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Passion and Pinot Updates: Bells Up Winery

January 6, 2022 1 comment

And then we arrived at “micro-boutique, un-domaine” Bells Up Winery, our final stop of the Oregon wine country touring.

Out of 13 wineries profiled in the Stories of Passion and Pinot series, Bells Up is the youngest one, having been founded in 2013, with the first vineyard plantings of Pinot Noir going into the ground in 2014. Despite being a young winery, Dave (the winemaker) and Sara (the Boss) Specter have a clear vision as to where they are going with their distinctly un-domaine wine – if you are curious why I keep saying “un-domaine”, I would like to direct you to the (virtual) interview I did with Dave in 2019 – he explains the concept of un-domaine very well.

Everything is distinctly un-domaine (see, you need to read that interview) at Bells Up. The vineyard with a gentle slope, the winery right in the middle of the vineyard, a simple but elegantly appointed tasting room with lots of fresh flowers and beautiful views of the vineyards. Here you go – pictures, pictures, pictures:

 

 

After admiring all the views we proceeded with lunch and tasting. Our lunch was prepared by Sara and while it was somewhat of a simplistic summer chicken salad, the amazing part was that this salad perfectly paired with the majority of wines we tasted – if you ever tried pairing the salad with wine, you would have to agree that achieving great pairing is very far from easy.

As I mentioned, Dave and Sara have a clear vision of the future direction for Bells Up. While Bells Up estate vineyard will be mostly planted with Pinot Noir, and by 2022 Bells Up plans to be at 100% estate fruit for all Pinot Noir bottlings, they have a clear plan for making Bells Up unique and different – growing and producing Pinot Blanc instead of the more commonly available Pinot Gris; being first in Willamette Valley with Seyval Blanc plantings; planting (out of all grapes!) a little known Italian grape Scioppettino; already offering Syrah and adding Cabernet Sauvignon in the 2020 vintage. “Unique and different” is a good description, in my opinion.

 

Before we talk about wines I would like to mention that none of the wine names you will see below are random. All the names have connections to the classical music pieces under the same name, and every choice of the name has an explanation as to why the particular piece was selected to connect with a given wine. If you are interested, there is even a Spotify playlist that includes all of the relevant music pieces – you can find that list directly on the Bells Up Our Wines page.

We started our tasting with Pinot Blanc:

2020 Bells Up Rhapsody Pinot Blanc Willamette Valley ($32)
Great complexity, lemon, gunflint
Great acidity, lemon, clean, crisp, refreshing
Perfect pairing with summer chicken salad
8, Excellent

We almost had to beg Dave to let us Seyval Blanc which was practically sold out. As a curiously interesting fact, Seyval Blanc plantings had to be protected by the net, as it happened that birds loved the grapes too.

2020 Bells Up Helios Seyval Blanc Estate Chehalem Mountains AVA ($40)
Gunflint, minerality,
Clean fruit, Meyer lemon, good acidity, good creaminess
Great with summer chicken salad.
8

Next up was Pinot Noir Rosé, the first Pinot Noir wine entirely produced from the estate fruit:

2020 Bells Up Prelude Pinot Noir Rosé Estate Chehalem Mountains AVA ($28)
Strawberries, nice minerality
Strawberries, bigger body than Provence, good acidity, perfect balance.
8-

We followed up with the selection of Bells Up Pinot Noir wines:

2018 Bells Up Titan Pinot Noir Willamette Valley ($44)
Plums, violets, sandalwood
Crisp, clean, crunchy cranberry profile, a hint of cranberries, good acidity on the finish.
8-

2019 Bells Up Candide Pinot Noir Reserve Chehalem Mountains AVA ($54, 12 months in French oak)
Floral, nutmeg, warm spices
Cherries, cut through acidity, black pepper, perfect balance, delicious
8

2019 Bells Up Villanelle Pinot Noire Reserve Tonnelier Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton AVA ($58, 12 months in French oak, final vintage)
Blackberry/raspberry, Marionberry
Cassis leaves, light crunchy cherries, well-integrated tannins, good acidity on the finish, delicious.
8

2019 Bells Up Jupiter Estate Pinot Noir Chehalem Mountains AVA ($48, 12 months in French Oak)
Underbrush, summer forest, cherries, a touch of tobacco
Crunchy cherries, clean, fresh, delicious
8

While this is not a video, here is Dave talking about Bells Up wines:

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Bells Up Syrah was served with an amazing seedless grape pie. As Sara explained, everyone gives wines as presents in Willamette Valley, but tasty grape pie is almost equivalent to the hard currency when exchanging gifts with neighbors. As I said, the pie was superb, and to think that sweet pie would pair with Walla Walla Syrah? I really wouldn’t – and I would be mistaken.

2019 Bells Up Firebird Syrah Summit View Vineyard Walla Walla Valley AVA ($52, 12 months in French oak)
Blueberries and blackberries on the nose
Berries all the way, nicely balanced
8, Amazing pairing with seedless grape pie with cardamom

Again, we almost had to twist Dave’s arm to let us taste the future release of Cabernet Sauvignon:

2020 Bells Up New World Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Summit View Vineyard Walla Walla Valley AVA ($68, 12 months in French oak, barrel sample)
A hint of green bell pepper
Cassis, a hint of black pepper on the finish, good, round, smoky undertones.
8-

Here you have the summary of our “un-domaine” experience – an excellent set of wines and super-friendly hosts. If you will find yourself touring Willamette Valley, add Bells Up winery to your “must visit” list.

This is the last update in the Passion and Pinot series. For now, that is.

Until next time…

This post is a part of the Stories of Passion and Pinot series – click the link for more stories…

 

Passion and Pinot Updates: Utopia Vineyard

January 3, 2022 1 comment

And then we arrived in Utopia.

When your destination is called Utopia Vineyard, poking some fun is irresistible, isn’t it?

Upon our arrival to Utopia Vineyard in Ribbon Ridge AVA, we were warmly greeted by Dan Warnshuis, proprietor and winemaker, who poured us a glass of Utopia Pinot Noir Blanc (yep, a white wine made out of Pinot Noir) and took us on the tour of the vineyard, glass in hand. After speaking with Dan virtually about a year ago, it was definitely a pleasure to shake hands and move from the virtual to the real world where things can be touched and smelled.

Utopia Vineyard looks different from Le Cadeau and Lenné – no fighting with the rocks here. Gentle slope elevation of only 20 feet from top to bottom makes it easier to tend for grapes. Utopia Vineyard is farmed using Sustainable Organic practices and was L.I.V.E. certified in 2008. Dan practices dry farming and uses cover crops every second row – in normal conditions though. Summer 2021 was so dry and hot that by the second week in August when we visited, all of the cover crops were removed so it will not compete with vines for access to water. The grapes looked perfectly healthy and beautiful despite the hot weather – you can see it for yourself in the pictures below.

I don’t know how the actual utopia should look like, but I find these vineyard views pretty compelling:



There are 12 clones of Pinot Noir growing at Utopia Vineyard – one of the wines we tasted was made out of all 12 clones. There are also 3 clones of Chardonnay growing there, planted in 2010. Talking about “fashionable wines”, Utopia Vineyard doesn’t produce sparkling wines, but Dan makes Pinot Noir Blanc, a white wine from the red grapes, which we tasted upon arrival, and also had the pleasure of tasting it directly from the barrel (all notes below).

In 2018, Dan acquired additional 35 acres of land not far from Utopia Vineyard’s original location. That parcel of land also had a 5,500 sq. ft building which by the time of our arrival 3 years after the acquisition was fully converted into a state-of-the-art winery. We stopped by the winery a few times during our visit, and what was the most mind-boggling to me was that Dan was pretty much operating everything at the winery just by himself – moving barrels, emptying tanks, and so on. His son-in-law comes to help during the harvest, but otherwise, Dan is a one-man operation.

This additional property also hosts a freshly constructed log cabin which is called exactly that – Utopia Vineyard Log Cabin, which offers beautiful accommodations and spectacular views:






We visited Utopia Vineyard over two evenings and had some delicious food and tasted through a substantial range of Utopia Vineyard wines. I also learned about an interesting berry I never heard of before – Marionberry, which is a type of blackberry, which we tasted in the form of delicious pie – I wish this is something I can find here on the East coast. Marionberry takes its name from Marion County in Oregon, where it was selected in 1956 as a cross between Chehalem and Olallie blackberries.

Time to talk about wines – here are my notes:

2018 Utopia Bliss Pinot Noir Blanc Ribbon Ridge AVA ($45)
The nose of the buckwheat, yellow plums
Plums on the palate, good balance, good acidity, asks for food
8-

2015 Utopia Vineyard Chardonnay Estate Ribbon Ridge AVA ($45)
Nice, delicate, a hint of vanilla
A touch of vanilla, Golden delicious apples, good acidity
7+/8-

I mentioned before that we had an opportunity to taste some wines directly from the barrel.

2020 Chardonnay was outstanding, fresh apples and lemon, clean acidity, perfectly clean, vibrant, and balanced. If I would have an opportunity, I would drink this wine just like that.

2020 Pinot Noir Blanc from the barrel was even more exciting – a touch of toasted bread, a touch of fresh fruit, perfect minerality, vibrant, clean, full of energy. Again, I would love to drink this wine just like that.

2015 Utopia Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir Ribbon Ridge AVA ($55) – all 12 clones are used
Plums, cherries, a touch of iodine
Clean, crisp, plums, cherries and cranberries, good acidity
8, excellent

2014 Utopia Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir Ribbon Ridge AVA ($55)
A touch of sapidity, mushrooms,
Plums, round, soft, clean
8-

2013 Utopia Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir Ribbon Ridge AVA ($55)
Mushrooms, forest floor, underbrush
Earthy, restrained, plums, clean, round
8-

2017 Utopia Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir Ribbon Ridge AVA ($48)
Sweet plums, violets
Raspberries, red berries, round.
7+

2015 Utopia Vineyard Pinot Noir Clone 777 Estate Reserve Ribbon Ridge AVA ($65)
Violets, sweet plums, iodine
7+

2016 Utopia Paradise Pinot Noir Estate Reserve Ribbon Ridge AVA ($75)
Original 2002 plantings.
Mushrooms, underbrush, violets
Clean, ripe cherries, pepper, medium body,
8, excellent

I was also excited to try a late harvest Riesling which was absolutely delicious:

2016 Utopia Late Harvest Riesling Chateau Bianca Vineyard Willamette Valley AVA ($40)
Beautiful apricots, a touch of honey, clean acidity, good balance. Delicious.
8

Talking to Dan we learned that 99 percent of the sales at the winery are direct to consumers, via the wine club and visitors. Dan also has a few customers who like to take his wines as a private label. Dan is very much involved with philanthropy, supporting the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, The Hampton Opera center in Portland, OR, making wine donations, offering cabin stays, and more.

Utopia Vineyard offers something for everyone – if you will find yourself visiting Portland, you might want to take a 30 minutes trip southwest of Portland and find your utopia there. Or better yet, just stay in the cabin – everything else might be optional.

This post is a part of the Stories of Passion and Pinot series – click the link for more stories…

Passion and Pinot Updates: Lenné Estate

December 30, 2021 5 comments

Out of the 13 Oregon wineries profiled to the date in the Stories of Passion and Pinot series, Lenné Estate stands aside. I had my first encounter with Steve Lutz and Lenné Estate in 2014, two years before the Stories of Passion and Pinot series was born, when Steve participated in the #WineChat event on Twitter. This is when I heard for the first time about Peavine soils, a mixture of clay and rocks, and Steve’s relentless, passionate pursuit of Pinot Noir winemaking in the place where it seems no vine can ever grow – read this original post to see what I mean. This passion I learned about while “listening” to Steve for the first time, the passion for the finicky grape became the reason for the name of the series.

When I spoke (virtually) to Steve in 2016 (you can find this conversation here), I learned a lot more about all the hard work establishing the vineyard, about Kill Hill, and about the wines which Steve produces, so when we arrived at Lenné Estate with Carl Giavanti, I felt like I knew Steve for a long time, and almost felt at home in the vineyard.

It is one thing to listen to someone talking about the soil, and it is totally different when you look at it (you can touch it too if you want) and think “how anything, really anything can grow in this soil”? Dry farming, no irrigation, and then you look at the soil – and you look at the grapes which it perfectly produces, and you can only say “wow”. I can tell you that out of the number of vineyards we already visited during the trip, the grapes at Lenné looked the best – tight bunches, beautiful colors of veraison, just a pleasure to look at.

More grapes:

We took a walk to the top of Kill Hill, and I can tell you that it was one steep walk. But the views from the vineyard were nothing short of spectacular.






Yes, it is steep!

We talked about winemaking, and Steve mentioned that he typically prefers using commercial yeasts, because they produce more reliable and predictable results – however, he is not foreign to the idea of indigenous yeast, as we tasted in one of the wines. When we spoke back in 2016, Steve was not very big on producing white wines – I was happy to see that he changed his mind and now offers Lenné Estate Chardonnay. However, more as an exception to the rule at this point, Steve is still not ready to produce sparkling wines – however, I hope that this will change at some point – we will have to see.

After the walk, we went back to the tasting room, where Steve set up a full tasting, including the charcuterie and cheese boards.

View from the tasting room

We started tasting with the Chardonnay, which was excellent

2019 Lenné Estate Scarlett’s Reserve Chardonnay Yamhill-Carlton AVA ($58)
A touch of honey, herbs, restrained
Crisp acidity, fresh, bright, Granny Smith apples, a touch of vanilla, creamy, excellent
8

Next, of course, we moved to the Pinot Noirs, where we tasted the whole range – here are tasting notes for the wines including some additional comments regarding the vintage and winemaking:

2017 Lenné Estate South Slope Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton AVA ($55)
Hot vintage with a big fruit set
Beautiful nose of sweet cherries and raspberries
Wow, red fruit all the way, cut through acidity, perfect balance
9-, superb

2016 Lenné Estate South Slope Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton AVA ($55)
Early vintage, cool August, harvest done by mid-September
Cherries, sage, floral notes
Clean, tart cherries, warm notes, good acidity,
8-

2018 Lenné Estate Sad Jack 777 Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton AVA ($55)
Indigenous yeast, spontaneous malolactic
Tart cherries, a hint of cherry pie, savory note
Tart cherries, clean, balanced, crisp, superb
8+

2018 Lenné Estate Karen’s Pommard Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton AVA ($60)
Commercial yeast and forced malolactic
Cherry, cherry pie, sweet oak
Tart cherries, dark fruit, good balance, well integrated tannins
8

The last wine was a culmination point of the tasting. “Cinq Élus” means “five chosen”, which in the case of this wine means five best barrels and 5 clones. The wine was simply superb:

2018 Lenné Estate Cinq Élus Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton AVA ($85)
5 best barrels from the vintage, 5 clones
The succulent nose of red and black berries, distant hint of gunflint, herbs, great complexity
Restrained, cherries, layered, complex, perfectly integrated, tannins come through on the finish, superb
9-

While we were tasting the wines, we also talked about blind tasting events which Steve runs at the winery, where attendees get an opportunity, for example, to compare Oregon Pinot Noir with the Burgundy, or Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir with Dundee Hills Pinot Noir and so on – here you can see what blind tastings are offered. Steve also leads European wine cruises where everything revolves around food and wine, as you can imagine – here you can find information about those.

On the Lenné Estate website, there is also an interesting section called Vintage Charts. Here you can find general information regarding the suggested drinking window for Oregon Pinot Noir in general, as well as particular recommendations specifically pertaining to the Lenné Estate wines.

There you are, my friends. If you are looking for mature, confident, and simply delicious Oregon Pinot Noir, you don’t need to look further than Lenné Estate.

But we are not done here yet. More Passion and Pinot updates are coming – stay tuned…

This post is a part of the Stories of Passion and Pinot series – click the link for more stories…

Passion and Pinot Updates: Le Cadeau Vineyard

December 28, 2021 4 comments

Five years ago, I started a new project in this blog called Stories of Passion and Pinot. The goal of the project was to interview winemakers in Oregon, who passionately went on to grow Pinot Noir and make wines often in conditions that many others would find impossible and untenable. All the way until August of 2021 my interviews were all virtual – I would read about the winery, come with the questions, get the answers, and then publish those conversations in this blog (you can find them using the top menu).

This year I attended Wine Media Conference 2021 which conveniently took place in Eugene, Oregon. After the conference was over, we drove with Carl Giavanti to meet some of the winemakers face to face – and now I can offer you updates, mostly in pictures, lots of pictures, and tasting notes for the wines I had an opportunity to taste.

Le Cadeau Vineyard was our first stop after we left Eugene.

Where do I start? First of all, the views. Le Cadeau Vineyard is a stunning oasis, surrounded by tall pine trees (I already told you how much I love those), and offering amazing views. You be the judge:

Tom Mortimer slowly walked us through the vineyard, talking about clones and all the work he invested into creating this vineyard simply on top of the rock (you can find the details in the original interview). It turns out that there are 18 Pinot Noir clones used in wine production at Le Cadeau – while I was somewhat shocked to hear that number (sounds high), it was simply due to my ignorance – for example, Sanford winery in Sta. Rita Hills uses more than 50 clones. Considering that Sanford winery is about 25 years older than the Le Cadeau, it is all makes sense. Tom was particularly proud of some of the clones, such as the Calera clone which is based on the DRC, and some additional Vosne clones (not trying to impress with the words here – Vosne here stands for Vosne-Romanée, one of the most coveted Pinot Noir production areas in Burgundy; DRC stands for Domaine Romanée-Conti, probably the most famous Pinot Noir producer in the world; Calera is one of the legendary California Pinot Noir producers and pioneers from Central Coast).

The beginning of August of this year (2021) happened to be the veraison time – the onset of ripening of the grapes when the grapes start changing their color. This was my first time actually being in the vineyard during veraison, so I couldn’t stop taking pictures as I saw bunches with more and more color – here are more pictures:

We also saw Chardonnay grapes growing:

Remember, we are talking about passion here. The amount of labor of love and passion which this vineyard required to be established was simply incredible. Tom had to use a special machine to break through the basalt to help the vine roots to get established. There were a few rows where he decided not to use the machine, and those rows look particularly different from the rest of the vineyard. The rocks which you can see in these pictures give you a good idea of what he had to deal with while establishing the vineyard.

After we finished walking around we sat down to taste the wines with Tom and to continue the conversation about the winemaking. Tom is highly analytical, he uses a lot of different charts, such as Degree Day reports to estimate when he might need to start picking up the grapes based on the historical data and what is the potential weight of the grapes might be at the harvest. Harvest is usually done in multiple passes, depending on the year – in 2015 and 2018, for example, he had to pick grapes 5 times; in 2016 and 2020 there were three picks made.

We started our tasting with 2018 Chardonnay, which was outstanding:

2018 Le Cadeau Vineyard Chardonnay Willamette Valley (14.1% ABV, $45)
Beautiful nose of vanilla with a hint of butter
Vanilla, butter, Granny Smith apples on the palate, beautifully clean and balanced
8+

It is really amazing to see the level of finesse Oregon Chardonnay has developed over the years.

It appears that Tom also makes sparkling wines, and he loves it, as making sparkling wines nicely complements making still wines – you remove perfect grapes for the sparkling (high acid), and the other grapes can ripen better. The sparkling wine we tried, was again, in a word, outstanding:

2013 Le Cadeau Rosé Brut Oregon (13.1% ABV, $50, 4.5 years on the lees)
A touch of funk and toasted bread
Sapidity, yeast, toasted notes, clean acidity, delicious.
8+

Now we moved on to the Pinot Noir. Tom is working with the winemaking team to produce his wines, including the consultant from Burgundy. Le Cadeau makes some of the reserve wines, but those are only produced in the best years. We tasted through the 4 Pinot Noir wines which were all excellent in their own right.

2018 Le Cadeau Côte Est Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (13.9% ABV, $60)
Beautiful cherries on the nose
Cherries on the palate, clean, round, soft, a touch of earthiness, delicious.
8

2018 Le Cadeau Diversité Pinot Noir Chehalem Mountains AVA (14.1% ABV, $60)
Beautiful minerality, sweet cherries, a hint of cranberry
Tart cherries on the palate, pepper, clean, fresh, light
8+

2018 Le Cadeau Rocheux Chehalem Mountains AVA (13.5% ABV, $60)
Stunning nose, cranberries, cherries, violets, a hint of sage
Superb balance of power, fruit, acidity, structure – everything is in perfect harmony.
9-/8+

2017 Le Cadeau Merci Reserve Chehalem Mountains AVA (13.3% ABV, $80)
Incredible aromatics, floral, violets
Beautiful, round, clean, open
8+

It is interesting that when I tasted the 2017 Le Cadeau vintage for the interview post, Diversité was my favorite, and Rocheux was a close second. This time, Rosheux was my favorite Pinot Noir from the tasting.

That’s all I have for my update. I don’t drink much of Burgundy, so I can’t really offer any comparisons – but I don’t think comparisons are needed. Oregon Pinot Noir are unquestionably world-class wines in their own right. I remember reading in Wine Spectator Matt Kramer’s article where he mentioned that the main characteristic of a world-class Pinot Noir is finesse. Going by this measure, Le Cadeau definitely got it – finesse is the virtue of all their wines. If you are looking for the Pinot Noir for a special occasion – don’t look any further than Le Cadeau.

This post is a part of the Stories of Passion and Pinot series – click the link for more stories…

 

 

 

Understanding Ferguson

December 27, 2021 Leave a comment

Do experiences have expiration dates? Of course not. As long as we learn something, the experience has its value – and thus it can be shared.

And so here I am, sharing another experience from 2 years ago. Yesterday, I was talking about the Sanford tasting which took place in June of 2019. Today, I’m sharing yet another experience from the same June of 2019. Just follow along, please.

I remember attending a trade tasting in New York, probably about 5 or 6 years ago. One of the wineries at that tasting was L’Ecole No 41, one of the best wineries in Walla Walla in Washington. The rep poured a taste for me and proudly said “this is Ferguson, our newest vineyard, and this wine is amazing, taste it”. I can still vividly remember the punch of tannins from the first sip and my very first thought “how is this amazing, I can’t taste anything here”.

L’Ecole No 41 needs no introduction to the wine lovers. The third winery in Walla Walla in Washington, founded by Jean and Baker Ferguson in 1983, one year before Walla Walla received an official AVA status. From the moment the winery was created, the focus was always on the Bordeaux varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot.

Seven Hills Vineyard, 230 acres estate on the Oregon side of the appellation, is one of the oldest vineyards in Walla Walla, planted in 1980. L’Ecole No 41 manages Seven Hills Vineyard together with Pepper Bridge Winery and Leonetti Cellars, and it is a source of more than 1/3 of L’Ecole’s total red wine production.

The second vineyard, Pepper Bridge Vineyard, was planted in 1991 on the Washington side of Walla Walla. L’Ecole was the first winery to produce wines from the Pepper Bridge Vineyard.

In 2008, Ferguson Vineyard, named in honor of the founders of the winery, was planted on high elevation (1,350 ft – 1,450 ft) not far from the Seven Hills Vineyard, a thin layer of soil over the fractured basalt from 15-million-year-old lava flows. The vineyard now is 42 acres in size and the source of the latest additions to the L’Ecole portfolio – the one I was unable to appreciate during that trade tasting.

When I got the invite to attend L’Ecole No 41 tasting in New York at the Grapes and Grains restaurant, I got excited about the opportunity to have a deeper dive and learn more about L’Ecole No 41 wines.

What I learned from Constance Savage, General Manager of L’Ecole No 41 is that L’Ecole can be safely called a high mountain desert winery, with only 8” of precipitation per year. Irrigation is available, but very much controlled, forcing the vines to work hard.

The winemaking approach at the winery is very simple – let the terroir speak. Always do the same at the winery, and let Mother Nature to express itself. The winery is not trying to achieve persistent taste – and this can be easily seen in wines through the differences between the vintages. And this all works because the climate is very consistent.

We tasted through 4 sets of wines, each set containing 3 wines. Here is what I tasted with my notes.

The first set consisted of the 3 “classics” from the same 2008 vintage – Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. The wines were 11 years old when I tasted them, and still you can see that they were still showing substantial level tanning and potential to evolve for the next 10–20 years.

2008 L’Ecole no 41 Estate Merlot Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 18 months in small French oak barrels, 40% new)
Cherries, iodine, mint
Tart cherries, pepper, a touch of vanilla
8

2008 L’Ecole no 41 Estate Cabernet Franc Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 100% Cabernet Franc, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 33% new, 198 cases produced)
Black currant, a touch of mocha
Tart, black currant, dry, very noticeable tannins
8, Block 8 Cabernet Franc is typically used for blending, except in the best years when enough grapes are harvested, so this wine was produced in 2006 and again in 2008.

2008 L’Ecole no 41 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 50% new, 188 cases produced)
Touch of sweet oak, black currant
Much more open than cab franc, but still tannins are present


The next set of wines was made with the fruit from Seven Hills Vineyard, and they all belonged to the series called Perigee – as a scientific term, Perigee is the closest point to the Earth in the Moon’s orbit. The focus of these wines is on the earthy characteristics of the Seven Hills Vineyard.

2006 L’Ecole no 41 Perigee Estate Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.4% ABV, 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 50% new)
Great complexity, plums, a touch of smoke and roasted meat, fresh onion peel (sorry about that)
Sweet plums, black currant, vanilla, good acidity, dry finish
8

2011 L’Ecole no 41 Perigee Estate Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 6% Malbec, 4% Petit Verdot, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 50% new)
Closed nose
The palate is raspberry driven, good acidity, good minerality

2016 L’Ecole no 41 Perigee Estate Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 9% Petit Verdot, 7% Malbec, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 40% new)
Fresh, bright, fresh leaves, freshly crushed berries
Vanilla, plums, mocha, young, big body, soft and velvety initially, with the tannins gripping mouth in the second wave
8

Next, we tasted the Apogee series of wines, sourced from the Pepper Bridge Vineyard. Apogee is the point in the orbit of the Moon when it has the greatest distance to Earth. The focus of these wines is to showcase the ultimate expression of the fruit.

2006 L’Ecole no 41 Apogee Estate Pepper Bridge Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.3% ABV, 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot, 8% Malbec, 4% Cabernet Franc, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 50% new)
Touch of barnyard, intense, blackberries, minerality
Sapidity, onion jam, dark berries, baking spice, minerality,
8, wines are a lot more massive than previous ones

2010 L’Ecole no 41 Apogee Estate Pepper Bridge Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 7% Malbec, 4% Cabernet Franc, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 50% new)
Elegant, raspberries, fresh
Round, clean, well-structured tannins, delicious
9-

2016 L’Ecole no 41 Apogee Estate Pepper Bridge Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 11% Malbec, 4% Cabernet Franc, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 50% new)
Not ready – beautiful fruit and acidity, but tannins covering completely

And finally, the Ferguson. The vineyard built on top of the balsamic rock, so we should expect to see expressive minerality.

2011 L’Ecole no 41 Estate Ferguson Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 50% new)
Smoke, gunflint, not a lot of fruit
Dark, powerful, perfectly structured, Bordeaux style, perfectly drinkable
9-

2016 L’Ecole no 41 Estate Ferguson Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 6% Malbec, 6% Cabernet Franc, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 50% new)
Young fruit, crunchy berries,
Killer tannins, lock your mouth
Not ready

2014 L’Ecole no 41 Cabernet Sauvignon Ferguson Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 40% new)
Dark fruit, minerality
Touch of Black Currant, coffee, tannins are still overpowering, but you can taste the beauty of the wine. Needs at least another 10 years
8+

So what did I learn about Ferguson? These wines need time. And with time, they can be some of the best wines Washington has to offer.

As you can tell, 2011 Ferguson and 2010 Apogee were two of my most favorite wines, but really, give them time, and you will not go wrong with any of these wines. And it is interesting that all of the 2006 and 2008 can still enjoy more time in the cellar. For sure, L’Ecole makes some serious wines.

Do the experiences have expiration dates? Maybe only those which are not shared. Here, I did my part.

Sanford Winery: Evolution Of Growing Up

December 26, 2021 1 comment

In the 1960s, two friends, Michael Benedict and Richard Sanford were looking for a good cool-climate site in California where they would be able to make wine rivaling in quality the best European wines.

In 1971, after successfully completing very extensive research, they decided on the location in the Sta. Rita Hills area, a part of the Santa Ynez Valley about 15 miles east of the Pacific Ocean. They first planted the vineyard to Chardonnay and Riesling, but in 1972 they were the first in the region to plant Pinot Noir (and now these are the oldest Pinot Noir plantings in the country).

In 1997, an adjacent hillside vineyard was planted next to Sanford and Benedict, named La Rinconada, which also became a home to the winery building and the tasting room. In 2001, Sta. Rita Hills area was officially certified as an AVA (American Viticultural Area). In 2002, the Terlato family became involved with the Sanford winery (the winery was only carrying the Sanford name as Michael Benedict part his ways with Richard Sanford in 1980), and in 2005 Terlato family became majority owners and partners at the winery. In 2006, John Terlato got closely involved with the winery operations, and that really opened a new chapter for Sanford winery.

In June of 2019, I got invited to the Sanford winery tasting dinner with John Terlato and Michael Benedict at the Wild Ink restaurant in New York, in one of the hottest neighborhoods – Hudson Yards. I was, obviously, very excited. Which helped me to fail as a wine writer – read on, I will explain.

As we situated at the table, the wines started to appear in rapid succession – 2011 Sanford and Benedict Pinot Noir, 2012 Sanford and Benedict Pinot Noir, then 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016… I didn’t check the press packet in advance of the dinner, and was unprepared for the sheer number of wines presented – also the wines were just brought up one after another, without much of the pause, much of presentation, and too cold – I remember complaining about the wines being too cold and thus really not allowing for a proper evaluation. Don’t get me wrong – I loved the wines, but I had no opportunity to actually compare the vintages and understand the differences. We also tasted 2016 La Rinconada Chardonnay, 2015 Founders’ Vines Chardonnay, 2015 La Rinconada Pinot Noir and 2014 Founders’ Vines Pinot Noir – for which again I didn’t capture a single tasting note, carried away with a conversation, food, delicious wines, and amazing views of the sunset over Hudson.

Or maybe the tasting notes were not that important? In 2006, when John Terlato got involved in Sanford winery operations, he started learning about the best Pinot Noirs in the world. He went to Burgundy, met with winemakers, and tasted lots and lots of wines to understand what can be done differently at Sanford, what is next. He started the vineyard block program at Sanford, identifying unique vineyard blocks at both Sanford and Benedict and La Rinconada, with unique soil, microclimate and terroir, to let literally every bunch of grapes be the best they can be. John brought his notebooks to the dinner, and he was showing us pages and pages of copious notes, both about the wines he tasted in Burgundy and all the experiments and work done at the Sanford vineyards.

Both John and Michael were obviously proud of what they achieved, but what is important, they were both optimistic about their work at the winery and the best yet to come as the learning process doesn’t stop. “I want you to come to the winery and taste 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021… I want you to see how they [wines] change. I want you to see how much better they will become” said Michael Benedict in his quiet voice sitting next to me.

If I would’ve done my homework before coming to the dinner, I would’ve come armed with some incredible facts summarizing 13 years of hard work at the Sanford vineyards. Here are some numbers for you. 30% of the Sanford and Benedict vineyard are still planted on its original vines, which is very rare in California considering the spread of Phylloxera. The vineyard is home to the oldest Pinot Noir vines in Santa Barbara County, planted in 1971. Sanford and Benedict Vineyard has a total of 144 acres under vines – 109 acres of Pinot Noir, 33 of Chardonnay, and 2 of Viognier. There are more than 20 vineyard blocks identified, and there are more than 11 clones growing there.

La Rinconada, which was planted in 1997, is 117 acres in size, 63 acres of Pinot Noir, and 54 acres of Chardonnay. It also has 20 vineyard blocks and 12 clones. Between 2 vineyards, there are 261 total vine acres, 50+ Vineyard Blocks, 20+ clones, 6+ soil blends.

Taking all of this into perspective, it is amazing how Pinot Noir is becoming an obsession of the winemakers – I see this through all of the Stories of Passion and Pinot, through the deep research of soil done by Alit in Oregon. Identifying vineyard blocks, vinifying blocks separately, using multiple clones, blending, trying, and trying again. Passion and Pinot, truly.

Not writing about that memorable dinner was one of my biggest disappointments – to my disdain, I have a good memory for disappointments, so it was really hunting me down. But sometimes, life offers us second chances.

Trey Fletcher got schooled in world-class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay during his tenure at Littorai Winery, also learning biodynamic, organic, and sustainable viticulture at the same time. In 2011, Trey moved to Santa Barbara to become Winemaker and GM at Bien Nacido Vineyards. A few years back, Trey joined the Sanford team as Senior Winemaker, and 2019 became the first vintage where he was responsible for all the winemaking and blending decisions. I had an opportunity to taste Trey’s wines and here are my impressions:

2019 Sanford Chardonnay Sta. Rita Hills (13.5% ABV, $40, aged 11 months in French oak, 25% new)
Light golden
A hint of minerality, vanilla, apple, elegant, inviting
Similar profile on the palate – vanilla, apple, a distant touch of honey, perfect acidity, clean, fresh, delicious
8, an outstanding example of California Chardonnay

2020 Sanford Rosé of Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills (13% ABV, $20, aged 6 months in stainless steel and neutral barrels)
Salmon pink
Strawberries, nice mineral component
Tart strawberries, lemon, crisp, fresh, bigger body than a typical Provence, but still light and perfectly balanced. Nice medium-long finish.
8/8+

2019 Sanford Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills (13.5% ABV, $45, aged 11 months in French oak, 25% new)
Dark ruby
Plums, cherries, smoke. Classic Pinot nose
Sweet plums, tart cherries, probably a whole cluster fermentation based on a tiny hint of a green bite. Restrained, elegant, the sweetness is just hinted, and overall wine is well structured.
8, Should age well. A California Pinot with a lot of restraint

Pinot and Passion. There is truly something magical about the grape which becomes an obsession and an object of desire. The best proof, however, is always in the glass.

May you never stop growing.

Stories of Passion and Pinot, And Not Only Pinot: Battle Creek Cellars

December 12, 2021 2 comments

I love urban wineries (or city wineries as they are often called). Solvang, Woodinville, Walla Walla – each place was different but similar at the same time – unique wines, unique stories, unique experiences. I would venture to say that winemakers at the urban wineries have more freedom to create and experiment, as they can choose the vineyards they want to work with and the style of the wines they want to produce. My latest experience in Portland is a direct confirmation of this.

My last winery visit in Oregon was at the city winery called Battle Creek Cellars, located in Portland’s Pearl District. I was told that I’m going to meet a winemaker who not only makes wines but also plays American football professionally, and has a unique personality. And I had about one hour before I had to start heading to the airport to make my flight – somewhat of a challenge for me as it is in my nature to worry about not missing a flight.

Sarah Cabot, the winemaker, was already waiting for us as we arrived at the tasting room. We grabbed glasses, a few bottles and headed out to the patio in the back to taste wines and to talk.

At the city winery, you can expect to find great wines, but you are not necessarily expecting to be blown away by what you taste and what you learn. The wines were absolutely spectacular, starting with the very first one 2018 Battle Creek Cellars Reserve White Blend – the wine had a distinct spicy nose, honey notes, and on the palate was clean, crisp with great acidity, creamy, and very different from the nose. This is where the unique sides of Sarah were already showing – she was getting the fruit from the vineyard where the vinegrower refused to tell her the exact composition of the blend – she only knew that Riesling and Gewürztraminer are a part of the blend, but the exact composition was not known.

Not only Sarah works with unknown grape blends, but she also uses a range of tools to produce the wines. For example, her 2019 Chardonnay Reserve was spectacular – round inviting nose with a hint of honey, and clean, crisp, and creamy green apple driven on the palate, a delicious rendition of Chardonnay – fermented in the sandstone jar.

Talking to Sarah I learned that while Battle Creek Cellars production is about 10,000 cases overall (6000 cases for unconditional Pinot Noir, 4000 cases of the other wines), Sarah is responsible for the production of more than 100,000 cases annually for her parent company, Precept Wine, Northwest’s largest private wine company. I also learned that Sarah greatly values the freedom to experiment which she has while working with her Battle Creek Cellars portfolio and that esoteric elitism, so common in the wine industry, is making her uncomfortable. And the amount of energy Sarah was exuding during our conversation, explaining all the different ways she utilizes when looking for the right vineyards and the right grapes and deciding how she would ferment and age any particular wines, was simply contagious.

We tasted more wines:

2018 Battle Creek Cellars Reserve Rosé was simply outstanding, offering a whole array of sensory experiences – onion peel color, and the nose which prompted you to imagine yourself walking in the garden and smell strawberries, flowers, and just open meadows. The palate offered great acidity and was fresh and crisp.

2015 Battle Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir from the vineyard planted in 1998 was excellent, with cherries, mushrooms, chocolate on the nose, and more cherries, lean and crisp on the palate. Definitely an aging-worthy wine.

And then there was the 2019 Amphora Series Carbonic Red Blend Oregon which literally blew my mind… Grenache/Malbec blend, fermented whole cluster in amphorae for 30 days with skins. The nose was amazing with crunchy raspberries and cranberries, and then fresh fruit on the palate with beautiful supporting tannins was simply incredible, the wine you have to experience to believe it.

Next, we were out of time – but we agreed to continue the conversation, which we did using both emails with questions and a phone call, so I really had here the full experience as the writer.

Here is what transpired during our follow up conversation:

[TaV]: How did you get into the wine? When did you realize that making wine is your calling?

[SC]: I was working in casual fine dining restaurants as an undergraduate student in Boston and developed an initial fascination with wine there.  Eventually, my life brought me back to the West coast and a sommelier I used to work with suggested that I go back to school for enology/viticulture when I mentioned to him that I was feeling unfulfilled in the service industry.  I followed his advice and I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I had found my calling after my first day of classes.

[TaV]: What was the first memorable wine you made, the wine you were completely happy about?

[SC]: I guess that, to me, they have all been memorable in some way.  As far as a wine that I’ve been “completely happy” about…I think that would be the 2018 Amphora Riesling.  That wine made its own decisions and I couldn’t have made better ones if I had tried.  Now, 3 years later, I feel even more ecstatic about it as I notice the developing notes of petrol that I’ve always coveted about fine Rieslings.

[TaV]: You seem to be working with lots of vessels to ferment and age wines – in addition to the standard vessels such as stainless steel and oak, you also use amphora, sandstone jars of different shapes, and probably a bunch of others. How do you decide when to use what, what grapes to put into what vessel and for what wine?

[SC]: This will probably sound a little silly, but the right fruit just seems to end up in the right vessel.  It’s a combination of varietal, timing, and my whim in the moment.  There’s no real formula to it.

[TaV]: When you were talking about your 2020 carbonic red blend, you mentioned that you instantly fell in love with Merlot you saw, and you wanted to make the wine exactly with the Merlot. How does it work for you? What was so special about that Merlot?

[SC]: More than the grapes themselves, it was the site where they were growing that made me feel inspired to work with Merlot for the first time since I was in school.  It’s a special, beautiful, steep and windy vineyard in the Columbia Gorge AVA called Wind Horse Vineyard.  The grower is passionate and engaged and I haven’t ever stood in a vineyard quite like it.  I thought…if Merlot from anywhere is going to be extra interesting, it’s going to be from here.  Sure enough, the aromatics and texture of the finished wine did not disappoint.

[TaV]: Do you use natural or commercial yeast? Winemakers often get religious about their yeast approach – what is yours?

[SC]: Since I make all my wine in a large winery among other producers, I can’t claim that my ferments are all completed by “native” yeast.  I do often allow my ferments to begin spontaneously and finish on their own/without the addition of commercial yeast.  I do have a few commercial yeasts that I particularly like to use which are all blends of Saccharomyces and non-sacch yeasts.  I’ll use these in certain cases when it is a challenging fermentation environment and I don’t want an unwelcome microbial load to mask the fundamental sensory characteristics of the vineyard.

[TaV]: When you select fruit for your next wine, do you take into account factors such as sustainably/organically/biodynamically grown? Do you have any viticultural preferences?

[SC]: More than anything, I prefer to work with growers whose priority is to cultivate a healthy and long-term-sustainable ecosystem in the vineyard.  Don’t necessarily have a strong feeling about the certification, but care about the ethos of the grower, how the vineyard is treated, and the surrounding area, not just the production environment. I try to work with the growers who take this symbiotically – sustainability is a key. The intention behind farming matters more than a certificate on a piece of paper.

[TaV]:  Is there a winemaker you would call your mentor?

[SC]: Brian O’Donnell at the Belle Pente winery. Brian is the owner and winemaker, and this was my first job in Oregon right after enology school – he definitely created the framework that holds up my knowledge now as a winemaker. He taught me what his philosophy is and left me to my own devices to sink or swim. I made a few mistakes of my own, nothing too costly, but this was the best way to learn. I know general ethos and philosophy, and now it is my time to grow, improvise and get on my feet. There are other incredible winemakers I had mentorship moments with, but Brian is the closest to the real mentor.

[TaV]: Is there a dream wine you always wanted to make? What would that be?

[SC]: The perfect Pinot? Nah. High elevation Ribolla Gialla, oxidized. Similar to what Gravner produces in Friuli, it should have acid but should be ripe enough. I have yet to find the fruit in Oregon.

[TaV]: Your single-vineyard wine labels have beautiful simplicity and different images – what do these images represent?

[SC]: The avatar on each label represents the character of the wine, and it is unique to the vineyard. There are explanations of all the avatars on the back labels. The avatars are used for single-vineyard wines. Even when there is a vintage variation, the barrels selected to be bottled under a single-vineyard label have a consistent profile. The barrels selected to be the most identifiable features of the vineyard – power, finesse – and this is what characters represent.

[TaV]: As I promised, we need to talk about football. Does playing football helps you make wine? How about your work as a winemaker influencing the way you play?

[SC]: Football definitely helps me to do everything. That level of extreme physical exhaustion and violence is very cathartic, and this helps me to be a better winemaker dealing with pressure.

My work as a winemaker has had both positive and negative impacts on my game.  As the negative impact, winemaking experience makes me second guess my decisions. However, as a winemaker I learn to react quickly and make decisions quickly, which helps, When I will retire from playing football I will need to start coaching because I will need this in my life.

[TaV]: During our conversation, you mentioned that working with Chardonnay is easy, but working with Pinot Noir is a pain in the butt. Do you care to expand on this? Can you be very specific?

[SC]: Chardonnay is not easy, but easier than Pinot.  Working with Pinot is difficult because of the thinner skin and lower levels of phenolics, and it is not as protected by phenolics from the mistakes as Merlot or Syrah and is susceptible to all sorts of issues. Growing Pinot, if temperatures reach 88F, that affects the fruit, the vine can shoot down, and you don’t want to irrigate too much, so there is a constant worry. Because of thinner skin, it raisins a lot easier than others; when it is too wet, it breaks a lot easier than the others. With Pinot Noir, you can’t look away for one second.

[TaV]: Was there a pivotal wine for you, or a pivotal wine experience?

[SC]: There are 3. There is one that made me decide I love Pinot when I was 19 and working at the restaurant – 1996 Hartley-Ostini  Hitching Post Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara. It tasted like candy, I was 19, and I loved it.

The red wine which made me realize how versatile the grape variety can be and how much where it grows to make a difference was Guigal Côte-Rôtie. I had learned about Syrah as a blending grape in Southern Rhone or Washington Syrah, and then I tired Côte-Rôtie, and my head was blown.

The white was really an assortment of whites from Trimbacbh – big, round, acidic, ultimate food wines.

[TaV]: Do you have an all-time favorite wine or wines?

[SC]: It will be Morgon. Duboeuff or Jean Foillard grand cru. Moulin-a-Vent would be a close second.

[TaV]: Given the opportunity, is there a winemaker you would want to make the wine with, or the winery you always dreamt of working at?

[SC]: I would love to have the opportunity to work side by side with Gravner or Radican, or anywhere in Jura, producing the traditional wines. Gravner is the ultimate.  Gravner is the reason I got amphorae. I love their wines very much and I would love to learn there.

I can tell you that after the conversation with Sarah, I definitely want to try Gravner wines, and I can’t wait to experience the 2020 Amphora series which should be made with that magnificent Merlot…

Here you are, my friends. Another story of passion, Pinot, and not only Pinot, and pushing the envelope as far as it can go. If you are planning to visit Portland, make Battle Creek Cellars your “must stop”. Cheers!

This post is a part of the Stories of Passion and Pinot series – click the link for more stories…

One on One with Winemaker: Dennis Murphy, Caprio Cellars

December 2, 2021 Leave a comment

Source: Caprio Cellars

It is a known fact that wine is produced in all 50 states in the US. And I will clearly risk it to alienate many people, but with all due respect to New York, Texas, and Virginia, there are only three belonging to the “big three” – California, Oregon, and Washington. It is Washington I want to talk about today.

I don’t know how this works, but when I think about Washington wines, I feel warm and fuzzy. I don’t know if it relates to wonderful experiences, such as the visit to Chateau Ste. Michelle, getting lost in Woodinville or exploring Walla Walla, or maybe it is because of some of the most amazing American wines being produced in Washington, such as the whole range of Cayuse wines, L’Ecole No41, Guardian Cellars, Mark Ryan, and countless others.

And today, I want to bring to your attention one of my very latest Washington wine discoveries – Caprio Cellars in Walla Walla.

On one side, Caprio Cellars’ story is absolutely “normal” (yes, an interesting choice of word here – what does “normal” even mean, right?). Dennis Murphy purchased a plot of land in Walla Walla Valley (previously a wheat field) in 2003. The first vines were planted in 2005, and the vineyard was called Eleanor in honor of Dennis’ grandmother, Eleanor Caprio; after the first harvest in 2008, the winery got the name of Caprio Cellars, and the rest is history. The second vineyard, Octave, was planted on the hillside in 2007. The latest high-altitude vineyard, Sanitella, was planted on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla AVA. Bordeaux varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Malbec are planted across all three sustainably farmed vineyards, with the addition of Sauvignon Blanc planted on Sanitella.

This is where “normal” ends. What is unique about Caprio cellars is that your tasting is always complimentary (okay, yes, this still can happen in the other places). You also have complimentary chef-prepared dishes accompanying your tasting flight, with the seasonal menu  – yes, complimentary, as in “free of charge” (I hope you are getting as impressed as I am because I’m not sure where else you can find that). And Dennis is very passionate about charities he supports. That definitely puts Caprio Cellars in the category of its own.

After tasting a few of the Caprio Cellars wines, I was ready to talk to Dennis. While we were unable to meet in person (something I really hope to rectify in the near future), we sat down with Dennis virtually, and he patiently answered all of my questions – and now I would like to share our conversation with you. Before we begin, one small note – this is a long conversation, and you definitely shouldn’t miss the answers to the questions at the end of this conversation. So I suggest you will settle in your favorite chair, pour yourself a glass of wine, and come along!

Dennis Murphy. Source: Caprio Cellars

[TaV]: Growing up, what was your exposure to the wine culture?

[DM]: Growing up, I remember my dad and grand parents making wine in the garage or the basement.  Some was good, some was not so good.  Wine was always a part of the dinner celebration, holidays and family gatherings.

[TaV]: Was there a pivotal wine in your life?

[DM]: The wine that brought me to Walla Walla was L’ Ecole No. 41 Merlot.  I tasted this wine at a restaurant in Seattle and was blown away.  I then started stopping at the winery and collecting the wine and eventually moved to Walla Walla.

[TaV]: When and how have you decided that you will own a winery? 

[DM]: After tasting some Walla Walla wines and visiting Walla Walla, I fell in love with the town and moved.  I could feel the energy in the wine scene emerging and moved to Walla Walla in 1999.  There were just a hand full of wineries, so I started to make myself available during harvest and made some friends in the wine industry.  In 2003 I purchased the winery estate property and in 2005 I planted my first vineyard, the Eleanor Vineyard.

[TaV]: Any plans for stepping outside of Bordeaux play – how about Syrah or Grenache which are so popular in Washington? Or maybe some Sangiovese or Tempranillo?   

[DM]: I only make wines that I love to consume.  I would look at Grenache, I love Grenache and think that the valley can produce some good fruit.  We are making sparkling wine, I am intrigued to make a sparkling Rosé.  I believe that focus is required to make world-class wine.  I am focused on making world-class red Bordeaux-style wines from Walla Walla.

[TaV]: Considering your Italian heritage, do you have any favorite Italian wine regions, wines, or producers? 

[DM]: It will not surprise you, I am a Super Tuscan guy.  I think that the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot show very well.  One of my favorite all time wines is the 1997 Ornellaia.

[TaV]: Are there any wineries and/or winemakers in Walla Walla who you would consider as your source of inspiration?   

[DM]: Seven Hills/ Casey McClellan makes my favorite wine in the valley, the Pentad.  Casey is a great winemaker, makes solid wines and the valley is fortunate to have him.

Source: Caprio Cellars

Source: Caprio Cellars

[TaV]: You are practicing sustainable farming – what does it entail in your daily routine?   

[DM]: Sustainable farming is really about being as hands off the vineyard as possible, letting the land and crop do their thing naturally.  Sustainable farming is very important for the industry and the environment.  Mother Nature can provide anything that a chemical or synthetic can provide, you just have to work at it.

[TaV]: Any plans to advance your farming towards biodynamics?  

[DM]:  I do not have any current plans to farm biodynamic, but I have not ruled it out either.

[TaV]: First harvest at Caprio Cellars was in 2008. Do you still have any of those wines in your cellar? How are they evolving?  

[DM]: Yes, I have the 2008 Caprio Cabernet Sauvignon, it was the only wine we made that year.  I keep about 50 cases per vintage in the library, this would be considered a lot, but I like to keep more wine around for winemaker dinners, etc.  The 2008 Caprio is holding up well and we get to visit it occasionally.

[TaV]: Any plans for more white wines in the future?   

[DM]: Caprio grows Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, these two varietals do well in our higher elevation Sanitella Vineyard.  We release our Sauvignon Blanc in the spring, it is a crowd-pleaser and sells out quickly.  We also make a rose’ of Cabernet Franc, this is a beautiful spring released wine as well.

[TaV]: Where do you see Caprio Cellars in 10-15 years? 

[DM]: Caprio will be at our production goal of 5,000 cases per year.  I believe this production is a sweet spot for a winery and you can still maintain quality.  We will continue to provide a unique approach to hospitality, I am not sure what is next on that front, but we will continue to be the thought leader in our industry in the Walla Walla valley and push the envelope, it is in our DNA.

Let’s take a little break and taste some wines. I had an opportunity to taste two of the estate wines, Bordeaux blend, Eleanor, from 2017 and 2018 vintages. Here are my notes – and some related conversation right after:

2017 Caprio Cellars Eleanor Estate Red Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, $48, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 12% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Franc, 65% Octave Vineyard / 35% Eleanor Vineyard, 18 months in 100% French oak – 35% new oak / 65% neutral barrel)
Dark Garnet
Minerality, underbrush, herbal profile – fruit undetectable
Expressive minerality, cherry pit, espresso, massive presence – typical Washington red which needs time (and hope) – and these are second day notes. Too big for my palate on the first day.
7+/8-

2018 Caprio Cellars Eleanor Estate Red Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, $48, 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 15% Malbec, 7% Cabernet Franc, 53% Octave Vineyard / 47% Eleanor Vineyard, 18 months in 100% French oak-  35% new oak / 65% neutral barrel)
Dark garnet
Blackberries, a touch of eucalyptus and cassis
Beautiful. Perfect mid-palate weight, silky smooth and velvety, cassis, cherries, supple, voluptuous.
8+, superb from the get-go.

[TaV]: This question is two-part about the wines I tasted:

First, the bottle of 2017 Eleanor is capped with foil, and 2018 is not. Why the change? Is this going to be the style moving forward?

[DM]: I am a traditional guy, I do love a foil cap on a bottle of wine.  In line with our sustainability efforts, we held a customer focus group and it turns out that most customers prefer not to have the foil.  We decided to leave it off in 2018 and it has been well received.  I believe all future wines will not have a foil cap.

Now, the question which I never ask, but this time I have to. I tasted first 2017 Eleanor Red, and the wine was massive and tight – very typical for Washington reds, I call this type of wines “liquid rock” – lots of minerality and limited fruit. The wine opened up a bit on a second day but still was very tight. 2018 Eleanor Red, on the other hand, was approachable from the get go – Bordeaux style fruit, layered and smooth. Can you explain such a dramatic difference between these two wines? The grape composition is very similar, was that the terroir? Winemaking?

[DM]: Acid – the 2018 was the first vintage I nailed the acid level.  It is a tight rope when it comes to acid, but 2018 and the 2019 are near perfect.  I was pretty excited when I opened the 2018 Eleanor after bottling.  Additionally, the vintages differed, 2017 was a tough year to get ripe, there were some photosynthesis issues that vintage.  The 2018 vintage was a playbook vintage.  What is funny is that in the tasing room we would taste the 2017 and 2018 side by side and the verdict was a 50/50 split.  The 2017 was the fastest selling Eleanor we have produced, but the 2018 Eleanor is a critic’s favorite.

[TaV]: I understand that Caprio Cellars also supports a number of charities. What was the motivation behind this program? How do you decide what charities to support? 

[DM]: Giving is a part of my every day living, it is in my fabric as a human.  I created the phrase “give as you go”, this phrase is at the core of the purpose statement for my construction company.   It was only natural for me to carry this belief to Caprio when we started.  Caprio gives resources to many charities, mostly in the form of auction donations of wine and winemaker dinners.  The winemaker dinners are very popular and bring a large amount of funds to the charity.  Caprio focuses most monetary giving to First Story and Big Brother Big Sister.  My construction company founded First Story and it helps families that otherwise would not have a home to get a home of their own.  I have been a Big Brother for 18 years now and was on the board of directors, so it is a cause near and dear to me.

[TaV]: Last question is from the “how do they do it???” line. I understand that the wine tastings at Caprio Cellars are complementary. Not only that, but you also feed people! I read a number of discussions on professional wine forums with explanations that winery is a business and that literally how dare the wine lovers to expect their tasting to be complementary. And here is Caprio Cellars which does exactly that. So how do you do it and why? How is it working for you?

[DM]: I had no interest in opening a tasting room and charging a tasting fee.  It seems like our industry has evolved into that business model.  That model doesn’t make any sense to me.  I wanted to disrupt the industry and focus on hospitality and the customer.  Specifically focusing on the customer journey.  We held focus groups at the beginning with Joseph Michelli (NYT bestselling author and consultant) from the Michelli group.  Joseph believes that most businesses do not pay attention to their customers’ needs until it is too late in the customer journey.  The Caprio tasting experience is based on the equity theory, I do something nice for you and in return, you will do something nice for me.  The majority of the industry takes a tasting fee from the customer and gives it back “if you decide to buy”.  We are all adults here; I do not need to take your money and give it back.  I spent hours in other tasting rooms watching the customers sit in their group and have an agonizing group discussion on “how are we going to get out of here alive with our tasting fee”, discussions about you not liking the Syrah or him not liking the Chardonnay.  Why put your customer through this process?  At Caprio, we skip this pain point and we add the pleasure of a hand-crafted food pairing from our Executive Chef Ian Williams.  My grandmother Eleanor Caprio is to blame or credit for the food pairing, if she knew I invited you over for a glass of wine and I didn’t offer you food, she would be very disappointed in me.  The food program at Caprio was nonnegotiable when we opened, it is part of our program and a distinguishing advantage to our experience.  Here is the punch line, if you like the food and wine pairing, we ask you to purchase a couple of additional bottles of Caprio to pay it forward to the next guest in our care.  So far it is working out well and the ecosystem is taking care of itself, it is a beautiful thing, but somebody had to have the guts to try it.

Here we are, my friends. A wonderful story of passion, good wine, and a unique business approach. If your travel will bring you to Walla Walla, Caprio Cellars should be on your visit list. And if your travel will not bring you to Walla Walla … change your travel plans! Cheers!

 

The Next World Class Wine Frontier: Desert Wine

October 23, 2021 2 comments

Can you think of a desert? Even if you never visited one, and only saw them in the movies or read about them in the books, I’m sure the image readily jumps to the head. Sand. Heat. Hot air. Wind. More sand. More heat. More wind. Maybe a half-dried cactus. I’m sure that the luscious greens of a healthy vineyard are not part of that image.

Meanwhile, every desert has an oasis. If there is water, nothing stops beautiful greens from prospering in the desert. Desert doesn’t mean only heat. It is hot during the day, but cold during the night – and the diurnal shift – the difference between the hottest and coldest temperatures during the day – is beneficial for all the plants. If you are into the wine, I’m sure you heard of the importance of the diurnal shift to help build flavor in the grapes. And if we are talking about grapes, let me mention yet another benefit of the dry, arid air – it helps to avoid many diseases in the vineyard, such as mildew.

Let me ask you another question. Have you tried desert wines? The wines produced in the vineyards surrounded by desert? Before you will be quick to say “no”, I will ask you to think again. If you had wines from Argentina or Chile, there is a very good chance those wines came from the desert vineyards – Leyda Valley and the Atacama in Chile are nothing but desert; Uco Valley, Salta and overall large portions of Mendoza in Argentina are nothing but the desert. So yes, I believe you have. And today I want to bring to your attention yet another example of desert wines, these ones coming from the US – Aridus Wine Company in Arizona.

Source: Aridus Wine Company

Source: Aridus Wine Company

Aridus (Latin for dry or arid) started from purchasing 40 acres of land on Turkey Creek in the southeast corner of the Arizona state in the foothills of Chiricahua Mountain, at an elevation of 5,200 feet.

In 2012, Aridus opened its cellar doors, after refurbishing an old 28,000 sq. ft. apple warehouse (it was done so well that in 2014 Aridus was honored with the Design Excellence award for sustainability). The Aridus wines were made with the grapes brought from the vineyards in Arizona, New Mexico, and California; the cellar also served as a custom crush facility. Interestingly enough, this is not my first encounter with Aridus – back in 2014, while attending my first wine bloggers conference in Santa Barbara, I had 2013 Aridus Viognier presented during the speed tasting session, which was my first time tasting a wine from Arizona – and it was a very impressive wine.

Aridus started planting white grapes at its estate vineyard in 2015, with the first estate harvest taking place in 2017. The red grapes were planted from 2017 through 2020, and Aridus is planning to gradually increase the proportion of the wines made exclusively from the estate fruit every year. The plantings currently include Malvasia Bianca, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Tempranillo, Petite Verdot, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Graciano, Petite Sirah, and Malbec, so nobody needs to worry about the range of Aridus estate wines.

Lisa Strid, who just celebrated her 5th year as the Aridus winemaker, definitely appreciates the unique challenges of working at the desert winery. Finding rattlesnakes, owls, roadrunners, hawks, and javelinas on the crash pad might be the least of her problems. Monsoons, strong rains and winds which run seasonally from mid-June through mid-September, represent a much bigger issue, as they have the potential to inflict a lot of damage on the grapes, especially when rain also comes with the hail.

But – it might be all well worth it as long as you can produce good wines. Based on the two wines I tasted, these desert vineyards deserve the full attention of wine lovers.

First, I was blown away by the Sauvignon Blanc – here are my notes:

2020 Aridus Sauvignon Blanc Arizona (12.6% ABV, $28)
Straw pale
White peach, guava, intense, round, inviting
Beautiful bright tropical fruit on the palate, fresh, crisp, good acidity, generous
8, this is summer in the bottle. New World Sauvignon Blanc “in your face”. “I’m bright, I’m beautiful, and you know that”.

Then the Aridus Malbec was perfectly on point:

2019 Aridus Malbec American (13.6% ABV, $36, 95% Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot, 15 months in French oak barrels, New Mexico fruit)
Dark garnet, almost black
Cassis, a hint of bell pepper, iodine, a touch of minerality
More cassis on the palate, both berries and leaves, soft, velvety, crisp acidity, long finish
8, excellent

Thinking about analogies, both wines are perfectly New World in style, without going overboard and losing their balance. The Sauvignon Blanc was somewhere between Californian and Chilean renditions with all of its bright fruit – yes, if you are craving the restraint of Cloudy Bay, this is not your wine – but if you want to simply brighten up your day, that would be a perfect pick.

And the Aridus Malbec was reminiscent of the best mountain desert Malbecs from Argentina – Amalaya, Casarena, and many others, again, fresh and well balanced.

Will the desert wines be the next rave? I’m bad at predictions, so I really can’t tell you that. But you are welcome to try answering this question on your own simply by finding the bottle of Aridus wine and giving it a try. Once you do, let’s compare notes. Cheers!

A Weekend With Friends

September 27, 2021 2 comments

Here I am, going over the options in my head. I can just start this post like everything is cool. Or I can start it with a little whining about the past. Like the life as we knew it before 2020. The year which didn’t exist. Which continues “not existing” well into this very 2021. Anyone has a time machine to go and fix it all? We don’t need to go far…

Yes, I strive normal. The life as it was. And this past weekend, this is exactly what I had.

For the past 10 years, we have had a tradition with friends – adults’ getaway. It was born out of the need to get away from the kids, to feel ourselves the adults without the need to constantly taking care of someone. Visit a winery, have a great dinner, play some games until everyone is really tired, have more fun the next day, come home recharged. Simple.

Last year was the first time in 10 years when we felt that adults’ getaway was not in the cards. But this year, the spontaneous decision was made not to lose another year to the stupid crap, and the getaway was planned.

We always go to the small towns around the east coast, trying to stay within 3 hours of driving distance from Stamford, CT. As I started writing this post, I decided to check what places we visited over this years. It turns out that this was our 10th trip, skipping 2011 (if 2011 was not skipped, I have zero records of that), and 2020. In 2010, this all started in Milford, Pennsylvania. In 2012, we continued to Grafton, Vermont. In 2013, we stayed in Palenville, New York, with the visit to Hudson Distillery being an absolute highlight. In 2014, it was Norfolk, Connecticut, and then we continued on to Cooperstown, New York in 2015, Greenville, New York in 2016, Lenox, Massachusetts in 2017, then Kenneth Square, Pennsylvania in 2018, and West Yarmouth on Cape Cod in Massachusetts in 2019 (as you can tell by the absence of the links, I failed to properly document some of our adventures).

That brings us to the year 2021, where our spontaneously decided destination was once again the Berkshire mountains region of Massachusetts, and our home base for the weekend been at Harbour House Inn and B&B in Cheshire, Massachusetts. But our first stop on the way was at the Balderdash Cellars winery in Richmond, Massachusetts. It was a random pick – the winery was conveniently located along the way, about 30 minutes away from our final destination, but then it was definitely a lucky strike.

The note on Balderdash Cellars website said that reservations are unnecessary and not taken – this sounded really good especially with the latest trend where you can’t just walk into the winery for a tasting (I get the business side of it, but I’m not a fan). Another interesting thing about the winery is that Balderdash Cellars brings the grapes from California (grapes, not juice), and then they make their wines right on premises, including all of the aging (some of the reds age for 2 years).

We arrived pretty much by the time the winery just opened its tasting room (at noon), and we were the first there. You can get a tasting flight of 5 wines, a glass of wine, or a bottle, all from the current selection. The tasting flight is prepared for you in the neat tiny vessels, and then you can seat anywhere you like and taste at your own speed.

All the wines we tasted greatly exceeded my expectations. 2020 Balderdash Cellars Bao Bao Sauvignon Blanc (13.6% ABV, $29, 100% Stainless steel for 5 months, Napa Valley fruit) was perfectly on point – a touch of freshly cut grass, bright acidity, lemon notes, perfectly refreshing and delicious. 2017 Balderdash Cellars Til Death Do Us Part Viognier (14.3% ABV, $29, 75% French Oak, 25% stainless steel for 8 months, Paso Robles fruit) was possibly even more surprising. Viognier is a very tricky grape, you really need to do it right, especially when it comes from the warm climates. This wine was outstanding – beautiful perfume on the nose, tropical fruit, nicely plump and balanced palate.

2017 Balderdash Cellars Joyride Pinot Noir (14.4% ABV, $39, 100% French Oak aging for 18 months, Edna Valley fruit) was good, maybe a bit too sweet for my palate. However, 2019 Balderdash Cellars Invincible Cabernet Sauvignon (13.7% ABV, $37, 100% French Oak aging for 2 years, Napa Valley fruit) was simply outstanding – cassis and bell peppers on the nose, classic, unmistakable Cab with a lot of restraint, continuing with the same finesse on the palate – more cassis and bell peppers, all well balanced and harmonious. I would be happy to drink this wine at any time. Last but not least in the flight was 2019 Balderdash Cellars Brakelight Syrah (13.7% ABV, $37, 100% French Oak aging for 18 months, Sonoma fruit), which was also perfectly classic – beautiful black pepper all around, on the nose and on the palate, the nice core of the black and red fruit, delicious.

We also had a bonus taste of the 2020 Balderdash Cellars Kill Joy Late Harvest Viognier (12% ABV, $27, 100% neutral French oak, Edna Valley fruit) which was just outstanding – fresh ripe tropical fruit supported by clean lemon acidity, the element which makes or breaks any dessert wine, and this one was definitely made right.

I really wanted to try Truth Serum Petite Sirah as just the name sounds soooo intriguing, but the wine was sold out, unfortunately.

After tasting we moved from inside of the tasting room to find a nice sitting outside. The winery has stacks and stacks of red Adirondack chairs, my favorite type of chair, and we had no problems assembling a very comfortable sitting. We got a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon to continue, while we were waiting for the food truck to arrive at 1 pm (the winery offers different food options on the weekends). I also want to mention how professional the staff was at the winery – water was added to the ice in the bucket to chill our Sauvignon Blanc better. The foil was cut completely from the bottle before pulling out the cork – these are the little things that make your wine experience simply more enjoyable.

While the winery doesn’t offer vineyard views, they have rows of flowers instead. I love seeing all of the pictures of sunflowers from all the people around, but never really had an opportunity to take sunflower pictures before – until now. This flower field was boasting the sunflowers of more colors ever thought are possible in the sunflowers. Hence let me inundate you a bit here with these beauties:

Three hours later, we left now a very crowded winery to get to our destination – Harbour House Inn B&B. If I would have to describe Harbour House Inn in a few words, that would be “clean, large, spacious, and hospitable”. Hospitable is truly a keyword here – let me explain.

Saturday night dinner is the major attraction for our adults’ getaways, pièce de résistance if you will. We always put a lot of care into finding a restaurant that would be willing to accommodate our group and create a special tasting menu which we would pair with our own wines. On most of the trips we were able to create the arrangements like this, and a few times we were unable to bring our own wines and had the tasting dinner fully arranged by the restaurant. This time around, we couldn’t find a restaurant that would be willing to work with us in creating a tasting menu, and not everybody was even willing to accommodate our whole group for dinner. This is where our hosts, Brandi, Darrell, and Billie came to the rescue, allowing us to get the take-out from the restaurant, set up the dinner table with all the plates and glasses, and thus still have an experience of our traditional wine dinner.

When we arrived, the table was already set with the wines glasses and plates, and there was a fridge where we could stuff all of our white wines.

And here is the same table all set to start the dinner:

Those popocers… Yummmm!

We brought our dinner from the Mario’s Restaurant in New Lebanon, New York (about 30 minutes drive) which also exceeded our expectations. We arrived at 5 PM to pick up all the food. Everything was ready to go, no waiting at all, and all the food was piping hot, just made. The restaurant even included lots of delicious bread and top it all off, popovers, which were simply spectacular – I’m not a big fan of the popovers in general, but this was just something else – I would eat 5 of those by myself and have no regrets.

Now, let’s talk about wine and food. Our first dish was Prince Edward Isle Mussels (Pancetta, leek, roasted garlic, white wine, EVOO, crostini) which we paired with 2020 Bisol Jeio Millesimato Prosecco Rosé DOC. Prosecco Rosé is a hot category right now. As I’m mostly ambivalent to the Prosecco, this new category is also lost on me. However, when I was looking for the wines to pair with the dinner, and I wanted to start our dinner with bubbles, that bottle of Jeio Rosé looked very good – an opportunity to try a new (hot!) type of wine made by the reputable producer (I’m not ambivalent to Bisol wines – these are Prosecco wines in its own category). The Rosé didn’t disappoint – crisp, clean, tart, fresh – anything else you want from the sparkling wine? Yep, I thought so. It paired very well with the mussels which were a riot – lots and lots of flavor, delicious broth – I lost count to the amount of bread I consumed with the mussels.

Next, we had Rustic Beef and  Veal Grande Meatballs (San Marzano sauce, pesto, crostini) and Mushroom Beignet (Caps stuffed with garlic butter, dipped in a beignet batter, baked and topped with hollandaise sauce) which we paired with 2020 Notorious Pink Grenache Rosé Vin de France (100% Grenache). The meatballs were absolutely delicious, as well as the mushroom beignet. As far as the wine is concerned, we already had this Rosé at one of the previous dinners, and looking into my past notes I was equally unimpressed.

Next, we had Baby Arugula Salad (Farm fresh peaches, garden tomatoes, burrata, toasted pistachios, white balsamic vinaigrette) paired with 2019 Ninety Plus Cellars Aligoté Bourgogne AOC. Aligoté is yet another rave of the moment, gaining in popularity as an affordable white Burgundy. The wine was round and creamy and worked quite well with the salad.

For our “intermezzo” we decided to try something new and different – a “pasta” of zucchini – Zucchini “Noodles” (Roasted wild mushrooms and tomatoes, sweet corn, burrata, cheese, white wine, and garlic) paired with 2019 Thevenet & fils Les Clos Bourgogne AOC. The zucchini “noodles” were an absolute standout – amazing flavor and texture, delicious. The red Burgundy was very tart and light – while it was kind of okay with the dish, the pairing was not anything to write home about.

Then there were the entrées. First, we paired Pan Seared Sea Scallops (Risotto alla Milanese, sweet corn, chive beurre blanc) and Grilled Faroe Island Salmon (Maple and mustard glaze, hash of roasted potatoes, English peas, carrots, and scallions, fresh horseradish) with 2013 Montecillo Rioja Reserva DOC. Scallops and salmon were delicious in their own right, each dish being succulent and flavorful. The Rioja was simply superb – dark fruit, cedar box, herbs, perfectly balanced, round and velvety in the mouth – this was another most favorite wine of the dinner (the first one was Prosecco Rosé).

Last we had Pan Seared Duck Breast and Leg Confit (Chive mashed, cherry & port wine reduction, grilled asparagus) – melt in your mouth delicious, and succulent, generous, flavorful Red Wine Braised Short Rib (Roasted summer vegetables, chive mashed, red wine jus). These two dishes were paired with 2015 d’Arenberg The Laughing Magpie Shiraz Viognier McLaren Vale, which didn’t meet my expectations. Maybe the wine needed some time, but it really didn’t do anything for me.

The dessert was good, but after all of the food, nobody really cared about the dessert…

My next day started from the quiet early walk in the fog. Fog has a special ability to underscore the silence. And there is no better time of the day than a cool and quiet morning with a cup of hot coffee in your hand and the knowledge that the whole day is fully ahead of you.

Our breakfast (it is a B&B, remember?) consisted of freshly baked blueberry muffin, fresh fruit, and eggs Benedict casserole – an unusually creative dish, resembling the eggs Benedict without the need to properly poach the eggs for the large group of hungry guests.

We always like to include at least a bit of the hiking into our trips, so our first stop after we left the Inn was at the old marble quarry repurposed into the nature park. Lots of steps and some beautiful views:

We then went to the cheese shop along Berkshire cheese trail where we were hoping to taste some cheese – unfortunately, this was a cheese shop at the functional dairy farm, but no cheese to taste, only to buy.

We ended our day with a late lunch at Pera Mediterranean Bistro in Williamstown before starting the drive home.

Here we are – another adults’ getaway became history, but I’m already craving the next one.

 

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