On the Trail

The Secret of St. Aubin

David Driscoll

Pulling into the sleepy little village of St. Aubin, off the main drag through Burgundy's Côte de Beaune, nothing in the nearby vicinity gives the impression of prime real estate. The stone buildings still show the remnants of once-painted placards and advertisements, while the streets are empty and silent as the rocks crunch under your feet. Don't let the environment fool you, however: St. Aubin is Burgundy's next Brooklyn. It's like Oakland just across from Chassagne and Puligny-Montrachet, the San Francisco of chardonnay. St. Aubin was once a source of value and overlooked potential, but it's now a hot spot for wine drinkers in the know and the secret isn't all that safe anymore. From Beaune down to Santenay, the main road runs like the 101 freeway down to Palo Alto, with nothing but high-end properties everywhere you look: Pommard, Volnay, and Meursault until you get to the twin Montrachets, But jutting out to the west, a little off-shoot valley with limestone rich soils has quietly been making some of the best white wine values in all of Burgundy. Of course, that was until the word began to spread. Today, there are still a number of great St. Aubin deals, but you have to act a little faster than before and perhaps buy a bit deeper.

We rolled into the commune of Gamay and over to St. Aubin this past February as part of our trip through the region and I made sure to pay extra attention to the 2015 expressions. In the best vintages, like 2014, the wines have a clean and vibrant acidity with a delicate streak of minerality and medium weight. They are elegant wines. They have depth, nuance, and they taste expensive. Wines like the 2014 Marc Colin 1er Cru "Clos de Meix" and the "En Monceau" have been my prized secret weapons for the past few months. I've rolled into dinner parties and gatherings with a chilled bottle of St. Aubin and said nothing, only to have people approaching me minutes later after tasting their first swig. "This is incredible!," they exclaim. Yeah, I know! That's why I have a refrigerator full of this stuff, waiting to be unloaded when in need. With the talk of 2015 being a warmer vintage, I was worried the St. Aubins might not have that same trademark finesse. Luckily, most of what we tasted quickly put to bed any of that fear. While 2015 doesn't have the zip of the previous harvest, the wines don't lack freshness and the extra baby fat they've put on only adds to their charm. 

When we talk about value in St. Aubin, we're still talking about $40-$50 bottles of chardonnay. If you need daily drinkers, you need to check out our fantastic direct-import Mâcon selections, but for a Friday night splurge these wines are still in reach. Contrast the premier cru selections against the neighboring Montrachet expressions and you should be paying about half the price (most of the 1er cru Chassagne and Puligny editions are in the $70-$100 range). Not only are you not sacrificing much in terms of quality, you're buying in before the rush really hits. One of the best examples of 2015's continued quality is the 2015 Pierre-Yves Colin "Le Banc," a wine that showcases the talents of perhaps the region's most popular winemaker (the descendent of the aforementioned Marc Colin). Pierre-Yves has become renowned for his snappy and focused flavors, choosing not to stir up the lees for added richness so as to let the terroir's true character shine through. The "Le Banc" has a bit more oak, but it's still carrying that limey and lemony acidity right to the finish; there's almost a mineral residue on your palate minutes later. Again, you'll pay double for Colin's Montrachet expressions, but you won't necessarily get more out of them. Considering Pierre-Yves's hipster street cred, I'm surprised the wine wasn't more expensive.

But that's the secret of St. Aubin: high quality white Burgundy with more reasonable prices for everyday folks like you and me. Just don't tell too many people. These are my secrets, too.

-David Driscoll

On the Slopes of Côte-Rotie

Keith Mabry

Earlier this year, I added the buying duties for Loire Valley wines to an already full plate of Rhône and French Regional responsibilities and set out for a grand expedition through France. It was an exciting opportunity, as many of my favorite whites and reds in the world come from the communes outside of Bordeaux and Burgundy. After a recent two-week journey beginning in the Rhône Valley and finishing in the Loire, there is much to discuss. One of our great new finds this year came from our visit to Christophe Billon in Côte-Rotie. Residing in the lieu-dit of Côte Rozier, Billon has flown under the radar for far too long. In 1991, while working at Guigal, Christophe and his wife Maryline began their winemaking side project by planting their own plots . He eventually left Guigal in 2008 to dedicate his full time to those estate vineyards. Christophe now makes three different Côte-Roties along with an entry-level syrah, viognier and a beautiful Condrieu. When we visited, he took us on a little cellar tour, climbing up and down barrels to pull tasting samples with his wine thief.

His 2015 Christophe Billon “Les Elotins” Côte-Rotie (currently available to pre-order for $44.99) will bottle in September. The fruit all comes from their Côte Brune vineyard. The wine has a gorgeous core of concentrated cherry fruit. Persistent on the palate, it finishes with a panoply of baking spices. The 2015 Christophe Billon “Côte Rozier” Côte-Rotie (also a pre-order at $59.99) is the first vintage this wine has been bottled as a single lieu-dit (designated vineyard site). It is everything one could hope for in a Côte-Rotie with its aromas of grilled meats and crushed rocks. The wine is superbly complex but will require a little patience with its firmtannins.  We finished the round of 2015s with a peek at the 2015 Christophe Billon “La Brocarde” Côte-Rotie (pre-order $69.99)Coming from his most select parcel in Côte Brune, the young tannic structure was present but it could not conceal the aromas of blueberry, potpourri and leather. It was highly expressive and an exceptional way to finish this round. We left the cellar incredibly smitten with the Billon wines and we cannot stress enough that it’s time to get on board before this train leaves the station.

-Keith Mabry

Araujo Rises Again to Honor Napa's Past

David Driscoll

It was around eleven AM on Tuesday morning when I pulled into Wheeler Farms off Zinfandel Road, the site of the new winery and custom crush facility in St. Helena where the Araujos are now making wine. I'd already spotted Bart and Daphne Araujo looking out over the property in the distance from my car. I think they were expecting me to enter from the main entrance, but I managed to sneak in through the service gate with an incoming delivery. I parked, grabbed my camera bag, and set out across the lot to say hello. I had never met the famed husband and wife duo (I'd talked with Bart on the phone), but I've seen them in pictures over the years, so I recognized them immediately. We shook hands and commenced with introductions, an acquaintance I've been eager to make since I first visited their previous estate last year—the Eisele Vineyard, now a part of François Pinault's Château Latour empire. The couple sold the iconic estate to the French portfolio back in 2013 after twenty-three years of stewardship over one of California's most heralded and historic properties—a move that signaled a sign of the times in Napa. "We've had a lot of offers over the years, but selling wasn't ever on our mind," Bart told me; "However, when this offer came we knew Pinault's group would respect the vineyard and its integrity. For almost a quarter of a century we worked at one of the great single vineyard properties in Napa—a first growth. We were only stewards, however. We always saw ourselves as just passing through. We had a responsibility to find the right fit even if we weren't quite ready."

Bart went on to explain that he had always considered making wine after selling Araujo, but building a brand new, state-of-the-art winery in order to do so was never a part of that original post-Eisele plan. The Wheeler Farms project, however, was a fascinating proposal, especially as it had already been granted the permits for a new winery on site. After careful thought and speculation, the Araujos erected a modern, green, technologically-advanced super lab that was built on the experience and the wisdom of more than two decades of winemaking. "We got the chance to go back and change some things based on what we learned previously," Bart continued; "We've built one of the great winemaking facilities in all of California. I don't think we knew what we were missing at Araujo until we saw what was possible here." While our tour began with a walk through the site and an explanation of its abilities, I had to backtrack a bit with my questioning, beginning with what had inspired the Araujos to make such an investment at this point in time. I saw Bart's eyes light up at the inquiry.

"I went back to my formative experiences with California cabernet—the great Inglenooks of the sixties and the Mondavi Reserves from the late sixties and early seventies. I thought: wouldn't it be great to try and replicate those wines?" he said.

I had to admit; I didn't fully understand the distinction. Weren't the Araujo wines from Eisele Vineyard already considered the benchmark for the region? Bart explained further: "The Eisele wines were great, but they were all from a single vineyard, whereas the wines that inspired me initially were blends. They were blends of multiple sites. I wanted to know: could we make a wine that's the equivalent? Could we achieve that?" This was an unprecedented development, especially considering that the industry is moving in the exact opposite direction. Everything in California's modern food and wine scene right now is focusing on terroir, locality, and the pureness of single expression wines. The current fashion of all drinks is rooted in singularity. What Bart was proposing was no different than a famous single malt distillery proclaiming a return to blended Scotch! On top of that, here were the Araujos speaking romantically about California's glorious past, yet touting the achievements of their modern facility with all the accoutrements of the Napa's future. I was intrigued and simultaneously puzzled. However, to understand the Araujos' quest to recreate Napa's former glories, you have to start in the winery. 

"We had previously purchased fruit from a number of vineyards as part of our Altagracia label at Araujo," Bart explained as we entered the building. The Araujos were interested in exploring the same regions of Napa from which the legendary Inglenook and Mondavi wines had sourced their cabernet grapes. "We had friends who owned properties in Rutherford and Oakville and were able to sell us some cabernet; each site had its own unique personality," Daphne added. We were joined in the winery by Sarah Donley, the production manager at the Wheeler Farms facility. She was excited to showcase the many bells and whistles of the new complex. "It's a winemaker's dream," she said with a beaming smile. To start, the new Araujo center has a cold storage room to keep the grapes cool once they've been harvested and picked. "Cold fruit de-stems easier, whereas hot fruit tends to get beat up," Sarah added. There's a cutting-edge cluster sorting table that can automatically scan each individual berry with a camera, as well as stainless steel fermentation vessels that can control the temperatures in various parts of the tank via an iPad.

"There's an old saying in the wine business that 10% of the job is winemaking and the other 90% is cleaning," Sarah continued to explain, "but here it's 90% winemaking. You can actually focus on the job at hand." Attention to detail has never been more important to the Araujos because of the fact they're now working with various component wines rather than single vineyard entities. In order to understand the ingredients of the blend, they need to make sure the wines represent each vineyard's character to the fullest potential. "The winemaking system here allows us to keep the single vineyard integrity intact," Bart added. "We're doing it out of respect for history—we're chasing it. It's exciting and it's challenging." You could say the Araujos have their eye on the past by maximizing the efficiencies of the future. Everything at Wheeler Farms is centered around gentle production methods. 

While great winemaking in the lab requires clean and controlled conditions, many folks—including the Araujos—believe that every great wine begins in the vineyard. It's for that reason that Bart and Daphne's new wine label—Accendo Cellars—continues their commitment to organic and bio-dynamic practices in their own vineyards, as was the case at Eisele. A number of the vineyards they're sourcing from are farmed sustainably. "We're working with a half-dozen vineyards right now," Bart pointed out, "and we've planted a new site in Oakville that will come online this year." Managing a cabernet vineyard is old hat for the Araujos at this point, but the blending of various wines is an entirely new art for the winemakers. It's for that reason they retained the services of one of the industry's best consultants: Michel Rolland, the well-known and influential Bordeaux oenologist who has decades of experience with that very task. "Michel began working with us back in 2000 and he wanted to continue on with Accendo," Daphne explained; "He's keen on having multiple vineyards to work with because you can blend the best parcels from the vintage." Accendo Cellars launched its first cabernet sauvignon release with the 2013 vintage, an advantageous year to begin as it's widely considered one of the best harvests in California in over a decade. "It was a good one to start with," Bart said with a laugh; "Mother Nature did all the work." We exited the winery and walked across the patio towards the new hospitality room where a tasting of the recent Accendo releases was awaiting us. I was excited to finally sit down with a glass of the wine after a morning's worth of build-up.

The first thing that grabs you about the 2013 Accendo Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is how un-Napa it comes across—at least in what we think of as standard Napa character today. There's no heavy-handed oak or overbearing ripeness to coat your palate like cough syrup. It's been replaced by restraint and grace with layered fruit and finely-tuned tannins. "Texture is important to us," Bart said as I swirled and contemplated my glass a bit more; "We want to make a wine where you want to finish the bottle. We want to make wines you want to drink." I smiled and nodded, a wave of appreciation moving through my body in that moment. As someone who has grown tired of the aficionado's game that is alcohol appreciation, I'm well beyond having someone lecture to me about a wine's complexity or its vast and detailed tasting notes. I drink wine because I like to drink, not because I'm studying for a test or cataloging my experiences. In the Araujos, I had found a fellow pair of kindred spirits. There was no pretense in that room that morning. Bart and Daphne talked about their wines with both humility and respect. "It's somewhere in the middle of California and Bordeaux," Daphne added as I remarked upon its lithe character and elegant balance. Is this what the great wines of Napa used to taste like? Not having the experience with my home state's classic vintages, I asked Bart how he thought the wine held up against his beloved Inglenooks. "I don't know if we can make a wine that good," he stated honestly looking down at the floor with some trepidation; "They're some of the best wines I've ever tasted. They're perfection. All we can do is give it our best shot."

As I left Wheeler Farms and headed back down the Silverado Trail, I drove pensively thinking about the dichotomy that makes up our world of wine and spirits—the Burgundian idea of the single climat versus the Bordeaux mindset of a cuvée, or the uncut single barrel of whisky versus the carefully-crafted blend. In my ten years of experience in this industry, I've found that my curiosities were stimulated early on by the idea of place and of singular expression, but as I've grown older I've gravitated more towards harmony of flavor. There's a part of us that's easily excited about the potential for greatness as designated by terroir and the idiosyncrasies of a unique locale. Yet, the more we learn about these individual characteristics, the more we're interested in harnessing their potential for further complexities. I'd liken it to the difference between having a fascinating discussion with someone one-on-one versus engaging in a more dynamic conversation as a group. Sometimes the combination of additional voices adds more depth and intrigue to the exchange, much like a string quartet adds nuance to the solo violin performance. After more than twenty years of a brilliant virtuoso, the Araujos want to see what it's like to conduct the full symphony.

-David Driscoll

Winemaker Dinner at Mathilde in SF this Friday

David Driscoll

Anyone interested in eating some fois gras, drinking a bunch of good Rhône wines from Château Montfaucon and Moulin de la Gardette, and sitting on the lovely back patio at Mathilde in San Francisco with our owner Clyde Beffa, the winemakers from both properties, and the rest of the K&L staff? If that sounds like fun to you, then grab a ticket here for this Friday's soirée:

Winemaker Dinner w/Montfaucon & Moulin de la Gardette, Friday April 21st @ 7 PM - $110 

The part actually starts at 6 PM at the San Francisco store where we'll taste: the 2014 Gardette Tradition, 2015 Baron de Montfaucon CDR Blanc, 2010 Ch Montfaucon CDR out of magnum, and the 2014 Château Montfaucon. 

Then we'll head over to Mathilde (a two minute walk from the store) where you'll have your choice of quail or duck confit for the mains of our three course affair along side a bevy of great wines like: the 2014 Montfaucon "Madame de Comtesse" Clairette Blanc Vieilles Vignes, 2014 Moulin de la Gardette Tradition, 2013 Baron Louis Lirac, 2014 Moulin de la Gardette Ventebran, 2014 Baron de Montfaucon CDP, 2009 Baron Louis out of magnum, 2007 Baron Louis, and the 2015 Moulin de la Gardette Tradition.

There's still plenty of space so grab your ticket and come drink wine with us!

-David Driscoll

A Very Particular Sense of Place

Ryan Woodhouse

I recently hosted an in-depth “Wines of New Zealand” seminar for our staff in Redwood City. The idea was to dig a little deeper into the intricacies of this stunning country. We isolated a few key regions (Marlborough, Hawke’s Bay and Central Otago) and then broke each one down further to look at sub-regionality within them. I wanted to explore the sensory nuances that changes in topography, aspect, climate, soil, etc. can have on wines even within a specific region. One of the best illustrations of this concept was the flight of Central Otago pinot noirs. Central Otago is a highly complex region with a multitude of these different factors or variables affecting the expression of grapes grown in a special locale. 

The most markedly different expressions of pinot noir came from two wines that were actually the same vintage (2015) and grown only sixteen miles apart. However, as you can see in the map above, these two vineyard sites are separated by some very significant geography. The vineyard site for the 2015 Akitu “A1” Central Otago Pinot Noir is just outside the picturesque town of Wanaka. It lies on a north-facing slope in quite close proximately to the glaciated mountains of the Southern Alps. is range is known as the “main divide" separating New Zealand’s rugged, wet west coast from the arid, high desert that is Central Otago. The site is very exposed to cold air flows and prevailing bad weather coming from the west. Beyond its exposed physical location the geology here is characterized by very hard schist bedrock. Akitu’s vines sit on the lower slopes of Mount Barker. This outcrop of rock is actually a roche moutonnée, essentially a piece of particularly hard bedrock that defied glacial abrasion. In summary, Akitu’s vines are situated on hard, bony, schist soils on a cold, exposed aspect. As a result the wine is defined by elegance and compact precision. It has beautiful oral, high-toned aromatics, a nely tuned linear presentation and spicy, bramble nuances. A very seductive wine, it’s made from 70% Abel clone pinot noir, a pinot clone with a heritage tracing back to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s “La Tâche” Vineyard. The Akitu A2 is grown from the exact same vineyard site as the A1 (Black Label), and made and matured in the same fashion, but is comprised of a broader clonal and block selection across the entire site. Whereas the A1 focuses predominantly on the Abel clone from one particular block that has a unique expression; the A2 is more representative of the site as a whole. The A2 is a little more open, and generous than the A1 whilst still retaining the elegance and focus that the site produces. I don’t see these wines as better or worse than one another, simply different expressions of place and season.

In contrast, the site for Rudi Bauer’s 2015 Quartz Reef pinot noir, only sixteen miles southeast of Akitu, is in one of the warmest subregions of Central Otago, Bendigo. This area has long been synonymous with deep, brooding, powerful wines with considerable structure. Bendigo also faces north (the sunny aspect in the southern hemisphere) but is farther from the Southern Alps main divide. In fact, another set of mountains, the Pisa Range, runs between Akitu and Quartz Reef’s site, providing an additional layer of weather defense to Bendigo. Sitting on a steep slope on the eastern banks of Lake Dunstan, Quartz Reef’s vines also enjoy the direct heat of the afternoon sun while vineyards on the west shores are shadowed by the towering ranges. The soils here are composed of arid clay, fine sandy loams and fragmented quartz. These heavier soils lend themselves to a more generous palate weight in the resulting wines, quite different to the more compact, layered expression of pinot grown on schist. The 2015 Quartz Reef “Bendigo Single Vineyard” pinot noir from Central Otago is packed with dense, rich, dark fruits, perfectly judged ripeness, a broad texture and exotic spice notes. is is quite a generous wine but it has plenty of robust structure to last a decade-plus in the cellar. Farmed and made according to Demeter-certified biodynamic protocols. 

-Ryan Woodhouse

On the Whisky Trail in Detroit

David Driscoll

I had heard that Detroit was coming back before I got to Detroit. When I arrived in Detroit, I noticed that everything was geared toward continuing that uplifting message. It's on magazines, billboards, store fronts, and bumper stickers. It's even in the air. You can feel it. As I walked around downtown, the Tigers game just getting out, people were jubilant and—more importantly—outspokenly friendly. 

"I'm feelin' that jacket," a young guy said to me with a swagger as he walked by with a smile.

That's the other thing: the young people are dressed up. They care. It's all part of the rebirth here it seems—to beautify the downtown area in everyway possible, starting with themselves. You can feel the history in downtown Detroit because many of the original buildings from its glory days are still standing. They have character and integrity, and they're now being reformatted into modern workspaces, albeit with much of the original integrity retained. I was reading about a newer upstart this morning called Detroit Denim and how the owner wanted to bring manufacturing back to the city. "I couldn't have done it if I'd tried in Chicago, New York, LA, or San Francisco," he said of the enterprise; "I'd be dead in the water trying to pay rent." That's the call of Detroit right now. I'm wondering how many people are answering it, considering it's in places like Detroit that I think the future of drinking lies—cities where creativity and passion haven't been suppressed by skyrocketing rents and coastal pretense.

There wasn't much time for sightseeing unfortunately. It was the last Pistons game ever at the Palace of Auburn Hills—a sentimental night for Detroiters—and our group had a private luxury suite courtesy of the powers-that-be in the booze industry. There were people lining up outside, reflecting in the moment, collecting T-shirts, taking memorial photos, and basking in the last vestiges of a bygone era in Detroit. Me? I was merely an outsider, drinking a few Lot 40 rye whisky cocktails, eating the limited hot plate courses, and taking in the season's final match-up between Detroit and Washington. That is until I met Nakita Hogue who was standing in the hallway next to our suite while her family sat along the row in front of us. Apparently there wasn't enough space for them all to sit together, so she decided to buy a separate ticket, but stand next to the row in order to be near them. Questioning her about her situation and talking casually for a few minutes, I convinced her to join our suite party and sit behind her family comfortably. After completely falling for Niki and her husband Tim, along with their kids, I invited the whole family to come join us in the suite. We spent the rest of the evening talking about life in Detroit, hopes for the future, and the difference between our home cities. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire Hogue family and I appreciated their candid perspectives. They were real, open, and genuine people.

But, as much as I enjoyed my time in the up and.coming city, my primary business wasn't in Detroit. Just across the river, actually south of the city, is Canada—Windsor, Ontario, home to Hiram Walker distillery, the largest in all of North America. I'm not sure anything can prepare you for the sheer size and scale of the facility, a historic whisky center that's been operating in Canada longer than Canada has even been a country. The campus is absolutely gigantic and the volume at this point amounts to more than fifty million liters a year of proof spirit, a decent amount of which is contract work. There's not a major booze player in the U.S. that isn't contracting some amount of whisky from Hiram Walker, as the facility runs the full gambit of grains from barley, to corn, to wheat, to rye, each of which can be distilled individually or as a mash. Canadian whisky, however, is obviously the specialty. It's what built the Hiram Walker distillery into what it is today. According to Don Livermore, the master blender at the site, it was Canadian whisky as a whole that built the infrastructure for the former British colony early on. In 1867, when the provinces were aligned under one self-governing body, there was no income tax levied upon the newly-anointed Canadian citizens. The money needed to build the country's future roads, railways, and government enterprises came from taxes levied on the young nation's largest businesses; companies called Corby, Wiser, and, of course, Hiram Walker—the leading whisky producers of the time.

Hiram Walker today is owned by Pernod-Ricard who still allows Beam-Suntory, the owner of the Canadian Club brand, to produce the widely-known whisky onsite. While we were mainly there in support of HW's fantastic Lot 40 rye whisky, a brand that along with Whistle Pig and Masterson's has helped to change the reputation of Canadian whisky in the states, most of us were definitely interested in understanding the distillery's production methods entirely for a better understanding of the Canadian whisky category. The first observation that just blew my mind was how much grain Hiram Walker is going through on a daily basis. They have a number of gigantic grain silos near the entrance that only hold enough grain to get through a mere three days of operation. Standing next to the mountains of freshly-milled corn, the sight was truly jawdropping. The other facet of the HW production I find interesting is that all the grains are stored, milled, fermented, and distilled individually using various methods. You've got single column-distilled spirits (like American Bourbon and rye) and double-column-distilled spirits (distilled to about 94% near-neutral, just a step below vodka, like Scottish grain whisky). Considering the four grains being used, that's eight different whiskies right there. Then add a pot-distilled version of each grain, which bumps up the number of whiskies to twelve. Then add the sour mash formula and various other custom recipes and you begin to understand the flexibility of their operation.

Remember the thirteen-plus possible whisky types I mentioned above? Get ready to add a few dozen more possible permutations. Much like Scotland, Canadian producers do not have to use new oak barrels like Bourbon distillers do. There is a volume limit, but no standardization as to type (they can't use giant foudres or huge oak vats, for example). So now take your thirteen-plus Hiram Walker recipes and put them in new charred oak, refill oak, and refill Bourbon casks. That's basically three types of potential aging vessel for each style of whisky, not counting sherry-finishing, rum-finishing, virgin oak, etc. You can see where I'm going here. I'd advise you to drive out to Pike's Creek if you visit, the warehousing facility for Hiram-Walker about twenty minutes from the distillery. There you'll find more than 160 football fields...excuse me...ice hockey arenas worth of whisky warehouses, piled to the ceiling with upright, palletized barrels. They drill new bung holes right in the top in Canada and you can forget about dipping in the whisky thief. They have a tap that gets inserted right in the hole to pump out all that amazing juice! We tasted Lot 40 straight out of the barrel at full proof today and it was incredible. I hear there's a limited edition version of this coming out later this Fall. Get your wallets ready.

The nice part about traveling with other booze industry professionals is that it gives you the chance to hear about what’s happening in other markets, to share ideas, and cross reference your observations. Later in the evening at Wright & Co. in downtown Detroit, I had dinner with a number of other reps and suppliers who work in large markets and we chatted about everything from whisky to cocktail culture to bar experiences and beyond. I wasn’t alone in my earlier prediction; there are other people out there who feel the end of alcohol’s cultivated and over-complicated connoisseurship is near. We've gone a bit too far towards one side of the spectrum. “It’s going to swing back over to dive bars again,” one guy told me, “but this time around you’ll be able to get more than shitty draft beer or a vodka tonic.” That made total sense to me. The only reason I ever left the dive bar in the first place was because I discovered more interesting and flavorful drinks outside its comfortable confines. If you told me I could get a Four Pillars gin and tonic, a Lot 40 Sazerac, or a pint of Stiegl all while keeping my rock and roll jukebox, pool table, and diverse group of drinkers, I’d be there in a heartbeat. The problem is that you usually have to trade quality for comfort, or vice versa.

While Detroit is still considered up and coming, it's definitely on the forefront of this modern movement. The city's young entrepreneurs are updating its classical roots, creating comfortable drinking spaces with a bit of style and panache, while across the river, the Hiram Walker distillery is redefining its whiskies for the new era of drinkers. There's a lot to take in and a lot to learn from what's happening here. But that's why I'm constantly traveling, talking, drinking, and asking questions. I want to know what's next.

-David Driscoll

Krug – Always Something New to Report

Gary Westby

I have been very lucky to visit Krug on many occasions over the course of my career, a destination that no wine lover could ever tire of. There is a strong argument that Krug makes the best wine in the world here. Since 1843, they have been blending not just across the greatest terroirs of Champagne, but also across time. Unlike the great Burgundy wines that are sold far too young to drink, or the great Bordeaux wines that are sold before they are even in bottles, Krug is sold with its drinking window open after long ageing in their cellars in Reims.

On this visit, I sat down with Olivier Krug for a tasting of their current releases. The youngest wine that we tasted was the 163rd edition, which has wine from 2007 in it, along with eleven other vintages going all the way back to 1990. We also did a very interesting tasting of the 2002 releases, with Clos du Mesnil, Vintage 2002 and the 158th edition, which has 2002 as its youngest element. The wines went from authoritatively great to beguiling, and the 158th edition proved once again how much these wines can do with more age.

After the tasting, we were welcomed as the very first guests into the still-under-construction Krug house next door to the production facility. We enjoyed an aperitif and sat down to dinner with Maggie Henriquez, the CEO of Krug. I was blown away to find out that none other than Arnauld Lallement, the chef of L’Assiette Champenois would be cooking for us. Dishes like the blue lobster with gnocchi paired with the 159th edition of Krug (the youngest part coming from 2003) I will never forget!

Maggie informed us that in the future, they will be expanding the Krug Collection range. Currently, they are selling the spectacular 1990 Krug "Collection" Brut Champagne at twenty-seven years old. We tasted it, and it was still utterly fresh and vibrant, but it also delivered on the savory white truffle promise of old Krug. They have been saving some of the Grand Cuvee for longer sur-lee ageing, and once Eric Lebel thinks that they are ready, they will release them as Collection Editions. This is going to be very special, but as with all things at Krug, will take time. We also learned that Krug will be releasing their 2004 vintage in late fall. We did not taste it, as they do not think it has had enough time on the cork yet. Now, nothing leaves the house until it has had a year to rest after disgorgement. I am looking forward to this 2004, as I have found so many Champagnes from this vintage to have similarities to the lithe 1988’s. As vintages like this balance the vinous power of Krug so nicely, I can’t wait to try it!!!

-Gary Westby

Final Thoughts on 2016 Bordeaux En Primeur

Jeff Garneau

It's our last day in Bordeaux before we head home. Clyde shortened the trip from the usual ten days because he feared that the quality of the vintage might be poor given all the rain in the first half of the year.  We therefore managed to condense ten days of tastings into one week, visiting over fifty châteaux, seven major negociants, the main UGC tasting on Monday, and most of the major appellation tastings on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, plus half a dozen dinners and three lunches with various negociants and château owners. Saturday, by comparison, was an easy day. The tradition is for Clyde and Ralph to play golf in an annual tournament at the Golf du Médoc organized by Pierre-Antoine Casteja of Maison Joanne. All the other participants are in the Bordeaux wine trade as well. It’s a chance to have some fun after a long week of en primeur tastings, and perhaps to remind the chateau owners— in a good-natured way—to keep prices reasonable this year. We unfortunate few (meaning us non-golfers) were left to our own devices, so we decided to make the most of our free time and —you guessed it—visit another château to do some wine tasting. We headed south to Barsac and Château Climens to meet with Bérénice Lurton, who had graciously agreed to come in on a Saturday and walk us through the 2016 vintage.

We couldn’t have chosen a more perfect day—clear blue sky with temperatures in the low 60’s, very rare for Bordeaux in April. Taking advantage of the fair weather we began our tour with a brief walk in the vineyards where our host reminded us that the thirty hectares of vineyards at Climens are planted exclusively to Semillon. The soil type is unique to Barsac, a mix of sand and clay barely one meter thick over limestone bedrock full of cracks and fissures into which the oldest vines deeply sink their roots. The vineyards at Climens are situated on the highest and best part of the Barsac terroir with particularly shallow top soils. In fact, the name climens was a term used in the local dialect to describe barren lands, useless for growing food crops but ideal for wine grapes. Since 2010 the estate has been entirely converted to biodynamic cultivation. The loft above the wine cellars, originally for storing hay for the oxen that plowed the vineyards has been repurposed today for the drying of herbs which are used in the preparation of the biodynamic tisanes used to treat the vines.

Bérénice felt that the natural health and vigor of the vines helped them to withstand the mildew pressures caused by the heavy rains in the first half of the year, as well as the intense heat and drought of July and August. Weather was not an issue during September and October, when conditions were ideal for the development of noble rot. Harvest took place from September 28th to October 22th, in two rounds of picking. We tasted from barrel a dozen different lots from both periods, and were shocked by how different in character and style each was. The skill, of course, lies in the blending of these lots to produce a wine that reflects both the unique character of the Climens terroir and the particular expression of the vintage itself. 2016 promises to be a very good to excellent vintage for Climens, with very pure botrytis development. Though with slightly less acidity overall than 2104, the wine nevertheless has a remarkable freshness and no lack of richness.

We had to say our goodbyes quickly to Mme. Lurton, for we were running late for a 12:30 lunch reservation at La Tupina in Bordeaux, Clyde’s recommendation and a reward for all our efforts during the week. The cooking is traditional Bordelaise over an open fire and the wine list entirely Bordeaux. We all started with asperges blanches, white asparagus from Blaye, a local specialty and the last of the season. I had the duck breast while my two colleagues opted for that day’s special, Le Pigeon Grillé. I don’t think I need to translate that. Both dishes were accompanied by generous portions of French fried potatoes cooked in goose fat. From the wine list we selected a bottle of the 2007 Tronquoy-Lalande from Saint Estèphe. We liked it so well that we asked Clyde if we could get some for our customers, and he has promised to see what he can do. We skipped dessert in favor of a walk through the old city of Bordeaux which is experiencing something of a renaissance lately. We had time to visit the nearby Basilica of Saint Michael where we took a moment to offer our thanks for the unseasonably fair weather during our visit and for the unexpectedly good quality of the vintage before we had to meet the rest of our party at Chateau Smith Haut-Lafitte in Pessac-Léognan for our final tasting and dinner.

We were met at the winery by Florence and Daniel Cathiard, the husband and wife team who have run the property since purchasing it in 1990. Like many producers in the Graves, they make both red and white wines, preferring a house style that emphasizes concentration and richness. The 2016 Smith Haut-Lafitte rouge is a structured wine, with tannin levels technically higher even than 2010, yet much finer, even silky in texture. The wine has very generous, ripe sweet fruit, but like all the best wines of this vintage, maintains great freshness. So too with the white wine—rich, concentrated, lavish even, but very lively and harmonious.

Conveniently, in addition to Smith Haut-Lafitte, the Cathiards also own La Source de Caudalie, which incorporates a spa, luxury hotel, and a two-star Michelin restaurant, just a short distance away by foot, bicycle or car. There were seventeen of us at dinner that night, including our K&L team, the Cathiards, and many of the same negociants and château owners we had seen earlier in the week. I lost count of the number of bottles at the table. The highlights for me were a surprisingly good 2004 Leoville-Poyferré and a 1961 Smith Haut-Lafitte, Pessac-Léognan, only the second wine I have ever tasted from that vintage, both on consecutive nights on this trip.

It was an inspiring trip overall—Ralph called it his best ever of more than fifty such trips to Bordeaux—and a very exciting vintage. A lucky, even miraculous vintage in many ways since things might very well have gone very differently. As to the character of the vintage the word we kept hearing repeatedly was “precision”. These are wines that know their own strength and have no need of overt display—quiet and commanding, with great presence and authority, profound even. We'll have much more information to come in future blog posts and in our online newsletter and vintage report, including our general assessment of the vintage as well as info on specific châteaux. Until then!

-Jeff Garneau

More Refinement on the Right Bank

Jeff Garneau

We crossed the Garonne River via the Pont d’Aquitaine in heavy traffic, feeling nostalgic for our own home town of San Francisco, and headed north to Lalande-de-Pomerol and Château Siaurac. We were greeted in the courtyard by our affable host, Paul Goldschmidt, who was smiling broadly and cradling his one month old infant son, James. A new child is not the only good news recently for Paul. A new partnership with François Pinault, owner of among other prestigious properties Chateau Latour in Pauillac, has brought an infusion of cash and technical expertise that guarantees a bright future for the three estates he owns and manages on the Right Bank: Château Siaurac in Lalande de Pomerol, Château Le Prieuré in Saint-Émilion, and Château Vray Croix de Gay in Pomerol. Looking out across the formal gardens to the far hills where the city of Saint Emilion sat silhouetted against the horizon, we tasted samples of each from the 2016 vintage. The wines were all of excellent quality, very true to the vintage with the same combination of freshness, bright, sweet fruit and fine tannins we found on the Left Bank—a promising beginning, but only a partial answer to the question that would consume us the following day: could the Right Bank accomplish with merlot what the Left Bank did so admirably with cabernet sauvignon?

Our first stop on Thursday morning was the river front in Libourne, home to a number of negociant firms that specialize in the wines of the Right Bank. At Ets. Jean-Pierre Mouiex, we were welcomed into the tasting room by none other than Christian Mouiex himself. We tasted more than a dozen wines, including some of the most famous properties in Pomerol, among them Certan de May, Hosanna, and Trotanoy. The latter was for most of us the standout wine of the tasting, a Pomerol in the classic style—dense, rich and unctuous, powerful yet poised, regal and majestic.

We spent the next couple of hours on an absolutely mind blowing, whirlwind tour of the top Right Bank chateaus, one that would make even the most jaded oenophile green with envy. In Pomerol, in short order we tasted the 2016 vintage at luminaries Vieux Château Certan, La Conseillante, Petrus, L’Evangile and Le Pin. VCC was a miraculous merging of technology and terroir. During the Indian summer of September and October of last year, they leveraged old vine potency with technological prowess, resulting in a protracted harvest that lasted over two weeks, literally picking the vineyard vine by vine at the peak of ripeness. The result was a flawless achievement, perfect in every way. La Conseillante followed a similar path, extending their harvest by twenty days to achieve spectacular results—beguilingly aromatic, seductive and sensual, the epitome of style and grace. Vaunted Petrus was precision made manifest, a wine of such crystalline purity that one could not help but feel awestruck in its presence. L’Évangile was more generously styled, a study in opulence with layers of exotic fruit. Opulent, too was the 2016 Le Pin, poured for us on our first ever visit by owner Jacques Thienpont. Lavish is another word. Sumptuous works just as well if you prefer.

In Saint Emilion, we spent quite a bit of time at Château Angelus, tasting not only the Grand Vin but also the second label: Carrillon d’Angelus. 2016 was a tricky vintage for second wines. While a large crop of good quality usually means a good selection will be available, the unusual conditions in 2016 put pressure on producers to reserve the best fruit for the Grand Vin with little left over for the second wine. The Carillon, however, is certainly among the best second labels produced in 2016, and quite possibly the finest Carillon ever made. We finished up our tour of the Right Bank’s A-list wineries at Cheval Blanc, a strategic choice since we could toast our success with a glass of the 2016 Yquem, which they were also pouring. Cheval Blanc was a study in contrasts, both exuberantly aromatic and shyly reserved. The Yquem was a marvel, rich and sweet yet bright and fresh. Incredibly rich yet elusive and ethereal. All the elements here are in perfect balance.

Our lodging on Thursday night was provided by Château Canon in Saint Émilion. Descending into the barrel room with winemaker Nicolas Audebert, we had a chance to taste en primeur the old way, not from bottles of prepared samples but directly from barrel. We tasted from barrels made by four different coopers, then were poured an example of the final assemblage. The wine was typical of the best wines we have tasted so far—very fresh and aromatic with a mere 13.8% alcohol, quite ripe yet never overripe, balanced, precise, perfection in a glass. Dinner that night was a multi-course affair—impeccably prepared—which was accompanied by first the 2011 Canon, then the 2005, and finally—in honor of Clyde’s birth year (and astonishingly the second wine of that vintage tasted this week)—the 1945 Canon. We felt both greatly honored and somewhat guilty for being treated to such a bottle but were reassured by a visit to the deep cellars which lie under the château. I have been sworn to secrecy regarding its contents, but let’s just say we didn’t drink the oldest bottle at the château that night, and certainly not the last bottle of that vintage.

-Jeff Garneau

Awaking in St. Émilion

Jeff Garneau

I think I have waited nearly all my life to write the following line: ”I awoke this morning in Saint-Émilion at dawn to the sound of the Angélus bells.” Today is Friday, the next to the last full day of our weeklong review of the 2016 vintage in Bordeaux and I am not ashamed to admit I am exhausted, both mentally and physically. A rushing, pell-mell schedule of tastings, surviving on three to four hours of sleep each night, and today the most grueling event of the week: a marathon six hour tasting of hundreds of wines with the folks at Joanne, the largest of the Bordeaux negociants and a key partner of ours in both our pre-arrival and vintage wine sales programs. Today we tasted not only with our own six-person team, but also with a colleague from the east coast: the president of Zachy's Fine Wine in New York, Jeff Zacharia. Wanting to make a good first impression we were, predictably, late for our appointment, but after a round of introductions we soon fell into a companionable routine as we made our way through the extensive list of wines being poured.

At our private cabana, we tasted our way through the Côtes de Bordeaux, the wines of the Médoc, Haut-Médoc, and Moulis, Margaux, Saint-Julien, Pauillac, and Saint-Estephe. It was a great opportunity to retaste many of the wines we had encountered earlier in the week, double checking our impressions of them, and a chance to taste those wines we may have missed. It was great also to get Jeff’s opinions about the vintage and to compare notes on our favorite wines. We took a quick break for lunch, a few minutes only to wolf down some Champagne and foie gras, and we started in again, beginning with the Graves and Pessac-Léognan and continuing on through a host of wines from Saint-Emilion and Pomerol. We finished up with a palate-cleansing slate of whites from the Graves and Pessac-Léognan, but had to leave Jeff to taste the Sauternes on his own as we raced off to Mähler-Besse in Bordeaux for a tour.

The pristine conditions of the Mähler-Besse cellars and the age and character of the wines stored there are of legend in the Bordeaux wine trade. The rare opportunity to get a glimpse beyond its doors was too good to pass up. I wandered as if in a dream past stacks of wooden cases full of the best wines in Bordeaux from the early decades of the twentieth century: ’45 Mouton, ’61 Palmer, ’82 Latour. All too soon we found ourselves offering our thanks and saying our goodbyes.

We headed next to Château Le Thil near Smith Haut-Lafitte in Pessac-Léognan where we would be spending our final two nights. We had a brief half hour to freshen up before heading out to dinner at the private home of Pierre-Antoine Casteja, owner of Bordeaux negociant Joanne (and our host earlier in the day). We were served a multi-course meal in gracious surroundings and in good company, including once again that of Jeff Zacharia, who joined us for dinner. At the table that night we were served three blind wines. My colleague Ralph Sands, a veteran of some fifty trips to Bordeaux, immediately recognized the first wine as the 2000 Pichon Lalande from Pauillac. We struggled a bit with the second wine, which turned out to be the 1986 Margaux, Margaux. 

The final wine, which seemed so youthful, full of lively acidity and sweet fruit, astonished everyone when it turned out to be the 1961 Ducru Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien. Clyde, however, capped the evening when he presented Pierre-Antoine with a bottle of the 1929 Chateau Doisy from Barsac. Opening it on the spot Pierre-Antoine generously presented it to the table along with dessert. The wine was unbelievably fresh, possessed of a rich sweetness with hints of caramel and dried apricot. It was one of the most powerful wine experiences of my professional career and I wept tears of joy.We get to sleep in a little tomorrow morning, and are then heading south to Barsac to meet with Berenice Lurton at Climens. The rest of the day we have off to wander around Bordeaux a bit before tasting and dinner at Smith Haut-Lafitte. Things are winding down at last. News of the day and some final thoughts on the vintage still to come.

-Jeff Garneau