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Caldwell Winery and Vineyard in Napa

I’ve visited a lot of wine tasting rooms in my days, but the most unique experience may very well have been at Caldwell Winery in Napa, owned by Joy and John Caldwell. The experience was unique not only because of the awesome cave in which Caldwell Winery’s production and tasting room is located, but also because of John Caldwell himself, a playful, fascinating and very intelligent character.

Caldwell Winery and Vineyard is located in the Coombsville AVA on the southeastern end of the Napa Valley’s grape growing region.  The Coombsville region finally became an approved American Viticultural Area in December of 2011, due much to the hard work and persistence of John Caldwell. 

We arrived for our scheduled tasting appointment and were greeted by Mr. Caldwell himself, along with Caldwell’s winemaker Marbue Marke.  We were led into their 20,000 square foot cave and walked along barrels of fermenting wine into the tasting area.  Awaiting us were local meats & cheeses, breadsticks, crackers and a wide variety of Caldwell wines.

The wines we tasted included:

2010 Syrah Rose – This wine had a dark pink hue, with some nice cherry and spice on the nose.  There was some strawberry and red currant on the palate.

2009 Chardonnay – This is a lovely Burgundian style Chardonnay with granny smith apple and great acidity!

2010 Sauvignon Blanc – The Sauv Blanc had a lot of tropical fruits on the nose and palate.

2009 Syrah Clone 470 – This is a big, inky Syrah with blackberry and black pepper.  This wine needs some time, so I bought a couple and tucked them safely away in my cellar to enjoy in a few years.

2008 Rocket Science – This is a blend of 47% Syrah, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 4% Tannat and 3% Petit Verdot.  It has lots of dark fruit on the nose with some cherry and dark chocolate on the palate.  This is a great wine and comes in a fun shaped bottle.

2008 Caldwell Gold – This is a beauty, with lots of blackberry, vanilla and chocolate on the nose and dark currant, cherry and chocolate on the palate.  This is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.

2008 Syrah Port – We finished the tasting with the Syrah Port, which my husband especially loved.  It has a nose of vanilla and chocolate, with cherry and plum on the palate and a finish filled with vanilla.

Throughout the tasting John Caldwell talked with us about our lives, the wines and his fascinating history.

He was originally in the shoe business, and bought this land as a real estate investment, dividing the land into 10-acre lots and building a road.  When he was ready to start selling the lots, the Napa Planning Commission nixed these sorts of deals claiming that the growth was harmful to the area.  He felt stuck, and wasn’t sure where to go from there, but decided to plant grapes.

A trip to France where he visited the famous Chateau Haut Brion piqued his interest in clones.  He heard of a grower in Canada who imported French clones for his vineyard on the Niagara Peninsula and who also had a nursery for clone propagation.  Caldwell decided to buy!  This was extremely risky, as it is illegal to bring plants from other countries into the United States.  He successfully got 4300 grape vines over the border, but there were 1500 more waiting, and he wanted them all.  Caldwell went east for a New York shoe show and developed his scheme.  He needed a car with a large trunk and found on a Rent-a-Wreck in Buffalo.  After the show, he flew there and drove to pick up the grapes.  The pickup went smoothly, but crossing back into the states did not.  The border police checked his trunk and found the grapevines.  After being interrogated at length, swallowing the receipts for the vines to hide the evidence and catching a lucky break by knowing the right person, he was released from custody.

The smuggled vines he planted produced wines receiving high praise, and he began selling his fruit to many well-established wineries.

Today his list of clients includes Pahlmeyer, Viader and Joseph Phelps, to name just a few.  Thankfully he also uses some of his grapes to make Caldwell wines as well.

I barely touch on his amazing story here, so be sure to learn more about the interesting life and clone smuggling adventures of John Caldwell, and the amazing conclusion of this story, at:  http://www.caldwellvineyard.com/downloads/Caldwell-TheWorldofFineWine.pdf

My guess is that someday his story will be made into a movie!

Be sure to visit Caldwell Winery the next time you’re in Napa.  Remember, you’ll need an appointment!  www.caldwellvineyard.com

My May Wine of the Month

Bouchaine Vineyards & Winery
Pinot Meunier
2009

Bouchaine Vineyards & Winery is the oldest continually operated winery in the Carneros wine region.  The Carneros AVA is actually located in both Napa and Sonoma counties, and has a nice cool climate that suits Burgundian varietals very well.

Pinot Meunier is a varietal that is unknown to many people.  It is one of the three varieties used in Champagne, with the others being Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  The Pinot Meunier provides fruitiness and freshness to this world-famous sparkling wine, while the Chardonnay brings its grace and the Pinot Noir its power.  Pinot Meunier is very rarely used as a single varietal still wine, so I decided that this would be a fun bottle to include as a Wine of the Month.

The Wine – The nose of the 2009 Bouchaine Pinot Meunier is very aromatic, with violets, wintergreen, black currant, black raspberry and pomegranate.  The palate has some very nice acidity, with some good earthiness and full, lush black currant.   This is a very nice wine.  It’s a fun bottle to take for a blind tasting or to share with other wine lovers, as it’s not one people (even wine pros) taste every day!

Visiting the Winery – The winery itself is lovely, with a big barn-like structure housing the tasting room.  Tasting wine in this warm, cozy room with a beautiful fireplace only enhances their lovely Burgundian style wines.  The gals working in the tasting room were fabulous!  They were very fun and friendly, and also knew the wines well!  French doors off of the tasting room lead to a beautiful deck and picnic area, open to Wine Club members.  My husband and I so enjoyed opening a bottle of their Estate Chardonnay to enjoy with some cheeses and breads we had brought along.   Sitting on this deck and enjoying the stunning view of their Carneros vineyards was the perfect way to end a day of tasting.

The Journey – Bouchaine Vineyards is located in the Carneros wine region in the Napa Valley, not far from California State Route 121.  My first visit was years ago, before the days of GPS devices.  This past visit was a breeze to find thanks to good signage and our Tom Tom.  The drive is a lovely and delightful ride through pretty back roads full of beautiful vineyards.

http://www.bouchaine.com/

Zinfandel Tasting

Being a member of the Society of Wine Educators definitely has its benefits.  One of the perks is getting invited to some very fun wine events.

This past week I was fortunate enough to attend a Zinfandel Master Class as well as a Zinfandel tasting in Orlando at the Renaissance Sea World Hotel.  The Association of Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) sponsored the event.  ZAP was founded over 20 years ago when a small group of passionate wine pioneers and some Zinfandel loving consumers came together because they believed that Zinfandel deserved recognition as a highly respected varietal that could compete with the finest wines around the world.  Today hundreds of producers and thousands of advocates are proud members of ZAP.

The Master Class was wonderful.  Three wine professionals from well-respected Zinfandel producers led us through the history of the varietal, as well as through their represented region and a blind tasting of various Zins from those regions.

First up was Doug Becket, owner of Peachy Canyon Winery in the Paso Robles AVA.  Doug’s easygoing personality and wealth of knowledge led us through the fascinating history of his winery and the interesting geography of the Paso Robles AVA.

Next up was Carol Shelton, Owner and Winemaker of Carol Shelton Wines.  This highly awarded winemaker expounded on some of the AVAs in Sonoma County, explaining differences in their terriors, which results in the different tastes of Zinfandel. 

The final speaker of the day was John Kane, the Winemaker for Rosenblum Cellars, one of the “big daddy wineries” in the Zin world.  Kane manages all of the aspects of wine production for Rosenblum, from the vineyard to operations, and is the winemaker for 62 wines each year!  His presentation focused largely on the Contra Costa County AVA, which lies within the larger Central Coast AVA.

Following the Master Class we were invited to dine with the speakers.  What great fun it was to drink their wines with lunch while hearing stories about that particular vintage and their struggles and triumphs in making the perfect wine!

Following lunch was a tasting of Zinfandel from 16 different producers.  My favorites truly did include the above wineries, along with Wine Guerrilla from the Sonoma Valley (Owner/WInemaker Bruce Patch is not only a fine winemaker, but also a very fun and personable guy) and Proulx Wines from Paso Robles.

Talty Vineyards & Winery

The Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma Valley is a lovely AVA with a lot of great wines.  Their red varietal specialty is often considered to be Zinfandel.  Some experts believe that there is nowhere else in the world that this variety thrives as well and produces as voluptuous grapes as in the Dry Creek Valley.

One winery in this appellation is Talty Vineyards & Winery, which sits on six acres of forty-eight year old Zinfandel vines.  Michael Talty, the winemaker and owner, is doing some really wonderful things with Zinfandel.   His are truly some of the best Zins I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking.

His father William Talty was responsible for Michael’s love of food and wine.  Together they made wine from Cabernet Sauvignon in their garage and dreamed of one day having a winery of their own.   William also was who introduced Michael to the land of Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley.  Sadly, their dream of opening their own winery together didn’t come to fruition because of the unexpected passing of his father in 1993.  Michael purchased the six acres of vineyards in 1997 and named them after his father.  His Estate Zinfandel is made with grapes from the William Talty Vineyard.

I had been to Talty a few years ago, tasting with Michael’s delightful wife Katie.  On my most recent visit to Sonoma County I wanted to make sure to pay them another visit.   After driving up the long beautiful driveway lined with vineyards on the left and peach trees on the right, we were greeted by their wine dog Bella, and Michael himself!

Talty’s winery is very cozy, with a photo of William looking down over the tasting room, which also serves as the barrel room.  I loved how the impression of Michael’s father’s presence is obvious in their whole operation.

We tasted at individual barrel tables instead of the typical tasting bar, with Michael paying close attention to each table.

The wines we tasted were:

2008 Talty Estate Zinfandel, William Talty Vineyard – This is the wine made from the vineyard on which the winery sits.  The nose has some pepper, blackberry and nice floral aromas.  The palate was juicy and lush, with raspberry, cherry and blackberry, along with some peppery vanilla.  The 2008 is comprised of 90% Zinfandel, 7% Petite Syrah and 3% Carignane.

2009 Talty Zinfandel, Filice Connolly Vineyard – The nose is lovely, with some spice and oak, along with a very fresh black raspberry.  The black raspberry explodes on the palate, with some chocolate and spicy oak leading to a nice long finish.  100% Zinfandel aged in 100% American oak.

2009 Talty Zinfandel, Dwight Family Vineyard – This is the youngest of the three vineyards with whom Talty works, and he is very excited about it’s progress.  The 2009 vintage produces currant, spice and floral notes on the nose.  The palate is well balanced, with the beautiful fruit shining through some lovely spice and vanilla.  This wine is 95% Zinfandel and 5% Petite Sirah.  It was aged in 75% American oak and 25% French oak.

Michael Talty is doing a bang-up job in Dry Creek Valley.  If you’re a fan of Zinfandel, you will love this experience.  If you’re not so sure about this varietal because you’ve experienced the huge over done Zins of some producers, give Talty a try.  I can’t help but think that you’ll enjoy these delicious and food friendly Zinfandels.

 

My April Wine of the Month

Caymus Vineyards
Sauvignon Blanc
2005

Caymus Vineyards is pretty much synonymous with Napa Valley Cabernet.  Their opulent, lavishly oaked Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon are some of the most famous Napa Valley wines made.

Many wine lovers don’t even know that Caymus makes a Sauvignon Blanc.  I’m not talking about Conundrum, their very popular white blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Canelli, Viognier and Semillon.  I’m talking about a wine made of 100% Sauvignon Blanc, which isn’t made by them yearly and is only available at the winery.

The Wine – Three years ago while tasting at Caymus I tried their 2002 vintage of Sauvignon Blanc and enjoyed it enough to buy a few bottles.  While there in February we tasted the 2005 vintage.  This vintage reminded me a lot of the ’02.  Like their Cabernet Sauvignon, they use a lot of oak on this wine, which makes it different that the Sancerre I love so much, as well as the Pouilly-Fume and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc I know.  And yet I still really like this wine.

The color is a pale gold. The nose is nice and aromatic, with grapefruit and lemon.  Through the creaminess and vanilla from the oak, a lot of nice fruit comes through on the palate, including the grapefruit, lemon and some peach.  I also tasted some slate and mushroom.

Visiting the Winery – I’ve tasted at Caymus three different times.  All three experiences have been great, but the most recent time was especially enjoyable.   An appointment is needed for their sit-down tasting.  A wine educator, who walks you through the wines and explains the history of Caymus and explains a lot about wine and winemaking, hosts the forty-five minute experience.  We were fortunate to have Katelin, who made the tasting fun and also very informative.

The Journey – The Caymus Vineyards tasting room is located in a gorgeous stone building on Conn Creek Road, not far from the main drag of Highway 29.  We visited in mid-February, and the surrounding vineyards were full of flowered mustard plants.  The vines may be dormant at this time, but the vineyards are still gorgeous!

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