woopdedoo


quality posts: 35 Private Messages woopdedoo

This blog is set up as a place for RPM to post his thoughts and memories of Wine Country. Unlike the other blogs, it is not meant as a discussion board - more as a one way feed from him to us.

woopdedoo


quality posts: 35 Private Messages woopdedoo

(copied from tour blog - comments below by RPM)

While this started out as an historical tour, and we will definitely talk about Northern California -- mostly Sonoma and Napa counties -- wine history, not all of the wineries we visit will be historic -- there are many reasons for this: in some cases, BV for example in Napa, it's really a tourist place and we're not in a position to get anything really behind the scenes there that would justify spending your time and money. This despite the fact I think their best wines are still very good, and very good values. I would love to be able to recreate some of my visits there many decades ago, but it's not the same place, and none of the people you'd have wanted to meet are still there or involved. The two most important temples of fine wine in Napa county from the old days, of course, were BV and Inglenook. Surprisingly for those of whose memories of wine begin after 1965, it was Inglenook that was had the highest reputation before Prohibition and the two were pretty much regarded as equals (though each had their partisans) until Inglenook was sold in 1964 to a giant, the winemaker left, and quality declined - sadly through some of the greatest years in the mid-20th century - 1964, 1968 and 1970 - until a renaissance began with the 1973s made by Jon Richburg. BV was sold in 1968 or 1969, but Andre T stayed as winemaker and made some of his best wines in those years.

A small personal aside: in an article I ran across about BV's early history a dozen years ago or more, the author said BV's first recognition for fine wine was the result of Georges de Latour's hiring my great uncle, Antonio Perelli-Minetti, as winemaker. Tony was academically trained as an oenologist in Italy as was his older brother Guilio, who was the winemaker at Swiss Colony in the early years of the 20th century.

themostrighteous


quality posts: 12 Private Messages themostrighteous
woopdedoo wrote:This blog is set up as a place for RPM to post his thoughts and memories of Wine Country. Unlike the other blogs, it is not meant as a discussion board - more as a one way feed from him to us.


sorry, woop, i'm not trying to be difficult, but are you suggesting that if we have questions for rpm about his posts we should post them elsewhere? i would have thought that you would have wanted to model this after Peter's Random Ramblings, ie he posts a piece & we ask him questions about it, but that's just me. please kindly clarify.

do you know... what biodynamics is?

woopdedoo


quality posts: 35 Private Messages woopdedoo
themostrighteous wrote:sorry, woop, i'm not trying to be difficult, but are you suggesting that if we have questions for rpm about his posts we should post them elsewhere? i would have thought that you would have wanted to model this after Peter's Random Ramblings, ie he posts a piece & we ask him questions about it, but that's just me. please kindly clarify.



Yes, but keep the questions/discussion strictly on topic.
Thanks.

rpm


quality posts: 170 Private Messages rpm

The Russian River Valley -- where we'll be visiting Iron Horse -- is special to me as a place where I spent quite a bit of time in the Summer growing up. I am very glad we're seeing Iron Horse. I like all of their wines, but I think their sparkling wines are really first rate. And, of course, the Russian River Valley is home to Korbel, one of the real historic pioneers in methode champagnois sparkling wine in California -- founded in 1882 and internationally well-regarded by the turn of the 20th century. When I was growing up, Korbel was really the best California "champagne." They made a true 'natural' champagne with virtually no dosage that was truly magnificent, but was never commercially available. It tasted like it was all -- or almost all -- traditional champagne varietals. What was released in the 1960s and later as Korbel Natural had a more significant dosage (though still drier than all other California, and most French, champagnes at the time) and tasted like there were other grapes in the blend (chenin blanc for sure and perhaps something else, columbard?).

One of my Mother's best friends was the widow of one of the Korbel brothers. Although the Korbels had sold the winery to the Adolf Heck in 1954, Mrs. Korbel could have all the champagne she wanted. When I graduated from high school, she unexpectedly, and generously, sent the champagne for our party!

NB -- the Davies' didn't buy the old Schramsburg property until 1965, and the wines didn't come onto the market until I was almost through college.

Wine-tasting in 8 words:
Pull lots of corks!
Remember what you taste!

woopdedoo


quality posts: 35 Private Messages woopdedoo

What are we doing starting our Historical tour in what we’ve called “Upper Sonoma County” and the Russian River Valley, when the very first wines made North of San Francisco were made in the Sonoma Valley, at the Mission, in the 1830s?

In part, the reason is idiosyncratic: it was Ed from Pedroncelli who first suggested the Tour, in part it’s personal, my family’s first involvement in California wine came in the upper part of Sonoma County, as winemakers at Italian Swiss Colony at Asti, and, in part for historical reasons, Sonoma County, from Santa Rosa on up through Asti above Geyserville, was the extremely important in the development of what I’ll call “high quality bulk wine”.

In the 19th century, and really up until Prohibition, very few wineries anywhere in the world bottled their own wine, let alone bottled it at the winery. Most wine was made, sold and shipped in bulk, in barrels and larger containers. In California, that meant the wines usually went to San Francisco for ageing, blending, finishing and ultimately sale, either locally or, increasingly, back east. Some operations had facilities for ageing, blending and finishing in other cities, especially in New York.

In the last half of the 19th century, upper Sonoma County had a large number of wineries, some well-known like Italian Swiss Colony, Simi, and Fountain Grove, others known only in the trade as suppliers of bulk wine. Names I heard growing up from my Father, Grandfather and Great Uncles, like Frei Brothers, Martini & Prati, Foppiano, Seghesio, Pedroncelli, etc. were the growers and vinters who supplied larger and better known wineries with the wines that were the backbone of many blended wines.

Before Prohibition, probably the most widely planted red grape was Zinfandel, and most of this area – Alexander Valley, Asti, Dry Creek Valley, and the area from Healdsburg South to just North of Santa Rosa, grows excellent Zinfandel, which can be made into powerful, age-worthy fine wines on its own, or can be used to blend with lesser grapes to make “sound commercial wine” that served as the vast majority of the everyday table wines of the pre-Prohibition era.

During Prohibition, the grapes that were in demand were those that shipped well – principally Alicante Bouschet and Carignan, not varieties like Zinfandel, Cabernet and Pinot. While a fair amount of what had been Zinfandel was grafted with these inferior grape varieties, thousands of acres of vines were pulled out and replaced with fruit trees – lots of plums, both for eating fresh and prunes, peaches, apples (especially over towards Sebastopol), etc. When I was growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s, the agricultural growing area between Santa Rosa and Healdsburg was probably 80% fruit trees and less than 20% grapes. And, of course, it was all empty, where it’s now built up.

If you know Italian Swiss Colony at all, I’m sure it’s for their rather mediocre jug wines and even less palatable “wino” wines that competed with Gallo in the post-Prohibition period. But, before Prohibition, they were a very highly respected winery. I have read that their “Tipo” commanded higher prices in New York restaurants in 1910 than did imported authentic Chianti.

While they did use a lot of Zinfandel, Italian Swiss Colony also planted Sangiovese and some other Chianti varietals to make both the red and white “Tipo Chianti” that won Gold Medals in Italy and France by 1900. The Seghesios, whose winery we’re visiting for our tasting lunch on Monday, started out working at the Colony (as it used to be known), then as grape growers for the Colony, and later as makers of bulk wine they sold to the Colony and elsewhere. According to Seghesio’s literature, they have a vineyard with very old vines that’s an almost classic Chianti field blend – which fits.

Here’s another thought: Sonoma County grape fruit has almost always been used primarily for table wine, as opposed to sweet wine. It may seem odd today, but traditionally, consumption of sweet fortified wines has usually greatly exceeded the consumption of table wine – think of all of the historical references to the British drinking Port, Madiera, Sherry, etc. [Not to mention the very great German sweet wines made from very ripe Riesling – another story entirely].

In California, naturally there was high demand for sweet fortified wines, and that was mostly met with grapes from East of San Francisco in the upper San Joaquin Valley – Lodi, Fresno, etc.

After Prohibition, these sweet fortified wines dominated the industry for almost 40 years – it wasn’t until about 1968 that production of table wines exceed the production of sweet fortified wines. In fact, if you go into most liquor stores today (other than truly high end stores) you will find substantial sections of California jugs of sweet fortified wines. I don’t drink them (well, except some Ficklin or Quaady Port and similar premium wines) and I doubt you do, but someone is buying them!

So, what we’re going to be seeing in Upper Sonoma County is a combination of the new and the old: Pedroncelli and Seghesio, wineries run by families who’ve been in the County for a very long time, and part of the wine industry since the 1880s to 1920s and some newer wineries run by people who’ve come into the area as part of the 1970’s wine boom and after, who are making some outstanding wines from the area’s wonderful grapes: Dry Creek, Armida and Iron Horse.

I will talk a bit more about them Sunday night, but each one of these wineries is special: Pedroncelli’s wines have always been considered a ‘local secret’ as both very solid wines that are better than most of their price competitors, especially the cabs, zins, gewürztraminer and that zin rose. Seghesio will be a fabulous lunch and tasting experience. Dry Creek is a winery that has done more (in my view) with Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc than almost anyone – where almost all the Sauvignon Blanc’s from Sonoma County used to be excessively grassy to my taste, they made a really dry, fresh tasting wine that is great with seafood. And their reds – Cabernet and Zinfandel – have also been very fine; without slighting the Cabernet, I have always thought they made wonderful Zinfandel, with true Dry Creek character, but rarely as huge as some. (Here one thinks of the short-lived Lytton Springs winery, which made tannic monsters from the Lytton Springs vineyard Zinfandel that Paul Draper at Ridge did such wonderful things with in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and has again in more recent years.)

Armida, I don’t know well, but the winery was originally started by a guy whose grandparents lived in Healdsburg, and now has other partners/owners who are share a philosophy of small lot wine making and fun. I’m looking forward to visiting Armida.

Iron Horse really takes us over into the Russian River Valley, known since the 19th century for California champagne (sparkling wine these days) and more recently Pinot Noir. Iron Horse was a recent woot winery as well, and needs little introduction. Their sparklers are on my short list of the top 3 in California (they did some wonderful late disgorged sparkling wine a decade or so ago – really excellent!), the Cabernet Franc we all scooped up on woot is super, and I think you’ll be impressed with their other wines.

The Russian River Valley -- where we'll be visiting Iron Horse -- is special to me as a place where I spent quite a bit of time in the Summer growing up. I am very glad we're seeing Iron Horse. I like all of their wines, but I think their sparkling wines are really first rate. And, of course, the Russian River Valley is home to Korbel, one of the real historic pioneers in methode champagnois sparkling wine in California -- founded in 1882 and internationally well-regarded by the turn of the 20th century. When I was growing up, Korbel was really the best California "champagne." They made a true 'natural' champagne with virtually no dosage that was truly magnificent, but was never commercially available. It tasted like it was all -- or almost all -- traditional champagne varietals. What was released in the 1960s and later as Korbel Natural had a more significant dosage (though still drier than all other California, and most French, champagnes at the time) and tasted like there were other grapes in the blend (chenin blanc for sure and perhaps something else, columbard?).

One of my Mother's best friends was the widow of one of the Korbel brothers. Although the Korbels had sold the winery to the Adolf Heck in 1954, Mrs. Korbel could have all the champagne she wanted. When I graduated from high school, she unexpectedly, and generously, sent the champagne for our party!

NB -- the Davies' didn't buy the old Schramsburg property until 1965, and the wines didn't come onto the market until I was almost through college.

DonaldWilliams


quality posts: 29 Private Messages DonaldWilliams
woopdedoo wrote:
Dry Creek is a winery that has done more (in my view) with Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc than almost anyone – where almost all the Sauvignon Blanc’s from Sonoma County used to be excessively grassy to my taste, they made a really dry, fresh tasting wine that is great with seafood.



What a coincidence: just this evening I was enjoying the Dry Creek 2005 Taylor's Vineyard Musqué with my favorite grilled swordfish recipe.
EDIT: Sorry, forgot where I was. Feel free to delete this.

"Always keep a bottle of Champagne in the fridge for special occasions. Sometimes the special occasion is that you've got a bottle of Champagne in the fridge". - Hester Browne


Ddeuddeg's Cheesecake Cookbook

rpm


quality posts: 170 Private Messages rpm

Day Two Musings

Background

We’re still in Sonoma County on Tuesday, this time in what’s probably the best known Sonoma viticultural area, Sonoma Valley. Stretching, as you can see from the map, from the Napa Sonoma Marsh and the sloughs of San Pablo Bay (a subsidiary of the larger San Francisco Bay) up to the North and North-northwest, it begins as a broad valley framed by large hills (known locally as mountains) on both sides: Sonoma and Bennet Mountains to the West, oriented North-northwest and the Mayacamas Mountains to the East, which separate the Sonoma Valley from the Napa Valley and continue to separate the upper Napa Valley from the upper Sonoma County growing areas. Sonoma Valley narrows as you move up the Valley beyond the town of Sonoma to the Northwest, narrowing most at Glen Ellen, then broadening a bit as it continues until it debouches into the plain of Santa Rosa (though the Sonoma Valley AVA ends a ways beyond Kenwood. The lower part of the Valley includes the Carneros region which lies partly in Sonoma County and partly in Napa County.

The Sonoma Valley, known also as the Valley of the Moon (because that’s what the indigenous Coast Miwok’s called it), is the home to the oldest vineyards North of San Francisco. The earliest vineyards were planted at Mission Sonoma in the 1820s, undoubtedly mostly the inferior Mission grape. When the Missions were abandoned in the mid-1830’s, General Mariano Vallejo – a name you will see everywhere in this part of the world – took over the vineyards and, so was probably the first commercial wine grower in the region. Vallejo had quite a career, both during the Mexican period and after the Americans took over. His home in Sonoma is open to the public. Vallejo’s wines won medals at early California State Fairs.

In the mid-to-late 1850’s, grapes and wine became important in Sonoma. This is era of the colorful “Count” Agoston Haraszthy. Haraszthy was a colorful Hungarian figure who was called the “Father of California Wine” when I was growing up. He had been commissioned by the California State Legislature to go to Europe and bring back a wide variety of grapevines, which he did. The California Legislature never paid Haraszthy, however, which shows politicians haven’t changed much….

We used to think he’d been the first to bring Zinfandel, which we used to think was a Hungarian grape – though we now know that the origin is probably Dalmatia in the Balkans, with the grape as a distinct clone in Puglia (Southeastern Italy on the Adriatic – where my Great-grandfather Giuseppe Perelli-Minetti owned wineries after the Wars of Italian Independence, in which he fought with Garibaldi) towards the end of the 18th century. It was apparently imported to the US in the early 19th century, with cuttings commercially available in the 1830s. It was probably brought to California during the Gold Rush in the 1850s by nurserymen William Robert Prince and Frederick Macondray. It was planted in Napa and Sonoma in the mid-1850s, and Haraszthy was making wine from Zinfandel soon thereafter at his Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma.

Haraszthy was very much better a promoter than businessman, and was not successful with the winery (unlike Jacob Gundlach and Charles Bundschu, see below). His son ran the Buena Vista Winery for a long time, in friendly rivalry with General Vallejo’s wines, whose daughter he married.

Sonoma was an important winemaking area in the pre-Prohibition period, but (as we mentioned on Day One Musings) probably mostly for bulk wine shipped to San Francisco and bottled there.

In the late pre-Prohibition period, we also see the name most post-Prohibition wine drinkers would associate with Sonoma: Sebastiani. In fact, Sebastiani was the “big man in town” through Prohibition and well into the 1950s – a huge benefactor of the town, you’ll see the name all over town. Old Sam (who died in 1946) and his son August (Gus) was active through 70s, with Young Sam becoming active and leading the charge into the modern era. Sebastiani was transformed itself from a bulk wine producer into the producer of really good jug wines by the early 1960s and, under Gus, began to move into more serious varietal wines from the 60’s onward. Their wines have always been on the rustic side, showing their origins as approachable, mostly Zinfandel and basic Cabernet reds, and rather simpler whites, the best being Rieslings of various sorts. Of course, the Sebastianis did make make one absolutely top class wine: Gus’ Barbera. Those wines were his pride and joy, and in a great year, like 1970, they were truly great wines. In 1988, at a DC restaurant, I absolutely blew the mind of a confirmed drinker of first and second growth Bordeaux with the 1970 Sebastiani Barbera. He also make some very good Pinot Noir (from vineyards in what we now call the Carneros region, before people understood it much)

Sonoma has also figured heavily in the modern renaissance of California winemaking: the first truly Burgundian-style Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in California was made at Hanzell, in the hills Northwest of town beginning 1957. Hanzell, founded by San Francisco industrialist James Zellerbach (of Crown Zellerbach), is still there (but costs $80 each to visit) making wine under successors that’s very expensive and very limited in quantity. (Sometimes it can be very good, but I’ve always thought it overpriced).

It’s hard to imagine, but in 1946, Sonoma had only 5 wineries, and only 9 in the early 1970’s, including Sebastiani, Buena Vista and Hanzell, plus Chateau St. Jean (which had a huge reputation for Chardonnay in the ‘80s) and Kenwood (known for Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon), and lesser lights Grand Cru, Hacienda, ZD and Vineburg Wine Co. Since then, Gundlach-Bundsch has reemerged, and dozens more have been started.

The Wineries We’re Visiting

Although the first grapes were grown near the mission in town, and the most historic wineries are closer to town – many grapes were planted in the fields and hills around the town of Sonoma proper, which is nestled up against the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains – we’re starting our visit at the Northwest end of the Sonoma Valley with Peter Wellington’s Wellington Vineyards, located just beyond Glen Ellen.

Wine.Wooters all know Peter online as SonomaBouliste. He comments on wine extensively and gives very generously of his knowledge and time to all of us, in addition to making excellent wine that has been offered on Wine.Woot. After WineDavid, I can’t think of any single individual who has contributed nearly as much to the Wine.Woot community. It will be my first visit to Peter’s winery, and I’m certainly looking forward to seeing, hearing and tasting with Peter. We’ve allowed more time here than at any of the wineries (other than those including food) yesterday, so that Peter can take the time he wants with us, and to give each of us a chance to meet him personally.

The Glen Ellen area is much associated with Jack London and Wolf House. As a child we went to a swim club on Warm Springs Road, and as a young adult I remember fond hours at an ancient, rickety bar in Glen Ellen proper right where Arnold Drive makes a 90° turn.

A little past Glen Ellen towards Sonoma, we come to Little Vineyards Family Winery, where we’ll taste, have a catered picnic lunch and see a performance by Rich Little. I’ll be honest that the wines are new to me, but I think this will be a really fun place and I’m excited. Some Little wines were offered on Wine.Woot and I understand they were very well received.

Some morning, eh? Different, and a little more leisurely than Monday’s tasting marathon, but gives us a chance to catch our breath with a good friend and some fun!

From Little, we’ll come down the Valley through the town of Sonoma to the historic Gundlach-Bundschu Winery East of town. The family (Charles Bundschu married founder Jacob Gundlach’s eldest daughter in true Horatio Alger fashion) has been in Sonoma since 1858 and has farmed grapes ever since. The winery was in operation by the early 1860s and continued until Prohibition. Carl Bundschu was an important winemaker, and was an early post-Prohibition winemaker at famed Inglenook (which we’ll see on Wednesday).

Well, the first shall be last they say, and we've saved the Buena Vista, the first real Sonoma winery for last. Buena Vista has changed hands many times since it was reopened by Frank Bartholomew after World War II. It had been closed sine the tunnels collapsed during the 1906 great earthquake. He rebuilt Buena Vista, replanted the vineyards (except for a couple of old Zinfandel blocks) and restored most of the tunnels, which were hand dug by Chinese laboreres in the 1850s. The ownership has changed a few times since then, and Buena Vista no longer makes wine from grapes grown on the property. Having ridden the wine boom of the late '60s - 80's as a usually OK, but not great, winery, it is now a premium, small production winery specializing in Carneros Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In fact, Buena Vista is the largest grower in Carneros now. This should really be fun!

After our last winery of the afternoon, and before we go the dinner at Deuces, we’ll have an hour or so to explore the Sonoma Plaza. When I was growing up my Mother was director of the Valley of the Moon Nursery School in Sonoma – for most of the time it was located just off the Plaza behind Mission Sonoma. So, I spent quite a bit of time at the Plaza. It used to have the Town Hall there, the Library, the Bear Flag Monument, and great places around the Plaza, such as the Vella Cheese Company, makers of really good Monterey Jack. The annual Vintage Festivals were always fun when I was a kid – sometimes we’d get some wine, sometimes not (depended who was around), but it was quite the combination of carnival and street fair.

Wine-tasting in 8 words:
Pull lots of corks!
Remember what you taste!

SonomaBouliste


quality posts: 234 Private Messages SonomaBouliste
rpm wrote:Day Two Musings

[It’s hard to imagine, but in 1946, Sonoma had only 5 wineries, and only 9 in the early 1970’s, including Sebastiani, Buena Vista and Hanzell, plus Chateau St. Jean (which had a huge reputation for Chardonnay in the ‘80s) and Kenwood (known for Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon), and lesser lights Grand Cru, Hacienda, ZD and Vineburg Wine Co. Since then, Gundlach-Bundsch has reemerged, and dozens more have been started.


The Glen Ellen area is much associated with Jack London and Wolf House. As a child we went to a swim club on Warm Springs Road, and as a young adult I remember fond hours at an ancient, rickety bar in Glen Ellen proper right where Arnold Drive makes a 90° turn.



You forgot Valley of the Moon Winery (understandable), located in the great vineyard once owned by Wm. Randolph Hearst.
Morton's Warm Springs Resort is still there, but The Rustic (bar where Jack London hung out) burned down over thirty years ago. There's now our own little, local owned, gourmet grocery store on the site. Glen Ellen's down to only one bar (other than in restaurants) now. The ABC has not been re-issuing or transferring liquor licenses of closed establishments in Sonoma Valley for decades. They have some formula that determined we had way too many drinking establishments per capita. You can go down highway 12 and say "there was a bar there, and one over there, and...".

rpm


quality posts: 170 Private Messages rpm
SonomaBouliste wrote:You forgot Valley of the Moon Winery (understandable), located in the great vineyard once owned by Wm. Randolph Hearst.
Morton's Warm Springs Resort is still there, but The Rustic (bar where Jack London hung out) burned down over thirty years ago. There's now our own little, local owned, gourmet grocery store on the site. Glen Ellen's down to only one bar (other than in restaurants) now. The ABC has not been re-issuing or transferring liquor licenses of closed establishments in Sonoma Valley for decades. They have some formula that determined we had way too many drinking establishments per capita. You can go down highway 12 and say "there was a bar there, and one over there, and...".




Sorry to forget Valley of hte Moon Winery.

I knew The Rustic had burned down, very sad day that... I suppose I should have mentioned Jack London hung out there.

I remember there were bars everywhere in Sonoma Valley in the old days, but I really don't have memories of most of them. The Rustic was memorable!

I'm very much looking forward to meeting you in person, and hoping you'll be joining us a lot.

Wine-tasting in 8 words:
Pull lots of corks!
Remember what you taste!

rpm


quality posts: 170 Private Messages rpm

Background

Napa Valley! For most American wine drinkers since 1960 or so, the Napa Valley has been the only place they consistently associate with top level wines, especially the primary red and white varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. I feel a little guilty that we’re only spending one day in the Napa Valley, and all of that within a relatively small part of the heart of the Valley between Rutherford and St. Helena.

If it’s any consolation, though, I think we’re in the most historically important part of the Napa Valley. This is the land of the famous Rutherford Bench, where some of the finest Cabernet Sauvignon in the world has been made, with the characteristic “Rutherford Dust” in the nose. We’ll be on both sides of the Valley, along Highway 29 on the West side of the Valley and the Silverado Trail on the East Side of the Valley. The vineyards are everywhere here. It’s in this area that you’ll find the old Inglenook winery, Beaulieu Vineyards, and many of the other great names and the vineyards that have provided the fruit for great wines since the American Civil War. And, this is the center of the seven or so miles between Oakville, where Mondavi build his new winery in the 1960s, and a mile or so North of St. Helena where the famous old Beringer winery was located. It’s within this area that most of the modern American Wine Revolution really took hold with Bob Mondavi, Joe Heitz and so many others. (Stag’s Leap is an outlier, further South on the East side of the Valley near Yountville

This is not really Chardonnay country, though there is some here (and some great ones have been from grapes grown here). Most of the Chardonnay these days is grown down in the cooler Carneros Region at the bottom of the Valley.

The very early history of wine in the Napa Valley, like that in Sonoma, predates American ownership of California. George Yount – from whose name we get Yountville in the Valley – planted some Mission vines from cuttings he got from our old friend General Vallejo, to make wine for his own use. The 1850’s and the coming of large numbers of Americans brought more people to Napa who had an interest in growing grapes and making wine. Still using Mission grapes, Charles Krug (long an important Napa Valley name, though not under his descendants) came in 1858.The Thompsons, down near Napa, Sam Brannan up at the far end of the Valley near Calistoga and George Crane were early planters of better European grape varieties.

By the 1880’s, Napa had begun to develop a reputation for very good wines. The beginning of the “Romance” associated with Napa wine probably comes with Robert Louis Stevenson, who honeymooned near Calistoga and Mt. St.Helena and wrote his famous Silverado Squatters in 1880. I don’t think I know anyone in Napa or Sonoma County who doesn’t own a copy and profess to love it. This was the period in which Gustave Niebaum built Inglenook, and the Greystone building (long associated with the Christian Brothers, rather latecomers to the Valley towards the end of Prohibition who bought it in 1950) was built. Inglenook, Jacob Schram of Schramburg (known then for still wine, not sparklers), who was mentioned by Stevenson, and the To Kalon Vineyard of Hamilton Crabb achieved high reputations as far away as New York and Europe. By 1891, before Phylloxera swept the Napa Valley, there were 18,000 acres in grapes – most of them wine grapes. It wouldn’t be until the 1960s there was as much acreage in grapes in Napa! The nadir was around 3,000 acres in production after Phylloxera’s devastation in the 1890s, though there were around 10,000 acres in production just before Prohibition closed the wineries down.

Napa didn’t loose nearly as much acreage to Prohibition as neighboring Sonoma County, but the truly tragic loss in Napa was the grafting of substantial amounts of excellent Cabernet, Pinot Noir and Riesling vines with grapes like Alicante Bouschet and Carignan that would ship well. Nonetheless, what was left of Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa and its Zinfandel were the best quality red grapes available to the few remaining wineries and the home winemaking and bootleg markets.

It’s interesting that Napa did not fare as well as the warmer regions of California during the immediate aftermath of Repeal, because the immediate demand was for sweeter dessert wines – the fortified Ports, Sherries, Muscatels and the like best made from the less expensive – inferior, really – grapes that ripened well (though with low acid) under the hot San Joaquin Valley sun, yielded plenty of fruit per acre, and were easy to grow. There was very limited demand for high quality dry table wine. Many of the independent growers in the Valley sold to bulk wineries – who got their best grapes in Napa to improve their blends – and very few wineries even made an attempt to make serious, high quality varietals.

Of those, four names stand out as what Bob Thompson (probably the best writer on California Wine in the last third of the 20th century) called the “keepers of the flame” of quality wine: our old friends Inglenook, under John Daniels, and Beaulieu Vineyards, under Georges de Latour, and two newer wineries, Louis M. Martini and the revival of Charles Krug by the Mondavis. At least until 1965, if you wanted a serious, truly world class, Cabernet Sauvignon wine from California, those were your only choices. In an ideal world, we’d be visiting all of them, but times change and so have they. BV and Inglenook have been under corporate ownership since the 1960s, Krug suffered greatly when Robert Mondavi left to form his own winery in 1966, and Gallo bought Louis Martini in 2002.

In my personal tasting history, it’s the great wines from these four wineries that stand out consistently, year after year. From the now virtually legendary 1941s of Inglenook and Beaulieu, to wonderfully balanced and elegant Martini and rugged Krug wines of the 1950s and early 60s, I cannot remember any of them that were not good. (I think I was lucky in not having many wines from the relatively “off” or bad years – but even as I was selecting my own wines by the late 1960s and picking up cheap bottles of lesser years like 1965 and 1967, these wines were almost always better than anything else. Perhaps the most imortant single figure in Napa, of course, was the great André Tchelistcheff, winemaker at BV from 1938 through the mid-1970s, and a consultant to many others during that time and well after his retirement.

Of course, the 1960s, and the late 1960s especially, ushered in the California Wine Renaissance and dozens of new wineries blossomed in the Napa Valley – some destined to greatness and most to at least something better than mediocrity. The McCreas at Stony Hill, white wine specialists who long made one of the very best Chardonnays in California, a clean wine with little oak, with vines based on cuttings from Wente’s pioneering Livermore Valley plantings of Chardonnay. (Wente bottled the first varietal “Pinot Chardonnay” around 1962). The recently passed Bob Mondavi, of course, made some great and a lot of good wine for years, and names like Freemark Abbey, Chapellet, Caymus, Clos du Val should be familiar to many of you.

As we think about Napa wine, I want to talk a bit about blending and vintage dating. The way we’re used to buying wine today – by grape varietal or stated blend, and by vintage year – is not the way wine has traditionally been sold. Remember, the notion of bottling at the winery (or chateau in France) is a modern idea, not common before 1950 or so. Most wine was sold and shipped in bulk by wineries, and then bottled by or for various wholesalers or distributors around the country and the world.

I should point out that Inglenook did vintage date at times from the 1880s and made some varietal labeled wines. It was not unheard of to see wines labelled as Cabernet or Riesling, even in the age of generics and names like 'Claret' or 'Burgundy' or 'Hock" or 'Mosel'.

Less common, too, was vintage dating. Especially in a world where crops varied enormously in quality and quantity, but a winemaker had to sell wine every year, it was common for wineries to hold stocks of the best wines made in good years, aging them slowly in large casks, and blending various wines until a desired result was achieved.

This aging and blending process was an important part of the winemakers skill. The idea was to make the wines as consistent as possible. Not to sacrifice quality, but to maintain it at a high standard. At least that’s what my great uncles said. A number of wineries had significant stocks of wine as much as 15 years old for blending.

The 1906 great earthquake in San Francisco (which also affected much of Sonoma County and, to a lesser extent, Napa) destroyed millions of gallons of aged wine stored in the city (which was a natural place to age wine because it was (1) close to the consumers and shipping, and (2) cool year round). Some of Italian Swiss Colony’s wine reserves were even used to fight the fire after the earthquake when the water mains were out of service! What the earthquake and fire didn’t destroy, Prohibition pretty much did.

Almost no one (no one?) emerged from Prohibition in 1933 with any significant stock of aged wine. And the Post-Prohibition tax scheme – in which wineries were taxed every year on their entire inventory – combined with insatiable demand for wine (though sweet at this time) to make it uneconomic for wineries to build up their stocks to pre-Prohibition levels.

I think a description of old style blending, known as “fractional blending” might be interesting. The idea is to match a previous bottling with which you were particularly pleased (or which represents your ‘house style’). You start with samples of all the wines you’re considering for the blend, of different years, grape varieties, vineyards, even blocs within vineyards. The samples are tasted and from that initial tasting choices are made for further consideration. Those are assembled into sample blends using essentially a scale model of the amount of wine you want to build. That is, you must take samples in proportion to what’s available in the wine your considering. If you were making a 30,000 gallon blend, and you had only 1,000 gallons of one of the wines you wanted to use, you could not put more than 1/30th of that wine into the sample blend. It sounds simple, but in practice you could have literally hundreds of samples and several dozen trial blends until you came up with what you wanted.

This could also be a way of making a lot out of a little in the bulk wine trade. I recently came across some of my father’s blending cards – index cards and/or slips of paper with proportions of various named ‘stock’ wines in the inventory to be used as a starting point for assembling various blends – from his brief youthful work as a winemaker in the mid-1930s. They made little sense now, as whatever wines he was assembling from are long gone, and were undoubted blends themselves, but it was fascinating to see how a relatively large number of wines with different characteristics for consumers could be made from a rather smaller group of ‘stock wines’.

Well, we’ve come a long way from talking about Napa premium wine….Time to talk about the wineries a bit. It was hard to decide who to visit in Napa – there are so many wineries that make good wine, so many wineries with some claim to historical importance, and just so so many wineries now! But, I think we’re extraordinarily lucky to have been able to arrange the visits we have. I think it would take the better part of two weeks to get a working aquaintance with the wineries in the Napa Valley, and several years to become fluent. The best thing to do is to find a few wineries you really like, buy their wines consistently, and continue to experiment. But, your core collection of ageworthy California Cabernet Sauvignon is going to come from Napa Valley, and you could do a whole lot worse than making the wineries we're seeing the cornerstones of your cellar.

The Wineries We’re Visitng

We’re starting early in the morning with a visit to my cousin Bill Harrison’s winery at the intersection of Zinfandel Lane (always have loved that address) and the Silverado Trail. I think you will all like Bill – he’s a down-to-earth guy, a hunter and outdoorsman, with absolutely none of the pretensions that all too often can be found in Napa. Bill’s winery is small, making very limited amounts fo really nice Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Bordeaux blend called Rutherford Red, from (mostly, I think) his own grapes. Bill has been in the business since he was a kid (his Mother was Conchita Perelli-Minetti) and knows every aspect. For many years after the family winery was sold almost 30 years ago, Bill has had a mobile bottling business: a state of the art bottling line in a semi-trailer that he brings to small wineries all over California and the Far West to their wines. The first time I actually saw the operation he was bottling Rubicon for Coppola at the old Inglenook property where we’re having our tasting. This is the operation we’ll be seeing, as described on the Day Three page.

Next is Napa Mumm – Mumm is a great champagne house with some of the greatest marques in the trade. This will be my first visit to the Mumm Napa facility – over the years I’ve hit most of the important sparking wine houses in Napa and Sonoma many times, from classically French style Schramsburg to German style (a Riesling based cuvee) Hans Kornell (now long gone, but once a contender for the best California sparkling wine with their “Sehr Trocken”), first-French house Chandon and, of course, the old Korbell winery in the Russian River Valley. But, I haven’t been to Mumm yet. I’ve liked their wines, and I’m looking forward to their take on things.

Next is Corison, where I have high expectations from Cathy’s wines. She seems to make Cabernet Sauvignon the “old way” – to please herself. Check out the video of her talking about her wines on the winery’s website. The way she talks about her wines is very familiar: she talks about many peaks and the different flavors over the life cycle of Cabernet – she uses different terms, but it sounds very much like my own views of the life cycle of California Cabernet Sauvignon. We haven’t met before, but I’m very much looking forward to the opportunity to talk with her and taste. The Corison family is an example of the Napa version of a story we’ve seen in Sonoma County: long time growers who have ventured into winemaking. Make no mistake – this isn’t the “public” name like Rubicon, but we are in the stratosphere of truly premium Cabernet here.

After lunch, it’s back across the Valley to Frog’s Leap, one of the important wineries that began in the 1970s – with a bit of a tongue in cheek and a great sense of humor taking off from the then towering reputation of Warren Winiarski’s Stags Leap. There’s a personal connection here, but with the younger generation. My daughter Sara, a serious palate in her own right, and Frank Leeds’ daughter Lauren were college classmates and are close friends. Sara was in Lauren’s wedding at Frog’s Leap last Summer. I know they make fine Cabernet Sauvignon, but I have always been most impressed by their Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel. You don’t find that much Zinfandel in Napa anymore, but when you do it had better be good! And this is.

Our last winery is Rubicon – Niebaum-Coppola. This is the old Inglenook estate and winery, once the great temple of fine wine. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s been done to restore things. My first visits came as a kid when George Deuer was still the winemaker for John Daniels, Jr. – with the old guys – and I remember being sad coming here in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s when it was under corporate ownership before Francis Ford Coppola bought it. It’s been a long time since I’ve visited, a decade or more ago when Bill was bottling here.

Wine-tasting in 8 words:
Pull lots of corks!
Remember what you taste!

rpm


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RPM’s Highly Idiosyncratic Annotated Wine Bibliography

There are thousands of books on wine, many of which are even good. I think everyone who is interested in wine as the subject of some study has his or her own favorites, and no two winos would be likely to come up with the same list of wine books he or she considers essential to a wine education. And, perhaps they would not even agree on what a wine education is. I’ve been reading about wine almost as long as I can remember reading – if only sneaking peeks at things like old Wines and Vines magazines and other things around my grandfather’s house in San Francisco. It was always interesting. I wish I had my grandfather’s and great grandfather’s wine libraries, but they’re long gone who knows where. I think Mario has a few things our great grandfather wrote on wine, I only have a few newspaper articles and pamphlets. None of my other cousins own up to having any of it.

So, what is a wine education? From books, I mean – after all, this is all ancillary to the experience of drinking wine! To me, it includes books and articles about tasting and appreciating wine, books and articles about the history of wine, books and articles about making wine, books and articles about viticulture, and books and articles about the business of selling wine.

Of course, for those of us who aren’t really in the business, books and articles about wine tasting and appreciation, and perhaps about wine history are our focus. What follows is a short, almost abbreviated (believe me, it is), and highly idiosyncratic, list of books and periodicals on various aspects of wine that I have enjoyed or found useful over the years. Some of the books fit into more than one category, and most of these books are not the current things you’ll find touted. It’s a bit of a library assembled over more than 40 years, and it encompasses almost every level of knowledge (except the most technical).

Tasting and Appreciation (mostly appreciation, mostly California)

Amerine, Maynard .A. and Singleton, Vernon.: Wine: An Introduction. 2nd ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Pess (“UC”) 1977. Basic book, dated but still useful. I cut my teeth on the original 1965 edition, but it got lost in a move somewhere along the line.

Muscatine, Doris, Amerine, M.A., Thompson B, eds. The University of California- Sotheby Book of California Wine. Berkeley, CA UC 1984. A wonderful coffee-table-sized collection of articles written for this book by 44 leading authorities. Again, this is not current, but it is indispensible for the serious student in almost every area of a wine education, at least concerning California wine. In preparing my notes I had occasion to revisit this, and am amazed how good it is.

Thompson, Bob. The Pocket Encyclopedia of California Wine. New York. Simon & Schuster 1980, rev. ed. 1985. I like Thompson and think of him as perhaps the best writer on California Wine of the last quarter of the 20th century. I recommend several of his books, as you’ll see. This was intended as a companion to the Hugh Johnson pocket book, one of several for many regions of the world published in the ‘80s, few of which even saw a second edition. It’s a pity, because this was quite good in the same way Johnson’s book was and is.

Thompson, Bob and Johnson, Hugh. The California Wine Book. New York. William Morrow & Co. 1976. A now-old essential. There is nothing even close to as good as this on the better wines of California from the end of Prohibition through the time of its completion in late 1975. Some history, but, really it’s now most useful for a snapshot of the best writers’ understanding of the wines as the first real fruits of the Wine Renaissance in California began to mature.

Thompson, Bob. Notes on a California Cellarbook: Reflections on Memorable Wines. New York. Beech Tree Books/William Morrow. 1988. You want tasting notes on California Wines? None better available, though they’re limited by the date of publication. While you probably won’t get to drink many (any?) of these wines, as you develop your palate and come to know Thompson’s style, you can get some idea of how wines you’re currently drinking and/or evaluating compare to the wines Bob describes, and their life cycles. Perhaps because I overlap Thompson’s tasting period, and because my ideas about the life cycle of traditionally made California Cabernet Sauvignon are consistent with his, I have always found his notes extremely valuable (even when I don’t agree) in considering the aging potential of wines. Good notes, from someone you trust – like Thompson for me – are almost an addition to your own taste memory.

Tasting and Appreciation (mostly appreciation, mostly elsewhere)

Coates, Clive. The Wines of Bordeaux. Berkeley. UC. 2004. One of the best books on Bordeaux. Much better than Parker or Peppercorn (whose reputation was tarnished because he did not think highly of the 1982s, but who was really pretty good), this is a book every serious drinker of claret should have.

Coates. Clive. The Wines of Burgundy. Berkeley. UC 2008. The most up to date serious book on Burgundy. If you like Pinot Noir, you should get this and drink deep of his knowledge.

Hanson, Anthony. Burgundy. London. Faber and Faber. 1982. A controversial book at the time, I think Hanson was pretty good.

Johnson, Hugh. Wine. New York. Simon & Schuster. 1966. This is the first American edition. Hugh is one of the best, and one who has appreciated California wine more and longer than many English wine writers. I wouldn’t look for this oldie, but I’d get the latest edition of his Wine Companion (2003).

Johnson, Hugh. Pocket Wine Book 2008. London. Mitchell Beazley. 2008. This has been published in annual editions since 1977. It’s small and handy, and remarkably useful, though hardly an in-depth book for study. Used to be called the Pocket Encyclopedia of Wine, which was pretty accurate. There’s nothing like it that his endured. I get the current one every year (someone always stuffs my Christmas stocking with one…) and have kept most of the old ones, which make an interesting set of references to changing reputations and tastes.

Livingstone-Learmonth, J. and Master, M.C.H., The Wines of the Rhone. London. Faber and Faber. 1983 (rev. ed). This was another in the generally good Faber series on wine published in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

[There is a newer Livingstone-Learmonth book on Rhone wines that should definitely supplement and probably replace the above, this time with well known importer Kermit Lynch: The Wines of the Northern Rhone. Berkeley. UC. 2005. I don't have this yet, but will probably look into it in the Fall]

Peppercorn, David. Bordeaux. London. Faber and Faber. 1982. Despite Peppercorn’s having been dumped by the public for Parker, this is a good book.

Robertson, George. Port. London. Faber and Faber. 1982 (rev. ed). Really very good book on port, perhaps the best of the Faber books on wine.

Sainstsbury, George. Notes on a Cellar-Book. London. Macmillan 1963 (with Andrew Graham preface – originally 1920). This is the grandfather of all great wine writing, and a book that every enophile should own and read this both for the historical background it contains, and the broad and wise education in wine generally you can glean from it. Prof. Saintsbury has generally been acknowledged as one of the greatest writers on wine ever. I dip into it from time to time and always come away glad I did. Saintsbury and Shand (see below) help form the knowledge bridge between the 19th century wines and those of our own day, and are essential to understanding the evolution of wine style – though some of that has to be teased out, I’ll admit.


Tasting and Appreciation (mostly formal tasting)

Amerine, Maynard A. and Roessler, Edward B. Wines: Their Sensory Evaluation. New York. W.H. Freeman & Co. revised & enlarged ed. 1983. Better than the original 1976 edition. I’ve touted this on the forums before. Anyone who tastes seriously should read this book carefully more than once. The first five chapters and the Glossary are not especially technical (though much of the book is). This is truly pioneering work and has advanced the state of the art in being able to describe and talk about wines in a way that is consistent and communicates usable information, not purely subjective descriptions. This book explains the various Davis scorecards and their tasting methods. The ultimate antidote to Parker’s descriptions.

Broadbent, Michael. The Complete Guide to Wine Tasting and Wine Cellars. New York. Simon & Schuster 1984. (Revised from his 1968 Wine Tasting and his 1982 Michael Broadbent’s Pocket Guide to Wine Tasting.) An English view. This was given to me as a gift, but I found it reasonably useful. I like the illustrations (pictures?) of various selected wines showing color variation in the glass as young and older wines. I’ve never seen anything like it, and have used it as a teaching tool.

Peynaud, Emile. The Taste of Wine: The Art and Science of Wine Appreciation. New York. J. Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2nd ed.1996 (English translation by Michael Schuster of French original). This is the French counterpart to the Amerine & Roessler, newer, and very good. This volume, too, should be on every serious taster’s shelf, and be read more than once.

History of Wine

This encompasses some books that were intended as histories and, more, books that were topical, appreciation books and buying guides at the time they were issued, but are now of only historical interest. I wouldn’t run out and buy many of them, but if you seem them in a used bookstore, or in a library, they may well be worth your time to look at. You could also consider some of the books in the appreciation section as historical.

Bancroft Library Oral History Series. I would also highly recommend that those who are interested in the ins and outs of California wine and hearing it from the horses’ mouths, as it were, check out the University of California’s Bancroft Library Oral History series. We’ve linked some of them on the RPM Notes page of the website. There are many more. Google “wine oral history”, or go to http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/ROHO/projects/food_wine/ and you will find them. They were recorded beginning in 1969 and continue to the present.

Adams, Leon D. The Wines of America. New York. McGraw-Hill 2nd ed. 1978. Adams was involved in wine from the late 1920s on as a publicist and writer. He knew everyone and everything, almost, at all levels of the business. Involved with the Wine Institute for many years, Adams was in the best position to have the most comprehensive knowledge of the industry and the wines. This book is good on history and the state of play in the 1970s. You should be able to find this used for next to nothing. As good as this is, though, for the historically-minded, Adams’ UC Oral history (see the page on RPM Notes on the website) is even better.

Balzar, Robert Lawrence. Wines of California. New York. Harry N. Abrams. 1978. A nice late-70s coffee table book with lots of pictures. Balzar was an important, well-connected and knowledgeable Los Angeles based wine writer in the third quarter of the 20th century. I like it for the picture of great uncle Tony, but it really is a pretty good book.

Chroman, Nathan. The Treasury of American Wines. New York. Crown. 1973. Another large format book by another well known wine writer of the same period as Balzar, with similarly wide contacts. Nice capsules on wineries.

Pinney, Thomas. A History of Wine in America. Berkeley. UC 2007 (2nd edition) 2 volumes. If you’re only buying one real wine history book, get this while it’s still in print. This is the most comprehensive and complete reference work available.

Shand, P. Morton. A Book of French Wines. New York: Knopf 1928. a bit of a tease for Americans during Prohibition, Shand was a fine and well-regarded wine writer of the first half of the 20th century. This is about French wine, but it’s a fun read as a counterpoint to Sainstbury (who was writing at the same time, but much older).

Younger, William. Gods, Men and Wine. Cleveland OH. World 1966 (in association with The Wine and Food Society Ltd.) This is another large format book, not so heavily color illustrated that I’d call it a coffee table book, but very interesting on the mostly European history of wine from ancient times on.

Winemaking

There are a lot of books about home winemaking, and less than technical books on winemaking, but I’ve never looked at them much. Here’s the real stuff:

Amerine, Maynard A. and Joslyn, Maynard A. Table Wines: The Technology of their Production. Berkeley. UC 2nd ed. 1970. (First edition was 1951). The Bible for California winemakers for a very long time, written by the guys at UC (Davis and Berkeley) who were the heart and soul of enology for more than 50 years. It’s now, lamentably, a bit out of date.

Boulton, Roger, et. al. Principles and Practices of Winemaking. New York. Springer 1996. A modern Bible of winemaking. I haven’t studied this one the way I have spent time with the Amerine and Joslyn. This would probably be the book to get now if you’re serious about learning winemaking.

Cruess, W. V., Joslyn, M.A. and Saywell, L.G. Laboratory Examination of Wines and other Fermented Fruit Products. New York. AVI Publishing. 1934 Hopelessly out of date – a ringer from the books my Father used as a winemaker. Cruess was one of the original UC heavyweights.

Ribereau-Gayon, et. al. ed. Handbook of Enology. New York. Wiley. 2006 (2nd ed) 2 volumes. Another modern professional reference.

Viticulture

Novitski, Jospeh and Pavloff, Nick. A Vineyard Year. San Francisco. Chronicle Books. nd. This is for the wine lover, full of interesting text and photos. I think it dates to 1982 or 1983. It’s makes a nice read/look. Farming is work, people….

Winkler, A.J., et. al. General Viticulture. Berkeley. UC 2nd ed 1974. Long the standard reference, this is somewhat long in the tooth by now. I don’t keep up in this area. We’ll have to ask some of the growers we’re meeting with for updated references.

In this category, too, I put the various wine atlases, of which by far the best is:

Johnson, Hugh, and Robinson, Janis. The World Atlas of Wine: Completely Revised and Updated. London. Mitchell Beazley. 6th ed 2007. This really is wonderful. I need to get the updated version.

Wine-tasting in 8 words:
Pull lots of corks!
Remember what you taste!

MarkDaSpark


quality posts: 181 Private Messages MarkDaSpark

Thanks RPM for the notes! They really did help (especially reading before we got there!)


Someone has to put WD's kids thru college, but why does it have to be me!
*This post is for purposes of enabling only, and does not constitute any promise of helping pay for said enabling. It does indicate willingness to assist in drinking said wine.