Last week we hosted our Cult California Wine Throwdown featuring owner/winemaker of The Scholium Project, Abe Schoener. We have had the pleasure of getting to know Abe and his unique wines over the last couple years and have come to appreciate his truly unique approaches to the winemaking process.
The Scholium Project represents an experimental and educational approach to wine. Abe approaches each wine as a project, trying to emulate those in the industry whose methods and wines he admires.
Abe’s background begins at the famed Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars where he interned during a sabbatical from teaching at St. John’s College. While at Stag’s Leap, Abe worked with John Kongsgaard. After Stag’s Leap he continued to work with John at Luna Cellars, then White Rock Vineyards. In 2005, he made his first Scholium selections: Naucratis and Cena Trimalchinos.
Scholium wines are all sourced fruit from the best vineyards for the specific grape varietals in each wine. Grapes often found in the wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Merlot, Zinfandel, and Cinsault on the red side. And white varietals including Verdelho, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Gewurztraminer.
The Scholium Project offers a large array of wines to explore, each one is not for everyone but they are all wines to challenge your thinking and evaluation of what your mind thinks a ‘standard’ style of each grape is. We always say that the Scholium wines can make red drinkers love white and white lovers drink reds.
I’ve dug up a video from our trip out to Napa at our visit to Barnett Winery. Here we talk about the differences in vineyard management on a hilltop/mountain vineyard versus being down in the Valley. Some beautiful views on this one! And as a sidenote, we just brought in Barnett’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir which can be found here and here!
We’re continuing our travels throughout Napa County and while visiting one of our favorite vineyards (Hestan Meyer) yesterday, we found a little pocket that we never knew existed. Wooden Valley, although not a recognized AVA, is a unique microclimate housing a few vineyards that specialize in Cabernet (another one you might know is Altamura). The temperatures are much warmer (it was 95 vs. 85 yesterday) than Napa Valley itself. Take a look…
This weekend Al and I leave for a two-week long “research” trip to investigate vineyards from Santa Barbara to Sonoma. We’re also using this trip to kick off a new video/photo blog section we like to call Wine Not? Wine Not? will feature the answers and information about wine and the industry that you’ve always been dying to know. We won’t reveal too much more, but see below for a sneak peek on some of the topics we will be covering over the next month.
Upcoming Wine Not? Topics
- Can you really open a wine bottle with your shoe?
- What does a grape bunch look like?
- What’s the difference between California and European wine?
Grapes from premium vineyards across the North Coast, a winemaker with over 20 years experience, and artisan winemaking techniques usually translates into a $40-$50 bottle of wine…especially when that wine is Cabernet or Chardonnay from California. But Silver Palm has managed to accomplish all of those items and keep its wine reasonable – very reasonable.
It’s been our go-to table white and red for months, but after having it with dinner over the weekend (and being reminded just how good it is) I decided to take a deeper look at the winery. Silver Palm is owned by Kendall Jackson, but unlike its parent, the goal of this winery is to produce small-lot wines that will best be served at a high quality restaurant or connoisseur’s table rather than used as stackers in a grocery store. Melissa Bates, winemaker, sources fruit from only the best vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties to create complex and well-balanced wines. Currently the winery only produces two wines: Cabernet and Chardonnay which are crafted to pair perfectly with traditional cuisines for these grapes.
A blend of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cab Franc, 4.2% Merlot, 2.6% Petite Sirah, 2.2% Petite Verdot, the fruit is sourced from 50% Mendocino, Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley, and the Sonoma Coast. Surprisingly, it is also a blend of vintages (2007 – 2009), but with 95% of the fruit from the 2008 vintage it is bottled as such.
The wine shows a brilliant, purple color and shows aromas and flavors of dark cherry, blackberry, spice and toast. The medium tannins provide a backbone without the drying and bittering feeling of some bolder wines.
A blend of 98% Chardonnay with 2% Viognier from Sonoma County and Mendocino County, this vintage is the premiere of the Chardonnay for Silver Palm. The wine is fermented entirely in stainless steel, preserving the fruit characteristics to showcase the strong aromas of tropical fruit (pineapple, melon) paired with hints of apple and pear that is the Chardonnay grape’s signature. Of the wine, Bates says “For the premier release of our Chardonnay, I chose to present the varietal in a chic and elegant manner.” Elegant and chic it is.
I’ll start this post with a quote from my sister, Jackie, (and fellow blog contributor for the ‘Cooked’ section), “that wine was so good, but it went so fast.” The true sign of a good wine? It is consumed fast and fights break out over the last drop. It has happened on more than one occasion between Al and I, but I’ve never seen it occur with more than a group of four. Now I won’t call it a fight but over dinner with my sisters, my sister’s new husband, his parents, Al and I all seven of us did reach for that last drop.
The Mad Hatter is the second label of Dancing Hares. Dancing Hares Vineyard is an impressive team with Andy Erickson (Screaming Eagle, Favia, Leviathan) at the helm as head winemaker with assistance from Michael Rolland and renowned vineyard manager David Abreu. The 2007 Dancing Hares Proprietary Wine is an exquisite blend of 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Cabernet Franc, 37% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, at about $125 per bottle. Exquisite, yes but not quite your every day drinker.
The Mad Hatter is a similar blend at a friendly price point – about $60 per bottle – that is if you can find it. The vineyard itself seems to produce impeccable Cabernet Franc and Merlot which balance each other perfectly in the blend and give only the best characteristics of each varietal. In taste, the Cabernet Sauvignon almost seems subdued and restrained allowing the other varietals to come through. Erickson says, about the wine:
“The 2008 Mad Hatter is a bold, ripe expression of the vintage. Those lots from our estate that show upfront fruit, soft tannins, and immediate appeal form the core of this wine. This vintage is enjoyable from the outset, with plump, ripe fruit character and a lingering intensity. Notes of darjeeling tea leaves, ripe blueberries, brown sugar and cream lead the way for this hedonistic wine.”
It’s a wine worth grabbing, enjoying and fighting over if the situation presents itself. And, I am proud to say I did get the last drop.
As I’m entering the world of wine education (I’m in the middle of my intermediate level course for the Wine & Spirits Education Trust certification), I’ve been pondering different styles of wine and exploring more so than I typically do. I’ve never been a fan of heavily oaked Chardonnay but as I learn more and more about the grape, its growing regions and high acidity levels I’ve come to discover I’m also not a fan of non-oaked versions. So what’s the answer, oak or no oak?
The argument for oak
I begin with the fact that chardonnay grapes from Napa Valley are worlds different from chardonnay grapes in Chablis and Burgundy. The warmer climate grapes like California, Burgundy and Australia can benefit from some oak fermentation and/or aging. Warm weather prompts higher yield levels and riper fruit. As chardonnay ripens, the sugar increases and forms strong flavors and aromas of tropical fruits like pineapple and banana. Oak fermentation balances the fruity characteristics and complements those flavors creating a well-balanced, complex wine. In this case, oak is a positive and delicious treatment for the wine…in moderation. Yes, I’m seen and tasted some very heavily oaked versions – many of which used either 100% new oak barrels (the flavors are stronger, the newer the barrels) or an inexpensive replacement to oak barrels, oak chips. The wines I have tasted that achieve the best demonstration of the grape in this style use a combination of new and used oak barrels or even a combination of oak and stainless steel batches.
The argument for no oak
There’s something special about a Chablis. The crispness, minerality, delicate peach flavors that just make you want to drink unoaked Chardonnay for the rest of your life. But I’m not sure if the style would work in a warmer climate. The cool growing region of Chablis and other new world regions – Washington, for example – restrict the yield and development of the grapes and the resulting fruit has higher acidity levels, a mineral characteristic and what reviewers refer to as ‘stone’ fruit (peaches for the layman). In this case, the use of oak in fermentation/aging could disrupt those delicate, yet strong fruit flavors and completely over power the wine. The result is something completely different and unique from its sister style in California & southern France.
I’m not sure there is one righteous path for winemakers in search of the perfect Chardonnay. What I’ve learned through my ‘research’ is Chardonnay is a much more complex variety than the big box brands demonstrate. It is highly reflective of the climate and terrior which it is grown which can also dictate a certain style of production. I found the key is balance in the wine, and achieving that – whether it requires oak or no oak – is the only important thing.
This is one of those secret gems I’m always talking about. This is one the first cult wines we carried, and subsequently one of our favorites. Second label of Beau Vigne, I discovered it last year on recommendation when I was trying to find another wine similar to Dave Phinney’s the Prisoner.
The blend changes every year. I think this year is mainly Cab and Syrah? Doesn’t matter, it’s just really good. Wasn’t expecting much out of this vintage especially following 2007 (they skipped 2008 due to low yields) which received those ridiculous ratings as a vintage. I guess this is another wine that goes to show you vintage to vintage doesn’t matter as much when you are dealing with a high class producer.
Call this wine whatever you want, storm chaser, tornado crusher, grape stomper, Barrel Chaser just plain rocks.
It’s not often in life that you find a bottle of wine that completely sums up your philosophy. We were fortunate enough to be introduced to such a bottle by one of our customers (thank you Bill!) last week. It’s called simply “I Will Not Drink Bad Wine.” There you go, our philosophy on life (well at least how its related to wine).
I Will Not Drink Bad Wine is produced as both a Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay from Napa Valley & Monterey respectively and retails for $25 (Cab) and $17 (Chard). Although the label is catching on its own, the best part about this wine is that it really is that good for the price point. The proper name of the wine is CC:, but we like to call it by its nickname.
After a perusal of their website (which is fun just to visit, click here), I found out that the wine is produced by Betts & Scholl. Betts & Scholl is a partnership project between Richard Betts, Master Sommelier & Wine Director at The Little Nell in Aspen, Colorado (just one more reason we love Aspen so much) and Dennis Scholl, a wine collector and enthusiast who splits his time between Aspen and Miami (kind of like us!) Betts & Scholl is dedicated to premium wines from only the best land and best fruit, their wines typically range from $40 – 70 per bottle. So for them, CC: is kind of second label. A second label we’d put up against any value wine in the store though…
The Chardonnay is crisp and clean with the characteristic fruit you should enjoy from a Chardonnay. Produced entirely in stainless steel there is no oak or butter to get in the way. The Cabernet has great fruit and a well balanced – soft but complex – finish. CC: claims the fruit comes from a famous vineyard off of Route 29 in Napa Valley – Hall perhaps, Grgich Hills, Whitehall Lane, even Far Niente/Nickel & Nickel? I guess we’ll never no. But the most important part, is that this wine is definitely not bad.
CC: Chardonnay (I Will Not Drink Bad Wine)