Category Archives: Wineries

A little place of serenity outside of Napa: Ladera Vineyards

End of January, Nina and I spent a week in California. I’ll readily admit it was a nice break from the Michigan winter. We’d both never been to either Napa or Sonoma, so we decided it was time. Me being the complete newbie to wines from that region, I relied on friends and fellow bloggers to give me some direction on which wines to try. We decided to limit it to four wineries, two in Napa and two in Sonoma. We only had the weekend, and we have by now learned that tastings usually take a while and there is nothing worse than rushing away from a tasting to make the next on time.

The first thing that struck me visiting the two regions is really how much they look like other wine regions: a long, winding road in a center of a valley, with hills rising, sometimes steeper, sometimes gentler, but always surrounded by vines. There really is nothing like it, and I was not prepared for how much at home I felt immediately. And the light and slight warmth certainly helped.

Ladera Vineyards was suggested by Anatoli of Talk-a-vino. He insisted one had to try their wines, and he helped us in setting up a tasting there. The first thing I had to do was google the winery (I know, shame on me). So what did I learn? Ladera is located on Howell Mountain, one of the top spots in Napa, and its roots go back to 1886, when the first winery building was erected in that same spot it now is, with vineyards dating back to 1877 (not the vines, mind you). The winery building is still standing in all its glory, but has been completely modernized inside and a large cellar has been constructed underneath. Ladera has been owned by its current owners Pat and Anne Stotesbery since 2000 and has built an impressive reputation for Cabernet Sauvignon.

So on Sunday, around noon, we curved our way up the valley onto Howell Mountain, pretty steep at times, and then finally turned into the property of Ladera Vineyards. From the website, Nina and I were not prepared what was awaiting us at the winery. The place is an absolutely breathtaking stunner: The old winery building with its gorgeous sandstone facade, the sky was of a deep, satisfying blue, and the vineyards are gently sloping around it. It was just a wonderful piece of quiet and calm, way above the fray that can be Napa. We were really speechless for a bit. I mean, look at this:

Ladera Winery Building

Ladera Winery Building (and yes, that is Nina sitting in the sun)

Everything was just so peaceful, you almost wanted to speak in a hush not disturb it. The tasting room manager during our visit, Julie, was friendly and knowledgeable and was happy to share with us the story and wines of Ladera. And we were ready to have both shared with us.

Get what I mean about the sky?

Get what I mean about the sky?

We started with a 2013 Ladera Sauvignon blanc, from what I can tell the winery’s only white wine ($30). And it was a great start: The nose was full and lush, with kiwi and gooseberry aromas, some flint, slight green pepper and bitter almonds, as well as beautiful hints of cassis (yes, I am a white wine person). It was bone dry, crisp and fresh, and oh so flavorful: grapefruit and other citrus in the forefront, cassis and blackberry, but also nicely creamy and almost doughy (in a good sense – it spent 7 months on lees!). I loved the balance of it, it was the right opening for a sunny day. I could drink that any time.

On we went to the 2010 Ladera High Plateau, a mix of 98% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petit Verdot ($65). The wine poured in a dark ruby red, and the nose was amazingly powerful, with what felt like many layers of blackberry, plums, cacao, and, to my surprise, what I can only describe as watermelon. I guess a hint of sweetness combined with freshness. Definitely unexpected. The wine was dry with medium tannins and body, and nicely crisp acidity. On the palate it was aromatic, with sage and brush (Julie mentioned later the vineyard is surrounded by evergreens), raspberry, mocha and bitter chocolate with a long finish. Count me as impressed: This was a Cabernet Sauvignon that made me understand why people can love that grape, which I am often ambivalent about: It had the right mix of fruit and spice, and presented itself very well.

In between, we took a tour of the facility and state of the art cellar, probably one of the most beautiful modern cellars I have ever visited. And they have a great tasting room down there as well. The press and fermenting tanks are modern and lots of steel, it was quite pretty. In general, wines are fermented in open top vats with a cold soak for two to three days.

Inside Ladera's modern cellar

Inside Ladera’s modern cellar

From there, we went to the 2011 Ladera Howell Mountain Reserve Cab, a just released 100% Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from the winery’s best lots in Howell Mountain ($85). It poured in a similar dark ruby that the 2010 High Plateau poured in, but the nose was a lot more powerful: plums, but then a bunch of green peppercorns, tobacco, and some smoke with definitely more prominent wood aromas in the nose. To my surprise, the palate was definitely more fruity than the nose gave away: There was a bunch of black berries and cassis, but paired with a certain rubberiness that can be expected in such a young wine of this intensity. What I loved most about this wine was its texture, which was just beautifully chewy. The acidity and the tannins were in good balance, and the wine showed a lot of promise, although I want to try it in five years when it has calmed down a bit (as most of you know, I like my reds with some age on them).

Finally, we got to try some of the 2011 Ladera Howell Mountain “S” Cabernet, another 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, but this one stemming from the one block in Howell Mountain with the oldest vines, and only the four best barrels of that. So just a teeny little amount available ($175). The wine poured in a very dark ruby, almost black. The nose was intriguing, but also a bit mystifying: some brush, some licorice, some red berries, but also a bit musty at this stage. On the palate, you could tell this is way too young right now, but it provided a nice little window into its development: It felt a bit all over the place and very intense right now. What I liked about it was its fruit and acidity with powerful tannins that need settling down. But that’s a great structure for development. The finish was great: dark chocolate for days with no end in sight. Want to try this again in seven to ten years.

For me, this visit has the potential of being transformative. I never quite got why people could be so obsessed with Cabernet Sauvignon, which to me is often just powerful with no finesse. Ladera showed me that there is a different route for that grape, and it’s definitely worth exploring more. Needless to say, Nina knew that all along and had a great time as well. So, thanks to Ladera and thanks to Anatoli for opening my mind!

And thanks to the sun, for making these wines possible and that day gorgeous. I paid it my respects:

In the sun at Ladera

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Talk-a-vino: Surrounded by the Ocean – Truro Vineyards

Somewhere, beyond the Sea

Somewhere, beyond the Sea

I am happy to present you with a second article by Anatoli Levine of Talk-a-Vino for my summer guest blogging series “Somewhere, Beyond the Sea”. Anatoli, as most of you might have noticed, has been a source of knowledge and has been very generous over the last year by sharing and encouraging me. It has been a special pleasure when he volunteered a second article which literally takes place between the seas. Thank you, Anatoli!

Surrounded By the Ocean – Truro Vineyards

Ocean to the left, and ocean to the right. Vines in the middle.  Almost precisely half a mile in each direction. Ocean is Atlantic, to be precise. And the vines? Truro Vineyards.

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Truro Vineyards is one of the only two vineyards and wineries which are located on Cape Cod. While Truro Vineyard came into existence only in 1992, the same land was successfully farmed for almost 200 years, producing grains and feeding cows. Sandy soils and maritime climate came in handy when the time came to produce grapes.

As many other wineries on the East Coast (both New York and New England), Truro winery takes an interesting approach to the  wine making. Well, I don’t mean here specifically how the wine is made, but rather how the grapes are sourced. The grapes which are growing well locally of course are sourced locally. Truro vineyards include 5 acres of Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. The grapes which are not doing well locally, are brought from the other regions, where they are actually doing well – like Zinfandel and Pinot Grigio from California, or Vignoles from Finger Lakes. The rest is in winemaker hands…

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The winery is definitely fun to visit, starting from the little signs telling you in which direction and how you need to go to reach Napa (3,100 miles) and Loire (3,561miles) – the last number makes me curious – with such a precision of 1 mile, where exactly in Loire are we supposed to be? Well, no matter, as guess what – it will be hard to prove them wrong…

There will be grapes...

There will be grapes…

I love seeing the vines in all different stages – last year I took my first pictures of the vineyards in the Fall, with the beautiful range of colors. This year – it is vineyards in the Spring, when you know that the grapes are coming… it will just take a bit of TLC and time… (yep, going fancy here – Tender Love and Care, in case you are wondering).

Fun outside continues with the fun inside – there are so many little things, like printed napkins, which help you not to take the wine too seriously:

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And of course, there were wines, some of which we tasted, and some of them we did not (there was no open bottle of Sparkling wine, so I only have a picture, but no taste).

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The tasting was organized and run every 30 minutes (there were a few of the winery tours throughout the day, but for the most of the cases I’m skipping those). The tasting consists of 5 different wines for $10, so it is good to spilt the tastes with the companion, as the whole tasting flight consists of 10 wines. This is what we did, so I managed to taste all 10 wines. Without further ado, here are my notes.

2012 Pinot Grigio (California fruit) – kind of okay, some green notes, but if I don’t have to be politically correct – meh. NR

2010 Estate Chardonnay – 100% local grapes, barrel fermented and aged  for 9 month – well, yeah, it was Chardonnay, I presume – some butter notes, but all over the place, very disorganized, lots of acidity and no fruit support. NR

2012 Vignoles (Finger Lakes fruit) – very nice, refreshing, sweet start, hint of tropical fruit and peaches. Drinkability: 7+

Cape Blush Lighthouse – a blend of Cayuga (Finger Lakes region) and Cabernet Franc – too sweet, needs acidity. Good strawberries, a bit flat overall. But the shape and form of the bottle easily compensates for all the shortcomings. NR

Yep, we are on Cape Cod

Yep, we are on Cape Cod

2011 Cabernet Franc – 100% local fruit. Outstanding. Classic Cabernet Franc nose, same on the palate – green bell peppers, red fruit, very clean and balanced. Drinkability: 8

2011 Zinfandel – California fruit (typically arrives in mid-September). Excellent wine. Very un-Californian, clean raspberries profile, pretty light for the typical Zinfandel , easy to drink. Drinkability: 8-

2011 Merlot – local fruit. Nice structure, good red and black fruit on the palate, good balance. Drinkability: 7.

2011 Triumph – Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Again, very classic Bordeaux in style, with red fruit on the palate, some dry herbs and touch of dark chocolate, medium body. Drinkability: 7.

Cranberry Red – another lighthouse-shaped bottle. Blend of Rougeon and Syrah grapes with infused cranberries. I had high expectations based on the appearance, and it didn’t work for me at all. Not good. NR.

Diamond White – one more bottle in the lighthouse series. 100% Moore’s Diamond grape.  Excellent overall – lychees, tropical fruit, pineapple and honeydew are clearly distinguishable, but all well balanced with underlying acidity. This can be considered a light dessert wine – it doesn’t come through as heavy.

Well, friends, your virtual visit is over. If you are visiting Cape Cod, Truro Vineyards definitely worth your time, an oasis of vines and wines almost in a middle of the ocean.

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Until the next time – cheers!

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Meeting the Vintners: Weingut Gunderloch, Nackenheim (Rheinhessen), Germany

Gunderloch Estate in Nackenheim (Photo taken from winery’s website)

I cannot believe it took me this long to write up our visit with Gunderloch winery last June. But finally, finally I found the time and being in the right spot for it. There is so much emotional connection to this winery for me. I’ve lived in Nackenheim until I went off to studies in Trier at age 19. Gunderloch winery is a mere 200 meters away from my home. I went to primary school with the owners’ eldest daughter. I know all of their children rather well. And yet, until that tasting, I never had a “real” tasting with them, as in sitting down and trying their wines in a specific order the way I tasted through Mosel wines that I love so much. I guess it is a common phenomenon: You don’t give as many thoughts about what is physically close as to what is further away. It’s like the gorgeous cathedral in Oppenheim, just two villages south of Nackenheim, that I only visited the first time when I was 17. And I was struck how awesome it was. Before that visit, I knew it existed but I never really bothered.

Gunderloch is pretty much a household name for any American Riesling drinker. Fritz Hasselbach, the current winemaker and husband of owner Agnes Hasselbach-Usinger, has done an amazing job of promoting his wines abroad, most of all in the U.S. I remember his daughter telling me that she went to a presentation somewhere in the U.S. in the mid-nineties and Kevin Costner came up to her and praised her father’s wines. That was pretty epic at the time (now, I wasn’t even sure anymore how to spell his last name…). The winery was established by Carl Gunderloch, a banker from Mainz, in 1890 and is currently run in the fifth generation. They own a bit over 12 hectares (around 31 acres) in Nackenheim and Nierstein on the so called “Roter Hang”, or red slope, a hill facing the Rhine going straight South from Nackenheim to Nierstein. The Roter Hang is considered one of the prime spots for vineyards in all of Rheinhessen, the growing region. Gunderloch owns plots in the following vineyards:  Nackenheim Rothenberg, Nackenheim Engelsberg, Nierstein Pettenthal, Nierstein Hipping and Nierstein Oelberg. They own an astounding 80% of Nackenheim Rothenberg, which together with Nierstein Pettenthal, is what they term their Grand Cru vineyards.

Roter Hang viewed from Nackenheim southwards to Nierstein

Roter Hang viewed from Nackenheim southwards to Nierstein

Over the last years, Johannes Hasselbach, Fritz’ and Agnes’ son, has begun taking over making more and more of the wines with Fritz Hasselbach still very much involved in the wine making. 85% of their wines are made from Riesling, 5% each from Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, with the remainder being Traminer and Silvaner, and the red varieties Dornfelder and Pinot Noir. The winery has considerable clout, being the only winery that ever received 1oo points in Wine Spectator for three different wines, their 1992, 1996 and 2001 Nackenheim Rothenberg TBA. The 2002 Rothenberg Spätlese was named best Spätlese by the German wine guide Gault Millau and it remains one of the best wines I ever tried (completely tropical fruit bomb). If you want to know more about the estate, you should check out Rudi Wiest’s, their U.S. importer’s website profile of the winery.

But to the tasting in June. I had contacted Johannes before we left for Germany and we managed to find a time for a tasting despite him being quite busy and in the midst of exams. I very much appreciated that. We took two friends along, a Canadian visiting us and a long time friend who just moved from Berlin to the Mainz area, and headed over to the estate on June 25, 2012. Johannes introduced us to their 2011 and some 2010 wines, a total of 13 wines. Up front, the line up was pretty impressive and there were a number of outstanding wines we tried. Johannes speaks great English and leads tastings in a professional and friendly way with lots of helpful insights. He started us off with showing us the characteristic red slate that forms the “red slope” which I grew up around. The slate on that hill is in different states of erosion, there are big plates of rock and small earthen chips of it. It crumbles rather easily was we experienced when touching it.

In the Gunderloch tasting room

In the Gunderloch tasting room

We started off with a comparison of their 2011 Gunderloch Weissburgunder (Pinot blanc) and Grauburgunder (Pinot gris). I am usually not a big fan of either grape, but both these wines were seriously yummy. The Weissburgunder promised gooseberry in the nose and was creamy without being heavy. It confirmed the gooseberry on the palate with a slightly salty finish. The Grauburgunder was heavier and riper than the Weissburgunder, with lots of peach aromas. According to Johannes, this was the first time that they harvested fully ripe Pinot blanc grapes. Usually they are not fully ripe which showed how warm 2011 was. Both wines can turn someone like me around who usually dismisses both grapes.

We then tried the 2011 Fritz’s Riesling trocken, an entry level wine they produce for European countries, and a bit sweeter for the U.S. market. The nose was beautifully floral with light fruit aromas. On the palate I got citrus notes and some slight bitter aromas. At 12.5% this was an alright and easy drinking wine.

And on to their 2011 Gunderloch Gutsriesling, their estate entry dry level wine. The nose was full of peach and some pineapple. On the palate, it was strong and spicy with citrus and bitter orange notes. According to Johannes it had a significant amount of acidity and showed great minerality. I couldn’t agree more and liked it quite a bit.

The 2011 Nackenheim Riesling trocken is their equivalent to a Burgundy village wine. On the nose, this wine showed ripe and mellow notes. On the palate it proved dry, full-bodied but too alcoholic for my taste with a tad of bitterness at the end. It seemed a bit closed and not quite ready. We compared this to the 2011 Nierstein Riesling trocken which I preferred much more: The nose had yellow fruit and peach aromas, and the flavor profile was alcoholic, citrussy and nicely fresh. Johannes explained that that was the usual set up for the Niersteiner and Nackenheimer Rieslings for them: Their Nierstein Pettenthal wines were usually more accessible early on with the Nackenheim Rothenberg wines coming later to the show. So it is always worth waiting a bit with the Nackenheim wines from Gunderloch. Lesson learned.

The next dry wines we tried were their flagship dry wines. First up was the 2010 Nierstein Pettenthal Riesling GG (Grosses Gewächs, a VDP designation for the most outstanding dry wines from a grand cru vineyard a winery produces). This wine proved that I actually can like and enjoy dry wines! On the nose it showed raisins, ripe fruits and some alcohol. I wrote down “awesome nose” in my notes. On the palate, it was dense and ripe, full of fruit with a racy acidity. To me, it tasted like the best of Riesling which I usually find in the sweeter Riesling Spätlesen…this one had 13% ABV and definitely was not sweet, though, but I loved it! Seriously outstanding.

The 2010 Nackenheim Rothenberg Riesling GG in contrast, proving Johannes’ point about the slower development of the Rothenberg wines, showed a very restrained nose, Nina got some papaya notes. On the palate, it was subtle with exotic fruits and a very long and enjoyable finish. The development curve of this awesome wine has just begun. It was just amazing to see how different these two wines were at this stage of their development. To a certain degree, Johannes told us, they have stopped presenting the Rothenberg wines to wine critics when they come out because they are just not ready and would risk a bad review…

My tasting notes.

My tasting notes.

Given that this blog post is pretty long already I will post the remaining notes about their off-dry and sweeter wines in another post (over here)…suffice it to say that we had a great time and tried some great wines from one of the best sites in Rheinhessen. It really moved me to taste what I only had read before but was never able to fully appreciate: That I was lucky to be born along one of the few true grand cru sites along the Rhine. What a blessing. Because of their successes, the wines tend to be more expensive than the usual Mosel Rieslings I present here. But the upside is that their wines are easily available in the United States, so go grab a bottle if you can and let Gunderloch transport you to where I come from.

Click the names for aerial views of the Nackenheim Rothenberg and Nierstein Pettenthal vineyards.

Johannes and I.

Johannes and I after a great tasting.

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