2010 Vineyard Profile: Wentzel Vineyard, Anderson Valley by valleyfog

We have good news for our Wentzel Vineyard fans, Waits-Mast Family Cellars will make pinot noir with this wonderful vineyard once again in 2010. We are only allotted a small amount, but we’re happy to have the chance to make wine with this special fruit.

Wentzel Vineyard in Anderson Valley, September 2010

Our first commercial vintage was made with Wentzel pinot noir fruit in 2007, and it made quite a splash when it was named one of the top 100 wines of 2009 by the San Francisco Chronicle. So we were eager to have the opportunity to make wine with this vineyard again.

We visited Roland Wentzel this month to check on the progress of the pinot noir this growing season. We will be harvesting grapes from a small block that Roland refers to as “the clos.” Much like the small amount of land divided up amongst winegrowers in Burgundy, France, this block is unique and site-specific. It’s a tiny block –less than an acre – that consists of vines transplanted three years ago from a lower block that had poorly drained soil that promoted excessive vine vigor. The block has a south-west orientation, terraced up a steep hillside, so the grapes benefit from the long afternoon sunlight.

Roland Wentzel

Roland Wentzel surveys his steep vineyard above Philo, CA

Helping to moderate that heat from the afternoon sun is the gap in the hills to the west which allows ocean breezes to blow inland towards the hill where the clos sits.

It is roughly 900 feet in elevation, which means it doesn’t get a lot of the low-lying valley fog; experiencing it only when the entire valley is fogged in. The vineyard is surrounded by towering pines, and not too far away are large, old-growth redwoods that feel like they are standing watch over the landscape.

When touring the Wentzel vineyard, one is reminded of other winegrowing practices from Burgundy. Another similarity to Burgundy is the concept of a “field blend.” Unlike in North America where pinot noir blocks are typically divided up by specific clones, in Burgundy a single block may have multiple clones, even within the same row. This is of interest because with clone-designate blocks, you can harvest an earlier-ripening clone before a late-ripening clone efficiently, because you are harvesting separate blocks at a time. It would be inefficient to go in and harvest row by row and pick only the ripe berries, then to return to the same row and pick again a week later.

This means that you may get a mixture of under-ripe, ripe and over-ripe grapes. In the end, it can serve to balance out the wine in the winemaking process. And with a good mixture of clones, you can gain flavor components of each clone. The clos at Wentzel Vineyard has Dijon clones 114, 115, 667 and 777 – all within a block that is less than an acre.

Pinot Noir grapes at Wentzel Vineyard, Anderson Valley

Pinot Noir clusters coming along slowly but surely at the "clos"

When we visited the vineyard on September 11, 2010, we were happy to see that the grapes are coming along quite well, despite the slow, cool growing season this year. Additionally, we saw minimal damage from the August heat spike, during which temperatures reached over 100 degrees. Clusters are nice and small to medium-sized and tightly-packed with small-medium berries. Right now, most of the berries are showing some nice sweetness and tartness.

Beyond all of these statistics and technical details, what really makes this little vineyard special is the care taken by its owners in fostering this magical place in the hills. Roland and his wife Barbara live on this wonderful 300+ acre forested property, living mostly off the land with lush vegetable and herb gardens, fruit trees, sheep, ducks, chickens and more. It is an idyllic, welcoming haven tucked away in the hillsides of Anderson Valley and Roland and Barbara are passionate caretakers of the land.

As we move into building more long-term relationships with grape growers, it’s important for us to learn more about the people behind the fruit and how their philosophies blend with our own wine-making goals. Walking the fields, making note of all of the stats, sampling the fruit on the vine, and tasting other wines from the vineyard all enter into the equation; but as in any creative pursuit, gut instinct and the feeling that one gets from meeting someone and seeing their land are critical pieces of the decision-making process.

After a magical weekend of not only seeing the vineyard, but also chatting with Roland and Barbara Wentzel, and exploring the nooks and crannies of their property (from digging through their worm farm to picking fresh strawberries for our breakfast), we’re even more thrilled to be working with them again this year.

Harvest at the Wentzel Vineyard is expected to be in early to mid October and we can hardly wait to get the fruit into our winery in San Francisco and get to work. Keep an eye out for other vineyard profiles through this month and next as we lead up to harvest and crush.

Fall Release: 2008 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir from La Encantada Vineyard by valleyfog
2008 Waits-Mast La Encantada Pinot Noir

The new Fall release from Waits-Mast Family Cellars

The Fall release from Waits-Mast Family Cellars is our second vintage from Richard Sanford’s La Encantada Vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills and the last of our three 2008 pinot noirs to be released. The 2008 La Encantada, bottled in September of 2009, is a well-structured wine. At first, it was tightly wound and needed some time. Now, a year later, it is unfolding and showing its colors and ready for your wine-drinking pleasure.

When we brought the grapes in from harvest they were probably the most perfect clusters we had ever seen. Small, tight clusters with small berries. We knew then and there that this wine was going to be a cut above.

No surprise, as this vineyard is well tended to by Sanford, and is certified organic by the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). The hillside placement of this vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills and the proximity to a mountain gap that exposes it to coastal fog and winds produces a low-vigor environment that delivers a lush cherry, raspberry and dark berry mix.

Okay, so after all that build up, how does it taste? All in all, the best way to describe this wines is “well-rounded.” The aroma speaks of classic central/south coast pinot noir – cranberry, cherry, plum and a touch of forest floor. On the palate, an intense but brooding red and dark berry flavor unfolds, with fine tannins, slight minerality and nice acidity. At this point, all the flavors are starting to integrate quite well, so there’s a lot to ponder in that glass.

With this type of structure and balance, it begs for food. One of our favorite dishes is a skirt steak simply marinated in garlic, soy sauce, maybe a touch of brown sugar and thrown on the grill. We also think that with Thanksgiving not far away, the cranberry and cherry notes in this wine will sing with your favorite holiday meal.

2008 La Encantada Pinot Noir

2008 La Encantada Pinot Noir

Oh, and did we mention that this wine also won a Silver medal in the 2010 San Francisco International Wine Competition?

To avail yourself of such a wonderful wine, you can go online today and purchase it in our webstore. If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can find it at Pleasant Hill Wine Merchants and soon, other local retailers and restaurants. We also still have just a couple of cases left of our 2007 La Encantada, so start building your vertical (yes, we have a 2009 La Encantada still in barrel) now.

Technical specifications:

Harvest: October 6, 2008

Clones: 115/667/777

Alcohol content: 14.2% by volume

Fruit: 100% whole berry (no stems)

Fermentation: RC212 yeast

Barrel aging: 12 months in French oak, 33% new (Francois Freres, MT)

Bottled: September, 2009

Production: 25 cases

Drink now through 2017

Price: $47/bottle (750ml)

Release date: September 16, 2010

Wine Tasting at Candia Vineyards in New Hampshire by Jennifer

Candia Vineyards

We’re not necessarily fans of the well-trodden paths in wine country, so whenever we travel we try to find out-of-the-way wineries in places that aren’t necessarily on the radar of most oenophile tourists.

Last summer the challenge was to find vineyards and wineries in Ireland, and against all odds we succeeded in tracking down a few, notably Lusca Vineyards in Lusk. This year we stuck closer to home for our summer vacation, traveling to New England to visit family. Although there are lots of wineries within driving distance of our home base there of Boston, we’d never ventured to any of them before.

So, on our trip back to Boston from a visit to New Hampshire’s White Mountains, we decided to stop in at a winery in southern New Hampshire. We selected Candia Vineyards because not only was it on our route, but also due to the fact that it is one of the few vineyards in the area that makes wine solely from grapes.

Vineyards at Candia

We arrived at the winery on the afternoon of Friday September 3rd, just as bits of the then-weakened Hurricane Earl were approaching New England. Skies were grey and the air was thick with humidity and it seemed to be the perfect time to escape underground. Owner and winemaker Bob Dabrowski met us in his cellar, where he not only makes his wine, but also does wine tastings with visitors pretty much daily (by appointment).

Bob first starting making wine in 1981 as a home winemaker and ramped things up by opening his commercial winery in 1999. He talked a lot about his passion for making wine from grapes (somewhat of a novelty in the area, where only 2 or 3 vineyards craft wine from 100% grapes) and mentioned that in New Hampshire they are blessed with rich, vigorous soil.

Part of the tasting lineup

Bob offered up tastes of 9 different wines, which included Pinot Grigio, Viognier, Chardonnay, Marquette, Noiret (he was the first to grow this grape in New Hampshire), Classic Cab, Gewurtztraminer, Diamond, and Black Ice. Visitors to the tasting room are invited to try tastes of any 6 open wines for $4 and are allowed to take the tasting glass home with them. Retail prices for his wines range from $12 to $29 a bottle.

It was a treat for us to try some varietals that we’d never sampled before (like the peppery Noiret) and we were particularly taken by the just-released Black Ice. Bob wouldn’t reveal the blend of grapes used in this delicious ice wine, but to our palates it had a lovely sweet fig taste which we can hardly wait to pair with the perfect dessert.

Thanks again to Bob for his hospitality. We look forward to our next visit to New England so that we can sample the wines at other local wineries. There are lots to choose from, as the New Hampshire Winery Association website lists 18 members, including vineyards, wineries, mead and cider producers, and distilleries. Another great resource for information about wine in New England is the The New England Wine Gazette. In the issue that we picked up, there were a range of articles about the winemaking scene on the East Coast, including maps and listings of wineries in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.