Intoxicate Diary Day 5 : Fleury and RustRidge
"What -- a rainy day?" This was our first, disappointed question when we walked out of the hotel, because we expected that heavy rain would make our tour not that fun. Still, we got into...
"What -- a rainy day?" This was our first, disappointed question when we walked out of the hotel, because we expected that heavy rain would make our tour not that fun. Still, we got into Grandfather's car and started making our way to the famous Napa Valley.
The Napa Valley AVA is located in Napa County, which is only an hour's drive north of San Francisco. Considered one of the top wine regions not only in the U.S. but throughout the world, the region is conducive to growing quality wine grapes, and has become a very popular California tourist destination.
While the area is generally defined by a Mediterranean climate, there are actually 16 different sub-appellations within Napa, each with distinct weather and geographical influences. For example, the southern side is cooler during the growing season while the northern area tends to get much warmer.
Before heading to meet our winery partners that day, Grandfather had arranged some other visits along the way. First, we stopped for a cup of coffee at the Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa, where we saw many Food and Beverage shops and outlets that were good references for future CV locations. Here, we also met one of CV's advisors, Ned Trippe, who is a very friendly person and had worked with us in setting up our Napa Technology WineStation systems. Ned then led us on a visit to a winery called Conn Creek, where we were about to have a very special experience.
Conn Creek was founded in the early 1970's, as part of a small group of wineries that led a renaissance in Napa Valley playing an important part in establishing its reputation as a fine wine growing region. There, we joined a tasting tour in their AVA room to blend our own wine. We learned about the concept known as "terroir" which is the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the production. The room held 16 barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon samples, each from a different sub-AVA with different soil types, climates, and topography. This allowed us to really get a sense of just what "terroir" means!
After an introduction, we started to combine different Cabernet Sauvignon samples in order to find the right blend. After a while, we found what we wanted, then started to bottle the wine, using a simple machine to insert the cork.
Our own creation "Sweet Lip" and "Purple Teeth". Nice drawing, isn't it?
After our Conn Creek educational tour, we headed to our first winery partner for the day: Fleury Estate Winery. Located in Rutherford in Napa, just a short distance from Conn Creek, they own 50 acres spanning three vineyards, in three different appellations (Rutherford, St. Helena and Howell Mountain) and at three different elevations.
Fleury Estate Winery
When we arrived outside the winery, we saw a HUGE wine barrel and were told by Grandfather that it was actually an elegant restroom designed by Claudia Fleury. When we entered the main building, we were shocked. Here we discovered a very cool and playful combination of an aging room, tasting area and retail outlet.
We were greeted by Brian Fleury, who owns Fleury along with his wife Claudia. Brian is a self-taught winemaker who learned his craft by hiring various mentors and working alongside them.
Fleury has some of the most beautifully-designed wine bottles I've ever seen, especially their "F in Red" which is one of the super-premium wines we carry at CV. The bottle is wrapped with many different font versions of the letter "F", which looks very cool! Brian showed us a double magnum size of the bottle, and it was the biggest and nicest wine bottle I've even seen!
Brian then introduced us to several of their wonderful wines from different vintages, pouring for us in their uniquely-designed tasting room, which had cushioned seats under an old parachute tent. We also met Claudia Fleury, who was amazingly friendly, and they both shared many stories about their winery and wine making, along with many laughs along the way. It was a very entertaining experience and, like so many happy times, went all too fast. After finishing our tasting, we took some photos and then headed on our way to our second winery visit for the day: RustRidge Ranch & Winery
RustRidge Ranch & Winery
RustRidge is located in the Chiles Valley region of Napa, about a 20 minute drive from Fleury. Along the road from the valley floor, we passed Lake Hennessey and began to ascend into the hills and away from the stretch of vineyards below.
When we exited the car, we were greeted by a few cute and lovely big cats outside RustRidge's Bed & Breakfast located on the ranch property. Both of us are also cat owners, but we had never seen big friendly ones like this before. But just like our little kittens, they curled up on our feet.
Grandfather led us up a road toward the winery, and close by, we saw a big ranch with some horses. This is my first time to see a real horse, and I really wanted to hug them but they were standing quite far. On the road, we met three winery dogs, who were also quite big :), followed by two friendly smiling faces: Jim Fresquez and Susan Meyer.
After the friendly introduction, Jim led us to the vineyard. Oh my God! -- it is incredibly full with bright yellow flowers lit up by a totally blue sky. What a great picture this would be!
Jim brought us to the center of the vineyard and showed us their Zinfandel vines. After a few questions about pruning, Jim gave us a chance to learn even more by trying to prune a whole vine ourselves. That was really cool! We used some of the techniques we had learned from Ann (Yorba), and then Jim also taught us how to recognize which bud should stay and which should go. Thanks for the lesson :)!
One of the other things we learned about the RustRidge vineyard is that, due to the high elevation and cool night time temperatures, their bud-break is delayed from the rest of Napa by about 2-3 weeks. Their harvest also occurs later than most other areas.
We then went to their tasting room to sample some wines. There, we found another cute cat trying to get our attention and, as a skillful cat owner, Shin easily caught it and took its photo.
After the tasting, Jim brought us to their B&B, which is done in a gracious southwestern ranch style and decorated with many beautiful antiques.
We toured around it and took some photos before we needed to head back to San Francisco before it got too late.
On the way back down to the valley floor, we captured a fantastic view of the lake during sunset.
Rich, Creamy buttery aroma. Offering a tropical pineapple and butter flavor on palate
2009 Pinot Noir Carneros Napa (100 cases)
Aromas of mixed red fruit, earthy and savory
Taste of mushroom, earthy on palate. Very good finishing with sweet spicy
2008 Cab/Zin Blend (50% CAB 50% Zin)
Very good cassis, oaky, smoky aromas
Palate offers black currant, plum, baked black fruit flavors up front with anise, licorice lurking in the back
Long finish with baked oaky flavors and good tannin
2009 F in Red (Merlot based, CAB, CAB Franc) (Same clone as used in Petrus)
Elegant style. Dark and rich but soft, silky wine
Soft oaky Merlot based wine. Very long finish
Lucky 8 2009/ Deuxieme (Cab, Syrah, PS, PV)
Baked, smoky, cassis, black currant aromas
Complex wine with baked black fruit, oaky on palate
CAB Merlot 2007 Napa (500 Cases) (85-90)
Sweet baked cassis aroma. Full bodied, a wine which shows the terrior of Napa
2008 Rocket Juice. (Syrah+PS)
Deep purple color. Baked sweet blueberry, cassis aromas
2008 Passionne (50Cab+50Bordeaux Blend)
Aromas of plum, floral and cassis
Beautiful, elegant and focused. Ready to drink, but can develop after 5-10 years of aging
2008 BDX Howell Mt (Merlot, Cab Franc, Cab Sauv)
Sweet and spicy plum ad floral aromas; elegant wine
Light-med intensity; silky on structure
2006 CAB (3 yrs oak) (fewer than 500 cases)
Soft, sweet baked oaky, cherry and plum aromas.
Sweet and spicy; med acidity; light-med bodied style
2007 CAB (fewer than 475 cases)
Pronounced aromas of plum and cassis; sweet, baked, oaky
Med bodied, very muscular; rich tannin and long finish
2008 CAB (fewer than 650 cases)
Black currant , black fruit, plum aromas
Fruit-driven style, baked sweet black fruit carried. Ready to drink but will improve after 3-5 years aging
2007 Petite Sirah Napa (fewer than 180 cases)
Fruit forward style; oaky, blueberry aromas; baked blueberry; jammy; very good for food pairing
We woke up to a cold and rainy morning, grabbed a hot coffee, then got into Grandfather's car to head to Fair Play in the Sierra Foothills for our first winery tour today.
Fair Play, which was awarded AVA status in 2001, is about 140 miles northeast of San Francisco and it took us almost 3 hours to drive there. Situated high in the Sierra Foothills, most of the vines there are planted at 2000–3000ft above sea level, where lots of sunshine and a long growing season typically produce grapes with ripe, bright fruit flavors and balanced acidity. These, in turn, create highly aromatic wines.
As we drove and ascended into the foothills, the outside temperature dropped steeply so that by the time we arrived -- after a much-needed nap along the way! -- it was absolutely freezing. Our first winery stop: Mellowood Vineyard.
Upon arrival at Mellowood, we met the Owner, Ms. Linda Neal, who also owns Tierra Roja, our super-premium Cabernet Sauvignon label from the Oakville appellation of Napa Valley.
From Linda, we learned that she bought the land on Mellowood Drive in September 2000, first planted vines there in 2002, and then produced her first wines from those vineyards with the 2008 vintage.
While at Mellowood, we also met John Kraemer, a member of the family that owns one of our other partner wineries, Yorba, which was to be our next visit. John and his family had come to join us for lunch with Linda, which we were excited about since it would be our first full winery lunch ever!
Due to the rain, we did not have the chance to walk around the beautiful vineyard property, but Linda gave us an introduction and tasting of her wines, before leading us to the second floor for our lunch.
Our lunch was created by Mellowood's winery chef, Mr. Geofuni, and specifically designed for pairing with Linda's wines.
Duck breast with sliced apple in Italian dessert wine sauce
Mushroom bread with cream sauce and mushroom salad with olive oil, truffle oil and sliced parmesan cheese
Braised short ribs in Mellowood Syrah -- this is the BEST Short Ribs I've ever had! They were sautéed in vegetable stock, then chicken stock, Syrah, rosemary and other herbs were added and it was braised overnight. (Actually, the preparation is more complicated :P )
Even though we couldn't do our vineyard tour, we had a very good time in Mellowood Vineyard!
After we finished at Mellowood, John led us on a rainy drive to Yorba, which was further south in Amador County. It was less than an hour to get there, and we learned from Grandfather along the way, that Amador had numerous gold mines including the very first: the Sutter Mine. Most of these closed in the late 19th-20th century.
In terms of its wine-growing history, Amador has long been known for Zinfandel and Barbera, but it also has other grapes like Rhone varietals, Sangiovese, and Tempranillo. We've featured several of these at CV.
We've now arrived at our second destination for the day: Yorba!:
The Kraemer family farming history under the Yorba brand goes back to 1769, and when they started an orange-growing business in 1913, they continued to use that name. So when they launched their own wine label almost 10 years ago, it only made sense to maintain that tradition.
Today, we were thrilled to meet one of the most respected viticulturists in California: Ann Kraemer, who is a very friendly and passionate person. After years of experience managing vineyards for several prestigious Napa wineries, she and her family acquired the stunning, high-elevation Shake Ridge property in 2003, and she immediately began designing and developing the vineyards. Today, her 46-acres of vines produce fruit that is highly sought after by several highly-acclaimed winemakers from Napa and beyond. Due to the red rocky soils and great fluctuation of day to night temperatures, wines from the property show off deep and dark-hued colors and intense favors and aromas.
After a quick introduction about Yorba Winery and Shake Ridge Vineyard, the rain thankfully stopped so that Ann could give us a very educational lesson on vine pruning.
There are two main pruning techniques used by most vignerons: "Spur Pruning" and "Cane Pruning", and today, we had the chance to try our hand at the latter.
Once a vine reaches two years old, it will generate many more fruiting canes than desired for quality grape production. Thus, to control that growth and concentrate the vine's support on specific canes/grapes, we have to prune the canes before the arrival of Spring. At the same time, in order to ensure ideal sunshine coverage, we have to prune in different directions so the grapes are properly exposed and protected during the growing season.
After about an hour of pruning lessons, the rain returned so we headed to the other side of the vineyard to meet the family members and begin tasting some of the wonderful Yorba wines.
11 members of the Kraemer family were there to greet us, including Ann's father who was a respected orange grower and even exported his fruit to Asia. I learned that the oranges I enjoyed in my youth were actually grown by him so it was certainly an honor to meet him! Mr. Kraemer shared with us much more about the family's history, including the meanings of the symbols on the Yorba label. Ask me any time and I'll be happy to tell you more!
We had a warm and wonderful time with the Kraemer family and enjoyed tasting their wines paired with some cheese and ham.
After finishing our last winery visit for the day, we headed even higher into the Sierra Foothills looking for snow, and finally, we found it!
A fantastic day in yet another unique California wine region!
2009 Zinfandel Fair Play
Elegant style focused. Offering a strawberry and cranberry aroma in this ripe, soft Zin
2009 Syrah Fair Play
Aroma of pronounced black cassis, black pepper.
Firm tannin and long finish. Very good for pairing with duck and lamb.
2008 Tierra Roja
Garnet color. Bold, intense and complex. Very pronounced aroma of baked cassis.
Sweet and spicy on finish, mouth watering acidity and firm tannin.
2007 Zinfandel Amador
High intensity aroma of black cassis, plum. Soft tannin with a hint of sweet spicy.
2007 Syrah Amador
Dense, rich, powerful style. Packs a lot of black currant, cassis flavor with a soft tannin and hint of sweet spicy.
2008 Tempranillo Amador
Bold, Red fruit character with soft tannin
Mineral and oaky on palate.
2010 3rd Generation Amador (76% Zinfandel)
Floral and structured wine.
Red cherry, strawberry character and have a good sharp finish.