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grapes and hops: harvest at hawley vineyards

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Midafternoon, temperatures in the mid-eighties in October and blazing sun above, it wasn’t an ideal time of day for a photo a shoot. From my lens, everything outside was drenched in yellow sunlight. But learning that crush was underway at Hawley Winery and Vineyards, it was a story I didn’t want my camera to miss, regardless if the light was cooperating or not. Meandering through Dry Creek Valley, my visit to the winery was somewhat impromptu. Though they have a tasting room located in downtown Healdsburg, my heart loves being around vines.

Traveling with a friend and enjoying the backroads, we found ourselves heading up Bradford Mountain and couldn’t have ventured over to the vineyard at a better time. We were warmly greeted by Paul Hawley, General Manager, assistant winemaker, grape wrangler and hop grower. A family affair producing small-batch wines, everyone at Hawley wears many hats, and at harvest time, all hands are on deck. While waiting for a truckload of Zinfandel grapes to arrive from Ponzo Vineyards for crush, Paul treated us to a taste.

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Popping a cork, we poured Sauvignon Blanc first. Cool, crisp and clean, it was a refreshing splash in the hot weather. Paul shared how he was inspired to make this varietal after working harvest in New Zealand. Known for their Viognier, and what prompted my visit, the 2012 proved to be “a vintage to celebrate”. I first tasted Hawley at Locals Tasting Room in Geyserville a few years back. Discovering that I love Côtes du Rhône style wines, their Viognier made a lasting impression. Viognier is one of the approved white wine grapes that’s permitted to grow in the Rhone Valley in France. In California, American Rhone varietal wines have surged, and thus too the Viognier has grown in popularity. The challenge is finding Hawley Viognier though as they produce their wines in small quantities and have limited distribution.

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With the truck delayed, we ventured over to see the hops growing across from the vineyard. Paul filled us in about his new project, Fogbelt Brewing Company. Using both locally and estate-grown hops, with the intent to plant more in the coming spring, Fogbelt is brewing up Red Ale, Blond Ale, Stout, IPA and Witbier. Witbier, a Belgian style ale that’s “pale and cloudy in appearance” is traditionally made and lightly spiced with coriander and orange peel. A play on that theme, Fogbelt has a fresh twist in store using cilantro and Kaffir lime leaves.

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The fruit finally arrived and a flurry of activity got underway. I had gotten my hands dirty earlier in the season by taking part in harvest, crush and punchdown in the Santa Cruz mountains. I was excited to finally capture a few stages of the wine-making process with my camera. The typical winery equipment was set in motion. A forklift hauled the Zinfandel-filled bins from the truck and arranged each closer to the hopper, a destemming machine.

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Paul had a chance to share some interesting insight about Zinfandel grapes while his brother Austin was working the forklift. Paul noted that “often people think it’s Pinot that’s hard to work with, but Zin, it’s hard to predict the perfect time to pick.” “You can’t pick Zin from the [Brix] numbers alone. It’s not just about sugar numbers. It’s important to be out in the vineyard tasting the fruit, evaluating the look of the clusters. He emphasized it’s “really important to taste the berries.” In an article, wine journalist Talia Baiocchi shed some light on the grape: “Zinfandel is uniquely prone to uneven ripening, where both raisins and green berries exist on the same grape cluster at the same time.” This is exactly what Paul pointed out as he reached into the bins. The uneven ripening poses a challenge as fermentation gets underway.

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Heading inside, Paul poured a range of more wine and pulled a sample of the 2013 Oehlman Vineyard Pinot, which he shared is aged in 50% new French oak, iridescent, and is partially through malolactic fermentation.

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We chatted more about production and the wine-making process. Garland Wine Merchants has an extensive profile on Hawley Wines and thoughts from winemaker John Hawley, who notes that following in the French tradition, Hawley Viognier is fermented in “5 to 8 year old French oak barrels by choice to produce a wine with a silky texture, complex flavors and delicate balance that help make [the] wine more versatile with food, more age worthy, and more harmonious as a whole“.

I may have initially gone to Hawley to simply pick-up a bottle of Viognier. I didn’t anticipate leaving with several bottles (including one gift) of wine, a host of pictures, deeper knowledge about Zinfandel grapes, and a new friend.

Hawley’s Tasting Room and Gallery is located in downtown Healdsburg, California. Or call ahead to schedule time at the winery in Dry Creek, you’ll enjoy the visit.

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a toast to ridge

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Friends at Ridge Vineyards are celebrating their fourth blogiversary. 4488: A Ridge Blog is hosted by the amiable Christopher Watkins, a bard of sorts, who is one cool cat. Savvy and passionate about wine, words, and jazz he brought several of us kindred spirits together one afternoon to revel in the Gospels of Pauls. The sermon delivered that day had one message – to experience fine, classic wine paired with the smooth sounds of jazz.

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Though we were initially focused on a wine tasting in the comforts of Monte Bello, cradling a glass in hand, the music whisked us off to another place. Whether it was to a ragged old club with weathered chairs, “smoke-filled jazz grottos in Paris” or a posh apartment overlooking Central Park, for a few moments the sounds carried us far. The banter in the room was filled with vibrant subjects. We warmed our palates and minds with Paul Draper’s wine philosophy (shared by our host). We pondered and deliberated over subtleties and nuances in each wine. From there topics took off that spanned art and the painter Jackson Pollock, prose and the writer Jack Kerouac, and in the background Miles Davis, Theolonius Monk, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane were strumming and swinging along as though to the tune of our conversation.

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That afternoon took place a year ago, on Ridge’s third blogiversary. Though a full year has passed, and perhaps the details may not be as crisp, ultimately it’s the experience that lingers. Thank you Christopher and Ridge for hosting such an enriching experience. Pairing wine and music was an exercise that compelled us to creatively think about marrying two elements or passions together in harmony. For those nostalgic, and for those curious and wish a taste of what we tasted that day, sit back with these wine aficionados and enjoy:
On Wine, Jazz and Inkblots
Ridge Wine Blog Anniversary Tasting
Drink That Tune: A blogger tasting at Ridge Vineyards
Ramblings: Wine Descriptors and Ridge Vineyards Wines

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Wishing you a very happy fourth blogging birthday, and many many more.

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A toast, to Ridge!

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strawberry swing

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one sip and you’ll tumble into a barrel of glorious grenache grapes
and then fall into a luscious strawberry garden
such a perfect day, captured in a glass

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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somek winery

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Off a main narrow road in Zichron Ya’acov, in a rather obscure location, you can find Somek. I wasn’t familiar with the winery or wine until a friend arranged a visit. On a whim, I had a chance to visit this small boutique winery, taste their wine and spend an afternoon with their vigneron.

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Perched atop the south end of the Carmel Mountain range in Israel, overlooking the Mediterranean sea, Zichron is an alluring place to visit. A beautiful and unpretentious spot for a stroll, the downtown cobblestone streets are aligned with bistros, cafés and other eateries along with various shops and small boutiques where you can find hand-made crafts. Interspersed amongst homes and shops are a couple of museums, converted old buildings that share the history behind the place. The original agricultural based moshav was established in 1882 and called Zamirin. A year following, the Baron Edmond de Rothschild, taking interest in its success and supporting the early pioneers, became a patron. He changed the name of Zamirin to Zichron Ya’akov in memory of his father, Baron James de Rothschild of the world renowned winery Château Lafite. Playing a pivotal philanthropic role not only in the establishment of Zichron and other towns in Israel, the Baron also takes credit for bringing vines to Zichron and planting roots for a future wine industry as a way for the pioneers to support themselves. Winemaking in Israel, an ancient craft, dates back to biblical times. The pioneers of Zichron harnessed their passion to return to the land of their forefathers, and took on the challenge to bring back this ancient tradition. They cultivated the early vines from France, and along with the Baron, established one of Israel’s first wineries and bottling centers (another winery was founded slightly prior but around the same time by the Baron in Rishon LeZion).

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Somek Estate’s Proprietor – Barak Dahan

Barak Dahan’s great-great-grandfather was one of the original families from Romania who helped establish Zichron. Barak’s family continued farming for generations, living and growing wine grapes near the area. Barak, a fifth generation farmer, in 2002 along with his wife Hila, who holds a Masters in Viticulture and Oenology from the University of Adelaide, Australia, decided to try their hand at crafting wine. They established Somek in Barak’s grandfather’s home and converted the old place into an operational winery.

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Barak greeted us that sunny afternoon to share his personal history, and his experience with growing grapes to creating and bottling wine. He took us through the process, from vine to bottle, explaining in-depth each stage of winemaking. Recreating and describing each task, we toured Somek (which means “blush” in Hebrew), the indoor oak barrel room and ventured to the small office where Barak himself puts labels on the bottles, then gets the bottles ready for market. Continuing to grow grapes for the large wineries in the region, Barak and Hila dedicate a portion of their land to harvest their own grapes and create wine that first and foremost pleases their palate. A small boutique establishment, Somek produces roughly 10,000 bottles a year. The wine is crafted using traditional machinery though the end result is different than wine being bottled en masse by the more established wineries. The grapes are crushed in a manually operated old crusher and then moved in small buckets to French oak barrels for fermentation. This technique, and lack of filtering, is an effort to extract as much color from the grapes and preserve as much of the essence of the grapes as possible.

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Somek’s Chardonnay for example is much deeper, almost golden in color, rich in fruit. Barak notes this might not win him points with old-school wine reviewers, but he jokes if the wine doesn’t win rave reviews, at least he and his family will have plenty of delicious wine to enjoy. Somek may be producing relatively small quantities, but a few top chefs and restaurants in Israel are already recognizing the high quality of Somek’s wine, giving it praise and are adding Somek to their wine list. Israel’s modern day boutique wine industry may be relatively young, but wineries such as Somek are producing results that are starting to impress wine connoisseurs and are garnering more attention.

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After the detailed tour, and a chance to ask questions, we had a chance to taste Somek’s wine, starting with the Chardonnay. Rich and golden in color, with a lightly floral nose of honey and citrus blossoms, medium-bodied and lightly oaked, the wine was creamy with a mix of stone fruit and an almost spring-almond nutty taste. It was distinctly different than the Chardonnay’s I was more familiar with from California; this Chardonnay was well enjoyed.

After the Chardonnay we tasted the 2008 Adom (adom translates to red in Hebrew), comprised of 40% Syrah, 40% Carignan, 10% Malbec and 10% Mourvèdre. The Adom models a Côtes du Rhône or Rhone style wine. After fermentation, the wine was aged in French oak barrels for 24 months. Deep red in color with a nose of berries, and dark sweet cherries, medium-bodied and balanced tannins.

Onto the 2006 Bikat HaNadiv (this literally translates to “the generous valley”, the name of the valley pays homage to the late Baron Rothschild). Bikat HaNadiv is a Bordeaux style blend comprised of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. The grapes for this wine are picked and crushed the same day, then aged in French oak for 24 months. A floral nose of dark stone fruits, plums, and cocoa, the wine is also dark in color with a long finish.

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It was the 2006 Carignan that I was most intrigued by, having not been familiar with this grape varietal or having tasted Carignan in pure form. Coming from old vines, the grapes are handpicked in the early hours of the morning and crushed the same day. After fermentation, the wine is oaked in French barrels for 24 months. The Carignan is not filtered, and after bottling, the wine continues to age for another two years before going to the market. On the nose, plums, blackberries, and currants along with dark fruits a just a hint of orange zest on the palate. Medium bodied, a nice balance of soft tannins, fruit and acidity and a long finish.

Limited on space, I brought back only one bottle of the Carignan to California, though my local friends bought several bottles of Somek wine to enjoy in their home in Zichron. I look forward to going back to the winery to enjoy more wine, meet Barak again and maybe even be lucky enough to visit the vineyards next time. For now, my bottle of Carignan and pictures remind me of a wonderful afternoon spent with friends. It was a terrific opportunity to hear first hand the effort that goes into making quality wine, spend time with a winemaker and visit a boutique winery that I hope will grow for many more wine enthusiasts to enjoy.

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Discover more about Zichron Ya’acov, the Baron Edmond de Rothschild, visit Somek and learn more about the Carignan grape via these links:
Go Israel and Discover Zichron Ya’aacov
The Traveler
Zichron Ya’acov Home of Wine and Spies
Zichron Ya’acov – Home of Israeli Wine
Ramat Hanadiv Memorial Gardens
Jancis Robinson on Carignan
Israel Adventure: Somek Winery
Israel Wine Tour: Why We Love Taking Our Guests to Somek Winery

For more wines in Israel visit: Award Winning Wine in the Judean Hills: Flam Winery

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a thought on wine

“Great wines don’t make statements, they pose questions.” -Hugh Johnson

noted in Eric Asimov’s How to Love Wine

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photo du jour

after the rain the grass will grow; after wine, conversation -swedish proverb

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wine is sunlight

“Wine is sunlight, held together by water.” Galileo Galilei

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cin cin!

photos du jour : wines from italy : foto del giorno

Read more about the wines in: Celebrating the Food and Wine of Italy

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