Hall Buys Two Vineyards in Two Months
Dallas businesswoman/attorney and Napa Valley winery owner Kathryn Hall, whose December 2002 acquisition of the 185-acre Rigi Vineyard on the Silverado Trail raised eyebrows, is still on a roll. On January 24 her company announced the $11 million purchase of the 405-acre T-T (pronounced "tee-bar-tee") Ranch, which had been owned by the Tancer family of Iron Horse Vineyards.
Hall established herself as a Napa vintner in 1995, when she and her husband, Craig, a Texas real estate mogul, bought the 19-acre Sacrashe Vineyard, which had been supplying grapes to Duckhorn, Silver Oak and Cakebread wineries. The Halls created the Kathryn Hall label and were set to release their first wine, a 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon, when the entire production (along with the 1997 vintage) was destroyed in a June 2000 warehouse fire. A few cases of the 1998 Kathryn Hall Cabernet were sold, but the winery's real launch was the 1999 Cabernet, which went on sale in January 2003.
At the time of Hall's $8.5 million purchase of Rigi Vineyard, which she has since renamed Napa River Ranch, Hall, a former U.S. ambassador to Austria, said she was not sure whether she would use the grapes for Kathryn Hall wines or create a new label for them. Under the terms of the T-T contract, all of the vineyard's Alexander Valley grapes will continue to go to Iron Horse "at least for now," Hall told Wine Enthusiast. She added that she may buy new vineyards in the future, "if we can find a property available that's extraordinary."
The latest sale caused consternation in California's wine community because the T-T (for "Tancer and Tancer") Ranch has been in the Tancer family since 1950, and Iron Horse's co-owner, Forrest Tancer, was known to love it. The vineyard has been the source of well-regarded Cabernet, Sangiovese, Fumé Blanc and other Iron Horse wines. Tancer told Wine Enthusiast he sold T-T "regretfully" because his two children, who each own one-third of the property, are not interested in the wine business. "It was really their right to decide" to sell the land, he said.
Zinfandel Madness Strikes San Francisco
at Annual ZAP Tasting
Record Crowds Flock to Taste the Latest Releases from Leading Producers
Is Cabernet really king of California's reds? To judge from the 9,000 wine lovers who flocked to the annual Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) tasting in San Francisco on January 25, Zinfandel is a strong contender for the title.
Lined up in two hangar-like structures built over San Francisco Bay, 291 wineries poured new releases to a public thirsty for California's signature grape. Zinfandel lovers flew in from all over the U.S., Europe, South Africa, Canada, Australia and South America.
"What I love most about Zinfandel is that it's so diverse," said Steve Morck, a software industry executive from Maryland who has attended ZAP for the past three years. "It comes in big robust styles and more elegant styles."
Zinfandel came to California from Eastern Europe in the early 1800s. The grape variety has virtually disappeared from Europe, except for a foothold it retains in Southern Italy, where it is known as Primitivo.
At its best, Zinfandel is richly textured and brimming with ripe, spicy and sometimes jammy fruit flavors redolent of black cherry, blackberry and plum. Made from ultraripe grapes, the wines can be high in alcohol—full bodied, heady affairs.
"Zinfandel is one of the most vivacious wine varietals," said Julie Johnson, a co-founder of Frog's Leap, who left that winery two years ago to concentrate on her Zinfandel label, Tres Sabores ("three tastes" in Spanish) from her 8-acre vineyard in Napa Valley.
In addition to Tres Sabores, Napa Valley was represented by such top producers as Turley, S.E. Chase, D-Cubed, Chateau Potelle, Brown Estate and Tofanelli Ranch. Titus offered an outstanding wine from Mendocino County; Williams Selyem served up a fine-tuned Zinfandel from Russian River Valley. And from the Central Valley, Russell Clayton was pouring his 2000 Clayton Zinfandel, jam-packed with flavor and character.
Notable non-Californians on hand were Nepenthe Vineyards and Kangarilla Road from Australia; Sineann and Mystic Wines from Oregon, and Terramater from Chile.
Serious Israeli Wines For Passover
The concept of artisan wines from Israel might strike many people as an oxymoron. Yet Recanati Winery in Israel's northern Galilee region is doing all that it can to deconstruct the common perception that quality wines don't come from the Promised Land.
Now in its second vintage, Recanati is exporting Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to the United States, and both the regular and reserve bottlings—all made by American-born and U.C. Davis-educated Lewis Pasco—are some of the best, most internationally styled wines from the country.
Anything less would not appeal to owner Leonardo Recanati, who is a successful banker, one of Israel's largest private wine collectors, and a stickler for quality. His 5,000-bottle cellar at his home near Tel Aviv is loaded with wines like Sassicaia and Ornellaia, first-growth Bordeaux and grand cru Burgundies, and Napa Cabernets from the likes of David Arthur and Araujo.
Recanati, a devout wine enthusiast who has been visiting vineyards around the world and collecting prestige wines for the past 20 years, insists that he wants to make wines that will say something positive about Israel. Without naming names, he is critical of the majority of Israeli wineries, saying they are employing out-of-date techniques. Some, he says, are also guilty of exploiting the kosher buying sector of the market. "There are some poor wines being made in Israel, which is unfortunate," he says. "We have weather conditions and land that are very similar to Napa and Sonoma, so I see no reason why we can't make world-class wines. I think it's all a matter of commitment and the pursuit of quality."
And while Recanati's own wines from the 2000 and 2001 vintages may not be as stellar as some of the wines that he collects, they are indeed good everyday wines. Recanti's wines will appeal to kosher and non-kosher drinkers alike, especially considering that the entry-level wines sell for $13, and the reserves, $20.
Although the wines are kosher for Passover, the religious market is not Recanati's sole target, which is largely why he hired Pasco, formerly of Chimney Rock and Marimar Torres, as his chief winemaker. Pasco shoots for—and hits—the international style. His Chardonnays are barrel fermented and aged on the lees, resulting in wines with body, texture and buttery, tropical-fruit flavors. The regular and reserve Chardonnays (both 2001) are, in my opinion, Recanati's best wines. (Only the regular bottling is currently available in the United States.) Total production right now is about 20,000 cases.
Meanwhile, the 2000 Merlots and Cabernets are bright in color and bold in flavor. The Merlot has more substance, while the Cabernet is arguably more appealing now. Both are good wines that will appeal to a wide audience. Another Recanati wine, the 2000 Special Reserve, a luxurious, 50/50 blend of Merlot and Cabernet, was excellent, but it is unfortunately not available on the U.S. market yet.
When asked about security in the northern Galilee area, Recanati pointed out that where the winery is located (near the border with Lebanon) is fairly safe relative to other areas. "It's Israel proper, and in the countryside," he noted, "which is a far cry from the West Bank or Jerusalem."
Enophiles Head Back to Boston
Consumers flocked en masse once again to the Boston Wine Expo, held February 1-2 at the city's World Trade Center. An estimated 16,400 visitors sampled wines from 440 wineries in 18 countries.
Now in its 12th year, the Expo is the nation's largest consumer wine event. While many flocked to the seminars—heavy this year on regional focuses, including Priorat, Greece, and Italy's varying terroir—other attendees kept to the floor, gathering firsthand news from their favorite winery reps and winemakers.
Mark Pope of Murphy-Goode Winery says that the Alexander Valley producer will debut a screwcapped Sauvignon Blanc (one fermented in stainless steel and aptly named "Tin Roof") in April. Peter Rickards, general manager of New Zealand's The Crossings, a winery earning acclaim for its Sauvignon Blanc, says that their '02 Pinot Noir will be released in the U.S. in the coming weeks. The Marlborough producer is also releasing its first Cabernet Sauvignon this year, but it's not yet available stateside. Folks at the Hardys booth were pouring the Hardys Stamp of Australia line—from bottles, alas, not from their newly released 3-liter boxes.
As always, the weekend's festivities began with the Anthony Spinazzola Foundation Gala of Food and Wine, now in its 18th year, on the Friday night before the Expo. The gala drew 4,000 attendees, and raised $600,000 for hunger relief agencies and culinary scholarships.
Coppola Unveils Renovated Rubicon Winery
Famed Director, Winery Owner Pays the Highest Price Ever for
Napa Valley Land
Ever the showman, Francis Ford Coppola chose an auspicious moment last December to invite some 100 wine enthusiasts to his newly renovated Rubicon (formerly Inglenook) Winery for a tasting of rare Inglenook Cabernets dating from 1933 to 1963. As guests arrived for the once-in-a-lifetime tasting, they learned that the famous filmmaker and vintner had just purchased the adjacent 85-acre Cohn Vineyard for $350,000 per acre, beating out the Mondavi/Opus group in a bidding war for the most expensive land ever sold in the Napa Valley. The deal included an additional 110 undeveloped acres and a large stone house, for a total of $31 million.
"This marks the return of winemaking to the chateau," Coppola stated with obvious pride. He was referring to the main building at the historic Inglenook Winery, which he purchased in 1975 and rescued, over the years, from a state of general disrepair. No wine had been made in the old winery since 1966.
Coppola's original purchase, which included 100 acres of vines, 1,600 acres of unplanted hillside, and the late John Daniel's Victorian home, cost $2 million. In 1995, he paid beverage giant Heublein another $10 million for the old winery and 90 additional acres. He spent another $2 million on renovations of the 39,000 square-foot chateau and then $2 million more to restore the winery section of the building, which now contains some 12 large oak fermentation tanks, tiled floors (which replaced the old concrete) and the original but refurbished Douglas fir catwalks.
With his new purchase, Coppola has spent close to $50 million to recreate the glory that was once Inglenook, which was founded in 1879 by a Finnish trader and adventurer named Gustave Niebaum. It was sold to Heublein in 1964 by Niebaum's heir, John Daniel.
Daniel's daughter, Robin Lail, was present for the tasting and rededication of the winery. "I have good feelings when I'm here," said Lail, a Napa vintner with her own winery. She grew up on what is now the Niebaum-Coppola Estate. "I suppose I could feel otherwise, but [the Coppolas] have done a great job of maintaining this property."
In the interest of history, the Coppolas raided their own private wine cellar to produce the rare wines for the benchmark tasting. It was clear that history had been kind. Vintages included 1963, 1959, 1958,1943, 1941, 1934 and 1933. All the wines showed well. Perhaps the best was the oldest: the 1933. Made shortly after the repeal of Prohibition, the wine was as remarkable for its complex and vibrant flavors as it was for the history it symbolized.
Coppola will be challenged with each vintage to create wines of equal distinction. So far, with Rubicon winemaker Scott McLeod at the helm, recent vintages appear to be on the track to greatness and longevity.
Pennsylvania wine enthusiasts will soon reap the benefits of Act 212, which permits consumer tastings in retail shops, all of which are supervised by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. Jonathan H. Newman, PLCB Chairman, and winemaker Ferdinando Frescobaldi hosted the state's first public wine tasting on February 5th, at a PLCB Premium Collection store on Main Street in Exton, Pennsylvania.
PEOPLE IN THE NEWS
Keith Lambert, Southcorp director and CEO, resigned February 3. His resignation was "requested and received" by the board of Southcorp. Brian Finn, Chairman of Southcorp, will be interim executive chairman until Lambert's successor is named.
David C.M. Dearie has filled the role of president and chief operating officer, previously held by resignee Thomas Burnet, in the wine division of Brown-Forman Wines.
Judd Wallenbrock, of Robert Mondavi and DeLoach fame, has founded his own winery called "Humanitas." The profits of this label are to be donated to yet-unnamed hunger, homelessness and education charities.
Following the acquisition of BRL Hardy by Constellation Brands, Stephen Millar will be responsible for global wine plans as chief executive of Constellation Brands, reporting to Richard Sands from Adelaide, Australia. Prior to the $1.4 billion acquisition of his company, Millar held the position of chief executive at BRL Hardy.
New Los Angeles-based wine label features bold Syrah, Cab Franc and coming soon, Pinot Noir
For Carroll Kemp and Mark Estrin, the owners of Red Car Wine Company, Los Angeles is about more than Hollywood glitz and the three-peating Lakers. It's a city rich in history, one best reflected by the gritty detective novels of Raymond Chandler and the bright red streetcars that once shuttled folks around town.
So when Kemp, a talent agent and film producer who has worked with Johnny Depp and Marlon Brando, and Estrin, a former television screenwriter who now sells wine and buys specialty food products for the Wine House in L.A., got together a few years ago to launch a small wine label, they paid homage to the Los Angeles of old by naming their fledgling company Red Car. Since then they have kept with the theme by dubbing their first three Syrahs "The Window," "The Stranger" and "The Dreaming Detective," Chandleresque monikers to say the least.
"We wanted to pay tribute to historic Los Angeles, because this is where we live and work," says Kemp, who grew up in Arkansas. (Estrin is originally from Chicago.) "We started in 2000, making 50 cases of Syrah out of my garage," Kemp said, "and we ended up selling almost all of it to restaurants, including Valentino in Santa Monica and the French Laundry in Napa Valley."
These days, production on the market isn't much larger (254 cases of the 2001 Stranger), but Red Car has definitely expanded beyond its garage roots. All of the 2001 wines, including the yet-to-be-released Dreaming Detective and a Cabernet Franc called Some Like It Red, were made in Santa Barbara County at the Central Coast Wine Services custom crush facility by Tim Spear, whose own label is the acclaimed Clos Mimi.
Priced at $40 a bottle, The Stranger is a massive yet refined 100 percent Syrah whose fruit was sourced from the San Marcos Vineyard in Paso Robles (59 percent) and the Colson Canyon Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley (41 percent). The wine, which bursts with rich berry fruit and a dollop of creamy oak, is the product of extended indigenous yeast fermentations.
"We're all about taking risks," says Kemp, who noted that Red Car began as a dream financed by $10,000 of his and Estrin's own money. Now with additional investors on board, Red Car is on its way to making 5,000 cases annually.
Bulking up production is the aforementioned Dreaming Detective, Red Car's first Syrah from the Thompson Vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley. Some Like It Red, to be priced at $25 a bottle, is pure Cabernet Franc, the fruit of which came from a so-called suitcase clone of Cheval Blanc planted at the San Marcos site in Paso Robles. Both should be released sometime this spring.
In 2002, Red Car secured Pinot Noir grapes from Keefer Ranch in Green Valley, Sonoma County and from the Clouds Rest Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast AVA. In addition, Red Car will bottle a 2002 Syrah from the Perry Vineyard in the Coombsville section of Napa Valley, and maybe even a Syrah from the Rolling Hills Vineyard in Paso Robles.
"My job is to work on vineyard sources, while Mark is the creative mind. He's the guy who writes the catchy stories on our back labels," Kemp said.
An example of Estrin's prose, from the back label of The Stranger: "As the train rocked back and forth I studied her pace. I pegged her for an actress from Ohio—sweet and a little lonely, and not quite tough enough to last. There was a guy back home with a broken heart. This is what I thought. Sometimes I'm right on the money with these things. Sometimes I'm dead wrong."
You get the feeling that somewhere out there, Raymond Chandler, who was known to have never passed up a drink, is smiling.