Drink from the Comptrollers Cup at Catoctin Breeze Vineyard

Each year the Maryland Wineries Association holds a state competition now named the Comptrollers Cup that is a blind tasting historically judged by fellow winemakers. This year other industry professionals such as sommeliers joined the panels and the Best in Show winner was a winery that I belong to their wine club: Catoctin Breeze Vineyard and their 2016 Estate Cabernet Franc.

Catoctin Breeze is located north of Frederick Maryland on Route 15 between Thurmont and Emmitsburg.  It was founded in 2010 when Voytek Leon Fizyta planted two blocks of vines along a hill slightly east of the Catoctin Mountains. These blocks consisted of Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Viognier.  The well-draining, loose, alluvial soil contains some quartz deposits which assist in preventing frost prevention as well as the ripening of fruit.  The estate also receives a consistent breeze from Owen’s Gap – keeping the vines ventilated helping to prevent mold formation – which is also limited by abundant morning sun. Today there are 7,000 vines carefully maintained by Vineyard Manager, Larry Sipe. The winery also augments their portfolio with fruit grown from a vineyard in St. Mary’s Maryland – a sandy coastal region.

Visitors are normally either touring wineries or taking side trips after visiting Liberty Mountain Resort, Cunningham Falls State Park, or the Catoctin Zoo and are offered three tasting packages: Signature ($10), Premier ($12), or Sweet ($8) – the later including three Mead wines.  I generally prefer the Premier tasting as it usually includes wines available in the wine club. In my previous visits this has included different vintages of the Serenade Sauvignon Blanc ($24), Estate Chardonnay ($24), Estate Cabernet Franc ($36) , Concerto Bordeaux Blend ($35), and the Oratorio Barbera ($38). As you can tell, the brands have a classical music theme. The Comptrollers Cup 2016 Estate Cabernet Franc is a treat and while sampling you can view the actual cup behind the tasting bar. The wine starts with black fruit and leather on the nose which transitions into the mouth feel where hints of tobacco and dirt round in before seguing to a long and soft finish.  A cup worthy wine.

The Signature and Sweet tasting packages contain a range of Vidal, Chardonnay, a Merlot-Syrah blend in the Bolera Blend, and the three honey wines. These are all from a large 2010 vintage and each has a touch of sweetness without any clawing sugary aftertaste. The Honeymoon ($25) is blended with orange juice and feels like fall whereas the Amber ($23) is spiced with Christmas flavors. Both are solid meads. However, we came home with a bottle of the Dolce Vita ($24), a melomel mead made with blackberries. The berry flavors are prevalent with the sweet honey kicking in near the tail. Nicely done.

After sampling the wines kick back on their large back lawn to view the vines and let the kids and dogs play.  The winery hosts food trucks on weekends as it has no other food options and the food trucks are usually paired with a musical act. In conclusion I make Catoctin Breeze Vineyard a regular visit; you should as well.

Catoctin Breeze Vineyard
15010 Roddy Road
Thurmont, MD 21788

Monday-Thursday: 11:30am-3:00pm
Friday: 11:30am-9:00pm
Saturday: 12:00-6:00pm
Sunday: 12:00-5:00pm



Welcome to the Ledson Castle Where the Wine is Even More Opulent than the Castle! (Red Wines)

The story begins in England in 1896 and is detailed out on the website https://ledson.com/discover-ledson/history/ . It is a tale of hard work, family ties and a desire to do more for the community. Steve Ledson’s history is both unique and common—unique with background and successful venture and common with family ties. His demeanor and casual manner bespeaks volumes. A couple of years ago, I had a friend come down from Oregon and had Assistant Winemaker Jerry Padilla conduct the private tasting. On the way out, Steve walked in with jeans and tee shirt having worked some aspect of the vineyard only to greet us, genuinely happy that our tasting went well. The Castle is the official tasting room of Ledson and the architecture and construction alone are worth the visit! Ledson Winery is offers the largest premium wine portfolio of any family owned winery in the United States. Today their offering numbers more than 70 wines annually!

2014 Sonoma Valley “Estate Vineyard” Cepage

A favorite since they first introduced it at Ledson many years ago. This year recently won the 2018 World Wine Championship Gold Medal. A classic Bordeaux blend with an almost overload on the nose and palate of plum, blackberry and blueberry. A velvety coating in the mouth with cherries and hint of chocolate resonating on the finish.  A limited release of 80 cases and price is $86.

2013 Alexander Valley “Estate Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon

The 2013 the epitome of an Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. This rich dark red wine was opulent and full bodied. Blackberries, raspberries and dark chocolate burst in the mouth. The finish is long and pleasing. Definitely a crowd pleaser and favorite. Price is $90.

2013 Napa Valley “Stagecoach Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon

The best red of the day went to the 2013 Napa Valley “Stagecoach Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon.  This wine comes out of the historic area in Napa. The wine is saturated with a deep red and purple coloring. The complexity in the mouth is astonishing with blackberry, cherry and chocolate. This medium to medium heavy wine is royalty in a glass! Textures and opulence are only the beginning of this irresistible Cabernet Sauvignon. Priced at $120 and just 20 cases remaining. As you can see in the photo, this made it to dinner as well as the cellar!


Michael Kelly


Welcome to the Ledson Castle Where the Wine is Even More Opulent than the Castle! (White Wines)

The story begins in England in 1896 and is detailed out on the website https://ledson.com/discover-ledson/history/ . It is a tale of hard work, family ties and a desire to do more for the community. Steve Ledson’s history is both unique and common—unique with background and successful venture and common with family ties. His demeanor and casual manner bespeaks volumes.

A couple of years ago, I had a friend come down from Oregon and had Assistant Winemaker Jerry Padilla conduct the private tasting. On the way out, Steve walked in with jeans and tee shirt having worked some aspect of the vineyard only to greet us, genuinely happy that our tasting went well. The Castle is the official tasting room of Ledson and the architecture and construction alone are worth the visit! Ledson Winery is offers the largest premium wine portfolio of any family owned winery in the United States. Today their offering numbers more than 70 wines annually!

2016 Ledson Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley and 2016 Ledson Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River

This side by side tasting revealed some unique traits by each and each Gold Medal award winners. Both were extremely delicious. The 2016 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc won the 2017 International Women’s Wine Competition. This was also on my list for the 2015 Best Wines of Year from the same vineyard. The 2017 is well structured and layered. Grapefruit and lemon custard are the predominate aromas on the nose and gives way to pineapple and tangerine hints. This is the ideal summer wine in a warm to hot region. The Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc is $36.

2016 Ledson Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River won the 2018 Gold Medal from the Critic’s Challenge. This wine had a similar taste profile without the strong grapefruit hit on the nose and more subtle aroma’s and tastes of kiwi, orange peel and kiwi. In the winemakers’ notes, they state “gooseberry” but that eluded my taste buds. Price is $34.

The winner for me, as has been since 2015, is the 2016 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. Several bottles are now resting in the cellar!!

2015 Ledson Chardonnay, Russian River Valley Reserve

This wine was smooth and delicious and tied for the highest marks of the day! It new world in taste without being “over the top” in butter and/or cream. The color is a light golden with a soft lemon custard, vanilla and rounded medium hint of oak and crème brulee. These grapes come from a “well known” vineyard in the Russian River. This too ended up in the cellar! Only 75 cases produced and price is $52.

Michael Kelly, https://californiawinesandwineries.com

Brooks Note Wine Review

I personally believe that Marin County makes stellar Pinot Noir wine, but it can be hard to find. Brooks Note, a family owned winery in Marin specializes in Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and Rose of Pinot Noir. The winemaker, Garry is extremely passionate about both Marin County wine and Pinot Noir. Because they are so small, the best place to purchase these wines is directly from the winery online.

2017 Pinot Blanc
This wine had a nose of shortbread, but a taste of tropical citrus. It is aged in stainless steel, so it is an incredibly crisp white wine. If you’ve never had Pinot Blanc, it is like a cross between Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. This wine would work well with a rich chicken dish. (120 cases/$24)

2016 Chardonnay
This wine had a creamy nose, but a very citrus forward taste. It is aged in neutral oak so there is some cream, but it retains its fruit. This wine would pair well with a creamy vegetable soup. (60 cases/$30)

2017 Rose of Pinot Noir
This wine had a nose of grapefruit and a bit of a watermelon taste. This wine is very well balanced and would excel with any food. The wine is a blend of multiple vineyards, including some in Marin and Mendocino. (160 cases/$24)

2015 Marin County Pinot Noir
This wine had a nose of leather and cherries, but the taste was more reminiscent of raspberries. This was my favorite of all the wines I tasted. I’d want to pair it with baked salmon dish. (250 cases/$36)

2015 Weir Vineyard Pinot Noir
This wine had an aroma and taste of both herbs and minerals. The Weir Vineyard is located in Mendocino. This would pair well with a hearty turkey dish. (130 cases/$44)

If you want to learn more, I’d recommend visiting the tasting room Brooks Note shares with Trek Winery in Novato. I haven’t been, but I hope to make a trip up there soon.

The Wines of Thirty-Seven Winery

I’ve been a fan of Thirty-seven Winery for a number of years, so I was delighted when I saw them pouring at the San Francisco Vintners Market this past April. They do not have a tasting room, but you can buy their wines at a few small wine shops and directly from them online. They produce both red and white wines, but I only tasted their red wines on this occasion.

2015 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
This stunning Pinot Noir had a nose of floral strawberries but a taste that was all plum. I’d want to pair this with blackened salmon. 270 cases produced.

2015 Sonoma Coast Grenache
This grenache had a nose of pink peppercorns but a deep chocolate like taste. This would pair best with chicken mole. 68 cases produced.

2014 Hermit Blend
This Bordeaux style blend is made up of 50% Cabernet Franc and 50% Merlot. This blend had a jam filled peppery nose, but the taste was more pepper than fruit. Because of the pepper and fruit notes this would best served with a hearty and flavorful beef stew. 125 cases produced.

2014 Malbec
This Malbec is smoky, both in the aroma and on the palate, but the taste is more reminiscent of earthy boysenberries. With such complex flavors I’d pair it with a simple pan seared sirloin. 123 cases produced.

Thirty-seven Winery also offers two wine clubs, the Reserve and the Essential. Bottles in the Reserve Club range from $36 to $50 each and bottles in the Essential Club range from $22 to $30. Both clubs entitle you to a 20% discount on future purchases, invites to special events and advance notifications of new vintages and varietals.

Marshall Davis Winery: Great Value in Northwest Wines

Marshall Davis Winery is a family-run winery — the silhouettes on the label represent Sean Davis, Ryan Marshall, and Matt Marshall, the three brothers responsible for creating wines sourced from the Yamhill-Carlton AVA and from eastern Washington. We’ve been fans of their accessible, fruit-forward wines since they began pouring in 2013, from the family’s other business, The Horse Radish cafe in Carlton. Each vintage has gained in finesse while retaining the winery’s characteristic freshness and approachability, as well as the refreshing price point, with several wines under $25 a bottle, a rarity among Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs.

Marshall Davis recently moved from the wine bar at the rear of the Horse Radish to a lovely, bright spot a few doors down on Main Street in Carlton, one of our favorite wine-country towns. They share the space with an art gallery featuring work by local artists. With vintage brick down one side and a smooth white wall on the other, the tasting room is a wonderful place to be inspired by artworks, or just to sit and sip from the Marshall Davis list of wines.

Marshall Davis sources their grapes from two locations: the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, including their Beacon Hill estate vineyard, and the Seven Hills Vineyard in Washington’s Walla Walla AVA. Oregon provides Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, while Washington provides Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Their Chardonnay represents classic Oregon brightness, with only a portion of the wine going through malolactic fermentation; this results in bright, tart green-apple aromas and vibrant acidity, excellent for spicy foods with a high fat content. (Try it with the Italian sandwich at the Horse Radish, where the hot Italian charcuterie is the perfect foil for this crisp, tangy chardonnay.)

Their first rose of Pinot Noir ($23), produced from the 2017 vintage, is already sold out but that’s just an inducement to keep in touch for next year. With only 3 to 4 months of barrel age, this whole-cluster fermented rose carries the typical cherry aromas of pinot noir, but with additional florality and just a hint of residual sweetness. As with so many roses, this one pairs best with a sunny day and good friends.

Their reds, though, are what drew us in and keep us coming back. At $23, their 2016 Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir would be an excellent house wine. But even their higher-priced offerings rarely break the mid-$30 price point, remarkable for an Oregon Pinot Noir of such flavor and finesse. And for those who love wines made from southern French varietals, their Seven Hills Vineyard Syrah is beautifully intense, expressive, and lush, with the classic Syrah character of blueberries and pepper over beautifully managed, firm tannins. We’d serve this with a green-peppercorn steak, and then sip the last glass while lingering by a fire pit.

Their wine club offers three levels of participation, all with two shipments (spring and fall). At an estimated $90 per shipment, the Sampler Series comes with a 10% discount on purchase in the tasting room, three bottles per shipment, and an invitation to all events. Estate Series members pay about $170 per shipment and enjoy a 15% discount, 6 bottles per shipment, first access to limited releases and complimentary tastings for the member and up to two guests. The Reserve Series (about $300 per shipment) boasts a 25% discount on purchases, 12 bottles per shipment, an exclusive invitation to the annual Winemaker Dinner, a 1-% discount at The Horse Radish, and complimentary tastings for you and up to 4 guests.

Marshall Davis Winery

125 W. Main Street

Carlton, Oregon 97111



Acquiesce Winery: All White Wines, All the Time

I have made a small handful of visits to Acquiesce Winery in Lodi, CA, and I hope to return again soon as they never disappoint. Sue Tipton is both proprietor and winemaker at Acquiesce, which gives her street cred in my book, as I love to support my fellow women in the wine business, especially on the winemaking side! Acquiesce is unique because they only produce whites and rosés…and remember, we are in LODI, which is Old Vine Zinfandel country. No red wines to be found here, which is a gutsy move in this Zinfandel-soaked Lodi area.

From their website: Acquiesce has become our mantra — to submit to nature, to yield to the vineyard, to acquiesce to the grapes so they present their own true character. Attention to detail reigns here with sustainable vines that are lightly watered, grapes that are handpicked and then whole cluster pressed to create wines that are both classic and traditional.

 There is a $10 tasting fee, which is waived with any wine purchase. Bottles of wine range from $25-$55 for their sparkling Grenache Blanc. The fun part about a tasting at Acquiesce is that they pair a small bite with each wine taste. My favorite was the goat cheese with thyme and Meyer lemon paired with the Grenache Blanc. Delicious!  They sell-out of their wines every year and at that point their tasting room shuts down until the following season! Be sure to check their website or call before going.

The tasting room is comfortable and homey and feels like you’re in a farmhouse in Tuscany or the south of France. They do not accept pets or groups of over 6 people. Outside food and beverage is not allowed. This is a more tranquil, laid back tasting room where you can enjoy the wines and relax a bit.

 Acquiesce is focused on Rhone varietals. When I was last there we tasted: Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Grenache Rosé, Picpoul, Rousanne, and Belle Blanc (which is a blend of Grenache Blanc, Rousanne, and Viognier). They also have a Clairette that I did not get to try.

Fun fact, Acquiesce Winery is a member of LODI RULES for Sustainable Winegrowing, which is California’s original sustainable viticulture program. LODI RULES is considered a benchmark program that will (hopefully) be transferable to other winegrowing regions.

Their wine club is super simple. You get 6 bottles of wine in both the Spring and Fall, a 20% discount on all other wines, invitations to parties and pickup events, and complimentary tastings when visiting.

 If you find yourself in Lodi and are either burned out from the big Zins OR not much of a red wine drinker, I highly recommend a visit to Acquiesce. Or perhaps it’s a hot summer day and you want to drink a flight of Summer Sippers…..Acquiesce is the perfect choice!

Lucas Winery = Lodi Legacy of Tomorrow

According to the Lucas Winery website, wine tasting at The Lucas Winery is very different than you will encounter at most wineries. We move through the winery while tasting different wines. Depending on the time of year, you might prune a vine, taste Zinfandel grapes almost ready to harvest, punch down some newly harvested grapes, or sample some freshly fermented wine. During my visit we walked through the vineyards as well as the Grand Chai room.

Since 1978, Lucas Winery has made Zinfandels from their historic 90-year old ZinStar Vineyard. Thy also makde Chardonnary. Their specialty is unblended wines. According to the website, winemakers and owners (who are married!) David Lucas and Heather Pyle-Lucas create balanced, food-friendly, elegant wines that reflect the full potential of California’s Lodi Appellation. The ZinStar vineyard is CCOF Organic Certified and their winery is 100% solar powered.  Heather says she spends more time in the vineyard than in the winery. She loves getting up in the middle of the night in her pajamas and checking in on how her fermentations are doing!

Lucas is a lovely property and you get the true “heart and soul” feel from every touch point, whether it’s from the warm greeting upon arrival, the pride from the staff as they take you through the vineyard, or the care taken in pouring the wines and telling you the story in the glass.

ZinStar is their signature wine sourced from their 83-year old CCOF organically certified and hand harvested ZinStar vineyard (3.5 acres). The wine has black cherry notes and subtle notes of white pepper. It is a wonderfully complex wine showcasing fruit, spice, and leather. It is VERY food-friendly! We tried the 2012 vintage during this trip. The current vintage is 2015 and retails for $58.

The tasting room is open Wednesday-Sunday and a tasting is $10 and includes a souvenir Riedel glass. They also offer more extensive tastings including the Elevated Tasting Experience which is $40 per person and includes the hands-on, interactive portion of the regular tasting plus the opportunity to taste wines from the library. The other option is the Winemaker’s Tour, which is $75 per person. This tour is private and intimate and includes a tasting menu customized to include library wines, barrel tastings (when available), and rare vintages.

Borderless Wine from Harvest Ridge Winery

Straddling the border between Delaware and Maryland along the Mason-Dixon line lies Harvest Ridge Winery. Whereas the winery and a majority of the estate vineyards reside in Delaware, a significant block of estate vines are planted in the Free State. In fact, one of the original Mason-Dixon witness stone and crown markers, number 47, is located on the property. After fifteen years of home winemaking, Chuck Nunan converted his family farm to an estate vineyard by planting a series of vinifera grapes in 2011.

After the winery opened in late 2013, he expanded the original planting of Chardonnay, Viognier, Malbec, and Merlot to include both Cabernets, Chambourcin, Vidal, Barbera, and several other grape varieties. He also hired Jason Hopwood, who had experience in Sonoma and the Finger Lakes, as the head winemaker. This growth enables Harvest Ridge to provide over fifteen wines in their tasting room as well as a new cider brand Rebel Seed.

I arrived on a Friday just after noon (Friday – Sunday they open at 12) and several visitors had beaten me to the tasting room. Harvest Ridge offers three different flights of eight wines for $7 (dry, sweet, and the mixed variety). There is also a cider flight at the same price and additional samples can be purchased as well as wine and cider by the glass or bottle. Children and outside food are allowed inside and on the outside courtyard but you will need to keep your dogs leashed outside.

I chose the mixed flight in order to gain an appreciation for the winery’s many styles. For dry whites, they offer two styles of Chardonnay ($22), one unoaked, the other barrel fermented. I was more intrigued with the 2016 White Wine No. 47 ($17) – note the marker reference – that is a 90-10 blend of Vidal Blanc and Chardonnay. The wine has depth you normally don’t associate with Vidal combined with the characteristic floral and spice profiles. A nice summer-beach wine. Similarly the 2016 Red Wine No. 47 ($17) is light and refreshing.

This blend of Chambourcin, Barbera, and Landot Noir can also be served slightly chilled as there are few tannins. And as a single varietal wine, the 2016 Barbera ($25) shows excellent promise. It is, again, light bodied with subtle spice, moderate tannins, and abundant acids. Harvest Ridge offered two rosé wines with the Rosé of Chambourcin Country Bloom ($16) included in the tasting. The grapes macerate on their skins for 48 hours providing a blush like color and this clean wine is targeted more to that style with its 5% residual sugar. Also high in sugar is the 2016 Blue Hen Blue ($16) a blend of blueberries and concord grapes. Because of the berries acidity I was attracted more to this wine than the rosé as the grapey character of the concord was also restrained.

Finally, I was able to sample three dessert wines starting with the Portella ($18) made from a Muscat descendant Aromella — which was recently bred at Cornell University. The wine possesses a raison-fig profile with a strong floral and spicy aroma. The 2015 Chamfort ($22) is a Chambourcin based ruby port styled wine fortified with neutral grape spirits and exuding chewy blackberries and chocolate. Last up was the 2013 Late Harvest Vidal Blanc ($15) that reminded me of the Tokaji styled dessert wines with the strong apricot flavor combined with smoked almonds. Quite Nice.

The DelMarVa Coast’s Salted Vines Vineyard & Winery

The DelMarVa coast is not only beaches, boating, and fishing. There are a plethora of craft beverage producers in the area such as Delaware’s Salted Vines Vineyard & Winery. The establishment operated for five years on Route 54 as Fenwick Wine Cellars on Route 54. by 2015 they had outgrown that location and found a 26-acre parcel near Frankford that now houses the winery — rebranded as Salted Vines. The estate vineyard was first planted with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon vines and has slowly expanded with more two additional acres of grape varieties planted each year.

Salted Vines encourages families to visit as children are allowed in the tasting room and leashed dogs are allowed on the outside grounds. They also host a summer concert series on weekends with popular local bands and food trucks. We’ve already missed the lower case blues and Love Seed Mama Jump shows – but that demonstrates the caliber of the lineup.

At the tasting bar, the winery provides fifteen wines — all included in the $10 tasting fee (that includes keeping the glass). Some of these wines are hold-overs from the Fenwick Wine Cellars brand and they range from dry to semi-dry to sweet. Until their estate is completely utilized, most of the fruit is sourced from various regions particularly for the labrusca based wines of Catawba ($15), Niagara ($15), Steuben ($15), and Concord ($15).

These wines were clean and well-made despite their inherent funky and jammy characters.  However, the dry Traminette ($19) and semi-dry Riesling ($19) and Reflections ($17) were my preferences. The first two were very representative of their respective grapes whereas the later was a refreshing summer beach wine.

As for dry reds, their Chambourcin ($22) shows off quite nicely.  And if you do prefer a sweeter style, their Fredonia ($15) and Ambrosia ($18) are good choices.  Unfortunately, they do provide the dreaded wine slushies, but I guess these have a market. Besides that, this is an enjoyable stop at the Maryland and Delaware beaches.  Cheers.