Jennilyn, Rick and I just returned from a 10- day trip to Northern California. We started in Lake County and slowly traveled throughout Napa and finished in Livermore Valley.
The California wine industry is as rocking as recent sales prove. Every region was diverse and unique in its own way. At the highest end, we tasted some world class Cabernet Sauvignon. We believe it is incredibly useful to know who is making the wine and where exactly the wine is coming from. It was a truly invaluable experience.
Scroll down for a day by day detailed breakdown of what we hope becomes an annual educational wine tasting trip to the West Coast.
– Steve Pollack, National Sales Director
Clay and Steve tasting for quality.
We met with Clay Shannon at Shannon Ridge, who in my opinion, is the King of High Valley. It was great to kick off the trip with a few days in the beautiful wilderness of rolling vineyards with an old friend. I tasted a number of excellent wines: First up was the 2018 Sauvignon Blanc. It has bright acidity, with notes of green and yellow fruits, refreshing stone and mineral. It was pure and polished. Next up was Red Hills, one of the newer AVA’s. Its name comes from the richly red soils that are filled with volcanic ash from the volcano that sits just below in Clear Lake. The Cabernet produced here show red berry fruits, cassis, licorice and hints of anise. It’s beautifully balanced and filled with dusty tannin. Having over 2,000 acres under vine, you can spend a week just traveling around site seeing and taking it all in. I also tasted a higher end brand line called Ovis, which is Latin for sheep. It’s an homage to the sheep that help control the crops and weeds in the vineyards. These are single vineyard estate grown varietal wines that prove the depth and richness this region is capable of at a retail price of $30.
Sunday morning we packed up and headed to St Helena in Napa. We checked into our hotel than got picked up by Craig Handly from Gibbs Cellars. Craig took us to his wine tasting room where we tasted his estate wines called Gibbs Cellars. We also tasted a concept brand called Sendall from cabernet grapes sourced from the Red Hills AVA in Lake County. Rich and ripe with great depth and balanced oak integration, the wines under the Gibbs Cellars estate grown labels were exceptional. The Sendall Cabernet Sauvignon was plush with strawberry cassis, licorice, and sweet cherry liqueur.
Next stop was Healdsburg in Sonoma County to taste some wine at Passalacqua Vineyards with Jason Passalacqua and Jessica Boone, the winemaker. We were fortunate to sit in and actually watch Jessica display her craft. We tasted many different wines and finalized a few to take to market.
Jessica Boone performing the art of blending.
John Healy, Rick, Jen, Steve, and Allen Lombardi drying off after a rainy night in Lodi.
At 2 pm, in a rainstorm, we drove to Lodi about 118 miles east of Sonoma to Thomas Allen Winery to taste with Allen Lombardi and John Healy. John Healy and I go back many years in the industry. He has been an invaluable resource in helping Legacy in a Glass launch on a national stage. After a quick 2-hour meeting, we headed back to Napa in a rainstorm. Fortunately, my business partner, Rick, is comfortable driving in any weather or situation. Thanks, Rick!
Marcum the dog cozying up to Trujilo Vineyard’s outstanding 2015 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.
Tuesday morning, we stopped at Raymond Vineyards to meet the winemakers Brian Maloney and Stephanie Putnam. If you ever get the chance to travel to Napa Valley, Raymond Vineyards should be on your list. With its Red Velvet room that is as classy as it gets to the Theater of Nature, a 2- acre educational exhibit concentrating on biodynamic farming, it’s a cross between a theme park and a winery. There’s also a room you can make your own wine to purchase. It’s an adventure in itself. Then we met with two winemakers who work in the category of California Cult wines: Michael Trujillo, formerly president and winemaker at Sequoia Grove Winery, and Mark Herold, who made one of the first California Cult wines back in the late 90’s called Merus. Both men were down to earth and filled with personality and passion. The wines from Trujillo were spectacular; 2015 and 2016 were 95+ point wines in my opinion. 2015 showed depth, ripe fruits of blueberry, black cherry, licorice, violets, vanilla and ripe velvety tannin. While 2016 was powerful and young with beautiful fruit and oak integration. This wine showed anise, blueberry and graphite cherry pie filling and toasty oak tannin. They were a perfect example of how wines are different from vintage to vintage.
Mark Herold is a big man brawny man of at least 6’5” in height, and his wines are the same. His two small productions of high end Cabernets were show stoppers. His 2016 Coombsville Cabernet Sauvignon were layered and creamy on the palate. It was dense and chewy showing cherry cassis, and it finished with notes of cherry and velvety full tannin (94 points). The top wine in his portfolio is an 2016 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine was layered with cherry and blackberry jam, black licorice, bitter chocolate and cocoa dust. Tannins were full and grippy but very integrated into this muscular gem (94+ points).
Steve, Don Baker, and Shahin Shahabi tasting some new blends.
After a restful night, we visited Shahin Shahabi and Don Baker (winemaker) of Stonehedge and Havens wines. These are two of the nicest people I have met in the business. Don Baker, a mild mannered and somewhat quiet person, is the polar opposite of the style of the fierce and bold wines he makes that are ripe fruit, big oak and tannin yet surprisingly polished. We tasted through a number of his wines and they all showed very well. A wine that stole my attention was a Pinot Noir from the Spring Mountain District in the hills of Napa. The Spring Mountain District isn’t known for making high quality Pinot Noir, but this wine was filled with cherry, plum, rose petal and violets with a touch of leather and crayon wax notes (93 points). It was very memorable!
Tony Leonardini of BNA Wine Group.
On Thursday we traveled to a bottling facility in Napa to meet Tony Leonardini, a volunteer firefighter and winemaker, who owns BNA Wine Group. This was our first meeting in person and he looks just like his father Tom Leonardini of Whitehall Lane. We tasted his Butternut Brand, which were all very good and price pointed to sell a lot of cases. The Chardonnay is buttery and rich with toasted pineapple and pear. The Pinot Noir was cherry and plum filled with balanced oak and acid. He also gave us a bird’s eye view into the bottling line. A portable bottling truck or back of a tractor trailer equipped with a bottling line was a site to see.
Next up was a meeting at Appellation Trading Company with Charles Bartlett. It was great to stop by and see Charles and taste some of his new projects. We tasted a Sauvignon Blanc called SOB (Son of Blanc), which was very refreshing with peach and mango, white grapefruit with lemon and crisp acid. After a late dinner we headed to Livermore Valley to spend a few days with Steven Mirassou.
Days 7 & 8
We spent the first afternoon having lunch and blind tasting some wines at Uncle Yu’s at the Vineyard, a chinese restaurant. If you ever get to Livermore, I highly recommend going there to eat. The food and wine list are outstanding. The next morning, we met at Steven Kent Winery and watched Steven blend some Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. We lent our palates to develop the final blend.
The afternoon at Uncle Yu’s.
Steven Mirassou in the lab.
The final day was very special. We drove to San Francisco to meet with an investment group who invited Legacy in a Glass to taste some wines from a recent purchase of a winery in South Africa. I was familiar with the brand and the wines showed very well. We presented some ideas on how to relaunch the brand in the US market and discussed the story that needs to be developed. We finished our trip having dinner at a Michelin star restaurant called Mourad, a Moroccan restaurant with a California twist. We had a 2016 Robert Groffier Chambolle Musigny Premier Cru, a stunning Burgundy. It paired well with lamb shoulder and braised short ribs. We finished with a 2002 Chateau Montrose that was nothing less than outstanding. It had notes of cedar with antique dust, soft cherry and sweet spice, velvety and pure.