Suzie Harrison, our California Buyer and Justin Apthorp our Buying Director have just returned from a trip to California to visit existing and potential wine suppliers, taste the new vintage and seek out some exciting new wines. Suzie brings us up to speed on their recent trip to The Golden State.
“Six and a half days tasting. 1,200 miles in the car. 28 wineries, 273 wines and lots of happy wine makers – 2014 looks set to be the third great vintage in a row despite the drought-like conditions. Now is an excellent time to discover California wines if you haven’t already!
With so many places visited and wines tasted it’s not possible to mention all of them!. Here are a few of the highlights:
We kicked off the trip on 21st October at Au Bon Climat in Santa Maria. Owner and winemaker Jim Clendenen was very generous with his time, showing us a big line up of wines – some we recognised and some we didn’t stand out wine for me was the luscious 2009 Clendenen Family Vineyards 2009 Pinot Noir. We also had a tour around the cellar and sampled lots of wines yet to be bottled – note the precarious barrel racking going on at the top there!
Wednesday 22nd started in the beautiful Edna Valley from where the eponymous new entry to the Majestic range comes from. It’s great to arrive at a winery and remember why it is you bought the wines in the first place – because they really do taste great and seriously over-deliver at the price! Here we also got to taste wine maker Joe’s “Franken-wine” – this is top secret so I can’t tell you more here but it was good timing for Halloween!
The next day we were in for something completely different in Paso Robles. Meet the Chronic Wine Cellars line up – some pretty funky labels and exciting wines to match from brothers Josh and Jake Beckett. Paso Robles is a less famous wine making area than it’s famous northern neighbours Sonoma and Napa but there is real quality and innovation here – an area to watch.
One of the greatest highlights of the whole trip was our visit to the Ridge Estate Monte Bello vineyard up in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Wine maker Eric Baugher is on his 21st vintage making this iconic wine. Among a range of truly wonderful wines we were lucky enough to taste Monte Bello Cabernet from 2012, 1994 and 1984 plus a sneak preview of Eric’s first attempt at a blend for the superb looking 2014 vintage. You can read about these legendary wines in a book – or even taste them – but being with the wine maker in the vineyard and tasting with him from the barrels before they’re even in bottle is something else entirely.
Over in Lodi we met wine maker Lance Randolph at his Peirano Wine Estate. Many wines from this region call themselves “old vine” but there is actually no legal specification for the age of the vine to qualify for this on the label. Some of Lance’s Zinfandel vines are over 120 years old – that qualifies as old in my book! The wines were wonderfully intense and complex. Here’s a snap of Lance wearing his famous red shorts!
Heading much further north, we tasted through the Chateau St Jean range of wines with wine maker Margo Van Staaveren. One of the oldest estates in Sonoma and one which for many represents the quintessential Sonoma Winery. The majesty of the vineyards is aptly captured in this shot – beautiful clear blue skies, sunshine and surrounded on three sides by mountains. Not quite the same as the view from my office! The wines are every bit as good as you want them to be – polished yet elegant, varietally distinct with lovely balance.
Another relatively new entrant to the Majestic California range are the wines from Clos du Bois. Here we met up with wine maker Gary Sitton who told us more about the excellent 2014 vintage. In store we’re just moving over to the 2013 vintage Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – another excellent vintage. Which follows the brilliant 2012 vintage – plenty of French vignerons wishing for such a brilliant run of vintages! Here we are in the sunny tasting room in Geyserville, a few miles from Sonoma.
No trip to California would be complete without a visit to Beringer in the heart of the Napa Valley. It was a real pleasure to spend time tasting with wine maker Laurie Hook. We tasted a range of fantastic wines, there is a reason these wines have the renown they do. Very pleased to confirm the delicious 2010 Beringer Napa Cabernet should be in stock at a store near you! Drinking beautifully this is archetypal Napa Cabernet is plummy and dense and lush – perfect for those chilly Winter nights.
A notable mention should also go to the following wineries for their time and generosity in hosting Justin and I:
Cambria, Sanford, Bridlewood, Wild Horse, Clos la Chance, Concannon, Wente, The Other Guys, Banshee, Caymus, Textbook, Chimney Rock and Ca’Momi.”
You can browse our range of Californian wines here!