Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Ken Wright Cellars 2011 Abbott Claim Vineyard, Yamhill-Carlton

P1040182Sometimes the crowds are just plain wrong. We disregarded the so-called experts and discovered a gem of a Pinot Noir.

Prized Pinot Noir

I was jazzed when I bought this 2011 bottle of Ken Wright Cellars Abbott Claim Vineyard Pinot Noir. Ken Wright is an icon in Willamette Valley winemaking and is a Prince of Pinot, if there is such a thing.

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Fine quality Pinot is better with a bit of age, so it remained in the cellar for a few years. Meanwhile I decided to check what the critics were saying about this bottle.

Cellar Tracker, which is a great online wine community and the program I use to organize my wine cellar, is a good source for honest reviews. I was crestfallen as I read them.

The negative reviews called the wine undrinkable and just plain bad. Some of the reviewers even gave the wine a rating of 50 on the 100 point scale!

Time For The Big Reveal

Giving in to the depressing commentary, I didn’t rush to drink the wine. Finally, about a week ago, it was time to “fish or cut bait.” Holding on to the wine probably wasn’t going to improve it and its quality would soon descend from the top of the rollercoaster and rush downhill rapidly.

Ken Wright Cellars Abbott Claim Vineyard Pinot NoirCheck out our reports on more than 200 wineries

I put a light chill on the bottle for dinner outside on the patio. Back-up bottles were already in mind in case Ken Wright went down in flames. The Green Dragon whipped up some stuffed pork chops and I fixed some rustic potatoes on the grill. The moment of truth had arrived.

We poured the Pinot and the first impression was the color – a deep brick red. Definitely showing signs of age. Hmmm.

I crinkled my nose and took the first sip, prepared for the awfulness that had been described online. Wait just a minute. This wine wasn’t terrible. In fact, this wine was… tremendous.

The Abbott Claim has vibrant acidity and raspberry cola flavor. The added bottle age has delivered complexity and intrigue. It is one of the best bottles of Pinot Noir we’ve had in some time.

I can only assume that the other bottles were spoiled, or that when the bulk of the bummer reviewers were written in 2015 the wine was going through a “dumb” period. Wines, as we learned in the Bottle Shock movie can sometimes start vibrant, go into a less flavorful stage, then get an upswing in quality as the aging continues.

Critiques should be taken with a grain of salt. The true judge of a wine’s quality should be your own palate.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

McRitchie Winery & Ciderworks: A North Carolina Winery Visit

McRitchie features excellent outdoor seatingMcRitchie is not only gaining national attention for its wine, but this Yadkin Valley producer also is a pioneer in North Carolina cider.

A North Carolina Harvest

With the winemaking pedigree of Sean McRitchie, and his business location in North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley, you’d assume that he is all about the wine. That, however, is only half the story.

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Sean’s father was a winemaker and Sean began working in vineyards and wineries in the Willamette Valley. His skills and experience were honed at wineries in some of the world’s top wine regions: Alsace, Napa Valley and Australia. He and wife Patricia moved to North Carolina where he helped establish the Shelton winery and vineyard.

After years of growing grapes and making wine for others, the couple planted its first vines in 2004 in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The doors of the McRitchie winery opened in 2006. During the recent North Carolina Wine Bloggers Summit, we had the opportunity to visit the McRitchie Winery & Ciderworks tasting room and get a behind the scenes look at the operation.

Along Came A Cider

Apples grow well in North Carolina, where more than 4 million bushels are produced annually. Soon Sean and Patricia noticed an unfilled niche for cider.  McRitchie then began producing cider, becoming the first hard cider producer in the state.

Son Asher McRitchie displays cider choices “You turn the apples into pulp,” explains McRitchie. “Once you have the juice, it’s just like making white wine. Cider is fun.”

He points out that the ciderworks doesn’t get “too crazy” with its cider. The main ciders are a dry and a semi-sweet (1.5% residual sugar), each is lightly carbonated. Both are made with North Carolina heritage apples.

European-Inspired Wines

First-time visitors to Yadkin Valley are surprised to learn that North Carolina produces a full range of wines, from deliciously sweet to bone dry. McRitchie focuses on European-style estate wines with a dry finish – that’s something that suits our palates perfectly.

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A number of years ago Sean replaced the Chardonnay vines with Traminette, a French hybrid grape that is more suited to the hot and humid climate. The 2016 Fallingwater White is a dry Traminette blend with crisp acidity and floral notes. Also on our tasting list was the 2016 Muscat Blanc, an outstanding wine with orange blossom and lemon flavors.

Petillant Naturel is an ancient method of making sparkling wineThe 2017 Petit Manseng Petillant Naturel sparkling wine was a rare treat. This  wine is produced using the Ancestral Method, an ancient way of creating sparkling wine by bottling before fermentation is complete. The pet-nat is gloriously cloudy with sediment and a yeasty flavor. This is a bottle that would delight the most jaded wine lover!

We explored the reds via the 2013 and 2014 vintages of Ring of Fire Red. The 2013 is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. This is an outstanding wine with great balance and a good backbone of tannin.  The formula was flipped in 2014 with the blend being Merlot and Sangiovese. It is more fruit forward although closed on the nose.

McRitchie Winery & Ciderworks is located in Thurmond, NC.The wine and cider is reasonably priced, ranging from $14 to $26. The tasting fee is $7 for four wines and two ciders. The tasting room is comfortable and the staff friendly.

The grounds include great outdoor seating areas and are perfect for families with children and/or pets. You may not want to leave! McRitchie Winery & Ciderworks is a great destination for your next North Carolina Wine Country visit.


Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Langmeil: A Barossa Valley Winery Visit

The Barossa Valley is the heart of the Australian wine industry. Throughout its history, it has excelled in the production of Shiraz. We had a chance to visit the home of the country’s oldest Shiraz vines – Langmeil Winery.


The Freedom Vineyard is believed to be the world's oldest Shiraz vines.

A Pioneer And Timeless Vineyard


When we arrived at Langmeil Winery in Australia’s famed Barossa Valley, we really stepped into history. In 1842, Prussian immigrant Christian Auricht established one of the Barossa’s first trading villages on the banks of the North Para River, naming it Langmeil. Auricht had migrated from Europe seeking religious freedom. A blacksmith by trade, he also planted a mixed-use farm. This historical site is home to Langmeil Winery today.

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The legacy of Auricht continues into today. The Freedom Vineyard, planted as part of the farm in 1843, is believed to be the oldest surviving Shiraz vineyard in the world.

The first winery was established in 1932, but the property went through a number of hands. The fortunes of wineries on the property had ups and downs, with the doors finally closing in 1993.

A Tradition Of Family Winemaking Continues


In 1996, three friends collaborated to purchase the derelict property and restored the old buildings and landscaped the grounds. The trio named the winery Langmeil, after the original 1842 village. In the renovation work, a gnarly patch of Shiraz vines from Auricht’s 1843 planting was discovered.

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Today the winery is operated by the Lindner family, which arrived in 1845 to settle in the Barossa Valley. Langmeil’s family winemaker is Paul Lindner. He is a veteran of more than 20 vintages. With parents Richard and Shirley and brother Paul, James Lindner is a family proprietor/director of Langmeil and also oversees sales and distribution both in Australia and around the world.

Three Gardens blends three Rhone varieties.

Historic Roots – Modern Excellence


We saw quite a few modern wineries during our visit to Australia, but the cellar door for Langmeil is quite a different story. The tasting room is located in the former stables. We found no horses, but did find some fantastic wine and a charming rustic decor.

The day was blistering hot and I had opted to take a shortcut through the vines. My wife meanwhile cruised to the tasting room in air conditioned luxury!

Dry Riesling from Eden Valley provided the first refreshing sip. The 2018 Wattle Brae Dry Riesling was crisp with good acidity and absolutely life saving from the record temperatures outside. We kept the cooling trend going with the 2017 Three Gardens blend of Viognier (59%), Marsanne (31%) and Roussanne (10%). I love these white Rhone grapes and this was satisfyingly rustic.

Bring on the refreshment with Bella Rouge!
The 2018 Bella Rouge Cabernet Sauvignon rosé is a fuller bodied blush with excellent strawberry notes. Australia does Riesling well –- and so does Langmeil. We capped our exploration of the whites with the 2018 Live Wire Off Dry Riesling.

Ratcheting Up To Reds


With my heat tremors finally over, it was time to flip the switch to red wines. We started by exploring the Village Red range, beginning with the 2016 Black Beauty Malbec. This was a pleasant surprise for me and a great value at $A30. The 2016 Della Mina is a blend of Sangiovese and Barbera. Barossa is known for is German roots, but the Lindner family has long ties to northern Italy and this bottle shines with cherry, spice and earth.

Mataro is another name for Mourvedre and the 2015 Mataro was next on our list. This one was a miss for me. I was ready to move on to the limited Old Vine Garden Range.

"Orphan" vines make great Langmeil Shiraz
Our first sip was spectacular. The 2016 The Fifth Wave Grenache comes from Old Vine Grenache grapes in Lyndoch. Langmeil may be the first winery to do a straight varietal bottling from this vineyard as opposed to using it as a blending grape. The vineyard shines in a light and elegant wine riffling with raspberry and a nip of spice.

The apex arrived with our next bottle, the 2016 Orphan Bank Shiraz. It is a full bodied beauty, made with 10 rows of pre-1860 Shiraz vines saved from the developer’s bulldozer. Plum and raspberry fill the palate. Smooth tannins help you enjoy the ride for the very long finish.

Langmeil is a highly recommended destination while in Barossa. The wineries commitment to preserving history, Old Vine vineyards and family winemaking translates to a fun, friendly experience filled with superb wine.


Sunday, May 5, 2019

Our Premier Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Picks – Part 2

Story and Photos by Dave Nershi, CSW
Vino-Sphere Publisher

For Pinot Noir lovers, Willamette Valley in Oregon Wine Country is the promised land. This famed region 30 miles south of Portland produces more than 80% of Oregon’s Pinot Noir and is home to more than 750 vineyards. We visited seven top wineries during our recent visit and picked our favorite Pinot Noir from each. We profiled the first four in Part 1. In our second installment we profile three more stellar wineries. Uncork and enjoy!

Le Cadeau Vineyard Rocks Pinot Noir


Le Cadeau Vineyard features a patchwork of rocky soil and outstanding cuvée parcels.
Le Cadeau is a stylish and refined name for a vineyard. French for “the gift” it is certainly more appealing than its original nickname, “the black hole.” The 28-acre vineyard, owned by Deb and Tom Mortimer, was carved out of a forested, rocky hillside in Dundee Hills.

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Pinot Noir vines love rocky soil but it was very expensive to plant amid the broken volcanic basalt, requiring much hand work. Hence Deb’s nickname of “the black hole.” The money, time and backbreaking effort has been worth it. Today Le Cadeau is a patchwork of distinctive vineyard blocks producing exceptional Pinot Noir.

The vineyard site has many variations in slope and soils and is divided into five cuvée parcels. Over the years, Le Cadeau has used up to four winemakers at a time – each handling a different cuvée. However, the wines and unique terroir, not the winemaker, really define Le Cadeau.

The 2017 “Rocheux” Pinot Noir comes from the rocky western part of the vineyard and shows red warming fruit flavors balanced with earthiness. The 2016 “Diversité” Pinot Noir comes from the northern end of the estate which has cooling nighttime breezes. It is a rich and spicy wine made from nine different clones including the Swiss Mariafeld. The 2016 “Merci” Reserve Pinot Noir is made with heritage clones (Calera, Swan and Mt. Eden) and offers tastes of blueberry, black cherry and mocha with a silky texture.

Our Pick – Le Cadeau 2016 “Merci” Reserve, Chehalem Mountains – SRP $80


Lenné Estate – Focused, Site-Driven Pinot Noir


Steve Lutz and Lenné Estate focus on single clone Pinot Noir in Yamhill-Carlton.
From his hillside tasting room overlooking Yamhill County, Lenné Estate owner and winemaker Steve Lutz dispenses uncommon Pinot Noir wisdom. “Clones each have a personality even if it is expressed slightly differently by the vintage,” said Lutz. “It’s fun to show people that. We are a terroir-driven winery.”

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Quite a terroir it is. The steep hillside vineyard faces south, but the tough to farm Peavine soil has little organic matter and would crush a less determined winegrower. “The first five years were brutal,” said Lutz. “We made mistakes.” The perseverance has paid dividends. Struggling in the nutrient-poor soil, the vines yield small berries with concentrated flavors.

Lutz coaxes rare flavors of chocolate, cola and mocha in his Pinot Noir. The 2016 Jill’s 115 Pinot Noir using the 115 clone has fine grained tannins, cola notes and a silky finish. The 2016 Kill Hill Pinot Noir is named after the most treacherous vineyard area to pick and is made with 114 and 667 clones. The flavors are brambles and lovely black raspberry. The flagship 2016 cinq éluse Pinot Noir is a five-barrel blend of the best barrel from each clonal block.

These bottles are drinking beautifully now, but Lutz suggests waiting about 10 years after the vintage year. “Pinot can be one dimensional when young,” he said. “It’s like having a conversation with a toddler. When it gets to a certain point, you get all the wonderful aromatics and velvety richness. That takes bottle age.”

Our Pick: Lenné Estate 2016 cinq éluse Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton – SRP $78


Youngberg Hill – Farming Exceptional Wines

Family, farming and premium cool-climate Pinot Noir are Youngberg Hill hallmarks.

Wayne Bailey has farming in his blood. Growing up on a farm in Iowa, he helped his father grow corn, soybeans and hogs. His career path took him away from the farm, but during a visit to Burgundy, his interest in winegrowing skyrocketed. “Wine is an agricultural product,” said Bailey, “and in Burgundy its about farming, farming, farming!”

Bailey found the ideal spot to renew his farming roots and pursue his love of cool-climate Pinot Noir. The Youngberg Hill estate in McMinnville covers 50 acres of hillside with 20 acres of vines, a nine-room inn with one of the best views in Willamette Valley, and a popular event center. The inn also features the Youngberg Hill tasting room.

The two oldest blocks of Pinot Noir vines are named after daughters Natasha and Jordan. The Aspen block is planted to white grapes and is named for the youngest daughter.

While the Aspen Chardonnay shows how sublime Oregon Chardonnay can be, Youngberg Hill Pinot Noirs are truly remarkable. The 2015 Natasha Pinot Noir is made with 30-year-old vines and delights with deep notes of blackberry and toast. The 2015 Jordan Pinot Noir can be considered a Premier Cru, with elegant notes of cherries, earth and spice.

The Youngberg Hill winegrowing is described as a practical approach to biodynamics. “I may not prune on the exact day prescribed, but I do generally farm in conjunction with the moon cycles, said Bailey. “And that’s biodynamic farming.” The results are undeniably great.

Our Pick: Youngberg Hill 2015 Jordan Pinot Noir, McMinnville – SRP $50

There you have it. Seven great reasons to visit Oregon Wine Country. Go to OregonWineCountry.org for more information to plan your visit to Willamette Valley. If you haven’t already read Part 1 of our story, check it out now.

Le Cadeau vineyard photo courtesy of the winery.

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Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Our Premier Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Picks – Part 1

Story and Photos by Dave Nershi, CSW
Vino-Sphere Publisher

For Pinot Noir lovers, Willamette Valley in Oregon Wine Country is the promised land. This famed region 30 miles south of Portland produces more than 80% of Oregon’s Pinot Noir and is home to more than 750 vineyards. We visited seven top wineries during our recent visit. We picked our favorite Pinot Noir from each. Here are profiles of the first four, with the remainder coming in our second installment. Uncork and enjoy!



Proprietor David Nemarnik in the wine cellar. Alloro Vineyard has a Tuscan influence.

Alloro Vineyard – Tuscany Comes to Oregon


The name Alloro is Italian for laurel, and the Italian influence is spread over this Willamette Valley estate like its namesake, which symbolizes immortality and peace. The Tuscan-style winery building features an intimate tasting room, winery operations, underground cellars and a courtyard patio garden.

David Nemarnik is the winegrower and owner. Of Italian/Croatian heritage, he founded the winery in 1999 and honors his family’s food and wine traditions and respect for the land in its operation.

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The estate is a living farm with sheep, registered Hereford cattle and chickens. Hay, hazelnuts and chestnuts are grown on the farm. Alloro hosts an autumn Whole Farm feast prepared by a local chef to celebrate the estate’s harvest. Typically, 90% of the ingredients used at this dinner were grown on the estate. L.I.V.E.-certified, Salmon-Safe agricultural practices strive to promote natural biodiversity and improve sustainability every year.

Nemarnik likes to be creative with the grape varieties he grows – he is considering adding Nebbiolo -- and vineyard management. The focus, however, is on premium Pinot Noir.

Wines are made exclusively from the 33 acres of estate vineyards, which has dark brown loess topsoil layered on brick-red decomposed basalt Jory soils. Three estate Pinot Noirs are produced including Riservata, a barrel select that nicely reflects the passion and complexity of Alloro Vineyard wines. Chardonnay, Riesling, Rose of Pinot Noir are also made. The perfect ending to your tasting is Vino Nettare—a dessert wine made from 65% Muscat and 35% Riesling.

Our pick: Alloro 2016 Riservata Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains - $50 SRP

Dave and Sara Specter offer plenty of surprises, including Seyval Blanc, at Bells Up Winery.
Bells Up Winery A Micro-Boutique Winner


After more than a decade as a corporate tax attorney in Ohio, Dave Specter was emotionally and physically drained. His wife Sara convinced him a change was in order and they turned to a hobby – winemaking – that brought him joy and success.

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“Bells Up” refers to a dramatic moment in classical music where the composer instructs French horn players to lift the bells of their instruments up and project sound with maximum intensity. The Specters’ passion for music and excellence in wine have blended in Bells Up Winery, a micro-boutique operation, producing about 500 cases of wine annually.

The winery is in Newberg on the site of a former Christmas tree farm. Tastings are by appointment only, allowing visitors a personalized experience. Bells Up produces versatile, food-friendly Pinot Noir sourced from micro-growers in northern Willamette Valley and a small selection of other Oregon-grown varieties.

The 2018 Prelude Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir is a fuller bodied rosé made from estate vineyard grapes. This is a great wine to enjoy on the winery patio overlooking the vineyard. The 2016 Titan Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is a bold Pinot Noir that aged seven months in French oak.

Bells Up has received notoriety for its recent release of its Helios Estate Seyval Blanc. Its Seyval planting is the first in Willamette Valley and the resulting wine is crisp with candied lemon flavors.

Our pick: Bells Up 2015 Titan Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley - $40 SRP 

Katie Santora is winemaker at Chehalem, a pioneering Willamette Valley winery.
Chehalem – Pioneering Wine in The Valley of The Flowers


Chehalem founder Harry Peterson-Nedry, pioneered grape growing in the Ribbon Ridge region of the Chehalem Mountains in the early 1980s when he purchased land and planted Ridgecrest Vineyards. In 1990, Chehalem Winery was founded and released its first bottle of wine, Ridgecrest Pinot Noir.

Known for its single-vineyard Pinot Noirs, Chehalem also produces whites with fresh fruit flavors and a wonderful minerality. Winemaker Katie Santora uses a transparent touch to let the terroir shine in the bottle.

Chehalem is considered a vineyard winery. A treat for wine lovers is to savor and compare the Pinot from its three estate vineyards. The Ridgecrest Vineyard was the first planted in the prestigious Ribbon Ridge AVA and renders tartness and strong tannins. The Corral Creek Vineyard offers bright fruit balanced by aging in new French oak.

The Stoller Vineyard has 210 acres planted to vine, making it the largest contiguous vineyard in Oregon’s Dundee Hills. The accent is on warming red fruit with good acidity and a nip of spice. Each single vineyard Pinot is a distinct experience. An impressive reserve range is also available.

The Chehalem tasting room is in downtown Newberg. The winery is open by appointment and offers tastings and tours, including a visit to the Corral Creek Vineyard.

Our Pick: Chehalem 2015 Stoller Vineyard Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills - $50

Winemaker Aaron Lieberman is the creative force behind a superb stable of Iris wines, including some bubbly.
Iris Vineyards Opening Eyes in Oregon


The label for Iris Vineyards is playful. It features a striking graphic of an eye followed by “ris.” Iris wines are opening eyes in Oregon and beyond with high quality and great value.

Driving the winery’s recent expansion is the Greek concept of Areté, constantly striving to reach full potential and attain excellence. Leading the charge in the winery is winemaker Aaron Lieberman, who in addition to stints at several prestigious Oregon wineries, spent three years in Guatemala with the Peace Corps.

The Iris label delivers impressive Willamette Valley flavors at a remarkably low price while the Areté range ramps up the complexity and elegance. The 2015 Iris Pinot Noir conveys lush blackberry and plum flavors and a silky finish. The 2015 Areté Pinot Noir blends select barrels from the estate’s Chalice Vineyard and is aged 15 months in French oak puncheons. It’s a lovely, elegant wine rippling with black cherry and oak flavor notes.

Iris also produces Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and rosé in addition to wines from several other varieties. Quite exceptional, but in limited supply, is sparkling wine. Blanc de Noir, Blanc de Blanc and a Blanc de Noir rosé are produced, but often in such small quantities that it goes quickly.

The Iris tasting room overlooks Chalice Vineyard in the rolling foothills of Willamette Valley near Eugene.

Our Pick: Iris Vineyards 2015 Areté Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley - $59.99 SRP

Continue on to Part 2 right here.

Chehalem tasting room photo courtesy of Chehalem.

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Saturday, April 27, 2019

Beronia 2018 Rosé, Rioja

Looking for a versatile food wine? Try a Spanish rosé.
Rosé from Spain is a great dining option

When the call went out to round up some wine for our Easter dinner, I had two recommendations. The first is an obvious pairing with our holiday ham: Riesling. Another fantastic option, although probably not top of mind, is rosé.

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Rosé is usually lighter in style and lower in alcohol than most table wine, making it a flexible choice for meals ranging from salad to seafood to poultry. In our case, we needed a wine for our Easter ham.

My pick was the Beronia 2018 Rosé from the González Bypass family of wines. González Bypass is a family-owned collection of wineries that was founded in 1835 and focused on Spanish sherry. Today the company offers wines from Spain’s most iconic regions and represents a number of international wineries.

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The Beronia rosé is a blend of 55% Garnacha and 45% Tempranillo from Spain’s most famous region: Rioja. The wine is pale pink in color. In Spain, rosé is often called rosado and usually has a more pronounced flavor than lighter rosé from France. It has more personality.

Vegan lemon lavender poppy cake with fresh
blackberry frosting and lemon zest
The slight sweetness of the Beronia was an ideal counterpoint for the saltiness of the ham. The rosé has rounded and full flavors of cherry with floral aromas. This is a fresh and flavorful wine that is welcome at the dinner table and suitable for drinking on its own as well.

The wine is also vegan-friendly. The color of the wine was a nice complement to our dessert -- a vegan lemon lavender poppy cake with blackberry frosting.

With hot weather knocking on the door, this is a perfect time to stock up on crisp, refreshing bottles like the Beronia rosé. The SRP is $12.99, which makes the sipping even more enjoyable!

Full disclosure: This wine was received as a marketing sample.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Women Emerging As Family Winery Leaders

From marketing brands to making the wines, or managing the winery, these women at family owned wineries often do it all.

Vineyard Brands is a small wine importer that handles family wineries exclusively. Three of those wineries feature  a trio of women who are making their mark on the wine world: Amélie Dugue-Couillaud of Frères Couillaud in the Loire Valley, Berene Sauls of Tesselaarsdal Wines of South Africa, and Olive Hamilton-Russell of Hamilton Russell Vineyards of South Africa.

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While these three inspirational women own or co-own wineries, their path to wine is very different. United by wine, a love for their families, and a desire to be part of a wine legacy around the globe, these women strive for success in all aspects of their businesses.


Born Into Wine: Amélie Dugue-Couillaud, Frères Couillaud


Why the wine business?

“I was born in it! I lived surrounded by vines. For my sister and me, our playground was the Muscadet vineyard. My dad has always been passionate about wine and travel, and he passed these two passions down to me. I’m the seventh generation of winemaker and it’s so special to be able to be part of this family story. Every day is different. The wine business is also about human relationships, sharing moments and time with partners and family and friends from around the world…and always around wine and food. What is better than that?”

Amélie Dugue-Couillaud of Frères Couillaud
What is the biggest challenge for you—as a woman and as a business person? And on the flip-side, what gives you the most joy in the wines business?

“Day to day the biggest challenge is just finding time, just like many working women. I have four children and work full-time. Need I say more? But for me, it’s all about finding a balance between time with my family and the excitement of work. From the vineyards to the cellar, seeing everyone try to do their very best for the winery gives me so much happiness. No matter the job, each member of the team is so important and part of our success.”

What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?

“Keep your motivation- remember why you started and don’t stay in your corner. People will feel your passion.”

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If you hadn’t been in the wine business, what would you have done?

“No question, I would have been a painter. I love to paint. Maybe one day I still will…when I find enough time.”

Grew Into Wine: Olive Hamilton-Russell, Hamilton Russell Vineyards


Olive Hamilton-Russell of
Hamilton Russell Vineyards
Why the wine business?

“Quite honestly, love. I grew up on a cattle farm in South Africa, where wine isn’t really part of the way of life. I moved to the Cape to study food science and nutrition before moving to London for work. It was when I moved to London and worked in the food department at Harvey Nichols that I started to learn about wine and realized how fascinating it is. That experience led me to take wine appreciation courses. When I returned to South Africa, I met Anthony who had just bought Hamilton Russell Vineyards from his family. We are so grateful to do something we love, together.”

What is the biggest challenge for you—as a woman and as a business person? And on the flipside, what gives you the most joy in the wines business?

“Managing time is probably my biggest daily challenge. Balancing time spent engaged in the various aspects of the business—the vineyard, cellar, finance, sales and marketing, hosting visitors, local and international travel—and also time with family requires so much planning. And ensuring we have the right team both day to day and long term, so that hopefully wine will be made on our farm for years to come. But all the work to upgrade this special piece of earth we are lucky enough to live on brings us endless joy—whether it’s organic and some biodynamic farming practices, planting more indigenous trees, clearing our nature reserve of invasive alien species, properly establishing beehives. And of course, sharing our wines and the happiness they bring is pretty special.”

What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?

“To always stay positive!”

If you hadn’t been in the wine business, what would you have done?

“I am a farm girl at heart. And I love the wine business because it is farming and so much more. I honestly can’t think of anything else that could bring me such fulfillment.”

Found Wine: Berene Sauls, Tesselaarsdal


Berene Sauls of Tesselaarsdal Wines
Why the wine business?

“I started my career at a wine estate in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Hamilton Russell Vineyards. But not in the wine business. I was an au pair for the family who owned the estate. But I was very curious to know why the wines were so sought after and decided to learn and experience the delicate process from grape to bottle. I assisted in the cellar and vineyard during harvests, in the wine certification
administration, and even export logistics and packaging. After a few years, Anthony Hamilton Russell presented me with the opportunity to start my own wine business as a wine producer. I focused on Pinot Noir and my palate was basically shaped by these wines. I named my business Tesselaarsdal, the name of my hometown.

What is the biggest challenge for you—as a woman and as a business person? And on the flipside, what gives you the most joy in the wines business?

“I am involved in every aspect- from picking the grapes to stomping, punch downs, bottling and labeling. I handle marketing by myself and I head up a team of six ladies that assist with packaging, stock control, and more. Balancing all the aspects of the business and making sure each customer knows that each bottle was personally handled, and great care and effort went into the product is a challenge. But it is also such a joy to experience the success of each vintage and the feedback from consumers all around the world. Knowing that this is the legacy I leave for my two sons Darren and Calem is very special.”

What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?

“Never compromise on quality.”

If you hadn’t been in the wine business, what would you have done?

“I had no idea what I wanted to do after school. I enrolled as a fighting officer in the South African Defense Force just after finishing school!”

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Six Surefire Picks For Your Springtime Sipping

Dry Creek Vineyard Meritage
When a wine shipment didn’t arrive in time for a scheduled party, we decided to “go rogue.” The results were delightful – six wines we recommend for your springtime sipping.

Two days before our party, I had a sinking feeling. The special shipment of wine that was going to be the centerpiece of our soiree hadn’t arrived. There were no messages from UPS or Fed-X. When I contacted the shipper, she explained that there was an unfortunate mistake. Yikes!

While our tasting was to focus on a very specific wine region, that was now off the table. We had to “go rogue.” I immediately surveyed the available wine and picked a half-dozen bottles certain to scintillate our guests.

2018 Fleurs de Prairie Rosé, Cotes de Provence


Fleurs de Prairie Rosé - better with Wisteria!
Kicking off the party was the 2018 Fleurs de Prairie Rosé. In reviewing background material for the wine, I noticed that the wine is a tribute to the fields of flowers in the Cotes de Provence region. Wisteria flourishes in this part of France as it does in our hometown. We quickly were on an expedition (successful!) to find wisteria for a nice centerpiece.

Fleurs de Prairie is a beautiful rosé, perfect for a spring filled with blooming trees and flowers. It is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Carignan and Mourvedre that tastes light as a feather, with delicate flavors of strawberry with some herbal notes. Just the right amount of acidity makes this a balanced wine, and one perfect to pair with light dishes. The price is about $17.

Fleurs de Prairie is also notable for its Seeds of Beauty campaign, which recognizes and supports women who are dedicated to creating beauty in their community. Seed grants of $2,500 are available.

Inurrieta Mimaò with barbecue meatballs

2018 Ochoa Calendas, Navarra

2016 Inurrieta Mimaò Garnacha, Navarra


Navarra is a northern Spanish wine region known for its beauty and diverse terroir. It is also home of the famous Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) which influenced many winegrowers to use French grape varieties such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Chardonnay-Viura blend
from Navarra, Spain

The Ochoa Calendas is a blend of 75% Chardonnay and 25% Viura, a well respected white grape. We paired this with pan seared salmon with lemon garlic cream sauce. This is a nice blend, with the Viura adding freshness and nice acidity to balance the classic Chardonnay flavors. It was perfect with our salmon. A bargain at just $12 SRP.

Garnacha from Spain can often take on a rustic flavor, but the Inurrieta Mimaò is a smooth sipper. It is fermented in stainless steel and gets malolactic fermentation to add a plush texture. It is finished with seven months in French oak.

We found this to be a very pleasant surprise with mineral notes and plenty of ripe fruit. This reminded me of the French Grenache style, light, easy and very satisfying. This is also a steal at $15. We’ll be on the lookout for more wines from Navarra.

Territorial Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley

2014 Territorial Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley


Is it possible to have a good party without serving Willamette Valley Pinot Noir? I guess it is theoretically possible, but we didn’t want to take a chance.

This Pinot from Territorial Vineyards is juicy with plenty of savory notes. We served it with rosemary seasoned chicken sausage with grilled apples and gouda. The acidity and tannins are knit together well in a balanced wine with plum and blueberry flavors.

Eighteen months in French oak is the crowning touch for this beautiful bottle. It is well priced at $26.

2016 Dry Creek Vineyard Meritage, Dry Creek Valley


Dry Creek Vineyard Meritage has long been one of our favorite wines. It’s a blend of some of California’s best grapes and this Sonoma wine comes with a much lower price tag than its Napa Valley neighbors. In 1985, Dry Creek Vineyard was the first to produce a wine with “Meritage” on its label.


The 2016 vintage is 65% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec and is rounded out with Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is aged for 20 months in a combination of French, Hungarian and American oak and so it needs to open up to be fully enjoyed.

The drinker is rewarded with big flavors of black cherry and currant with some spice and leather notes. Just beautiful! This wine is priced at $30 and is also a good pick to cellar for three to five years.

Laughing Stock Blind Trust hides its blend under its capsule

2011 Laughing Stock Blind Trust, Okanagan Valley


We had one more mystery for out “going rogue” tasting party crew. The Blind Trust wine from the British Columbia winery Laughing Stock doesn’t advertise its blending grapes. When I purchased the wine it was with  blind trust because we love wines from Okanagan Valley. The blend isn’t revealed until the bottle is opened and the capsule pulled away.

The Blind Trust was justified. This is a great wine with a blend of 47% Merlot, 31% Malbec, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc and 4% Syrah for good measure. This wine has swirling minerality with beautiful herbal notes to give this a unique character. Blueberry and black cherry lead the way. 

Wines from Okanagan are outstanding, but few reach the US, unfortunately. The current vintage of Blind Trust is sold out (we’re not surprised!) so we recommend investing in the 2016 Portfolio, a nice Bordeaux style blend.

You don’t need our permission to “go rogue.” Just pick up a bottle or three and uncork!

Full disclosure: Some of this wine was provided as a marketing sample.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Jones Von Drehle: North Carolina Winery Visit

Jones Von Drehle Estate Viognier
Jones Von Drehle winery opened in 2014 in Yadkin Valley. Although a relative newcomer, its dry, European-style wine is winning awards and gaining new fans.


Reaching New Heights In Winemaking


At about 1,600 feet, Jones Von Drehle winery sits at the highest elevation in North Carolina’s famed Yadkin Valley. The reputation of the winery, which crafts wines from its 30 acres of estate vines, is also gaining altitude.

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Diana and Chuck Jones in Jones von Drehle tasting room
During the recent North Carolina Wine Bloggers Summit, we took an excursion to Jones Von Drehle. It was our first visit to this outstanding wine producer.

“Our style of winemaking is to take what the terroir gives us,” said co-owner Chuck Jones. “We like very balanced
wines. We’re more Old World than California.”

Jones and wife Diana and Ronnie and Raymond von Drehle are in-laws that founded the winery. The property was purchased in 2007 and the first harvest was 2012. The grand opening was in 2014. Today the winery produces between 4,000 and 6,000 cases annually.

The tasting room sits on a hillside overlooking the estate vineyards. Inside the tasting facility is a first-class operation with a spacious bar, numerous tables, and a light, airy feel. Just outside is a seating area to enjoy your wine while feasting your eyes on the scenic view.

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The Jones von Drehle tasting room has outdoor seating
with a view of the vineyards
There is a nice selection of snacks, cheese and meats available in the tasting room. No outside food is permitted, but larger groups can arrange for a catered lunch. The outside area is pet friendly. The tasting room is open Wednesday through Sunday (with a few exceptions – check the website).

Estate Wines All Around


All the Jones Von Drehle wines are made with estate grapes and our first taste made an impression. The 2016 Viognier is steel fermented for a crisp finish with light flavors of peach with floral notes.
The 2017 Barrel Chardonnay showed nice balance with oak present, but not overwhelming.

Barrel room at Jones von Drehle
One of the popular sellers is Rosé Dia, a Grenache rosé with pops of raspberry. Petit Manseng, a grape from Southwest France, is becoming popular in North Carolina and Virginia. The Jones Von Drehle 2016 Petit Manseng has a good body and juicy tropical flavors. The ABV is 15.3%, something you might see in a big bodied California Zinfandel or Cabernet Sauvignon, but unexpected in a white wine. The grape variety is loaded with sugar and it is a challenge to the winemaker to keep the alcohol level under 16%. This is the grape everyone is talking about, so give it a try.

We tasted through a Tempranillo, Cabernet Franc and a reserve Malbec, but my favorite was a red blend. The 2013 Steel and Stone blends 65% Petit Verdot and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon. The Petit Verdot is lush and rich and nice structure is provide by the Cab. The wine is aged 43 months in a mix of new and neutral oak. The tannins are silky smooth.

Jones von Drehle wines range from $20 to $34 for the reserve wines. Happily, their wines are widely available in North Carolina retail stores and restaurants. For the very best experience, we encourage you to sip and savor at the winery itself.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Oregon’s Willamette Valley Encompasses Diverse Beverage Scene

We understand if you think Willamette Valley is Pinot Noir only. Don’t look now, but the region boasts a burgeoning craft beer scene, new distilleries and the emergence of new grape varieties.
Sampler of craft beer from ColdFire Brewing in Eugene

By Dave Nershi, CSW
Vino-Sphere Publisher

Picture Willamette Valley and it is easy to envision the pop of a cork and the pouring of its world-famous Pinot Noir. While Pinot Noir continues to rule the valley located 30 miles south of Portland, it is far from the only choice to quench your thirst. Craft beer and spirits, cider, coffee and wines from unexpected grapes are waiting for you to discover.

Craft Beers Brewing Success


Oregon boasts 281 breweries and Portland is considered by some to be the craft beer capitol of the US. The Willamette Valley Hops Region is the second largest in the US, producing 20 varieties of hops with the aroma and flavor favored by micro and home brewers. Add to that almost perfect brewing water, and you have the ingredients for outstanding craft beer.

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“I think it is super unique how close the craft scene and agriculture can be tied in together,” said Dan Russo, director of brewing operations for Oakshire Brewing, a small batch brewery in Eugene.

Hops harvest in Willamette Valley - Photo by Katie McGuigan
“Nearly every town up the valley including Portland is surround by farms of all types. The biggest for brewers is hops. There are some of the best hops farms in the US hop industry throughout Oregon that supply brewers big and small across the world, and one season a year we get to take an hour drive and pick hops right off the vine and make beer with them. Add on top of that the amount of fresh fruit that we can use to make beer, specialty grains, you name it. It's wonderful. A lot of places don't have that opportunity and proximity.”

At last count, there were more than 50 breweries in Willamette Valley with a half dozen in Corvallis and 15 alone in Eugene. “I think
it's still a pretty small tight community of brewers,” said Russo. “There are still far less brewers in the Willamette Valley than in all of the Portland Metropolitan area, but many of them are making pretty amazing beer and all know each other and help each other out. It's a pretty cool scene and one very worth being a part of.”

ColdFire Brewing is a small craft brewery in Eugene that’s part of the scene. It offers European style brews with a Northwest vibe.  The brewery had several intriguing beers on their tap list during our visit including Minute to Midnight, a dark stout brewed with artisanal coffee, and Tangle of Tigers IPA, which they say is their favorite hops “woven into a canvas of sunlight and unicorn tears.”

"I think the growth of craft beer and brewing in the Willamette Valley, especially the southern valley can be attributed to what is finally becoming a mature craft beer market,” said Russo. “Right now we're seeing more experimentation, and  exploration from brewers and drinkers alike than we have seen in a long time.”


Wildcraft Cider (left) uses fruit and botanicals
grown in Oregon
If you tire of grapes or hops in your beverage, chances are you will have easy access to hard apple cider. According to the most recent figures from the Northwest Cider Association, which represents more than 90 cideries in the Pacific Northwest, cider sales  surpass any other region in the country with growth of more than 30 percent per year.

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Wildcraft Cider Works is in Eugene and focuses on artisanal dry ciders using fruit and botanicals grown in Oregon. One of the most widely distributed ciders that is based in Willamette Valley comes from 2 Towns Ciderhouse. Offerings from this Corvallis producer include Cot In The Act, an apricot cider, and Riverwood, a Prosecco-style cider.

Distilled spirits are also taking root in Willamette Valley. In 2007 the Oregon Distillers Guild was founded as the first organization of its kind in the nation. Its Oregon Distillery Trail blazes its way through Willamette Valley with 16 craft distillery stops there.

4 Spirits Craft Distiller Dawson Officer is a combat vet on a mission to honor service members past and present

A Spirited Distillery In Corvallis


Four Spirits Distillery in Corvallis is a labor of love for Dawson Officer, the owner and craft distiller. An Iraqi war veteran, the distillery is dedicated to four combat soldiers Officer serving in his unit of the Oregon National Guard 2nd Battalion. They lost their lives serving in Baghdad.

The distillery is a way to honor their service and sacrifice as well as that of other veterans past and
present, but it hasn’t been an easy road. There are many barriers to entry, and it can take one to two years for licensing alone.

“You are going up against the Jack Daniels and Smirnoff’s of the world,” said Officer. “You don’t need a rocket science degree, but you do need to deal with bureaucratic red tape.”

The distillery produces whiskeys, rum, vodka and gin. In addition to its innovative spirits, the distillery also serves up a menu with sandwiches, burgers and pizza as well as craft cocktails and beers.

A portion of sales from the 4 Spirits Bourbon helps supports local veteran integration programs. Since opening, more than $76,000 has been contributed to veteran services and programs in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. 4 Spirits started the first ever combat veteran scholarship endowment at Oregon State University.

Sara Specter and Bells Up Seyval Blanc

Seyval Blanc In The Valley


The spirit of innovation and creativity extends to the valley’s wine producers. While proud of its international reputation for premium Pinot Noir, other grape varieties are making a splash.

Oregon has long been known for its Pinot Gris, made into a luscious fruit forward, medium-bodied wine with bright acidity. Increasingly, wines using untypical Willamette Valley grapes can be found.

Bells Up Winery is a micro-boutique operation owned by Dave and Sara Specter who planted the first ever acreage of Seyval Blanc in Willamette Valley. The French hybrid white grape was used to produce a very limited production bottling of their 2018 Helios Estate Seyval Blanc. Only 15 cases were made, and the initial reviews have been outstanding.

Dave, who is the Bells Up winemaker, and Sara have a very personal connection to the variety. As an amateur winemaker in Ohio, Dave worked extensively with Seyval Blanc. Not only did they enjoy the resulting wine, but he won an amateur national winemaking competition in 2011 with a 2010 Seyval Blanc made in his basement.

“We felt it was the affirmation we needed to finally put the Cincinnati house on the market and move to the Willamette Valley to establish Bells Up,” said Specter. “We suspected the vines would do well here, and felt that it would be a unique wine offering among the more commonly found white wines in the region—although we were surprised to discover that we have the first planting in the Willamette and only the second in Oregon.”

Illahe Vineyards makes an outstanding Grüner Veltliner and Capitello produces a surprisingly fresh and delicious Sauvignon Blanc from Croft Vineyard. Aligoté, another Burgundian grape, is also bottled by several wineries. No grape, however, is creating excitement like Chardonnay.

The Rise Of Chardonnay 

Aspen Chardonnay from Youngberg Hill

“Ten years from now they’ll be talking about Willamette Valley Chardonnay the same way they now talk about Pinot Noir,” said Wayne Bailey, wine grower and owner of Youngberg Hill. “In the past Chardonnay was mostly seen as a white wine alternative grown where Pinot wouldn’t be. Now winegrowers are choosing prime spots to plant and spending just as much time farming and winemaking Chardonnay as they are Pinot.”

In the last decade warmer than normal temperatures have prompted wine growers to plant cooler weather clones to better mature fruit in the Willamette Valley. Bailey is bullish on Chardonnay.

Okon of Equiano Coffee Co. in Eugene
“Willamette Valley Chardonnay is all about the fruit versus California being all about the oak,” said Bailey. “Like Pinot Noir, being grown in cooler climates the Chardonnays being grown in the Willamette Valley are typically more balanced, elegant, and with higher acidity, showing both fruit and mineral characteristics throughout the palate. They will also more typically be fermented in stainless steel or minimal oak to retain the fresh fruit characteristics.”

Looking for an alcohol alternative? Willamette Valley is brimming with coffee shops. You can opt for one of the many “drive-thru” coffee shops or settle in for a hot cup at a shop like Equiano, located in the Whiteaker neighborhood of Eugene. There you can sample coffees from Africa, Brazil, Columbia, Cameroon or Vietnam.

Whatever your beverage preference, they flow like a river through the Willamette Valley. Dip in your toe and explore something new. For additional information, see oregonwinecountry.org.