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!

 

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!

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.

Each year, member wineries of the Stags Leap District Winegrowers open their doors for this one weekend, giving visitors exclusive access to the wines, vineyards and people behind this iconic wine region. This year the event takes place April 27th through 29th.

Visitors enjoy unparalleled personal, backstage access to private homes and historic wineries alike. The weekend includes exclusive dinners, private tours, barrel tastings, food pairings, music, and experiences–all set amongst the glorious vineyards and towering Palisades of the Stags Leap District.

Additionally, to further support relief efforts from the recent fires last year, 5% of the proceeds from this year’s Saturday Open House tickets will be donated to the Napa Valley Community Foundation.

Here’s my interview featuring two of the participating wineries and principles; Silverado Vineyards’ G.M. Russ Weis, and Malk Family Vineyards’ owner Brian Malk. You’ll learn about the wineries past and present and hear what they have planned for the weekend. Cheers!

Stags Leap Vineyard to Vintner Event

The limited 2015 Appellation Collection of 17 handcrafted 2015 SLD designated Cabernet Sauvignons each signed exclusively by the vintners

Stage Leap Vineyard to Vintner Event

 

The name Mondavi is synonymous with wine in California, and across the globe for that matter. Riana is a 4th generation Mondavi and is a brand ambassador for CK Mondavi and Family. In early March I had the chance to sit down with her and their winemaker, Charlie Gilmore.

We met at the Sonoma County Wine Library, a true library rich with books on wine history as well as educational resources. There were a few people studying nearby so it may seem like we’re talking in hushed tones. It is a library, after all.

During this podcast we’ll discuss their 75 year history, their decades long relationships that help maintain their incredibly low prices, and keeping the brand relevant with the current generation.

 

CK Mondavi

Yes, for 50 years the Chappellet family has been crafting exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon and other varietals from their Pritchard Hill Estate high above Napa Valley. It started with a leap of faith when Donn Chappellet and family left a successful business in Los Angeles to make the kind of wine he enjoyed. He may have been a bit naive but determination, and a little help from Napa Valley icons, helped Donn and Molly Chappellet build a well-respected and sought-after brand. Vice President and owner Dominic Chappellet shares his family’s story from the beautiful estate where he was born and raised.

Chappellet Chappellet

Chappellet

When I attended Wine and Spirits Magazine’s Top 100 Wines Tasting event in San Francisco this past October I had the chance to meet Chris Phelps, the associate winemaker at Inglenook Estate Winery. I jumped at the chance to do an interview with Chris. We finally made that happen in December. You may not realize this but Inglenook was one of the first estate wineries in Napa Valley, founded in 1879 by Finnish sailor (and early entrepreneur), Gustave Niebaum. Following its sale in the mid-60s the winery’s quality and reputation suffered. Enter Francis Ford Coppola. Through his love and decades of painstaking efforts the winery is once again an internationally respected estate and remains a Napa Valley icon. This is its story.

 

inglenook

With Chris Phelps on grand staircase

Ingelnook

 

 

 

 

 

 

inglenook

The South Barrel Room event space

 

 

 

When it comes to winemaking you’ll find Cathy Corison at the intersection of Power and Elegance. You won’t locate that intersection on a map but you can find it in a Corison bottle. Cathy has worked at respected Napa Valley wineries such as Freemark Abbey, Chappellet and her namesake winery for 40 years. Not a bad run for a woman who got her start by taking a wine appreciation course “on a whim.” This year she was named a Top 100 Winery by Wine & Spirits Magazine. She’ll be the first to say her success has as much to do with serendipity and luck as it does talent. Meet Cathy Corison on today’s podcast.

 

Cathy Corison

Her Kronos Vineyard from the second story porch of her winery barn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cathy Corison

The late season makes its mark on her old vine Cabernet Sauvignon vines.

 

Join me as I take the drive to Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery perched high atop Spring Mountain. It provides a unique viewpoint of Napa Valley (in more ways than one). Stuart and Charlie Smith have been up there since the early 70s crafting wine the way they feel it should be made. Their style hasn’t always been in favor but as tastes have changed they’ve become fashionable again. If you enjoy hearing opinions on the wine industry from those who have spent 45 years within it you’ll appreciate this podcast.

 

This is the second time I’ve had the chance to interview winemaker Ted Henry and each time it’s been an enjoyable experience. Now he’s the head winemaker at the historic Clos Du Val winery in Napa’s iconic Stags Leap District. Clos Du Val has recently made some dramatic changes to their wine making philosophy. The timing couldn’t have been better to get Ted’s observation on the changes you’ll be seeing and tasting in the near future. My family happened to be visiting Napa Valley that week from Phoenix and not only were they surprised by getting to attend the interview, they also received the wine tasting from Ted. It’s not often a tasting is provide by the winemaker. As I say, he’s a gracious guy.

 

 

Winemaker Ted Henry