Refined, Aged Burgundy

Today’s Story: Joseph Drouhin

Joseph Drouhin is a historic producer in Burgundy that found its start in 1880. Joseph, a 22 year old from Chablis, moved to Beaune and started his own wine company with the aim of providing high quality wines. His son Maurice, however, shifted the focus to estate grape growing and winemaking by purchasing land in Clos des Mouches and Clos de Vougeot, amongst other appellations. Robert Drouhin, who succeeded Maurice in 1957, ties most with Joseph Drouhin’s state as it sits today. Robert acquired a great deal of vineyard land, including in Chablis, and was one of the first producers who stopped using pesticides and other chemicals in Burgundy. Today, Robert’s children Philippe, Véronique, Laurent, and Frédéric carry on the legacy of this great producer with the same founding principles of creating high quality, true to form wines at heart.

Today, Joseph Drouhin is one of the largest estates in Burgundy consisting of 78 hectares (193 acres) throughout Chablis, Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, and Côte Chalonnaise. Most of the wines are of 1er Cru or Grand Cru status, with vineyards planted to both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In addition to their own vineyard land, Drouhin purchases some fruit from other established vineyard owners who they have longstanding relationships with. This allows them to produce a broader assortment of wines for distribution throughout the world.

Today’s Wine: 1995 1er Cru Pommard-Epenots

100% Pinot Noir; 13% ABV

In appearance the wine is cloudy pale ruby turning garnet near the rim. This threw very fine sediment that snuck through the filter, however I did pour some through cheesecloth which cleared it up. On the nose, we get aromas of baked cherry, overripe cranberry, dried green herbs, sous bois, cedar, and tobacco. Once in the mouth, the wine showcases notes of tart cherry, red licorice, wet stone, smoked red meat, and green underbrush. Holding up remarkably well, this is medium-bodied with high acidity and fully integrated light tannins into a medium length finish.

Price: $150. Really cool experience finding and drinking aged Burgundy. Pair this with duck, lamb, or a burger.

Cult Cali Pinot

Today’s Story: Williams Selyem

Williams Selyem is another winery with a homegrown, almost comical, origin story. During the 1970s, Burt Williams received several tons of free grapes from a grower with an abundance of fruit that would otherwise most likely go to waste. With his friend Ed Selyem, in 1979 the pair started making wine at Burt’s house over the weekends with Zinfandel grapes from the Martinelli family. Though the two set out to make wine only for themselves as a hobby, Burt and Ed fully devoted to the endeavor in 1981 and named their winery Hacienda del Rio.

They bottled their first vintage in 1982 and released it commercially in 1983, however Hacienda Winery quickly sent a cease and desist letter that resulted in removal of “Hacienda” from Burt and Ed’s labels. In 1984, Burt and Ed moved production to a nearby garage in Fulton and released the first vintage with the now famous and globally-recognized Williams Selyem label.

Williams Selyem picked up steam very quickly for a new winery in California. In 1985, they released their first vineyard-designated Pinot Noir from the Rochioli Vineyard and in 1987 that wine won the California State Fair Sweepstakes Prize for top red wine. With its status blown open, Williams Selyem grew a cult following and they needed to create a waitlist that immediately spanned 2-3 years. In 1989, Williams Selyem relocated to the Allen Ranch facility on Westside Road and in 1992 Burt and Ed quit their day jobs to focus 100% on their wine.

Six years later, however, in 1998 Burt and Ed sold Williams Selyem to John Dyson who was a longtime customer. John and his wife Kathe still own the winery today, and throughout their proprietorship greatly expanded winemaking by adding estate vineyards along the way. In my opinion, their crowning and historic achievement came in 2009 when Wine Enthusiast Magazine rated the 2007 Williams Selyem Litton Estate Pinot Noir 100 points. This was the first North American Pinot Noir in history to achieve a perfect score by a major wine publication, and while I do not buy wine simply based on score and have my issues with the scale, I can appreciate the historic achievement.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Pinot Noir Ferrington Vineyard

100% Pinot Noir; 13.4% ABV

Over the years, I’ve had a number of different wines from Williams Selyem (both red and white) but this is my first from the famous Ferrington Vineyard. Today’s Pinot is pale/medium ruby in color and fairly transparent. On the nose are aromas of dried strawberry, crushed cranberry, mint, aged leather, gravelly road after a rainstorm, and a hint of oak. The palate showcases notes of ripe red raspberry, strawberry jam, cinnamon, lightly scorched earth, and slate. Medium-bodied with medium (+) bright acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long mouthwatering finish.

Price: $100, getting up there with the Kosta Browne I reviewed about two weeks back. This is an exceptional quality Pinot that I highly recommend (I love every wine I’ve had from them), though there are some great options for half the price. Pair this with salmon, chicken, pork, or charcuterie.

Blood, Sweat, and Pinot Noir

Today’s Story: Kosta Browne

Kosta Browne is a very storied, highly sought-after winery whose Pinot Noir amassed a cult following over the years. The “winery” started in 1997 with two friends, Dan Kosta and Michael Browne, who both happened to work at a restaurant in Santa Rosa but desired to make their own Pinot Noir. Every night they both worked in the restaurant, each would save $10 of their tips stashed in an envelope in Dan’s desk (he was the restaurant’s GM and Michael was the sommelier). Once their savings grew to about $1,000, they were (almost) ready to make wine.

Short in their ability to purchase both grapes and machinery to produce wine, Dan and Michael received $400 from a chef at the restaurant to push them to their goal. With $1,400 to their mutual name, they spent $400 on winemaking equipment and $1,000 on grapes from Everett Ridge in the Russian River Valley which allowed them to produce one barrel of wine (24 cases when all said and done). Most of this barrel went to VIP restaurant patrons, and as it emptied KB turned to Sauvignon Blanc due to its lower-priced grapes and no need for barrels to age. This Sauvignon Blanc allowed them to turn profit more quickly, paving the way for a return to their focus on Pinot Noir.

Following that batch of Sauvignon Blanc, in 2000 Michael networked tirelessly to find someone willing to sell him (a small, unknown producer) high quality Pinot Noir grapes. His efforts paid off when he convinced John Ferrington, the former assistant winemaker at Williams Selyem, to connect him with the owners of Cohn Vineyard who ultimately sold him grapes. As their second batch of Pinot aged in the barrels, Michael constructed a business plan and the pair partnered with investors to augment their return to Pinot Noir.

Now, I would love to run through more of the history of Kosta Browne but it is quite an extensive story with many trials and tribulations along the way. Even more so following what I wrote above! I encourage you to visit their website https://www.kostabrowne.com/pages/stories/, which provides all you will ever need to know.

Note: Duckhorn Wine Company purchased Kosta Browne last year. At that time, KB’s waiting list consisted of 30,000 members who account for 85% of the 30,000 case annual production. The remaining 15% typically goes to restaurants or high-end wine stores in small quantities. It will be interesting to see how Duckhorn’s ownership affects the KB brand.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 14.6% ABV

Though I’ve been familiar with Kosta Browne for quite some time, this is actually my first time drinking a bottle. The wine is bright, clear ruby red in appearance with hues of rose petal toward the rim of the glass. On the nose are aromas of crushed raspberry, strawberry, pomegranate, florals, a touch of leather, and a waning hint of alcohol. In the mouth, the palate showcases notes of sweet cherry, ripe red berries, spice box, green herbs, and vanilla. Medium-bodied and elegant, this Pinot shows moderately high acidity, low tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. Overall a very velvety wine that will only get better with a few more years in the bottle.

Price: $140. This is definitely pricey for a Pinot, however given its rarity I see why it is priced this way. There are certainly other Pinots that deliver a stronger QPR (even their “entry” Sonoma Coast can be found online for $80), but if you really want to make an entrance and tell your company an incredible wine story, grab a bottle of single vineyard Kosta Browne…if you can find one.

Who Wants Pie?

Today’s Story: Davies Vineyards

Davies Vineyards is one of the most storied wineries in Napa, however to be perfectly honest I don’t think many people new to exploring wine know about them.

Their history began in 1862 when Jacob Schram purchased 200 acres and began the development of hillside vineyards in Napa. In 1870, Chinese laborers dug what became the first hillside caves in Napa Valley for aging and storing wine, with the winery quickly ramping up production. By 1880, Schramsberg was producing 8,403 cases of wine annually from 50 acres of vines, which ramped up to about 28,361 cases from 100 acres of vines by the year 1890. Fortunes would change in the early 1900s, however, when Jacob Schram died in 1905 and the winery sold in 1912.

It wasn’t until 1965, however, that Jack and Jamie Davies purchased the 200 acre Schramsberg property and crushed the first grapes under their proprietorship. Jumping forward in time to 1994, the Davies family started replanting their Diamond Mountain vineyard property with Cabernet Sauvignon and other red Bordeaux varietals, paving the way toward their exceptional red wines in circulation today.

Several years later in 1998, Jack Davies unfortunately passed away and his wife Jamie became Chairman of the winery. Then, in 2000, Davies truly became a family affair when their son Hugh became head winemaker. His 2001 J. Davies Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, the first vintage from the replanted vines, released in 2004 and is named in honor of Jack.

Davies makes an assortment of wines, including Pinot Noir which I am reviewing today, as well as sparkling wines under the Schramsberg name. A timeline of the history above can be found at http://www.daviesvineyards.com/about/history/ for parts I missed.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Ferrington Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 14% ABV

The 2012 vintage in California was a fantastic bounce-back from the cool, rainy 2011. 2012 proved to be a long, sunny growing season that produced outstanding grapes up and down the coast, which in turn created fantastic wines that are now coming into stride. But onto the task at hand… The 2012 Ferrington is pale ruby through and through, a classic Pinot appearance. On the nose I get aromas of cherry, strawberry rhubarb, blueberry, vanilla, baking spices, and a touch of alcohol. This wine smells like a freshly baked pie! The palate offers similar notes to the nose, expanding on blueberry, pomegranate, plum, and iron. The mouthfeel is very silky and elegant, which makes for easy drinking. Medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long, lingering finish with flavors of overripe red fruits.

Price: $60. I can see a vast majority of Pinot Noir drinkers enjoying this wine for its silky texture and creamy fruit notes, however I think the price-point is high. I would avoid this wine for the plethora of delicious options in the $20-30 range.

Grape of Kings

Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of grapes, but Pinot Noir is the grape of kings.

Unknown

Today’s Story: Wild Hog Vineyard

Wild Hog Vineyard is a small and family-owned operation, and one whose wines I’ve been eager to try for some time now. While the winery opened in 1990, the Schoenfeld family started producing wines in 1977 on their property on the Sonoma Coast. The vineyard is located at 1,400 feet elevation and is 5 miles from the ocean, with the Pinot Noir coming from 3.5 acres of organically farmed vines certified organic by California Certified Organic Farmers.

Another fact I love about Wild Hog, and producers like them, is that the co-owner, Daniel Schoenfeld, is also the winemaker. Even more importantly, his view on winemaking is to let the fruit speak for itself and produces all of his wines unfiltered. This is one of those wines you can taste and truly appreciate the dedication to quality, stemming of course from the winemaker.

For more on their incredible story and farming methods, visit their website http://wildhogvineyard.com/.

Today’s Wine: 2013 Pinot Noir Fort Ross-Seaview

100% Pinot Noir; 15% ABV

2013 proved to be a fantastic vintage for Californian wines, with the growing season long and sunny. It would also mark the first of the drought years (2013, 2014, and 2015). In sight, this wine is deep ruby at its core with some rose petal variation toward the rim of the glass. I let this wine open in the glass for about 30 minutes, with the nose characterized by notes of cranberry, cherry, strawberry, forest floor, smoke, and charred oak. In the mouth, the palate showcases bright red fruits (like cherry, raspberry, and strawberry), jammy blackberry, baking spice, rocky earth, and underbrush. This Pinot is medium- to full-bodied with high, juicy acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a medium length finish. The high ABV is apparent, hence I believe this needs a couple more years of aging to better integrate.

Price: $30. This is right in the sweet spot for quality Pinot Noir for me (high enough price point to be hand crafted and not mass produced, yet low enough to drink more regularly). I do like this wine but I think the ABV detracts from it a bit. Pair it with gamey smoked meats.