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This interview is was a bit unusual for me, with good reason. Ehlers Estate is one of the few wineries that possess an on-going philanthropic element. But that came later.

Ehlers Estate has a rich history dating back to 1886. It is arguably one of the top Cabernet producers in the competitive Napa Valley region. The old stone winery has been transformed into a modern, fashionable tasting space. In 2018, they hired Spanish immigrant Laura Diaz Muñoz as winemaker and General Manager. Her talent and willingness to revamp the appearance and winemaking is breathing new life into the brand.
    
In 1996, French philanthropists and owners Jean and Sylviane Laducq, established the Leducq Foundation which supports research for the diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease and stroke. On a small level, proceeds from Ehlers’ wine sales and tastings benefit research as part of the global international network. You’ll hear details from the Foundation’s Executive Board Members, Spaniard Martín Landaluce and American Dr. David Tancredi. It’s a monumental endeavor and one you’ll appreciate if you have a loved one who has suffered from cardiovascular disease. I think you’ll be impressed.  

 

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or download for later:  OTWR_EhlersEstate

 

Ehlers Estate

Laura and the 9 bottles she had waiting for me

 

Ehlers Estate

The historic stone winery building

 

Ehlers Estate

The Red Barn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rustic yet exquisite tasting room

 

Sylviane and Jean Leducq

President of the Board of Directors of Leducq Foundation, Martin Landeluce

Executive Director of the Board of Directors of the Leducq Foundation, Dr. David Tancredi

 

There were two reasons that prompted me to reach out to Todd Graff. First, in October  my step-daughter Jackie told me in that her favorite wine is Frank Family Vineyards‘ Cabernet Sauvignon. Then in December, I watched as Todd received “Napa Valley Winemaker of the Year” from the North Bay Business Journal’s Annual Wine, Spirits and Beer Industry Awards.  That solidified my desire to interview him.

Aside from his history in the industry, Todd shared why he chose to travel early on. His wanderlust was further satisfied when he was chosen by Schramsberg Vineyards for a project in Portugal. For the last 18 years he’s enjoyed working with Frank Family and making a good list of wine varieties.

Why is Frank Family Vineyards often chosen as Napa’s Favorite Tasting Room? As the winemaker and General Manager, he has a pretty good idea. He’ll share that opinion.

As you’ll hear, Todd Graff is a casual guy, down to earth, and a bit humble…like most winemakers I interview.  Enjoy the conversation!

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Download for later:  OTWR_ToddGraff_FrankFamily

 

The old winemaking barn is the first thing you’ll see when visiting Frank Family Vineyards

 

Todd Graff

Todd caught contemplating the answer to a question, and the wine he served us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Todd Graff

The tasting room Craftsman House from the 1930s

 

Todd developed a taste for sparkling wine during his time at Schramsberg Vineyards. He’s showing off his Brut Rosé as we hung out, literally, on the back porch.

Both wineries featured in this podcast, Mersenne Wines and Capo Creek Ranch, pay tribute to musicians. Mersenne created a wine label for a British Indie-Pop band, and Capo Creek has named a vineyard after a beloved singer, guitarist. That’s one aspect of each winery you’ll appreciate as I get in-depth with their stories of overcoming obstacles.

Mitch Rice of Mersenne Prime Artisan Wines entrance into the industry wasn’t too complicated. He had experience as a home winemaker before taking the leap as a winery owner. Though his beginnings were less challenging, delicate maneuvering was needed to “secure” his partner. As it turned out, their brand features a love story that is wrapped in historical lore…which I greatly respect.

However, if you buy a vineyard there are many more hurdles. Sisters Mary and Nadine Roy of Capo Creek Ranch did purchase land and it took several years to get their footing. They’re strumming along now and offer a wine and food pairing that is par excellence! It was quite an unexpected chapter following their lives as owners of a medical practice in Chicago, when one day an unsolicited pamphlet arrived in the mail that completely changed their life’s direction…eventually.

Join me for these tales of persistence by Mersenne Wines and Capo Creek Ranch, as heard On The Wine Road…

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Download for later   OTWR_Mersenne_CapoCreek

 

Mersenne Wines logo
Illustration by Michael Gray

 

Robin and Mitch

Mersenne Wines & Capo Creek

2018 Prospére Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2016 Rutherford, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

 

2020 North Coast Wine Challenge Best of the Best 98 pt. score!

 

 

 

 

 

 

2015 “SO45” Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon produced in collaboration with the British Indie-Pop band “Scars on 45”. Click the image to learn about them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Capo Creek Ranch

Mersenne Wines and Capo Creek

Social distancing with Nadine and Mary Roy

All of their varietals feature familiar curves of an acoustic guitar. This is one of our favorites, the 2018 Open Mic Grenache Red Blend

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The filling and delicious Ultimate Food and Wine Pairing overlooking Dry Creek Valley

Marsenne Wines and Capo Creek

What we enjoyed that day. Incredible!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s plenty of space at Capo Creek Ranch

The Triple Berry Galette with Chantilly Cream. They are not skimpy portions

These interviews were aired on my radio show on March 6th in celebration International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month. It was a real pleasure to spend half the day with these two talented winemakers.

My first guest will be Danielle Cyrot who has held enviable positions in her career, the last 12 years of which have been at CADE Estate Winery on Howell Mountain.  Danielle is working with two interesting projects, the details of which we’ll cover.

Colleen FitzGerald is the enologist and a winemaker at Pine Ridge Vineyards in the Stags Leap District. She’s been handed an intereresting wine wine project which led to a sparkling brand that is the first new label for the winery in 25 years.

Has it been a challenge for these women to work in such a male dominated field? You may be surprised by their answers. Join me as I celebrate the contributions these ladies have made to the Napa Valley wine industry.

 

 

International Women's Day

Danielle Cyrot in the CADE Estate tasting room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

International Women's Day

Colleen FitzGerald with her Chenin Blanc+Viognier blend

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.

 

Frog's Leap

The lobby of The Vineyard House

Frog's Leap

The back porch of The Vineyard House where wine tastings are offered

 

 

The Red Barn in Rutherford



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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.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

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!

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.