VINE CUTTINGS

News and Notes from the World of Wine




CHALONE SETTLES INTO NAPA

Apparently Napa Valley isn't too overcrowded or too expensive for some to still want into the game. In a matter of just two weeks in February, Chalone Wine Group created for itself a sizable Napa presence by purchasing two major vineyards, one of which is a prized plot of land planted with top-notch Cabernet Sauvignon.

By purchasing the 69-acre Hewitt Ranch property in Rutherford and the 160-acre Suscol Creek vineyard in southeastern Napa Valley, Chalone is now stocked with premium fruit sources. Chalone paid a healthy $14.5 million for Hewitt Ranch, which is located smack in the center of the fabled Rutherford Bench. The 57 acres of vines, planted in four sections to three different clones, are surrounded by famed Cabernet vineyards with names like Niebaum-Coppola, Bosché and Eisele.

Suscol Creek, which cost nearly $6 million, is a more multipurpose vineyard, with 35 acres of Chardonnay and some Merlot, Syrah and Pinot Noir. Chalone plans to plant 40 additional acres of Merlot and Cabernet.

The bold and costly moves are all part of a grand Napa red-wine project being engineered by Tom Selfridge, Chalone's president and CEO. Selfridge was winemaker at Beaulieu Vineyard in Rutherford from 1973-83, and later became president of the winery before leaving in 1990. He says that with the exception of Chardonnay, America is fast becoming a red-wine drinking nation, and Chalone is responding to what it sees as a trend. Ultimately, Selfridge wants the company, which has properties stretching from Washington's Columbia Valley down to the Edna Valley of California, to be about two-thirds dedicated to reds. Just two years ago, 70 percent of the Chalone group's production was white wines.

With respect to the newly acquired chunk of prime Rutherford land, Selfridge admitted that he is personally a big fan of the Hewitt property, which includes a 10,000-square-foot home originally built by a former U.S. ambassador to Jamaica. For many years the vineyard has been a source of Cabernet for BV, including the Georges de Latour Private Reserve. But that is about to change. Over the next five years, a contract that entitles BV to all of the Hewitt Ranch fruit will expire in stages.

In an interview, Selfridge said 2004 is the target vintage for an inaugural single-vineyard Cabernet from Hewitt Ranch. At this point, neither a name for the wine nor a winemaker has been decided upon. Meanwhile, Suscol Creek and vineyards owned by Andy Beckstoffer will provide the fruit for Merlot and Cabernet wines under a different brand name. The first vintage for these wines should be 1999, with a release in 2001 or 2002.

"This is a long-term investment for us. Hewitt is an 18,000-case vineyard. We will want to maximize the character of this precious piece of land," Selfridge said. Having been replanted in sections starting in 1992, the vineyard, which is managed by David Morisoli, is better than ever, Selfridge insisted. "This vineyard is in super shape. It's got the best root stock and clones. In theory, we won't have to touch it for 25, 30, even 40 years. It's really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

How quickly things change in Napa. Just a month ago Chalone had no "claret" vineyards, as Selfridge calls them. Now, counting the commitment from Beckstoffer to provide grapes, Chalone could soon be putting out as much as 50,000 cases of red wine from Napa. If you thought Napa was tapped, you were wrong.

Michael Schachner

ANTIOXIDANTS ONLINE

By now you probably have heard that drinking wine can be good for your health, especially if the wine in your glass is red. But why? Without veering too far into body chemistry and physiology, wine is beneficial to one's health primarily because grapes are loaded with polyphenols, which act as antioxidants.

 

A SAINT-EMILION DISCOVERY
Since Alexandre de Malet Roquefort, the 28-year-old son of Comte Leo de Malet Roquefort, purchased Château Bonnet d'Armens a year ago, the dynamic young owner has brought new life to the Saint-Emilion chateau, which he rechristened simply Château Armens. But de Malet, whose father is proprietor of Châteaux La Gaffelière and Tertre Daugay in Saint-Emilion, is not just another wealthy scion looking for Parker points and prestige.

Sure, he's got a leg up on the competition, but he has learned the trade from the ground up, working many harvests at his family's properties and even taking a stint in Argentina as the manager of a wine estate.

In its previous incarnation as Château Bonnet d'Armens, annual production was approximately 12,000 cases, but the wines rarely made their way to American shores. The majority of the production was sold in bulk, with only 10 percent reserved for private customers. De Malet, however, is hoping to change that, as evidenced by a recent trip to New York where he poured barrel samples for the trade.

If the wines under the previous regime were sturdy Saint-Emilions that could sometimes be a little old-fashioned, de Malet is doing an about-face. He has brought in superstar enologist Michel Rolland to infuse the wines with greater charm and suppleness. Most vintages will see 100 percent new oak, and microbullage, the gentle aeration of the wine with tiny oxygen bubbles, will be used to soften the tannins. De Malet anticipates that only 20 to 30 percent of the output will go into the first label, with the rest of the production being bottled under the name La Fleur du Château Armens.

The barrel samples of the 1998 Armens show great color and depth of black-cherry and blackberry fruit, accented by herbs, toasty new oak, coffee and licorice. The tannins are present but soft, making it drinkable now, yet capable of holding several years. In style and quality it resembles the popular Château Monbousquet. Pricing for the United States has not yet been established, but de Malet projects it will sell in the $25-30 range, based on what it is fetching now among the courtiers and middlemen of Bordeaux.

The 1999, from a much more troublesome vintage and the first entirely under the new regime, should prove to be good as well. Covered sorting tables were installed in time for the harvest to prevent dilution from rain and to allow for the removal of any rotten grapes. In Saint-Emilion, home to many unheralded but high-quality estates, add another to the list of wines worth looking out for.

Joe Czerwinski

So what, you ask, is an antioxidant, and what's so good about it? Antioxidants are natural nutrients found in certain fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants protect against undesirable chemical reactions within the body, especially excessive oxidation of cells, which contributes to aging and disease. Antioxidants are found in polyphenols, which are found in certain plants. Grapes carry a large amount of polyphenols, and it's in the skins and seeds of red grapes that the largest concentration of polyphenols is found. In recent years it has become increasingly accepted that a diet rich in polyphenols can reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure. Antioxidants also boost immunity and keep your skin looking younger.

To learn about antioxidants in a user-friendly and fun way, a new website founded by Howard Jacobson of Canandaigua Brands is just the ticket. By logging on to www.anti-oxidant.com, you will meet the Answer Grape, a cute virtual guide versed in much of what you might want to know about better dietary health. Presented in a way that is far more easy to navigate than a medical journal, the new website covers the now-famous French Paradox phenomenon, health headlines, and products other than wine that contain grapeseed extract, like soaps, toothpaste, even dog biscuits. With multiple doctors and health experts consulting on the site's content, anti-oxidant.com could be a legitimate tool in the continuing education of the American public. —M.S.

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