Insane Lightening

Wild fires? I was hoping it would be quite a while before I had to cover this topic again. Mother Nature hit with a vengeance in mid August. The late summer storm was a nice surprise, but not for the Hennessey Fire survivors. The 12,000 lightening strikes in four days across Northern California was insane! (That’s a National Weather Service quote, by the way). The resulting 585 wildfires produced 18 large infernos, one of which was the Hennessey Fire.

Close Call

Today’s podcast features two wineries who “miraculously” survived the firestorm, Green and Red Vineyard & Nichelini Family Winery of Napa’s Chile’s Valley, not far from Lake Hennessey.  As you’ll learn, I have come to know both of these families and have conducted multiple interviews with them in the past. Because of that fact I was keeping a close eye on the active fire maps around both wineries during that harrowing week to 10 days as fires raged in both Napa and Sonoma Counties. Other firestorms picked up elsewhere in the state during that period as well.

Thankfully, both survived thanks to valiant help from Cal Fire, volunteer fire men and women, and the owners themselves. Click the play button to hear the families share their harrowing stories.

 

Green and Red Vineyard

 

Hennessey Fire

The terraced rows of Green and Red’s unique Tip Top Vineyard.

Hennessey Fire

You can see how close the fire came to the Tip Top Vineyard, stopping at the road.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The fire was close enough to singe some of the leaves but didn’t burn the vines. Smoke tainted grapes are now the concern.

Like many vineyards, Green and Red has a vineyard dog. Uno is small but he’s mighty! He makes an appearance during the interview.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The day I joined the crew for harvest. From L to R, Ray Hannigan, Tobin Heminway, Mary Kate, winemaker Mike Penn and me.

Processing the Syrah grapes. There’s an optimistic feeling that the grapes may have escaped smoke taint.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nichelini Family Winery

 

Hennessey Fire

The historic Nichelini home and winery previously on a sunny day.

As it looks today. You can see the blackened ridge behind the home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hennessey Fire

Family member Kenny Wainright does his part to save the winery. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Hennessey Fire

Across the street from the winery from the hillside. You can hardly make out the winery on the road. The fire was on all sides.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5th generation winemaker Aimee Sunseri in front of the winery’s original Roman wine press. Thankfully the winery and home survived and can continue the 130 year legacy. (Photo-Napa Valley Register)

I met Mike Tracy at an industry party on a cool February evening, prior to the coronoavirus altering our social activities. It’s common to meet people of various winery positions at these after hours gatherings. I’ve struck up the occasional friendship during one of these evenings. He’s a pleasant guy, smart, and when he told me which wineries he works with it raised my eyebrows. Not one, not two, but FOUR high-end Napa Valley wineries. That’s what led to this interview.

Mike Tracy’s boss (bosses)?  Married winemaking couple Mark Porembski and Jennifer Williams Porembski. The three of them have an enviable business, and friend, relationship. What are the duties of an assistant winemaker? (Often they do as much or more hands-on work than the winemaker).

Which esteemed wine brands do the three of them craft? Well, you’ll just have to listen to discover the answer. And when this whole virus era settles down, I can’t wait to try more of them with Mike. Press play to join us safely on the wine road.

 

Mike Tracy

I traveled 2000 feet above Napa Valley to the peak of Spring Mountain to meet up with the mountain men of Schweiger Vineyards. You’ll find peaceful, picturesque views from their tasting room in the center of their rolling mountaintop vineyard.

As father and son, Fred and Andy have been working the property, with wife and mother Sally, since the 70s. As you can imagine, they have plenty of stories to tell. You’ll find their wines are an excellent representation the complex soil of Spring Mountain – full, flavorful and complex.  I am impressed with the close relationship with their club members – who’s suggestions often get put into action by the family. For more details, visit their website here.

As it was planned, this interview aired on Father’s Day weekend. Here’s to the mountain men of Schweiger Vineyards!

 

Schweiger VIneyards

The Tasting Room that Fred Built

 

Schweiger Vineyards

Inside the tasting room during our recording

A portion of their vineyard, looking west

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Their palate pleasing Bordelais blend, Dedication

Looking for intrigue, self-preservation and humor? It’s here, with interviews concerning The Wine Spies, HALOmask, and T.P. Reserve Wine.

I talk with Agent Red of The Wine Spies. Each day they present a tempting, world-class wine at discounted prices. How do they do it? Through covert missions and cleverly gathered intel.

On a side topic, Agent Red’s personal mission is protecting our health with HALOmask, the most protective, easy to wear face mask. He explains how the proprietary engineering sets them apart from other masks.

Then you’ll hear about a whimsical wine brand from a serious Napa Valley winemaker – Grant Long Jr.’s T.P. Reserve Wine. He chose to put a smile on our faces during these sobering times. What’s more, he and his team created a detailed video, the efforts of which I think you’ll find impressive. It’s below.

Another Wine Uncorked feature is also included. It’s all waiting for you behind the Play button.

 

The Wine Spies

 

 

 

 

 

T.P. Reserve Wine

For the T.P. Reserve Wine video click here

Wine Spies, HALOwines, & T.P. Reserve Wine

For the Roman mosaic tile images from Wine Uncorked click here.

 

 

 

 

Save The Family Farms

This is audio from my radio show that aired on Saturday, June 13th. Elise Nerlove Rutchick  of Elkhorn Peak Cellars shared details of the initiative to Save The Family Farms. Their goal is to convince the Napa County Supervisors to adjust the Winery Ordinance Directive (WOD) making less expensive, thereby easier, for smaller family winegrowers to host guests for wine tastings and sales.

I look forward to seeing how this endeavor progresses.

The ZAP Interviews – Robert Biale Vineyards

Each year in San Francisco Zinfandel Advocates and Producers host ZinEX, aka the Zinfandel Experience. The past few years I’ve interviewed zinfandel winemakers and growers to help promote the event.

This podcast will be the first of two featuring this year’s guests. Napa Valley’s Robert “Bob” Biale filled the full hour of my radio show, so he’ll be the only guest on this podcast.

His Italian immigrant family has a rich history in Napa. As you’ll hear, early challenges inspired Bob’s father to get creative, selling wine clandestinely…without a permit. That audacious move led to their successful flagship wine, Robert Biale Vineyards‘ Black Chicken. It’s one of many colorful tales offered by those in the wine industry. Hit Play to hear this gracious man share his story and his love of zinfandel.

Robert Biale


Robert Biale Vineyards flagship wine

And yes, there are black chickens on the property.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of several seating areas at Robert Biale Vineyards.

The 1940 Studebaker you’ll hear about in the interview.

 

This is a shorter podcast that features the Mount View Hotel and Spa in Calistoga, Napa Valley. It’s an historic, beautifully designed art deco hotel that offers many enticing experiences for their guests.

This interview aired on my radio show last Saturday and I wanted you to hear it in case you’re panning a trip to Napa Valley or Sonoma in the coming weeks. On April 1st, The Mount View is offering a one of a kind experience that combines wine tasting, a film, dinner – featuring one of the performers in the film, and a night’s stay at the hotel. Scroll down to see the flyer for this full day of enjoyment.

If you can’t make it that night keep the Mount View in mind for a future stay. I hope to see you there on April 1st!

 

Young Indie Blue, Michael and Stephanie Woods

The lobby of the Mount View Hotel and Spa

The stylish lobby

The Indie Blue Salon at the Mount View Hotel and Spa

The Indie Blue Lounge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cottage Spa

The Mount View Pool

The Mount View Pool

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Spa Cat

One of the beautifully decorated rooms

One of their beautifully decorated rooms

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m mixing it up on this podcast with Ace Premium Cider and Harvest on Spring Mountain Vineyard.

For you hard cider fans, you’ll get a kick out of hearing from founder Jeffrey House. The former Brit brought his cider knowledge to the U.S. in the 1970s and opened Ace Premium Craft Cider in 1993. With his sons firmly in place Ace is still a family run business, now in it’s second generation.

Then you can join me on Spring Mountain Vineyard during harvest with their longtime vineyard manager, Ron Rosenbrand. You’ll hear about the unique character of this 845 acre property and how this year’s growing season was for their Bordeaux varieties. Buckle up, it’s time to venture out On The Wine Road.

 

The Ace In The Hole pub

 

Apparently Ace In The Hole was the first!

 

The “harvest” moon early on one of many picking mornings.

Spring Mountain Vineyard Grape Harvest

Bins to fill with harvested grapes

Harvesting the grapes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Full bins waiting to be trucked to the winery

 

The sun begins to rise on the vineyard following harvest

 

As I travel this week I’m reaching into the archives to bring you two compelling interviews. UC Davis Professor Emerita Carole Meredith shares the story of how she, with a little help from others, solved the mystery of Zinfandel’s origin. If you enjoy investigative stories you’ll get a kick out of the many elements involved in her discovery.  In a nod to the original Croatian variety, Carole and her winemaker husband, Steve, bottle a version with their brand Lagier Meredith.

Kendall-Jackson‘s Winemaster Randy Ullom may not be a well-known name but it’s very likely you’ve tasted his creations, including the Chardonnay that has been the top seller in the U.S. for over 25 years straight. Who would have thought a ski trip to Chile would lead to nearly 3 decades of winemaking with one of the world’s most successful brands.

Another Wine Uncorked is also included. Let’s hit the road!

 

CK Mondavi and Family of Napa Valley is currently ranked at #16 in annual case production for US vintners. Needless to say, that’s large.

LaRue Wines of the Sonoma Coast region produces less than a thousand cases. Yep, that’s really small.

My guests are Randy Herron of CK Mondavi and Family, and Katy Wilson of LaRue. I thought it would be fascinating to hear the differences between these two brands. Randy crafts more than half a dozen varietals that are priced in the Value category. Katy focuses on cool climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir priced at the Luxury level. Nevertheless, these two share an easy going nature and make wines that are exceptional for their price range.

A Wine Uncorked feature is also included in the podcast. A little trivia gift from me to you.

 

LaRue Wines

With Katy during her 10th Anniversary Celebration

I was slow to develop a taste for Port and dessert wines. In retrospect that’s peculiar since I have a sweet tooth. Thankfully, I have seen the light and developed a taste for Port! For the last ten years it’s been my desire to have at least one bottle on the shelf and/or in the refrigerator. It also took a while for me to hear about Napa Valley’s own Port house, Prager Winery and Port Works.

They hit two milestones this year; their 40th anniversary, and Sweepstakes & Best of Class awards from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Tasting – the largest competition of American Wines in the world. It was their 10-year-old Tawny that grabbed the prize.

Winemaker Peter Prager shares the story of following their father’s dream to own a winery as he takes me through each of his Ports and dry Petite Sirah. What a way to start the day! Prager Winery and Port Works is a throwback to a simpler time in the valley and truly a unique experience. Join us at the tasting bar at Prager.

 

Prager Winery and Port Works Prager Winery and Port Works

It’s not intentional that this podcast was uploaded just a couple weeks after the movie Wine Country was released. Artesa Estate Vineyards and Winery is one of the wineries the ladies visited.

The fact is, their winemaker Ana Diogo-Draper was on my radio show in April, so she was next in line for my podcast. As you’ll hear, Artesa is influenced by Spain, Napa Valley and Portugal. You can taste those influences in the many wines Ana crafts. Varieties include Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Alberino, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, and a sparkling.

Join us in the tasting room to learn about Artesa Estate Vineyards and Winery, the rich history, and their delightful winemaker.

Learn more about the winery here.

Artesa Vineyars and Winery

My guest, winemaker Ana Diogo-Draper

 

 

Artesa Estate Vineyard and Winery

A portion of their tasting room

 

Artesa Estate Vineyard and Winery

The gift shop

Artesa Estate Vineyard and Winery

Additional tasting bar for events and overflow

 

 

One of several beautiful period paintings that hang in various tasting spaces

You can click on these photos to see a larger image

 

 

 

 

The Galatea we discuss. It’s 53% Tempranillo, 47% Cabernet Sauvignon and 100% delicious!

Jordan Vineyard and Winery is an ivy covered icon. It’s one of Sonoma County’s most stunning wineries fashioned after a French chateau. It stands boldly yet gracefully among the sweeping lawn, beautifully manicured trees, and recently planted cabernet sauvignon vineyard.

Needless to say, it was a pleasure to spend a couple of hours there interviewing CEO and family member John Jordan and winemaker Rob Davis. He and I chatted for 90 minutes, way more than I could squeeze into my one hour radio show. Fortunately, a majority of the outtakes can be heard in this podcast.  For you Napa wine history fans you’ll love the stories Rob shares about “the Dean of California Winemakers,” André Tchelistcheff.

As you listen you’ll understand the reasoning behind Wine Enthusiast Magazine choosing Jordan Vineyard and Winery as American Winery of the Year in 2014. Since they produced their first vintage in 1976 their wine has lived up to the elegance of the chateau.

To see their tours and tasting options, wine and so much more click here.

 

Jordan Vineyard and Winery

During the tasting and interview with Rob Davis

Jordan Vineyard and Winery

CEO and family member John Jordan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jordan Vineyard and Winery

 

 

Jordan Vineyard and Winery

When you walk through those French doors you’re elevated tasting experience will include award-winning wines and exceptional hospitality.

Jordan Vineyard and Winery

Jordan Vineyard and Winery

The directional sign at Vista Point that John and I reference.

 

Today we’ll travel two and a half hours east of Sonoma/Napa to the El Dorado County wine region in the Sierra Foothills. This lengthy podcast recorded in February will feature three vintners who are distinctly different. They are Chaim and Elisheva of C.G. Di Arie Vineyard and Winery, Kevin Jones of Lava Cap Winery, and Adam Smith of Skinner Vineyards and Winery. They are a good representation of the region’s wineries who are producing world class wines, and run by the nicest people you’ll ever want to hang with. To learn more about the region click here. Now, let’s head to the foothills!

 

A Trip to El Dorado County

On the deck, in the rain, with Kevin Jones of Lava Cap

A Trip to El Dorado County

Chaim and Elisheva of C. G. Di Arie Vineyard and Winery. Chaim is serving during their club party. Elisheva is in behind one of their wines that benefit great causes.

A Trip to El Dorado County

Winemaker Adam Smith of Skinner Vineyards stompin’ the grapes.

A Trip to El Dorado County

Making my way through the back roads of a vineyard on Friday. Dry and green.

A Trip to El Dorado County

Waking up Saturday to 7 inches of snow. Thankfully, it was expected…and beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Trip to El Dorado County

The wine club party at Lava Cap Winery in one side of their large barrel rooms.

A Trip to El Dorado County

A sample of Elisheva’s mixed media artwork. Her art hangs throughout C.G. Di Arie winery.

Trip to El Dorado County

I saw this photo of the snowfall that occurred at Lava Cap Winery a week before my trip. I’m glad it inspired me to rent an SUV and leave my coup at home.

On this podcast you’ll meet Nate Belden of Belden Barns.

He grew up on a farm but spent a number of his adult years working in New York and San Francisco. After a while he felt the unrelenting tug of country life once again. Although his wife Lauren grew up in New York City, surprisingly, she had a similar dream of living a rural life. But grape growing and Belden Barns wine isn’t their only focus. They partnered with Jenny and Vince Trotter to offer Farmstead Goods. Visit their website here.

Hear how Nate and Lauren’s yearning for country life came true as we talk…in the barn.

 

Belden Barns

The set up in the milking barn.

Belden Barns

There’s a good story about the reason for the Poetry Room. Ask them if you ever see Nate or Lauren

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belden Barns

Their vineyard atop magical Sonoma Mountain

 

This is one of the most unusual podcasts I’ve offered yet. Prompted by an invitation I spent 3 days exploring the village and area of Saratoga, California in San Francisco’s South Bay. This historic community is situated next to San Jose, Cupertino and Los Gatos in the Santa Cruz mountains south of Silicon Valley. From wineries and restaurants, to Japanese gardens, stables and a mysterious house, the area has a lot to offer. This is your invitation to ride along as my wife Meredith and I experience Saratoga.

 

Saratoga, CA

The Village of Saratoga on Sunday morning

Saratoga, CA

Our suite at the Saratoga Oaks Lodge

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saratoga, CA

Winter Berries at Hakone Estate and Gardens

 

Saratoga, CA

Plum Flower at Hakone Estate and Gardens

 

 

 

 

Saratoga, CA

With Shozo Kagoshima at Hakone Estate and Gardens

 

 

Saratoga, CA

The Lower House overlooking the Dry Garden at Hakone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saratoga, CA

In the Cooper-Garrod Tasting Room

 

 

 

 

 

Saratoga, CA

Winemaker Bill Cooper of Cooper-Garrod Estate Vineyards

 

 

 

Saratoga, CA

Horseback riding at Garrod Farms

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saratoga, CA

The many rooftops of the peculiar Winchester Mystery House as seen from an outdoor balcony

Saratoga, CA

One of the staircases that go nowhere in the Winchester Mystery House

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saratoga, CA

One of the original cabernet vines planted at Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello Estate overlooking the South Bay

 

 

 

 

 

Saratoga, CA

In the tasting room at Ridge Vineyards before our Estate Tasting

 

 

 

Saratoga, CA

Enjoying a wonderful dinner at Hero Ranch Kitchen. Look at those redwood tree plates!

I kick off 2019 with interviews from two wineries the Santa Rita Hills. You’ll meet Chad of Melville Vineyards and Bryan of Babcock Winery in the Santa Ynez Valley of California’s central coast.  Primary wine varieties are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. Bryan is also bottling Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc and a few surprises. Both offer sparkling wines when they’re not sold out.

This trip to Santa Barbara offered plenty of wine and craft beer options, blue skies, palm trees and the Funk Zone. The distinctive pleasures tied in well with Chad’s unconventional winemaking style and Bryan’s innovative vineyard management. Both are gaining high praise. Melville was chose by Wine&Spirits Magazine as one of the world’s Top 100 in 2018. Babcock has received some flattering press including Food&Wine and other respected publications.  Needless to say, they deserve your attention as well!

Two Wineries of the Santa Rita Hills

Interviewing Chad in the storage and fermentation building

Two Wineries of the Santa Rita Hills

Interviewing Bryan in the Vineyard Tasting Room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Wineries of the Santa Rita Hills

Babcock’s larger tasting room space

Two Wineries of the Santa Rita Hills

The outdoor patio of Melville’s winery tasting room

 

Two Wineries of the Santa Rita Hills

Babcock’s Soul Struck Lounge

Two Wineries of the Santa Rita Hills

Melville’s modern tasting room in Santa Barbara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Wineries of the Santa Rita Hills

One of the many spaces in Babcock’s hangar-sized tasting room that is jam packed with 20th century relics, some of which are for sale.

Two Wineries of the Santa Rita Hills

The Library Wine tasting room just off Melville’s barrel room

 

On this podcast you’ll hear my intimate conversation with winemaker and iconic wine producer, Michael Browne.

He gained fame with the highly respected Kosta Browne over the last 20 years. He has since moved on to a his own project Cirq. In this interview you’ll really get to know Michael, what drives him, why he loves Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley, and hear about past experiences that inspire his winemaking and fearless pursuit of his passions.

And what’s  up with those early 20th Century wine labels? He’ll explain…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes good things come in twos. It took over two years for me to nail down this interview with Warren Winiarski, I recorded over two hours of audio, and it took two visits to do so. Yet every minute I spent with him was a pleasure. You may be aware that Warren was the founder of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and it was his Cabernet Sauvignon that outscored the French Bordeaux wines in the famed Paris tasting of 1976. But that was early on. He has accomplished so much in his 90 years and, remarkably, continues to do so. He semi-retired in 2007 but is still involved with grape growing in his Napa Valley Arcadia Vineyard. He continues to learn yet his depth of knowledge is astounding, and the way his looks at life and winemaking is fascinating. Warren is engaging, charming, and kind of like a great uncle you rarely see but when you do you just want to give him a big hug…and drink his wine.

Author’s note: Here are the other California wines that made the final list of the Paris tasting based on an average of the judge’s scores in the Paris tasting, also known as The Judgement of Paris.

Red Category: Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello (5th), Heitz Wine Cellars Martha’s Vineyard (7th), Clos Du Val Winery (8th), Mayacamas Vineyards (9th), and Freemark Abby (10th).

White Category: Chateau Montelena (1st), Chalone Vineyard (3rd), Spring Mountain Vineyard (4th), Freemark Abby (6th), Veedercrest Vineyards (9th), David Bruce Winery (10th).

A exceptional accomplishment to those who were entered!

Warren Winiarski

Warren Winiarski

Warren’s Arcadia Vineyards was hit hard by the Atlas Fire a year ago October. He lost a barn, the tractor trailer with all of the equipment, and three homes.

 

 

 

 

 

Warren Winiarski

The 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon

Warren Winiarski

The Arcadia Vineyard. You can still see the remnants of the Atlas Fire’s damage on the hillsides. The grass has grown back but a number of burned trees are evident.

A couple of weeks ago I had the honor of being invited to attended a grand affair at the Culinary Institute of America at Copia in Napa. About 700 people were in attendance, culinary fare was being served, several musicians performed and all for the purpose of celebrating ZD Wines’ 50th Anniversary.

The Rutherford AVA Napa Valley winery has been building something special for quite some time. They also make one of the most unusual wine blends I’ve heard of in the U.S. Abacus is pricey but because of the decades it takes to craft that unique blend you could argue that it’s worth it.

Just a few days before the celebration I had the chance to sit down with winemaker Brandon deLeuze so you and I could hear more about ZD Wines. Click the player below for the interview.

Follow up: I felt this was noteworthy – since this post went out Brandon was promoted from Assistant Winemaker to Winemaker, and Winemaker Chris Pisani has been promoted to Senior Winemaker. Robert deLeuze, CEO and Director of Winemaking said, “Chris and Brandon are exceptionally dedicated to producing the highest caliber wines. We appreciate their effort in advancing our commitment to quality and are honored to have them on our team.”

Congratulations to both of them from On The Wine Road.

ZD Wines' 50th Anniversary

The sun set as the Bash continued.

ZD Wines' 50th Anniversary

This 1994 Merlot was one of many library wines offered that evening. What a nice gift for ZD to share.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ZD Wines 50th Anniversary

It took a one-of-a-kind barrel rack to hold the one-of-a-kind Abacus wine.