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Saintsbury vintner Richard Ward dies at 67

Tue, 30 May 2017 22:54:10 UT

Richard Ward, co-founder of Saintsbury winery and pioneer of Napa Valley Pinot Noir, died Saturday from complications after a 13-year battle with cancer. With his business partner, David Graves, Mr. Ward was among the early advocates for Burgundy grape varieties in Carneros, the cool-climate area in southern Napa Valley. Before moving to California to study enology at UC Davis, he earned a structural engineering degree from Tufts University. The following year, the two were housemates while working harvest at Chappellet and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in Napa, making — what else? — Cabernet Sauvignon. [...] their love of Burgundy called to them, and they saw hope for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in California in the cool-climate Sanford & Benedict Vineyard in Santa Barbara County, according to an interview Graves gave to Wine Spectator. In 1981 — two years before Carneros would be named an American Viticultural Area — the academically minded pair founded their winery, naming it for literary scholar and wine lover George Saintsbury. (His 1920 work, “Notes on a Cellar-Book,” is considered one of the great pieces of wine criticism in history.) While purchasing top-quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes from neighboring Carneros vineyards, the pair also produced a value-priced Pinot brand called Garnet, which they sold in 2011 to refocus efforts on their higher-end bottlings. Like Saintsbury himself, Mr. Ward was a man of many passions and pursuits: an avid reader, a dedicated gardener, a lover of music, travel and history with insatiable curiosity. The family requests that those who would like to honor Mr. Ward donate blood, join the National Bone Marrow Registry or make a donation to the fund in his name at the Carneros art center Di Rosa.

The Dogpatch winery that is making synthetic wine

Thu, 4 May 2017 21:46:58 UT

[...] according to the government, it isn’t a winery. The startup, housed in a Dogpatch warehouse, produces synthetic wine: a petri-dish cocktail of ethanol, water, sugar and various chemical compounds, made not in a vineyard but in a lab. “We could make a Cab here that smells like a Moscato d’Asti,” says Alec Lee, a co-founder of Ava, as he takes me through the lab. The lab is divided into two rooms: one for data collection, one for data execution. In the first, samples of “real” wine are put through machines that perform gas and liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry to isolate and identify their chemical makeup. At $2.7 million, the lead investor in Ava’s seed round was Horizons Ventures, a Hong Kong venture firm that is also a major funder of Impossible Foods, of plant-based burger fame, and Modern Meadow, which biofabricates leather. Both Impossible Foods and Modern Meadow are proposing solutions to a fairly obvious issue: the ethics of how we use animals. [...] displayed behind a glass case, was Mike Grgich’s famous 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, winner of the Judgment of Paris. [...] they’re tackling Moscato. Synthetic wine would seem at odds with the belief systems of many sommeliers, and ironically, Decolongon had worked at a natural wine bar before joining Ava. “Going into this project I was scared of revealing it to my wine friends,” says Decolongon, who holds a sommelier certification and a level 4 diploma from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust. Lee talks about creating the ultimate delicious flavor profile — what he calls “digitally optimizing wines.” Is this Moscato, saccharine and untoned, what Americans want to drink? “There’s a snobbery in wine that doesn’t correspond with people’s actual taste,” he says. Ava can use an estimated 10 to 100 times less water than a traditional winery would, for starters, but the larger environmental issue is climate change. [...] Ava makes the case for replicating wines — re-creating and sharing specific, famous bottles like the 1973 Montelena. The goal will never be to make counterfeit wines — not pretending to be the ‘Mona Lisa,’ but printing ‘Mona Lisa’ posters. Eventually, Lee and Chua want to create synthetic versions of other luxury food products that, like wine, are resource-intensive, geographically limited and expensive. With just one wine expert on staff, I wonder if Ava can’t understand that the whole reason why people like me like wine in the first place is because it conveys a sense of place in a nuanced and mysterious way — we love it because we can’t fully understand it.

CIA at Copia revives Mondavis’ vision for Napa

Thu, 23 Feb 2017 18:00:00 UT

The name change reflects its current owners, the Culinary Institute of America, which acquired the property in late 2015 with an eye to freeing up space for its academic programs at its Greystone campus in St. Helena. The revived center offers daily cooking and wine-themed classes, a tasting showcase of local wineries that will rotate wineries every three months, a retail shop, and a redesigned, “more welcoming” restaurant, according to CIA Provost Mark Erickson. Coming later this year, he added, will be two free galleries: the Chuck Williams Culinary Museum, devoted to the collection of the late founder of Williams-Sonoma, and the Wine Hall of Fame. Perched atop a 75-foot tower, “Is That Bob & Margrit?” depicts a couple raising their wineglasses, while the massive “Fork” at the entrance to the Restaurant at CIA Copia uses 8,500 recycled forks to herald sustainability and the farm-to-table movement. When it closed, people thought it was a failed vision, but it wasn’t — it was just a distraction for the time. ...

Constellation buys brands from Washington vintner for $120 million

Mon, 17 Oct 2016 18:16:47 UT

Beverage giant Constellation Brands has agreed to purchase several wine brands from Charles Smith, the Washington state wine entrepreneur, for $120 million. Syrah, Eve Chardonnay and Chateau Smith Cabernet Sauvignon. Smith will retain K Vintners, Wines of Substance, ViNO, Casa Smith, SIXTO, B. Leighton and Charles & Charles — a total annual production of about 350,000 cases. For a fixed term, he’ll continue to advise Constellation on the wines’ production. Constellation says retail sales of the $12 white wine grew 45 percent last year. The transaction is the latest in a string of high-profile acquisitions by Constellation, which appears to be bullish on the premium-price sector of wines.

Frosé arrives in San Francisco

Fri, 30 Sep 2016 17:22:06 UT

[...] . The Palm House in San Francisco has announced that during the month of October, it will hold Frosé Sundays, which will involve the Palm House Frosé Cocktail, made with rosé, thyme, strawberry purée, lemon juice and rum ($9.75). If you're after a more pure-rosé vibe, you might jaunt over to Willa Jean in New Orleans, where the Frosé Y'all cocktail incorporates rosé from the reputable winery Mas de Daumas Gassac, in the Languedoc region of southern France. Blended simply with ice and simple syrup, it's a frosé for those who really want to taste the rosé. According to a statement from the restaurant, $1 of each $9.75 cocktail sold will be "donated to breast cancer awareness."

Despite fraud charges, Charles Banks still in wine business

Wed, 14 Sep 2016 23:26:05 UT

The arrest last week of prominent winery investor Charles Banks on fraud charges has called into question the fate of his California wine empire. A federal grand jury indicted Banks in Texas Friday for allegedly defrauding former pro basketball player Tim Duncan, whom he had long served as a financial adviser. Later that day, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a complaint against Banks on related charges in federal court in Atlanta. Duncan’s money went into Terroir Capital, an investment vehicle that consists of two funds, one for wineries and one for hotels, and in a sports merchandising company, Gameday Entertainment, where Banks is a part owner and the chairman of the board. [...] the Terroir funds, which Banks founded and still runs as managing partner, are conspicuously absent from the indictment and the similar complaint from the SEC. Terroir Capital has stakes worth an estimated $200 million in California wineries including Mayacamas, Wind Gap and Qupé. Would Terroir go bankrupt, forced to sell its share in the wineries? “Tim Duncan settled all of his claims with Terroir (recently), and he actually remains an investor,” said Kevin McGee, Terroir’s chief operating officer. A joint motion filed in U.S. District Court in Colorado on June 27 confirms that Duncan and Banks settled the claims in arbitration. The terms of the settlement are not public, but both Wells and McGee said that Duncan’s stake in Terroir remains the same as it was before he took any legal action. “We’re separate and not affected by what happens” in court, said Bob Lindquist, founder and part owner of Qupé in Santa Maria Valley, in which Terroir took a majority share in 2013. Coupled with Duncan’s lawsuit, the news of the Sandhi divestment raised questions for some in the wine industry about whether Banks’ business was as sound as it once seemed. “There was never any dispute,” Parr said, claiming that he wanted to bring Sandhi under the same umbrella as his and Moorman’s other winery, Domaine de la Côte. If Banks is found guilty, he’d be forced to pay considerable penalties; his personal financial woes could force him to sell some or all of his stake in the fund, thereby affecting the overall health of Terroir.

Pioneering Napa Valley matriarch Margrit Mondavi dies at 91

Sat, 3 Sep 2016 03:42:00 UT

Margrit Mondavi, the matriarch of the iconic Robert Mondavi Winery and a stalwart patron of the arts in Northern California, died on Friday. If her husband, Robert Mondavi, who died in 2008, deserves credit for revolutionizing Napa’s wine industry, Ms. Mondavi deserves just as much for transforming the valley into a paradise of cultural sophistication. Under her direction, Robert Mondavi Winery became something of an artistic hub in the valley, its Summer Music Festival drawing the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles and Tony Bennett and its Great Chefs Cooking School hosting Alice Waters, Daniel Boulud and — most notably — the Mondavis’ lifelong friend Julia Child, who co-founded with Robert the American Institute for Wine and Food. Other philanthropic efforts included patronage of the Napa art institution the Oxbow School; launching the now-defunct art and wine museum Copia; and, thanks to a $35 million gift in 2001, endowing a performing arts center and a wine and food science center at UC Davis. During World War II, she met U.S. Army Capt. Philip Biever, who was stationed near the finishing school where she was studying art, at Lake Geneva. [...] Robert Mondavi was married to Marjorie Declusin, his childhood sweetheart and the mother of their three children, Michael, Marcia and Tim. An accomplished artist and passionate gourmet, Ms. Mondavi wrote books including Annie and Margrit: Recipes and Stories From the Robert Mondavi Kitchen, with her daughter Annie Roberts, published in 2003. In lieu of flowers, the Mondavi family asks that donations be sent to the Oxbow School, 530 Third St., Napa, CA 94559 or the American Cancer Society, 860 Napa Valley Corporate Way, Suite E, Napa, CA 94558.

By the numbers: California wine’s place in the world

Sat, 13 Aug 2016 07:01:00 UT

There’s no question that California leads this country’s wine production — certainly in quantity and, this newspaper would argue, also in quality. [...] although California wine production has grown more than 60 percent in the past 20 years, the United States as a whole has grown even more dramatically, producing 75 percent more wine in 2015 than in 1995. In 2015, Chardonnay represented 16.4 percent of all grapes vinified in California, with 633,572 tons crushed. Twenty-one percent of all wines sold in U.S. food stores last year were Chardonnays; the next-most-popular was Cabernet Sauvignon, at just 14 percent. Compare barrel-fermented versions with wines that see only stainless steel; wines that undergo buttery malolactic fermentation versus wines that maintain a crisp, tart acidity; bright, juicy versions that were pressed immediately versus intense, exotic Chardonnays made with skin contact. The accomplishments of his winery before his death in 2008 were in wine style and quality, certainly — his 1966 Fume Blanc was among the first dry table wines produced in Napa’s modern era, for example — but also in presenting California wines to a global audience. Of the 138 AVAs recognized by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau as geographically distinctive regions for grape growing, three are new since the beginning of 2015: There are only three wineries within the AVA, but more than 50 producers — including Paul Hobbs, Joseph Swan and Kale Wines — source fruit grown there. “Our Cabernets are more austere than the lush Cabernets you get from Napa,” says Mary Lou Marek, of Fountaingrove’s Rincon Grade Winery. The area is warmer than many other North Coast growing regions, but its cooler nights, thanks to its proximity to the San Francisco Bay, create a nice diurnal shift. “People want to know where their food, and that includes wine, comes from,” says Susan Captain of Lamorinda’s Captain Vineyards in Moraga.

Five wine country estates where you can pair wine and exercise

Sat, 13 Aug 2016 07:01:00 UT

Comstock Wines Estate Vineyards conveniently pairs the two with Yoga in the Vines. Can you do Downward Dog while sipping Sauvignon Blanc? Extended Puppy with Pinot Noir, or Cow Face with Chardonnay?  

First Uncorked: San Francisco festival comes to Metreon

Wed, 22 Jun 2016 17:08:37 UT

First Uncorked: A VIP hour starts at 1 p.m. that includes a few special wine selections, followed by a general admission session that runs from 2 to 5 p.m. A second general admission session is from 6 to 9 p.m. Food will be sold separately by El Porteno, Cheese Plus, Rainy Day Chocolates, First Crush Restaurant, Tamales La Oaxaquena, Drake’s Bay Oysters and the Grilled Cheese Guy. A portion of the proceeds go to the San Francisco Yellow Bike Project, a nonprofit organization whose volunteers refurbish bicycles for reuse in the city. The festival is also hosted in other cities, and there are already plans to return for Uncorked:

What to drink at BottleRock

Thu, 26 May 2016 00:00:50 UT

The festival features just a small selection of the valley’s bottles, so you’d be wise to carve out some time outside of the festival to visit some wineries on your own — but in general the caliber of drinking here is much higher than at your typical music festival. Start with some bubbly Forecasts suggest it may be in the 80s this weekend — in which case I’ll be drinking the crisp, refreshing sparkling wines of Calistoga’s Schramsberg all day. Look for Blackbird’s 2015 rosé, made from Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Etude’s 2015 rosé, meanwhile, is all Pinot Noir. St. Supery will be pouring their 2011 Petit Verdot — a more herbal, savory alternative to the valley’s signature wine, Cabernet Sauvignon.

Donn Chappellet, pioneering Napa vintner, dies

Tue, 24 May 2016 22:54:37 UT

Donn Chappellet, who founded Chappellet winery in 1967 and built it into one of Napa’s most acclaimed brands, died on Sunday of natural causes. According to Mr. Chappellet’s son Cyril, he died “completely peacefully” at his home, alongside his family. Mr. Chappellet’s lasting achievement was not only to bring his own winery to greatness, but also to establish Pritchard Hill, the slope on which his property lies, as a sought-after area for grape-growing. In a very unusual move, Mr. Chappellet — who preceded his current neighbors, including Colgin, Ovid, Continuum and Bryant, by at least 25 years — trademarked Pritchard Hill, never allowing it to become an official American Viticultural Area. In 1954, after graduating from college, he founded Interstate United Corp., a distributor of vending machines that produced hot coffee on demand. A methodical businessman, Mr. Chappellet built Interstate United into a nationally traded stock with 7,000 employees. An avid collector of Bordeaux and Burgundy, Mr. Chappellet decided that the highest potential lay in the Napa Valley, and in hillside vineyards. With the help of his family and wisely chosen staff — a few of whom have now been with the winery for 47 years — the Chappellet winery thrived, in quality and business alike. All of Donn and Molly Chappellet’s six children have worked at the winery, and Cyril was named chairman in 2013. “We have the business structured in such a way that no one family member could ever radically change the ownership,” Cyril said. Standing 6 feet 4 inches and not particularly social, Mr. Chappellet much preferred one-on-one interactions to large groups, often leaving Molly to take one of their sons as her date to wine-industry functions.

Influential wine organization In Pursuit of Balance to cease operations

Mon, 23 May 2016 17:53:28 UT

Influential wine organization In Pursuit of Balance to cease operations In Pursuit of Balance (IPOB), a nonprofit organization of California wineries who champion a restrained style of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, has announced that it will cease operations at the end of 2016. “There’s so much energy and excitement around IPOB,” said Jasmine Hirsch, who co-founded the organization with Rajat Parr. On the one hand, it maybe seems strange to close it now, but we also really feel like the conversation in California has changed. The demands of running a nonprofit, Hirsch said, were becoming unrealistic. Hirsch, who runs her family’s Hirsch Vineyards on the Sonoma Coast, and Parr, the longtime wine director for Michael Mina’s restaurants and owner of the Santa Barbara wineries Sandhi and Domaine de la Cote, established IPOB in 2011. The idea was simple: to hold tastings, both for trade and for consumers, featuring a group of like-minded California wineries who produce wines that embody a principle of “balance.” The tastings, held in several different cities each year, would aim to generate a larger conversation. In the context of IPOB, the term was often interpreted to mean wines that are lower in alcohol and higher in acid — a much-needed departure, the group believed, from the boozier, flabbier style of wine that had dominated California for decades prior. Today, the equation of alcohol and acid can feel like the only conversation within the wine industry. The visibility and influence that IPOB managed to achieve is perhaps unprecedented for a roaming tasting event. [...] its promotion of restrained-styled wines coincided with other thought leaders, like writers and sommeliers, celebrating lower alcohol levels. Critics of the group accused it of attacking other styles of wines; of co-opting the principle of “balance,” which, many asserted, is much more complicated than alcohol and acid; of becoming a cool-kids club who only scratched the backs of their friends. The wine critic Robert Parker once famously referred to their like as the “anti-flavor wine elite.” There has never been a maximum-alcohol requirement, she insists; the wines have always been chosen by blind tasting. [...] to the extent that IPOB has become a stand-in term for wines of restraint, Hirsch is not bothered: “We are champions of that movement.” “San Francisco is where we got started, and where we feel is the right place to end,” Hirsch said. Stay tuned for more news about that tasting, and further thoughts on IPOB’s legacy.

S.F.’s Volta introduces aquavit to American palates

Wed, 18 May 2016 21:49:13 UT

To the American palate, aquavit can seem like one of those austere, unfriendly, searingly boozy spirits beloved by people in some exotic place — but bewildering to us in the land of Coca-Cola. (See also: raki, grappa, shochu.) Not helping its case in America is the fact that the 40-ish percent ABV spirit is meant to be served as a snaps — sipped from a shot glass neat, never on the rocks. Which is why Staffan Terje, the chef and co-owner of Volta restaurant, was surprised to learn that there was a growing chorus of American distilleries producing aquavit. [...] aquavit would play a role, but shockingly little of the spirit is imported from Scandinavia. Aquavit is produced by flavoring a neutral spirit, such as grain alcohol or potato vodka, with spices, herbs and fruits, typically caraway and dill seed. The add-ons are a free-for-all in Scandinavian countries, but the U.S. mandates that anything labeled “aquavit” must include caraway. Terje features several selections from one of his favorite producers, Old Ballard Liquor Co. in Seattle, whose Alskar ($8/glass) is citrus-dominant, like a less cloying version of Absolut Citron. The restaurant’s exceptional Herring x 5 ($19), which features five preparations of herring, calls for a range of aquavit styles: maybe the Ovrevann ($9) from Duluth, Minn.’s Vikre distillery (subtle, delicate, but with a light smokiness) with the white vinegar-pickled herring, then something barrel-aged, like Vikre’s warm-spiced Voyageur ($10), with the heavier herrings in madras curry and with dijon mustard. Part of his tradition, too, is “eating and drinking for a long time”; Terje describes parties where dessert is served at 10 p.m., then stomachs settle for some steak tartare after midnight. If after all this you’re still not game for sipping liquor out of a shot glass, you might consider the Volta! cocktail ($12) your gateway. Made with carrot juice, honey, lemon and Volta’s house-infused aquavit (caraway, dill seed, Douglas fir, juniper), it’s a deftly balanced drink, tasting neither like too-sweet fruit juice nor like a juice cleanse. If Volta’s customers are willing to try five different preserved herrings, will they go for aquavit? “It’s definitely an acquired taste,” I heard more than one person remark euphemistically at the bar on a recent evening. Terje says that even Swedes are beer drinkers at heart, now mostly drinking aquavit on festive occasions.

Garagiste Wine Festival features renegade wineries

Tue, 17 May 2016 23:34:34 UT

Garagiste Wine Festival features renegade wineries The Garagiste Wine Festival, launched in Paso Robles in 2011, is finally getting some northern exposure as it uncorks its first event in Oakland. Named after the American “garagiste” wine movement — a term first used in the Bordeaux region of France to criticize small-lot winemakers working in their garages, who were considered renegades for “breaking the rules” of traditional winemaking — the festival is expected to feature more than 20 varietals poured by 32 artisan wineries from Northern California and Central California.