On the Trail

Bringing the Farm to LA: Our Farm-to-Table Dinner with Brian Talley

domesticKate Soto

We are all excited here in Hollywood about our upcoming dinner at Barbrix in Silverlake with Brian Talley of Talley Vineyards. It’ll be a unique opportunity to taste their wines alongside produce from their family farm, prepared with inspiration from Brian’s own cookbook. Best of all, we’ll have Brian himself in attendance. There’s a magical alchemy that happens when you taste food and wine grown alongside each other, and this meal will no doubt be an epic celebration of the flavors of California.

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An icon in California wine, Talley is a family-run farming operation who’ve been growing and bottling classic Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines from the Central Coast since the 80s. This is their 33rd harvest since they began, back in the day when they were the first growers of Pinot and Chardonnay in the region. The family’s roots in Arroyo Grande run deep: they started out as vegetable farmers in the 40s, and Brian grew up on the farm. He’s now the third generation to make wine. The Talley family is also deeply involved in the Arroyo Grande community, and prioritize philanthropic community-oriented projects.

I talked to Brian about cooking, food, wine, and the holistic approach that is the backbone of his family business. It was a pleasure to learn a bit more about what they’re doing up in SLO.

KS: The Barbrix dinner is such a special opportunity to taste your wines and your produce alongside one another. Is that something you do often at home? Do you cook a lot?

BT: It’s one of my favorite things to do. I also wrote a cookbook called Our California Table. It’s about 50 recipes that celebrate what we grow on the farm, paired with our wines. We grow about 50 different vegetables—peppers, heirloom tomatoes, Napa cabbage, cilantro, lemons, and avocados. The cookbook is very plant-focused there are a number of vegetarian dishes and salads and things like that, plus the best proteins of the Central Coast: Classic Santa Maria–style barbecue, Petrole sole, salmon, sea bass. That is the inspiration for the wine dinner at Barbrix.

KS: Where did you learn to cook?

BT: My mom is a very good cook, my father was a BBQ enthusiast, so I got it from both sides. Started baking as a kid. Then in college, I was the kid that cooked and my roomates did the dishes.

KS: Speaking of college, I heard you were in a punk band back in the day! Is music still a big part of your life?

BT: Music is still a big inspiration but I sold all my vinyl and cds. Now I do Spotify. There’s a tremendous amount of wonderful music out there. My 21 year old is an enthusiast, she likes a lot of the same bands that I grew up with. Recently we watched the footage of the Us festivals when the Clash played together, and that was fun.

KS: Are your daughters interested in winemaking and farming, carrying on the family tradition?

BT: We don’t know yet. My older daughter is working for Disney in Orlando doing a college internship program, and she’s hooking up with food and wine community in Orlando. Our younger daughter is at college in Santa Clara. We have a rule that if they are going to be considered for a leadership position in our company, they must go to college, and then go somewhere else for two years. We do want to give the fourth generation our experience, but it is up to them.

I grew up on an avocado orchard and it became a Pinot and Chardonnay vineyard, and my kids also grew up at the farm. They started working there at about 12, Olivia in the vineyard and Elizabeth the in tasting room. Both have worked in the packing line of the CSA boxes that we ship across the country.

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KS: Can you talk a bit about your approach to farming?

BT: We are certified sustainable under a program called SIP—Sustainability in Practice. They are a third party who audits our practice annually. It’s addressing a much more holistic approach to sustainability, in addition to what happens specifically in the field. Our winery is solar powered. We recycle all of our water, not just the materials in the vineyards. Water is a precious commodity, and we don’t want to just dump it down the drain. We also have a label called Mano Tinta, and all the proceeds go to support vineyard and farm workers in San Luis Obispo.

KS: Can you tell me more about Mano Tinta?

BT: Basically it started in 2004 when my wife and I decided to create a charitable endowment for vineyard and farm workers. The goal was to create an endowment of $1 million dollars to support the farm workers in San Luis Obispo county. Every year we choose projects to help support that community, and the wine under the Mano Tinta label is the chief fundraiser. Our proceeds go toward housing, medical care, low-cost dental work, and a local medical clinic called the Noor Clinic, which offers free healthcare for the uninsured. We also sponsor the local Boys and Girls Club, as they have a big presence in the community where the farm workers live, and they provide after-school programs. We provide funding toward first-generation college-bound kids. It’s really fulfilling. There’s a strong community outreach part of this bottling. We run a local art contest to select the bottle label. We are very involved in our community. In fact, our cookbook will be for sale and signing at the Barbrix dinner, and all profits will go to our farm worker endowment.

We’re looking forward to seeing you all at the Barbrix dinner on Friday, October 5 at 7PM. Come meet the man, drink the wines, and eat the goodness! It’s sure to be a lovely night. Tickets are still available here.


- Kate Soto

Altagracia: A Cinderella Story

Megan Greene

Tucked in the northeastern corner of Napa Valley, just south of the Palisades Mountains is the legendary Eisele Vineyard. Long recognized as one the finest Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in Napa Valley, this stunning site owes its success to its various owners over the last century, each who contributed significant influences to the quality of vineyard. It is no surprise then that the new owner, François Pinault from Château Latour, is likewise elevating the standards that were already so remarkable. As the 2015 vintages are being released, we are starting to see these new influences, and it’s pretty exciting.

 

To step back to the beginning, we have to go all the way to 1884, when the vineyard was originally planted to Zinfandel and Riesling. For almost a hundred years, it survived through several owners who casually reaped the gifts of this remarkable land without much effort. In 1969, Barbara and Milton Eisele purchased the 38-acre site and renamed it Eisele Vineyard. They planted Cabernet Sauvignon and began selling their grapes to well-known producers such as Ridge, Conn Creek and Joseph Phelps. Under these labels, the vineyard began to gain a following. In 1990, the Araujo family purchased the land (162 acres total) and created the first winery and temperature-controlled caves. During this time, they introduced organic and biodynamic farming and replanted several acres. In 2013, they sold to Château Latour.

 

Today, the vineyard is an impressive site that is not only remarkable in the glass, but also amazingly beautiful. The land is divided into 13 blocks and 40 sub-blocks based on its soils and sub-soils. Two waterways cut through the property, the Simmons Creek, which flows north to south, and a smaller tributary that runs east to west. From these, alluvial deposits of volcanic, cobbly soils fan out along the valley floor, creating a well-draining, nutrient-poor foothold for the vines, ideal for growing tiny, intensely-flavored berries. Between the creek and the foothills, gentle slopes undulate gracefully, creating further nuances in exposure and microclimates.

 

Altagracia is a wine that was born from these subtle differences in the vineyard. Originally, in the late 1990s, this Bordeaux Blend was made from newly-replanted vines as well as some neighboring fruit. Grapes that might not be quite ready to go into the famed Eisele Cabernet Sauvignon went into Altagracia, creating a wine that was more supple, open and easy to enjoy while you waited for your Eisele Cab to age. And it remained this way for the next two decades – like a stepsister next to the starlet.

 

Under the new helm, however, the Altagracia is getting its turn at the ball. The wine is now made from 90% estate grapes, farmed from the Tecolote, Piedras, Jardin and Rincon blocks on the eastern hillside. In addition, the vines have matured and the selectiveness for the Eisele Cabernet Sauvignon program has increased. The wine is still considered more approachable, softer and open-knit than the Eisele Cabernet, but it has developed a distinct and striking profile connected to its terroir. What we’re seeing today from the Altagracia is what some critics are calling a ‘Super Second,’ a term reserved for Bordeaux wines that rival the first growths, which seems only fitting under this new ownership.


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SWE CONFERENCE 2018: A Tour of Seneca Lake New York Finger Lakes

finger lakesOn the Trail

Since 2016 the Finger Lakes have been suffering a drought, but that all ended when the Society of Wine Educators came to the region for their 2018 Conference. It rained almost the entire week.

There are 11 lakes that make up the Finger Lakes AVA. The choices for the pre-conference wine tours were either Seneca or Cayuga lakes. I chose Seneca because most of the New York wines we stock come from that region.

As we were loading onto the buses the first morning, it was raining so hard a row of umbrellas was needed, from the hotel lobby to each bus. Rumor had it that some wineries were closed and had cancelled tours due to flooding. We were lucky, none of the wineries on our trip closed even though there were plenty of signs of high water levels.

Riesling rules here, but I was about to find out how diverse this region really is!

 Our first stop, Ravines Wine Cellars, owned by Morten and Lisa Hallgren, is on the northern end of Seneca Lake. As we drove down Barracks Road, the first things we saw were rows of fruit trees. They’re trellised just like the grapevines are which a recurring sight throughout the day.  This tasting room is a historic barn made of slate with a wood interior, and an extra long wooden tasting bar that fit our group nicely. They have a second tasting room on Lake Keuka.

Ravines is known for their Dry Riesling and Cabernet Franc. We carry the 2015 Finger Lakes AVA Dry Riesling, a blend from 3 vineyards, White Springs, 16 Falls, and Serenity. We tasted the 2015 and 2016, side by side. Both were dry, crisp and delicious, but the 2016 flavors just popped more. I’m looking forward to tasting that again. Their 2016 Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc is a blend of White Springs & 16 Falls Vineyards.  This wine is juicier, fleshier and no pyrazines (green bell pepper) flavor that Cabernet Franc can be known for. I found it very approachable at such an early age.

I purchased a 2016 Dry Riesling from the White Springs Vineyard, just outside of the barn we were in. It was difficult to see it because of the hard rainfall, but below is what it looks like when it is not raining.

 White Springs Vineyard

White Springs Vineyard

Fox Run Vineyards was our second stop, where we tasted the line up from sparkling to port. The standouts were a Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine made of 100% Chardonnay, a Traminette (a cross between Gewürztraminer x French American hybrid, Joannes Seyve), and Lemberger, known as Blaufränkisch in Germany and Austria.

We had a fun cheese and wine pairing at Magnus Ridge before they served us lunch, and then explored the large tasting and retail area. There were so many local goodies, no one left empty handed. 

Then off to Lakewood Vineyards! Now the wines start to change and include grape names most of us have never heard of.  Even though this third generation winery uses Vitis Vinifera grapes, the wines they make from Hybrids and Vitis Labrusca were much more interesting. After all we are here to learn!

They make a Prosecco-like bubbly made of Cayuga White, a cross between 2 hybrids, developed especially for the Finger Lakes Region by Cornell University.  Another grape developed by Cornell is the Valvin Muscat; it has similar aromatics of Vitis vinifera Muscat but is more winter-hardy and disease resistant. Their Abby Rose is a blend of 40% Concord, 38% Ives, 14% Vincent, 8% Delaware. Some of these grapes are also made into ice wine.

The rain paused, so we took the opportunity to check out the vineyards. They were so tall, lush and thick. The man in front of the vines is over six feet tall.

 Lakewood Estate Vineyards

Lakewood Estate Vineyards

Our last visit of the day was to the Anthony Road Wine Company; owned and managed by the Martini family with three generations working the business. They are large grape growers and own 225 acres of land, not all under vines yet but at least 75 acres are. As much as 50% of their grapes are sold outside the winery. They make wines from some of the same grapes as most Finger Lake wineries do, but our tasting showcased their love of Pinot Gris, used in 3 ways: 2016 Finger Lakes Pinot Gris, 2016 Barrel Ferment Pinot Gris and a dessert version.

 I love the Finger Lakes logo, which most wineries sell on shirts and hats, in their tasting rooms. They may alter or add something around the lakes, like a fish head and tail, or just leave the design alone, similar to making their wines. Whichever grape works well on their land is the grape they will grow and make wines from. It doesn’t matter if it is a non- vinfera grape, they will make the best wine they possibly can.

 My favorite is the fishbone version and just had to add it to my Seneca Lake story.

- Muriel Sarik

 Finger Lakes t-shirt logo

Finger Lakes t-shirt logo

Just Dropped: K&L Barrel Aged Exclusives from Modern Times

beerKate Soto
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Back in March of 2018, we ran a small piece detailing the full cycle of the K&L Spirits single barrel program. Our spirits buyers, after tasting through dozens of samples/barrels at the source, hand select the best single casks from Bourbon country to be bottled up and sold a few times a year. Occasionally, we end up with the empty barrels which we hand deliver to local breweries like Hop Dogma, Freewheel, Cellador, Shady Oak, Good Beer Company, Alpha Acid, etc, to be filled with delicious beers ranging from Scotch Ales to Stouts to Barleywines! This program really gained steam in late 2014 when David OG from K&L hooked up his childhood friend Jacob McKean (whose brewery Modern Times was just barely a year old) with three Four Roses barrels. He aged their decadent Monster’s Park Imperial Stout in these barrels for nine months, at the time three months longer than any other BA beers they had made. The bottles, sent to us with a smaller run of Elijah Craig casks (at the time, the last barrels that were sent out via the discontinued Single Barrel program), became the first K&L Barrel Aged Beer releases, available only at K&L and through the small Modern Times League Membership. Classic bourbon traits of caramel, vanilla, oak spice, cinnamon, and toasted bread interwoven with rich chocolate and coffee notes from the Imperial Stout made them an instant hit, selling out within a few hours.

Today brings the latest delivery of Barrel Aged exclusives from the brewery that got it all started: Modern Times! The base beer in each of these is different than any previous release: Mega Devil’s Teeth – an imperialized version of the Old Ale / Stout hybrid with robust maltiness and rich chocolate and caramel notes that the team developed to play perfectly with the character of these barrels; and Modem Tones – their biggest Imperial Stout base yet, with even more body and gravity than Monsters' Park or Devil's Teeth, showing roasty chocolate flavors paired with a thick treacle and caramel notes. They were aged in some of our favorite barrels to date: High West Rye, Elijah Craig (finally back), and Belle Meade:

Modern Times "Mega Devil's Teeth - Elevated Occident (High West) K&L Barrels" Imperial Stout Aged in Bourbon Barrels, California (22oz)

Brutish yet decadent, this hefty liquid was split into two bourbon barrels, where it hibernated peacefully for a year-and-a-half. Upon emergence, this power-combo of barrels melded together to shape complex layers of toffee, biscotti, maple, and bakers chocolate. Devil's Teeth had a residency time of 14 months and 18 months in their respective barrels. Exclusive to K&L Wine Merchants and Modern Times League Members!

Modern Times "Mega Devil's Teeth - Elias Butte (Elijah Craig) K&L Barrels" Imperial Stout Aged in Bourbon Barrels, California (22oz)

This is Mega Devil's Teeth, aged in a single barrel, barrel selected bourbon barrel, sitting on oak for 17 months before being racked out. These single barrel blends can be extremely unique: This particular variant had tasting notes of brown sugar cookies, toffee, caramel, and chocolate. Exclusive to K&L Wine Merchants and Modern Times League members!

Modern Times "Modem Tones - Beautiful Meadows (Belle Meade) K&L Barrels" Imperial Stout Aged in Bourbon Barrels, California (22oz) * SOLD OUT *

Modem Tones is one of our biggest, thickest Imperial Stouts, with even more body and gravity than Monsters' Park or Devil's Teeth. Showing roasty chocolate flavors paired with a thick treacle and caramel. Aged 14 months in barrel. Exclusive to K&L Wine Merchants and Modern Times League members!


We have two more bottles to be released next Thursday, September 20th:

Modern Times "Devil's Teeth - Schmanahan's Lonely Malt (Stranahan's) K&L Barrels" Imperial Stout Aged in Bourbon Barrels, California (22oz)

Devil's Teeth aged in these barrels for 23 months, picking up notes of coffee cake, bakers cocoa and a hint of nuttiness. Exclusive to K&L Wine Merchants and Modern Times League Members!

Modern Times "Mega Devil's Teeth - Quadruple Flowers (Four Roses) K&L Barrel" Imperial Stout Aged in Bourbon Barrels, California (22oz)

Devil's Teeth is a hybrid of an Old Ale and an Imperial Stout, two English beer styles designed to withstand long voyages and dark winters. It brings rich maltiness & robust roastiness in a thick, tongue-coating, aggressively flavorful package.  We aged Mega Devil's Teeth in these barrels for 18 Months. It emerged from the oak with notes of toffee, rich cocoa, and lots of sweet candy-like complexity. Exclusive to K&L Wine Merchants and the Modern Times League Members!

This Thursday, 9/20, in Redwood City, we will be hosting Modern Times from 5-6:30pm to taste Barrel Aged releases along with many of their other core, seasonal, and small batch beers! The full lineups are listed under the local events page.

- Jim Boyce

That Old Fashioned Champ

On the Trail

There’s nothing quite like a great flute of Champagne, so it figures that there’s nothing quite like a Champagne cocktail either. For me, a great Champagne speaks volumes without ever overstating – it’s complex and refined and above all delicious and special. That translates to what a Champagne cocktail is in my mind as well. It should be simple, straightforward, and the bubbly needs to stand out as the star we all know it to be.

When K&L Champagne Buyer, Gary Westby, asked if I had any thoughts on a cocktail for using the Baron-Fuente Grande Reserve bottles I knew I had a shortlist of recipes that I wanted to try, but I ultimately settled on the Champagne Old Fashioned, or as I fondly refer to it: That Old Fashioned Champ. As its name implies, it riffs on one of the most classic of all cocktails, and just as the traditional Old Fashioned relies on simplicity of function to let the few ingredients shine beautifully, this Champagne version takes the same approach so you can appreciate each element that contributes to the beverage.

Of course, Westby being Westby, this wasn’t exactly a straightforward mission. He didn’t just want a great cocktail; he wanted to try it out with both the Baron-Fuente Grande Reserve Brut AND the Baron-Fuente Grande Reserve Demi-Sec to see how the sweetness levels of the two Champagnes interacted in the resulting drink. Gary made it a puzzle and a game.

Nowadays, most Champagne cocktails call for Brut or Extra Brut and then add sugar. This was the approach I took with the BF Brut. My recipe went:

 

·         1 sugar cube or 1/8th teaspoon granulated white sugar

·         ½ oz K&L Dudognon Reserve  (could substitute with Armagnac de La Grangerie 3 yr)

·         2 dashes of Angostura Orange Bitters

·         4 oz Baron-Fuente Grande Reserve Brut (NV)

Place the sugar cube in your Champagne flute, splash in those bitters, add your Cognac, and then fill the flute with Champagne to your heart’s desire (or… you know, the rim of the glass).

The resulting cocktail is smashing. It’s effervescent and the soft green/yellow apple notes of the Baron-Fuente stand up throughout. The orange bitters add a citrus zest element to the drink that harkens to the twist of orange in the classic Old Fashioned. The weight of the Cognac is put in place by the zippy acidity of the Bubbly. I really enjoyed this.

I have a confession though. Despite how great the Brut version happened to be, it was dethroned by the Demi-Sec. On its own, the Demi-Sec stands out not merely because of the additional sweetness, but it also has notes of vanilla cream and nectarine that combine well with the slightly toastier flavors in this wine. It also has a dramatically different texture, and happens to be quite voluptuous, almost viscous. Despite that heft, the bubbles are bigger and more assertive, providing a great balance to the glass. All these flavor and texture characteristics ended up making it best for The Old Fashioned Champ.

With the Demi-Sec, I knew there was no need for additional sugar. This meant the drink was streamlined to a brief: Cognac, bitters, Champagne. There is beauty in simplicity, my friends. This version of the cocktail was sweeter overall than the Brut variation, but nowhere near cloying. The Cognac cuts through the viscosity of the Demi-Sec while the wine manages to maintain its body and heft.

It was also interesting to note a few visual/textural differences. While dashing the sugar cube with the bitters before adding the other liquids made for a nice presentation, that extra sugar made the Champagne foam up something fierce yet then deprived the resulting cocktail of those beautiful bubbles that make Champagne so fun and expressive. Going with the Demi-Sec with no additional sugar, it was best to pour the Baron-Fuente straight down into the flute (in any other case a Champagne Shame) so that this wine with its aggressive bubbles mixed the drink for you. Because of this, the ingredients were perfectly integrated and the Bubbly stayed very bubbly.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two versions made here is that the Demi-Sec variation has so much more lovely spice elements contributing to the cocktail’s profile, characteristics that weren’t apparent when drinking the wine on its own. That vanilla cream element to the Baron-Fuente Grande Reserve Demi-Sec transforms with the help of the Cognac and orange bitters into something with hints of cinnamon, allspice, clove, and dried citrus fruits.

Most variations of this cocktail call for more Brandy (typically a full ounce!), but I find that to be a disservice. Champagne, for me, is always about memories and elegance. The half-ounce of Cognac melds seamlessly. The Brandy is present – adding its strength and distinction – but the Champagne remains the star. The cocktail becomes something more than the sum of its parts and defies simple binaries. It’s not light; it’s not heavy. It’s not dry; it’s not sweet. It’s Champagne, but it’s something else entirely. I love it because it’s a cocktail that takes you a little deeper into Champagne.

Perhaps I’ll end by letting my partner summarize their impressions since I can’t think of any better way to say it:

“It’s Champagne with more sparkle.”

- Neal Fischer

A Bordeaux Vintage to Write Home About

bordeauxKate Soto

You may have already heard this, but the 2015 vintage in Bordeaux is outstanding. According to our resident Bordeauxitarian in Hollywood, Jacques Moreira, everything that needed to happen happened. The stars aligned, the heavens opened, and the sunshine/rain/cool breeze combo proceeded exactly as needed to get the fruit to its most perfect state. Bloomberg gives the low down: “Four months of drought—plus a hot June and July—produced tiny, intense grapes with the thick skins that result in plenty of tannins. Rain came at exactly the right time to revive vines stressed by temperature and dryness. Then, cooler-than-normal weather in September and October allowed vignerons to pick when the grapes were perfectly ripe.” At its best, Bordeaux represents a fascinating tightrope between hedonism and structure, seductiveness and seriousness—and the 2015 vintage demonstrates this beautifully.

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Certainly, there’s been a long history in Bordeaux of austerity out of the gate, then waiting for the magic of time to evolve the wines to their true potential. The lineup I’ve tasted from 2015 has a bit of that, but also there are many wines (and many great values) that are drinking beautifully right now. Decanter editor and the man behind the “Judgement of Paris” Steven Spurrier said that he saw 2015 as a very modern Bordeaux vintage. “It’s not like Bordeaux 10 years ago, when tannins could be hard as nails. In 2015, the fruit dominates the tannins and the acidity.” So I wanted to learn more. Why are some Bordeaux wines austere and some user-friendly upon release? And what does a modern vintage mean?

This curiosity led me to a book called Noble Rot by William Echikson, not with this question specifically in mind, but with a general interest in a region that I’d like to get to know better. The book was published in 2004 and it encapsulates a very specific time in the Bordeaux at the turn of the millennium. It tells the story of Robert Parker as a “democratizer” of a place that was deeply enmeshed in the old-school hierarchy of the 1855 classification. It tells the story of the “new wave” garagiste movement on the Right Bank, emblemized by Michel Gracia and Le Pin, who were drastically cutting yields and lengthening macerations to produce rich, extracted wines. Michel Rolland, the famous flying winemaker, was consulting for many wineries at the time and encouraging a rounder, more accessible style.

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The book has a very specific point of view—pro-Parker, pro-Rolland—and it’s of course a contentious one, as many people even at that time considered their work an “internationalization” of tradition. It is the opposite point of view of, for instance, Mondovino, a documentary decrying globalization in the wine industry that came out about the same time as this book. I’m not here to argue wine politics today, but I am interested in considering all the factors at play at this consequential time in an effort to understand where we’re at now. In addition to personalities who influenced winemaking choices, I’m sure climate change is a significant reason for today’s more consistently ripe fruit, as well—it’s a factor all over the winemaking world. But here we are 18 years after the turn of the millennium, and it still feels relevant to understand these figures in a deeper sense than in an offhand dismissal. Despite where you lie on the Parker/Mondovino divide, it’s an engaging book, for its in-depth portraits of the people and a moment in time in this historic region. It also shows a snapshot of en primeur week, of pricing, of coops and brokers—I enjoyed its insights into the business and the culture of the wine industry in Bordeaux.

Tasting through this vintage has piqued my curiosity and appreciation for this storied region. To make a bottle of Bordeaux requires understanding terroir as well as understanding the art of blending. Like Champagne, it is primarily a blended wine, but one often grown on a producer’s own estate. So, in general, it requires skills at both growing and blending—I think it’s fair to say that Bordeaux wines are equally made in the vineyard and in the cellar, that there’s a yin yang relationship between human and soil that must be symbiotic for the final wine to reach its potential. I understand why so many people start their wine obsession with this region and eventually come back to it, because it has much to teach about a glass of wine, in sensory terms as well as historical. Sure, there are outside investors and business politics and it's not all romantic, but it is interesting and I'm looking forward to learning more!

In the meantime, here are a few of my favorites from different price points.

2015 Tanesse Cadillac, Côtes de Bordeaux $12.99
This is an incredible value. From sustainably farmed vines grown in gravel and clay soils, its blend is 55% Merlot, 40% Cab Sauvignon, 5% Cab Franc. Concentrated and lush but maintaining a balanced relationship to its oak. It shows notes of coffee and black cherries and graphite, finishing with fine tannins.

2015 Les Remparts Rouge, Graves $19.99
50-50 Merlot and Cab blend. It’s very elegant with an ethereal texture and an earthy sensibility: notes of forest floor, juicy cherries, and fresh-picked herbs. Drinks like a midsummer’s picnic in the middle of a redwood forest.

2015 l’Esprit de Chevalier Rouge, Pessac-Leognan $27.99
Second wine of Domaine de Chevalier. Pretty and floral with lots of finesse, aromas of blackberries and silky cocoa. Finishes on a note of fresh lavender and brown sugar.

2015 Pavie Macquin, St-Emilion $79.99
Organically farmed. 84% Merlot, 14% Cab Franc, and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. Deep cherry, tobacco, rose petal, cassis, and cocoa notes, all very integrated and balanced. Has depth on the palate and is well-structured.

- Kate Soto

Villa Poggio Salvi's Wines Evoke the Story of Montalcino

italyKate Soto
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Brunello di Montalcino is a wine that is near and dear to our hearts at K&L, but it wasn’t until I started researching recently did I learn that the Montalcino region was known primarily for a sweet, sparkling wine called Moscadello until the 1960s. The deep, seductive Sangioveses that we know and love were, in fact, a bit of a fluke. The Banfi family bought up much of the land in the 60s to produce Moscadello, and, according to Jancis Robinson, failed miserably. To recover, they planted Sangiovese, and it was (clearly!) a huge success. From about 25 producers in 1975, Montalcino grew to 120 estates by 1995. Vino Italiano calls Montalcino the “boondocks” in the 1970s but by the 1990s, there was investment from big Italian players such as Piero Antinori, Angelo Gaja, and the Frescobaldi clan.

It was during this sea change that Luca Belingardi’s grandfather bought Villa Poggio Salvi as a country retreat from his life in Milan. His name was Pierluigi Tagliabue and, in 1979 when he bought it, the country villa was only a couple of hectares of vineyards. He named his estate Poggio Salvi, meaning “healthy hill,” and it turned out to be in a prime location for Sangiovese, with great rocky soils called galestro that impart minerality and elegance to the fruit. Little by little he enlarged, recognizing the site’s potential, and today the estate holds 50 acres in Montalcino, plus an additional 50 more in Chianti Colli Senesi as of 1998.

Located on the south side of Montalcino with southern exposure, their primary estate benefits from powerful cooling breezes from the nearby Tyrrhenian Sea. The southern side of Montalcino is warm and generally gets grapes riper than the northern side, so that cooling breeze is essential in maintaining the grapes’ acidity. It was especially important during last year’s harvest. According to Luca: “The 2017 harvest was warmer than average. Usually we harvest at the end of September, but last year it was the beginning. 2017 was was crazy in Europe in general, and the last 10 vintages you feel this warming trend. We are lucky because we are one of the highest wineries and we face south, close to 500 meters, 1500 feet. We can stay fresh and cool, which is important to maintain higher acidity.”

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You really can’t avoid the issue of climate change when you speak with winemakers these days. It’s something that anyone involved in agriculture is contending with on a day-to-day basis, and that will undoubtedly affect farming methods for years to come. Luca says, “Global warming is going on, so we are thinking ahead, and studying. In a couple of years, we’ll add irrigation. Up to now, we’ve needed no irrigation at all. But it will be necessary in case of emergency. What will happen in 100 years, who knows? But in the next 20 years, all over Tuscany, there will probably be higher temperatures, more irrigation.”

Luca’s family has been there through the last 40 years of evolution in Montalcino, but are very rooted in Pierluigi’s original vision. His grandfather understood the importance of Sangiovese, and was an early ambassador for it. He prized the idea that the wine is born outside of the cellar, and that the Sangiovese Grosso grape is what makes Montalcino special. Luca says it’s “a wonderful grape, and we have the best expression of it in Montalcino.” To accurately capture the essence of that grape they harvest everything by hand, selecting the best fruit in the vineyard so only the highest quality makes it into their cellar. Luca has modernized the production, but still values the traditional method of ageing their wines in only Slavonian casks as Pierluigi did.

Luca grew up in Milan and studied winemaking there, but spent his childhood visiting Montalcino. Ten years ago, he moved to Montalcino full time, and is raising his children there among the vines. The rest of his Milanese family is involved in the winery, but he is the only one who is in Montalcino, on the ground, 100 percent of the time. And his role in the family business seems to be the perfect fit for him. He says, “This is a position where I can see the production, but also travel. What I like in my position is that I can see the big picture, from the vineyards to the cellar to export market.”

Villa Poggio Salvi’s wines are all deeply rooted in the family’s love for the land and the grape, and represent great values for the region. His 2016 Rosso, for instance, is bright and lifted with notes of cherries, violets, and tobacco, with a dusty core of tannins and singing acidity. It’s a weeknight steak wine if ever there was one. In general, there’s a sense of tradition to the Poggio Salvi wines, and they tell the fundamental story of the region: things change, methods modernize, but a haunting soulfulness remains, reminding you that what’s in your glass couldn’t be from anywhere but Montalcino.

- Kate Soto

An LA Lunch with Jeff Pisoni

domesticKate Soto
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Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Jeff Pisoni, winemaker for Pisoni Vineyards and son of Gary Pisoni, Godfather of the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation. If you are a fan of California Pinot, no doubt you are familiar with the name. Gary Pisoni is iconic—for his personality and for his wines (both big on charisma). He became the defining force in Santa Lucia Highlands viticulture when, back in the 1980s, he convinced his family that planting grapes in the dry Santa Lucia Mountains was a good idea. Spoiler: it was.

Since then he’s supplied grapes to some of the biggest names in Cali Pinot (Kosta Browne, Peter Michael, Siduri), while crafting his own deep, sensual wines. His two sons are the current generation at the helm: Jeff makes the wine and Mark grows the grapes. As inheritors of Gary’s trademark passion, with a lifetime among the vines and some serious university training between the two of them, Jeff and Mark are taking the wines to a level where they’re achieving even more balance and complexity, while maintaining that concentration of fruit.

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Part of their evolution has been in the vein of less intervention. Mark is farming organically, and Jeff is not filtering or inoculating with commercial yeasts. Jeff loves information and measures everything. He says, “If you don’t inoculate, the fermentations start more slowly and you get more complexity. Mark started using more compost so we get a healthier must and more yeast, so we never get stuck fermentations.” Gary’s in favor of all the changes the two have made over the years. He’s the visionary but they are the fine tuners.

At the City Club, perched high above Downtown LA, we drank rosé around a long table filled to the brim with stemware, looking out at a floor-to-ceiling view of the city. Then I sat with other wine folks and we all had lunch with Jeff. It was a wonderful opportunity to taste through the Pisoni and Lucia wines, while learning about the region his family has been intertwined with for more than a century. The Pisonis came from Switzerland at the turn of the twentieth century as dairy farmers before they began with row crops in the 1950s (they still farm 600 acres of lettuce and broccoli), but Gary was a wine collector and saw SLH’s potential for viticulture. He famously told his dad that you can’t charge $250 for a lettuce tasting. And thus the story goes: he called in a water witcher* when his parents were out of town (they were skeptical of his designs on making wine) and, at the sixth attempt, Gary found a water source at 380 feet deep, into solid granite.

This water discovery has given the Pisonis the unique advantage of, well... water. In California, and really, much of the vinous world, water is one of the major factors shaping the fruit and the future of viticulture. But their constant supply, coupled with the marine soils and coastal fog, has given them an ideal spot for Pinot. What I discovered at this luncheon was that they’re knocking Chardonnay and Syrah out of the park as well. I had no idea that they were even making Syrah, and loved it. In fact, they only have three acres planted to Syrah. We tried their 2014 Susan’s HIll Syrah—floral and seductive and balancing on its tiptoes.

Actually, Jeff’s favorite grape to work with is Chardonnay. He likes it because it’s their underdog, since they are known for their Pinot and especially since there’s an ocean of generic Chard in California. But his real appreciation for it is in the symbiotic relationship Chardonnay has with its lees and barrel, and he gets animated when explaining it: “The grape needs the lees and barrel, and the barrel needs the lees. With new oak you have to ferment in the barrel first because it needs the lees in order to harmonize. Reduction in Chardonnay is based on how you manage your lees; you need to stir to lose the reduction. It’s all a complex relationship.” Their 2016 Lucia Chardonnay and Soberanes Chardonnay are both bright and lifted, with the former in a more luscious style and the latter presenting a more minerally, racy profile.

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Jeff says his family are farmers, that’s their identity. It’s not hard to romanticize that connection to the land—that’s what us wine geeks go in for, right? The beauty of how a glass of wine connects us to the weather and the soil and the people? But there is something so rooted and real about this family in this place. It’s a different California wine story than, say, much of Napa, where people came from elsewhere to stake their claim on winemaking. The Pisoni story happened from the ground up: a family already connected to the land with one visionary and a crazy idea. They’ve helped show the world what Santa Lucia Highlands can do with the right grape. And when I ask about the future, Jeff says he hopes to be able to keep doing what they're doing; fine tuning, continuing on their path. They’ll always have new projects but the foundation is there, and it's deep.

Jeff is a warm and genuine guy who has two young boys the same age as mine, and it was great to chat with him about balancing the wine life and the parent life. His wife, Bibiana, is a talented winemaker as well, producing her own labels, Cattleya, Wayfarer, and Shared Notes. They’re busy for sure, but Jeff finds time to make pancakes for his kids every morning. And that’s modern life, right? Finding a balance between doing what you love and loving your people. From what I can see, he’s doing both with a helluva lot of heart. And the wines have that heart, too. In spades.

*What’s a water witcher, you ask? I did too. It's a specialist who uses two rodsthey can be sticks or coat hangersto divine where water is hiding underground. Apparently, it works!

- Kate Soto

 

Something Old Can Be New Again: Hitching Post II's New Tasting Room

domesticOn the Trail

Fourteen years after Sideways, the Hitching Post Wines' first tasting room is finally open.

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I was working in the film business when I was introduced to the Santa Ynez Valley. I knew nothing about wine and, having recently moved here from Canada, I wasn’t even aware that I was in close proximity to “wine country.”  One evening, a small group of us industry folk went to our local theater to watch Sideways. I laughed (“Here’s your wallet!”), I groaned (that spit bucket drink), I questioned (what’s wrong with Merlot?). Over beers afterwards, we unanimously decided to take a road trip and do the Sideways Wine Tour. Since that first trip in 2004, I’ve treasured several memorable trips to Santa Ynez: staying at the Windmill Inn where part of the movie was filmed, dancing to live country music at Maverick’s Saloon, or, my favorite, renting an RV over Thanksgiving with friends. We parked our mobile home and hired a local Jeeves to chauffeur us to each tasting room, our wine haul becoming heavier, our group’s tone more rowdy at each stop. Regardless of our condition at the end of our visits, we always made sure to cap off the day with a slab of grilled steak, a giant baked potato, and a bottle of Pinot Noir at the Hitching Post II. 

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Fast forward 14 years and here I am, now working in the wine business and I know nothing about the film business anymore. Until my recent K&L field trip with Kate and Diana, it had been 4 years since I’d visited the area, so I suggested we make the Hitching Post II part of our itinerary. I knew they were opening their tasting room this summer, plus we could enjoy a steak before returning home! You can read about our visit here. One week after that trip, the invite to the opening party showed up in my inbox and I marked my calendar.

I ventured out on a relaxing and introspective solo drive. Two and a half hours later I pulled into the newly expanded parking lot of the Hitching Post II. The temperature was a beautiful 78F, the sun shone brightly, and a delicate wind rustled the surrounding trees. I opened my car door and was immediately embraced by the comforting smell of smoky BBQ wafting towards me from the large outdoor grill. The soon-to-be snack- shack Airstream trailer was occupied by a catering crew preparing an array of delicious Spamburgers and spicy grilled shrimp. I checked in, poured a glass of rosé and observed the finished space.

The new building is gorgeous – it consists of three rooms in a small house. As I entered, I was faced with a welcoming bar situated in the center room. Along the walls are photos and stories that chronicle the history of the winery, from the first harvest and wine made in 1981 to the current 2016 release, which debuts the brand’s new label design. To the right is another bar, set in a cozy environment with a wood burning fireplace. To the left is a room with table seating and a small retail space for Hitching Post products including the “Magic Stuff” seasoning salt, hats and other memorabilia. Frank Ostini wants to grow vegetables and make pickled items available for purchase. He also makes goat cheese for the restaurant, with milk from the goat farm three miles away that is owned by one of his employees. Outside, there is scattered seating with relaxing Adirondack chairs for groups of two or more. These intimate areas overlook the ostrich farm nearby and the rolling hills in the distance. It is the perfect spot to sit back with a bottle and enjoy good wine and company in an absolutely beautiful and serene setting. There is also a small barn on the property that will be available for parties and events.

I asked Frank why he decided to open a tasting room after all these years. He told me he was working on a 3.5 million dollar project offsite when his wife suggested he reconsider that idea. A week later, the space for the tasting room became available. Never doubt a woman’s intuition.

Frank and Gray really know how to throw down. Classic rock pumped from the sound system. In addition to the steady stream of eats, an endless supply of Hitching Post wines were available. I started with a glass of 2017 Pinks rosé, then tasted my way through the lineup of 2015 Pinot Noir: Highliner, Cork Dancer, and Hometown. I had my first taste of the 2012 Four Top, a blend led by Merlot, with Cabernet Sauvignon and a small percentage of Cabernet Franc and Valdiguie. Who’s drinking #*king Merlot? This gal. It was luscious and smooth and was fabulous with my burger and fries.

As the sun began to set, the winds picked up and the temperatures dropped. Those of us remaining filed into the building and continued the party. I met the warm and engaging Richard Sanford and his delightfully spunky wife, Thekla of Alma Rosa Winery. We had an enlightening conversation about the perception of California wines, we discussed their path to Alma Rosa, and the issue of wild boars in the vineyards. Our glasses were suddenly empty and I spied a bottle of Hitching Post Chardonnay in the fridge. Did I know Frank and Gray make Chardonnay? I’m certain I did not. I asked Gray to pop it open. It was crisp and fresh and quite delicate. This wine is poured in the restaurant, so if you want to try it, you’ll need to make the trip.

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The night eventually came to an end and it was time to say our goodbyes. New friendships were formed, old friendships were rekindled. A sense of nostalgia lingered, but the feeling of new beginnings was strong. Having longevity in the restaurant business is hard work. Success is not determined by responsible accounting alone. In a business that can’t survive without repeat customers, success means consistency, being genuine and having a passion for forming and maintaining relationships. It is also important to find innovative ways to keep things fresh without disrupting what people already love about your establishment but will give them reason to keep coming back. Welcome to the Hitching Post Wines Tasting Room. I am already planning my next visit.

- Sharon Kelly

The Next Generation: Delphine Brulez of Champagne Louise Brison

champagneKate Soto
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Delphine Brulez, winemaker at Champagne Louise Brison, hails from the Aube, a southwestern enclave in Champagne that has always had a touch of a rebellious streak. Closer in geography, soil, and spirit to Burgundy than to Reims, many winemakers here are leading the grower-producer revolution that is focusing on terroir—that is, single-vineyard, single-vintage, even single-varietal Champagne—in a region where blending has defined the style for centuries. The Aube is, at the very least, making us rethink what we know about Champagne.

It’s within this context that we find Champagne Louise Brison, a family winery in the town of Noé-les-Mallets making beautiful vintage-focused Champagnes. Delphine Brulez is the great-granddaughter of Louise Brison, who started the family vineyards with one hectare of grapes. Delphine’s father, Francis, began making wine in 1991, and his philosophy of showcasing terroir has defined the winery. Delphine says, “We have a special exposition, on a beautiful hill. We make only vintage Champagne. That’s the best way to have a real picture of terroir, and of the weather. If you want to have a real picture you have to take weather into consideration. We don’t do any year blends. We work like Burgundy. We are closer to Burgundy. We studied in Burgundy. It’s a big influence.”

The respect for the vintage has informed their decision to hold all their wines back for five years before release, plus an extra year for the Blanc de Blancs. Delphine says their wines need this time in bottle, and that the 2012 vintage is looking excellent for ageing: “The 2012 vintage was amazing, very fresh, great potential. For good aging you have to have acidity. It’s a natural preservative. You have to have complexity, structure, and flavor. You have those three parts in 2012, much like the 2002 vintage, which is still the best of the best since we began. When it reaches its full potential, you’ll get flavors like quince and honey. When it’s younger it’s a completely different flavor, more fruit forward. In a sunnier vintage like 2009 you get more apricot, and in a fresher vintage like 2012 you get more citrus flavors. The range of flavors is completely different. If you make a standard, blended Champagne you can’t see that because it’s sold at maybe two years old and the wine has no time to age, and if it’s blended they can manipulate the flavor.”

To this end, farming is crucial. If the yield is too high, the concentration won’t be right and it won’t be ageable. The average age of the vines is important, as fruit from only young vines won’t make an ageable wine, either. Plus young vines are vulnerable to storms, which have become more violent and unpredictable each year, especially in the last ten, due to climate change. This year, for instance, her vineyards were plagued by summer storms and hail, and she expects they’ll lose up to 75 percent of their crop. Luckily the third that is left will be very high quality, but it will nonetheless be a difficult year. Weather impacts a grower-producer in a very particular way. Large Champagne houses have reserves from which they can blend if one vintage is bad, or perhaps they can find other sources of fruit. But to Delphine it is so important to encapsulate what happens in each year. She says: “Each year has a right to exist, but not each is the year of the century.”

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They farm organically—not manipulating their land with chemical pesticides or fertilizers. “The goal is quality. It’s all about the next generation. Each year we think about what we can improve, for the future, for the environment,” Delphine says. “My dad has been working the same soil for over 30 years. When you use a lot of chemicals and then stop, the vines need maybe 10 years to recover. Like if you stop an antibiotic, it takes along time for your body to recover. Healthy soil has a lot of microorganisms. When you go organic, you have to be prepared. You must begin somewhere.” Currently, organic growers comprise only 1.3 percent in Champagne.

Delphine has two young sons who might be the next generation, though she’s making no demands. “My dad didn’t tell me I had to be the next generation. It just happened piece by piece, working the vines, growing up with it, and I caught the virus. We don’t work for us, we work for the next generation. We hope our children will be the next generation but I won’t force them. We have a very hard job. It can be difficult. But it’s so much more. Each day when I wake up I do something different. Go to the vines, go to the cellar. The variety is so important that the job is perfect for me. I studied the production side but we are just two with my father, so we have to do everything.”

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Whatever may happen with the next generation, Delphine is a strong leader in this one, bringing this generation’s ideas of sustainable farming and terroir-driven wines to the fore of the conversation. Delphine is part of a group called Les Fa’bulleuses, a winemaking collective comprising women who occupy leadership roles. She says, “The taboo of taking the family estate when you are a woman is not there anymore, but it’s still not easy. You have to have a strong temperament. We are all winemakers in different terroir in Champagne. We are in the same situation so we all work together. It’s nice to be together to share and solve problems together.” This group is part of a new generation who wants to make a real difference in Champagne, who wants to represent their terroir. “We have the quality. We know our terroir. It’s the future. We are small compared to big brands, but we sell something that is so real and important for us.”

- Kate Soto

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Ordaz Family Wines: A Personal Terroir

domestic, producer profileOn the Trail
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Terroir is a complex concept. It’s commonly translated as “a sense of place,” and most understandings of the term are largely dependant on how the vine’s physical environment affects the expression of the resulting wine. Soil type, aspect, climate and farming regime all contribute to the raw material—grapes. Then it’s over to the winemaker to preserve these distinctive markers of that particular place and encapsulate them in a bottle. Though it’s quite difficult to measure or quantify, I’m convinced that terroir exists and that wines can convey a complex sense of place. I’m also interested in a broader concept of terroir that includes culture, people and emotion: the emotional input of a farmer or winemaker or team of people that become an integral part of the wine; the culture that exists in the place where the wine is grown and made. This dimension of terroir certainly defies empirical analysis and yet I’m equally as convinced that it affects the way in which wines express themselves and how we perceive them. Wine is inherently a human product. Nature produces grapes, humans make wine, so any concept of terroir without the inclusion of human input seems incomplete.

Very few times in my life has this concept of a more holistic definition of terroir made more sense than on a recent trip to visit Ordaz Family Wines in Sonoma. My visit with the Ordaz family was initiated a few months back with an email from Eppie Ordaz asking to schedule an appointment to taste me on his family’s wines. A few weeks later we met in Redwood City and began talking as he opened the wines. Though I had vaguely recognized the name “Ordaz” it wasn’t until chatting with Eppie that something clicked…he is the son of legendary grape grower Jesus “Chuy” Ordaz. Chuy’s name is known to many due to his namesake Chardonnay vineyard 1,400 feet up in Sonoma’s Moon Mountain AVA, made famous by producers such as DuMol, Failla, Neyers and Bedrock. Chuy has farmed those vines for more than four decades. On the same rugged mountain Chuy also looks after legendary vineyards such as Fredericks Vineyard (a designate of Turley), Maus Vineyard, and perhaps the jewel in the crown, Montecillo Vineyard. Montecillo was planted back in the 1960s and is home to some of the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon in California. Chuy’s vast experience and knowledge of this mountain is second to none. He has literally spent a lifetime establishing vineyards and growing grapes here. Eppie now works closely with his dad to buy very small parcels of fruit (normally a ton or less) from the best blocks on the property. They are minimally but thoughtfully crafted into wines that intricately reflect this rugged, rocky, mountain terroir. After buying some of the wines on the spot I invited myself to visit the vineyards and hopefully meet Eppie’s dad.


The following week we all met at a tiny gas station in Kenwood, California, and headed for the vineyards. Parking at the foot of the mountain where the sealed road abruptly finished, Chuy playfully gibed at his son for not wanting to get his truck dirty! We all climbed into Chuy’s somewhat more “weathered” truck and snaked our way up a steep and rutted gravel road. As we rumbled along, historical commentary about the mountain and vineyards was interspersed with friendly banter and personal anecdotes. It was impossible not to be in awe as we stood on top of the mountain looking at these 50-plus-year-old dry-farmed vines with the man who had been their lifelong caretaker. Eppie and Chuy joked about who makes the call what exact parcels to select and when to pick them. They lamented about previous eras when the fruit was less sought after and cost one third of the price per ton that it commands today! When the conversation turned more toward the winemaking side of things Chuy drifted off and before we knew it he was down a nearby row, pulling sucker shoots and leaves off of the vines. “He doesn’t like to stand still,” Eppie laughed as his dad disappeared deeper and deeper into the vines. The sun was starting to set and we had to hit the road. Eppie called out to his dad, “You’ve got the keys to the truck, come back up here.” Eppie was on the hook for cooking family dinner that night and knew how difficult it could be to get his father out of the vineyard. The connection between people and place is flourishing here. I feel truly lucky to have witnessed it first hand. The Ordaz wines represent the dedication of a lifetime’s work, the love and respect between father and son—truly magical.

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2017 Ordaz “Maus Vineyard” Sonoma Valley Rosé ($19.95) Made from 70% Grenache, 15% Syrah and 15% Mourvèdre, a beautifully pure, refreshing, quaffable style of rosé with plenty of texture and layers to go with the crunchy acidity and zippy drive. Speaks distinctly of the incredibly shallow soils with fractured sandstone in which the vines struggle. A summer favorite for sure!


2013 Ordaz “Montecillo Vineyard” Sonoma Valley Zinfandel ($34.99) Powerful yet fresh. Pure yet wild. This fascinating mountain fruit Zin is simply captivating. It’s taken entirely from the older blocks of Zinfandel at Montecillo Vineyard, and there is an effortless concentration to the wine that seems to come from the quality of the fruit rather than extreme ripeness or extraction; more structured than your typical Russian River, Dry Creek or Lodi Zin, really expressing its mountain home. 91 WE

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2013 Ordaz “Montecillo Vineyard” Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($54.99) From hand-selected parcels of old-vine Cabernet high on Moon Mountain in the famed Montecillo Vineyard. Planted in the late 1960s at 1,800 feet in elevation, this site produces some of the most distinctive and sought-after Cabernet in the state. Packed with briary dark fruit, graphite, cigar box, chicory and dry earth. Medium-bodied, with firm tannins and a linear shape. Quite savory and “old school” with plenty of traditional varietal character complementing the muscular mountain fruit.

—Ryan Woodhouse

Field Trip Part II: A Sneak Peak of the New Tasting Room at Hitching Post II

Kate Soto
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It’d be a darn shame to visit the Santa Ynez Valley without stopping at the Hitching Post II, Buellton’s iconic steak and wine haven made famous by Sideways. That’s how we saw the situation anyways. So Sharon, Diana, and I made our way to Highway 246 from Stolpman Vineyards and had ourselves a visit.

Hitching Post II is famous for more than just its role in Sideways, of course. Owners Frank Ostini and Gray Hartley serve a mean steak and have been making their own wine since 1979. We were treated to some of their generous hospitality, and we got a sneak peak of their upcoming tasting room, which will be opening any day now! They are putting the finishing touches on a property directly next to their current restaurant, which includes an airstream trailer soon to be a kitchen for small bites. There’s a barn for events with some dubiously punctuated but warm-hearted signage. The furniture is being made by hand on site. You’ll be able to sit outside and enjoy the breeze or sit inside in the modern, cozy interior. And, not to mention, you’ll get to sip on Hitching Post wines, a lineup that mostly pays homage to their favorite grape, Pinot Noir, sourced from some of the best vineyard sites in the Valley. In 1981, when they found their first Pinot vineyard, they fell in love with the grape and it’s been the core of their wine program ever since.

Gray met us with a cool bottle of their Pinks rose--a refreshing, fruity blend of Valdigue and Grenache--then Frank joined us and we toured (Gray’s word was “sauntered”) around the new place. It doesn’t hurt that it’s on a beautiful plot of land, overlooking toasted rolling hills with oak trees and the neighboring ostrich farm. The day was sunny and breezy, and, with Gray and Frank’s friendliness and the smell of barbecue from the restaurant’s grill, plus a bit of extra amiability from the wine, we were pretty instantly enjoying ourselves. I have no doubt that patrons of the new tasting room will feel the same way. There’s a great welcoming feel to the space, with lots of room for your own sauntering.

Gray told us the story of how he and Frank met many moons ago when Gray was dining at his restaurant. Gray could tell that a jumpy customer looked like he was about to try an old dine & ditch. When he did just that, Gray ran after him and got his license plate number! Frank and Gray struck up a friendship and have been working together ever since. Gray was a salmon fisherman in Alaska for 28 years, when the season was over he’d come back to California and make wine with Frank. If any filmmaker out there ever wanted to make a wine-duo buddy comedy they should look no further than Frank and Gray! They are great friends and great fun.

We finished our tour with dinner and wine at the restaurant, and I had a filet mignon that knocked it out of the park. Great food, great wine, great views, great people--the Hitching Post II is a special place, and I can’t wait to head back to see the tasting room in action. Thanks again, Gray and Frank!

- Kate Soto

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