Saturday, December 5, 2009

Vino Las Vegas vists Carmel Valley , stops for lunch at a Chateau , takes a 17 mile ocean drive and samples wine from a new AVA

Over 200 years ago a viticultural tradition began in Monterey County. In 1983 The Amercian Vinticultural Association granted appellation status to 19,200 acres in Carmel Valley . Today , nine tasting rooms give visitors a chance to sample award winning Cabernet Sauvignon , Merlot and Cabernet Franc. But Carmel Valley is much more than just wine . VINO LAS VEGAS set out on a journey from Cannery Row to Carmel Valley to find many of the opportunities this interesting area provides.

We left the cool fog of Monterey Bay behind and drove down the famous Highway One that connects California's Big Sur to Carmel and from Carmel to Monterey in what John Steinbeck called the most dramatic meeting of Land and Sea.

We continued to meander down Highway One and then on to Carmel Valley Road under the guidance of Elizabeth Vitarisi Suro , Managing Director of Carmel Valley Chamber of Commerce. The Sun came out as we drove by wildflowers and majestic oak trees. Suro explained that Carmel Valley was once the home of dairies, ranchers and farms; and in some cases, it still is. But most of the historic family holdings have evolved into award-winning wineries, one-of-a-kind Carmel Valley shopping villages, world-class golf-links, unique resorts and lodging and fine-dining restaurants and even organic vegetable stands. Relatively left untouched since the Spanish Land Grants , the valley is still home to redwood canyons and ancient pines.

On this day we were on our way to explore not just the wines that Carmel Valley is famous for but the shopping , art galleries , the 5000 acre Garland Ranch and relaxing hotels and spas such as the renown Carmel Valley Ranch.

We entered the Carmel Valley road at the mouth of the valley where we found pristine golf courses and passed through mid valley with its resorts and shopping then our anticipation grew as we pulled into Carmel Valley Village and its artisan community and of course great food and wine.

The first stop we made in Carmel Valley Village was Heller Estate Organic Vineyards. Heller Estate Organic Vineyards has 120 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc,Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Pinot Noir are planted at an altitude of 1200 - 1500 feet

The vineyards are dry-farmed with the roots of the vines descending deep in the sandy soil to the "Cachagua" springs. These stressed vines produce outstanding luscious fruit.

The Heller Cabernets have been described as "super-rich, with lots of tannin and explosively long finishes". The Chardonnays have been described as "dramatic, blockbuster wines which are rich, exceptionally age worthy, and can easily last 5-7 years - an uncommonly long time for a California Chardonnay"

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of stopping by the tasting room is the chance of meeting Toby Heller, internationally known sculptor of large works. A sculpture garden has been added to the property, as well as another adjacent to the tasting room in Carmel Valley Village. The sculptures are the inspiration for the Heller labels. A great example is the label, "Dances on Your Palate". It is based on a fifteen-foot high, bronze sculpture overlooking the vineyards, and the motto "Magical Wines That Dance on Your Palate " is featured on the label. If you appreciate wine and art , Heller is worth a stop.

The tasting room offers its guests the opportunity to taste the entire range of these award winning wines (Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Port and Late Harvest Reisling), and even delicious Merlot-filled Chocolate. The Tasting Room also offers a selection of wine accessories and wine related gifts, a Mini Art Gallery, and a unique collection of Santon dolls and Mrs. Toby Heller's world famous and award winning pieces of art displayed in the sculpture garden and tasting room.

The vineyards are certified 100% organic. No herbicides nor pesticides are used in the production of the grapes. The certification was granted after three vintages of clean farming.

Rich Tanguay, formerly of Topolos & Buena Vista, is the winemaker and overseeing the production of these award-winning wines. Renamed "Heller Estate Organic Vineyards", the wines are all estate bottled and, as stated above, organically produced. The current production is approximately 25,000 cases annually.

Frank Joyce owner of Joyce Vineyards produces some great very small production Estate grown wines and has a very interesting story on how he got into the science of being a grower and winemaker. Dr. Frank Joyce, a successful local dentist, discovered an unknown talent for turning the grapes into fine, premium wines. The Estate vineyard is situated on five acres including an extreme hillside slope behind his house, a determination was made that a landslide could occur from the hillside above the house and in order to protect the property, vegetation needed to be planted throughout the hillside.

Considering the southwest facing slope and the soil composition it was decided that the best vegetation would be grape vines using European style cross-hill terracing.

The first vines planted on the hillside in 1987 named his first born son, Russell and created the vineyard which produces the estate Cabernet for Russell’s Vineyard.
In 1993, a second vineyard was planted on the hillside above Russell’s Vineyard on a forty-one degree hillside and named after his second son, Michael.

This vineyard produces the estate Merlot, known as Michael’s Merlot. An additional vineyard was added in 1997 located in the front of the family home producing the Joyce Estate Pinot Noir.

After studying with such noted winemakers as Paul Hobbs of Paul Hobbs Wines and Kathy Joseph of Fiddlehead, he decided to pursue wine making in addition to dentistry as As the production of wine grew, the winery was relocated to a larger facility in Salinas, California and now produces four Pinot Noirs, two Merlots, two Cabernet Sauvignons, one Chardonnay , one Syrah and one pudding wine. Joyce produces some outstanding wines with his Syrah being a real stand out. The tasting room is located in Lyonshead Art Gallery featuring local artists provides a relaxing, comfortable environment in which to taste these great wines.

Carmel Valley is fast becoming a "place to be " which is saying alot when Carmel , Pacific Grove and Monterey are their neighbors . Our journey continued past OH and Otter Cove wines by winemaker Richard OH and then on to the historic Talbot Winery tasting room.

In 1982, Robb Talbott began planting his original Diamond T Estate vineyard in Carmel Valley.

Robb established one of the area's best estate programs, featuring two of Monterey County’s grand cru sites: Diamond T Estate and the legendary Sleepy Hollow Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands. This area of Sleepy Hollow has earned a reputation for producing wines of great depth and are very well respected.

VINO LAS VEGAS had the opportunity to speak with winemaker Dan Karlsen as he took us through some of these legendary wines as well as a few new projects as well.
Dan Karlsen is a renowned Chardonnay and Pinot Noir specialist, who brings three decades of winemaking and viticultureal experience to his role as winemaker for Talbott Vineyards.

Dan's road to winemaking started with David Stare’s team at Dry Creek Vineyard. Dan fell in love with winemaking, and became an integral part of every aspect of the winery’s operations.

After four years with Dry Creek Vineyard, he joined Dehlinger Winery as assistant winemaker. While at Dehlinger, Dan honed his skills making Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, In 1988, he joined Claude Tattinger’s team at the newly founded Domaine Carneros. After several years of working alongside original winemaker Eileen Crane, he was promoted to winemaker in 1992—a position he held for the next five years. Dan helped to guide the winery’s acclaimed sparkling wine portfolio, while also playing a pivotal role in establishing Pinot Noir at Domaine Carneros.

In 1998, Dan was named winemaker and general manager for Monterey County’s Chalone Winery, a position he held until 2007. During his ten years at Chalone, Dan helped to revitalize the winery’s Pinot Noir program and further elevated the status of its Chardonnays.

As Dan went through the wines he pointed out the 2006 Talbott Cuvée Carlotta. Now in its third vintage, Cuvée Carlotta has quickly emerged as one of Talbott's defining wines and the
2006 vintage of Diamond T Chardonnay earned 92 points from Wine Enthusiast.
And lastly a wine made by Dan himself was unveiled . The 2008 Talbott Logan Pinot Noir. Dan explained Unlike previous vintages, which employed cold soaks and partial whole-clusters, the grapes for this wine were pressed off immediately and fermented warm. The resulting wine blends the purity and sophistication achieved through classic Old World techniques. It was a real pleasure to meet yet another legend in Monterey County and sample some great wines.
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Monterey county is so vast and provides much to our country. We departed Carmel Valley village for lunch at the esteemed Chateau Julien's Petite Chateau were we were joined by Chateau Julien's proprietor Bob Bower , Jack Galante and Dawn White proprietors from Galante Vineyards and Jane Beery from Cima Collina Wines for lunch and of course wine.

The Petite Chateau at Chateau Julien brings back memories of the French Country side.The old-world French Chateau is a replica of a home on the French-Swiss border. Beautiful stained glass embodies rich antiques with dramatic 30-foot cathedral ceilings in the Chateau’s Great Hall. French doors swing open towards the Estate Garden Cobblestone Courtyards and glass covered-Conservatory.

Chef Terry Teplitzky of Michaels Catering provided us with a delicious luncheon in the lovely vineyard. Terry's dry figs filled with blue cheese and spiced Pecans was a mouthwatering surprise. The fresh harvest rice salad with dry fruit and fetta butternut squash and green bean salad lead us into a delicious braised loin of pork with cranberry chutney that paired perfectly with the many wines at the table.

Jane Beery from Cima Colina wines took us through three of their handcrafted wines from Monterey County.
"Monterey is still a viticultural frontier where new, superb growing areas are being discovered and planted. We translate our own sense of discovery and excitement into the wines we produce through a meticulous, artisan approach to winemaking that preserves and enhances the best Monterey's vineyards have to give." Annette Hoff, Winemaker.

Winemaker Annette Hoff could not have said it better. The 2007 Cima Collina Meritage with its spphistcated fruit notes and long finish was a great way to start off . Jane moved on to their 2007 Chardonnay that delivered rich, dense flavors of ripe apple, melon and grapefruit. Being espacially know for their Pinot Noirs our anticaption grew with the next two Cima Collina wines.
Cima Collina 2006 Monterey county Pinot Noir showed off the classic notes of the appelation with and blend grapes cultivated from the Chula Viña Vineyard, Tondre Grapefield and Hilltop Ranch Vineyard. We finsihed our jouney through Cima Collina wines with the 2005 Hilltop Ranch Pinot Noir which provided us with a a powerful, dark, rich wine with aromas and flavors of plums, blueberries, leather, earth, smoke and spice.

Jack Galante was on hand as well and shared his very unique
wines as we enjoyed the Chef''s culinary delights. Jack Galante's philosophy is simple: grow the finest grapes possible and let the fruit express itself in the wine. Since all of his grapes are estate grown, each bottle of wine they produce embodies the characteristics of their unique region, exhibiting the natural flavors that are born from the land.

Jack was not messing around when we were given his 2008 Galante Sauvigon Blanc which scored 92 points from The Wine Enthusiast (Nov. 2009). Wine Enthusiast stated " This distinctive Sauvignon Blanc is from Carmel Valley… It’s utterly dry and crisp, with Citrus, Asian Pears and spices, and an intriguing floral note suggesting lavender " Jack continued on with his 2005 Almond Flat Pinot Noir which is an excellent example of a Monterey County Pinot Noir with its classic maritime influence. Jack would not be finsihed untill we had a chance to sample his 2007 Red Rose Cabernet Sauvignon that scored 90 points from The Wine Enthusiast (Nov. 2009). They commented " A very nice cab that is Bordeaux-like in its dryness, modest alcohol and tannic earthiness that grounds the blackberry and cherry fruit." Galante Vineyards and Jack Galante himself provided us with his best.

In the late 1970's, Bob and Patty Brower set out to fulfill their dream. Originally from the East Coast, they had a passion for wine and admired the French hospitality encountered while traveling in Europe. They saw the potential in Monterey County as a quality wine growing region, and in 1982 began building what is now known as Château Julien Wine Estate in Carmel Valley, California.

The winery's first release came in 1985 with Chardonnay and Merlot from the 1982 vintage. Today, the entire process of wine production takes place on the 16-acre estate, including the aging of nearly 2000 oak barrels of wine. Winemaker Bill Anderson joined the Browers in 1982, and produced the winery's first 100% Merlot with the premier vintage. Bill continues to produce wine at Château Julien Wine Estate, and has played an integral part in establishing Merlot as the winery's flagship varietal.

It was a true honor to have Bob Brower pour his own wines for us in the Chateau. Bob's Private Reserve wines signify the heritage of the winery. The label dates back to the first release of 1982 Merlot and represents the highest quality wines produced from each vintage, with only 600 six packs produced annually.

He started us off with one of these very limited wines. 2008 Private Reserve "Sur Lie" Chardonnay. Produced in traditional French “Sur Lie” style, this wine stays in contact with the lees (or inactive yeast cells) throughout 100% barrel fermentation and aging. The result is a rich, creamy Chardonnay with a round full texture.

Bob explained Chateau Juliean also produces a few specialty wines. He explained that winemaker Bill Anderson highlights select vineyard lots, unique proprietary blends and extremely limited production varietals for a exclusive collection of wines, available only through allocation or at the Wine Estate in Carmel Valley. We had the opportinuty to sample two of these highly sought after labels. The first was the 2006 Black Nova II. Black: because of the rich darkness of color it attained from the beginning. Nova: because the fruit and flavors of this wine are a “burst of brightness”, as defines the birth of a celestial Nova. Harvested in September of 2006 from the San Antonio AVA this blend of 60% Zinfandel and 40% Syrah was lovely. Being barrel aged for 16 months in new American oak this wine is BIG. The fruit aromas and flavors of raspberry burst through right away and settle into a warm , long finish due to its 15% alcohol content. This was a very elegant wine and a real pleasure to enjoy.

Bob finished us on another Chateau Julien specialty wine, the 2006 la Conviviance. This Proprietary final blend consists of 46% Merlot, 38% Malbec and 16% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Grown in small lots, each varietal was harvested and aged separately in 60% new French Nevers and American Missouri oak barrels for fourteen months, 12 days. On the nose dark cherry and ripe blackberry comes throufg . On the pallet flavors vanilla and anise add to the soft, fruit flavors all combine for a long mouth-filing finish and beautiful deep garnet color in the glass.
After a wondefull day of exploreing Carmel Valley it was time to head back to Cannery Row.


We discovered many treasures as we headed back to the Monterey Bay Inn on Cannery Row along the very famous 17 Mile Drive. It is one of the most scenic drives anywhere in the world. The drive , which runs through Del Monte Forest, is seventeen miles of sea and sky, immaculate golf courses, and dream homes set graciously behind elegant gates...

We stopped at The Lone Cypress where we watched the sunset and snacked on Apple Pie from the Freedom Bakery and a Pear Tart from Patisserie Boissiere Resturant in Carmel. Of course a 2006 J.Lohr Late Harvest Riseling and a 2004 Late Harvest Desert Wine Santa Lucia Highlands was a great way to end our journey to Carmel Valley . We continued our drive by Seal and Bird Rocks, Fanshell Beach, Point Joe, as well as the natural habitat of the black cormorants, brown pelicans, California sea otters, harbor seals, and idle sea lions.

We saw the the the emerald fairways of such famous golf courses as The Links at Spanish Bay, Spyglass Hill and the world-renowned Pebble Beach Golf Links. The Monterey Bay Inn looked better than ever but the day was not quite over.

The Santa Antonio Valley in and around the Bradley-Lockwood area at the southernmost tip of Monterey County is the newest th AVA in the county and was designated as an official American Viticultural Area in June of 2007. Since then it has undergone a renaissance as growers and winemakers have come to rediscover the area’s suitability for growing robust, fully mature fruit. This area has attained a growing reputation for producing intensely flavored, complex wines of the sort more often associated with Paso Robles than with Monterey.

We stopped in the newly opened tasting room of PIERCE Ranch Vineyards located right off of Cannery Row and met with owner Josh Pierce as we sampled from great seafood from Chef Bert Cutino , Chef at the Sardine Factory which is famous throughout the world.

Josh explained that Pierce Ranch Vineyards is a small, family-owned operation in a highland valley at the southernmost tip of Monterey County. Their plantings consist of a mix of Bordeaux, Rhone, and Iberian varietals that have been selected not only for their ability to excel in their climate, but also for their complementary qualities. Even though their AVA is perfectly suited to producing Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel, They also produce Spanish and Portuguese varietals such as Tempranillo and Touriga Nacional and are always exploring their potential.

Josh started us out with the 2008 Albarino . The grapes were fermented in stainless steel at low temperatures. In the glass it is light bodied and on the nose aromas of slate and apricot give way to lemon. This Albarino reflects its terrior with refreshing citrus notes and minerality on the finish. We were not familiar with the varietal of Cosecheiro which was the next wine we explored.

Cosecheiro is a blend that derives its name from the Spanish cosechero, referring to the small, independent winegrowers of the Iberian Peninsula. The 2006 Cosecherio is a blend of 48% Tempranillo, 42% Touriga, 10% Tinto Cão of which only 60 cases were produced. Moderate tannins come through with aromas and flavors of cherry and plum are accented by notes of clove, and cocoa on the finish.

Tempranillo is a varietal that we are very familiar with. The Pierce Ranch 2006 Tempranillo is a blend of 94.2% Tempranillo, 4.3% Syrah, 1.5% Grenache of which only 135 cases were produced.

This Tempranillo with its medium tannins, velvety texture, and bright fruit, show similar to a Pinot Noir. Cherry and raspberry combine with notes of cola, and a touch of floral notes on the finish and shows very nicely.

Josh once again showed us a varietal that we have not had too much experience with , Touriga. "Touriga" is the name applied to a pair of Portuguese varietals that create exceptional wines prized for their richness and remarkable aromatics.. Though U.S. labeling laws only allow the use of the generic term "Touriga", this designation usually refers to either one or both of the two varietals known in Portugal as Touriga Francesa and Touriga Nacional. The Pierce 2006 Touriga is a blend of 70% Touriga Nacional, 30% Touriga Francesa and only 97 cases were produced. Dark in color and large bodied , the 2006 vintage is defined by rich blueberry and raspberry with accents of starfruit, clove, cinnamon, and creme brulee. Notes of cocoa , earth and ripe fruit all combine with soft tannins on the finish.

It was a real pleasure to met a young , upstart vineyard owner from one of the newest AVAs in the US. Pierce Ranch , in our opinion is off to a great start and could be the next rising star.

With the long but wonderful day coming to an end , memories of this day will linger with us for a long time. But, there is always the Grand Finale to come.

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Elaine and Scott

Elaine and Scott
Elaine and Scott