John Williams has had quite a career. The story of Frog’s Leap didn’t begin until after John worked with Napa Valley icon Warren Winiarski at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. He helped launch Glenora Wine Cellars in the Finger Lakes region. Afterward, he returned to Napa Valley as winemaker for the esteemed Spring Mountain Vineyard. All this, before and during the founding of Frog’s Leap, where early business decisions, like their comical slogan, were made with his partners in the Frog Farm hot tub.
40 years on, John continues to evolve, innovate and successfully sustain the Frog’s Leap brand, all while maintaining his sense of humor.
Join me as John fills us in the details, with cameo appearances from Larry and Julie.
The lobby of The Vineyard House
The back porch of The Vineyard House where wine tastings are offered
https://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Frogs-Leap-OTWR.png470540Jeff Davishttps://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/logo.pngJeff Davis2020-12-07 14:48:272020-12-07 14:48:27The Story of Napa's Frog's Leap Winery - John Williams
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.
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
The terraced rows of Green and Red’s unique Tip Top Vineyard.
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
The historic Nichelini home and winery previously on a sunny day.
As it looks today. You can see the blackened ridge behind the home.
Family member Kenny Wainright does his part to save the winery. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
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)
https://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Hennessey-Fire-website-1.png6321400Jeff Davishttps://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/logo.pngJeff Davis2020-09-21 12:14:062020-09-25 08:45:34Hennessey Fire Survivors - Green and Red & Nichelini Family Winery
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.
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!
https://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/logo.png00Jeff Davishttps://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/logo.pngJeff Davis2020-07-15 18:22:302020-07-15 18:22:30The Mountain Men of Schweiger Vineyards
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.
For the T.P. Reserve Wine video click here
For the Roman mosaic tile images from Wine Uncorked click here.
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.
https://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Elise_Elkhorn-Peak-Cellars.jpg540720Jeff Davishttps://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/logo.pngJeff Davis2020-06-16 12:08:502020-06-16 12:08:50Save The Family Farms
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.
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.
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!
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.
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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!
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!
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.
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.
https://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/smaller-logo.jpg647650Jeff Davishttps://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/logo.pngJeff Davis2019-06-12 15:35:502019-06-12 15:35:50Prager 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.
It’s another day on our incredible, beautiful and struggling planet. This podcast focuses on the positive impacts people are making as I present Part Two of my Earth Day celebration.
Much like the Slow Food Movement, Italy’s Slow Wine crusade promotes sustainable practices within the winemaking industry. The Slow Wine Guide features those who operate within those parameters. The 2019 edition contains 370 wineries from Italy, 121 from California, and new this year, 50 Oregon wineries. I chose two from Northern California who have been selected by Slow Wine; Larkmead Family Estate in Calistoga, Napa Valley, and Littorai Wines of Sebastopol, Sonoma County. They’re both highly respected in the industry. You’ll be impressed with the efforts they put forth to create their exceptional wine. Cheers to that! Happy Earth Day.
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This podcast includes stops at a favorite winery and restaurant; Spring Mountain Vineyard and A16.
As you’ll hear, Spring Mountain Vineyard features three distinct vineyards and a history that makes it a special place. What I love about the experiences are the library wines the offer. In three visits I’ve tasted vintages from 1988, 2001, ’04, ’08, ’10, and ’15. The cabernet sauvignons and their Elivette (reserve) blends are made in the Bordeaux style; meaning not a big, ripe, chewy Cab, but an elegantly complex wine that invites you to enjoy taste after taste. They also bottle a sauvignon blanc. Winemaker Justin Hirigoyen is my guest.
**Update: Wine Spectator just released scores for 2015 Bordeaux Blends in Napa Valley. Spring Mountain Vineyard topped the list with a score of 96. (BTW – 15 of the top 30 are priced higher than Spring Mountain Vineyard). Don’t hesitate, pay them a visit!
A16 Restaurant offers authentic Italian Pizza Napolitana, fresh pasta, and house cured meats inspired by the Campania region. My guest, Wine Director Shelley Lindgren, selects wines that highlight grapes of the Compania and nearby regions. We’ve enjoyed dining there. You’ll find A16 in the Marina District on Chestnut Street and in Oakland in Rockridge. They also operate the Michelin Star restaurant SPQR in the S.F. Fillmore district.
French and Italian wine and food. What’s not to love?
Justin on the day of our interview and tasting
The tasting we did on our first visit. We love those library wines!
The barrel room behind the attractive facade
One of Spring Mountain’s three vineyards
A recent tasting I attended in the beautiful Miravalle Estate
A16 Restaurant on a San Francisco evening
A partial shot of the restaurant. The wood-firing ovens are to the right and the seating wraps around.
As we approach the end of another year, now my 6th On The Wine Road, I’d like to reach back to share a version of this previous post. It’s been an extreme pleasure to meet many fascinating personalities in the wine business. This recording highlights those who have expressed their passion about the wine industry. The winery owners, winemakers and growers I have chosen speak eloquently, philosophically, poetically, and often spiritually about wine and vineyards. I’m confident that if you listen it will make the wine you love taste even better. Cheers!
https://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Cheering.jpg6831024Jeff Davishttps://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/logo.pngJeff Davis2018-12-22 16:29:292018-12-23 12:39:52The Passion Expressed Within the Wine Industry
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.
The sun set as the Bash continued.
This 1994 Merlot was one of many library wines offered that evening. What a nice gift for ZD to share.
It took a one-of-a-kind barrel rack to hold the one-of-a-kind Abacus wine.
I’ll bet a bottle of wine you haven’t heard a story about a successful pilot deciding after retirement to move his family to a rural area to raise his family who, without expectation or a plan, became a wine baron. This podcast is the story of Rombauer Vineyards.
In 1972, Napa Valley was a quieter agricultural area but just a few years later the region was thrust upon the world stage…and it’s been growing ever since. And like many, the wine bug bite the former pilot, Koerner Rombauer. On today’s podcast I talk with his son, K.R., and winemaker Richie Allen about their great success. You’ll also learn of a surprising development that occurred just a week following the interview. I’ll leave it at that.
And if you have heard a story about a former pilot who became a wine baron, reach out to me for your bottle of wine.
https://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Rombauer-label.jpg550950Jeff Davishttps://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/logo.pngJeff Davis2018-06-06 17:04:202018-06-06 17:04:20The Story of Rombauer Vineyards