Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Peirson Meyer and L'Angevin Wines

Peirson Meyer and L'Angevin Wines are producing some truly remarkable wines, including some of my favorite Sauvignon Blancs and an amazing Pinot Noir.  Our visit and tasting was one of the most enjoyable and memorable events we have experienced in over forty years of visits to hundreds of wineries.  Because they produce their wines at the Cuvaison Estate Winery in Calistoga and do not have their own winery or tasting room yet, our tasting was at the winemaker's home in Angwin.

Winemaker's home

I had written to the winemaker, Robbie Meyer,  telling him how much I loved his Peirson-Meyer 2010 Ryan's Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc and asking if there was any chance of being able to taste some of his other wines.  He was gracious enough to extend an invitation to us.  My favorite winery visits are always those where I am able to meet and converse with the winemaker.  Mr. Meyer's deep passion, love and enthusiasm for wine, along with the superb quality of his wines, made this an experience we will long remember.

Front yard

In addition to being the winemaker, Mr. Meyer is part owner and co-founder of the two labels Peirson Meyer and L'Angevin.  L'Angevin (pronounced "lonj-ven.") is actually named after his maternal grandparents and was his first label that was founded with Alan Peirson in 2001.  Their initial release was a 2001 Chardonnay that was released in 2003.  In 2005 they founded the Peirson-Meyer label and their first release on that label was a 2005 Chardonnay released in 2007.  All current releases are on the Peirson-Meyer label now, but some L'Angevin Wines might be produced in the future.  Their wives, Lesley Warner-Peirson and Shannon Meyer, are also actively involved, making both of these wineries family owned and operated by the two families.

Back yard

Mr. Meyer is very pleasant, quite articulate and exceptionally knowledgeable, so we loved talking with him about wine and winemaking.  He began learning about wines at a high-end restaurant where he worked at age 16.  By age 18 he was a wine steward.  After obtaining his B.S. in Biology at the University of Georgia, he moved to California and soon enrolled at UC Davis where he obtained his Master's degree in Enology.  He worked for five vintages at Peter Michael Winery and for two vintages as winemaker for Lewis Cellars.  In addition to being the winemaker for Peirson-Meyer and L'Angevin Wines, he is a consulting winemaker for several other wineries in Napa Valley and for another in Santa Barbara.  But Mr. Meyer is more than simply another winemaker.  He has taken the intricate craft of winemaking to the level of an art form.  He is an enological artist.  (Alan Peirson is also an artist, focusing on ceramic work and sculptures of clay, wood, stone and bronze, plus vineyard management.) During our long meeting with Mr. Meyer, he shared some of his artistic vision and ideas about wines and winemaking, creating a unique experience for us that was very enjoyable and highly informative. After we tasted his wines, we concluded that Robbie Meyer is more than a craftsman and an artist; he is also an enological magician.

Robbie Meyer
Winemaker and Co-owner

Their focus is on four varietals: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon (including a Cabernet blend) and Pinot Noir.  Grapes are sourced from small, ultra-premium vineyards in California.  Their Chardonnay is either from Heintz Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast appellation where they have 25 acres of 40 year old vines, or from the Russian River Valley.  Sauvignon Blanc is from Ryan's Vineyard in Oak Knoll (25 acres of 15 year old vines) or from Kent Ritchie Vineyard in the Russian River Valley where the vines are forty years old.  Pinot Noir is from the Bateman Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast appellation north of Sebastopol where they have ten year old vines.  All of their Cabernet Sauvignon is from Napa Valley, including Pritchard Hill.

Back yard

Our tasting began with the Peirson Meyer 2013 Ritchie Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc from Russian River Valley at $32.  It was whole cluster pressed, with wild yeast fermentation and barrel fermented in neutral oak for eight months.  Mr. Meyer explained why he thinks that with Sauvignon blanc aging in neutral oak is preferable to stainless steel.  No malolactic conversion was used.  Only 200 cases were produced.  On the nose I got a good aroma of citrus and peach.  On the palate I got white peach and grapefruit with good acid and a rich full mouthfeel that was amazingly well balanced and voluptuous while bursting with fresh fruit.  It had a long, excellent finish.  What I love about Peirson Meyer Sauvignon Blancs is their impeccable balance and perfect integration.  All of the components come together beautifully and harmoniously.  This 2013 Ritchie Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc is amazingly fresh and simply superb, an example of California Sauvignon Blanc at its very finest!

Back yard

The second pour was the Peirson Meyer 2012 Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay from Sonoma Coast ($55.)  I did not have the production notes on this vintage but the previous 2011 had a release of only 100 cases.  This 2012 saw full malolactic conversion but at a cooler temperature, making it very smooth but not buttery. On the nose I got mostly apricot, vanilla and some floral notes with minerality.  It was rich, smooth, creamy and full bodied on the palate with apricot, apple, vanilla, some minerality and great balance.  Finish was medium plus in length. Very nice.

Front yard

Our third wine was the fantastic Peirson Meyer 2012 Bateman Vineyard Pinot Noir at $60.  I got mostly red cherry and floral aromas on the nose.  On the palate it was rather full bodied and lush for a Pinot Noir but impeccably balanced.  This is one of those rare wines with such wonderful fruit, balance and nuance that it is a pure physical pleasure to retain it in the mouth.  I got rich, red cherry, vanilla and honeysuckle with undercurrents of subtle floral notes, accompanied by an incredibly long, beautiful, concentrated finish of rich, ripe black cherry and vanilla that seemed to continued forever.  My friend, who usually prefers Cabs to Pinots, was simply floored by this Pinot saying, "Wow.  This is just amazing!"  (He purchased a case of it.)  This is simply one of the finest California Pinot Noirs I've tasted, and it should even improve with some age. 

Front road

Our final pour was the Peirson Meyer 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon at $90.  I got mostly cherry on the nose followed on the palate by juicy black cherry and black current that was very well balanced and silky, laced with soft, smooth tannins.  Although very drinkable, this is still a young wine with some "baby fat."  Its freshness and balance make it very appealing now, but it will continue to improve with time. 

Back yard

Needless to say, we very highly recommend Peirson Meyer and L'Angevin Wines.  Although we really liked all of their wines, we especially loved the Sauvignon Blanc and the Pinot Noir, two very special wines. Peirson Meyer and L'Angevin Wines is not open to the public, but you may call or email them to inquire about a possible tasting.  They are hoping to purchase a tasting room on Highway 29 in Napa Valley, so we will certainly report on that as soon as we learn of it.   They have a web page for locating their wines: Wine locator Some of their wines are available at Groezinger Wine Merchants  in Yountville.  They will also ship their wines:  Peirson Meyer shopping

Where we tasted

Peirson Meyer Wines / L'Angevin, LLC
PO Box 408
Oakville CA 94562
Phone: 707-944-1352
Date of visit: June 25, 2014

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Orin Swift Cellars

"And now for something completely different," it's Orin Swift Cellars.  You will want to visit Orin Swift for their excellent, unusual, very reasonably priced wines and to experience a place that is refreshingly different from your typical winery.  Eccentric, creative, unusual, and unlike any other winery in Napa Valley, Orin Swift is located in the middle of downtown St. Helena and offers exceptional, atypical wines and blends, including Rhone varietals, from grapes sourced mostly from different regions of California.  The tasting room is small but strikingly attractive, and we found the service to be great thanks to Monica and Justin, our hosts.

Orin Swift Cellars entrance

Orin Swift Cellars was founded in 1998 by winemaker David Swift Phinney who derived the name from his father's middle name of Orin and his mother's maiden name of Swift.  He set up office in the upstairs of downtown St. Helena's Odd Fellows Lodge built in 1885 and sometimes has tastings there.  (I can't help thinking that Mr. Phinney was immensely pleased to be housed in the same building with the "Odd" Fellows.)  In August 2013 he opened a small tasting room across the street in the center of downtown St. Helena in what use to be an alleyway between two buildings.  The outside of the building has an English Victorian presentation that does not prepare one for the unusual inside.  One wall inside is a lovely composition made of colorful textured reclaimed lumber, another wall is beautiful old stonework from a nearby building, and the back wall is yet another work of art, composed from two old slabs of rusty steel that weigh over 1,000 pounds apiece.  The steel plates were sandblasted and had the patina accented and now compose the back wall plus the tasting table at the bar.  That was apparently not creative and eccentric enough for Mr. Phinney who added a floor made of pages from Chinese children's books from his collection.  The photos I took only hint at the overall exotic, creative and interesting experience.  It is worth viewing even if you don't drink wine.  This is the antithesis  of whatever stereotypes people might have of an ostentatious, pretentious, snobbish, high end winery.  It is all a great deal of fun and very appealing, just as the Orin Swift wines themselves are. 

Orin Swift Cellars tasting room

Mr. Phinney now owns 300 acres of vineyard in the southwest of France, and grapes from there are used in production of his D66 wine.  He has also purchased 48 acres in the hills above Oakville where he plans to eventually build a winery.  Most of the Orin Swift wines are from grapes sourced from throughout California, with many varietals that are rarely found in Napa Valley.  As with Behren's Family Winery, Orin Swift wines tend to be fruit oriented rather than focused on terroir and have very unusual, artistic, creative, playful and rather funky names and wine labels.  And, yes, the initial quote at the beginning of this review is from the introduction to the old Monty Python shows.  Orin Swift is one of those very unusual places where one searches for some comparisons, however remote.  Although some of their releases are as small as 450 cases (Trigger Finger), their total production is over 150,000 cases annually.  Mr. Phinney must keep quite busy.

Orin Swift artistic walls

At the time of our visit the tasting menu listed three options.  Two flights were $10 each and included four pours.  A third option was the Finite Few at $20.  You might want to split two tastings or three.  If I had to pick one, I'd probably opt for the Tails Flight with the Mannequin, Palermo, D66 and NV Mute, although The Finite Few with the Trigger Finger, Machete and Veladora would also be tempting.  But then I wouldn't want to miss the Papillon in the Heads Flight which comes with the Abstract, China Doll and NV Mute.  Well, I must confess, they are all worth trying.  The ones underlined below were my favorites, though. 

Orin Swift Cellars wine labels

Our first pour was the Orin Swift 2012 China Doll at $19.  This is a rose from Grenache and Syrah grapes and 500 cases were produced.  A light pink in color, it had a light flowery nose.  On the palate I got a dry, clean, refreshing presentation of raspberry, cranberry and floral notes, followed by a good, slightly less dry finish of mostly strawberry.  We liked this much better than almost any American rose we have tasted.  It is drier, has more substance and is very refreshing with its crisp acid and is not at all cloyingly sweet or insipid as are most U.S. roses.  Try it even if you don't like roses (neither of us usually do), just to see how refreshing a good one can be when it is done more in the French style.

Orin Swift Cellars tasting bar

The second pour was the Orin Swift 2013 Veladora Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc at $28.  This is 100% Sauvignon Blanc and is produced as "an annual recognition of the Latino farm working community in Napa Valley."  100% of the profits from the sales of this wine are given to Puertas Abiertas (Open Doors) which is a coalition formed by Father Gordon Kalil that provides dental service, counseling and health screening to those in need.  This was a pale gold in color.  On the nose I got mostly grapefruit with some minerality and grassiness.  On the palate I got a clean and refreshing but slightly rounded presentation of lemon and grapefruit with some herbaceousness and a medium length crisp finish.  Very Californian in style. Quite nice.

Orin Swift Cellars Chinese book leaf floor

Third up was my favorite of the non-red wines, the Orin Swift 2012 Mannequin California White Wine at $30.  This is an interesting blend of 48% Chardonnay, 14% Sauvignon Blanc, 12% Grenache Blanc, 12% Viognier, 8% Marsanne, 4% Roussanne and 2% Muscat.  It was aged in 40% new French oak, 49% neutral oak and 30% stainless steel and 10,000 cases were produced.  It tastes completely different than almost any white wine you will ever encounter in Napa Valley.  It was a lovely sparkling light yellow in color.  On the nose I got mostly melon, pear and vanilla.  It was dry, rich and well balanced on entry and then unfolded with a myriad of flavors of tropical fruits, spices, vanilla and floral notes with good, well integrated acids.  The medium length finish was dry, refreshing and crisp.  This is a very interesting wine and we both really loved it.  Highly recommended!

Orin Swift Cellars end wall

Our fourth pour moved into the red wines and was also one of my favorites.  This was the Orin Swift 2012 Trigger Finger California Grenache at $38.  We were recently at the Rhone Rangers event in Richmondand tasted many California Grenaches, and this one would rank right up there with the finest.  It was aged for 14 months in French oak with 60% new oak.  Only 450 cases were produced.  A light purple in color, it had a pleasant nose of red cherry, vanilla and toast.  On the palate I got red cherry, raspberry, spices, earth notes and some toasty oak with lovely, well integrated tannins, and crisp acid, followed by a very good long finish.  I loved the balance and complexity of this Grenache, and the finish was one of the finest I have encountered in any California Grenache.  Orin Swift seems to have an excellent American source for Grenache grapes.  Very highly recommended. 

Orin Swift Cellars Trigger Finger

Fifth up was the Orin Swift 2012 Abstract California Grenache Blend at $29 a bottle.  This is a blend of Grenache, Petite Sirah and Sirah from grapes from Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Amador and El Dorado.  It saw 10 months in a "combination of new and seasoned French oak," and 1400 cases were produced.  I loved the deep purple color of this wine and almost wanted to take it outside in the sunlight to look at it.  Aroma wise I got mostly blackberry with some floral notes and a bit of spice.  On the palate it was full bodied but very smooth, and lush with soft tannins and sumptuous, ripe fruit of blackberry and black plum, with some spices and chocolate.  The finish was medium length and very pleasant.  This is a fairly fruit forward wine but has the structure and complexity to support the fruit.  It is quite nice and I suspect it is a crowd pleaser.

Orin Swift Cellars Abastract

Our sixth pour was the Orin Swift 2012 Palermo Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon at $38.  This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc and was aged for 10 months in French oak with 35% new oak.  14,000 cases were produced.  The concept behind this Cab is to source Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from diverse vineyards in Napa Valley so that the various soils and microclimates combine to supplement and to work in harmony with and each other while adding to the complexity.  The focus is on high quality fruit and blending rather than single vineyard production.  Dark garnet in color, this started with a good nose of blackberry, black currant, buttered toast and oak.  On the palate it was full bodied with pleasantly chewy tannins.  I got mostly cherry, black currant, toasted oak, and mocha followed by a good, medium length finish.  I found it very drinkable now, but it has the structure to age well.  A very nice Napa Valley Cab at an extremely reasonable price.  Another one we recommend.

Orin Swift Cellars Palermo

Seventh in line was the Orin Swift 2011 Papillon Napa Valley Red Blend at $65.  This is a Bordeaux like blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec.  The grapes were sourced from Oakville, St. Helena, Rutherford and Howell Mountain and include grapes from the famous vineyards of Stagecoach, Morisoli and Taplin.  It was aged for 16 months in French oak.  Justin thought it was about 30% new oak and said that 3,500 cases were produced.  I got a good nose of black cherry, blackberry, cigarbox and forest floor.  On the palate it was very smooth with black cherry, black currant, blackberry, mocha and aged tobacco with some chewy tannins on its medium plus length finish. It is quite drinkable now but should cellar well.  We both loved the Papillon.  Mr. Phinney's daughter came up with the name.

Orin Swift Cellars Papillon photo

The eighth taste was their Orin Swift 2012 Machette California Petite Sirah at $48.  I love Petite Sirahs and usually attend the annual "P.S. I Love You" Petite Sirah tasting event in Alameda.  This one is a blend of Petite Sirah, Syrah and Grenache and was aged for 10 months in French oak, 40% of it being new oak.  I love the deep dark purple color of many Petite Sirahs, and this one is very lovely to the eye.  I got mostly blackberry and vanilla on the nose.  On the palate I got lush blackberry, with a hint of mocha and some vanilla and toasted oak. Some Petite Sirahs can be overwhelmingly powerful but this one is medium plus bodied for a Petite Sirah, deeply flavorful and lush, while also being very smooth and well balanced.  It had a medium length finish.  This is ready to drink now but could be cellared.  We both really liked it.

Orin Swift Cellars left wall

The Orin Swift 2011 D66 Maury-Rousillon Grenache Blend at $38 was next.  This was a Grenache Syrah and Carignan blend from their French vineyard.  It saw 30% new French oak for 18 months.  On the nose I got blackberry and some cinnamon.  On the palate it was soft and smooth with ripe blackberry and cherry along with toasted oak and spice.  A very pleasant, sumptuous and easy to drink wine, this also had a very nice medium plus length finish.  Another one that we both really like and heartily recommend.

Orin Swift Cellars rear entrance

The tenth and final pour was the Orin Swift NV Mute California Dessert Wine at $30.  This is a blend of 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Tina Cao, 6% Tina Madera, 6% Tinta Madeira and 2% Souzao.  It was aged for 18 months in neutral oak.  Alcohol is 19%.  This was a pleasant, smooth, well balanced, very nice port style wine at very reasonable price.  I got mostly rich, ripe, lush black raspberry (sweeter and without the tartness of a blackberry)  with some nicely balanced acid. As with most port style wines, this one can be cellared.  One of the better California port style wines we have tasted.

Orin Swift Cellars Palermo photo

Orin Swift has a very interesting and artistic tasting room, unusual and excellent varietals and blends, fascinating wine labels, an easy to find location, a relaxed and playful atmosphere and great service, but no views, picnic area, gardens or dungeons.  Perhaps Mr. Phinney will add the rest when he opens his new winery up.  Well, maybe he will have the views, picnic area and gardens, but I think you will have to look elsewhere for dungeons.  For excellent wines and a the only floor made of Chinese children's books, though, you know where to go.  Thanks to Deb, one of our readers, for suggesting Orin Swift.  We had never visited them before or even tasted any of their wines.  Great place.

Orin Swift Cellars
1325 Main Street
St. Helena, CA 94574
Phone: 707-967-9179
Date of visit: June 11, 2014

Open without an appointment.  Currently open from 11-5 Mondays through Thursdays, 10-6 Fridays and Saturdays and 11-5 on Sundays, but please call or email ahead if you have six or more people. There are no tours of course but private tastings are available by appointment.  They have a small, narrow tasting room that can become somewhat crowded if you visit Friday, Saturday or Sunday in the afternoon during the summer season or crush, but almost every winery in Napa Valley can also be very busy during those times.  Parking is usually available around the block.  Many very good restaurants for lunch or dinner are within a short walking distance, and downtown St. Helena has many interesting boutique stores, an excellent bakery and a famous gourmet chocolate shop.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Porter Family Vineyards

Porter Family Vineyards is a very unique and beautiful winery that provides an amazing tasting experience. While visiting other wineries we kept hearing wonderful things about Porter Family Vineyards but had never been there.  It sounds trite but the phrase "hidden gem" is what immediately came to mind after our visit there.  In addition to a gorgeous setting and view, Porter Family has a lovely wine cave with an extraordinary tasting room, great hospitality, plus wines that are exemplary.  It is one of those rare places that while we were there we simply did not want to leave.  It was just so beautiful and relaxing!  And Tim Porter, the founder's son and one of the owners, was a great host, very down to earth and informative.  We wanted to spend the entire day there, especially after tasting their fantastic wines.

Porter Family Vineyards Tasting room in wine cave

Porter Family Vineyards was founded by Tom and Beverly Porter.  Tom is originally from Michigan and studied electrical engineering at Michigan Tech.  After spending 27 years with IBM and other companies, Tom and his wife moved to Napa and, in 2005, founded Porter Family Vineyard.  They requested a "slight" alteration in the building permit, obtaining permission to add 17,000 square feet of wine caves, putting the entire winery, except for the crushing platform, underground.  This cave is 515 feet long, about 50 feet underground and has four fermentation bays, four blending tanks capable of 4500 gallons along with two storage bays.  Being an electrical engineer Tom developed one of the most technologically sophisticated wineries in the world with automatic computer controlled systems that even control the punch down machines, a deficit drip irrigation system, etc.  They also utilize sustainable farming methods which includes integrated pest management that utilizes bird perches, bird houses, nesting boxes and an insectary to encourage beneficial predatory insects. They also sponsor the Porter Family Foundation, started in 2003, focusing on donations to education, child well being, medical research, conservation and the humane treatment of animals.

Porter Family Vineyards picnic table view

Their vineyard is 20 acres with only 14 planted acres.  The soil is a mixture of clay loam and volcanic soil and it is located about 600 feet above sea level in the Coombsville AVA of Napa Valley.  This area of the Coombsville AVA tends to be cooler in the summer and warmer in the fall and winter than other areas of Napa Valley.  They tend to have a longer hang time for the grapes and a harvest that is several weeks later than down in the Valley.  Only two to three tons of grapes are yielded from each acre. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon, they grow the other red Bordeaux varietals of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot plus Syrah.   Some additional Syrah and their Chardonnay fruit is sourced from nearby vineyards. Total production is about 2,000 cases per year but will increase by next year to 3,000, making Porter Family a very small production family winery, offering handcrafted wines of the highest quality.

Porter Family Vineyards wine cave

We were greeted by Tim Porter and a new staff member, Florencia, who walked with us through the vineyard to the wine cave.  The views along the way were spectacular and the wine tasting room in the cave was amazing.  We had a separate glass for each wine so could go back and forth between them.  Tim and Florencia were great hosts. The setting and entire experience was simply heavenly.  

Porter Family Vineyards view

Our tasting began with the Porter Family 2012 Chardonnay at $45.  This saw a year in French oak with 15% being new oak.  369 cases were produced.  This began with a fairly good nose of apples and lemon.  On the palate it was smooth, rich and buttery with apple, lemon, vanilla and some minerality.  Finish was medium length.  Although not a style I usually care for, it was well done.  If you like a rounder, buttery type Chard you might want to give this one a try. 

Porter Family Vineyards tasting table

The Porter Family 2011 Cave Dwellers Blend was the second pour and it retails at $55.  It is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Syrah and saw 22 months in French oak with 75% being new oak.  313 cases were produced.  My friend and I both really liked this blend which began with a good nose of black cherry and black currant.  On the palate it was full bodied with black cherry, black currant, black pepper, spices and earth notes, along with chewy tannins and good acid.  The finish was long and lingering.  Although great on its own, this should pair really well with many meat, cheese and poultry dishes.  It is also very drinkable now but has enough substance to cellar well.  We both found this wine to be very appealing and had to purchase some.  It was my second favorite wine of those we tasted.

Porter Family Vineyards front gate

Third up was the Porter Family 2010 Sandpiper Red at $49.  This is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot and was in French oak for 22 months with 75% of it being new French oak.  625 cases were produced.  I got a light nose of mostly cherry and plum.  On the palate I got lush cherry with some coffee and chocolate.  Tannins were well integrated and the finish was of medium length.  My friend liked this equally well as the Cave Dwellers Blend and purchased some, but I preferred the Cave Dweller.  The name "sandpiper" is in honor of the fossilized footprints of a sandpiper that were found on the property when the wine caves were being made.  The tiny tracks are about five million years old and a replica of the fossil may be seen on display in the wine cave.

Porter Family Vineyards view

Our fourth pour was the Porter Family 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon at $86.  I never read tasting notes prior to tasting a wine, but when I looked at what was next on the tasting list I noticed the words, "Dark and extracted."  My thoughts were that this was going to be some overripe, extracted, raisin type Cab that was one dimensional, and I would not like it.  But it was not.  I got a good nose of black cherry and blackberry with some cedar and a hint of mint. On the palate it was medium to full bodied with good acid and soft tannins.  I got mostly blackberry, black currant, cedar, cigarbox and mint on the palate, carrying over into the finish which was medium plus in length.  Although perfectly drinkable now, this Cab is one I'd recommend cellaring.  If you have not tried a Coombsville Cab before, this would be a good one to try.  It was my third favorite wine of those we tried.

Porter Family Vineyards whine cave photos

Our final pour was the stunning Porter Family 2008 Syrah at $54.  This saw 14 months in French oak with half of that new oak.  A mere 107 cases were produced.  This is an outstanding Syrah, one of  the finest American Syrah I've had in recent years.  It started out with a great aroma of blackberry, black pepper, and mocha.  On the palate it was lush, ripe and full bodied with more black pepper and exotic spices.  It was beautifully balanced with finely integrated tannins and a great finish.  So many Syrahs are overly fruit forward or fruit bombs, too jammy, too simple, and uninteresting.  This one is sophisticated, complex, interesting and brings out all the best in the Syrah varietal.  It is a fantastic Syrah and gets my highest recommendation!  Try it just to see how wonderful a really great Syrah can be.  Definitely my favorite of the wines we sampled.

Porter Family Vineyards view

Porter Family Vineyards has: 1. A beautiful wine cave.  2. A lovely tasting room.  3. Incredible views.  4. Great hospitality.  5. Outstanding wines.  Any one of these five items alone could warrant a visit.  Having all five of them at one place puts Porter Family Vineyards in the category of a winery that one absolutely must visit.  No wonder we kept hearing such wonderful things about them.  We are so glad we visited.  Much thanks to Tim and Florencia for hosting us at this remarkable winery.

Porter Family Vineyards view

Porter Family Vineyards
1189 Green Valley Rd
Napa, CA 94558
(707) 927-0765
Date of visit: May 27, 2014

Porter Family Vineyards is open by appointment only.  Call them or email them at this site:  Visiting
For tasting rooms that offer some Porter Family wines, check here: Tasting Rooms
Wines may be ordered directly from the winery here: Orders

Porter Family Vineyard grounds
Porter Family Vineyards office
Porter Family Vineyards crushing platform

Porter Family Vineyards view

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Saintsbury Winery

We really loved our visit to Saintsbury Winery! Saintsbury is a small, intimate and friendly winery with some great wines, especially their Pinot Noirs. Our wonderfully relaxed tasting experience was among the most enjoyable we have experienced.  When we first arrived we were warmly and graciously welcomed by their Hospitality Manager, Georgia, who showed us where our tasting table would be out on their lovely garden patio.  She also introduced us to our host, Emily, who was amazing--very friendly and informative, providing us with exactly the background information we needed as we enjoyed each pour while cheerfully answering any questions we had.  All three of us kept commenting on the lovely outdoor patio garden setting and the perfect presentation and timing of exceptional wines.  This was hospitality at its finest!

Saintsbury Winery garden patio tasting

Saintsbury is a small winery in the Carneros AVA of Napa Valley that is justly famous for their great Pinot Noirs.  The winery is named after George Saintsbury, an English professor who wrote the book Notes on a Cellar.  Saintsbury Winery was founded in 1981 by Richard Ward and David Graves who had met in 1977 during their graduate studies in enology at UC Davis.  After working at several different wineries, they decided to produce their own wine and focused initially on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Their first wines were produced using space at Pine Ridge Winery.  In 1983 their winery facility was built, and in 1986 their first estate vineyard of 13 acres was planted.  In 1992 their third estate vineyard, the famous Brown Ranch Vineyard, was planted with 23 acres of Pinot Noir and 8 acres of Chardonnay.  In addition to growing their own estate grapes, Saintsbury sources grapes from other vineyards, mostly in Carneros. Total production for the winery is about 30,000 cases per year.  The current winemaker is Chris Kajani.

Saintsbury Winery building

Saintsbury has received many accolades and awards.  In 1993 Robert Parker referred to their 1990 Reserve Pinot Noir as, "unquestionably one of the finest Pinot Noirs I have tasted from California."  In 1997 Wine Spectator declared their 1995 Reserve Chardonnay the winner from the top California Chardonnay and white French Burgundy wines they tasted.  In 2003 the Wall Street Journal called Saintsbury, America's "most consistent producer of Pinot Noir."  In 2004 their Pinot Noir was named the "Most Popular Pinot Noir in Wine & Spirits Magazine's Annual Restaurant Poll." If you like Pinot Noirs you really must visit Saintsbury, but don't overlook their excellent white wines. 

Saintsbury Winery building and garden patio

We always appreciate wineries that are environmentally responsible, and Saintsbury was one of the first wineries to obtain the Napa Green Farm certification.  They believe in sustainable farming which includes composting, organic fertilizers, cover cropping, native plant insectaries, bird boxes, recycling and integrated pest management. Plus they have nearly 7,000 square feet of solar panels.

Saintsbury Winery garden patio

Our first pour was the Saintsbury 2013 Anderson Valley Pinot Gris at $28.  Pinot Gris is the French name for Pinot Grigio.  In Italy it is always known as Pinot Grigio, but it goes by either name in the U.S. Usually the Italian style is lighter than the richer French style, but both tend to be crisp, refreshing and citrus like, often with slightly lower alcohol content. According to the Napa Valley Vintners Association, there are about 25 wineries in Napa Valley that produce this varietal.  This wine, which had a very lovely label, is available exclusively at the winery and is the first year of release for Saintsbury.  The grapes were sourced from Donnelly Creek Vineyard in Sonoma Valley near Boonville. It started with a very good, aromatic nose of lemon with some melon and floral overtones. On the palate it was light, lively, crisp and refreshing with great balance and mostly lemon with some tropical fruits.  It would be the perfect wine to enjoy by the poolside on a hot day.

Saintsbury Winery garden

Next up was the Saintsbury 2012 Sangiacomo Chardonnay Dijon 809 at $41.  This started with a good aroma of lemon and green apple.  On the palate I got good crispness with pleasantly rounded edges, good balance and not too much butter. It was mostly lemon and Granny Smith apple with some vanilla, the vanilla being even more pronounced on the finish which was medium plus in length.  Quite nice.

Saintsbury Winery building

Our third pour was the Saintsbury 2013 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir at $20.  I must confess that I usually do not like American rose or blush wines.  Most are simply too sweet and unbalanced.  The drier versions often are insipid and nondescript.  There are some very good and interesting French roses, but I rarely purchase these.  The only Napa Valley rose type wine I liked previously was the lovely Cuvaison Vin Gris of Pinot Noir.  I found this Saintsbury to also be very enjoyable as did my two friends.  In addition to the lovely color, this one had a good nose of strawberry with floral notes.  On the palate it was crisp and refreshing with good acid and nice fruit, mostly strawberry.  This is a much better balanced and far more interesting rose than you will typically encounter.  It even had a decent finish with strawberry and some pepper.  One of my friends, who hates roses with a passion, commented, "Now. I really like this rose."  It is a delightful wine that can be enjoyed anytime but especially while sitting outside on warm summer days.  We enthusiastically recommend it! 

Saintsbury Winery indoor tasting table

Fourth up was the Saintsbury 2010 Lee Vineyard Pinot Noir at $54.  It had a very good nose of red berries with some spice.  On the palate I got a lush presentation of strawberry with some red cherry along with good acid and some spiciness.  Finish was medium length with strawberry and a touch of pepper.  A very pleasant Pinot that is ready to drink now.

Saintsbury Winery building entrance

The Saintsbury 2010 Toyon Farm Pinot Noir at $54 followed.  This had a wonderfully intense aroma of mostly red cherry with hints of strawberry.  It was medium bodied for a Pinot Noir with mostly red cherry, good tannins and some very pleasant earthiness.  On mid palate I got some distinct and very pleasant crimini mushroom that carried over into the finish.  The finish itself was medium plus to long in length.  This Pinot is very drinkable now, and one of my friends even preferred it slightly to the wonderful Brown Ranch Pinot Noir that we tasted next.

Saintsbury Winery inside building

The Saintsbury 2010 Brown Ranch Pinot Noir at $72 was the final tasting and was my favorite of the day.  This release saw ten months on French oak with 30% of this new oak. 683 cases were produced. It began with an amazing aroma of ripe red cherry with hints of brown sugar and mushroom.  On the palate I got deep, dark, red, ripe fruits, mostly cherry with some strawberry. It was very smooth, lush and fairly full bodied (for a Pinot Noir), but there was still a delicacy and complexity to this Pinot with underlying hints of cedar, thyme, coffee and sweet tobacco leaves.  It had good structure and substance while not being too fruit forward or overly ripe. This Pinot should age beautifully but is very drinkable now.  It is one of the finest Carneros Pinots I've ever tasted.  A wonderful Pinot Noir. If you love great red French Burgundies or top Russian River Pinot Noirs and have yet to warm up to Carneros Pinots, give this one a try.  Very highly recommended!!!

Saintsbury Winery painting

If you are fond of Pinot Noirs, you will certainly want to visit Saintsbury but don't forget their Chardonnay and lovely Pinot Gris.  The outdoor garden patio setting is very relaxing and beautiful and the hospitality is fantastic.  We hope you enjoy your visit there as much as we did ours.  Much thanks to Georgia and Emily.

Saintsbury Winery patio

1500 Los Carneros Ave
Napa, CA 94559
Phone number (707) 252-0592
Date of visit: May 22, 2014

Saintsbury is open by appointment.  Please call them or visit their web page for an appointment or additional information: Visiting Saintsbury

Saintsbury Winery painting