Wine Club – December 2016
We're privileged to release the first of our 2015 wines. The emotion of the 2015 vintage was incredible- by which I mean how it felt to work the harvest. You know how a lingering sunset with vivid colors can draw you in to the point it seems to just flow though you? That was the emotion of 2015. This shipment includes two wines from 2015, and we love them both. We are also including one of the last of our 2014s; a wine we always love, and it is a graceful expression of its place.
With the arrival of December and its shorter days and winter weather, we find ourselves beginning to reflect upon the past year and planning for the next one. We'll be making some great meals in the coming weeks, and drinking some great wines with friends, and we'll remain aware how fortunate we are to be able to share those moments with friends and family- because that's what life is about. We hope you have a fantastic holiday season, and as always, we're honored that our wines can grace your table.
Holdredge 2015 "Petits Cadeaux" Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
Only 98 cases made.
$50/btl (Club Price: $42.50)
You likely know the story of this wine- the "little gifts" are the tiny clusters, tiny berries and huge flavors that come from a clone of Pinot grown on the "Laguna Bench" above the Santa Rosa plain. The small berries mean a lower ratio of juice to skin, which in turn leads to a wine with more structure- because the skins are where all the goodness lies. This wine is grown by two good friends of mine, whom I consider being amongst the best growers around; and their care and attention in the vineyard makes our job a lot easier.
This vintage delivers in a big way. Black fruit dominates the wine; it is the rich full powerful wine this place produces, and magnified by the tiny berries. It's capable of pairing with the heaviest dishes of winter; I personally love it with Cassoulet. I think it is more approachable than the 2014 was at this stage, and while I would decant it the near term, it has the potential to go 6-8 more years. In case you're wondering, we included a gift bag with one of the bottles because we figure everyone needs to keep a "little gift" handy to take to a holiday party!
Holdredge 2015 "Indigo Dreams" Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
Ultra limited. Only 50 cases made.
$50/btl (Club Price: $42.50)
When I first made this wine, I was completely unprepared for how much people would love it. Stylistically it was far riper and bigger in presence than we strive for; and yet, not only did our customers love it, so did we. The 2015 follows the previous vintages in this regard, and although we only made a tiny amount, it carries the same voice. This is a "winter" wine if ever there was- perfect for one of those nights you want to hunker down with a good bottle in front of a roaring fire and let the world go on its way.
Like the Cadeaux, this will work with the biggest dishes. But for me, a little warm crusty French bread with some soft cheese lightly toasted under the broiler, and this wine is about as perfect a match as I could want. If you are a fan of this wine, order any additional bottles sooner than later- we don't expect it to be available long. It'll offer optimum drinking for the next 4-6 years.
Holdredge 2014 "Shaken Not Stirred" Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
Only 92 cases made.
$45/btl (Club Price: $38.25)
Pinot is a grape with many voices, and this wine offers a very nice contrast to the other two wines in this shipment; it is on the light, pretty, and more delicate end of the spectrum. Where the other two are all about power, this one is entirely about grace. It is a single-clone Pinot, made entirely from the "Martini" clone (hence the name). We've worked with this vineyard for a while, and it has always made a red fruit driven wine, brighter cherries, cranberries and raspberries, with notes of baking spices and sandalwood.
This year is no exception to that flavor profile, although it is a slightly more delicate and restrained wine. It'll pair perfectly with seafood based dishes, things like salmon, halibut, or shellfish are ideal- and the simpler the preparation, the better. And yet, it can go with richer foods- I had it with shrimp Newberg (old school!) and it absolutely rocked. I'd definitely decant it now, and it should be best over the next 7-8 years.
John & Carri Holdredge
Harvest 2016 Wrap Up
"Well...that escalated quickly" - Ron Burgundy. I'm writing this as I'm waiting for the last three fermentations to finish (Schioppettino, Montepulciano and Nero d'Avola), and frankly, more than a little worn out. The interns have been sent home, so Will and I are finishing this on our own. It means I'll likely clean the press the last time, which is fitting because I cleaned it first this year. The place has a quiet energy- so far from the cacophony of crush, and I get to really focus on the few wines still fermenting.
We picked our first grapes August 20, and we made a lot of wine. In addition to the Martinelli "Three Sisters" vineyard, we also added a Pinot from an amazing vineyard situated on the lower slopes of Sonoma Mountain. Wine is the story of stones- and this one is a really interesting story.
Even though it's been a long harvest, there was a lag on the front end, and then it seemed like we were bringing in fruit every day. Which we pretty much were, but it was all excellent fruit this year. We also had a lot of laughs- which is important as well. I worked as hard this year as I ever have, partly because we made a lot of wine. But perhaps best of all, I had noticed one day that the thing I value most in harvest- a moment when one captures the entire emotion and expression of harvest, hadn't really happened this year. I even mentioned it to Carri one day- I wasn't sure if it was just the insane work load or what.
And then, one afternoon, while tending to the last few fermentations alone, I suddenly had a moment where I felt it- although it was totally unexpected and caught me by surprise. It's hard to describe- it's a connection to place and time, and the power of nature. It's feeling like you are part of the whole thing- that it's flowing through you, and though it can happen in the most humble of places, the serenity one feels as a result is beyond words. A very nice closing to a wonderful harvest.
Harvest 2016 is underway and we are knee deep in grapes right now. Actually, our female intern "Matilda" is knee deep as she gently walks on the grapes to break the skins; an ancient technique that helps coax a lot of flavor and color out of the grapes without breaking the seeds. The year was shaping up to be another very early year (the super late harvest of 2011 seems like forever ago), and we crushed our first fruit on August 22. It looked like it was going to really get going, but then it suddenly cooled down and everything stalled.
Now "stalled" might sound bad, but it's actually great. It allows flavors to keep developing, while sugars stay in check. It is the kind of thing that makes everyone happy. Well, everyone except the interns who have to just keep cleaning things endlessly to stay busy. All the while, like every other winemaker, I watched the weather forecasts, worrying that if we got a little heat, everything would come in at once.
I may not be psychic, but I sure called it right. We had two days of heat September 6 and 7, and we have been absolutely buried in grapes. As I write this, the winery is packed full of fermenters packed with fruit, and I have tank capacity for about 5 more tons with about 12 scheduled to be picked this week. Meanwhile, I'm pushing back our picks for our Italian grapes. We simply can't take more fruit. I could buy more fermenters, but I have no place to put them, and when I need to fill barrels, I have to move stuff outside just to be able to do so.
But this is the joy of harvest; it's a series of humbling reminders that nature has her ways, and as winemakers we are at her mercy. Really, a compressed harvest is just fine. It's a harder physically, but the fatigue is what makes you alive. If you haven't been by in awhile, you really should. The place smells great, it's got great energy and we are having a lot of fun.
At age 58, I'm still cleaning presses and doing punchdowns at 3 am. My body aches, I've had one night of full sleep in the last three weeks and I'm running on fumes. But the grapes have been fantastic, the flavors are great and there is calm within the chaos. I wouldn't miss this for anything. If you're in the neighborhood, you should stop by, it's a fabulous time of year to be in a winery.
Martinelli "Three Sisters"
Getting fruit from a great vineyard is no easy thing. The farmers who own such places tend to be patient, which is the cornerstone of farming, and they make decisions about who they sell fruit to the same way. I first discussed buying Pinot from Lee Martinelli, Jr., and his wife Pam about 12 years ago. "Discussed" may be an overstatement. It was late at night at a party where everyone had jumped into the pool fully clothed and big bottles of wine were just floating around. Bacchus, in his day, never had it so good.
Thoughts were exchanged, and Lee was receptive to discussing some of his Russian River sites, but I had my heart set on a particular vineyard he and Pam own out in the trust Sonoma Coast: "Three Sisters". It sits at about 1,200 feet elevation, atop the second ridge in from the Pacific, around 14 miles northwest of Cazadero. The county road, such as it is, ends at Lee's property. It is a place where a tiny handful of absolutely iconic sites are located; vineyards like Marcassin, Hirsch, Blue Slide Ridge and "Three Sisters".
I still recall Lee having a fairly bemused smile at my temerity. The vineyard was split between the Martinelli family's own winery, and a very highly regarded consulting winemaker who used it in her own brand. But I had always loved the wines from that neighborhood, and in my heart it was a place I truly wanted to make wine from. I've never been one to not go after what I wanted. Our discussions didn't get far that night, but over the years our paths crossed. I coached his daughter in T-Ball, his niece was a harvest intern for us in 2009, and we'd see each other at wine events. And each time I saw him, I'd jokingly (half) say "just two tons, that's all I need", and we'd share a laugh.
Finally, this year, Lee sent me a note and said he had some fruit available and asked if I was interested. Of course I was, so we met out there and walked the vineyard. As much as I loved the neighborhood, I absolutely fell in love with the vineyard. We quickly reached an agreement and our first fruit from there came in the other day.
There are two separate vineyards, located perhaps a ½ mile apart. Both have chardonnay and Pinot, both are farmed meticulously, and both have their own voice. One block is called "Lambing Barn" after the sheep operation that Lee's great-grandfather ran there decades ago. The other is called "Buck Meadow" so named because it was a place a hunter could always find a buck if you were so inclined. The Meadow is planted to Pommard clone, and the Lambing Barn is planted to clone 777.
Every place we work with has a distinct voice, and Three Sisters is no exception. It is wild, surrounded by steep mountains, deep canyons and incredible views. In fact, just past the vineyard there is a point where you can see the pacific ocean. I picked the Lambing Barn September 8, and it is just starting to ferment. We are picking Buck Meadow later this week. I'm thrilled to have the fruit as it is really delicious but I'm a little sad I won't have an excuse to take a few hours to drive out there for awhile. We haven't chosen a name for the wine, and we have a long ways to go before it is in bottle. But we are honored to add this to the roster of iconic sites we are blessed to work with, and look forward to the journey we are just starting with these grapes.
We have been releasing our 2014 wines, and have been very gratified by the response. It was a really fine vintage and the early excitement about the quality seems borne out by the wines in bottle. We've already sold out of some of them, but we've just released our 2014 "Judgment Tree" from the Rochioli "Sweetwater" Vineyard. Anyone familiar with Pinot knows how special the Rochioli Vineyards are and what exceptional farmers they are as well. They make my job easy, all I have to do is not screw it up!
The 2014 is a very rich, extracted Pinot with a lushness that is counterbalanced by fine tannins. It's really complete all the way through the palate. Where the 2013 was a little tighter and more tannic on release (it has really evolved as we expected and it is stunning), the 2014 just seems to be saying "it's go time". Tom Rochioli, who is an accomplished winemaker and wine grower, really liked it quite a bit, which is about all the validation I need. We only made 70 cases, and we are almost sold out, so if you are interested, you should check out the website.
We also just released the first of our 2014 wines from our "Oscuro" brand which is devoted to lesser known (and sometime obscure) noble Italian Red grapes. The first 2014 is our "Montepulciano", a grape grown widely throughout central/south Italy- everywhere it seems except in the commune of Montepulciano (where they make "Vino Nobile de Montepulciano" which is the Sangiovese grape grown in the commune of Montepulciano. ~sigh~). My Italian ancestors took some very interesting approaches to things sometimes.
But no matter, the wine is true to the grape. Dark purple, with huge notes of black fruit, big silky tannins and a vibrancy in the palate you wouldn't expect from such a dark wine. It is a blockbuster and pairs equally well with grilled meats, mushroom dishes and all kinds of antipasti and cured meats. It's a really fun wine that will keep your guests guessing as to what grape it is and really perfect for autumn fare.
We have a few other 2014s available, all are drinking very well right now. Check it out. And we have a special on shipping for club members (it costs nothing to join the club, there is a discount on all purchases, and it is a pretty cool deal especially if you aren't able to be out here and drop by to buy wine). We appreciate all the support we have from our customers, and we know you'll enjoy these wines.
With this release, we unleash one more 2014 Pinot. This shipment also marks the release of a wine from our other brand –OSCURO which is devoted to wines made from grapes of noble Italian lineage. Did we save the best for last? You be the judge. We loved this vintage and we love these wines, we hope you do too.
This was our third year to get fruit from the Rochioli “Sweetwater” Vineyard on Westside Road, southwest of Healdsburg (about ¼ mile south of the Bucher Vineyard). Anyone who knows me knows how special I feel this place is; and how fortunate I feel to be one of the very few winemakers to get to work with fruit from this vineyard, which is almost entirely Rochioli “West Block” clone.
The 2014 bears a strong resemblance to ‘12 and ‘13, except in two ways. First, the flavor profile of the fruit is darker and deeper. This came about because I was striving for more tannin ripeness (the “west Block” clone tends towards a bigger tannic profile), so I let the fruit remain a touch longer than I had in prior years. As a result, it already shows more refined tannin development in the bottle, and is more generous at this stage than our prior wines. My feeling is it is going evolve for another 5-8 years in a big way- it has the fruit and the structure to do so. But this has been in bottle a year already and it is a wine we are really enjoying.
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I don’t think I’ll ever be able to adequately describe the emotion of this vineyard, which sits at the convergence of the redwoods and the Pacific Ocean, but the place is undeniably distinct. So is this wine. 2014 again gave us a little late season warmth- just enough to stave off the heaviest fog and ensure we got some incredible flavor development. From tasting in the vineyard, to fresh juice, to barrel and finally to bottle, we really liked this wine a lot.
And yet, it still completely blindsided us- we weren’t prepared for the transformation it has shown in the year it has rested post bottling. It has evolved into such a complex wine, with layers of goodness, far beyond what I ever hoped for (and I had very high hopes). It stands out from all our other Pinots- not qualitatively, but in terms of its voice. Which is as it should be- I expect the Russian River Pinots to speak of the overall appellation as well as the specific vineyards, but this is from a very different place and speaks of it. While always a very popular wine for us, this one is a real stand out already. I rarely urge people to “buy more”, but were it me, I’d get after this one. It’s easily got 6-9 years of development ahead of it, but I’d hate to have to wait that long to enjoy it.
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When we began making Pinot (long before “Sideways” made it fashionable to do so), our Russian River Valley Pinot was our largest production wine; about 300 cases, which a huge winery would lose to evaporation in a year. While we make more than we used to, it still is under 1000 cases, almost all of which is sold to restaurants in Las Vegas, California, and New York. It’s always represented our take on what the vintage meant for the appellation as a whole, as opposed to one single place.
In 2014, nature was exceedingly generous, and this wine reflects that generosity. It maintains a nice balance between red and black fruit, has great weight, but carries enough acid that the wine is surprisingly nimble, and decidedly food friendly. How food friendly? We’ve had it with food ranging from Ahi poke with tempura avocados, to steak with foie butter and mushrooms, and a lot of stuff in between. And, the fact that it’s in darn near every resort property in Las Vegas (or seems that way), means a lot of other people are having it with dinner too. We’ve sold out of it, but have a very small amount for our club to enjoy. You could wait to drink it, but I don’t think you’ll regret enjoying it immediately.
The Oscuro brand is my homage to my Italian heritage, and Montepulciano is a grape grown throughout southern Italy (except in the area of Montepulciano, where they grow the Sangiovese grape. Italians, go figure). Montepulciano tends to be more of a mass produced wine there, but more producers are treating it with the care and devotion of a noble grape. It is akin to the difference between growing grapes for jug wine and growing for artisan wines.
These grapes are grown at about 900 foot elevation on rocky volcanic soils above the Dry Creek Valley. We strive for authenticity, and this bears the trademark black color and blackberry flavor profile of the grape. It also carries a low alcohol, and stunning tannins. This grape has a long and noble pedigree in Italy. We believe this grape deserves to be treated with deference to those noble origins, and we feel this wine does so. The tannins will carry this wine for a long time, but it can be enjoyed now, and for the next 7-9 years.
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John & Carri Holdredge
The adage that "every vintage is different" was perhaps especially true in 2014. The year brought a number of variables in weather that shaped harvest expectations. While a very strong year in many respects, it seemed hard to get a read on ripeness; one aspect might seem good while others seemed to need more time. This seemed pretty widespread- it was like everything was "almost" there, but not "quite" there. But at the same time, things seemed closer in ripeness relative to each other than normal.
Normally, we bring in one or two small pieces from a couple vineyards that tend to ripen earlier, wait a bit, and then fruit comes in from various places at a nice orderly pace. It's usually 8-10 weeks to harvest all the grapes, with fermentations extending that further. The harvest started as I expected- we picked two small pieces in late August, and waited for other things to slowly come in.
And then all hell broke loose; instead of another 8 or 9 weeks, everything came in within a 19 day window. Everything. Every. Last. Grape. 19 days. The entire winery was packed- wall to wall with fermenting grapes; it was stacked so tight we had to move things out in the morning just to maneuver the forklift. I've never seen anything like it, neither had anyone else.
If I described it as "crazy, insane, hectic", I'd be understating it. And yet there was joy to it, the fruit was dazzling and delicious, and had real spirit and confidence. We had a great harvest crew, and there was serenity at the core of the insanity. We worked hard, slept little (I may be getting too old for this!), and had as much fun as I'd had in a very long time.
The harvest was truly "fast and furious". But standing each day in the midst of a building crammed full of fermenting Pinot, inhaling the pitched aromatics of all these different fermenting delicious gifts of nature at once- those are the moments.
Nature's power is unrelenting, it's the thing that shapes wines most. The wines are wonderful- the thing that made them special when they were made, that spirit they showed, is still very much there. I really don't know if wines can "smile", but to me, these seem pretty happy with whom they are. Kind of how I've felt as I've opened them up. I hope you enjoy them
This is the first "official" release of wines from 2014 (a couple tiny production wines already went to our wine club). All are drinking beautifully and just in time for the summer and all the great Pinot and food combinations that you'll be serving.