In 2005 I had the tremendous opportunity to conclude my business school studies at a program at the École de Management in Lyon, France (a culinary capital of the world, just like Napa). Jumping on the chance to study overseas, I packed my bag and left for Europe for a course in international business practices. In addition to standard coursework our program director also included a couple days of “case study” in a village named Morgon just outside of Lyon. Unbeknownst to me at the time and of the future implications for me now working in the wine trade, Morgon is a premiere destination within the winegrape growing region of Beaujolais. This was my first adventure in wine.
A brief introduction to Beaujolais. The Beaujolais Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) is a region south of Burgundy. Climate has a Mediterranean influence and soil is predominantly limestone and granite. Unlike Burgundy which focuses on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir production Beaujolais is famous for the growing of Gamay, a red skinned grape that produces typically lighter bodied, lighter tannin, clean and fruity wines. Wine Expert Karen MacNeil refers to Beaujolais as “the only white wine that happens to be red.” From largest to most defined region, the AOC tier is Beaujolais, then Beaujolais-Village, then Cru Beaujolais, of which Morgon is considered one of the very best.
My interest in Morgon was strictly business… of course followed shortly by excessive tastings. In the business of wine, Beaujolais catapulted to fame with the introduction of “Beaujolais Nouveau:” an extremely light, fresh, sometimes slightly effervescent red wine released just weeks after harvest. The release was heralded as a celebration that harvest for the year had concluded. While not nearly as popular as it once was it can still be found at your local specialty wine merchant in time for Thanksgiving dinner. In the world of viticulture and vineyard management, the vines of Beaujolais are cultivated nearly exclusively in the gobelet style. This system trains vines closer to the ground with less shoots and zero reliance on a trellis system. The vines end up looking like small bushes which assists in air circulation to prevent rot and mildew. And in winemaking, this region championed the fermentation style of carbonic maceration. This is a nearly yeast-less fermentation style whereby the grapes undergo intracellular fermentation in an oxygen-less environment. This technique of reductive winemaking preserves the fresh and fruity aspects of the wine without extracting tannin.
What was my takeaway from my first adventure in wine? Well at first we were all amazed and perplexed by the rigidity of the AOC system which is notorious for regulation in grapegrowing and production in France. Despite those regulations, it’s important to note that AOC serves to protect the identity and history of these regions (Beaujolais was first planted by the Romans in the 7th century). Second not too many people identify themselves as “winemakers,” rather these owner-operators are “grapegrowers.” This concept along with the AOC system, one gets a feeling there is an underlying reverence and appreciation to the earth, the sites, the vines and vine growth. As we experienced at the end our “studies” wine is every bit of a daily lifestyle there. Opening bottles of wine wasn’t the occasion, rather a complement to living. It’s a concept still largely foreign to us in America where we like to sometimes hold onto bottles for special occasions, when we should just be enjoying them for the sake of enjoying.
This month we celebrate Don Quixote and all of his wild adventures. Napa Valley is a great place to take an adventure and celebrate it with wine. This is all about my favorite adventure with wine!
My greatest adventures with wine always happen on the golf course. The course is not so important… they all have the usual water hazards and sand traps that are perfectly places to rob me of my golf balls. But on my quest for the hole in one on a three par or shooting for an eagle I always bring some wine to help soften the blows of shanking and slicing my shots. I have many wines at the tip of my fingers but my “golf buddy” is the Black Label Cab. The bottle fits nicely in the cup holder of most golf carts and I like to imbibe my cab along the course in a very casual red solo cup.
So many times have I approached the tee with visions of excellence and carefully choreographed swings only to have reality hit and find the end result nowhere the perfection I imagined. In these cases a slow sip of my cab is like a friendly pat on the back. Sometimes I hit the ball from the tee and it looks like I know what I am doing! The ball flies straight and true and lands with finesse on the green placing me within feet of the hole. In these instances every sip from my cup is a celebration and encouragement for what lies ahead on the course.
Note: Don't forget to share with us your favorite Adventure with Wine!
There is nothing better than a glass of wine and some delicious snacks while watching the final rounds of March Madness. When it comes to pairing any food with wine it is import to look for complementary or contrasting flavors. The three best sports watching snacks include ones that are spicy, salty and sugary.
Those who like something hot may go for spiced nuts, like smoky spicy almonds. They are a great snack to enjoy with a cool glass of Gewurztraminer or Sauvignon Blanc. The spicy nuts cancel some of wine’s fruitiness; so it is best to pair spice with a wine that is lightly sweet, very fruity, low tannin and crisp. Not only will the wine taste more refreshing, but it will intensify the flavors in the almonds.
Of course, one of the best salty snacks are potato chips. My great-grandmother always said the perfect combo is potato chips and a large glass of champagne. She was right because the salt in the potato chips and the acidity in wine both cancel each other out. Champagne or Sparkling wine is best with salty foods because of its slight sweetness, low tannin and higher acidity.
If you have more of a sweet tooth, like me, than the sugary snack foods are preferred. This one does tend to be a little trickier. Like we discussed in our previous blog, pairing sweet treats with sweet wines can be difficult. The wine has to be sweeter than the sweet snack. I prefer a dessert wine with dark chocolate peanut m&ms. The dark chocolate peanut m&ms are an easy snack food and not overly sweet.
If you are interested in a fun way to combine all three flavors, here is a tasty Chex Mix Recipe. This recipe combines spicy, salty, and sugary flavors for a delectable snack that can be enjoyed with a glass of Baldacci wine while cheering on your favorite team. Enjoy!
Homemade Chex Mix:
6 cups Corn Chex cereal
6 cups Crispix cereal
4 cups Wheat Chex cereal
2 cups Honey Nut Cheerios cereal
2 cups pretzel sticks
2 cups peanuts
1 cup cashews
¾ cup butter, melted
4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauces
1 tablespoon seasoned salt
1 ½ teaspoons garlic powder
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
A common discussion in premium wine production is the vintage, or growing season, of the grapes. If you live in or have visited California you know how spoiled we are for tremendous farming weather as evident not only by our wine production but all the fresh produce the state grows. But what are the hands down, elite, slam dunk wine vintages? For this post I will discuss three vintages that rocked the world, and the best part is that if you're fortunate to find them all three are in their drinking window this year.
1978 Piemonte (Runner-Up: 2010 Peimonte)
Argued by wine critic Antonio Galloni to be the greatest vintage ever of Piemonte, 1978 wines are still aging beautifully in the bottle. Piemonte is located at the Northern end of Italy with the Alps as their backdrop. Barolo and Barbaresco, two of the standout DOCG regions in Piemonte, focus on growing Nebbiolo, a highly tannic complex and age worthy grape.
Starting off as a colder spring season, lighter blossoming led to lighter yields. 1978 saw very consistent and nearly perfect growing conditions throughout the summer devoid of heat spikes or rain. As a result the grapes had slowly matured preserving the ideal balance of sugar and acid and harvest occurred later in the season. Already a region known for incredible long lasting wines, the wines of this vintage continue to deliver and evolve nearly 40 years later.
Not only was an important vintage for the French in terms of the growing season, 1982 was also important for the wine business of Bordeaux. The region which is usually dominated by a maritime influence saw a long, hot and dry summer creating these lush and rich wines which has been referred to as the "California Vintage." On most vintages a later harvest for red wines isn't possible as moisture is a problem in the morning hours creating rot (which greatly benefits the wines of Sauternes that we discussed last month). Instead the vineyards saw an extended growing season allowing their fruit to fully ripen and develop.
Noted enologist Emile Peynaud helped champion the practice of leaving the grapes on the vine a little longer (creating higher sugar content, which translates to higher alcohol and a fuller body), and also promote tiered production. Peynaud argued that wineries should divide their fruit into two quality levels and only allow the top quality into their wines. The second tier could be bottled under a second, less expensive label. The immediate impact were wines of higher quality and an increased production level. The critical and monetary success of '82 provided a large cash injection for many wineries in the region to improve their facility and vineyards thus cementing BDX as a global leader in modern premium wine production.
2007 Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon (Runner-Up: 2001 Napa Valley)
Using Robert Parker's vintage guide, since 1970 Napa Valley has experienced four "Average" growing seasons, eight "Above Average to Excellent," twenty-three rated "Outstanding" and three named "Extraordinary". It is worth noting that our region has not seen anything lower than "average," which has afflicted nearly every other major grape growing region in the world. 2007 was one of those "Extraordinary" years and was a wildly popular vintage for wine reviewers and consumers alike.
What we saw in 2007 was a dry and warm spring leading to a modestly early bud break starting mid-March, followed a really consistent warm summer with only one heat spike in early September. Harvest season was unrushed by a milder and cooler season allowing the grapes opportunity to relax and slowly mature on the vine. The harvest was not rushed as the Valley didn't see rainstorms so vineyards saw picking through the end of October. We saw less yield than in 2005 and 2006, but also saw a slightly lower finished alcohol level in the bottle. Tannin was seen as more supple and juicy than past vintages. Less fuit perhaps but of higher quality, specifically with Cabernet Sauvignon, created a banner vintage for hte Valley.
Coaches, like winemakers, are leaders…they create strategy, execute game plans and most importantly, they inspire! Do I know much about these amazing ladies? Not really…but their successes, which are extraordinary in the world of sports, led me to contemplate some of the winning women winemakers who have had similar seasons of success and whom deserve our recognition...
Cathy Corison is in my final four as an outstanding lady winemaker. Jon Bonné, from the San Francisco Chronicle, named Cathy as Winemaker of the Year in 2014. I cross paths with Cathy in the local gym and during these early morning hours, she often has a slightly mischievous grin… With 25 seasons behind her, Cathy has a few key strategies which define her playbook: organic farming with a focus on dry-farming, moderate ripeness and specific vineyard locations. Her top “athlete”, the Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, has been her starting player for over two decades. This expression of Cabernet Sauvignon has many winning moves: grace, elegance and the ability to mesmerize!
Heidi Barrett also lands in my final four. I love Heidi’s personal style: fun, upbeat and professional. Her tenure as winemaker for some of the most revered wine brands in the Napa Valley speaks volumes to her ability to coax excellence out of every vineyard. Some of her top performers, with perfect scores, include the Maya label from Dalla Valle and Screaming Eagle. In 1996, she formally launched her own brand, La Sirena, with an emphasis on Cabernet Sauvignon. Her philosophy is to make the best wines possible by blending modern technology with traditional winemaking. Pick up a bottle of La Sirena Cabernet Sauvignon and enjoy the balance of fundamentals accented by Heidi’s signature moves!
I first met Rosemary Cakebread when she was the winemaker at Spottswoode. Her quiet personality underscores her commitment to producing wines that have character and grace. She is not flashy and neither are her wines. Like a solid rebounder, Rosemary’s wines combine power and elegance in a full-bodied style with good structure. With more than 30 seasons under her, Rosemary launched her own brand, Gallica, in 2007. Her goal is to bottle balanced and expressive wines which represent the best of a particular vintage. I like this philosophy…take it as it comes…the winemaker is at the mercy of each harvest…one can only plan for so much.
My final pick in the winning wine women bracket goes to Françoise Peschon. Françoise is wonderfully real. Her affection for Cabernet Sauvignon began with her studies at the University of Bordeaux and was solidified by an apprenticeship at Château Haut-Brion. She has crafted beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon from Araujo Estate for over 14 years as well as overseeing the stellar wines from Vine Hill Ranch. In 2000, she teamed up with Lisa Drinkward, Owner and Vineyard Manager for the Behrens Family Winery, to form Drinkward Peschon. They produce only Cabernet Sauvignon and their joint project, called Entre Deux Mères (between two mothers) reflects their philosophy of raising children – give them a lot of tender loving care, nurture always, then let them go on to express themselves and become the unique individuals they were meant to be.
I like the idea that wines are like children...they need to be coached, but really, they have their own personality! A toast to each of you winning women, and a word of gratitude for staying in the game!
March Madness is a time when College Basketball teams get to prove themselves, showing who the best team in the Nation is. Each team is known for its unique mix of players, having a specific skill set, with certain attributes they bring to the “dance”. Similarly here at Baldacci, each one of our wines has a unique profile with certain traits which make them different from the others.
The Duke Blue Devils Basketball team has the fourth-highest number of all-time wins of any NCAA men’s basketball program. They are a team with a longstanding history of success in basketball and they are what I consider a very traditional team. Dukes’ current coach, Mike Krzyzewski has been at Duke since 1980. He and his team have become ambassadors for College Basketball.
Baldacci’s Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon is our ambassador for wine. This Cab is a representation of what Baldacci really is about; a single varietal that stands out with so much flavor and complexity. It has the ability to age well and is still so graceful in its youth. Similar with Duke’s Basketball team our Black Label Cabernet is a real powerhouse and makes itself known to those who enjoy a glass.
Another team that brings a lot to the table similar to our IV Sons, Fraternity is the Kentucky Wildcats basketball team. Just like the Fraternity (our Red Blend), the Wildcats are a very versatile team. Each player a star in his own right but when they come together and play as a team, they are unstoppable. What makes both Kentucky basketball and IV Sons, Fraternity so exceptional is the way in which the mix and blend (of varietals) work so well to make them both stellar performers.
The Elizabeth Pinot Noir is such a unique Pinot that goes against the grain and really stands out. It makes itself known, by being much bigger and bolder for such a light delicate wine. In a similar fashion the mighty Gonzaga Bulldogs have stood out for many years, despite not being part of one of the power conferences like the ACC or PAC12. What this Pinot and the Bulldogs have in common is their continued high level of performance against the competition.
Our Cinderella Story here at Baldacci Family Vineyards is the Sorelle Chardonnay. Similar to the newly recognized Wichita State Shockers men’s basketball program, this underdog of wines has really surprised a lot of people and demonstrated its success with the 2012 Sorelle Chardonnay taking home Best-in-Class at the SF Chronical Tasting. While they might not be the most well-known against the real titans, they’re definitely poised and ready to prove that “the little guy” can sometimes surprise you!
March Madness, a term coined to describe the only emotion that a 64 team bracket can bring upon us as individuals. Each year, every team's record is reset to 0-0, with just one loss eliminating a team from competition. Every year, there are the teams that have been defined as the ‘favorite’, but inevitably there is the Cinderella Story that captures the hearts and minds of EVERYONE. Whether it is the Stephen Curry lead Davidson team that as a 10 seed went all the way to the Elite 8, or my personal favorite the 1990 LMU (my alma-mater, GO LIONS!) team that persevered through the sudden and tragic passing of their star player Hank Gathers, to make it all the way to the Elite 8!
This year Baldacci Family Vineyards will be putting our own spin on March Madness. We want to see which restaurants our fans like the most in the Napa Valley. The first round brackets will determine which restaurants from each of the 4 towns; Calistoga, St. Helena, Yountville and Napa, will move on to the final championship.
The Yountville bracket will consist of the amazingly fresh, and socially friendly foods of Lucy’s, the classic Italian dishes of famed Chef Michael Chiarello’s Bottega, a long standing favorite, Mustard’s Grill, with their famous pork chop, and the new kid on the block, Redd Wood, which is known for their artisan pizzas and amazing pasta dishes.
Napa will put forth some tough competitors with Oenotri dishing out its traditional southern Italian cuisine, ZUZU and their amazing Spanish tapas, longstanding restaurant La Toque, known for their foie gras, and finally Bounty Hunter, with their fantastic smoked meats and killer wine list!
St. Helena, our neighbors to the north, will have Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, a long standing local hot spot, my personal favorite, Farmstead, with Chef Stephen Barber at the helm serving up savory meats, poultry and fish, night after night, Cook with its simple yet elegantly styled food, and last but certainly not least, Market St. Helena, truly a locals' and tourists' favorite, featuring home-style meals including their delicious fried chicken.
Follow us on Facebook and Instagram to see which restaurants are slated against each other that day… A like gets you a vote for one restaurant while a comment will get you a vote for another… May the best restaurant win!!
We all know that Napa Valley has so many incredible restaurants, but there is one in particular that stands out to me because of their dessert. The best hidden sweet in Napa Valley is found at Cindy Pawlcyn's Mustards Grill.
The Lemon-Lime Meringue Pie is to die for. The flavors are sublime… pun intended… and when you see this mountain of meringue heading to the dining table everyone else in the restaurant notices as well. I am never able to finish one serving off myself so my wife Jenny is happy to help me in this endeavor. If you find yourself at Cindy’s up valley eatery, Cindy’s Backstreet in St. Helena, this amazing dessert is sometimes found there as well.
If you are a fan of lemon-lime pie and you are not intimidated by a literal mountain of light fluffy meringue this is a must have desert while you are here in the Napa Valley!
This would go great with our Sorelle Chardonnay!
Premiere Napa Valley just wrapped up, and here is the brief breakdown of the week full of festivities, and the results of the auction.
Premiere Napa Valley, or “Premiere” as it is often referred to by vintners is an auction that is put on by our trade association the Napa Valley Vintners. The NVV’s mission statement is “to promote, protect, and enhance the Napa Valley appellation, our wines, vintners and community.” The auction raises funds for their annual budget, and it is a memorable week in the Napa Valley that every vintner looks forward to each year.
The auction is Saturday, but the week is full of fun events. As a winery we participated in a couple different ways. On Wednesday night, Kellie and I hosted three young sommeliers, or somms, for dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants Lucy’s. We appreciated the opportunity to pick their brains about trends they are seeing in the industry from the restaurant side. We are happy to report that we are in a good position, as people love to see Napa Valley on the lists, and specifically Stags Leap District.
Thursday and Friday night we poured alongside other vintners and showcased our wines for hundreds of trade members. For vintners this is a great way to build new contacts, continue existing ones and reconnect with old relationships. Trade includes, retailers, distributors and restauranteurs from all over the country, and even a small contingent from China.
Each vintner crafts a unique wine for the auction, they are wines that can only be purchased at the auction. Rolando once again crafted us an amazing wine, taking his favorite barrel of our “Brenda’s Vineyard” collection.
Michael Baldacci & Cyrus Hazzard from Total Wine
Saturday was the big day, with vintner arrivals at 8:30 AM, the tasting before the auction got kicked off promptly at 9:00 AM as anxious members of the trade filled the Culinary Institute of America to try as many of the 225 lots as possible. The wine showed beautifully, and was a perfect representation of our Stags Leap District Estate.
After tasting the wines all morning the auction finally commenced. We successfully wrapped up the event later that afternoon with the NVV raising just over 6 million dollars. Another record year for the vintners, and a success for everyone involved. We could not be more proud of the place we call home. Baldacci is honored to continuously participate in Premiere each year to support our beautiful community.
As Kellie discussed in last week's blog post, an often overlooked wine style is dessert or richly sweet wines. She used the example of Sauternes, the great sweet wine region of Bordeaux, and its significnace in history as well as at the dinner table. This week I want to delve a little futher into the most common sweet wines you'll come across at a restaurant, how they're produced, what to expect when you enjoy them...and why you should enjoy them!
Generally speaking, sweetness in wine is a factor of both growing condition and production tehcnique. Sugar is either residual, meaning fermentation did not completely convert it all to alcohol, or less commonly, a winemaker can add a small amount of sugar to the wine after fermentation (such as the dosage in sparkling wine production). Whatever the case may be, sweetness can add an important textural and flavor component to the wine.
There is a catagory of lightly sweet wines - both sparkling and still - that although not part of this discussion are still worth mentioning. On sparkling wine labels you can see wording such as demi-sec, doux or dolce to indicate a level of sweetness, whereas "brut" would indicate being closer to dry. On still white wines, most commonly Riesling, Viognier and Gewurztraminer (although not Baldacci's Gewurztraminer which happens to have nearly zero residual sugar) there can be a delicate, moderate sweetness.
With regard to richly sweet wines that often accompany a dessert pairing, two categories tend to dominate the discussion: late harvest and fortified wines. While this is a gross simplification, late harvest includes the famous noble rot botrytis and ice wine, whereas fortified includes Vin Doux Naturel, Sherry, Madeira and the most well-known, Port.
It seems that most people, even the most ardent wine lovers, forego these styles because they don't like the idea of an overly sweet, viscous, syrupy wine. The shame is that just as much care, time and handling go into the production of these wines (sometimes even more so than traditional still wines). However, when they are made properly and paired accordingly, you'll experience some of the most rich, luscious and fragrant wines in the world.
Late harvest means exactly that: grapes that are left on the vine and harvested much later in the season. The region that the grapes are grown in will determine whether that wine will become noble rot, an ice wine or a sweet red wine. Noble rot is the effect of a fungus called botrytis slowly dehydrating individual grapes to increase sugar content, and only happens in ideal environments (misty mornings with sunshine throughout the day). Sauternes, Tokaji from Hungary and some classification of German Riesling fall into this category, and the wines generally share a "honey" - like or honeysuckle flavor profile. The honey profile is best balanced by a complementary amount of acid. These wines command a premium due to the hand harvesting that occurs at the individual grape level as well as the small amount that a vineyard can produce.
Ice wine is popular in regions where the temperature drops to freezing after the harvest season and the wine is generally clear of botrytis. The grapes have a higher concentration of sugar as the moisture within the grape is frozen. Canada, specifically Ontario, has become a market leader in this segment. Although any grape variety could be used, usually you need a hearty vine like Riesling that can withstand the colder, continental climate.
With fortified wines, Port always leads the discussion. Fortified wines start their life as normal still wine with primary fermentation, but then receive a kick from a grape-derived spirit like brandy to halt fermentation, preserve sugar and boost the alcohol content. Although port-style wines are made around the world, Port's home is really in Portugal with roots dating back over 300 years. There are many styles of Port from ruby (young, fruity, fresh) to tawny (aged, oxidative, blended) to acclaimed Colheita (single vintage, aged). Each classificiation distinction would indicate any barrel aging, blending, or oxidative aging.
Cheers...and be sure to drink your dessert next time!
April 13, 2015
April 7, 2015
April 1, 2015
March 23, 2015
March 16, 2015
March 10, 2015
March 4, 2015
February 25, 2015
February 24, 2015
February 17, 2015