Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Wine Review: Pizza and Chionetti


“This wine is made for food”, the first words out of Paul’s mouth with a piece of prosciutto and a sip of the 2013 Chionetti San Luigi Dogliani DOCG. The proscuitto ended up on our pizza with other Italian meats. The wine, well it was a perfect pairing.

The 2013 Chionetti is 100% Dolcetto from the Dogliani a territory of Langhe, Piedmont, Italy. The aromas escaping from the glass were that of maraschino cherries, blackberry and spice. The palate was layered with bing cherry, raspberry, black cherry, plum, blackberry pie and baking spices.



The reason why I say this wine goes so well with the pizza because the acidity of the wine really cuts into the saltiness of the Italian meats thus rounding out all the flavors in your mouth. The next time you are looking for a good red wine to have with your pizza, I suggest picking up a bottle of the 2013 Chionetti. SRP $23

Friday, March 24, 2017

Napa by Appointment: Bell Wine Cellars


I recently spent a few days in Napa before heading to the bay area for a party. Every stop we made was pre-arrange by appointment. This is a wonderful way to experience the wineries! There was no cattle call, making your way to the tasting room bar and the people taking care of us were truly interested in us and what our wine preferences were. We felt like family.



Bell Wine Cellars is new to me. My friend Colleen Topper is their wine club manager. So how do I know Colleen? Would you believe over a wine label. Yes, way back in 1998 after a trip to Napa I wanted to join a wine club and I liked the label of their winery Goosecross and they could ship to New York. (They sold Goosecross a few years ago) When Paul and I were planning another trip out to Napa a few years later Colleen sent me info and suggestions on lodging and things to do for the area. I thought that was totally above and beyond. Then come to find out in a discussion, her husband David and I lived in New Rochelle and moved him to California, me to Wappingers Falls, NY at the same time. Small world! This is how a friendship was born almost 20 years ago.

Colleen included her business card in her Christmas card, so of course we had to visit. Right off the plane (and it was a long flight with head winds) I figured we would have time to stop at my favorite fish taco stand Gotts before heading to Bell Wine Cellars. Those head winds took care of our lunch, so we had to drive directly to our tasting, no stopping at go, no food for our belly.

Anthony and Sandra Bell began in their winery in 1991. Anthony is from the Stellenbosch region of South Africa. His family owned a wine farm there and after completing his viticultural degree from Stellenbosch University he came to the states and got his Masters in enology at U.C. Davis. He began working at Beaulieu Vineyard (BV)and became their general manager that put BV on the map by conducting research into the differences and impact of clonal variations on Cabernet Sauvignon. 

The tastings take place in the barrel room and they have an outdoor area for the summer. Tastings are by appointment only and this allows them better crowd control so it’s a much better and a much more enjoyable experience all around.

One of the things I noticed is there are two different labels on their bottles. One is black one is white. Most of the white paper labels are distributed nationally while the black labels are only available in the winery and to the wine club.

Overall the wines were stellar. They are made predominantly in a european style. They are elegant with nice expression of fruit, not jammy. We were treated to the extensive tasting below accompanied by a delicious cheese platter that paired very well with the wines.

2016 Sauvignon Blanc The grapes are sourced from Mello Vineyard in Yountville. The wine has a beautiful nose of pineapple, lemon and hints of white flowers, While 62% barrel fermented for 1 month in 25% new French oak, the remaining was in stainless steel. Not overly acidic and very elegant with flavors of grapefuit, and hints of lemon and pineapple. SRP $35




2014 Chardonnay is soft yet fun and very Burgundian. The restrained use of oak, combined with the wine not laying on the lees during barrel aging brings out the tropical, melon and citrus flavors of the wine. There is a soft roundness of the wine due to 25% going through malo-lactic fermentation. With 50% of the wine aging in stainless steel, the mixture really keeps the wine fresh and lively with nice expression of the fruit. SRP $45




2014 Block 6 Syrah from the Sierra Foothills had such a deep dark color. I knew instantly I was going to get purple teeth. Paul thinks it’s the best wine we’ve tried so far. Beautiful black cherry and black currants with a hint of chocolate, soft on your palate and very well balanced. SRP $60

2014 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley is a nice Bordeaux blend 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc 3% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot and 3% Malbec hand picked from their finest barrels. Complex with nice hints of mocha and black fruit. Good integration of tannins that bring the layers together. SRP $90




Now for Anthony’s specialty, the single clone varietals 6,7,337. Clone 6 is Bell’s best acclaimed and many awards have been won for it. This clone has least amount of berries but the best concentration. A little about the what a clone is. The Cabernet Sauvignon vine has mutated over hundreds of years and as the mutate their DNA changes. The French came up with a system to call them all clones and giving them all numbers. Anthony’s undergraduate degree he did extensive study of clones. After receiving his Masters, Beaulieu Vineyard (BV) hired him to to be in charge of their vineyards and raise the quality of their Cabernet Sauvignon. Today Andy Beckstoffer owns the vineyards of BV and Bell purchase the clones from him. All the grapes are picked separately and made separately.




2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 6 has lovely nose that shows the earth leading to a palate of rich black cherry, hints of herbs. Spent 19 months in French oak of which 85% is new. Very elegant and something you want to age. SRP $200

 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 337 a bit different from Clone 6. Slightly more fruit driven on the palate with layers of black and red fruit with a hint of anise. SRP $160

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 7 wow, what nose of black raspberry, clove and earthy notes. The palate is complex with black and red fruit layered with hints of oak throughout. Strong notes of black cherry on the finish. $150

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Handprints from the Vineyard




My UPS driver brings me many boxes with wine in it, but this box was different! It was from The Meeker Vineyard for the next #winestudio program and I opened it with the help of my 7 year old neighbor who happened to be over. Lily is seven and knows nothing about wine, and she shouldn’t. However,the expression on her face when she saw the bottle of the 2013 Handprint Merlot was priceless! She did the touchy feely thing (as did I) and admired how beautiful it its with the rainbow of colors and texture looking at the bottle with her big eyes. Come to find out the winemaker Lucas Meeker handprints every single bottle. I can only imagine the time and effort put into the bottle art, what is inside must be really good!

For two weeks on Tuesday evenings I spent on twitter with Lucas and Kelly Meeker and the rest of the #winestudio gang. I have to say, I felt like old friends sitting in their living room discussing and tasting their wines and talking about life.

Charlie and Molly Meeker founded the Meeker Vineyard when they purchased their first vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley in 1977. At that time Charlie was working for MGM Studios in Los Angeles and would travel up to the vineyard on the weekends to make wine and tend to the vines. In 1984 their winery was established. Their original winery was a 1664 square foot building with no tasting room but they welcomed visitors in their lab. As the trend moved towards wine tourism, they built a 40 foot tall tipi next to the winery and used it for their tasting room. Today their tasting room is located in downtown Healdsburg, CA in an historic bank that was built in the 1800s. It’s just off the square. They produce 5000 cases of wine annually and focus on elegant structured wines. They believe that each wine has it’s own personality and that should be expressed through it’s packaging.


We tasted three of their wines and the first two I tasted with the winemakers in the Hudson Valley. I share and it was after tank samples of Hudson Valley hybrid whites! I think it’s important that other winemakers see and taste what others are doing regardless of location. They had some technical questions that I asked Lucas, and answers were shared.

The 2013 Hoskins Ranch Grenache is 100% Grenache from Harold Hoskin’s farm at the south end of the Dry Creek Valley. Since Grenache has super vigorous, they pass over it three times to drop fruit. This is so the grapes that are hanging get enough nutrients to bring out their intense flavor. The wine was aged in 22 months of once used and neutral French and American oak. There are only 287 case made. The wine is delicious! It will take anyone out of a bad mood. Aromas of strawberry, cherry lead to a mouth of full of luscious red fruit, cranberries, strawberries, cherry, rhubarb very well balanced with nice acidity and an elegant finish. SRP $37

Moving onto the 2013 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Franc sourced from Bob Pedroni’s vineyard grown in red dirt and over 30 year old vines. They aggressively leaf pull the Cabernet Franc to give it exposure to the sun. According to Doug Glorie of Glorie Farm Winery “this Cabernet Franc is your typical California Cab Franc, ripe plum,and sweet jammy” My palate however didn’t get the sweet jammy notes. I did get some green pepper notes with violet on the bouquet, some black cherry, and cassis and lots of tannins. This wine will age for at least 5 years. SRP $45

Now for my favorite bottle and yes I would purchase this bottle just based on the design - the 2013 Winemaker’s Handprint Merlot. To achieve more complexity Lucas blended 85.72% Merlot with 7.14% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7.14% Syrah. This really comes out in the layers of black fruit in the wine. The wine is nicely balanced with layers of blueberry, plum, blackberry, black currant and vanilla. As the wine open up the blackberry shines through nice and ripe and there is a hint of mocha. SRP 45

It so happens two days before tasting the 2013 Handprint Merlot I was at an event at Crew in Poughkeepsie and Chef/Owner Thomas Kacherski pulled out a magnum of 2008 Handprint Merlot. I was so excited! This had great expressions of blue and black fruit with sharp tannins. This bottle believe it or not could probably go a few more years in the bottle. According to Lucas the 06 and 08 were very tannic years.

It takes Lucas and his team 1.5 hours to handprint one pallet which is 56 cases of Merlot and another 2 hours to tissue wrap each bottle. They do this at least one day a week. The larger format bottles also include the handprint of the team along with the winemakers. Here’s a video on the handprint process https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3AlHnCoumg

This was my first time tasting Meeker’s wines and I look forward to tasting more and perhaps visiting when I’m out that way in November.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Stoutridge Winery to Open Distillery

I stopped in an saw Steve and Kim over at Stoutridge Winery and checked out their new distilling operation. Steve is one of the most enthusiastic and passionate person when it comes to everything he does. Please listen to the podcast because my summary is nothing compared to the information imparted by Steve during my tour.

A little back history, Steve and Kim have always been interested in making natural wine with no chemical alterations where terroir is better expressed by these naturally made wines. They didn’t expect it to be successful. When they set out eleven years ago they built a distillery attached to the winery to make spirits when the winery failed them.

Now 11 years later, they had a moment, what are we going to do. Should they go onto distilling. Steve says there are parallels in distilling to the way they make wine. They decided in keeping to their focus of naturally made, they will naturally produced whiskey but they needed to add to the distillery they already had to accomplish this.


Steve goes on to show me the process on how he is making his whiskey and a tour of the facility.

  • Dump grain into the grinder.
  • The grinder blows it into a cooking tank. You cook it to soften it.
  • Add enzymes that convert starches to sugar.
  • Put it into fermenters. This becomes sugar water.
  • Then they put it into stainless steel tanks they purchased from Benmarl, which were their original tanks that date back to 1960.
  • Then into the stills.



To make a complex whiskey you need to soften the grain to germinate them to create the enzymes. So they built a malt house to accomplish this. The process is:

  • Dunk the grain in water to hydrate it in the dunking tank. Lay the grain in the dunking tank for about a day in a half.
  • Dumped on the malt floor which will maintain a temperature of 60 degrees.
  • The malt gets raked and moved to a new quadrants each day until it has been in all four quadrants.


Next step is drying it in the kiln. They fit the kiln with a screen on the floor depending on the type of grain they are using. Then he heads to the basement and decides what he wants to smoke it with.


When it’s done drying they shovel it out the back and knock the rootlets off. The malt then gets crushed and dumped into the cooker. Instead of fermenting in stainless steel they are fermenting in wood with an open top. The fermention will take on the characteristic of the distillery because of the bioam in the air. They want to develop complexicity in the whiskey.

The single malt whiskey will then head to old Pinot Noir barrels from Oregon for aging.


They have built a massive store room for all their spirits to be aged and stored. It’s a heck of a warehouse and he plans of filling up all the space.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Millbrook Vineyard & Winery's John Graziano Wins "Grower Award"


I am so lucky to be involved with the Hudson Valley wine industry. It’s moments like this that I feel so fortunate, and it’s when I’m honoring someone that it brings tears to my eyes.

John Graziano has been Millbrook Vineyard & Winery’s winemaker and vineyard manager since the beginning. He’s the one and only winemaker/vineyard manager at Millbrook. A few weeks ago he was honored by the New York Wine & Grape Foundation at their Unity Banquet receiving the Grower Award. The Unity Banquet was created about 30 years ago to recognize, encourage and celebrate cooperation among grape growers, wineries, grape juice producers and others to advance the entire industry. Nominated by Michael and Yancey Migliore of Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery, John was awarded the Grower Award which recognizes vineyardists who have made exceptional contributions to the New York grape and wine industry. John is a winegrower who manages everything from the vineyard to the cellar at Millbrook.

John couldn’t make it to the Unity Banquet, I didn’t either, but the award was passed to me to present to John. On Thursday, March 9, I stopped in at Millbrook and John was labeling some Pinot Noir for a private label client. He stopped what he was doing and I presented the award to him. I wish I had my camera out at the time to capture the moment. I wanted to do a Facebook Live broadcast but I knew if I did, he would have ran and hid behind the barrels.

When John opened the box the award was in, the expression on his face choked me up and my eyes swelled up with tears of joy. I’m sure John didn’t know I was observing so intently, but the look of pride and accomplishment on his face and I’m sure a tear or two in his eyes was one of the happiest moments I’ve experienced in the Hudson Valley wine industry. Congratulations John it’s well deserved!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Living the American Dream: Ordaz Family Wines


People immigrate to the United States to “live the American Dream,” I know that is what my grandfather did immigrating from Hungary in the 1920’s and that is what Jesus (Chuy) Ordaz did in the 70’s.

One day you’ll make it, the border patrol told Jesus Ordaz and double threes was the charm - the thirty third time he made it safely into the United States. His first job, chopping wood at Korbel Cellars in Sonoma County for $150 day. Six months later he moved to Kenwood Winery as a grape picker. While at Kenwood, John Sheela had noticed that Chuy was a leader and promoted him to foreman. Over the next thirty years Chuy worked with John Sheela and his brother-in-laws Mike and Marty Lee overseeing all the vineyards that Kenwood owned or purchased fruit from and became a pioneer in organic farming. He also met and married his American wife Beverly Young shortly after arriving in Sonoma gaining legal status.

In the late 1990’s Chuy got his farm labor contractor license and began his own vineyard management company. Today they have 50 employees and manage 400 acres of vineyards. His son Eppie joined his dad in the business after a short career in Accounting. Having worked with his dad summers growing up, the partner in the accounting firm said to Eppie “Why would you work here when you can make,” and he realized that is where his heart and passion was.

They began sourcing grapes from the sites they managed. Eppie wants to showcase his dad’s 43 years of nurturing the vines to as many people as possible. Everything they do has to be one vineyard bottling because they want to showcase the vineyard and the people who work it. Today in addition of managing the vineyards they also source fruit from, they are looking to purchase a vineyard to call home.

During our #WineStudio program we tasting two of Ordaz Family Wines.  I was very impressed with the quality and love that goes into each wine.

The 2014 Pinot Noir comes from the Placida Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. It’s a 9 acre plot Chuy planted in 2003 in Sebastopol named after their grandmother. The wine shines, shimmers and dances in the glass. Aromas of strawberry, cranberries, vanilla and clove escape from the glass. Flavors of strawberry, bright cherry, cranberries dance on your palate. Nice acidity with a hint of baking spices and earth on the finish.  SRP $38

Wanting to produce a red wine that would stand out, something that wasn't heavily produced in the region, they decided on Malbec. The Ordaz Family 2012 Sonoma Valley, Sandoval Vineyard Malbec comes from a 2 acre, 30 year old site on Sonoma Mountain that was planted in 1990 when the Malbec grape had great promise in Sonoma. It is lightly seasoned from 4 to 6 months in French oak. Aromas of dark cherry, dark fruit, plum and a touch of mocha fill the glass. Flavors of raspberry, black fruit combined with soft tannins fill your mouth. There were only 135 cases produced of this Malbec and there are 40 cases left. SRP $25

Friday, March 3, 2017

What the California Rains Mean to the Vineyards


This has been a challenging winter in California.  It seems it’s either feast of famine when it comes to rain. I’ve been visiting California yearly for 37 years and I must say I have never seen it so green.

Before my trip out I was watching the weather reports of all the flooding in the Napa area and really all over California.  I was more concerned about Napa because I was going out to visit. Friends were posting about road closures and pictures of them wading through knee deep water just to leave work at the winery.

My concerns were not just for my upcoming trip, but for the vines.  What does all this rain mean for the vines?  I know if it was during harvest it would be devastating to the grapes but it’s February and the vines are sleeping just getting ready to awaken.

When I was at my first winery appointment at Bell Cellars and as we drove down to the winery, we passed Hopper Creak and there vines were clearly sitting in water for a while. I asked Colleen what all this rain means for the 2017 season.

Right now she said, nothing now because they are dormant. However, if they are water logged, like at Hopper Creek that can lead to bunch rot and mildew.  If there is to much water it will clog the roots and they can’t get enough oxygen up into the vine and this will cause problems with the root rotting.

So for the most part as long as it begins to dry out now, there shouldn’t be a problem with the vines.