Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Domaine Carneros

If you visit Napa Valley and do not visit one of our premium sparkling wine wineries, then you will have missed some of the best of Napa Valley.  In addition to having amazing sparkling wine and a sparkling wine tour that is wonderfully informative, Domaine Carneros has some exceptional Pinot Noirs, a spectacular setting, great hospitality and a wine tasting experience at private tables that is second to none.  We really enjoyed our tour and tasting at Domaine Carneros and highly recommend that you also visit this lovely winery.  We especially recommend the tour which includes a fascinating educational experience of how sparkling wine is made.  You will also be able to taste some wonderful sparkling wines and some excellent Pinot Noirs.  Every wine we tasted at Domain Carneros was exceptionally good. There are plenty of great Cabs and Cab blends elsewhere in the Valley.  This is the place for great sparkling wines and exceptional Pinot Noirs, two of the most elegant expressions of wine.

Domaine Carneros main building

My favorite Champagne is from Taittinger, and Claude Taittinger, whose family's involvement in Champagne began in the 1700's, is the person who founded Domaine Carneros.  His interest in California sparkling wine began in the 1970s and lead to his 1987 selection of a 138 acre vineyard in Carneros, Napa Valley.  Carneros is famous for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the two varietals most essential to premium sparkling wines.  Monsieur Taittinger had the wisdom to chose Eileen Crane in 1987 to be his winemaker and oversee the development of the winery.  She continues as both their founding CEO and the winemaker, with nearly forty years of experience in the field. This is perhaps the all time dream team for sparkling wine--two amazing people who combined their talents to bring us Domain Carneros.

Domaine Carneros view

The Domaine Carneros building is right next to highway 12 between Sonoma and Napa and was inspired by the 18th century Chateau de la Marquetterie in Champagne, France, where Champagne Taittinger is located.  It was completed in 1989 and sits up on a hill overlooking Carneros.  It is a magnificent 4800 square foot winery with a grand staircase, fountain, formal gardens, outdoor terraces, a marble floored interior and lovely views over Napa Valley. In 1992 they added Pinot Noir to their portfolio.  The Pinot Noir production area is styled after a French carriage house, was completed in 2003 and is behind the main chateau.  It has the largest solar collection of any winery in the world.  Their vineyards are also 100% certified organically grown by the California Certified Organic Farmers and consist of 105 planted acres of Chardonnay and 245 acres of planted Pinot Noir.  Prior to receiving their organic certification Domaine Carneros had been practicing sustainable farming since they were founded.  Méthode Champenoise is used for all sparkling wines, and they use a clay based product for wine clarification instead of an animal based one, making their wines Vegan friendly.  Production is about 46,000 cases per year with 39,000 being sparkling wine and 7,000 Pinot Noir.

Domaine Carneros indoor tasting tables

When you visit Domaine Carneros, I suggest you allow for at least an hour and a half and take their tour so that you may learn about sparkling wine production.  You will also be able to taste their wonderful sparkling wines and Pinot Noirs and will have many photo opportunities.  Much thanks to our host, Louis, for conducting such an informative and friendly tour and to Adrienne Shubin for graciously coordinating our tour and meeting with us afterwards.

Domaine Carneros vineyards

Our first pour was at the beginning our tour and was the inaugural release of their Estate Brut Sparkling wine made from 100% certified organic grapes and available only at the winery.  The Domaine Carneros 2010 Estate Brut Cuvee at $32 is a blend of 49% Chardonnay and 51% Pinot Noir grapes.  It had an intense aroma of pear and apple with mostly pear and lemon on the palate.  Bubbles were tight.  It was beautifully balanced, rounded but still crisp, with lovely yeast undertones and a very good finish.  It was excellent for the price.  Very nice, indeed.

Domaine Carneros main building

The second taste was the Domaine Carneros 2007 Le Reve Blanc de Blanc at $90.  "La Reve" is French for "the dream."  This is their finest Blanc de Blanc and is 100% Chardonnay from five different clones.  It was aged for five and a half years on the lees and was more complex and French-like than the many California sparkling wines.  After a very good nose of pear, spices and floral notes, I got mostly pear on the palate with undertones of fresh ginger, almonds, and tropical fruits. The acid was lively but perfectly balanced and the bubbles were intense and tight.  The finish was excellent.  If you find some American sparkling wines to be somewhat simple or even one dimensional, you should try this one. This should be especially appealing to those who appreciate complexity and subtlety in sparkling wines or to those who prefer higher end French Champagnes.  It would go great with seafood, poultry, or creamy cheeses, but I would simply savor it on its own.  Truly outstanding!

Domaine Carneros from parking lot

Third up was the Domaine Carneros Nonvintage Blanc De Noir at $35.  It is made from 100% Pinot Noir and began with a fairly good aroma of pear and lemon.  I got mostly pear, and lime on the palate. This should appeal to those who like a refreshing but somewhat softer sparkling wine. 

Domaine Carneros view

Our final sparkling wine pour was the Domaine Carneros 2010 Vintage Brut Rose at $37.  Blush or rose sparkling wines are often very pretty to the eye, and this one was no exception.  It was made from 58% Pinot Noir and 42% Chardonnay.  On the nose I got some strawberries, floral notes and spices.  Palate wise it was very dry but balanced, crisp yet  fruity with some raspberry and strawberry and very pleasant yeast notes followed by a good finish.  Quite nice.

Domaine Carneros main buliding

We knew that Domaine Carneros produced some exceptional sparkling wines, but both of us were surprised at the excellence of their Pinot Noirs.  Frankly I would find a visit there well worthwhile simply to taste their Pinots.  But when you have both outstanding sparkling wines as well, it really elevates Domaine Carneros to one of those "must visit" wineries.  While our sparkling wines were sampled during the tour, the Pinots were at the end where we sat at small tables and could devote full attention to the wines.

Domaine Carneros patio

Regular readers of this blog will already know that I do not care for most American, light, fruity Pinot Noirs that seem more like a Beaujolais nouveau.  One wine maker I know refers to them as the "tooty fruity pinots."  I find most of these to be unbalanced, too thin and uninteresting.  It is not the style I dislike, but the presentation.  When I do encounter a good, light, refreshing, fruity Pinot Noir that is not intended to be aged and is all about freshness and fruit, I am actually quite pleased, even delighted.  For me it is all about balance.  Enter the Domaine Carneros 2012 Avant-Garde Pinot Noir at a mere $25.  It was aged for ten months in French oak.  The aroma was heavenly, with raspberry, cherry and some spice and floral notes.  On the palate it was beautifully balanced with very fresh fruit, good acid and a decent finish.  If you have tried fresh, fruity Pinot Noirs in the past and found them too thin, unbalanced or insipid, you should try this one.  For me this was a pure pleasure to drink.  Again, this is not one of those bigger bodied, serious Pinots to be cellared for years.  But it is wonderfully balanced and refreshing.  Highly recommended for a Pinot Noir that is all about freshness and fruit and is meant to be enjoyed now.

Domaine Carneros tasting area

Our next Pinot Noir pour was the Domaine Carneros 2012 Carneros Estate Pinot Noir at $36.  Again I got a wonderful nose, this time mostly cherry with some soft spicy undertones.  On the palate it was well balanced with cherry, plum and strawberry, well integrated tannins and a long finish.  Very nice for the price.

Domaine Carneros outdoor patio 

The favorite Pinot Noir for both of us, though, was the Domaine Carneros 2012 The Famous Gate Pinot Noir at $75.  Four different Pinot Noir clones were used for this,  and it was aged for fourteen months in French oak with 44% new oak.  After lovely aromas of cherry, plum, spice and some pleasant earth notes, I got soft, smooth, well balanced layers of black cherry, plum, black raspberry and vanilla with good acid and structure and a long complex finish.  Although very drinkable now, this Pinot has the structure to become even more interesting and complex with age.  Very highly recommended!

Domaine Carneros main building

Needless to say we loved the wines and tour at Domaine Carneros and highly recommend you visit them.  We strongly suggest that you take their "Art of Sparkling Wine Tour" which includes a very interesting 90 minute tour, tastings of sparkling wines and Pinot Noirs and individual bread and cheese plates. They are usually open from 10AM to 5:45PM. Tours are at 11AM, 1PM and 3PM and are $40.  "For reservations within 24 hours, requests for groups of 10 or more people, or for Château Society members, please call 707.257.0101 ext 161."  Or you may book a tour online by going here: Visits Last minute tour appointments may often be made, and tastings are available to the public without an appointment. 

Domaine Carneros entry sign
Domaine Carneros
1240 Duhig Rd
Napa, CA
Phone: 800-716-2788
Date of visit: August 12, 2014

Domaine Carneros sparkling wine rack

Domaine Carneros view from parking lot

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