Wine maker Dave Phinney of Orin Swift:
Becoming a winemaker began as a simple suggestion from a good friend. While studying abroad at the University of Florence I, like so many other college students, was uncertain what to do following graduation. My roommate was from a family with strong ties to wine in Sonoma County, and he suggested I might enjoy the wine industry. I started tasting wine and was hooked.
Upon returning to the United States, I tried to get all the experience I could (while still a student at the University of Arizona). I met a professor in the agriculture department running a viticulture program, and in the spring of 1997 was able to participate in the planting of a one-acre experimental block in the heart of Tucson. Also during that time I worked at one of the city's best retail wine shops and began to learn the hardest part of the business: selling.
A few months later, with a degree in political science, I began my first harvest at Robert Mondavi Winery. After working the nightshift and getting a crash course in survival Spanish, I was completely hooked. The next year (in 1998), I started Orin Swift Cellars with two tons of purchased Zinfandel grapes and, as my wife, Kim, likes to say, "one pair of shoes". I worked as a winemaker for some other wineries until 2005, when I switched full time to Orin Swift and a few consulting clients, including Beau Vigne, Cavus, Stanton and Chateau de Vie.
The name Orin Swift is a combination of my father's middle name and my mother's maiden name. Those two tons of Zinfandel have grown into a program that is now our flagship wine, The Prisoner, which has been named to Wine Spectator's annual Top 100 list twice. Over the years, we have added bottlings (with a new Zinfandel in the pipeline), including Sauvignon Blanc (Veladora), Cabernet Sauvignon (Mercury Head) and a blend of Bordeaux varieties (Papillon), and we now make about 80,000 cases a year. The grapes come from a number of hard-working, long-time growers in the Napa Valley, and their counterparts in Sonoma, Contra Costa, Mendocino and Amador counties as well. In the future, we hope to build a winery on our property in the Atlas Peak AVA of Napa Valley.
Vignobles Raymond produces the highest quality AOC Bordeaux organic wines. Located in the Entre-Deux-Mers region, not far from the city of Bordeaux, their wines have grown in the villages of Saint-Laurent-du-Bois, Saint-Martial, and Saint-Felix de Conclude since medieval times. The Raymond family has a long history of growing wine, dating back to 1850.
The family property of the domaine du Château de Lagarde has been built up over the years by successive generations. Today, the winery honors its heritage by using a special mixture of ancestral tradition and the most efficient modern technology.
In 2000, it was surely fate which made Lionel Raymond purchase Château Joumes Fillon (an organic vineyard). Because of Lionel’s strong beliefs in and respect for the environment and terroir, he decided to convert the whole vineyard (130 hectares) to organic agriculture. It was a quite a bet, and most winemakers in the area thought he was pretty crazy. It is twice the work of a conventional vineyard. Today, they are one of the largest organic wineries in Bordeaux, and part of the exclusive 7% of all wineries of the region who have made the organic commitment.
The different properties of the domaine benefit from specific conditions: special orientation of the vineyards, composition of the soil, humidity, age of the vines…These conditions are refined during the winemaking allowing them to offer a large range of products. Over 20 people work in the vineyard and the cellars, and consistently looking for innovative techniques in terms of production, vintification with respect for the vines, soil and environment.
What makes the main difference in the wine produced by organic agriculture, is the word “respect”: respect of the soil, on which the vine is planted, respect of the vine, respect of the organic methods, and all of this for the respect of the environment and the respect of the consumer. Vignoble Raymond’s wines reflect a certain “savoir-faire,” speaking deeply to their heritage with a distinct taste of place that only organic wines can impart.
Pure Yum is another exceptional wine from our friend Jeff Cohn, we are featuring it this week on the Premium Tasting. Smoke and Mirrors was very popular to our customers as well. This is Jeff's story.
Long before he began his winemaking career he received an associate degree in culinary arts from Johnson & Wales University, and a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management from Florida International University.
Jeff had always loved the hospitality industry, and as he worked through several high profile positions after college he found his passion for wine steadily growing. The more he learned, the more he wanted to learn, until he realized that becoming a winemaker was his ultimate goal. As an intern at Boordy Vineyards in Maryland, he drove an hour and half each way to prune vines in frigid weather, pick grapes in stifling heat, and scrub everything from barrels to floors.The job at Boordy was a deciding factor in the trajectory of his career -- in spite of all the scrubbing.
With the encouragement and support of his family, Jeff moved to California in 1993 to follow his dream. He earned his master’s degree in agriculture chemistry, with an emphasis on enology, from California State University, Fresno in 1996. It was here that Jeff discovered French winemaking techniques and the concept of terroir. "The flavor profile was so different than anything else I had ever tried," he says of the first Chateauneuf-du-Pape he tried in school. "It was a shocker. To go from tasting only single varietals to a blend really opened my eyes."
Upon graduation, Jeff joined Rosenblum Cellars as an enologist. He rapidly moved beyond lab work and soon found himself in charge of the entire white wine program. In 2000, Jeff was officially promoted to winemaker, and in 2004 was named vice president of winemaking and production at Rosenblum. He was instrumental in creating cutting-edge barrel and yeast programs at the winery. It was through experimentation at Rosenblum that Jeff perfected the technique of using different types of yeast to create even more subtle, specific characteristics in the wine he was crafting.
He began his own label, Jeff Cohn Cellars, in 1996. Jeff Cohn's first vintage was the 1996 Rhodes Vineyard Zinfandel. 75 cases were made. Over time, case production at Jeff Cohn Cellars slowly increased from that small, intimate introduction to over 5,000 cases annually. In January 2006 Jeff finally parted ways with Rosenblum to focus exclusively on his own winery, but not before crafting the 2003 Rockpile Road Zinfandel, which placed 3rd on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list that year. This was a coup for not only Jeff but all of California’s winemaking industry, as no Zinfandel had ever appeared so high on the list before. In fact, no Zinfandel from California had ever even cracked the top ten.
Jeff goes to great lengths to marry California fruit to the aspects of terroir and minerality you'd find in France's oldest winemaking regions. He does so by travelling all over California, from Santa Barbara to Mendocino, in search of the finest fruit and the best vineyards. Among some of Jeff's most important discoveries include the Rockpile region in Sonoma, where he began sourcing the Syrah grapes that are now the main component of his most elegant and complex wines; the Buffalo Hill Syrah, Haley's Reserve Syrah, and the stunning 2008 So Serine Syrah, to name a few. The craggy soil of the aptly named Rockpile produces some of the most complex and distinctive minerality in all of California.
In 2014, JC Cellars became Jeff Cohn Cellars based in Oakland, CA. The winery's unlikely urban location is part of its charm. It was also a conscious decision, as Jeff is a resident of Alameda. "Being in Napa and Sonoma, the world of winemaking surrounds you all the time," says Jeff. "I like being where I am because I like a private life. I'm close to the winery without being immersed in the endless competition of that environment…and I like living here," he jokes, "because I've always wanted to live on an island." Jeff is not only a talented winemaker, but he is also a dedicated father. His daughters Haley and Isabel bring him a lot of joy and light. He named two of his wines after his girls, an homage to their differing and unique personalities.
Being housed in downtown Oakland also gives the community a first-hand glimpse at what really goes on behind the scenes, especially during harvest. The most hectic time of year, it's during harvest that you can really experience all that goes into the craft of winemaking. "Harvest is my absolute favorite time of year," says Jeff, “and it’s also nerve-wracking because there is just so much to do. We easily put in 12 to 14 hour days for weeks on end. But fermentation...I love the aroma. I love the smell.”
I have been a big fan of the Terra Valentine wines for a long time. We are showing the Cabernet in our Premium Tasting this week so here's a little information about their wine maker.
Sam Baxter stands tall among an esteemed few, of the next generation of Napa Valley winemakers. Baxter literally grew up in the grapevines, trailing father Phil, whose winemaking made a legendary mark in the late '60s when the Napa Valley first experienced international notoriety as a respected winegrowing region.
After graduating from University of California, Davis with a degree in fermentation science in 1998, Sam extended his experience with a pivotal internship position at Sterling Vineyards and stints abroad in Australia. His first encounters with Terra Valentine were cultivated during the early years at the winery, dubbed the "cowboy" era (1999-2001) due to the rough-and-tumble condition of the winery and its vineyard land, which allowed for barely enough energy to run the lights, but no hot water. Working under these off-the-grid conditions went a long way in building Baxter's strong winemaking foundation–one that thrived in the extreme conditions of the past, and now flourishes in the most technologically advanced state of the winery of today. When the page of Terra Valentine's next chapter turned, Sam was well-poised to take over his father's legacy, as winemaker and General Manager in 2002. His first vintage released in that same year.
Sam's winemaking approach is best described as Old World meets New–a subtle blend of "go-with-the-gut" instincts paired with equal parts science and art.
Having spent the better part of his youth amid the grape vines of Terra Valentine, Sam beats to a simple mantra for the estate's next chapter: "To capture the vineyard, the appellation and the passion of the people involved. When guests taste the wine and learn a bit about it, I want all of that to shine through. I want people to fall in love with Spring Mountain and with our Terra Valentine wines."
Located in the beautiful Napa Valley, Del Dotto Vineyards is a family-owned winery which focuses on small production, premium wines. Dave Del Dotto has spent the last 20 years acquiring vineyards in some of the top American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) including Rutherford, Oakville, St. Helena, Spring Mountain, Howell Mountain, and Sonoma Coast. Currently, we produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Sangiovese, and Sauvignon Blanc from our Napa Valley vineyards. Also in production are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and limited amounts of Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc from our Cinghiale Vineyard in the King’s Ridge region on the Sonoma Coast.
In 1999, the Del Dotto family opened up our historic cave, hand dug in 1885, to the public. Dave’s goal was to host extensive barrel-tasting tours to help educate wine lovers about the effects of different types of oak on barrel-aged wines. Del Dotto Vineyards has been experimenting with over 50 different barrel types from various cooperages around the world. These cooperages can be found in France, USA, Russia, Hungary, and Italy.
In 2007, the new Del Dotto Venetian Estate Winery and Caves was completed on our property in St Helena. The new caves are lined with Italian marble and ancient tiles depicting the history of wine. Complete with Venetian crystal chandeliers, mosaic marble floors, and hand-painted gold-inlaid ceilings, this new tasting facility is one of the most beautiful in the world. It elevates wine to its rightful position as a truly sacred beverage.
In just a few years, Del Dotto has become one of Napa Valley’s most sought after destinations! We were the first winery to bottle wines directly out of individual barrels, and continue to offer visitors the opportunity to experience the varied flavor nuances oak can provide to a premium wine. Del Dotto continues to experiment with both ancient and modern winemaking techniques to attain our ultimate goal: Making great wine to bring family and friends together to enjoy life.
If there's a single trend in how to grow wine grapes, it's biodynamics—admittedly an odd development for an approach based on a series of lectures given in the 1920s by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner.
What is biodynamics?
At its most basic, the biodynamic approach to grape-growing sees the vineyard as an ecological whole: not just rows of grapevines, but the soil beneath them—an organism in its own right—and the other flora and fauna in the area, growing together interdependently.
Where biodynamics differs from other forms of organic or sustainable agriculture is in its idea that farming can be attuned to the spiritual forces of the cosmos. This might mean linking sowing and harvesting to the phases of the moon or the positions of the planets; it also might mean burying cow manure in a cow's horn over the winter, unearthing it in the spring, diluting a minute amount of the substance in 34 liters of water, "dynamizing" it by stirring it by hand in alternating directions for an hour or so and then spraying the mixture over one's vineyard.
Does it work?
Well, adherents of biodynamics think so, though the success of the practice is impossible to quantify: Scientific measurement of the spiritual is a contradiction in terms. The most effective argument for biodynamics is that wines produced employing it are more evocative of the place they're grown—and, consequently, better. Consider that converts to biodynamics include some of the most significant high-end wine producers today, such as Lalou Bize-Leroy of Domaine Leroy in Burgundy, Peter Sisseck of Dominio de Pingus in Spain, and Olivier Humbrecht of Alsace's Zind-Humbrecht. Also, a growing number of large-scale producers—Maison Joseph Drouhin in Burgundy, DeLoach Vineyards in Sonoma County—are experimenting with biodynamics. Finally, regardless of the more outré aspects of the biodynamic approach, the intense attention it forces growers to pay in the vineyard can't be anything but good.
Kale Anderson is just 34, but he has already been making wine for a decade. The Sonoma native attended UC Davis, with the intention of following his father into medicine, but an introductory course in viticulture and enology changed that. "I quickly found that one of the coolest intersections of nature and culture was in the vineyard," says Anderson. After school, Anderson interned at Colgin Cellars, followed by stints at Terra Valentine and Cliff Lede before joining Pahlmeyer in 2012. Along the way, Anderson worked at the side of Mark Aubert, Philippe Melka and David Abreu, who each helped shape his meticulous approach in the vineyard and cellar. "They taught me more about what not to do than what to do," jokes Anderson. "But the one takeaway was to spare no expense in the vineyard." In 2008, Anderson started his own label, Kale, focusing on Rhône wines. Another source of inspiration came from Dick Keenan, whose Kick Ranch Vineyard, in Sonoma's Rincon Valley, is planted on a former horse ranch next door to the field where Anderson played Little League as a child. The winemaker recalls retrieving home-run balls from the Clydesdales' pasture. Anderson met Keenan around the time Kale was established, and subsequently decided to call his first wine Home Run Cuvée. Anderson tailors each wine to the vintage and the vineyard. "It all comes down to the raw materials," he says. The Syrah-based Home Run Cuvée is rich and bold, but Anderson also makes Syrah from the cooler Alder Springs Vineyard in Mendocino, with floral and spice scents. Starting in 2013, Kale will continue to expand, adding Syrah from Napa Valley's Stagecoach Vineyard, as well as Grenache and Mourvèdre from a newly planted vineyard in Rutherford.
Amarone is produced in the region of Veneto by estates that make Valpolicella, one of the most popular wines of this area in Northeastern Italy. The same grapes, primarily Corvina (usually the leading component in the blend) along with Rondinella and Molinara, are used to produce Amarone. But the difference between the two wines is usually striking; where Valpolicella is a medium-weight wine meant for consumption with lighter fare with in its first 3-5 years, Amarone is a much more robust wine that is perfect with game birds or other such sturdy fare over the course of 7 to 15 years.
The reason for the stylistic difference in these wines is in the winemaking. To produce an Amarone (properly known as Amarone della Valpolicella Classico), a winemaker will take the harvested grapes and lay them on a straw mat, often in an attic or other warm room. The grapes then dry over the course of several months creating a raisiny flavor that is a distinctive character of Amarone.
As Amarone comes from the Italian word amaro ("bitter"), most examples have a tartness or slightly astringent edge to them. Alternatively, you may notice a sweet edge to them that can be explained in the concentrated sugars the grapes pick up during the drying process. Certainly, the combination of raisiny and sweet black fruit can make Amarone an irresistible temptation.
That slightly sweet edge in the finish can also come from the fact that a particular Amarone may not be entirely dry. Amarone is actually a recent innovation, dating back only from the 1950s. Before that, the process of drying grapes in this fashion (known as appasimento) resulted in a sweet, super-rich wine known as Recioto. Legend has it that the first Amarone was a mistake, as a winemaker had let a barrel of wine ferment too long and the wine's residual sugar had been eliminated. Recioto is still made today and its sweetness and richness make it a perfect choice at the end of a meal, often with powerful cheeses.
Tuck Beckstoffer creates world-class wines. As the President of Tuck Beckstoffer Wines he produces a dozen of Napa Valley’s most exciting and sought-after wines. Working with a spectrum of varietals, Tuck gives the consumer unparalleled quality in a range of prices.
Pioneers of the Napa Valley grape growing industry, the Beckstoffer family made the vineyards both their lives and their livelihood. When not playing in the vineyards, Tuck was learning about them. 1975 marked his first harvest, and since then Tuck can’t remember a harvest when he hasn’t tasted, smelled and picked the fruit straight from the vine.
Extensive viticultural knowledge drove a desire to learn more about the winemaking process. Studies with winemaking legends in wineries both at home and abroad only whetted Tuck’s appetite to create a wine of his own. After making Tuck Beckstoffer Cabernet Sauvignon in 1997 to critical acclaim, collectors and connoisseurs asked for more. That demand continues today. His Semper Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays are among the highest rated and most critically acclaimed Sonoma Coast wines produced today. Melee Grenache was hailed an “elegant expression of the land and a joy in the glass.” His Mockingbird and Tuck Beckstoffer Cabernets have been praised as “wines of remarkable character. A treasure to drink and to collect.” His Seventy Five Wine Company has been championed as “pedigreed wine for people who are above pedigree.”
Tuck has lived in the Napa Valley since 1975. After a lifetime among the vines, he continues to thrive on making wines that are an expression of the place he calls home.
"Many years ago, I was traveling in Southern France and fell in love with the Grenache wines being made from the area. Big, dark, elegant wines oozing with passion and varietal flavor. Unmistakable. I began collecting these wines and opening them for friends as often as I could. A few years ago, I discovered a small Grenache vineyard in Central California that reminded me of the vineyards I had visited in France. The soils are comprised of huge amounts of broken shale and a touch of limestone, which is very unusual for California. The climate is ideal for Grenache -- warm, if not hot, days that are countered by the cooling breezes of the Pacific at night. I tried to purchase the fruit but found that it was under contract. I waited, and I waited…. Finally, I got the opportunity to purchase the fruit and now have a wine that is in bottle and ready to drink."
We featured this wine 2 weeks ago and it was such a hit that we sold almost all of it the first night we tasted it. So we decided to bring it back so everyone would have a chance to taste it. Here's a little background on an outstanding vineyard.
Based in the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna, Donelli has been producing wines of mass appeal since 1915 when Adolfo Donelli transitioned from bottling wine in his home cellar to launching a full-scale winery. From the start, Donelli has dedicated itself to the production of Lambrusco, a sparkling red that is as unique as the region where it was born. The Giacobazzi family took control of the winery in the mid-90s and is proud to carry on the respected traditions of Donelli. Antonio Giacobazzi, president of Donelli, is joined in the business by three of his children: Alberto, Giovanni, and Angela.
Spanning over 110 hectares, Donelli’s estate-owned vineyards are planted to various strains of the native Lambrusco varietal, as well as other indigenous grapes. All fruit is hand-harvested after careful vineyard selection. The grapes undergo multiple fermentations in refrigerated stainless steel tanks, helping to create the subtle effervescence and freshness showcased in each wine, via the Charmat method. Modern technology is combined with tradition, producing wines that have garnered acclaim throughout the world and made Donelli an internationally recognized brand.
With deep roots in the region, Donelli is actively involved in the culture of Emilia-Romagna, embracing all things local.