Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Big "Salud!" to Ceja Vineyards

One of my goals on my latest trip to Napa Valley was to meet someone I consider a "powerhouse" in the wine industry. She epitomizes everything I aspire to be. Her warmth and generosity is a million-fold and she is a little "firecracker who moves mountains!" Her name is Amelia Moran Ceja and her amazing story will move you and stay in your heart forever!

Amelia and I had met on Facebook and Twitter. We mutually support each other's endeavors and I tried very hard to get together with her on previous visits but unfortunately, it was not to be. A few weeks ago before I left to go to Napa Valley, she contacted me and asked if I would be interested in stopping by. I was thrilled! We exchanged phone numbers and although we were going to meet at an extremely busy time for her (the morning of the anniversary of the winery), she agreed to meet with me on their Carneros property, which is not normally open to the public. They have a beautiful tasting room in downtown Napa, which is open to the public and Amelia's son, Ariel Ceja, has a nice little restaurant in downtown Napa, Bistro Sabor, where you can go Salsa dancing and eat some wonderful authentic cuisine! I'm going to check out the restaurant the next time I am in town!

Now on to that heart-warming story...Amelia began her life in a tiny village in Mexico. Her father was a migrant worker who came to California to seek a better life for his family. At the tender age of 12, Amelia arrived in Rutherford, California (in the heart of the Napa Valley). She spoke no English. It was in these early years that, as fate would have it, she would meet her future husband, Pedro Ceja. During those years, they picked grapes at the "new" Robert Mondavi Winery and Amelia spoke fondly of Robert, almost as if he were a mentor. Her epiphany was the day she tasted Merlot grapes and noticed the difference between how succulent and wonderful these grapes were compared to ordinary table grapes. This is how she decided to delve into wine.

After graduating from high school with honors, she attended college in southern California where she studied nutrition. But, her interest in wine continued to grow so she continued to work along side her parents in the vineyards. After she and Pedro married in 1980, Amelia's mother spotted a "For Sale" sign on a piece of property in Carneros, on the southern end of Napa Valley. Though Pedro and Amelia could not afford the nearly half-million dollar property, they chose to try and make it work. At that time, there were few vineyards in the area.

After a year of trying to make their dream a reality, they ended up putting the land up for sale only to be rescued by Pedro's brother, Armando Ceja. He had just graduated from UC Davis with a degree in Enology and Viticulture and he helped get them a deal to grow grapes for Domaine Chandon's sparkling wine program. They planted their vineyard in 1986 and have not looked back since!

I ended up meeting many members of the Ceja family that day! Armando Ceja, the winemaker (shown above) and his wife Martha, Amelia's daughter, Dalia (who does the marketing for the winery and is a wonderful person and a real sweetheart!), Amelia's husband, Pedro Ceja and even Amelia's mom, Francisca Moran and Pedro's mom, Juana Ceja!! They were all so generous and treated me like family. Dalia got me started on some wines while we were waiting for Amelia to come back from a shopping trip.

The Ceja family now owns many vineyards, located in the Carneros district of Napa and in Sonoma County and the Sonoma Coast. Their wines are moderately price and will dazzle you! They make many! I was able to sample quite a few of them that day and later that evening when I attended their anniversary fiesta! Just an example of a few that really stood out for me:

2009 Ceja Vineyards Sparkling Brut ($40)--Crisp, clean and vibrant! This perfect Summertime sparkler rivals the best of the best that Napa Valley has to offer when it comes to sparkling wines! 60% Chardonnay/40% Pinot Noir! Citrus Zest and smooth apple flavors. Very enjoyable!

2008 Ceja Vineyards Bella Flor Dry Rose ($22)--Swoon!! This Rose is amazing! Made from 100% Syrah from their Adobe Vineyard on the Sonoma Coast. I cannot get enough of this wine! The cherry, strawberry flavors just explode in your mouth and the finish is so smooth! This is the perfect Summertime wine with spicy foods or just for sipping on the deck!

2008 Ceja Vineyards Chardonnay ($34)--Creme Brulee meets Key Lime Pie in a wine glass! Just a lovely Chardonnay with a nice, round, creamy mouthfeel and smooth and balanced finish. Hails from their Carneros vineyards in the region where some of the best Chardonnays come from!

2007 Ceja Vineyards Vino de Casa Red Blend ($20)--A very unusual blend of 40% Pinot Noir/40% Syrah/20% Cabernet Sauvignon, this very tasty, easy drinking red is the perfect every day wine. It's smooth, full of plum, dark cherry and chocolate flavors. At a crazy price that everyone can afford! This should be a staple in everyone's wine rack!

2007 Ceja Vineyards Sonoma Carneros Merlot ($38)--I almost didn't get to try this one as I was running late, but Amelia insisted I try it because she said Carneros Merlot is the BEST. This wine gives me hope that Merlot will make a comeback! Those of us who never stopped drinking it know better! And she's right! This Merlot is scrumptious! Smooth and velvety with a powerhouse of dark cherry flavor!

Amelia went on to discuss the "Fiesta" that the family was holding later that evening and invited me back to Carneros. She said there was "magic" in Carneros and that I would discover this after I visit. She was right and although my day was crazy afterward, I got my second wind and made the trek back to Carneros that evening to partake in the fiesta. Boy! This family knows how to celebrate!! I spent several "magical" hours eating delicious food (this amazing corn on the cob dipped in creme fraiche and cotija cheese and awesome paella!!) I sampled wines, mingled with the guests, met friends, listened to the mariachi band and simply enjoyed my last Napa Valley evening in style!

At the end of the evening, Amelia and Pedro unveiled their plans to build a brand new winery on their Carneros property! It is going to be gorgeous! I wish them the best of luck with it and I hope to be there not only for the grand opening but for many fiestas to come! Salud!

To Amelia and her amazing family, thank you for making me feel like I belong there and for taking me in like family. Your spirit, friendship, drive and love makes the world go around and I am forever blessed to know you. I have truly discovered the "magic" of Carneros!

For more information on Ceja Vineyards, please visit their website at For more information on Bistro Sabor, please visit their website at

"You Saw It Here First"...This post was created solely for "Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk" by Grace Hoffman. Grace is an Italian-born, American-bred wine blogger/educator with an all-consuming passion for wine and all it encompasses.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Wine And "Flowers"

Last weekend, I participated in a special "TasteLive" event for Flowers Vineyard and Winery. It was held on the same weekend as the 2012 North American Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville, Virginia. For some of us who were not able to attend the conference, this was a great opportunity to sample some amazing wines from an amazing Sonoma Coast winery! I felt pretty special when my carton of samples arrived shortly before the event. For many years, I was always reading how Flowers Winery was named one of the top wineries of the year in Wine & Spirits Magazine. I had always been a fan from afar although I'd never actually sampled any of the wines and who'd have ever thought back in 1999 when I started drinking wine that I would even own a bottle of this wine, let alone a whole slew of samples! Wow... It was at that moment when I saw the bottles, that I knew this event was going to be something to remember and how far I had come in my wine education!

Joining us on this amazing evening via UStream were the winemaker, Jason Jardine and estate director, Christopher Barefoot. The title of the event was "Flowers Winery: Live From The Extreme Sonoma Coast." They were not kidding when they meant "Extreme"!!! Check out this video!

Just to throw a little history at you, Flowers Vineyard and Winery is fairly young, having been founded by Walt and Joan Flowers, two nursery owners from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. They purchased land on the Sonoma Coast in 1989 with the dream of combining their love of wine and agriculture. Today, they are the proud owners of a winery whose wines are highly allocated and sought after. One taste of these wines and you will see... Almost all the wines the winery produces are Burgundian in fashion--thus they make some spectacular Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. After watching the video above, who wouldn't want to pick up and move there?

The wine line-up for the evening went as follows:

2009 Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
2008 Flowers Camp Meeting Ridge Chardonnay
2009 Flowers Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
2008 Flowers Seaview Ridge Pinot Noir
2009 Flowers Perennial Red

I could not wait to get started!!

The 2009 Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay was a dream come true!! Wow! From the moment my lips encountered this wine I was in heaven! It was perfectly balanced. White peaches and citrus with a crisp, minerally finish. Now, I thought the price point wasn't too crazy either. $40. (OK, that wasn't so bad, was it???)

The 2008 Flowers Camp Meeting Ridge Estate Bottled Chardonnay literally made me drool! With beautiful aromas and a huge midpalate of baked apples, butter and toasted nuts, it was creamy yet had balanced acidity and a smooth finish. Another "WOW!" It doesn't get better than this! What a gorgeous wine! $58.

My favorite wine of the night, the 2009 Flowers Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir--like an angel came down from heaven and dropped it in front of me! Double "WOW!" Blackberries, dark cherries and spicy herbs rounded out this Pinot Noir. So tasty!!! I easily could have consumed it all but I didn't. I saved some for the next day! $45.

The 2008 Flowers Seaview Ridge Estate Bottled Pinot Noir was much heartier! Lots of dark berries, plums, dark cherries, spiciness. Fuller mouthfeel. Velvet finish. I'm smiling as I write this because sometimes I feel so blessed to be sampling wine like this! $68.

And last but not least, a really interesting wine with a blend I had never heard of before.

The 2009 Flowers Perennial which is a blend of Pinot Noir, Syrah, Pinot Meunier and a splash of Chardonnay. You heard me right. Makes for an interesting wine. It definitely needed some opening up. The first time I tried it, it was not my favorite but when I tried it again the next day, it had evolved and was doing just fine! Definitely worth trying! The wine had kind of a smoky flavor and would definitely pair up nicely with barbecued foods. $38.

I have to say, sampling these wines really opened my eyes to the Sonoma Coast and all the wonderful cool climate wines coming from this AVA. I would definitely be in for exploring this further. Aside from the winemaker and estate director joking that I would be driving some steep mountain terrain to get to the winery. (I don't think they were joking either! Yikes!!) I sort of volunteered to help them during harvest this Fall when I visit in October. Do you think I'll do it? Hmmm...That would remain to be seen. Maybe I'll hire a driver... Do yourselves a favor, check this winery out. A lot of their wine is allocated but they do have some for sale on their website,

Cheers until next time everybody!

"You Saw It Here First"...This post was created solely for "Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk" by Grace Hoffman. Grace is an Italian-born, American-bred wine blogger/educator with an all-consuming passion for wine and all it encompasses.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

What Do A Cellarmistress And Rutherford Dust Have In Common?

No, this isn't a riddle. Surely, most of you wine lovers have heard the term, "Rutherford Dust." If not, I am here to provide a quick education. We all know that Cabernet is "King" in the Napa Valley. The most coveted and prestigious terroir for Cabernet, as it would be argued, is the Rutherford AVA, located about half way in between the southern and northern ends of Napa County. They call it "Rutherford Dust."--its unique terroir made up of well-drained soil-gravel, loam and sand along with volcanic deposits and marine sediments. What sets the Rutherford AVA apart is that out of the 3518 acres of grapevines planted, 2484 acres are dedicated to Cabernet Sauvignon. That's an astounding 71%! In 2006, on my first ever trip to Napa Valley, I gathered some of this dirt and rocks and put it in a bottle. The bottle sits on a book shelf in my living room and it never meant so much to me as it does at this moment in time. Why, you ask? Everything has come full circle for me, from the moment I set foot in that vineyard and bottled up my dirt to sitting in my living room writing this now.

Awhile back I received an invitation to a prestigious event in Napa Valley, "A Day In The Dust 2011"--A Tasting of 2008 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon And Cabernet Blends---July 13, 2011. The event is held annually at Rubicon Estate (once the historic Inglenook Winery-the oldest bonded winery in Rutherford) and put on by the Rutherford Dust Society. I had read a few blogs regarding this event in the past and wondered if I would ever get a chance to participate in something so invaluable. I finally received my turn and I walked away with an unbelievably memorable experience!

The morning of July 13th came quickly and as I drove north on Hwy 29 and approached Rubicon Estate my heart was pounding! I just couldn't wait to be there! As I walked toward the historic winery, I looked up at the building and was in awe of its beauty!

As soon as I arrived and for the first half hour or so, there was an informal meet and greet with Joel Aiken, of Beaulieu Vineyard, in the entrance way of the winery. After introducing myself, I headed to check out some of the displays including several showing the history of the winery when it was Inglenook (old books, wine bottles and photographs--really neat!). The winery is planning to go back to the historic Inglenook name in the near future. I also checked out the immaculate and beautiful tasting room. But this is not why I was in attendance. I was there to blind taste twenty-two 2008 Rutherford Cabernets and Cabernet blends and I simply could not wait! Joining me was my longtime Facebook friend, Elizabeth Smith, a writer from Virginia.

A small group of us were guided into a beautifully decorated room where tables were set up with our flights of wines. After a brief presentation about the Rutherford Grange building restoration program and the history of the Rutherford Dust Society (something I am very interested in), we all began tasting the wines one by one. We were asked if we wanted a book of information regarding the wines and we all said, "Yes, please!" We tasted in silence.

Some of the wines were incredible. After seeing the notes, I was amazed at how many were yet to be released to the general public. We had a brief discussion on the 2008 growing season and how it affected the winemaking that year. In my opinion, 2008 will be a great year! A lot of great wines will be released if not already. The wines were sampled in two flights of eleven wines each. When asked if there was any rhyme or reason to the order of the wines, we were told that yes, they were chosen specifically to represent the appellation from east to west, in that order. Personally, I found that the farther north and west they went, the more I enjoyed them. Below are the lists of the two flights:

(Not to bore you with all this information, but I feel it's important that you know which wines were sampled.)

Flight One:

Peju Rutherford Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 900 cases $105 release date 9/14

Monticello Cellars Tietjen Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 224 cases $65 release date 10/11

Flora Springs Rutherford Hillside Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 347 cases $100 release date 10/11

Sullivan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Reserve 200 cases $100 release date 4/11

Round Pond Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford 3210 cases $50 release date 1/11

Pedemonte Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford 360 cases $26 release date TBD

Frog's Leap Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford 1865 (6 pak) $75 release date 10/11

Honig Vineyard & Winery Campbell Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 250 cases $75 release date 6/12

Quintessa Rutherford Cabernet Blend 7820 cases $145 release date 9/11

Conn Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Hozhoni Vineyard Rutherford 200 cases $45 release date Spring 2012

Piña Napa Valley Firehouse Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 237 cases $85 release date 1/10

Flight Two:

Sawyer Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford 850 cases $49 release date 6/12

Meander Morisoli Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 40 cases $125 release date 3/11

Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 8200 cases $115 release date 8/11

Rubicon Estate Rubicon 6675 (6 paks) $200 release date 3/12

St. Clement Vineyards Star Vineyard Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 225 cases $80 release date 11/11

Staglin Family Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2600 cases $185 release date Fall 2011

12C Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges III 120 cases $70 release date 8/10

HUNNICUTT Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford 125 cases $75 release date Fall 2011

Sojourn Cellars Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges III Cabernet Sauvignon 140 cases $95 release date 2/11

Frank Family Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1780 cases $85 release date 1/12

Hall Wines Exzellenz Sacrashe Vineyard Red Wine 219 cases $165.00 release date 11/11

As I sat and treated my palate to this motherlode of Rutherford Cabs, I couldn't help but feel fortunate and blessed. Although each wine was amazing on its own, some turned out to be more a favorite for me than others. I did enjoy the wines from the second flight more than the first. We were all in agreement as a group on this point. The wines from the western part of the appellation (on the Highway 29 side) were more impressive than the wines from the eastern part of the appellation.

Here were my favorites and why: Flight One

1. Honig Vineyard & Winery Campbell Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
(This wine blew my socks off! Yes! Yes! Yes! I said. Perfect.)

2. Quintessa
(Beautiful wine, smooth throughout, huge flavors)

3. Round Pond Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford
(A complete value--worthy of a higher price point, very approachable now)

Flight Two:

There were so many I liked in fight two, it was tough to make a decision!

1. Meander Morisoli Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
(Oh my God, it was as if I'd died and gone to heaven, this wine was so amazing, I was literally speechless!)

2. Sojourn Cellars Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges III Cabernet Sauvignon
(Full bodied, flavorful thoughout and an amazingly long finish)

3. Sawyer Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford
(The nose was intoxicating and made me say, "Wow!" So nice, so approachable.)

After tasting the twenty-two wines, we had a brief discussion and were commended for actually getting done on time so we could enjoy our lunch. We were lead into a banquet room where vineyard owner Andy Beckstoffer (whom I was dying to meet), Quintessa's winemaker Charles Thomas and Hollywood film producer and owner of Rubicon Estate, Francis Ford Coppola joined us for a wonderful lunch of steak and prawns accompanied by many, many wines so we were able to re-taste a lot of the wines we sampled earlier. I sat down in front of two bottles of white, the 2009 Staglin Family Estate Chardonnay and one of the most delicious Sauvignon Blancs I have ever encountered, the 2009 Fleury Estate Sauvignon Blanc (I would meet their winemaker, Brian Fleury later in the day). Once again, I felt so blessed to be in such wonderful company!

After lunch, we were treated to A Special Grand Tasting For The Trade where I met some wonderful winemakers, winery owners and other trade and media members as well as sampling and re-sampling so many wonderful wines from the Rutherford AVA. Among the people I met were: winemaker Brian Fleury of Fleury Estate Winery, winemaker Kristen Belair of Honig Vineyard & Winery, winemaker David Heitz of Heitz Cellars, Gretchen Lieff, proprietor of Lieff Wines, Winemaker Sara Fowler (I interviewed her for this blog last year via phone and finally was able to meet her face to face!) and proprietor Herta Peju of Peju, Davie Piña , proprietor of Piña Napa Valley,and Charles Sawyer, proprietor of Sawyer Cellars.

The person I wanted to meet the most, winemaker and proprietor of Meander/Conspire, Amy Aiken. Her Cabernet Sauvignon impressed me so much, I couldn't wait to tell her! She was so great and so personable and fun to talk to and I hope to help her get a distribution deal here in the state of Iowa!

As I drove away, the beautiful view reinforced my longing to be in the Napa Valley for the rest of my life. This is where I belong and I will never look back. I feel so fortunate to have spent the day in the company of such great people! I made the decision that day that I would move my life there sooner rather than later. Cheers!

"You Saw It Here First"...This post was created solely for "Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk" by Grace Hoffman. Grace is an Italian-born, American-bred wine blogger/educator with an all-consuming passion for wine and all it encompasses.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Bevy Of Summer Whites...

Phew!!! Honestly, this has to be the HOTTEST Summer on record! What's a wine lover to do??? Well, I have news for you! It's time to pop some corks and enjoy the bounty of Summer whites that are waiting for you! Recently, I received three such wines from Terlato Wines International and they opened my eyes to some terrific values! White wines need not be pricey or rip a hole in your pocketbook to be enjoyed daily. The three I am going to discuss here are the perfect example!

The 2010 13th Edition of Evolution by Sokol Blosser (an Oregon-based winery) is indeed a real treat! A blend of eight grape varietals (Muller-Thurgau, White Riesling, Semillon, Pinot Gris, Gewurtztraminer, Muscat Canelli, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner), this wine dances like magic in your glass! 100% stainless steel fermented and perfect for those spicy foods of Summer! I loved it! And that says a lot considering I have an aversion towards sweeter wines. This wine only had a slight residual sweetness to it and its tropical and floral notes just swept me away. A true winner in my eyes and my palate says, "I want more"! $17.

The 2009 Bodega Tamari Torrontes. What can I say about this wine? Bodega Tamari, from Mendoza, Argentina has done a wonderful job with it. Their motto is "Be Passionate". It's the perfect match for me and for anyone who loves a little "cha cha cha" in their wine! Life is about passion. This wine is intensely flavored and beautiful. Once you try it, you will be passionate about it. It is elegant and fruit forward, unlike a lot of other versions of Torrontes that are floral. Don't get me wrong--there are floral notes but this wine screams tropical fruit. An abundance of it. What a lovely thought! $15.

And now we go to France for our next great deal, the 2009 Cotes-Du-Rhone "Belleruche" Blanc from M. Chapoutier. One sip and this lovely white is capable of whisking you away to a far away land in just a matter of moments! It's beautiful! Made with three grape varietals (Grenache, Clairette and Bourboulenc)and will pair up with the lightest of Summer dishes. This makes the perfect wine for patio sipping on a hot day also. And the price point will surprise you. $13. Go get some!

So there you have it! Three wonderful deals on some very nice Summer whites. You can't go wrong with any of these. And they should be very easy to find in your local shops or you can access more information about them on the following websites:

Have fun this Summer and do yourselves a favor, seek out these wines! You will thank me!

"You Saw It Here First"...This post was created solely for "Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk" by Grace Hoffman. Grace is an Italian-born, American-bred wine blogger/educator with an all-consuming passion for wine and all it encompasses.