millions of years. This relatively infertile soil provides great drainage for vines and allows for the production of superior grapes.

The primary grape is Pinot Noir, grown in the Dundee Hills since 1965 when THE EYRIE VINEYARDS were planted on the south-facing slopes. Fourteen years later, a wine from this relatively unknown winery — located in an obscure part of the Western United States — placed among the world’s Top Three at the 1979 French Wine Olympiads.

Oregon has since been recognized as a place that might ‘out Burgundy’ the French.

The wine that finished first that year was from Maison Drouhin, which has a long history (200 years) of producing top of the line Burgundy. Joseph Drouhin was in Napa when the California wines were first starting to take off in the early 70’s.

As a result of the 1979 finish by Eyrie, he and his daughter made a trip to Oregon. They liked what they saw and met with the owner of THE EYRIE VINEYARD to see what he was doing. Drouhin decided that Oregon might have better potential than California for Pinot Noir grape.

By the late 1980s, Drouhin bought a property in the Dundee Hills and started planting under the direction of his daughter Veronique, who had a wine degree and apprenticeship experience in the area. Their first release won critical acclaim around the world and, if anything, the wines are better today. Of course with all this high quality comes a $65 per bottle price tag.

As much as I like their wines, this is a once-in-a-very-long-time splurge.

Another pricey winery in this area is Domaine Serene started by the Evenstad family. They have built a state of the art winery in the Dundee Hills and also produce wines of superior taste. They currently have two Pinots available — Evenstad Reserve 2007 at $58 and the 2008 Yamhill Cuvee at $42.

Both are delicious and have mineral and earth tastes with raspberry/cherry flavors combined with a long finish and great mouth feel. Again these are wines for a special occasion.

In the next article, I will find some affordable Dundee Hills Pinot Noirs – ones that are can be found in larger wine stores.

On a personal note, I am looking forward to my ‘Wine & Dine Your Sweetheart’ experience next Wednesday night, Feb. 15, at Cravin’ Wine in New Bern. Please consider joining me and my wife Pat! Look for an advertisement, which describes the experience, elsewhere in this issue of The County Compass.

As usual, if you have questions, comments or suggestions, please contact me at Justin@compassnews360.com

Oregon is Pinot Noir country, but it’s one tough grape to grow


By Justin Manjorin | Wine & Food Editor

As I have written about Napa Valley and other wine regions, I thought I would turn my attention to one of the other of the great wine growing regions in the United States — Oregon.

As there are a number of AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas) located in Oregon, I thought I would address the largest – Willamette Valley, stretches for a hundred miles from Portland down to Eugene. And, there are a number of sub-AVA’s located within the primary.

For those of you who didn’t read an earlier column on AVA’s, once the geographical boundaries of an AVA are determined, there are a fairly precise set of requirements:

1) If a grape variety is specified, 75 percent of the wine must contain this variety.

2) The wine must be made from grapes — 85% or more come from the AVA on the label.

3) If an individual vineyard is named, 95 percent of the grapes must be from that vineyard but only if a regional AVA is identified.

4) If a vintage (a specific year) is stated, 95 percent or more of the grapes must be from the specified year.

Oregon, much like California, has a substantial number of wineries. More than 350 that I have identified and I doubt that I have found all of them. However, unlike its neighbor to the South, the pride of Oregon is the Pinot Noir grape and subsequent wine production. So popular and famous is Oregon’s Pinot that there is an annual festival dedicated to the tasting of this particular type of wine — the International Pinot Noir Convention held in the small town of McMinnville.

The history of winemaking in Oregon is nowhere near as old as the California tradition. The pioneers in Oregon started producing wine in the second half of the 19th century. The early wineries produced mostly fruit wines made from the abundance of berries, apples, pears and other fruits. This tradition continues to today with the production of world-class eau-de-vie or fruit brandies. Oregon is becoming famous for this type of alcohol.

Oregon is located at about the same latitude as the South of France, but has a cooler, damper climate. Unlike California, where cooling breezes from the Pacific reduce the crop temperatures, it is necessary to find the warmest, sunniest areas in Oregon or the grapes will not ripen properly.

Unfortunately in Oregon, it is not enough to pick a plot and plant. Prior to establishing a winery, an area has to be researched carefully before a commitment can be made. There are not a lot of suitable places and successful results are achieved by those who bring stamina and a feel for the land.

The end result is that there are not a lot of large corporate wineries, but rather a large collection of boutique wineries run by rather rugged individualistic, philosophical winemakers.

This is a group that did not go into winemaking as a retirement plan or an adjunct to another career but very dedicated people trying to make the best wine possible. Although, in general, the wines are excellent, prices are higher than for a California or Australian Pinot.

Pinot Noir represents about 67 percent of Oregon’s total production. Chardonnay comes in a distant second. Some Riesling, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are also grown.

As early as the 1960s and 1970s, vineyards were being planted in the Northern Willamette Valley. As the climate of the area resembled that of Burgundy, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were the most popular grapes grown. This decision was justified as early as 1975. In a BLIND TASTING, a Pinot from Eyrie Vineyards outclassed many well known French Burgundy’s. This led to a large number of vineyards being planted in the 1980s and 1990s. The quality has continued to improve.

The difficult to grow Pinot Noir has become a specialty in Oregon. When Merlot was the reigning king of wines, the movie Sideways caused a massive shift to Pinot Noir consumption. As Oregonian winemakers were showing their skill with this grape, their wine started becoming more sought after especially those from the Willamette Valley.

Work on the website is still in progress. Soon to come will be an index for all of my earlier columns.

Please send comments, suggestions and questions to me via e-mail Justin@compassnews360.com

‘ Negotiants ’ bring great wines to market at affordable prices


By Justin Manjorin | Wine & Food Editor

Having written about affordable wine in my last column, I am now returning to the subject of negotiants — an adjunct to ‘second label’ wines.

Almost everyone is familiar with the name “Two Buck Chuck,” but for wines that are sourced from some of California’s greatest growers and presented to the consumer at a fraction of the cost of the premier wines, the name Cameron Hughes is well known.

His success has led him to start buying wine on the international market.

Although the cost of these wines is much less than the original vineyards and wine makers from which they are sourced, the premium offerings can still cost between $16 and $35. So why buy them?

The answer is that you get a much better value to dollar ratio — much like the advantages found in buying second label wines. I have also noticed that Mr. Hughes has endeavored to bring wines to the market that reflect his personal taste. And, he has tried for the $9 to $17 range.

The question then becomes why does a position of negotiant exist in the first place?

To begin with, not only is there an oversupply of wine in the world but there is also overcapacity. There are a number of reasons for this situation: Over planting of vines by ambitious producers; increased production at a time of decreasing demand; poor economic conditions and growers and wineries that have over leveraged and now must sell every drop of juice and wine that their properties produce. As I have mentioned before, wine production in all its facets can be a capital intensive business.

So a person with a back ground in the wine business, a few connections, and the ability to hear the word ‘no’ a million times can not only find a niche but can make really good money doing it.

Mr. Hughes comes from a family that was in the wine business. He started his own wine brokerage business around 2001 and, since timing is everything, he almost went broke. Due to his valuable connections and an impending wine surplus, he was able to find and resell small lots of premium wine cheaply. The rest as they say “is history.”

Mr. Hughes releases his wines under a variety of labels and Lots. Each label has a particular purpose. The Flying Winemaker: These are wine sourced from around the world and are priced well. Some examples are Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 Maipo Valley, Chile about $13 or a 2009 Chardonnay from Margaret River, Australia, Chardonnay again at $13. Frunza: A wine sourced from Romania and a recent addition to the CH family of wines. The first offerings were a Merlot and a Pinot Noir, priced around $8. I have not tried these wines but at this price it will not break the bank to sample them.

The next label is the Lot series. These are meant to be the flagship wines from CH and are available in very limited quantities — from some of the most recognized wine growers and wine growing areas. Every Lot is numbered to provide continuity back to the original wine. Every offering can vary in quantity and price.

These wines are never mixed with other wine to “fix” them a process known as “back-blending.” Back-blended wines can produce “good value” but the unblended wines offered by CH provide exceptional value. For example, Lot 234, which is a Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend known as the 2009 Atlas Peak Napa Meritage, is offered at $16. For a lover of this style wine, this is a great deal.

How do bargains like these exist? At the premium/ultra-premium end of the wine business, wine makers always make more wine than they need. This is done to ensure that they always have enough product to create the final blend. I don’t always mean a meritage, which is a blend of different grape varietals, but the same grape from different terroirs. As winemakers always like to create new blends, they are constantly evolving new sources of juice and dropping older sources.

This provides a window of opportunity for “negotiants” to create value and an opportunity for people like us to experience wines from areas and wineries that we might not ordinarily be able to afford.

Cameron Hughes wines are distributed through their web site but also thru some chains. Some these are: Costco, Sam’s Club, Harris Teeter, Vons, Safeway and Publix to name a few.

If you have comments or suggestions, I can be reached via e-mail justin@compassnews360.com

‘ Second label ’ wines benefit both consumers, producers


By Justin Manjorin | Wine & Food Editor

Let’s explore ‘second labels’ in the wine industry, a practice that began with the French, who were first to classify the various Chateau’s in 1855. The wines were organized into First, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth growths. The first growth wines have commanded the best prices for the last 150 years or so with an extreme emphasis on quality and production.

The term ‘Second Wine’ or second label started in Bordeaux to identify a wine not intended to be the flagship or Grand Vin of a particular Chateau. Depending on the style of the winery, an individual plot may be selected — or grapes from younger vines where the wine would not be aged in the best barrels or for the same length of time as the Grand Vin.

This wine would be sold at a lower price and does not receive the same degree of promotion.

The second wine may have some characteristics of the main estate wine but is usually less refined and structured. Most of the labels associated with second wines do not mention the parent estate, as their goal is to keep the estate name associated with the flagship wine.

Recently, more wineries are describing their secondary and tertiary labels as wines meant for earlier consumption. This is a good approach as the second wines do not usually have the same potential for bottle ageing as the first label wine.

As in all types of agriculture, there are no guarantees regarding quality and quantity of the product from year to year. The practice of releasing second labels gives the winery economic flexibility. When a harvest is poor, the winery might opt not to release its premier wine on the theory that a poor year might reflect on the wine’s market share in the future.

Also, when the harvest is really good, the winery has the option to carefully select the grapes for the flag ship wine, which enhances the name and eventually the price. The rest would be marketed under a second label.

As the wine business is capital intensive, second and subsequent labels allow the winery to generate additional cash flow, which will see them through lean times. The land, salaries and operating expenses are fairly constant; so the extra expense comes from additional barrels, bottles, and marketing. The winery can use the existing distribution networks to sell the second labels.

Second labels benefit both consumers and producers. The producer gets much needed cash and the consumer has an opportunity to sample the product from a great estate that would normally be out of economic range.

Since most of us don’t drink French First or Second Growth wines, I am going to skip this area and start writing about wines produced in the United States. I will eventually put a list of some of the French second labels and the Chateau’s with which they are associated on the COUNTY COMPASS WEBSITE.

Darioush is a Napa producer, famous for Bordeaux styled Cabernet Sauvignon. A typical vintage sells for $80 and goes fast. Caravan is the second label and this sells for $40 — still pricey but a great opportunity to enjoy a stellar wine. Stags Leap another well known Cabernet Sauvignon producer has a second label called “Hawk Crest,” which retails for about $11.00. It is a good wine from a great producer at a reasonable price.

For white wine fans, J. Lohr — who produces affordable wines — has a Sauvignon Blanc that offers citrus and herbaceous flavors for about $9. Also, Talbott offers a Chardonnay with melon, apricot and honeysuckle flavor with enough acidity to carry these flavors. This is priced at what I feel to be a reasonable $14.

The second label saga continues in my next article.

If you have comments or suggestions, I can be reached via e-mail justin@compassnews360.com

Disease, Prohibition almost destroyed this grape growing region


By Justin Manjorin | Wine & Food Editor

Let’s examine yet another American Viticultural Area — the Carneros AVA, which means ‘ram’ in Spanish

Historical records from the area indicate that the first vineyard was planted in the late 1830s This was the Northernmost area claimed by Mexico .

A number of wineries were started and growing grapes became an important economic force as opposed to raising sheep. Unfortunately, the area did not survive the one-two punch of Phylloxera (the vine destroying disease) and Prohibition (the market destroyer). These incidents covered the years from around 1870-1933. This area only started to improve in the mid 1940s and has continued to grow in stature since then.

Carneros is located North of San Pablo bay and is the true gateway to the Napa and Sonoma wine country. The nearness of this bay moderates the area’s temperature by means of cooling fog and breezes thus extending the growing season by several weeks, allowing the grapes to achieve greater maturity.

This temperature moderation makes the area a natural for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, although other varieties are also grown, especially by Cline who specializes in Rhone style varietals such as Syrah, Viognier and Rousanne.

The cool temperature produces a more acidic Chardonnay, which can be blended with Chardonnays grown in warmer areas producing a superior white wine. Much of the production of this area is used to make sparkling wines from producers such as: Gloria Frerer, Domaine Chandon, and Domaine Carneros, which is owned by Tattinger — the well known Champagne house.

This AVA is comprised of about 37,000 acres or about 90 square miles. Of the 37,000 acres, about 8,000 are planted in grapes. Unlike some other AVAs that vary widely in terrain, this appellation is one of the most unvaried in this area.

It is defined by its physical features: Low mountains (about 400 feet), a bay and a river. The cooling winds have another effect on the vines, which is to cause them to fight against losing moisture and when combined with the thin relatively poor soil leads to smaller grape harvest. This often causes the grapes to develop intense flavors.

The Pinot Noir grapes grown in this area produce wines that are consistently excellent with cherry flavors and an earthy undertone with hints of mushroom. I enjoy a Pinot very much. It matches well with a variety of foods from the simple (fruit, cheese and crackers) to the complex such as Beef Bourguignon or a well aged steak. Although, if given a choice I prefer an aged Cabernet Sauvignon with steak.

The last time, I checked there were about 24 wineries in the Carneros AVA. Some of my favorites are: Acacia, Clos Du Val, Etude, Macrostie and Sainstbury. All of these wineries produce excellent wines, however Etude, Macrostie and Saintsbury are my favorites. As anyone who has read this column would know, I have an extreme fondness for Pinot Noir and I keep examples from Etude, Macrostie and Saintsbury in the house. But to be fair, Acacia and Clos Du Val both make extremely good Chardonnays.

The Macrostie Wildcat mountain Pinot Noir 2008 has a deep garnet color with black cherry and boysenberry flavors with a hint of dark chocolate. An excellent example of wine made from this grape varietal, it will age moderately well say 7 years. With care, this wine can be bought for around $35 per bottle.

I am researching ‘second label bottling’ from various wineries, which are often priced lower than the first label – and are almost as good!Finally, we are going to Spain and Ireland this fall and I hope to write about the trip. I am hoping to have dinner in a restaurant, which has been open since 1756.

If you have any comments or suggestions, I ca be reached via e-mail justin@compassnews360.com

Wine expert hopes to visit world’s oldest restaurant. Will he return with a wine list?


By Justin Manjorin | Wine & Food Editor

As many of you might have noticed, my last article was shortened due to the need to provide coverage on Hurricane Irene. So here is the continuation of that article plus a bit more. As space is always at a premium, this article will carry over to the next one. I will catch up soon.

The other winery I wish to write about in the Rutherford American Viticultural Area is Beaulieu Vineyards. In a wine shop, it is easily recognizable by the BV in red on the label.

Around 1900, Georges and Fernandez de Latour visited Rutherford and Fernandez said “beau lieu” or beautiful place. They buy a small ranch and Beaulieu Vineyards begins. They keep adding parcels and by Prohibition they own around 500 acres. The vineyard survives by selling Sacramental wine to the Catholic Church.

The focus of this winery was to produce wines in California that would rival those made in Europe especially Cabernet Sauvignon, which remains to this day the backbone of the winery. At an International Exposition held in San Francisco in 1939, BV wins a gold medal for its Cabernet, sold for the then astronomical price of $1.50 per bottle.

In 1976, winemaking in California changed forever when a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon were picked as the best at the exposition over French wines. BV’s latest premier Cabernet release is the 2007 Georges de Latour Private Reserve, which retails for around $90. A wine like this requires several years of bottle aging after the release to allow for the softening and integration of the tannins in the wine. This wine, if properly stored, could provide drinking enjoyment for 30 or more years.

Although I have focused on the Cabernet as it is their flagship wine, BV so produces other red wines such as: Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, and Merlot and whites such as: Chardonnay, Riesling and Viognier. Many of these wines are much more affordable and the BV 2007 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is priced at $20 Other wines in their collection are priced from $11 to $20 for selected whites and reds.

This price range allows you to discover why this vineyard is so highly regarded without breaking the bank. It is analogous to going to a great chef’s restaurant for lunch when the prices are lower but you still get the experience.

In researching this column, I considered either the Mt. Veeder or Howell Mountain AVAs or perhaps stretching them into two articles. I am quite familiar with both these AVAs and have visited many wineries in both areas. Both produce notable, age worthy wines and they both contain wineries that produce wines that I still drink regularly. Some examples from both would be: Duckhorn, Ridge, Cakebread, Beringer, Mayacamas, Hess Collection and Spotted Owl to name a few.

As much as I love these areas and their wines, Howell Mountain has the smallest acreage under production of all the AVAs and Mt. Veeder, notwithstanding having the longest growing season, has the lowest yields due to rugged terrain, scarce water and poor soil.

Due to these factors, the law of supply and demand takes over and the wines produced in these AVAs are quite expensive.

Next, I will discuss ‘second label’ bottling from various wineries, often priced lower than the first label. Finally, we are going to Spain and Ireland this fall and I hope to write about our trip. I am hoping to have dinner in a Spanish restaurant, which has been in continuous operation since 1756 – making it the world’s oldest!

As usual, if you have any comments or suggestions, I can be reached via e-mail justin@compassnews360.com

Flood washes off labels, but columnist can still spot a great 1980 Zinfandel Port


By Justin Manjorin | Wine & Food Editor

In my last column, I got a little too enthusiastic regarding the Rutherford ‘American Vitacultural Area’ and didn’t cover some of the other wineries there.

One of the most outstanding is Cakebread Wineries, founded in 1972 by Jack Cakebread. The first release occurred in 1975, consisting of 157 cases of Chardonnay. To this day, their Chardonnay is amazing — I have been drinking it on and off for 20-plus years. The unfortunate fact is that not only does this wine retail for around $43 per bottle but it is also difficult to find. This relegates it to a “Special Occasion” wine.

The winery originally consisted of 22 acres, mostly planted in Chardonnay with some Cabernet Sauvignon. As with many other wineries located in Napa, they have continued to purchase land over the years. Cakebread now owns about 982 acres of which 451 are producing various grape varietals. In addition to the wines mentioned above, Cakebread also produces Merlot, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc and when conditions permit Pinot Noir and Syrah.

Cakebread produces wines under a variety of labels — not all of them are pricey. The quality is pretty good. In the near future, I will be dedicating an article to ‘second label’ bottling and will supply names and prices. This will allow those of us with tastes larger than our wallets to sample the production from notable winemakers and vineyards, which — while not as good as the primary label — are still pretty good.

To get a sense of what the wine environment was like when Cakebread Winery first began, some of Jack’s neighbors were Mondavi, Beaulieu Vineyard (BV), Heitz, and Christian Brothers – the latter is now home to the West Coast branch of the Culinary Institute of America.

Christian Brothers’ most notable wine maker was Brother Tim — famous thru out the wine world . Many people would recognize him as he was featured in the Christian Brothers advertising campaigns.

Brother Tim was honored by having the 1980 Zinfandel Port dedicated to him in recognition of his 50 years as the Christian Brothers wine master. This particular wine was released in 1985 after five years of barrel and bottle aging.

I bought 5 cases of this wine in the late 1980’s and at this past New Year’s Eve I shared one of my last bottles with my family. Even after 31 years, this wine was still full of fruit and the flavors had melded perfectly.

What was amazing is that this particular bottle was at one time under water in a flooded basement in my old home. The label melted off and it was only the fact that I knew where these bottles were that allowed me to identify them.

We’re tight on space this week due to the Hurricane Irene coverage, so I’ll hold off on my comments about Beaulieu Vineyards — seen in wine shops with the easily recognizable red BV label. Look for that critique in a future column.

If you have comments or suggestions, I can be reached via e-mail justin@compassnews360.com

Columnist hankers for pricey Cabernet Sauvignon produced by movie director’s vineyard


By Justin Manjorin | Wine & Food Editor

Well, I am home but still exploring Napa Valley and finding some wineries that I have not an opportunity to visit or to sample their wines. The area is so dynamic, that unless you go once every couple of years or attend wine tastings dedicated to Napa or almost any other active wine producing region, it is very easy to lose track of winery closings, startups and new offerings.

North Carolina is a perfect example of this trend. Seventeen years ago in one of my wine reference books, there is mention of North Carolina on one page. When I went to that page there was no mention of any winery in North Carolina. This doesn’t mean there weren’t any. No one back then took our state seriously as a producer of fine wines. My how the times have changed!

I subscribe to Wine Spectator and to several food and wine magazines. My wife and I go to wine tastings as often as possible. Of course, wine is a hobby with me along with gardening, cooking — and I am now taking up fishing. That’s a subject that I know very little about, except how to cook them and what wine to serve with them.

This article will be about the Rutherford American Viticultural Area, or AVA. Located in the central section of Napa Valley, Rutherford was founded by Thomas Rutherford in 1850 and today it contains about 6,300 hundred acres of which about 3,300 are dedicated to the production of grapes.

The main varieties are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay. Cabernet Sauvignon accounts for about 70 percent of all the grapes grown in this AVA.

The terrain is varied and in my opinion it is one of the prettier locales in the entire valley. The Rutherford AVA has about 67 or so wineries and 44 vineyards. The difference between the two is that not every vineyard makes wine. Some only raise grapes for resale. There is fierce competition between wineries to source the best grapes. As a result, many of the vineyards have long term relationships with particular wineries.

The unfortunate result of writing about the American Viticultural Areas within Napa Valley is that each of them has at least three wineries that I have personally visited. The fact that I write about one winery instead of another has nothing to do with the ‘non-mentioned’ winery’s’ quality. It is purely a personal choice and that is the heart of wine tasting.

There is a wine for everyone, although everyone might not like it.

My three favorite (at this moment) wineries in the Rutherford AVA are: Rubicon, Cakebread, and Beaulieu Vineyards, usually abbreviated to BV on the label.

Rubicon was originally founded in 1879 as Inglenook, by a Finnish fur trader, Gustav Niebaum. The winery achieved worldwide acclaim for its Cabernet Sauvignon and the wines produced in the 1940s are considered by many to be the best to ever come out of Napa Valley.

With hard times, a Niebaum descendant sold the vineyard, winery and buildings to a corporate buyer who eventually used the Inglenook tradename to launch a line of moderately priced wines. In 1975, Francis Ford Coppola bought the property back with the profit from his movie “The Godfather” and re-named it Nieman-Coppola. The name was changed to Rubicon and Cabernet Sauvignon is still among the best produced in the valley. Earlier this year, Coppola’s group reacquired the Inglenook tradename.

The estate produces a variety of red and white wine but Cabernet Sauvignon under the “flagship” name Rubicon is the best and most widely known of the wines, priced from $15 to $145. I have tried these wines and love them. Most are out of my price range but every once in a while one of my well-heeled friends shows up with one.

I make simple meal that allows the taste of the wine to take center stage. For example, roast lamb, duck breast or even something as simple as a hard cheese with fruit is delicious.

Although I am a big fan of both Cakebread and BV wines, I got carried away with the Rutherford AVA and the interesting history of Inglenook. I will cover both of these wineries in my next column.

If you have any comments or suggestions, I can be reached via e-mail justin@compassnews360.com

Napa Valley winery uses caves to age its red wines at a year round 59 degrees


By Justin Manjorin | Wine & Food Editor

In my last article, I wrote about NAPA Valley’s Howell Mountain ‘American Viticultural Area,’ often cited as an AVA. In this article, I will write about the Spring Mountain AVA, which is very similar in climate to Howell Mountain.

Pride Mountain winery

Pride Mountain winery

The picture to the right is Pride Mountain winery one of the two wineries that I will cover in this article. The other picture is of the Robert Keenan Winery.

The other picture is of the Robert Keenan Winery.

There is no particular order to the AVA’s. Often, they might have within their boundaries wineries that I am fond of or perhaps wineries that I wish to explore in greater detail having never been there in my travels. I am, however, generally heading from north to south.

Robert Keenan Winery

Robert Keenan Winery

The Spring Mountain AVA is located on the northern and eastern slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains with elevations ranging from 400-2600 feet. The soil is comprised of weathered volcanic and sedimentary rock .The climate is characterized by high winter rainfall 25-95 inches and very low summer rainfall of less than 1 inch. The climate is typical of the area with modifying influences from the altitude and its proximity to San Pablo Bay and the Pacific Coast. This leads to lower temperatures in the summer and slightly high temperatures in the fall.

Spring Mountain AVA produces both red and white wines with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Viognier being the predominant plantings. The red wines in general have good aging potential. There are approximately 8.600 acres in this AVA and about 3,500 acres of vines. The district is currently home to 28 wineries.

Pride Mountain, which was once known as the Summit Ranch, has a history of planting going back to 1869 — the oldest record available. The Pride family built the modern winery in 1997. The Pride estate encompasses 235 acres and is located in both Napa and Sonoma counties with the county line running through the crush pit. The main building, with its wooden beam construction, blends well with the mountain and is ‘so California.’

The estate produces Chardonnay, Viognier, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and a tiny bit of Sangiovese. The wines are of consistently high quality and receive good reviews from Stephen Tanzer and the Wine Spectator magazine. The storage facility is a 23,000 square foot series of caves that maintain a year round temperature of 59 degrees — the ideal temperature for aging red wines that have the potential to develop over a number of years.

The only drawback to the Pride wines is the price. The Chardonnay retails for about $ 26, the Cabernet Sauvignon for about $ 75. This pricing puts it out of the reach of most of us, myself included. I have tasted their wines both at the winery and in friends’ homes. I would urge anyone to try them if the opportunity should occur.

Keenan Winery was founded by Robert Keenan in the early 1970’s on the site of an abandoned 19th century vineyard and winery — reclaimed by the forest. Bob focused on three grape varieties-Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. His attention to every aspect of wine making has led to Keenan wines being recognized as a premier winery early in its life.

Bob’s son Michael took over the winery during the 1990s. Substantive changes were made and the wine achieved new heights. Michael still runs the winery today and has in the last seven years had 38 wines rated 90 points or better by Robert Parker Jr., a well known wine writer.

The winery produces about 12,000 cases a year. As with many other Napa wineries, these wines are not cheap. The Cabernet sauvignon retails for about $ 80 while the Chardonnay and Merlot cost $23 and $30. The Cabernet 2007 is outstanding and carries a rating of 94 points.

I have tasted examples of wines from both of these wineries and I was fortunate enough to buy three cases of the Keenan 2001, a 25th anniversary Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine was particularly tannic and it took about eight years of bottle aging to start to approach its peak.

I waited three years, then I opened one bottle per year to see how it was coming along.

The bottle that I tasted in 2010 was really good and several friends who tasted it said it was a great Cabernet. It is still evolving! I expect to be drinking this wine over the next 10 years. I still have about 23 bottles. I have been giving some to the wine seller from whom I originally purchased this wine as his friends drank up his entire supply.

These Cabernets pair very well with lamb, beef and game. They are certainly special occasion wines and can be found on line. I will continue the Napa Valley trek over the next several articles.

If you have any comments or suggestions, I can be reached via e-mail justin@compassnews360.com