Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cellarmistress Discovers Some Of Napa Valley's Hidden Gems

In December, I was invited to attend Premiere Napa Valley, a Napa Valley charity event put on for the trade. It would be the most exciting, overwhelming experience I had ever encountered. I attended fifteen events in three days--from winery open houses, to grand tastings by AVA. From a barrel tasting and auction of hundreds of rare wine lots produced just for the event to post auction theme parties. In those three days, I met more important people in the industry than I ever would have on my own. It was absolutely amazing... This post is rather lengthy but I wouldn't be doing it justice if it wasn't.

After my invitation arrived and for the following two months, I received countless invitations to wine tasting events and winery open houses all over the valley. It was tough to pick and choose because many of them overlapped and you can't be everywhere at once! One Sunday night, very late in the evening, I received an invitation to attend a gathering of small producers at an event in St. Helena. The event was held at a place called 750 Wines. I admit I'd never heard of the place but the names of the producers enticed me. Why? Because I didn't know who they were. I now consider them Napa Valley's Hidden Gems.

Arkenstone, Aloft, Continuum, Detert, The Vineyardist, and Tor...Six producers worth their weight in GOLD! If you don't know who these producers are, I am here to educate you! You will want to know them and embrace them. I admit I wish I could mention every producer that was at this event. I ran out of time and didn't make it to each booth. Looking back, I wish I had! Collectors of fine wine, perk up your ears! These are wines you will want in your collection!

The first table I spotted was Arkenstone Vineyards. I immediately connected with them because of their midwestern roots. Pouring the wines, proprietor Susan Krausz confided in me she was originally from Minnesota. It's amazing how many midwesterners I've met in Napa. Guess we all want to be in the land of wine and sunshine! Susan and her husband Ron have been transplants since the 80s. Their property, up on Howell Mountain near the town of Angwin, is a work in progress. The wines? Amazing! I sampled the 2007 Obsidian, a Bordeaux blend of Howell Mountain fruit. Dark, rich, huge. Memorable. $120. I need to make an appointment and venture up there to see what they've done with this property. They also make a wonderful Sauvignon Blanc. Unfortunately, the 2009 vintage I sampled is sold out. For more information on Arkenstone wines and how you can visit them, please check out their website,

Years ago, I met Marc Mondavi of Charles Krug winery. He did a tasting here in my home town and mentioned he had been working on a wine project near his Howell Mountain home. I remember mentioning to friends I was hoping to try some of those wines some day! Well, that day finally came but it wasn't until that moment that I made the connection. Marc's wife, Janice Mondavi, was pouring Aloft. The brainchild of Marc and his brother, Peter Jr., Aloft is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Cold Springs Vineyard, 1660 feet up Howell Mountain, crafted by well-known winemaker, Thomas Rivers Brown and aged 19 months in new French oak. It has a huge backbone making it very ageworthy and the huge flavors (tobacco, chocolate, plum) will make you swoon! $150. To order this wine, please go to their website,

Now on to the other Mondavi family. I was pleased to meet Marcia Mondavi Borger (whose father was the great Robert Mondavi). She, along with her brother Tim and Tim's four children have come up with a gorgeous wine they've named Continuum. Such an appropriate name for the continuation of their winemaking going forward into the future.

The 2009 Continuum comes from the family's single estate vineyard on Pritchard Hill in the eastern mountains of Napa Valley. It is an elegant and powerful Bordeaux blend. I was pretty moved by this wine. My nose was permanently glued to my glass. The aromas were floral, fruity and chocolatey followed by lush dark berries on the palate. Wow! I'm not sure what the price point is on this wine. In order to purchase it, you have to belong to their mailing list and have a password to sign on to purchase. After a little research, I figured out the average price of this wine was around $150. Correct me if I'm wrong. You can access more information on their website,

On an added note and much to my delight, while attending the barrel tasting and auction a few days later, I had the pleasure of meeting Tim Mondavi and sampling his special lot of the 2010 Continuum that was being auctioned off that day! Whoever obtained that lot is one lucky person! It too, although extremely young, was just as amazing!

And now to a very small producer of Cabernet Franc, Detert Family Vineyards. I don't know about you, but I love Cabernet Franc and when I find a good one (since there aren't too many producers of the real thing alone), I want to shout about it! The Detert family has been in the valley since the 1950s. Primarily they were growers and their fruit was often used in such powerful wines such as Robert Mondavi's To Kalon Cabernets and Opus One. In fact, their vineyard is located in Oakville, just behind the famed To Kalon Vineyard. In the year 2000, they decided to start making their own wines. I met Tom Garrett, the Detert's grandson and winemaker of the current wines. He was very down to earth and listening to his story spoke volumes to me. The 2008 Detert Cabernet Franc was so nice. I smiled as I sampled it. It was smoky, with blackberry, violets and spice. Detert wines are allocated so you will need to access their website for more information. This wine sells for around $60.

The tasting was not crowded so it was easy to lose track of time talking with all the producers. I was having such a wonderful time, I didn't want to leave!

This next winery took me completely by surprise! They are so new, in fact, that until the last couple weeks, I couldn't find any information on them. The Vineyardist is the brainchild of winemaker, Mark Herold. We had a great time talking to him. He was very personable and funny! Mark's small production Cabernet Sauvignon is a true discovery!! Mark's story is great! He started out making wine at home, then with the encouragement of a college professor, he went on to make his own wine, Merus, as well as consulting for other wineries such as Celani Family, Kobalt and Kamen. 2009 The Vineyardist is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Diamond Mountain. Sold in three packs on their website for $465.00. Mark's wines come highly recommended by many critics. I thought the wine was wonderful! Last I heard he is planning to open a tasting room in downtown Napa. That's exciting. For more information, please access their temporary website,

The last booth I visited was Tor Kenward Famiy Wines. You pretty much had to pry me away from them. It was a great way to spend my last few moments there! Tor Kenward began his wine industry career as a senior executive for Beringer Vineyards. He worked with them in winemaking and marketing for 27 years before retiring and starting his own label. He was great!! The wines are exquisite! I sampled the 2009 Tor Beckstoffer To Kalon Clone 6. 100% Cabernet sauvignon with floral flavors, licorice and spicy goodness. This wine is available for purchase on their website if you set up an account with them. Average price is around $130. Tor makes many different To Kalon Cabernets. This particular one was one of the smallest production ones I sampled, at only 175 cases made.

The next day, I had the pleasure of running into Tor again, this time in Oakville at another grand tasting. He was pouring samples of his 2009 To Kalon Clone 337 Cabernet Sauvignon out of a magnum! This wine was more rustic, meaty, woody and toasty! It grabbed me!! These wines are definitely worth seeking out!

I've only begun to hit the surface of what is out in Napa Valley! It has become my pet project to discover more and more of what makes this area tick! And I'm enjoying every minute of doing it! I want to thank the Barbour family for inviting me to such a wonderful event, the great producers at the event and to my great friend, Jerae Knutson, who accompanied me and took some of these great photos with her iphone!

"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, March 18, 2012

An Afternoon At Flora Springs Estate

My recent voyage to the Napa Valley has produced many milestones for me. One of my goals was to visit wineries I was unfamiliar with. One of the wineries I had always wanted to visit in the past was Flora Springs. With roots firmly planted in the Napa Valley and a rich family-owned history, Flora Springs painted a beautiful picture of what I loved most about the valley--the family tradition. A week before my trip, the winery's Director of Hospitality & Social Media, Margaret Meraz, reached out to me and invited me, along with a small group of my close friends, to a luncheon and tour of the family's estate in St. Helena. I was thrilled! It would be my most memorable event and a turning point in my wine journey. A real "A-HA!" moment!

The anticipation was killing me as we drove up tiny little Zinfandel Lane towards the breathtaking estate! Once we arrived, we began by gathering outside and our tour host, Travis, poured us all a glass of the most delicious Sauvignon Blanc I've had in a very long time, the 2010 Flora Springs "Soliloquy". I couldn't get enough of the melon and citrus and it has definitely become a favorite at a wonderful price! ($20) Travis is a gracious host and his enthusiasm and knowledge of the winery is impeccable! It was one of the most enjoyable tours I'd ever done! As we sipped our "Soliloquy", our chef came out and served us some nice little bites to go with the wine.

As we stood outside, Travis gave us a little bit of history surrounding the estate. I was thrilled to find out that the estate's matriarch, Flora Komes, had just celebrated her 100th birthday back in October! Now that is longevity! (Must be all that fabulous wine!). The winery has been in operation since 1978, founded by Flora's children, John Komes and Julie Garvey. Today, both families are still operating the winery and have painstakingly preserved the heritage and tradition for future generations. Organically-farmed vineyards and traditional winemaking techniques are what this family is all about.

As we walked through the caves, I spied something I had never seen before and had to ask. Apparently, unbeknownst to me, years and years ago, some winemakers would ferment white wines in concrete. Flora Springs has some egg-shaped concrete containers they do some fermentation in. I guess this method is making a slow comeback!

We also did a little "workshop" where we sampled red wines macerated in different types of oak, American and French (as shown in the photo below). Interesting to taste the difference, side by side!

After our educational and entertaining tour, we sat down for a gorgeous luncheon of baby spinach salad, pork tenderloin with creamy polenta and for dessert, dark chocolate cupcake with blackberry jam--all made on the premises! Each course was served with one of their signature wines: 2010 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, 2009 Trilogy and the 2008 Rennie Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

The three wines we had with the luncheon were perfectly paired! The 2010 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay was creamy with a lovely nutty finish ($35). The 2009 Trilogy is a flagship meritage blend for Flora Springs. Made up of four Bordeaux varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec, it was amazing with the pork tenderloin! ($65)

The 2008 Rennie Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was a powerhouse! 100% Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from their St. Helena vineyards and aged 23 months in new French oak. Huge, huge flavors and just a marvel of a wine! I have been extremely impressed with a lot of the valley's 2008 vintage I've sampled so far and this wine was exceptional. I highly recommend it! ($100)

I felt like a queen sitting at this table with these remarkable women I call my close friends and I remember thinking, "This is what life should be all about!" Those memorable moments you make sharing great wine and food with your close friends and family! This experience really changed the way I was looking at my life and I realized that day what I wanted to do and how I wanted to spend my life going forward. It was just an exciting afternoon full of joy! We even got a glimpse of the season's first wildfire in Soda Canyon!

I would like to thank Margaret Meraz for putting on such a beautiful event for us! Your friendship and graciousness is much appreciated and I look forward to many years of friendship to come! You are awesome! Margaret gave us all goody bags on our way out. In addition to some fun information about the winery and some cute logo trinkets along with a book of photos commemorating Flora's life, we each received a bottle of the 2010 Flora 1911 Sauvignon Blanc, a special commemorative bottling in honor of Flora Komes' 100th birthday! It is available on their website and at the winery for $25. I can't wait to try it!

Thanks to the wonderful staff at Flora Springs Estate for your great hospitality and for sharing your history with us on such a great afternoon! I feel so fortunate to have been a part of this day!

Flora Springs Estate is open by appointment. They have many tour, tasting and dining options available. (Our tour, tasting and luncheon was put on as a special trade event for us.) To experience them for yourselves, please contact Margaret Meraz at the estate. More information is available on the winery's website: Flora Springs also has a tasting room in St. Helena on Hwy 29.

I can't wait to come back!!!

"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, March 11, 2012

Rock Stars & Their Wines, Part One: Geoff Tate Goes "Insania"...

I have often been fascinated by celebrities who love to dabble in other hobbies once they feel they can finally do this without financial repercussions. As of late, there has been a resurgence of this happening, especially in the wine industry. It seems like everyone wants to make wine. Stars such as Jeff Bridges, Emilio Estevez, Mick Fleetwood, Vince Neil of Motley Crue, Peggy Fleming have all become "winemakers" at some point in their careers. With the announcement a couple weeks ago that Lady Gaga was visiting Napa Valley and Sonoma and was thinking about making her own wine, I decided to delve a little further into this matter.

Back in the day, like a lot of other people my age (Oops! Am I giving my age away??), I was into heavy metal music. One of the bands I adored was Queensryche, a Seattle-based band who was "famous" for churning out these gorgeous, slightly over the top rock opera-style concept albums. Their lead singer, Geoff Tate, had a captivating, melodic voice that seemed unforgettable. I would immerse myself in their music for hours on end. Fast forward to now and what has happened to them? They've all gone on to do solo projects. One of Geoff's solo projects is wine... Dead silence. Geoff Tate is making wine? Really? Well, sort of..

Geoff's fascination with wine began during his early days with the band, back in the 80s. While traveling all over the world, he had the chance to try many wines and thus cultivated his palate. He was especially excited by the wines of the Napa Valley which he said blew him away. It wasn't until around 2006, when he began getting serious about possibly making wine. His wife's family in Germany owned a vineyard and they asked Geoff to come do some work there. It was then that he knew what he had to do. After a visit to Walla Walla, Washington and a meeting with Three Rivers Winery owners, Holly Turner and her husband Andy, Geoff set forth to make his own wine with their help. Now mind you, Geoff is not a winemaker. Rather more like a lab rat who has a say in the production and he gets to do a lot of tasting, blending etcetera. After all, the wine will have his name on it...

Geoff's first release was the 2007 Insania Red, a Bordeaux-style red blend of the classic Bordeaux grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Washington state's terroir and latitude mimics the Bordeaux region. A 2010 trip across the state of Washington proved to be life-changing for me, opening my eyes up to some of the world's best Bordeaux-style reds with huge cellaring potential and amazing price points! Geoff's wine drew enough attention that he continued production with two more releases.

Just a few weeks ago, I found out Geoff was going to be making an appearance at one of my favorite Napa Valley hang-outs: 1313 Main, a sexy little wine bar in downtown Napa. He was doing a solo show in town and decided to stop by and do a bottle signing for the 2008 Insania Red ($38) and a new release, 2010 Insania White ($25). I was overjoyed but sad that I could not be there. No matter! My friends at 1313 Main made sure I was taken care of by having Geoff sign a couple bottles for me and gifting them to me! I can't thank them enough!!

I have not sampled the 2008 Insania Red yet. As with nearly all the Washington state red wines, I believe it also has good cellaring potential and I decided to leave it in Napa with my private stash of wines as I will be moving there shortly. The 2010 Insania White is like nectar of the gods! 62% Semillon 38% Sauvignon Blanc. Perfectly balanced. Ripe with pear and apricot flavors, a slight floral character and just a hint of creaminess. What a beautiful wine! The $25 price point doesn't do it justice at all. It has a much higher perceived value. What happens for me when Semillon is done just right? I get a little explosion that goes off in my head!! It felt so good to feel that again!! With Summer around the corner, this wine is perfect!

With that said, I wish Geoff Tate the best of luck with his wine business! I really feel he's onto something GREAT! He seems to be doing everything correctly.

Where can you get bottles of "Insania"? They are available for ordering at on their online store. (Unfortunately, the 2008 Insania Red has been replaced by the 2009 vintage but I truly believe this vintage will be well worth looking into as well.) For photos of the event, please like 1313 Main on Facebook and check it out!! If you would like to keep tabs on Geoff, his music and Insania, please check out his website,

I would like to thank Geoff Tate for signing the two bottles for me and introducing me to such nice wine, my good friend Jerae Knutson and 1313 Main for providing the photos and the event. You are the BEST!!!

"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.