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On a Vertical Tasting of Grgich-Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville Selection

Grgich-Hills hosted a vertical tasting of their Yountville Selection Cabernet Sauvignon this week. The fruit comes from a vineyard near Hopper Creek that was planted in 1959, coincidentally just one year after Mike Grgich first arrived in Napa Valley. The vineyard lies across a dirt road from DominusNapanook vineyard, the site of Napa’s very first wine grapes planted by George Yount, and features “Inglenook Clone” Cabernet Sauvignon on the long-lived, Phylloxera-resistant St. George rootstock. Mike Grgich bought the vineyard in 1984 and lived in its Victorian house for 20 years thereafter. Grgich-Hills believes the vineyard to be the second-oldest productive Cabernet Sauvignon plot in Napa Valley.

The first vintage Grgich-Hills offered a Yountville Selection Cabernet Sauvignon was 1991. I and fellow writers tasted that ’91 alongside 1994, 1997, 2004, 2007 and 2010. It wasn’t until 2002 that such a wine was released every year. The only wine released in the ’90’s we didn’t get to try was 1995.

Grgich-Yountville-Selection
Photo: Fred Swan

It probably won’t surprise you that the wines of the early 1990’s are moderate in alcohol and framed by acidity while the later wines are richer, mouth-filling and rely primarily on tannins for structure. What caught me off guard, and likely will you, is that the fruit for those lean, energetic wines was picked later than that for the recent vintages.

Revitalizing a Vineyard

How does fan leaf-virused, 50-something-year old vines yield riper, richer Cabernet grapes earlier in the year than those same vines did 20 years prior? Or, for that matter, how a winery can even get reasonable yields from half-century Cabernet vines with rust-colored leaves?

It’s about old-school farming. In 1991, the vines seemed to be at the end of their productive lives. Yields were low. To eke out as much ripeness as possible, harvests were delayed until the very last moment. Then, Grgich-Hills transitioned away from “modern” viticulture with commercial fertilizers and pesticides. They instituted organic agriculture that encourages healthy soil full of happy microorganisms. These microbes are essential to vine health as they convert nutrients in the soil into forms which roots can absorb and utilize. Years of pesticide use and reliance on artificial fertilizers deplete these microorganisms. Gradually, the soil recovered the naturally and dry-farmed vines became healthier and more fruitful.

Wine Styles

You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to. There was a clear divide between the older wines and the younger with respect to acidity, tannic strength, alcohol level and palate richness. Many attendees were passionate about the juicy oldsters, full of energy and demanding food. I’m sympathetic to that and very much enjoyed those wines, though my ratings this time skew slightly in favor of the more exuberant, chewy, fruity young pups. The Grigich-Hills philosophy is that wine ought to be built for food. Even the “intoxicating” 2010 has freshness and will be a lovely dinner companion.

Notes on Six Vintages of Grgich-Hills Yountville Selection Cabernet Sauvignon

1991 Grgich-Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville Selection
Dark ruby with a hint of garnet at the rim. Deep aromas of drying—yet somehow fresh—black currant, spice, moist cedar, dried leaves, coffee and tobacco. Medium to medium-plus body in the mouth with brisk acidity, moderate alcohol and just a hint of very fine, thoroughly integrated tannins. Flavors include tart black fruit, spice, lemon, drying leaves and potting soil. This wine evolved steadily in the glass, gradually building richness. It’s fully-developed but will hold for a good many years. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. 13.3% alcohol. Highly Recommended

1994 Grgich-Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville Selection
Dark ruby with very slight garnet at the rim. The nose features spice, dry forest floor, cocoa and mushroom. Over time, a Worcestershire sauce aroma emerged. After the savory nose, the forward flavors of tart red and black currants, accompanied by spice and moist forest floor, came as a surprise. The body is solidly medium-plus but the very fine tannins are nearly subliminal. This wine is framed by acidity, but less racy than the ’91. Further developed than the 1991 or 1997, the 1994 is drinking well and was a favorite of many writers in attendance. I’d get to it fairly soon though. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. 13.5% alcohol. Recommended +

1997 Grgich-Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville Selection
Deep garnet in color with a nose of moist, dusty wood, baked currants, dry mint, spice, violets, sandalwood and dried rose petals. It’s nearly full-bodied in the mouth with fine, chalky tannins slightly dominating acidity. Long-lasting flavors of moist forest floor, tart black currant, black cherry, earth and lemon. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. 13.5% alcohol. Highly Recommended+

2004 Grgich-Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville Selection
Dark ruby core with a thin garnet rim. Beautifully fruity aromas of stewed black currant, macerated red cherry and red ropes with chocolate and dry leaves. Full-bodied in the mouth with a bounty of fine, chalky tannins. Tart blackberry, red cherry, licorice, dark chocolate and spice linger on the palate. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. 14.5% alcohol. Very Highly Recommended

2007 Grgich-Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville Selection
Deep ruby and redolent of black cherries and chocolate with enticing accents of vanilla bean, butterscotch and baking spices. Full-bodied with fine-grained and chalky tannins. Juicy black cherries with licorice, chocolate and spice go on and on. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. 14.7% alcohol. Very Highly Recommended

2010 Grgich-Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville Selection
Deep ruby and loaded with mocha, spice, black currant and red cherry aromatics. Full-bodied with fine-grained tannins in the mouth. Flavors include mocha, chocolate, macerated red and black cherries and an intriguing amount of earth. A sudden, late-season heat spike in the otherwise cool 2010 gave sugars a surprising boost and resulted in lower acidity and higher alcohol in this wine than is characteristic for Grgich-Hills or might otherwise be expected for the vintage. This is a delicious wine nonetheless. 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2.5% Cabernet Franc (Carneros), 2.5% Petite Verdot. 15.1% alcohol. Very Highly Recommended

To learn more about Grgich-Hills Yountville Vineyard, watch this video presentation by their VP of Vineyards & Production, Ivo Jeramaz.

 

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

A Tale of Two Conferences

Computer keyboard

In my last article, Cats and Dogs Blogging Together, I said there are two species of blogger: career bloggers and hobbyist bloggers. The North American Wine Bloggers’ Conferences could serve each type of blogger better by acknowledging the differences and playing to those differences rather than continuing the current “one size fits all” strategy. Below are my specific proposals. I welcome your comments on them.

WBC currently has two classes of attendee: Citizen Blogger ($95 fee) and Industry Blogger ($295). Like Career Bloggers, Industry Bloggers make their living through the wine industry. However, most Industry Bloggers are employed by a particular winery or reseller so their focus is on promoting that employer rather than exploring and writing about a wide range of wineries and topics. I suggest creating a new category, specifically for Career Bloggers, with a $195 fee and maximum attendance of 50.

The higher fee will do three things. It will discourage Citizen Bloggers from signing up under that category. It will make them feel a little better about the exclusivity of Career Blogger activities. It will also subsidize those activities, allowing certain aspects to be upgraded, enabling a lower fee structure that might allow small producers to participate, and/or paying an honorarium to one or two speakers. Careful vetting of Career Blogger registrants will help ensure people sign up in the appropriate category.

Limiting the number of Career Blogger tickets will allow for quieter, more focused sessions, use of smaller rooms/wineries, easier transport for off-site events, and pouring lower production and/or more expensive wines. It will make networking between like-minded bloggers easier. Grouping attendees in this way may also introduce new sponsorship opportunities.

Attendee badges would be color-coded to easily differentiate between categories. There should still be events which all bloggers attend jointly, but several each day would be designated for Career Bloggers only. Industry Bloggers could attend those events but, for planning purposes, would need to register for each such event prior to the conference.

Career Bloggers should leave WBC with deep knowledge of the host area’s terroir, history, wine styles and place in the market. This would be achieved through detailed seminars, extensive tastings and multiple excursions. Seminars should be focused, deliver on their title’s promise and emphasize education over entertainment. Q&A with winemakers and growers is essential.

No regional seminars or AVA-wide tastings should be held concurrently with each other. Some excursions might. Details on excursions should be disclosed well before the conference though, and attendees given the opportunity to choose their destinations—no mystery tours.

Seminars, workshops and tastings not focused on the host region are also important. Topics might be very similar to those already offered, such as consumer research, the business of blogging, writing workshops, tasting techniques and tutorials on media, web tools, etc. Tastings from non-host regions should deliver educationally and feature high-quality—or, at least, very representative—wines. All sessions should be led by very well-prepared moderators and panelists. Most sessions ought to be interactive. There shouldn’t be more than two such seminars running concurrently.

There should be no tasting of wines that come in bags, boxes or “paks.” Ideally, unless it’s a truly amazing value, there should be no tasting of wine that retails for less than $10. There could still be sessions where winemakers move from one small group of bloggers to the next. But each segment should be 10 minutes long, to allow for questions, and the groups of bloggers ought to be well separated so noise isn’t an issue. If sweet or fortified wines will be poured, each blogger needs two glasses so that one wine doesn’t color the next.

Removing some of the detailed and/or career-oriented components from the main WBC curriculum will allow for more events that Hobbyist Bloggers really enjoy. Add a third Live Blogging session. Add sessions where Hobbyist Bloggers interact with each other more, perhaps talking about what’s going on in their home regions.

I realize pulling all this off successfully will require more work. And I’d also recommend having a separate advisory board just for the Career Blogger segment. In the end though, I think WBC will be better for the new structure and might recapture some of those career bloggers who are abandoning it.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2014. The Wine Bloggers Conference logo is the property of Zephyr Adventures. The photo of typing is in the public domain. All rights reserved.

Cats and Dogs Blogging Together

There are two species of wine bloggers. Within each species, there are many breeds—reporter, diarist, taster, storyteller, etc.—which have analogs in the other. But the two species are very different animals.

The Dogs BedFor one species, wine blogging is part of a career in or around the wine industry. Their involvement with wine may not pay all the bills yet, but they seriously intend to make that happen. For the other, wine blogging is, and always will be, a hobby. They might hope to cover some costs and receive wine samples, but their blogging is really a pastime, a creative outlet, a way of sharing their experiences.

I’m not saying one species of blogger is better than the other, just that they are distinct. Their goals, outlooks, interests and approaches to blogging contrast clearly. The Wine Bloggers’ Conference has always tried to serve both species. Each is addressed by certain activities within the programs. But the target audiences for seminars aren't overtly identified. Content doesn't give the impression of having been fine-tuned for either segment.

In retrospect, this is at the root of my frustrations with the conference and, I suspect, those of numerous "career bloggers" who have attended. We feel uncomfortable with multiple aspects of WBC that happen to have great appeal to hobbyists. And many careerists feel WBC doesn’t offer them enough unique value to justify their time and travel expense.

My favorite non-tasting seminar at this past conference was Michael Larner’s presentation on Terroir of Santa Barbara County. He was thorough, authoritative, focused and occasionally showed his dry humor. I found the session was very informative and time well spent. Unfortunately, there weren’t more than 25 bloggers in the tent.

Why, in a conference taking place in Santa Barbara County, were there not more people eager to learn about Santa Barbara County? First, the career group, which has much greater interest in the details of soil, climate and geological history, is, at best, 20% the size of the hobbyist camp. Second, Michael’s session was concurrent with two others, each having a title starting with “The Business of.” If you’re a career blogger, all three sessions have appeal. Which do you attend? If you’re a hobbyist, none are particularly exciting. Do you grudgingly attend one or do you sleep in?

My favorite tasting seminar of the conference was “Syrah Territory: Ballard Canyon.” It was instructive, allowed winemakers to address the audience directly and the wines were tremendous. The tasting seminar called “Dig In: Sta. Rita Hills” might have been even better. I’ll never know. These two core seminars on Santa Barbara wine were presented simultaneously.

Many people enjoyed the panel discussion entitled “How the Pros Taste.” I like and respect each of the panelists: Patrick Comiskey, Steve Heimoff and Joe Roberts. Much of the crowd enjoyed these gentlemen’s interplay, stories, enthusiasm for particular wines and occasional nuggets about their tasting habits. But I and a few careerists sitting around me, writhed in frustration, wondering when Steve, Joe and Patrick would tell us how they actually approach tasting: their process, how they characterize tannins, how they weigh various criteria to reach an overall quality assessment, etc. That never happened, but the majority of attendees—the hobbyists—were entertained and left happy.

And then there’s “live blogging.” I loathe it. I understand a winery’s desire for face-to-face time with many small sets of bloggers adn the benefit of having their brand trending on Twitter. I grok the revenue model for Zephyr. I can relate to the happiness and invigoration bloggers experience when learning and tasting so many new things in rapid-fire succession, and having to write/tweet about it under the pressure of 5-minute deadlines.

But I feel badly for the winemakers who can barely make themselves heard in a hall with hundreds of people talking at once. I wonder who, reading at home, can keep up with and benefit from the tidal wave of 80 character (plus multiple hashtags) “reviews.” I mourn for my palate which is required to first taste a fortified wine, then a delicate white, then a pungent Sauvignon Blanc, then a neutral white from a box. Thank Dionysus for the occasional palate-resetting bubbly!

In Tuesday’s article, I’ll offer ideas for restructuring the conference to better serve both hobbyist and career bloggers.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2014. Photo: Wikimedia Commons: Petteri Sulonen. All rights reserved.

Getting the Wine Bloggers Conference We Deserve

Malloreigh wearing boxing glovesI attended this year’s North American Wine Bloggers’ Conference in Santa Barbara last week. This was the fifth WBC I’ve attended. Some parts of the conference were truly excellent, many were interesting in the moment but not memorable. Others could and should have been much better in my view. The event is a for-profit venture. Attendee feedback is vital to improvement in future seminars, tastings, excursions, presenters and in the conference as a whole.

Zephyr does solicit feedback from bloggers for future sessions. Not all advice is taken. Some is conflicting, impractical or would cut into Zephyr’s profits. The organizers have made changes over the years based on our comments though.

There’s still a lot of room for improvement. And three of the six best events in Santa Barbara that weekend were actually non-sanctioned gatherings which Zephyr didn’t want anybody to attend. I’m concerned, though, that a negative feedback loop is being created. There was even an article this week, from a blogger who wasn’t present at the conference, that did nothing but regurgitate negative comments from attendees.

Some of the criticism is so virulent, and sometimes personal, that the relationship with Zephyr—who don’t react well to complaints anyway—can only become increasingly adversarial. That won’t lead to better conferences. Likewise, the tenor of gripes about individual panelists is such that only people totally desperate for exposure will agree to participate in coming years..

A few months ago, bloggers rightly called Robert Parker out for posting a scathing forum rant about a Jon Bonné/Eric Asimov tasting seminar he hadn’t attended. His comments were based on partially inaccurate missives from his colleagues. We should hold ourselves to the same standards to which we hold others.

I’m not saying some of the criticism isn’t justified. We should keep that criticism constructive and impersonal though. Before we rip into panelists on blogs and social media, we should remember panelists are people with feelings, reputations they’ve built through years of diligent work, and families and friends who may see our posts. We should remember the panelists came to the conference with goodwill toward us, the intent to be helpful and that the only payment they receive is our goodwill in exchange.

Note: Per comments from Allan of Zephyr Adventures (see below), I have edited this article to remove text indicating that Zephyr  employees are not winee industry people or wine enthusiasts.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2014. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons: Malloreigh - RetouchAll rights reserved.

New White Wines and Rosés from Rutherford's Day in the Dust

Last Wednesday afternoon, the Rutherford Dust Society held their annual tasting for trade and media at Inglenook. Roughly 40 wineries were represented. I tasted 54+ wines (in addition to those from the morning session which I describe here). That article also includes a summary of the 2011 vintage overall.

Most of the wines offered at the tasting were red. However, there were some very compelling white and rosés too. I’ve dedicated this article to those wines, so they don’t get lost in the Cabernet shuffle.

Rutherford White and Rosé New Releases

Alpha Omega Sauvignon Blanc “1155” Napa Valley 2013, ~$38
Sauvignon Blanc and 4% Semillon, all estate-grown in Rutherford, were fermented in French oak barrels. Fresh, summery flavors of tart peach and dry grass are coupled with enjoyably grippy texture and freshness. Recommended

El Molino Chardonnay Rutherford 2012, $60 - 856 cases
White peach and beautiful floral notes of honeysuckle and pikake with some oak in the background. Very pretty. Highly Recommended

Elizabeth Spencer Chardonnay Rutherford 2012, $45 - 300 cases
Aromas and flavors of green apple skin, fresh herb and under ripe peach with a fresh palate. Recommended

Fleury Estate Winery Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford 2012, $50
Fermentation and aging was 50% stainless steel, 50% new French oak. This is a boldly tropical wine with passionfruit, pineapple and white flower aromatics. Medium-plus body and the flavor of piña colada on the palate. Recommended

Honig Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford 2012, $28
Salty lemon-lime aromas with grapefruit, peppery spice and herb on the palate. Medium-plus body and very fresh. Aged in French oak, 40% new. 10% Semillon, 2% Muscat. Highly Recommended

Long Meadow Ranch Winery Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford 2013, $20
Salty lime pith, passionfruit, melon rind and herb aromas join with loads of grapefruit on the palate. Fresh, long and intense. Highly Recommended

Conspire Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford 2013, $28 - 267 cases
Welcome to Sancerre! Intensely aromatic with passionfruit, grapefruit, salty minerality and pipi du chat. Body is a light medium-plus and the finish very long. 50% Sauvignon Blanc, 50% Sauvignon Musque. Conspire is a sub-brand of Amy Aiken's Meander wines. Highly Recommended

Provenance Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford 2013, ~$23
Fresh, tasty and softened ever so slightly by 5% oak (new French). Peach blossom, guava and spice. Recommended

Provenance Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford Estate 2013, ~$29
30% usage of new French oak lends added richness to the palate of this estate wine. White peach, sweet citrus and spice. Best to let this wine breathe a good while or splash it into a decanter. Highly Recommended

Staglin Chardonnay Rutherford Estate 2012, $75
A gorgeous Chardonnay with green and yellow apples and pretty floral spice on the nose and creamy palate. Very Highly Recommended

Talahalusi Vineyards Roussanne Rutherford 2012
First things first: Talahalusi is the name the local Wappo tribe had for what we know as Napa Valley. There’s 5% Picpoul Blanc blended into this full-bodied Roussanne. It’s juicy and long with flavors of kiwi and dry grass. Recommended

Tres Sabores Rosé Rutherford “Ingrid and Julia” 2013, $24
Forget that this an unlikely dry rosé, made from Zinfandel (85%) and Petite Sirah (15%). Just enjoy the pale pink color, delicious flavors of nectarine and fresh berries in sweet cream and the refreshing, long-lasting palate. Highly Recommended

 

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