Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends

new finds and interesting news in '09

by Monty and Sara Preiser


One of our best received series of columns each year deals with the new wineries we have discovered and recommend during our summer spent in California. For purposes of this article we use the term “wineries” in the broadest possible sense, meaning that while we include the traditional facility, we also include wines that have an independent label and are custom produced at a facility not owned by the wine’s producer. In other words, the vintner owns a wine, but not a brick and mortar winery. S/he merely rents the winemaking facility.

This year we have found some real beauties we will mention about below, along with a word or two about some of our favorite bottles of wine from each.

Baldacci Vineyards:
Though we have mentioned this winery before, the experience just gets better and better. Small and set back on the Silverado Trail, those discovering the wines of Rolando Herrera become immediate life-long fans of Baldacci. The Cab grapes are sourced from the Stags Leap District, while the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay fruit comes from cooler climates such as Russian River and Carneros.
-2006 Elizabeth Pinot Noir ($35): Some smoke & earth to accompany excellent fruit.
-2005 Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon ($65): Cassis, roses, leather, & balance.
-2005 Ruppert Cabernet Sauvignon ($99): Dark & lush with chocolate, coffee, & tannins.

Ghost Block:
“Ghost Block” is one of those names we mentioned at the start that is technically more of a label than a winery, since it is actually the premier Cab made by Bonded Winery Number 9. But Ghost Block will be so well known as a brand that we think it appropriate to refer to it that way already. Extremely limited in production, this is one you want to get in on early each year. We did, as we bought a coveted case at the Napa Valley Wine Auction.
-2007 Ghost Block Cabernet Sauvignon (about $60): Elegant with structure, we picked out chocolate & woods on the mid palate, & some orange peel on the finish.

hope & grace Wines:
A winery that has exploded in recognition this summer due, in part, to its better location on the main drag in Yountville, but also because of the wonderful wines being crafted by Charles Hendricks. Take some time when you go here to chat with the staff, look at the gifts, enjoy the antiques, and savor the art gallery – all of this while tasting some “really good juice.”
-2007 Pinot Noir ($45): Not for the faint of heart, this is rich, smoky, & balanced.
-2004 Hendricks Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($125): Plums and sweet cherries roll into spices and a long, long finish.
-2006 Malbec ($64): One of the Valley’s not-to-be-missed wines, it is big enough to
accompany game, yet has enough finesse for a pasta and light meat sauce.

Kelleher Family Vineyard:
Here we have another winery that produces only one wine, and the Kelleher family and wine maker Craig Becker make a good one. Born from people’s desire to taste the fruit from, and walk through, the “Brix” vineyard on the grounds of the famed restaurant bearing that name, in 2004 the family decided to take what they formerly sold and bottle it themselves. There are only a few restaurants in California and Idaho where you can find this wine, so you must try it at Brix (where you can also have a 2.5 oz. tasting of the 03, 04, and 05 for $26) or order on line.
-2005 Kelleher Family Cabernet Sauvignon ($82): Dark with lots of different spices from the cherry influenced nose to the oak and cassis flavored finish.

Sodaro Estate:
Some wineries sit on gorgeous properties but cannot produce wine to match. Others craft a wonderful product without a showcase winery at all. Sodaro Estate, however, has it all. The panoramic scene will grab you as soon as you arrive, and will influence you throughout your tour with Kari DiFabio (appointments necessary) and the subsequent tasting of two special wines at prices that are stunning.
-2005 Felicity Cabernet Sauvignon ($40): Bright red cherries and black plums brilliantly burst on the mid palate. There may be some 2004 available, but we preferred the 2005.
-2005 Sodaro Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($65): We think this wine reflects the more & more recognizable Coombsville characteristics of big fruit & “dirt” on the finish. The approachable tannins want meat, especially with hints of clove & peppercorn throughout.

Tayson Pierce:
Though Eric and Susan Rothchild have lived in Rutherford for some time, their wine is brand new. Now we know that scares some people off because they say the vines are not ready, but that is not the case here. Engaging winemakers who have experience in California and Bordeaux, and sourcing from established vineyards, the Rothchilds have shepherded an outstanding wine which won a double gold medal in its first outing at the American Fine Wine Competition in south Florida. Try some now before demand sends the price soaring.
-2006 Tayson Pierce Cabernet Sauvignon ($95): A wine of surprising power given its blend that includes 75% Cab and 25% Merlot. Yet the Merlot does its job and provides a smoothness that allows one to savor the black fruit, spices, and forest floor finish.

Mike Grgich Stands Against Land Mines

At the winery bearing his name, Croatian-born Miljenko “Mike” Grgich joined with Heidi Kühn, Founder and CEO of Roots of Peace, to toss coins into the Roots of Peace Fountain on the 33rd anniversary of the Paris Tasting. This symbolic act represented more than $250,000 raised for replacing the scourge of land mines with bountiful grape vines in Croatia.

In the spring of 2009, more than 11,000 grape vines were planted with the help of the Rotary Clubs of San Francisco and Zadar, Croatia. In recognition of Grgich’s contributions, the University of Zadar has established the “Miljenko Grgich Field of Peace.” Grgich is very proud of this legacy for future generations so they may live without the fear of landmines beneath their plows.

“Through the leadership of legendary vintner Miljenko ‘Mike’ Grgich, countless limbs of children and farmers have been saved from the perils of landmines, and bountiful vineyards now thrive on former war-torn lands,“ said Heidi Kühn. “Mike Grgich truly represents the heart of his beloved homeland of Croatia!”
Mike arrived in the Napa Valley in 1958 from Croatia and worked for some of Napa’s best wineries before becoming the winemaker at Chateau Montelena. He then crafted the Chardonnay that beat the best white wines in France in the now-famous 1976 Paris Tasting, helping to shatter the myth that only French soil could produce the world’s greatest wines. Grgich then formed a partnership with Austin Hills, and on Independence Day 1977 they broke ground in Rutherford to build Grgich Hills Cellar. Since starting Grgich Hills, Grgich has continued receiving international awards for his estate-grown wines and he has been recognized for being a leader in sustainable vineyard practices.

Roots of Peace is a San Rafael, CA based nonprofit organization whose mission is to rid the world of landmines and other remnants of war by transforming toxic minefields into thriving farmland and communities.

Florida Remains Open to Direct Shipping
Florida wine wholesalers tried to force a production cap bill through the Florida legislative session this past year. Fortunately they were unsuccessful. Give at least partial credit to Corcoran & Johnston, Family Winemakers of California's (FWC) lobbying firm, which was instrumental in keeping the wholesalers and their allies at bay. This is the fourth year in a row that FWC, in collaboration with the Wine Institute, has successfully lobbied to keep Florida open to all shipping from all producers. The impact to wine consumers in Florida is that direct-to-consumer sales will continue through 2009. Wineries must pay excise tax and submit reports to the state. Consumers are responsible for paying the sales/use tax.

C’mon, wholesalers. We have great respect for you, but you do just fine and the small amount of direct shipping will make little difference to your bottom line. Put your energies elsewhere.

Thanks and Clarification: We received hundreds of congratulatory notes regarding Santa Rosa radio guru Tom Simoneau’s piece on The Preiser Key to Napa Valley. Thanks to all. We did want to clarify that the radio spot was NOT an advertisement, but a news item and, we like to think, a welcome recommendation.

Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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