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)

Vranken-Pommery Champagne and Rosé

Clément Pierlot is the chef de cave of historic Champagne Pommery in France. I found it appealing that the Champagne house known for creating the Brut style of bubbly is now making a sparkling wine from California grapes. It turns out Louis Pommery California Sparkling is harvested and made just up the freeway from me in Sonoma County. It was a topic worth pursuing.

That led to another interview with a fellow Vranken-Pommery winemaker, Bruno Maillard. He crafts rosé in Provence and Carmargue/Languedoc, the world’s foremost regions for the light refreshing pink wine.

You’ll hear from these Frenchman and learn about the incomparable heritage of the world’s largest winegrower in Europe, Vranken-Pommery.

 

Vrenken-Pommery

The tasteful line-up: Louis Pommery California Sparkling, The Pommery Brut Royal, and the Pommery Blanc de blancs.

Vranken-Pommery

The refreshing Rosé: The Pink Flamingo from Carmargue, and the La Chapelle Gordon from Provence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The underground caves, or “galleries” as they call them in Champagne, that were carved during mining by the Romans centuries ago.

 

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.

On this podcast you’ll hear about the many travels and discoveries of Dr. Olmo.  He’s a former UC Davis professor you’re likely not familiar with but who’s decades of research led to many important discoveries in viticulture, much of which had a positive influence on the quality of wine produced across the globe. Through interviews with winemaker Dan Petroski of Larkmead Vineyards and the professor’s daughter, Jeanne, you’ll meet Dr. Harold Olmo. He was such a fearless researcher he became known as the Indiana Jones of Viticulture.

Thanks to the University of California at Davis for prompting me to pursue this story.  To learn more about Larkmead Vineyard’s donation to digitize Dr. Olmo’s work, click here.

 

Dr. Olmo

Harold and his wife Helen

Dr. Olmo

An iconic shot of Dr. Olmo which appeared on the cover of Sunset Magazine. Photograph by Richard Steven Street.

While the Napa and Sonoma Vintners organizations are incredibly supportive to their winery members and their communities, covid-19 has required an even greater response.

The Napa Valley Vintners and Sonoma County Vintners are helping to promote the creative and necessary ways wineries are reaching out to the wine loving public.  In some cases, they’re presenting their own virtual tasting sessions.

In this podcast, I talk with the President and Executive Director of the Napa Valley Vintners, Linda Reiff, and the Executive Director of Sonoma County Vintners, Michael Haney.  These interviews were conducted to coincide with my previous post “Wineries Battle the Coronavirus Blues.”

As  you’ll hear, there is no elitist attitude from either of these executives, despite the fact they run organizations in two of the world’s top wine regions. They’re pleasant, down to earth people. Many winemakers, growers and owners are the same way. As I’ve said before, that’s what I love about the wine industry.

Keep listening until the end. You’ll hear promising news that was released as I was finishing up the podcast today.  We may be seeing you soon on winery patios. That’s all I’m going to say about that right now. Can’t ruin a good content tease.

 

How do wineries battle the coronavirus blues? By being creative, stepping up, helping their employees and keeping you smiling during these sobering times. Many wineries across the country are reaching out through social media with virtual tastings.

Here’s an updated and refined list of what the wine regions are doing in Northern California.  I’m also including my interviews with Jackson Family Wines and Spring Mountain Vineyard from my show on April 18th.

Sonoma County

From Sonoma County Vintners
Sonoma County vineyard

Napa Valley

From Napa Valley Vintners

 

Sonoma Valley

From Sonoma Valley Wine Collective

 

 

And across the state at Discover California Wines

 

Don’t suffer from the coronavirus blues. Stock up and stay at home…it’s a good place to wine!

 

Wine Educator, Ben Fine of Jackson Family Wines explains YourWineStore.com

Aida Parsa of Spring Mountain Vineyard details her two-way virtual tastings

Back in December – before sheltering in place and when corona referred to a type of crown or the glow around the sun – my wife and I spent a week up and down Oregon’s Willamette Valley. It was cool, with light rain and occasional heavy fog…and we loved it.

Prior to our trip I set up several interviews. You’ll meet Lynn, the dynamic former owner of Penner-Ash; Bryan and Laura Laing, the fun-loving owners of Hazelfern Cellars; and Luisa, from one of the oldest Oregon family wineries, Ponzi Vineyards. Each guest expressed their love for Willamette Valley and the wine they craft. As always, their stories are entertaining and distinctly different from one another.

Like many wineries I have promoted in Northern California, the Penner-Ash, Hazelfern and Ponzi Vineyards are offering specials to tempt wine lovers to connect virtually and keep your shelves and cellars full of quality wine. Here’s what they’re offering:

Penner-Ash:

Virtual Tastings – Experience Penner-Ash wines from the comfort of your home – virtually! By reservations, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11am-4pm. Please contact hospitality@pennerash.com or 503.554.5545 to schedule your experience!

Drive-up Service – Place your wine order a minimum of 24 hours in advance and schedule a direct-to-trunk pick up from the winery on Tuesdays and Saturdays between 11:00 and 3:00. Please contact cellarclub@pennerash.com or 707.292.4153.

Social Connection – We invite you to follow us on Instagram (@pennerashpinot) and join us on Facebook for the latest happenings and to help you stay connected.

Hazelfern Cellars:

Wine To-Go Curbside Pick-Up: We are at the winery from 11am – 4pm Wednesday-Sunday for curbside wine pick-ups. E-mail us, Message us on Instagram or Facebook, or call us at 503-928-1893 to schedule a pick-up or ask any questions.

Complimentary Local Delivery: Click Here to order wines for local delivery within 30 miles of Newberg, Oregon with a 3-bottle minimum purchase. Choose “Complimentary Local Delivery” at check-out.

MAKE SOCIAL DISTANCING GREAT! ENJOY THE HAZELFERN EXPERIENCE AT HOME:

Simple Pantry Recipes and Wine Pairings: We are posting simple and delicious “pantry recipes” on Instagram and Facebook. Follow along for easy-to-make recipes using simple ingredients that pair perfectly with our wines.

Tunes from the Wine Barn: Enjoy our “Hazelfern #Winelife” playlist on Spotify. A collection of our favorite wine drinking tunes… play them loud, friends!

Ponzi Vineyards:

Social SipA virtual tasting experience for friends, family and work colleagues.

Curbside Service – Gloved staff will deliver wine to your car, maintaining 6 feet social distancing at all times. Please contact the winery directly so your package will be ready. Shop for wines here

20% off all wine – plus $10 flat rate shipping on all orders. Promo code: Ponziathome.  Excludes single vineyard and library wines.

Local Wine Delivery – On Tuesdays and Thursdays. Available on 6+ bottles or more, within a 20 miles from winery. Orders must be received by 11am. $10 delivery fee applies.

 

This is a great opportunity for you to try Oregon wines. Now, click Play to hear their stories.

 

Willamette Valley

Penner-Ash, enveloped in fog

Willamette Valley

My wife Meredith in the cozy hospitality space at Penner-Ash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The enterprising Lynn Penner-Ash

 

The fermentation and barrel room within the gravity flow production facility designed by Lynn Penner-Ash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Willamette Valley

Inside the winery barn at Hazelfern Cellars

The fun-loving Bryan & Laura and daughters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Willamette Valley

Sitting fireside with winemaker and family member, Luisa Ponzi

 

Ponzi Vineyards’ modern indoor tasting room

Ponzi’s gravity flow production facility, hospitality space and grounds

 

In this second ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) podcast, I feature Ramazzotti Wines & Berryessa Gap Vineyards as I promoted the annual Zinfandel Experience.

Joe and Travis Ramazzotti follow in immigrant Guiseppe’s footsteps growing zinfandel and other Italian varieties. In 2002, they  decided to start bottling their grapes and others from legendary vineyards in Sonoma County as Ramazzotti Wines. I met up with Joe and Travis at Deavola Pizzaria in Geyserville for the interview. Hey, why not drink wine and eat pizza while we talk?

Nicole Salengo, the winemaker at Berryessa Gap Vineyards, fills us in on the important history of grapvines in Winters, California. It’s a warm region but evening winds funneled through the Berryessa Gap cool down the grapes. She crafts a good variety of wines but zin is one of her favorites.  In this interview you’ll find out how this geology loving Vermont gal became a California winemaker.

From Sonoma County to Yolo County, Ramazzotti Wines & Berryessa Gap Vineyards do not share much in common with their winemaking style but between the two there’s something for everyone.

A Wine Uncorked feature is also included.  Stay in, stay healthy and enjoy some wine while you listen. Cheers!

 

Ramazzotti Wines

Joe is on my left, Travis is on the right

 

Ramazzotti Wines

The Ramazzotti Wines tasting room in Geyserville

Ramazzotti Wines

The wine that prompted the interview

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Berryessa Gap Vineyards

Winemaker, Nicole Salengo

Berryessa Gap Vineyards

Berryessa Gap Vineyards with the “gap” in the upper left that funnels in cool night air.

Berryessa Gap Vineyards

Boxes of Martinez Orchards rootstock that has appeared in vineyards from Yolo County to Napa Valley and Sonoma County.

 

With Nicole in front of their downtown tasting room

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Return to Paradise

It was two years and two months after the wine country wildfires when I returned to Paradise Ridge Winery to see how the rebuild was coming along. I had no idea it was the first day of their soft opening.

In October of 2017 their hospitality center and production facility burned to the ground. I’ve come to know the Byck family fairly well over the years and I’m thrilled to see the return of Paradise. Owner and family member Rene and I sat down in January so he could catch us up on the challenges his family faced the past two years, the new building and some changes they have in mind. See an artist’s rendering of the new building and more at PRWinery.com.

To hear Rene talk about the loss of the winery just 4 months after the fire and see photos of the devastation click here.

Faire La Fête

In this interview I talk with Master of Wine Peter Neptune about the rich and centuries long tradition of Mardi Gras. You won’t believe how many centuries! You’ll also hear about the sparkling wine that was developed in southeastern France that ties into the historical roots of the celebration, Faire La Fête Brut. As you’ll hear, sparkling wine was developed in the Limoux region, (no, not Champagne) making Faire La Fête the ideal sparkling for Mardi Gras celebrations. You gotta love a history lesson with a party theme!

Return to Paradise

The week of the soft opening during a foggy winter’s day.

Return to Paradise

A small part of the new tasting room featuring the new art work referenced in the interview.

Return to Paradise

The Paradise Ridge Blanc De Blanc sparkling wine and Vineyard Select Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.

On this first podcast of 2020 you’ll hear about ZO Wines and Napa Valley College.

I talk with owner and winemaker, David Eckert about ZO Wines, in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley. Not only do they have a number of tasting spaces on the property, a stunning vineyard view, a good variety of interesting wine varieties, they also have a lovely 100+ year Craftsman home that is available for overnight stays. David also answers the question of why they chose an elephant as their mascot. And no, it doesn’t mean their wines are big.

You’ll also meet esteemed winemaker Daniel Baron, who spent many years at Napa and Sonoma County’s Silver Oak Cellars and Twomey. He joins Molly Hodgins of the Napa Valley College Viticulture and Winery Technology Program to discuss some of their courses. The college is an excellent option as a path to get started in the wine industry.

Another Wine Uncorked features is also included.

For details on ZO Wines click here. For Napa Valley College’s VWT program click here.

 

A small lineup of ZO’s wine varietals.

The charming Craftsman farmhouse which offers one of the tasting spaces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Napa Valley College’s Vintner Teaching Winery.

The Napa Valley College McCarthy Library.

 

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!

 

Each year I have the great pleasure to taste wine from the world’s Top 100 Wineries all in one place. If only Wine & Spirits Magazine’s event was several days so I could taste them all. The local culinary treats are a welcomed bonus.

In this podcast you’ll hear interviews with winemakers from California’s Central Coast, South Africa, Portugal, Slovenia, Napa Valley, and W&S Magazine’s senior editor Joshua Green. The Top 100 wineries gather every October in San Francisco. It’s a must experience event if you appreciate wine and would like to expand your horizons. Pop open a bottle, click play, and join the fun.

If you’d like to see the list of the Wine & Spirits Magazine’s Top 100 wineries while you listen click here.

A fraction of the indoor scene at the Metreon.

The outdoor patio of the Metreon, reserved primarily for Champagne and oysters.

 

Hugh Symington of W. & J. Graham’s Port. I wish I had a bottle of their port that size!

 

Angela Osborne of A Touch of Grace Wine Company.

Owner, winemaker Jerry Seps of Napa Valley’s Storybook Mountain Vineyard.

Andrea , the winemaker at Mullineux & Lees Family Wines.

Now, a guy who calls himself “John Fucking Caldwell” is likely to be brash…probably be a risk taker, and likely one of a kind. In John’s case, yes, he can be described by each of those descriptors, as well as pleasant, inventive, philanthropic, and one who can make the best of a situation.

So it may come as no surprise that he’s the kind of person who would consider, and accomplish, smuggling grapevines into the U.S.

And that’s just half of the story of John Fucking Caldwell of Caldwell Vineyard.  In this interview he also talks about his wine, the cave and his barrel-aged Apple Juice (bourbon) and tequila. Tasting 4 samples of each was a nice surprise I wasn’t expecting.

Join us in the kitchen of his south Napa Valley home as John shares the compelling tale he’s told many times…because it’s one worth hearing.

 

John during the interview.

Rocket Science Proprietary Red. Members of this club receive Intelligence Briefs about science and technology. Every year they donate wine to raise funds for the Astronaut Science Program.

2015 Caldwell “Silver” Proprietary Red Blend

 

One of John’s newest ventures, tequila. The Añejo on the left was aged in a used Cabernet barrel. All 3 Añejos and the one Silver were smooth and easy to drink. I want more!

As the harvest season was looming I felt it was a good time to talk with a grape grower. I wanted to get answers to questions I was receiving from people about the weather. We had heavy and late rains well into spring, then occasional heat spikes began happening the past couple of months. Would that affect the grapes and vines? After meeting Gus Gamba recently Gamba Vineyards and Winery seemed like the place to visit. And what a story he has to tell about his old vine zinfandel and Italian heritage.

My second interview is with the sommelier at Justin Vineyards and Winery in Paso Robles, CA. I sat with Jim Gerakaris a few years ago but it didn’t make it onto a podcast. Not much has changed, including Justin’s well respected reputation and wine. It’s still a worthy interview. Jim is very good at explaining the brand and their philosophy.

My Wine Uncorked feature exposes a little known fact about King Tut. It all begins when  you hit the Play button.

 

The Etrusca Proprietary Blend