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Winery Profiles

Biodynamic Cabernet of Grace from Wise Acre Vineyards

A hundred chocolate-brown feathers litter the ground before the barn, the only remaining traces of a bobcat’s midnight chicken dinner. Seemingly unaware of their narrow escape, the remaining heritage Buckeye hens and a homely, bare-necked turchicken peck the earth between feathers for insects and bits of grain. Horses, rabbits and sheep are nearby and a friendly old, yellow labrador lies sleepily on his side, watching the action.

In the barn is a two-wheeled, hand-guided tractor that works the soil without causing compaction. A large plastic tub with a central filter occupies one corner, looking like an industrial version of a Bodum teapot. It’s used for making biodynamic teas though, nothing you’d want to drink. Just past the barn in the shade of a tree lies a large compost pile and, buried next to that, a decomposing wooden barrel filled with older compost and thousands of happy worms. Somewhere, cow horns are buried. They’re contents will ultimately be sprayed onto the soil to benefit microorganisms and increase uptake of nutrients by the plants.

The vineyard itself is small, just about half an acre, and slopes at 11 degrees down toward the barn. It’s set into a small bowl in the hillside which is consistently three to four degrees cooler than the valley floor but a couple of degrees warmer than the hillside outside of the bowl. Swirling winds prevent frost. It’s a nearly perfect site tucked away in a spot you’d never find on your own, even with a GPS. There’s not a single winery in sight. This is Napa Valley though, and home to one of that AVAs most lithe and balanced Cabernet Sauvignon.

Lynn and Kirk Grace of Wise Acre Vineyard. Photo provided by Lynn Grace.

Lynn and Kirk Grace bought the property in 2003. They planted it with 4 x 4 spacing to Bosche-clone Cabernet Sauvignon on 101–14 rootstock. That’s the same combination found at his family’s Grace Family Vineyards, considered the first of Napa’s “cult” Cabernet Sauvignon producers. Kirk is responsible for viticulture at Grace Family too, but his primary job is viticulturist for Stags Leap Wine Cellars. He held the same position at the certified-organic* Robert Sinskey Vineyards for nine years.

Lynn and Kirk do everything themselves by hand at their home vineyard, using bio-correct practices that Kirk has developed over 32 years of organic and biodynamic wine-growing. The wine is made solely from their Wise Acre Vineyard grapes by Gary Brookman. Brookman makes the wine for Grace Family too.

Despite their cult status, Grace Family wines have never been big or over-extracted. Raj Parr, well-known now not just for his wine expertise but also for his “pursuit of balance” and stance against high-alcohol wines has said, “Grace Family wines are among my favorite wines in the world… honest wines, true to variety and sense of place.” The Wise Acre vineyard is in a different location—in between the St. Helena and Howell Mountain AVAs—but shares the same vineyard set-up, practices and philosophy. Lynn and Kirk shoot for alcohol levels of 13.5% or less.

Their first vintage was 2008. I recently tasted a barrel sample of the 2012. It will be bottled in May and then age for another 16 months before release. I’d happily drink it now. In fact, I swallowed every drop of my tasting pour.

The wine smells of currant, red cherry, earth, spice and a hint of juniper. In the mouth there is a moderate amount of fine-grained, lightly grippy tannins balanced neatly with acidity. The wine will be lovely with food but, even now, doesn’t require any. Body is medium to medium+. Flavor intensity is excellent and the finish long. Flavors echo the nose with currant, red cherry, earth and spice but also a splash of mocha. I don’t rate barrel samples but, if this was a released wine today, it would be Very Highly Recommended.

Production volume is very low and heavily dependent on vintage. It’s been as low as 20 cases and will never be more than 100. Given that, plus the all of the hand labor, the pedigree and the quality of the wine itself, it’s a bargain in Napa Valley at $150. The wines are sold direct and there’s a 3-bottle minimum.

*Robert Sinskey has been Demeter-certified biodynamic. It recently cancelled their licensing/certification relationship with Demeter and can no longer use the term biodynamic but has not changed its farming practices.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

Coppola Acquires Inglenook Name for Rubicon, Hires Phillipe Bascaules

Francis Ford Coppola, owner of Rubicon Estate Winery, acquired the Inglenook trademark from The Wine Group this week. The purchase fulfills Coppola’s longtime dream of reuniting his historic estate winery and vineyards with their original name. For many years, the Inglenook brand has been used for inexpensive, mass-market wines. Now it will once again be associated with high-quality wine from Rutherford in Napa Valley. In a separate move this week, Coppola hired Phillipe Bascaules to serve as Estate Manager and Winemaker. Bascaules has spent the last 21 years at Chateau Margaux in Bordeaux, serving as Estate Director for the last 11.

In 1975 Coppola purchased the 1,560 acres which had been the part of Inglenook estate. Included were 125 acres of vineyards, in need of replanting, and the Niebaum residence. However, he was not able to purchase the Inglenook name which was owned by a different company. So Coppola dubbed his new winery Niebaum-Coppola. He acquired an additional 70 vineyard acres, formerly part of Inglenook, in 1995 holdings. In 2006, Niebaum-Coppola became Rubicon Estate Winery to leverage the success and name-recognition of the winery’s flagship product, a Bordeaux-varietal blend called Rubicon.

Francis Ford Coppola at Rubicon Estate, July 13, 2011
Photo: Fred Swan

Emtu Estate Wines Makes Pinot Noir Personal

There are a lot of different ways to sell the wine you make. You can go retail through a wine distributor. You can do it by making all the reseller and restaurant calls yourself. Some wineries only sell to subscribers or through a wine club. Many wineries sell through tasting rooms.

For the most part, Emtu Estate Wines only sells to people that they have gotten to know over wine and a nice cheese plate while sitting at a rustic picnic table under a shady tree beside the vineyard. People often say that the enjoyment of wine is really about fellowship, good discussions and great memories. Chris and John Mason put that into practice.

Kelly Fleming Winery: World-Class Cabernet Sauvignon, Timeless Beauty


Scores of wineries line Napa Valley’s main roads. But there are many hidden gems you’ll never find on casual, signpost-to-signpost wine tours. Places like Kelly Fleming Winery offer great wines, serene settings and are easy to get to once you know about them.

Kelly Fleming Winery is located in the hidden Simmons Canyon, just 5 minutes off of Silverado Trail in the Calistoga AVA. Drive into the hills on a short road of rural residences then make a right turn behind the houses. A little valley opens before you, revealing Kelly Fleming’s beautiful stone winery set on a slope amongst the estate vines.

  Kelly Fleming Winery, Fall 2012. Photo: Fred Swan

Kelly and her then-husband Paul bought the 300-acre property in 1998 for it’s potential as a vineyard. The neighboring Araujo Eisele Vineyard testified to the terroir. They liked the land’s undeveloped state — nothing to tear down or rip out — as well as its beauty and relative isolation. It’s adjacent not just to a number of well-established vineyards but to the land trust. The area will remain undeveloped and low-traffic.

The Flemings had been coming to Napa Valley for years, making evaluations for their restaurant chains’ wine lists. She grew to love the valley and thought they would retire to the property, plant a vineyard and sell the fruit. That plan evolved.

Paul was attached to the restaurant business. Kelly wanted the vineyard life. She moved to the property, building a house further up the canyon and, with consultant Celia Welch, overseeing the planting of eight acres of Cabernet Sauvignon. When the vines began to produce wine-ready grapes, she decided to vinify rather than sell. So much for retirement. “I’m working harder now than I ever did before,” Kelly smiled.

In addition to her role as proprietor of the vineyard and wine label, Kelly played a large role in the design of the house and tasting room. She has a background in fine arts and later designed interiors for her husband’s restaurants, which include Ruth’s Chris Steakhouses in Arizona and California and P.F. Changs. For the winery and house her inspirations were Italian villas of weathered stone: simple, elegant, low-maintenance and timeless. Inside, furnishings follow the theme and are sparse but both functional and comfortable. The tasting room also includes a restaurant-quality kitchen to handle winery lunches and dinners.

The tasting room carries on the feeling of an Italian villa. Photo: Fred Swan

Celia Welch made the first small commercial vintage of Kelly Fleming Cabernet Sauvignon at Rombauer Vineyards. The next year, with a larger crop, they moved production to Laird. But Kelly wanted to follow her fruit through the whole process to guarantee the best representation of the vineyard and to provide her customers with the provenance they expect at nearly $100 per bottle. To do that, she began construction of a 5,000 square-foot winery/tasting room. It opened in 2010. Though the winery has a 5,000 case capacity, Fleming intends to keep production at or below 3,000 cases to ensure quality.

Workers used dynamite to blast a 7,000 square-foot cave into the solid, volcanic hillside at 
Kelly Fleming Winery.
 Photo: Fred Swan

The cave houses not just barrels, but a library of bottled wine. Photo: Fred Swan

  A custom chandelier highlights the volcanic bedrock and creates a dramatic setting.
  Photo: Fred Swan

Celia Welch —  2008 Food and Wine Magazine winemaker of the Year — continues to make the Kelly Fleming wines with help from assistant winemaker Becky George, Kelly and the rest of the small staff. “We’re all certified on the fork lift,” Kelly quipped as she led me through the fermentation room. It's a family operation too. Kelly's daughter, Colleen, works in hospitality, sales and marketing for the winery. Kelly's son Robert handles national accounts.

The estate vineyard is just over 12 acres now, with four acres of Cabernet Sauvignon added in 2005. There is a small plot of Malbec too. Six blocks of Cabernet Sauvigon lie in four distinct areas. Six clones of Cabernet Sauvignon on five rootstocks provide diversity for nuance. Soil depth ranges from just four inches on steep slopes to eight feet in the flats, but it all drains quickly. “My second crop is rock,” Kelly muses. The rhyolitic bedrock includes channels of softer material that lets roots dig in for water, but limited irrigation is still required to keep the vines alive.

I highly recommend a visit to Kelly Fleming Winery whether you’re on a buying trip or just looking for a delightful tasting in a romantic setting. It is open by advance appointment, Monday through Saturday. Visits, $40 per person, include a tasting of available wines accompanied by cheese, crackers and often another treat made from the property’s olives, fruits or vegetables.

Current Releases

The 2011 Kelly Fleming Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley is pretty, aromatic Napa Valley blend. Celia Welch took all the Sauvignon Blanc Musque U.C. Davis’ To Kalon Vineyard could provide. It delivers lovely floral highlights with white peach and spice. A jot of Sauvignon Blanc Clone 1 from elsewhere provides accents of sweet citrus and dry grass.

Half of the wine fermented in stainless steel. The other half went into a mix of new, once-used and twice-used French oak barrels which lent nuanced flavors of wood and spice. After fermentation the wine aged sur lie for 4 months. The palate is lithe with a satiny texture, medium body and long-lasting finish. Drink now through 2014. Highly Recommended. [14.1% alc., 884 cases, $36]

Big Pour is a new label for Kelly Fleming. This wine will be a different blend every year. It will always include estate Cabernet Sauvignon and, starting in 2010, estate Malbec, but will be complemented by other Bordeaux varieties from elsewhere in Napa Valley to create a wine that’s intended to be immediately accessible but still age-worthy.

The 2009 Kelly Fleming Big Pour is a blend of estate Cabernet Sauvignon (84%) and Merlot from a select vineyard in Oakville. Dark ruby in the glass, it offers pronounced aromas of black currant, blackberry, dusty earth, violets and dark spices (allspice, pepper). The palate is full-bodied with a lovely, silky-smooth texture imparted by rich fruit and medium+ fine, powdery tannins. Black currant, chocolate and oak flavors are at the fore. It is ready to drink now and doesn’t require decanting but will gain complexity, through 2020. Highly Recommended. [14.7% alc., 756 cases, $60]

kfbottle cab 270x442Made solely from estate Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2009 Kelly Fleming Cabernet Sauvignon is a testament to that vineyard’s excellence. For maximum quality control and blending flexibility, the blocks/clones are picked and vinified separately. The estate Cabernet Sauvignon ages for about 22 months in French oak. Final blending takes place six months before bottling. The wine matures in bottle for another 14 months prior to release.

The nose is a charming melange of dark fruit, flowers, sweet spice, cedar and oak. In the mouth it is full-bodied and smooth with medium+ fine, powdery tannins. Rich but graceful, the flavors echo the aromas (dark fruit, sweet oak and spice) and add a bit of chocolate. The finish is long. The wine I tasted had been decanted for 24 hours and I would encourage decanting if drinking this wine in the next couple of years. It will age well through 2028. Very Highly Recommended. [14.9% alc., 997 cases, $98]


Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on Facebook. Also check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2013 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.





Learn Secrets to Perfect Wine and Cheese Pairing at St. Supery in Rutherford

“Sauvignon Blanc is a good pairing for goat cheese,” F. Scott Tracy told me. “But goat cheese isn’t necessarily a good pairing for Sauvignon Blanc.” Before each of us sat four glasses of St. Supery wine, a plate with four cheeses and various accompaniments.

A wine and cheese pairing at St. Supery in Rutherford, Napa Valley

I was at St. Supery to try out a new wine and cheese pairing class that is part of an overall refresh of their Rutherford tasting room and hospitality offerings. Tracy, who leads this and other classes, has been helping consumers understand food and wine combinations for twenty years. His last position was at Napa Valley’s Michelin-starred La Toque restaurant where he'd been sommelier since it’s founding in 1998. Prior to that, he sommed at several restaurants in Los Angeles. He joined St. Supery this summer as Guest Experience Manager.

Tracy and I sipped the 2011 St. Supery Estate Sauvignon Blanc. It is a crisp wine, but mouthwatering rather than sharp. Its flavors of grapefruit, lime and green tropical fruit deserve a poolside cabana. We then took a bite of goat cheese on a slice of baguette. The cheese harmonized with lingering flavors of the wine. Tangy citrus met tangy, grassy cheese. So far so good.

Again, we sipped the Sauvignon Blanc. Now its flavors were muted. The wine felt flatter and rounder in my mouth. The chalky-creamy goat cheese insulated my tongue from the acidity which is at the core of Sauvignon Blanc. “The wine highlighted the goat cheese, but the cheese makes the wine seem less attractive and complex,” remarked Tracy, his point proven.

That was not the end of our experiment though. We took another bite of the cheese and bread, but this time along with a single table-grape. Then, one last sip of the wine.

The Sauvignon Blanc’s vibrancy and range of flavors had returned in full. The grape’s naturally high acidity compensated for the low acidity of the cheese. This meant our palates were in a nearly neutral state for the wine.

We went on to experience three more combinations of wine and cheese, each clearly illustrating a different aspect of their interaction. The principles are easily understood and can be applied to other food and wine pairings, and to cooking in general. With just a little bit of advance experimentation, visitors can use what they’ve learned to delight their own palates and “wow” friends at home.

Visiting St. Supery

St. Supery is located at 8440 Hwy. 29 in Rutherford and open daily from 10am - 5pm. Parties of 6 or less need not make reservations for the six wine Estate Tasting ($15) or the four wine Single Vineyard Tasting ($25). Library tastings, tours and classes are readily available by appointment (made online). The tour and classes each last 30 minutes and cost $25 - $35, except for the 60-minute “Bordeaux Varietals and Your Senses” class ($50).

Two tasting areas on the ground floor can accommodate scores of visitors for the walk-in tastings. Private tastings and classes are conducted upstairs where there is a small private room and a large area filled with tables. It can be divided with curtains. Visitors can also enjoy the art gallery, with rotating exhibits organized by San Francisco’s Paul Thiebaud Gallery, taste wine al fresco at the small tables in the front courtyard, or play a game of pétanque under the shady trees.

Part of the outdoor tasting area at St. Supery

The main St. Supery tasting room: there is another bar to the right and a second room in the background.

Have a ball at the pétanque courts at St. Supery.


Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.