Wine Tours

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
240-578-3831

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

https://californiawinesandwineries.com

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

http://marshalldaviswine.com

 

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.

The Superb Wines of Evening Land Vineyards

Winemakers Sashi Moorman and Raj Parr are pseudo celebrities (in my eyes). From hearing their interviews with Levi Dalton on the “I’ll Drink to That” podcast, to reading about them in every wine rag, these guys are everywhere. I first heard of them when Sashi gave the “viticulture” talk to my WSET Diploma class in 2015. I was instantly captivated with his philosophies when it came to grape growing and winemaking. He’s a bit of a purist and (in my opinion) has a “zero f*cks given” approach. He’s certainly not afraid to voice his opinions and I found him to be honest, refreshing, and not ego driven, as some in this industry can be.

Evening Land fruit comes from Seven Springs Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA. It was planted in the early 1980s.  The portfolio here is very tight. They only produce Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and a tad of Gamay Noir. The wines are elevated and for the sophisticated palate. Very understated and subtle. Old-world in style. For quality wines in the Willamette, I highly recommend a visit to Evening Land Vineyards.

2014 Pinot Noir, Seven Springs Vineyard $45
Pepper, earth, and muted red fruit on the nose. This wine has a pungency (a good one) with notes of game and mushroom. On the palate this wine is spicy and leather-y. It bounces on my tongue a bit. This was my favorite of the Pinot Noir selections we tasted. You’ve got to work harder for it. It doesn’t rest on its laurels. My kind of wine.

2014 Pinot Noir, Seven Springs Vineyard, La Source $75
These vines are at a higher altitude than the others and are more stressed as the soil is less fertile and rocky. 25% whole clusters included.  A beautiful wine with red fruit (cherry), pungent spice (black pepper), baking spice (cinnamon), and an earthy forest floor note.

2015 Gamay Noir, Seven Springs Vineyard $35 
This is a special wine. They only do a 600 annual case production. In fact, only 7 producers in the Willamette Valley even grow Gamay. Fun fact: part of the Gamay vineyard was planted in 1983, which makes them the oldest Gamay vines in the US. Whole cluster carbonic in concrete.
This wines has notes of red fruit (cherry, cranberry), pepper, and the requisite bubblegum note from the carbonic maceration. Raj is showcasing this wine because it’s unique and fun. The industry buys it up. Exhibit A: I bought a bottle.

2014 Chardonnay, Seven Springs Vineyard $45
Wine Deets (aka nerd talk): Aging in 30% new oak, and then stainless steel tanks to rest. Organic/biodynamic farming and wild/native yeasts used. This wine goes through full malo (though spontaneous). No sulfur is used at press, just some at bottling. All their Chardonnay’s are made in a reductive style (in an environment that lacks oxygen). The first exposure of oxygen to this wine is when the bottle is opened. I’d call this a low intervention wine.
My Notes: This wine is delightful. Meyer lemon and a doughiness on the note. A pleasing, creamy palate. But not gratuitously creamy.

2014 Chardonnay, Seven Springs Vineyard, La Source $75
This wine has everything you’d want in a Chardonnay. Biscuit, dough, and yeast on the nose, with green fruit (green apple and pear) on the palate. Also a distinct flint/matchstick flavor characteristic, reminding me of a Chablis.

2014 Chardonnay, Seven Springs Vineyard, Summum $100
Wine Deets: The soils in this vineyard are the least fertile of the bunch. Major vine stress here. 100% new oak. Yeasty notes on the nose with a round, full, and creamy body. A great spice character as well.

The wines of Evening Land Vineyards are sure things. If you can get your hand on a bottle, it will be a treat. And if you can make it up to the Willamette, I highly recommend a visit to Evening Land Vineyards. You can taste in the “no-frills” tasting room in Dundee, or visit the vineyard in Salem.

Evening Land Vineyards: Stellar Wines at a “No-Frills” Tasting Room

A visit to the Evening Land Vinayards tasting room is not your quintessential winery experience: You drive through Dundee in the northern Willamette Valley and pull into an unassuming industrial park. Once you enter the building, you need to find the suite that has “Evening Land Vineyards” on the glass door in a frosted stencil. You have arrived to taste some of the best wines in the Willamette. How’s that for “no frills”?

Winemakers Sashi Moorman and Raj Parr are pseudo celebrities (in my eyes). From hearing their interviews with Levi Dalton on the “I’ll Drink to That” podcast, to reading about them in every wine rag, these guys are everywhere. I first heard of them when Sashi gave the “viticulture” talk to my WSET Diploma class in 2015. I was instantly captivated with his philosophies when it came to grape growing and winemaking. He’s a bit of a purist and (in my opinion) has a “zero f*cks given” approach. He’s certainly not afraid to voice his opinions and I found him to be honest, refreshing, and not ego driven, as some in this industry can be.

Evening Land fruit comes from Seven Springs Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA. It was planted in the early 1980s. I visited the Dundee tasting room only. More details below on visiting the vineyard.

The tasting room is no-frills, yet comfortable. One of the knowledgeable tasting staff will walk you through the Evening Land portfolio. The tasting room is open 7 days a week from 10am-5pm.  Wine is available for purchase.

For a unique experience, you can take a walk through the Evening Land Vineyard and do a tasting of the wines between the vines. This experience must be booked in advance and is $65 per person.

The portfolio here is very tight. They only produce Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and a tad of Gamay Noir. The wines are elevated and for the sophisticated palate. Very understated and subtle. Old-world in style. For quality wines in the Willamette, I highly recommend a visit to Evening Land Vineyards.