Monday, April 21, 2014

Updates (& Photos) From Baker's Mill Vineyard

The red clay soil is laced with quartz and lots of other rocks.
I just got back from a weekend at my family's mill house property in the Blue Ridge foothills of Virginia. Unfortunately, my baby Chardonnay vines haven't sprouted any new seasonal growth yet. They're just about a year old, and even though they're still dormant, they look relatively healthy. It seems other vines at nearby vineyards are still shut down, and after a long and harsh winter it's easy to understand their hesitancy to open up. The coming weeks should see new growth, and I'm hopeful that my vines will take off during their sophomore year.
Launching a preemptive attack against the moles that infest the soil.

I'm still incredibly new to this process of growing vines, and there's a steep learning curve when it comes to all the hazards and pitfalls of managing a vineyard in Virginia. For example, I didn't realize that moles could present such a threat. As you can see, the soil in the vineyard consists of red clay, which is easy for moles to dig through. Mostly, they're looking for their main food source, grubs. But they also attack and destroy root systems. There is no top soil here, just red clay and lots of rocks (quartz, and other rocks I haven't yet identified). The moles tend to stick around in that top 12 inches of soil, which isn't as rocky as the deeper soils.
 

Since last year I've been using these solar-powered electronic devices that frequently emit a high-pitch sound, which is supposed to scare away the moles but not bother the vines. So far, it's been quite successful. But the moles are everywhere in the area. Remember the Bugs Bunny cartoons where Bugs burrows quickly through the ground, leaving behind a trail of raised dirt? That's kind of what it looks like in many parts of this hillside.

Luckily, my family has three dogs who patrol the entire property. While I'm working in the vineyard, they're always digging into the mole trails. The dogs love scraping up moles, chewing them to death and then playing keep-away with their dead bodies. For them, it's hours of entertainment. But even they can't keep all the moles away.

I'm sure everyone says this, but I have the best vineyard dogs:
Cappuccino (white and brown) and Coffee (black) on patrol.
So, as an added protection, I dug a trench around the vineyard and inserted a barrier of hardware cloth. Basically, it's an underground wall of woven wire, designed to block the moles from the vineyard. It was a ton of work, so I'm hoping it's effective.

My Ma (Vineyard Manager Extraordinaire) knows all too well what moles can do to her vegetables and flowers, so she helped me install the wire. She also told me she's seen deer droppings near the vineyard, which is concerning. Deer are notorious vineyard pests in this area, and they have been known to scarf up grapes and vine tendrils. Again, the dogs help out a lot with this problem. Unless they're all sleeping inside, they chase off any deer that get remotely close to the vineyard. But it's becoming increasingly clear that I'll need to fence off my vines before they yield fruit. After all this work, the last thing I want is a late night deer raid that results in a lost crop and destroyed vines.

Hopefully my next vineyard update will include pictures of beautiful green shoots and leaves as the vines come out of dormancy. This second year is all about the vines getting stronger and more stabilized, beefing them up for next year, when we might see some fruit.

Cheers and thanks for reading!

Taking a break, sipping Chardonnay with my dad, listening to
the waterfall, reminding myself what the hard work is all about.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Friends, Bottles & Broken Bones

One of the things I love most about wine is its ability to bring people together. Writing, on the other hand, is a solitary pursuit.

But last week I got the chance to share wine and writing with some friends to celebrate the launch of my first novel, Broken Bones. We got together at Weygandt Wines, one of my favorite wine shops anywhere, to sip some wine and catch up.

I plan on hosting a bigger launch party soon, as well as readings and perhaps another tasting. To keep up with future events, follow Broken Bones on Facebook or me (@IsaacJamesBaker) on Twitter.

Here are some notes and pictures from an awesome night...
 
N.V. Nicolas Maillart Champagne 1er Cru Brut Platine - France, Champagne
As always, a solid Champers. I got lemon cake, sea breeze, toast and yellow apples on the nose. Crisp and creamy on the palate, with crushed rocks and seashells to accent the toasty almond and yellow apple fruit. Definitely a fan-friendly Champagne, but also showing some serious complexity. (89 points)

N.V. Ulysse Collin Champagne Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs
- France, Champagne
An almost orange color in the glass. Aromas of lemon zest, dried pineapple and flowers, sea salt. Tangy and mineral-driven on the palate, but this also has a lot of depth and power, like dried pineapple and mango, along with some apple peel and apricot. I also get some saline and sea brine notes. A lot going on here, and I dig it. Seems like this has aged well, although I'm not sure of the date when it was disgorged. (88 points)

2002 Meulenhof Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett
- Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer
Cork and wine were in perfect condition. Lots of apricot, lychee and slate on the note, with some spice and crushed sweet tarts. Ripping acid on the palate, very dry, with flavors of green apple peel, lime and apricot. I also get sweet tart candies, sea salt and crushed rock notes. Dry, nervy, complex, holding up well. (90 points)

2010 Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Leistenberg Riesling Kabinett
- Germany, Nahe
Every time I drink a 2010 German Riesling, especially a Donnhoff, I have competing thoughts. #1) This wine is so amazing and ripping I just want to drink it all the time. #2) Bury this wine for 10-30 years and don't you dare touch it! Isn't that the hallmark of an amazing vintage? I love 2010s, and Donnhoff's are just epic. I picked up sweet tarts, lime, margarita salt, crushed rocks and slate notes on this one. The palate shows ripping acid, alongside clean lemon-lime and white peach notes. Honey mixes in with the minerals and sea shell notes. Long, complex, deserving of cellar time and, at the same time, immediate praise. (92 points)

2010 Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Spätlese
- Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer
Very rich, one of the richer 2010 Mosel Spatleses I've tasted. Aromas of apricot and papaya drizzled in lime juice and crushed rocks. Chunky pineapple, apricot and honey on the palate. The acid is relentless, though, giving the wine verve. I get nougat, honey and gingerbread cookies on the finish, but also some citrus peel and minerals. This wine could use 10 to 15 years in the cellar, easily, because this density and richness will take a long time to complex, but the racy acid will hold this wine for a long time. (91 points)

2012 Michel Gahier Arbois Ploussard - France, Jura, Arbois
Another solid wine from Gahier. I love the tart red fruit, floral, rhubarb and pickle notes on the nose. Zesty acid, very fine tannins, lots of tart raspberry and strawberry fruit. I get a ton of pickles, tobacco, bay leaf, radish, all sorts of earthy, tangy, vegetal notes, and I love it. This paired really well with a red pepper and garlic pizza. (90 points)

2005 Domaine Matrot Volnay 1er Cru Santenots
- France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Volnay 1er Cru
Tight and dull at first, but really opened up after about two or three hours, and was singing the next day. Floral, spice, tobacco and cherries on the nose. Firm tannic structure, medium+ acid, with tart red fruit. Notes of roses, rhubarb and mineral on a long, crisp finish. It was delicious but I wish I would've let it sleep for another five years. (91 points)

2009 Novy Family Wines Syrah Rosella's Vineyard - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands
Two years since my last bottle and this has aged wonderfully. Opened the day before and tasted, but left the rest for Day 2, when it really began to sing. A kind of roasted plum color. Aromas of black currants, plums, black olive, soil and herbs. I like the tart red and black fruit and the freshness from the acid. Not overbearing or too rich at all, actually quite silky. More braised meat, smoke and charcoal aspects than I remember from before, some olive bring and coffee as well. Long and pure, pretty much everyone enjoyed this. Such a good but at $28 from the winery, too bad I don't have any more. (91 points)

2004 Cayuse Syrah En Cerise Vineyard
- USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
Beautiful stuff, holding up amazingly well. Smells like every kind of olive, bloody mary, radish, seaweed, roses, wet earth and white pepper, and underneath some currants and plum sauce. Really velvety on the palate, with polished tannins and tangy acid in perfect balance. Juicy and fleshy with raspberry and black cherries, but this is all about the non-fruit flavors: olive tapenade, seaweed, roasted meat, smoke, pickled beets. Also some sweet floral and caramel notes. So long and pure and complex. I love the state this wine is in right now. Not sure how much longer I'd cellar this if I had some. (95 points)
  
N.V. Duval-Leroy Champagne Brut - France, Champagne
Aromas of seashell, white flowers, minerals, toasted biscuits. I like the combination of tart green apple, lime and sea shell notes with the richer tones of honey, almond and biscuits. Tart but toasty. Digging this. (88 points)

N.V. Chambers Rosewood Muscat
- Australia, Victoria, North East, Rutherglen
Rich caramel, toasted nuts, raisins and orange marmalade on the nose. Rich and honeyed on the palate, packed with figs and dates, caramelized sugar and candy-coated almonds. Rich and bold, lacking enough acid to get me really thrilled about it, but overall this is a lot of fun. (88 points)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Six Vintages of Trivento's "Eolo" Malbec

Victoria Prandina. Credit: Trivento.
“Winemaking is an art not limited by age or gender,” says Victoria Prandina. As a young woman charged with crafting an old vine, single-vineyard Malbec, she proves this maxim.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Prandina, who makes Trivento’s “Eolo” Malbec in Argentina’s Mendoza region. She’s a dynamic person and winemaker, and her Malbecs are as structured and deep as they are refined and elegant.

We talked a lot about the vineyard, which sits at 3,200 feet, perched just 30 feet above the Mendoza River in the Lujan de Cuyo appellation. The 49-acre vineyard was planted to Malbec in 1912, but just 9 acres of prime plots are used for the Eolo bottling.

The wine is aged for 18 months in French oak barrels, around 70% of which are new. The oak helps integrate the tannins and smooth the wine out, but I was pleased at the lack of overt or heavy-handed flavor elements from the oak.

Trivento is owned by Chilean powerhouse Concha y Toro, and Eolo generally retails for around $70. 2005 was the inaugural vintage of Eolo, and 2010 is the current release, so this vertical captured them all. I have to say, I was impressed with these wines. All of them were compelling, evolving and worthy of contemplation.

I met Prandina and her colleague, marketing manager Silvina Barros, at Ripple in DC’s Cleveland Park, one of my favorite spots for any wine dinner. Here are my notes from the comparative tasting.

The ripe black and red fruit aromas blend well with notes of smoke, flowers, tea and a Bordeaux-like note of wet leaves. On the palate, firm tannins provide grip, medium acid keeps it in check. Dark and spicy, with jammy red fruit, lots of bay leaf and pepper. This wine opened up a lot over the course of the two-hour dinner, and I think it could easily be laid down for another three or four years. A beautifully aged Malbec, includes 10% Syrah. The inaugural vintage of Eolo, and it showed very well. (90 points)

Bright and floral on the nose, with fresh red and dark plums, secondary notes of loam, potpourri and spice. The palate shows a lot of purity and elegance, but solid structure as well. The plum and dark cherry fruit mixes with earth and floral tones, more meaty-beef jerky accents than the other vintages. Pure and opulent, it opened up wonderfully with time and showed all sorts of tobacco and pepper nuances. Great structure and depth, but pure silk at the same time. Includes 2% Syrah. (92 points)

Aromas of rich, jammy plums, some roses and fig cookies. Red and black fruit glide across the palate but the tannins show like a clenched fist. More intense than the 2006, but still fresh and floral, some underlying smoke, meat and iron notes beginning to peek out. I’d like to put this sideways for a few more years. 100% Malbec. (90 points)

Deep and rich on the nose, with blackberries and currants, flowers and a bay leaf and white pepper note. Grippy yet fresh on the palate, firm yet focused. Loaded with juicy berries, mixed in with baking spices, earth and floral undertones. Not as deep and complex as some of the other vintages, but it’s still very well-made and complex. I think this needs more time to open up and show its best. Includes 5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petite Verdot. (89 points)

Deep and inviting aromas of with plums, violets, potpourri, notes of vanilla and crushed rocks. On the palate this is pure and elegant yet firm, with fresh acid and silky-sweet tannins. The plum and fig paste flavors are rich and opulent, backed up by cola, iron, loam and pencil lead. So clean and complex, with incredible balance and a long finish. 100% Malbec. Wow. For me, it just beat out the 2006 in terms of depth and elegance. (93 points)

Lots of floral aromas mix in with the plum and cherry jam, also some notes of loam, graphite and vanilla. Fresh and plush on the palate with a silky texture. Plummy, cherry-driven, jammy, with all sorts of loam and spice and vanilla. Pencil lead and iron notes carry the finish. Beautiful stuff, this current release is definitely a candidate for the cellar. Five to eight years would be a good move. 100% Malbec. (91 points)


This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Sipping on Some Rhone Ranger Wines

Two Shepherds makes some exciting, elegant and ageworthy Rhone whites
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the 2014 Rhone Rangers conference in San Francisco earlier this week. Being an East Coast guy has its drawbacks.

Even though I missed out on this gathering of Rhone-inspired American winemakers, I got to sip some Rhone Ranger goodies for an online tasting last week. I got together with
David White of Terroirist, Frank Morgan of Drink What U Like and some other wine friends for an online Twitter tasting focused on Rhone Ranger wines. A drop in the bucket compared to the wines poured at the event, but it was a lot of fun.

I had a good time tweeting with folks like
Fred Swan (@norcalwine), @RandallGrahm of Bonny Doon and William Allen (@2ShepherdsWine) about what’s going in vis-à-vis Rhone varieties in California.

I’ve long been a huge fan of California-Rhone wines. This tasting gave me a few more reasons why…


2012 Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc Saralee's Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
Clean and fresh on the notes, with peach, green apple, saline note. On the palate, crisp but creamy with whipped honey and sea salt notes. Light and crisp but not weak. I get some interesting waxy-walnut notes, maybe some white tea with honey. A blend of 50% Roussanne, 35% Marsanne, 10% Viognier and 5% Grenache Blanc, fermented and aged in neutral oak. A bit more depth than I remember from the 2011. (90 points) 


2012 Two Shepherds Grenache Blanc Saarloos Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
Aromas of seashell, green apple, some papaya, white flowers, sea salt and an herbal tea note. On the palate, this is creamy but so fresh from the acid. Tart green apple, green melon and lychee flavors mix with mineral and all sorts of sea shells. Long, but fresh and lean, showing lots of nuance. (90 points) 


2011 Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Blanc Reserve En Bonbonne - California, Central Coast, Arroyo Seco
On the nose, a sharp, almost cheese-like note blends in with grapefruit, apple peels and crushed sweet tarts. Unique to say the least. Tart green apple, white peach, apricot, lime peel, saline, some green herbal notes. An herbal, musky aspect with a note of cheese rind on the finish. A blend of co-fermented 62% Grenache Blanc and 38% Roussanne, fermented in stainless steel then anaerobically aged on the lees in glass carboys. And get this: the lees were "stirred" by magnets. Another fun science project from Randall Grahm. (86 points) 


2013 Bonny Doon Vineyard Vin Gris de Cigare - California
Pale grapefruit peel color. Bright and sea shell-driven on the nose, with McIntosh apple and sweet tarts. On the palate, this is creamy and fresh with lemon peel, grapefruit, watermelon rind, some clover and honey notes. I get some green melon and roses on the finish. Fun, light, summery wine. 55% Grenache, 23.5% Mourvèdre, 10% Roussanne, 7% Cinsaut, 2.5% Carignane and 2% Grenache Blanc. (86 points) 


2011 Tablas Creek Esprit de Tablas - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
Ruby colored. Aromas of bright cherries, red currants, roses, earth and red licorice. On the palate, this shows fine tannins, fresh acid and silky-ripe fruit. Cherries and blackberries galore, with sweet chestnut, red licorice and earth. Braised meat and roses came out with time. Such freshness. Very silky and pure-tasting. 40% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Counoise. (90 points) 


2012 Bonny Doon Vineyard Syrah Le Pousseur - California, Central Coast
Medium ruby color. I dig the nose: smoke, red plums, rich cherries, charcoal and fig cookies. On the palate, this Syrah is fresh and tart with firm tannins. Plums and cherries mix with smoke, sweet lavender, black olive and dusty earth. Tangy-tart finish. I like the freshness. (88 points) 


2011 Cornerstone Cellars Syrah Stepping Stone - California, Napa Valley
Dark ruby color. Black currants, plums, some smoke, cracked pepper, steak sauce, really deep and complex. Actually showing a lot of freshness on the palate. Full and plummy with currants, black olives, cedar and loamy soil. Earthy, silky, deep and lasting. Loving this wine. (91 points) 

If you’re interested in notes and reports from the actual event in San Francisco, I suggest
checking out Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews’ report, because she kicks ass.

Lastly, the Rhone Rangers are finally coming to the
nation’s capital this summer, June 4. I hope to see you there!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Wine Reviews: American Odds & Ends

I don’t know how else to describe them.

These odds and ends were mixed into blind-tasted samples of California Cabernets and Chardonnays, Oregon Pinot Noirs, South African wines, stuff from everywhere. The dry wines were tasted blind, as they were mixed in with other regions, but I tasted the dessert wines sighted.

All wines were received as trade samples.

2012 Vie Winery “Belle-Amie” Rosé - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $18
Looks like the color of a cherry Jolly Rancher. A kick of pepper is the first thing I notice on the nose, followed up by roses, watermelon and wild strawberries. The palate displays a big, creamy feel along with persistent acid. The watermelon and strawberry fruit tastes fresh and ripe, there’s also this lime and grapefruit aspect that keeps it snappy. The white pepper and herbal undertones work great. Full, complex, but the acid makes it food-friendly. An impressive rosé blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache and Syrah. (89 points)


2013 Macari Chardonnay Early Wine - New York, Long Island, North Fork
SRP: $17
Faint bubbles, straw colored. Aromas of white peach, bright honeysuckle, lime zest, crushed rocks and sea shells. Medium-bodied with tingling acid on the palate. Crisp green pears and apples, sweet white peach, tangy, minerals. Very bright and steely, but there are also some honey and sweet floral notes. Really tasty stuff. Ideal for deli sandwiches, salads and seafood. They call it an early wine because it was harvested September 7, bottled after a brief fermentation on October 26, and released a few days later. An exciting wine. (89 points)


2012 Nico Wines Barbera - California
SRP: $30
Medium ruby color. Smells of ripe cherries, roses and red licorice candy. Medium bodied with medium acid and soft tannins. Juicy with cherries and sweet currant jam flavors, backed up by some earth and vanilla bean. A bit candied, but a fun, pleasant wine for sure. (85 points)


2011 Stinson Vineyards Meritage - Virginia
SRP: $25
Smells soft and sweet, lots of fresh blackberries and plums, mixed in with some mocha and toast. Medium tannins on the palate, some crisp acid, supporting fresh black cherry and plum fruit. I get some hazelnut and chestnut flavor, as well as some mocha. The combination of nutty and bright fruit flavors makes this a unique and tasty wine. A blend of 35% Merlot, 25% Petite Verdot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Cabernet Franc. (87 points)


2010 Macari “Bergen Road” - New York, Long Island, North Fork
SRP: $46
On the nose, raspberries, cherries, blueberries, all of it fresh and ripe. Silky and velvety, blueberry and black cherries, some nice acid adds tanginess, full and pure, some dark chocolate, earth, bell pepper and herbal elements, even some rocky-granite notes. Complex and long on the finish. Really delicious stuff, not overdone or bothersome. Tasted blind, I thought I was tasted an upper tier Washington State Bordeaux blend. But, no, this is an impressive Long Island blend of 56% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec and 2% Petite Verdot. Wow. (91 points)


(The following dessert wines were tasted sighted.)
2011 Macari Riesling “Block E” - New York, Finger Lakes
SRP: $40
Yellow-orange color. Aromas of sweet marmalade, honeycomb, orange peel, banana and oil. Rich on honeyed, with lots of apricot and dried pineapple fruit. Honeycomb, sweet marmalade, lemon oil and nut flavors add complexity. A lot going on here, and not overly sweet, but a bit low on the acid perhaps. 12.9% alcohol and 180 g/l of sugar. An impressive effort. (88 points)


2011 Stinson Vineyards Tannat “Imperialis” - Virginia, Central Region, Monticello
SRP: $29/500ml
Nose of smoke, fig paste, currant jam, caramelized sugar and charcoal. Fresh and fruity, with lots of fig and cassis. The smoky, earthy tones are really nice, and there’s some sweet coconut and caramel as well. Sweet, but not too much, and the acid keeps it balanced. One of the most impressive dessert reds I’ve had from Virginia. This 100% Tannat is fermented in open top puncheons and aged in old French oak, bottled unfined or unfiltered. 16% alcohol. (89 points)


2009 Hawk and Horse Vineyards “Latigo” - California, North Coast, Lake County
SRP: $45/375ml
Dark purple colored. Aromas of chocolate-covered raisins, raspberry candies, sweet black licorice and caramel. There’s also a nice bourbon cask-coconut aspect. Nice structure, with some coffee grind tannins, rich blackberries and raspberries, some mocha and coconut. Sweet flowers and caramel notes on the finish. A delicious, but also intriguing, dessert wine. Not subtle, with 17.2% alcohol and 13% residual sugar, but tasty. This 100% Cabernet is fortified with high-proof, oak-aged brandy. (89 points)



This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Broken Bones Now Available in Print

My first novel, Broken Bones, is finally available in print. You can order your copy here.

You can also get the e-book for
Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook.

Broken Bones is an important accomplishment for me. It’s the product of an extreme set of circumstances, a perfect storm of pain that brought me to the edge of death. I mean it when I say: writing this novel kept me alive. I’m 5’10 and weigh about 170 pounds. But in November of 2008, when I woke up in an emergency room, I tipped the scales at 98 pounds. My organs were failing, I couldn’t move much at all and my mind was shot. I was in such bad shape that the E.R. doctors said they couldn’t care for me. I had to be committed to a psychiatric ward for people with eating disorders, where I was stuck for a month.

That was almost six years ago, and now I finally get to share the novel based on that experience. It’s an honor have you as readers, and I welcome you to share their thoughts. A review on Amazon, a shout-out on Twitter or Facebook, I'd be grateful for anything you can do to help spread the word.
I’ll have more information in the coming days and weeks about launch parties and reading events.

If you haven’t read it yet, an awesome writer and friend of mine, Shelby Settles Harper, posted this interview, in which we discuss Broken Bones.