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Wine Bloggers Ward Kadel, Matthew Horbund, and Thea Dwelle At Hahn Tasting Room

Wine Bloggers At Hahn Tasting Room

I don’t care what Rod Stewart says, it’s the bloggers that have more fun. Specifically the wine bloggers. We take our task of tasting, discussing, discovering and sharing wine seriously. However, we have a ton of fun doing it. We have fun when friends come over to taste wine with us. We have fun when we join others at wine events and dinners. However, perhaps the most fun the wine bloggers have is when they visit Hahn Family Wines in Santa Lucia Highlands, California. Don’t get me wrong, a visit to any winery elicits excitement and fun for a blogger (or any sane person), but Hahn has something that makes it very special, the Blogger’s Block.

During the 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference, a number of awesome winebloggers, including friends Thea Dwelle and Ward Kadel, pictured to the left, had the opportunity to not only visit Hahn Family Wines, but each had the chance to plant their own grape vine. They planted a block of Grenache,which they will one day help harvest and make into wine. And while they wine may not make it to your glass, it will certainly grace the lips of a lucky wine lover.

Wine Bloggers with Hahn Family Wines Vineyard Manager Andy Mitchell

Wine Bloggers with Hahn Family Wines Vineyard Manager Andy Mitchell

This May, I visited Hahn to film a television segment for Daytime, a nationally syndicated morning show. It happened to coincide with the Santa Lucia Highlands 4th annual Gala event where 30 wine makers showcase their latest vintages to adoring wine lovers. The good folks at Hahn decided to make it a Trifecta of Wine Love, and invited the bloggers back to see their vines. The bloggers also had the chance to tour the property, with a guided tour by Vineyard Manager Andy Mitchell, who discussed the various soils, grapes, and even the avocado grove. The tour ended at the blogger block where Hahn Wine Maker Paul Clifton opened a few bottles of Hahn Grenache and treated the bloggers to a taste of what their vines will someday become, delicious wine.

Hahn Winemaker Paul Clifton

Hahn Winemaker Paul Clifton

The fun didn’t stop at the blogger block, however. Next, the entire group made their way back to the Hahn tasting room, and had the chance to join the Santa Lucia Highlands Gala, and enjoy the wines made from the various wineries of the appellation.  Below you can watch the segment from Daytime, to see the fun that the bloggers had.

I don’t want you to think that only the wine writers can have this much fun. You can too! The Santa Lucia Highlands have a number of fantastic wineries and vineyards to visit. I had the chance to visit Hahn, Paraiso and Pisoni and not only tour their wineries but also meet the fantastic people behind the wines. In the coming weeks I’ll write a little about those visits, and also share the television segments we made of their fantastic families, farms and wines. I’d love to help you plan your next visit to California wine country. Then you can have fun like the bloggers do! After all, it’s A Good Time With Wine!

The Bloggers of Blockers Block

The Bloggers of Blockers Block

There were a number of other wine writers there. I hope I don’t miss any, but they included

Tim Beauchamp

Russ Bebe

Larry Chandler

Brix Chicks Liza and Xandria

Some more photos of Hahn and the Santa Lucia Highlands Gala

Wine Aerators and Decanters

Eisch Cooling Decanter

Eisch Cooling Decanter

One question that I’m asked quite frequently is “Do you need to decant all red wines.” I’m sure you’ve been told by your English teachers that “All” and “Never” are bad, bad words. There are, however,  several reasons to decant wines. First, as wines age, sediment will settle in the bottle as part of the natural process. Decanting gives you the opportunity to pour the wine carefully, leaving the sediment in the decanter while the wine makes it to your glass.  Another reason to decant wines is to allow air to mix with younger wines, opening them up and bringing out the bouquet and palate.

Ehlers Estate 1886 Cabernet Sauvignon

Front Entrance of Ehlers Estate

Front Entrance of Ehlers Estate

Just down the road from Hartwell Vineyards and Winery stands a stone winery that was built in 1886 by Barnard Ehlers. That stone winery became the cornerstone of 43.8 acres of vineyards that were pieced together by French entrepreneur and philanthropist Jean Leducq in 2001, which he had began acquiring in 1985. Jean Leducq’s vision was to put together a Napa Valley estate capable of producing Bordeaux style and quality wines.  He realized this vision when the winery’s inaugural 2000 vintage Cabernet Sauvignon was released.

How good is Hartwell

Entrance to Hartwell Vineyard and Winery

Entrance to Hartwell Vineyard and Winery

Just a hop, skip and mountain or two away from the three wineries I visited in Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma lies Napa Valley. This time, my travels took me specifically to St. Helena, and my first stop was Hartwell Vineyard and Winery.  With a history of producing wine that in 2005 was given a 95 point rating by Wine Spectator, I was sure the Hartwell family would not only wow us with their wines, but offer a great visit. I was right.

Hartwell Vineyards

Hartwell Vineyards

We met with Linda LaPonza, Hartwell’s General Manager, and daughter of proprietors Bob and Blanca Hartwell, who provided us with not only a rich history of Hartwell, but a fabulous tour of their estate and tasting  of their wines. Linda also introduced us to Hartwell’s winemaker Benoit Touquette, who discussed the process of making their fantastic wine. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of their oak aging the Sauvignon Blanc, when many people age in stainless steel vats.

 We started the visit off watching a test of a new berry sorter, which worked based on computerized specifications to select the perfect grape. This test was just one part of the technology Hartwell employs to create fantastic wine.  A tour of the winery introduced us to the ceramic egg shaped vats that Hartwell recently installed. My understanding, which of course is limited, is the egg shape causes the wine to constantly be moving around in the vat, so that pump overs are less frequent. A pump over is the process to circulate fermenting juice of red wines from the bottom of the tank over the skin cap that forms during fermentation to ensure optimal extraction of color and flavor and prevent bacterial spoilage. Hartwell does also have several regular vats, and Benoit was doing a pump over and punch down while we chatted.

The last part of wine geekery I’ll mention is the racks that Hartwell uses. I believe they were called oxo racks, but that could be wrong. These racks allow the barrels to be turned during the aging process using rollers, rather than having to lift and turn the racks using brute force.  All of these advancements in wine making technology are used by Hartwell to continue to make delicious wines for you to enjoy. So, lets go to the video of my tasting the Hartwell Estate Reserve 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon.

 

Hartwell Vineyards 2006 Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Matthew Scott Horbund on Vimeo.

View from top of Hartwell Estate

View from top of Hartwell Estate

The Hartwell Tasting Room manager gave us a phenomenal walk through of the wines, food pairings, and made the experience quite elegant. He advised that when you plan on visiting, call for availability and reservation. You can reach Hartwell toll free at (800) 366-6516 to find out about tours, tastings and options.

After the tasting, Linda took us on a tour of the estate. I was enamored with the beautiful views from the hill atop which Hartwell is perched. Linda’s ability to make the land come alive, as she grew up on it, was spectacular. We had the opportunity to see where Bob and Blanca Hartwell live on the estate, as well as drive around the water reservoir, and through the vineyards.

Tasting Hartwell Grapes
Tasting Hartwell Grapes

No visit to a winery would be complete without walking through the grape vines. I’ve had the opportunity to visit vineyards during winter, when the leaves (canopy) are cut back and only the vine itself is there to see, and it’s a wonderful visit. However, being able to pluck a grape from the vine,during harvest of course, and taste the fruit as always a special treat. I would say there’s never a bad time to visit a winery, but the best time is definitely harvest in my mind. Of course, there’s something to be said of the gorgeous colors you’ll see on the grape leaves after harvest, during autumn. So what are you waiting for, get on the phone and call the great folks at Hartwell. I assure you, it’ll be a good time with wine.

Tasting and Talking about Quivira – 2007 Grenache

Quivira

Quivira

I wasn’t fortunate enough to join my fellow wine writers for the 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference, where many had the opportunity to walk the Quivira Vineyards. I was, however, fortunate enough to visit Quivira and two other wineries as part of a Visit Dry Creek series of wine segments for Daytime, a nationally syndicated morning show. We had a great time visiting first Michel-Schlumberger, and then Montemaggiore, and knew that our time at Quivia would be equally as enjoyable.

Quivira Waterfall

Quivira Waterfall

Upon arriving at Quivira Vineyards & Winery, you are greeted by a beautiful landscape, and a very serene waterfall. This sets the stage for your visit, where you’ll learn about their biodynamic farming practices, take a self guided tour through their organic garden, and of course sample their wines made from their biodynamically grown grapes.  Check out the short video of my discussing Quivira and their 2007 Grenache, then continue down to more information about my visit.

Quivira Vineyards & Winery 2007 Grenache from Matthew Scott Horbund on Vimeo.

Though they have many wines to sample, from Sauvignon Blanc to Zinfandel, Syrah, and Mourvedre, Quivira is one of only a handful of wineries in Dry Creek making Grenache, which is why I wanted to discuss it with you. Grenache, or Garnacha as it’s called in Spain, typically has flavors of berries with a nice spicy component that lingers on the finish. As I mentioned in the video, I noticed a nice dark but still red berry bouquet and palate, and the spice on the finish was beautiful. We had some of the wine left over the next day, and it’s palate smoothed a bit, the tannins that dried my mouth during the video tasting weren’t as firm, and it was drinking wonderfully. The 2007 Grenache was aged 15 months in 90% neutral oak, 10% new oak, and boasts a hefty 14.9% ABV (Alcohol by volume).

In the video I mentioned the typical fatty meat pairings for this wine, as the Grenache would pair well with lamb, veal, and beef. I also wouldn’t hesitate to put this with a nice smoked or bbq rib or pork, or game birds. It’s a fairly versatile wine that doesn’t need a lot of fanfare to drink. While I believe it would benefit from some time decanting, it was quite fine right out of the bottle with no air.

Peter Kight at the sorter

Peter Kight at the sorter

When we visited Quivira, proprietor Pete Kight was sorting through the grapes, working hard to ensure that the quality of grapes going into his wine was up to standards. We didn’t have the opportunity to chat with Pete, but did have a chance to sit with winemaker Steven Cantor as well as farm manager Andrew Beedy. From Andrew, we learned about the organic garden and farming practices, the various livestock on the property, and his thoughts on Biodynamic farming. Biodynamic farming is a step above organic farming in terms of caring for the land, farming sustainably, and not using chemical pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. However, Andrew makes it sound easy, saying “Basically, I give plants water. That’s what I do. The plants do all the hard work, we just make sure their environment is as healthy as it can be.”

Quivira Grapes

Quivira Grapes

Winemaker Steven Cantor was more than happy to discuss not only the wines he makes, but many other thoughts on winemaking, biodynamic farming, and life. Dubbed the “Philosopher Winemaker”, it was very interesting to hear his passion for the grape, and the wines he makes. He wasn’t able to single out any one Quivira wine that he’d call his Baby, despite my proding, loving each one of them for an individual characteristic.

There’s so much to see and do at Quivira, my video and post don’t scratch the surface. From their olive oils and preserves from their garden, to the farm to table dinners they do once a quarter, there’s always something new and enjoyable available at Quivira. Be sure to check out the Daytime segment which airs on Wednesday November 18th. If you can’t find Daytime in your viewing area, the segment will be online shortly at tweetmetv.com.

*Disclaimer – the wine tasted in this segment was provided by Quivira during the visit.

*Credit – the photo of Wine Creek in the video was ‘borrowed’ from Frank Morgan at drinkwhatyoulike.com .. hope the link back to your Quivia post makes up for that!

Come back tomorrow, when we journey over the hill to Napa, and start our visit of three St. Helena wineries. Are you ready?

Talking about Montemaggiore 2005 Syrah

A trip through Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma affords one plenty of opportunities to stop in to various tasting rooms and sample the wines they have to offer. However, it’s only when you travel off the beaten path that you’ll come across Montemaggiore. Nestled high on the mountainside, Montemaggiore isn’t “open to the public” per se. Rather, you need to call Lise or Vince Ciolino, owners of the vineyard since 2001, and make an appointment to take a tour of their beautiful property and taste their great wines. Our second stop on our Daytime tour through Dry Creek Valley brought us up the winding mountain road to their tasting room, and I’m excited to take you there on a virtual tour and tasting.

There are a few different wines available from Montemaggiore, from their Paolo’s Vineyard Syrah I discuss in the below video, to a Cabernet Syrah Blend named Nobile and even a Syrah Rose.  Additionally, the Ciolinos offer olive oil from the olive trees on the property. So, lets enjoy a virtual wine tasting together, and find out what I thought of wine from this vineyard that’s off the beaten path.

Talking about Montemaggiore 2005 Syrah from Matthew Scott Horbund on Vimeo.

Syrah is not a very frequently grown grape in Dry Creek Valley, with approximately 306 acres of syrah vines planted. This is a stark contrast to the 2,316 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 2,251 acres of Zinfandel, and 1,500 acres of Merlot reported planted in Dry Creek Valley in 2006. However, I believe the Ciolinos have found a grape that they are able to successfully grow and turn into a delicious wine. As I mentioned in the video, it’s not very jammy like many California Syrah’s can be. Mind you, it’s not that jammy is wrong or bad, but I prefer my Syrah to be a bit more subtle fruit wise, and the spice and oak influence a bit more prominent when I drink a Syrah, and I think Montemaggiore has captured that in their wines. The Paolo’s Vineyard 2005 Syrah was rated a 92 by the International Wine review, and costs approximtely $35. It’s aged in a mixture of 84% French and 16% American oak, of which 38% is new.

Paolo Feeding Sheep at Montemaggiore

Paolo Feeding Sheep at Montemaggiore

Lise, pronounced Leezah, like the tower of Pisa, and her husband Vince care very much not only about the quality of their wines, but the impact growing them has on the land. They firmly believe in organic and biodynamic farming, and don’t use chemical products, but rather employ natural fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Their sustainable farming practice includes drip irrigation and natural compost, as well as several sheep that tend the grass and naturally fertilize the land. Vince will happily discuss the care they exercise in working the land they also live on during a visit. You’ll be able to hear from Vince and his farming practices at Montemaggiore during the Daytime segment.

As you can imagine, there’s a lot more to Montemaggiore than we’ve discussed here. The television segment of our visit to Montemaggiore airs on Daytime Tuesday November 17th. If Daytime isn’t on in your area, we’ll have the clip available online at tweetmetv.com shortly. I’ll update this post, perhaps put the link in the comments, and you can see Lise, Vince, and our fabulous trip to our second Dry Creek Valley winery. If you missed our first stop at Michel-Schlumberger, you will want to take a few minutes to see how wonderful that visit was!

Do you know the way to Michel-Schlumberger

While the American Viticultural Area, or AVA, of Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma is synonymous with Zinfandel, there’s a lot of great wine coming from this area that you shouldn’t miss. To raise your awareness of what wines you can enjoy from Dry Creek Valley, I took a trip to three wineries in September, filming television segments for the nationally syndicated morning show Daytime. Our first stop was Michel-Schlumberger, where we had not only the opportunity to meet with President and General Manager Judd Wallenbrock, Wine maker Michael Brunson, and Director of Retail & Direct to Consumer Operations Jim Morris, we got to tour the vineyard, meet all of the staff, and enjoy a night of music at the winery.

The short video here is just one part of the experience we had at Michel-Schlumberger. It will take you on the first of two virtual tastes and tours of this 30 year old winery. The second part is the television segment airing on Daytime Monday, November 16th, 2009. If Daytime isn’t available in your viewing area, I’ll have a comment below with a link to the segment online shortly.

Michel-Schlumberger Deux Terres Cabernet Sauvignon from Matthew Scott Horbund on Vimeo.

*Disclaimer* The wine discussed in this post and in the video were provided to me at no cost by Michel-Schlumberger.

I know that I started this post by saying Dry Creek Valley and Zinfandel were synonymous, but in 2006, Cabernet Sauvignon accounted for 2,316 acres of vines planted, topping 2nd place Zinfandel which had 2,251 acres under vine. Michel-Schlumberger produces various Bordeaux varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as well as Pinot Blanc, Syrah and Chardonnay. The wine tasted in the video, the Deux Terres 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, is their top non-reserve offering and was an enjoyable wine. It didn’t need much time to open, perhaps 20 or 30 minutes.

Right out of the bottle the nose was dark fruits, black cherry and blackberry, with a mocha and spice component that was very inviting. The palate was dark cherry fruit with medium to firm tannins, giving that dry, almost astringent feeling on the inside of my mouth, similar to black tea. I enjoyed the finish of pepper and spice, and while it wasn’t extremely long, it was quite nice. Robin loved the wine to just sip on, though she didn’t feel it complimented her pasta and red sauce. I thought it was nice enough with my eggplant parmesan hero, but really feel it needs a rich beef, veal or lamb dish to compliment the flavors and structure.

The vineyard is farmed organically, as I mentioned in the video, with an eye towards sustainability and the environment.  Not only does the team at Michel-Schlumberger care about the land they farm to bring you delicious wines, they care about Dry Creek itself. Together with other wineries in the area, they’re working to restore Wine Creek and keep the Steelhead Trout population strong and preserve an integral part of the ecology. A visit to Michel-Schlumberger will allow you the opportunity to walk the vineyards that were established in 1979 by Jean-Jacques Michel. Jacques Schlumberger joined the team as a minority partner in 1991, and took over the estate as majority partner in 1993. When Michael Brunson joined the team as assistant wine maker in 1993, Fred Payne was the head wine maker. The Deux Terres we talked about tonight was one of Fred Payne’s wines, as Michael Brunson took over the wine making role in 2006.

You can follow the winery on twitter at @m_schlumberger and Jim is on twitter too as @sonomawineguy. Jim, and others at the winery write about all things Michel-Schlumberger on Benchland Blog. Other writeups about the Deux Terres 2004 can be found at Drink Dry Creek, and other visits to the winery on Breathe, Luscious Lushes, and  Wannabe Wino.

Hopefully you’ll visit Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma and Michel-Schlumberger soon.  When you do, call the winery before your visit, and be sure to allow enough time to not only tour the grounds but taste their wines. Oh, and tell them mmWine sent you!

Be sure to tune in to Daytime and see our tour of the vineyards and winery, as well as the tasting with Show co-host Lindsay MacDonald.