Saturday, May 29, 2010

VinRoc Wine Caves-Digging Deep on Atlas Peak

It’s been over 15 years since I drove to the top of Atlas Peak in Napa valley. Back then I was pulling a horse trailer and going to three day events at the Wild Horse Ranch facility just below the peak. But last Sunday I drove up to visit the wine caves at VinRoc, a small boutique winery run by Kiky Lee and Michael Parmenter.

The area has changed a lot over the years. There is more development in the way of homes and oddly enough, a Pet cemetery at the lower end of the road. But as the road climbs higher and higher up the mountain it remains relatively open and unspoiled. Just past the ranch where I used to take my horse, nestled below the mountain peak, is VinRoc. The views across the valley from the estate are jaw dropping and the birdseye view of the open ranch land below is spectacular.

VinRoc is relatively new venture but the vision Michael and Kiky have had for the grounds and their wines have been in the works for over a decade. Their small micro vineyard, planted just below the home and cave, is only five acres and they currently produce three wines: the signature VinRoc Cabernet Sauvigun, a special red blend called RTW for Red Table Wine, and a Granache-Barbera Dry Rose under the Enjoie label.

The winery reception room and main residence are nearing completion and we were given a tour by Kiky, the mastermind behind the design. The main home is open and spacious with thick stucco walls that offer insulation from the hot summer days and cool nights. The structure is well integrated into the land. It almost looks as if it just sprouted up organically after a wild winter rain. It’s deep grey color and stone roof blend seamlessly into the rocky landscape, the gentle curves like open arms giving a warm embrace to the valley below.

Outside under a pergola overlooking the vineyard, we tasted some of the Enjoie label Rosé. It’s color was a light salmon and it had a delicate bouquet of violet and plums. Drinking it made me forget the cold wind and I could almost imagine it was a warm bright day. I always appreciate wine for the sense of place it brings to the table and the Rosé reminded me of an afternoon in Provence. Then Michael showed me the back of the bottle which mentioned how a sunny day in St. Paul de Venice at La Colombe D’or had inspired them to create their very own rosé for the summer table.

We also tried a 2007 cab/merlot blend called RTW, for Red Table Wine. The RTW had chocolate, plum and black cherry notes, with a smooth finish. After our picnic in the wind, we retreated to the caves to tour the facility and sample the 2006 VinRoc Cabernet Sauvignon. In addition to housing the barrels and wine making equipment, the cave also has many clever artistic touches by Kiky. The Atlas Peak AVA has volcanic soil, primarily tufa from material that has been ejected into the air and scattered about the land and most of the Cave was carved from tufa as well.

The VinRoc winemaking approach is based on super micro management. They literally make the wine by hand a ton at a time. By working in small batches each section of the vineyard can be harvested at it’s peak and optimal maturity. You can watch a video here made by a Japanese TV crew and hear Michael explain the process. Note: Michael's part is in English the rest is in Japanese.

The VinRoc approach to wine is one of patience and it seems to be working. We tasted the 2006 Cabernet and although it seemed a bit closed at first, it warmed up nicely with notes of dark berries, cedar, graphite and spice. I would have liked to try several more glasses, but the drive down Atlas Peak road was still waiting for me. I did buy a bottle of the RTW and Rosé for further tasting at home.

If you get the chance, I strongly suggest you give VinRoc a call and make an appointment to visit the caves. Michael and Kiky exude a relaxed, unhurried attitude that makes you want to hang out with them all day. Their great enthusiasm for the winemaking process is paired with a “Wow, this is pretty darn cool!” sense of awe and wonder. And their genuine respect and gratitude for what they have is reflected in their personalities and through their wines.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hewitt Vineyards Cabernet

A few weeks ago I attended a release party for the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Hewitt Vineyard at the Provenance winery in Napa. A jazz combo played and Celebrity chef Joey Altman cooked for a captivated audience of wine club members out on the lawn, under white tents. (Note to non- Cabernet obsessed readers, keep reading to the end. Power of suggestion section may be of interest to you.)

In addition to the release of the Rutherford appellation 2007 vintage, there was vertical tasting of the 03, 05, & 06 Cabernet Sauvignons. All were priced the $85-$100 range. And all had high point ratings awarded to them from the usual wine rating suspects. But I try to ignore the numbers when I’m first trying a wine.

I found the 03 unbalanced, and rather quirky. I had a difficult time getting the nose on it and the finish was elusive as well. Over the course of a few hours I tried it several times and it was completely different at each taste, but still not appealing to me.

The 05 was more to my liking, fuller with big fruit flavors and a long finish.

I loved the 06. It was earthy and flinty almost dusty, with pronounced tannins.

But the 2007 from the Rutherford appellation was my favorite. Maybe I just like young wine, but I found it bold and balanced. I detected chocolate and tobacco notes with a kind of flinty fruit flavor.

Provenance Winemaker Chris Cooney agreed the 03 was challenging for some people and noted that that’s the whole point of tasting wine, to find what you like, not what someone tells you to like based on a rating. He admitted, of course, that all winemakers seek to get third party recognition and acknowledgment to give their wines a wider audience. But the ratings game is just an undeniable part of wine making.

An Oink, Oink, Here A Quack, Quack, There…

Later, seated at a table with some of the other guests, I sampled one of the dishes Chef Altman had just prepared. It was delicious with red cabbage, walnuts and balsamic vinegar and a main ingredient that I could not quite place. “What is this?” I said aloud to the others at the table. “It’s amazing. Is this beef?”

“No!” declared a woman at the table. “It’s pork.”

“Really? The flavor is most unusual for pork.” I said.

It was hard to really see the mysterious protein as it was completely coated in the balsamic and cabbage, and I wasn’t 100% convinced it was pork, but the woman was so adamant that it was.

I kept tasting it and puzzling over it.

“Are you sure this is pork?” I asked one more time. And the lady shot me an exasperated look and said. “Honey, I’m telling you this is pork. I make this recipe all the time. It’s PORK!” And then she got up and left in a huff.

So I took her word for it that it was pork and gobbled up the rest of it.

Then later, my husband and I went up to Chef Altman to ask him about the recipe and most of all to find out where he purchased the pork. For it was exceptional indeed.

And Chef Altman looked at us like we were nuts and said “That was duck.”

And as soon as he said “duck” it was like a flash of insight. Of course it was duck!! But I’d gone against my instincts and stopped trying to determine what it was when the lady at the table insisted it was pork.

I worried I might have a deficient fat receptor in my palate and made a note to myself to seek out the duck experience more often. (For research purposes of course.) But more troubling was the fact I let someone else’s opinion override my own sensibilities.

And I realized how the power of suggestion, and the power of numbers, by way of rating points, can sometimes carry you off track. So judge according to your taste, based on your own criteria, whatever it is. Trust your own palate! Even if you are wrong! After all, you know what you like.

But be it pork or duck or baloney, I think the 07 Hewitt Cab would pair perfectly with it. Then again why would you take my word for it? Go try it for yourself.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Cleavage Creek Winery Goes Bust!

You can meet the most amazing people on twitter, and recently I began to follow and converse with Budge Brown the owner of Cleavage Creek Winery.

After Budge Brown's wife died of breast cancer he focused his grief and energy into fighting breast cancer and raising awareness for the disease in a very unique way: through wine. Budge created Cleavage Creek Cellars. Cleavage Creek donates a percentage of each bottle sold (before profit!) directly to breast cancer research. Plus each of the wines features the image of a breast cancer survivor on the label with a link to her personal story. How cool is that?

My mom had breast cancer. But her story had a bit of a twist. The twist being she didn’t tell us. Not a word. She went through six months of chemo followed by radiation and drove herself to her appointments without ever letting on to anyone what was going on.

My mother really believed in mind over matter. And mostly she believed that her matters were never you mind. Despite the fact we are indeed a very loving supportive family, she was as secretive as a double agent and twice as sneaky. I think at first she was subscribing to the “tree falls in the forest” approach. Meaning that if you don’t tell anyone maybe it’s not happening. So she did it her way.

When we finally did learn about it we were beyond shocked. “Why didn’t you tell us?” we asked. “Oh it was nothing.” was her reply. She was not afraid, just “annoyed and slightly inconvenienced” as she put it. She made it sound like it was no big deal; as if breast cancer was no more bothersome than getting the wrong order at a restaurant. She did not want us to worry, but more than that, she did not want us to interfere. She was so fiercely independent that she controlled all information as if it were gold in Fort Knox.

Some would call this behavior denial. Me, I just called it mom being mom. She was the type that if you asked her age would lean into you and say-“Can you keep a secret?” And you would nod “Oh Yes.” And then she would reply. “Well so can I” and never reveal a thing.

But one thing I know for sure is that she would have loved Budge Brown’s clever tribute to women and his support for the cause via Cleavage Creek Wines. She would have embraced his campaign and efforts fully because it’s fun and focuses on the positive, courageous and beautiful survivors.

Cleavage Creek recently sent me some of the wines to sample and not only is the cause worthy the wines are great as well. I tried some of the Tracy Hills 2007 Reserve Chardonnay paired with some samosas and pineapple chutney. The wine had nice spicy flavor, perfect for a toast to the memory of my mom’s fiery personality and legacy of independence. Here’s to you mom!

For more information on how you can purchase Cleavage Creek Wines and support breast cancer research follow this link.

UPDATE: Check out Budge with Gary V on Wine Library Episode # 861


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