Passport to Dry Creek Valley 2016
Every year in the spring, the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley invite wine lovers into their tasting rooms and vineyards for the open-house style weekend called Passport to Dry Creek Valley. Visitors from out of town, as well as wine-loving locals, appreciate the exclusive access to more than 45 wineries in one weekend. Pairing up with local chefs and caterers, each winery pours their wines alongside tasty culinary creations; at some wineries, there’s live music and games in which to partake, and most certainly at every location there are incredible views of this renowned appellation.
DaVero Farms & Winery
This year, I started my one-day exploration of Dry Creek Valley at DaVero Farms & Winery. I had visited DaVero last year during Passport to DCV and was eager to taste their new releases. A fully operational farm, olive oil-producer and winery, this Italian heritage estate does it all. In addition to their olive grove and farm full of bountiful produce, they also raise chickens, pigs and sheep. For their wines, they focus on strictly Italian varietals made in an Old World style—fermentation with strictly native yeasts and barrel aging in neutral oak. These wines are clean and enjoyable expressions of some of my favorite Italian varietals.
I was particularly impressed, perhaps too because of how well it paired with the day’s sunshine, with the 2015 Sangiovese Rosato. Full of strawberries and cream on the nose, this dry Rosé is all too enticing; starting off round and creamy, with gentle barrel spice, the palate shows excellent contrast with its crisp-textured finish. This refreshing, dry pink is abundant with juicy strawberry fruit, and well-balanced with spices and acidity that juxtapose its plump mouthfeel. I’ll certainly be back to enjoy more of this in the coming spring and summer months… as I can hardly think of a wine so aptly suited for relaxing, warm afternoons. This delightful wine was paired with a three-grain salad with fresh microgreens from their farm and it was absolutely delicious. The salad’s earthy and tangy flavors provided for a light and refreshing accompaniment to the wine.
Another enjoyable wine from DaVero was their 2014 Ponzo Vineyards Primitivo. Classic Primitivo aromas of dominant black cherry and pepper-infused fruit leap from the glass. On the palate, this full-bodied, round and sultry wine shows spiced black raspberry, black cherry and a lot of pleasant black pepper.
In Dry Creek Valley, the views almost couldn’t be any more iconic than at Ridge Vineyards. Gnarly, 115-year-old Zinfandel vines are head-trained in that wild, picturesque fashion that makes this appellation so visually stunning. The estate Lytton Springs Vineyard boasts soft, rolling hills painted against a warm blue sky; the sun beats down at just the right temperature on the contorted old vines and during Passport to DCV, you take your time at this estate to simply to take it all in. Seeing the beauty of these old vines, while sipping on some of the region’s most classic expressions of Zinfandel, really speaks to why Dry Creek Valley has become synonymous with high-quality Zinfandel.
Of course, the 2013 Lytton Springs was showing in rare form; in this vintage, this estate wine is an assemblage of 74% Zinfandel, 16% Petite Sirah, 8% Carignane and 2% Mataro (Mourvèdre). Always showing impeccable balance and elegance, the 2013 expression is no exception. Seductive aromas of spiced raspberry, black cherry and a touch of meatiness lift in elegant fashion from the glass. Balanced and restrained on the palate, the fruit is anything but overripe. Spiced plums are enveloped in gentle tannins, with a hint of integrated barrel spice. This is top-notch Zinfandel clearly harvested at just the right time in grape development.
From the 2014 vintage, the Dry Creek Valley East Bench Zinfandel shows a bit more barrel influence on the nose with its soft aromas of vanilla mixed with red berry fruit. The palate possesses nicely gripping tannins with restrained red fruit of dried cherry and strawberry. A hint of clove balances those fruit characteristics. This is a wine with poise and class, a seamless beauty that is easy to drink now, but will also age.
A special thank you to Ted, who was lucky enough to begin at Ridge Vineyards as a harvest intern and work his way into the tasting room, for the delightful splash of 2012 Monte Bello. It was an absolute pleasure to taste—a wine so good that I had to stop, put down my pen and simply sip while taking in those iconic views.
As for the cuisine, the tasty bite of sausage in yellow polenta—from chef Jesse McQuarrie of Feast Catering—was an excellent match for the balanced and restrained style of Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel. This pairing was so tasty that I hope to recreate it at home.
At Mauritson Wines, always a favorite stop of mine when I am in Dry Creek Valley, the ever-famous duo of Winemaker Clay Mauritson and Chef Charlie Palmer certainly lived up to expectations. It is always a pleasure to chat with Clay, as he is one of the most friendly, approachable and down-to-earth winemakers in Sonoma County. And you can bet he is always in the tasting room during Passport to Dry Creek Valley, kindly conversing with lovers of his wine and happily sharing stories about his family’s history in the region.
The Mauritson family history dates back to 1868, making more than 140 years of grape-growing experience in the Dry Creek Valley and Rockpile appellations. Today, Clay remains committed to not only growing high quality grapes from these appellations, but also to producing the wines. Since 1998, Clay has been crafting the Mauritson collection of wines, while continuing the family’s time-honored tradition of growing high-quality grapes. I have been a fan of these wines for a long time and I am always excited to taste the new vintages.
Offering a change of pace from the region’s famed Zinfandel, the 2014 Charlie Clay Pinot Noir—which is a Russian River Valley collaboration between winemaker and chef—showed beautifully and paired perfectly with the pulled pork sandwich. The 2014 Charlie Clay is a balanced, red-fruited Pinot Noir with a silky mouthfeel and complex flavors of fruit, spice and forest floor. Those earthier forest floor notes paired exceptionally well with the smoky flavor of the pulled pork, really enhancing the wine’s spice characteristics.
As for the Zinfandels, the 2013 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel is a classic expression of its appellation—showing spiced red fruit and a gentle barrel touch with vanilla on the rather luscious nose. Mirroring that on the palate, spiced red fruit is front and center with additional flavors of raspberry and cherry; there is a gentle stroke of vanilla underneath the fruit in its balanced and elegant style. The tannins are soft and approachable, and there is a pleasant, drying, cocoa-tinged note that lingers a while on the finish. I loved this Zinfandel alongside the Painted Hills shaved beef with parmesan crostini; it gave the wine a bit more robust weight and meatiness, and the arugula increased the spice in the wine, making it a complex pairing in terms of both texture and flavor.
More Passport to DCV Favorites
It’s hard to pick favorites, but there are always a handful of other memorable wines that are absolutely worth mentioning. This year, I fondly remember Amista Winery’s estate-grown Morningsong Vineyards Syrah. Full of rich flavor and spice, it was delicious with Franchetti’s wood-fired pizza. I also really enjoyed Kokomo Winery’s Pauline’s Vineyard Merlot—it was luscious, full of fruit and cocoa, and kissed perfectly by vanilla barrel-aging notes. I have learned over the years that Pauline’s Vineyard is a real treasure trove in Dry Creek Valley. I’ve tasted Kokomo’s Zinfandel from this same vineyard many times and the last several vintages have been fabulous. This Merlot was equally as enjoyable. Don’t pass up a chance to taste any of their Pauline’s Vineyard wines. Last but certainly not least, the Primitivo from Collier Falls always puts a smile on my face, and the 2012 vintage was showing in perfect form. An expression of this lovely growing season, this Primitivo boasts dark fruit with notes of clove in its full-bodied, layered style.
In Northern California wine country, the vines are thriving, bud has broken and the shoots are already reaching for the sun—a sure sign that it is time to pull out the refreshing white wines, crisp Rosés and lighter style reds. With a very distinct nose of poached pears dusted with cinnamon, Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery’s 2013 Russian River Valley Chardonnay is an excellent and refreshing choice to cool down with in the coming spring and summer months.
Although the estate is no longer owned by Gary Farrell, its roots can be traced back to the late 1970s, when Gary Farrell was working in the Russian River Valley with iconic producers such as Joe Rochioli and Tom Dehlinger. Farrell was inspired to make his own wine after working with these Russian River Valley masters and in 1982, his dream became a reality when he produced his first wine under the namesake label.
Working with Old World sensibilities but in a completely modern winemaking facility, Gary Farrell set out to produce classic Russian River Valley wines from the best sites in the region, including Westside Farms and Rochioli, growing to also include highly acclaimed sites such as Bacigalupi, Martinelli and many more. With the longstanding relationships the estate has in the region, as well as its passion to develop new relationships with growers and their iconic vineyards, Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery will surely always have an excellent source of fruit from which to craft their beautiful collection of wines.
Today, Winemaker Theresa Heredia stays true to the Burgundian-style roots on which this winery was founded. By way of U.C. Davis, Joseph Phelps, Freestone Vineyards and Domaine de Montille in France, Heredia brings an immense amount of experience to the Gary Farrell team. Having come on board in 2012, the 2013 vintage was only her second season at the estate. Now, after having tasted the 2013 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, it is safe to say that her talent and expertise shines in the glass.
A blend of iconic Russian River Valley Vineyards—Westside Farms, Bacigalupi, Olivet Lane, Rochioli, Allen, Lazy W and Martinelli—this classic Chardonnay was inoculated with Montrachet yeast for fermentation on the lees in 40% new oak; it was then aged for eight months in those same barrels before bottling.
In addition to the seductive aromas of poached, cinnamon-spiced pears, the 2013 Russian River Valley Chardonnay nose expresses lemon over crushed ice with inviting and gentle butteriness—a contrast of coolness with rich, weighted aromatics. There are also enticing mineral-like scents of wet rocks that give the aromatics a complex structure as they hover above the glass.
Lemon meringue overtakes the palate in elegant force, layered on top of poached, cinnamon-spiced pears and golden apple flavors that are wrapped up in a creamy, silky body. This wine has a voluptuousness to it that lures you in, while still maintaining fresh, crisp acidity and refreshing structure. There is just a gentle hint of butter that does not override, but rather gives complexity to the other flavors on the palate.
At the fourth annual Russian River Valley Paulée on Saturday, April 30th, winemakers from this renowned region will come together with local chefs to offer guests a spectacular evening of wine and food. Modeled after La Paulée de Meursault, which originated in France’s renowned Burgundy region, the Russian River Valley Paulée “builds on the traditions that came before us,” states Rod Berglund, Chair of the RRV Paulée and Winemaker of Joseph Swan Winery. He follows up, “But we still do it in our own way.”
Indeed, the La Paulée tradition in Burgundy originated as a lunch gathering for vignerons, harvest workers and the local community after the busy harvest season came to an end. What has morphed into a large, much-acclaimed, celebratory gathering is now one of France’s most highly anticipated events of the year. The event, which was rooted in camaraderie and sharing, still manifests in this regard today, and the RRV La Paulée holds true to that as well.
The inspiration for the RRV Paulée was in fact directly inspired by Berglund’s own experience at La Pauleée de Meursault in Burgundy. “It was a tremendous experience; the sharing was absolutely amazing and it was not unlike what we do here on a smaller scale—when winemakers get together and bring bottles to share at lunch,” Berglund reminisces. “We thought it would be great to expand that idea...and we thought we should embrace the spirit of it.”
As the RRV Paulée has grown over the past four years, Berglund appreciates that it has always been “about all of us coming together and sharing with people the life we get to live. It’s an opportunity to share the wine and camaraderie. . . .[and] to celebrate where we are growing the grapes and making the wine.”
Truly celebrating the where, RRV Paulée is actually hosted among the vines, bringing guests into the intimate folds of Russian River Valley vineyards. While the dinner is hosted in a different vineyard each year, this year the event will honor its roots by going back to the original location of the first annual RRV Paulée, Arista Winery, nestled in the northern stretches of Russian River Valley on the well-known Westside Road.
“We are excited to host,” states Mark McWilliams, who manages the day to day operations at Arista Winery. “It is a great opportunity and an honor. We have a beautiful property. . . .and when we were asked to host it again this year, it was a no-brainer to say yes.”
Like Berglund, McWilliams too, believes that “the spirit of La Paulée is such an appropriate and fitting theme in Sonoma County.” And to be honest, I completely agree. In all of my wine travels across the state, the sense of cooperation and camaraderie among Sonoma County producers, as well as their openness with wine lovers, has never felt quite matched anywhere else. There is something truly authentic about this wine growing region—a real sense of community in a down-to-earth vibe that makes the region and its producers accessible, like family.
“While it is a Russian River Valley rendition of what La Paulée is,” McWilliams furthers, “it is also a completely original event. We wanted to bring something really authentic and original. The spirit of our La Paulée is both gorgeous and casual—it is the essence of Sonoma County.”
In true gorgeous and casual form, the fourth annual RRV La Paulée will bring together illustrious bottles of wine from around the world—selected from private cellars by both the attending winemakers and guests—and will be shared with all in attendance. As Berglund states, “The rule is: If you have a bottle and you open it, anyone can share.” He furthers this point in stating, “You have to have a lot of fun—no sitting at your table! Everybody needs to run around. . . .it’s all about bringing something special from your cellar and getting to share it.”
Building on that sense of camaraderie and sharing, the food featured at RRV La Paulée also embodies that same spirit. “The food is important, but it’s more about bringing in the chefs who understand who we are, and that are a part of the community themselves,” Berglund states. “The center stage is the people who are coming, the wines they are bringing and the sharing of it all. But it [the chefs and food] is all a part of the whole thing—part of what we do here everyday in Sonoma County.”
This year’s La Paulée will bring local celebrity chefs like Duskie Estes (ZAZU Kitchen and Farm) and Dustin Valette (Valette Healdsburg) into the fold. There is no doubt that these chefs undeniably live the wine country lifestyle and truly understand what it is means to be a part of the Sonoma County community. “We bring these guys in because they are the fabric of the county, just like the producers [wineries] are," McWilliams says.
From the spirit of camaraderie and sharing, to the abundance of wine and food—all in a picturesque vineyard setting—the fourth annual Russian River Valley La Paulée will be “an extraordinary, technicolor way to experience Russian River Valley,” McWilliams pointedly states.
A Historic Napa Valley Icon
For 140 years, the iconic Beringer Vineyards has been the longest continuously operating winery in Napa Valley. On April 24th, the historic estate will commemorate its longstanding history in the valley with the First Annual Founder’s Day celebration.
The Beringer family history began in Napa Valley when Jacob Beringer arrived in California and became the Cellar Foreman for Charles Krug. Six years later, Jacob and his brother, Frederick, purchased a 215-acre parcel of land in St. Helena. The very land that Beringer Vineyards sits on today is part of that original parcel purchase. 1876 marks the estate’s first harvest and crush, with Jacob making the wines and Frederick operating the business. In that first year, Beringer wine was born with their 18,000-case production.
In the years that followed, the stunning Rhine House (pictured above) and Old Stone Winery were built, in addition to other structures and wine cellars that are still on the property today. The estate passed through hands of the family throughout the early 1900s, as Jacob and Frederick passed away. Even during Prohibition in the 1920s—when other wineries had to close their doors—they managed to operate with a federal license to produce and sell sacramental wine. Throughout the 1930s and beyond, Beringer Vineyards built their estate into the icon that it is today.
In 1976, the same year that California wines impressed at the Paris Tasting, Beringer Vineyards launched their Private Reserve collection of wines. In present day, after countless awards and high scores from critics, the Private Reserve collection is revered among enthusiasts and collectors alike.
First Annual Founder's Day
Bringing together this historic past and the estate’s longstanding commitment to crafting fine Napa Valley wines, Beringer Vineyards offers guests an afternoon of celebration at their First Annual Founder’s Day. Featuring live music by Whiskey & Honey, and of course, plenty of food to go with the numerous wine tasting opportunities, the day is set to be a fun-filled affair at their stunning St. Helena estate.
Hosted on April 24th from 11am-4pm, Founder’s Day General Admission ($25) will offer:
Throughout the day, there will also be two seminar-style tastings. These exclusive opportunities will allow guests to get up close and personal with Beringer Vineyards' finest wines:
Led by Chief Winemaker Mark Beringer, the sneak-peek at the highly acclaimed 2013 vintage Reserve Tasting will be an intimate look at the soon-to-be-released Reserve wines, and provide guests with a chance to hear Mark Beringer talk about how he crafts some of Napa Valley’s finest wines. During the Private Reserve Library Tasting, Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson will educate attendees on the complexities of older Beringer's vintage Private Reserve wines—expect to taste six wines that span four decades of this estate’s most elite collection.
Beringer Vineyards is poised to offer guests a fun, historically rich and wine-filled day at their First Annual Founder’s Day event, and I expect that it will exceed expectations far and wide.
I have to admit that I was very impressed with this wine. Having, rather unfortunately, not tasted as much wine from Lake County as I would like, I was unsure of what to except from the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon from Hawk and Horse Vineyards. To my delight, the wine was a beauty—even in this lees than ideal vintage for California winemakers.
I say less than ideal because most California winemakers will tell you that the cooler 2011 vintage was a challenge, but in reality, for many in the hotter appellations of the state, it was a relief to experience cooler conditions during the growing season. It appears as though in Lake County, where temperatures easily exceed upper 90s° during the growing season, that the coolness seemed to be a positive trait of the vintage for this Cabernet Sauvignon.
Hawk and Horse Vineyards is located in the Red Hills appellation of Lake County. Nestled just on the northeast side of Napa County, in the northern stretches of the Mayacamas Mountain range, Red Hills appellation terroir is comprised of high elevation, with vineyards planted between 1,350 and 2,600+ feet above sea level; well-drained soils of red volcanic origin, rich in obsidian, quartz (locally called "Lake County diamonds") and gravel; and oceanic and lake influences bringing big diurnal shifts, aiding a long, slow and steady ripening process.
The Cabernet Sauvignon grapes for this 2011 bottling come from Hawk and Horse Vineyards' 18-acre estate; the vines are planted at 2,200 feet above sea level on mountainous terrain. The vineyards are both CCOF Organic and Demeter Biodynamic certified. As I noted before, 2011 was a cool year; in the Hawk and Horse Vineyards' estate vineyards, this meant that during the growing season temperatures ranged between upper 90s° and lower 100s° during the day, and cooled down to the high 60s° at night.
The 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon from Hawk and Horse Vineyards was aged for 20 months in 80% new French oak, with the remaining 20% being two-year-old French oak. Coming in at 14.5% alcohol and including a small 2% of Petite Verdot added in, the resulting wine is one of both intensity and finesse.
Black cherry and red currant fruit open on the nose alongside dusty soil nuances, purple floral aromas of violet and lilac, and a dark chocolate backbone. As the wine opens, the dark chocolate aromas lighten and become more cocoa-like in nature, with an evolution of fruit that leans towards blueberry. Those same black cherry aromas are found on the palate as well, in addition to a hint of black cherry cola with blueberry, and dried red cherry begins to show as the wine breathes in the glass. Those red cherry notes feel enveloped in chocolate on the dry finish, reminiscent of chocolate-covered dried red cherries, and are supported by the finessed texture and medium body of the wine. The new French oak is but an integrated piece of this well-balanced wine—not dominating any of the nuances in the slightest bit, but rather giving the wine its pleasant texture and gentle tannic undercurrent.
This is an elegant expression of Cabernet Sauvignon from the Red Hills appellation in Lake County. The mountainous terroir, clean vineyard practices and light touch in the cellar make this five-year-old wine a real pleasure to taste.