Sick and Tired – But Very, Very Happy
After five years of listening to my ranting and ravings most of you know by now how I feel about wine and the wine industry, and how we, as a team, me and my two colleagues, Marina and Bruno, feel about really exceptional wines. The month of September is ‘Trade Tasting’ month where I get to taste through hundreds of wines from all over the world in the sometimes forlorn hope of finding something different. This year, as I have mentioned, I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the wines. For the most part prices had remained steady but one constant that I am never thrilled at is the price to quality value of Californian wines. Prior to tasting many of the west coast wines I could have pinpointed where they came from just by their absurd price. $600 for a bottle of dubious Californian Cabernet is not my idea of a ‘find’. Combined with my preference for a wine that excites as opposed to barging into my mouth with a sledgehammer, these wines were just not on a par with some of the European wines I tasted.
Until today. And this is where the title line of this comment comes into play. I love wine when it’s really well made – and I go beyond the French distinction that well made wine is born in the vineyard and then made by ‘man’. I honestly believe that passion plays an enormous part and that the character of the passionate wine-makers can be seen in their wines. It doesn’t happen often and therefore I revert to the standard ‘it has to be really good wine’ before I buy it. When the wine combines everything great and has a massive dose of passion then it’s a wine that I’ll buy for the store, happily, and for my cellar in anticipation of wonderful nights ahead. Wines from Sheldon Winery are such wines.
Some may remember a few years ago that I wrote about a young girl and her husband making wines in a ‘homeless’ state. They were the true essence of the ‘garagiste pioneers’. They mountain biked up impassable ravines to spy on vineyards that had been untouched by mass productivity protocol. They pleaded, begged and maybe stole grapes from farmers who grew some of the finest grapes in California. They hand touched everything they made, because they had to. Their ‘winery’ is no such thing and whilst they are a family owned ‘winery’ so too is Gallo. What they made was unconventional. Why? Because it was so damn good and they made it in a rented corner of an industrial warehouse. Jump forward a few years and Tobe Sheldon and her husband Dylan are still making wine but they now call themselves a ‘micro-winery’. I just tasted eight of the most compelling wines I have tasted from California this year. I had to make sure that Bruno was tasting alongside me in case my infatuation for the wine-maker was clouding my ability to taste the raw juice. It wasn’t. It might have helped but nothing clouds the taste of truly exceptional wine. Below were my tasting notes:
Chardonnay Sleepy Hollow: Tasting Note: OMFG
Pinot Noir Roma Vineyard: Tasting Note: Wetting myself
Pinot Noir Kendric Vineyard: Tasting Note: Did
Grenache Santa Ynez Valley: Tasting Note: Gotta have a party – blow ‘em away
Graciano – Ripken: Tasting Note: WTF
Weatherly Cuvee: Tasting Note: Died. Gone to Heaven. Booty.
As you can see, my notes were considerably more professional than most critics I know. When you are in the presence of great wine who cares that it tastes like forest floor or has a bouquet as elegant as a ballerina’s perfume? These are raw, unadulterated, unfiltered under the radar wines. Basically, all hyperbole aside, they bless you.
If, however, you would prefer to read the more ‘sensible’ reviews, here are the notes from Tobe Sheldon herself:
Sheldon Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Chardonnay 2007: Wine Making: Hand harvested October 4th at an average of 24 brix. Slowly barrel fermented over six weeks in a cool cellar. The lees were stirred every ten days. Bottled unfiltered and unfined. Winemaker Tasting Notes: Rich golden color, upfront impressions of a lush and creamy body with intense pineapple and snappy notes of lemon zest. Mid palate fills out with toasty brioche, hints of ginger and a dash of chamomile tea. Resident Wino Tasting Notes: The Marilyn Monroe of Chardonnay; lusty, sought after and misunderstood– 195 cases handmade.
Tanzer Review: Deeply pitched, smoky aromas of peach nectar, tangerine, honey and herbs, with building florality and a hint of anise. Lush and creamy but assertive, offering gently sweet pit fruit and honey flavors leavened by a note of bitter blood orange. Shows red wine-like texture, with serious finishing power and lingering smoke and saffron notes. There’s something about this wine’s depth, power and smokiness that reminds me of a vin jaune from the Jura, but the fruit here is fresh. Wild and singular, and a great match with rich, creamy fish, offal (sweetbreads, especially) or poultry dishes. 92
Sheldon Grenache Santa Ynez: Wine Making: We harvested on October 3rd 2007. During crush we allowed 30% of the grapes to remain whole-cluster. Fermented in ½ ton bins for 14 days, with “3 a day” punch downs by hand. Basket pressed into one new and 9 seasoned French oak barrels. Bottled unfiltered, unfined. Winemaker Tasting Notes: Introducing a juicy ripe youthful Grenache: This wine displays the agility and grace of a trapeze performer. Mouthwatering notes of black cherry and boysenberry swing through the nose; medium bodied plum skin tannin back flip to a balancing pop of sweet-tart candy. Resident Wino Tasting Notes: Like your first crush; flirty, innocent, and full of youthful joy! 240 cases handmade
Sheldon Pinot Noir Kendric Vineyard Marin County: Wine Making: The Kendrick vineyard is a North-East facing 8.5 acre vineyard that straddles the Marin & Sonoma County Line. This location benefits from the warm days, as well as the cooling Pacific breezes. The row by row harvest took place in stages between Sept. 24th and 28th. The blend of three clones, 677, 115 & Pommard were grown on the well draining sandy loam soils. Crushed into small 1/2 ton open top macro bins leaving roughly 20% of the clusters whole, we cold soaked the grapes for three days before starting fermentation. The fruit was fermented on the cooler side to retain the delicate aromatics and varietal character of Pinot Noir. After 13 days we loaded the must into our 3/4 ton hydro-basket press, gently pressing off into a mix of 1 new Mercier Vosges & 5 seasoned French oak barrels. Resident Wino Tasting Notes: An evening with Betty Boop and Jessica Rabbit hanging out at the soda fountain . . . an adult sensory experience with child like whimsy. 145 cases handmade
Sheldon Viognier La Naris: Wine Making: Picked in three stages from mid September to early October. Crushed and Basket Pressed on whole-cluster. Cold fermented in small stainless tanks, racked down into 3-5 year season barrels. No Malolactic fermentation.Winemaker Tasting Notes: Clean bright tones of peach, apricot & white nectarine. Mid palate of mandarin orange, guava. The finish develops into an interesting minerality suggesting chalk rock, and lingering floral notes. A lot going on, it’s a constantly moving target. Resident Wino Tasting Notes: The blonde that has everything: style, charm and legs that go on forever . . .’ 120 cases handmade
Sheldon Weatherly Cuvee: Wine Making: The Petite Sirah for this blend was grown at the Collier Vineyard, a single acre planted roughly 75 years ago at the north end of Calistoga near the Silverado trail. This head pruned, dry farmed site is slow ripening allowing for good ‘hang-time’ and inclusion of 100% whole clusters into the fermentation. Harvest took place on the 29th of September at an average ripeness of 23.5 brix. The Cabernet was grown in the Louvau Vineyard which lies in the North end of the Dry Creek Bench. Two Cabernet lots were harvested, coming in on October 10th and Oct. 17th respectively, at a ripeness of 22.8 and 23.2 brix. Both lots were cold soaked, crushed and fermented in small, open top fermentors with-out the use of sulfur. After two weeks of fermentation we gently basket pressed off into a mix of new and previously used French Oak Barrels. We kept the individual lots separate during the elevage of this wine. One month prior to bottling the final selection of these 8 barrels were blended together to go into the final to cuvee. Winemaker Tasting Notes: This is a well balanced yet full bodied wine displaying rich, mouth-filling texture, fine grained tannins and great complexity. The nose offers notes of Violets, sun warmed Blackberry, grilled Plum, and Cacao, finishing with hints of freshly cracked Pepper. I find delicate threads of both Lavender & Walnut which are planted thought the Collier vineyard and lend their resinous, softly herbaceous quality to this wine. As these wines age, natural sediment may form over time. Our wines are unfined and unfiltered because sterile wines have no soul. Resident Wino Tasting Notes: The booty wine! Sultry and seductive this wine is sure to please with velvety soft tannins and rich warm fruit. 195 cases handmade
Sheldon Pinot Noir Roma Vineyard: Wine Making: The fruit for this 5 Barrel lot of Pinot Noir was grown at the Roma’s Vineyard, a ridge-top location planted at 1,800 feet elevation at the north end of the Anderson Valley. This vintage was cooler than average, pushing harvest back by 3 weeks. This slow and late ripening allowed for tremendous ‘hang-time’ and flavor development even though sugar levels were somewhat low. Harvest took place with two tons coming in on October 19th and a final half ton arriving Oct. 21st, at an average ripeness of 22.5 brix. Both lots were cold soaked, crushed and fermented in small, open top fomenters with-out the use of sulfur. The second 1/2 ton lot was fermented on whole cluster for added spice and structure. After two weeks of fermentation we gently basket pressed off into 2 and 3 yr previously used Barrels. We choose to forgo using any new oak in the elevage of this wine to best show the full array of aromatics and pure varietal expression from this vineyard. Winemaker Tasting Notes: This is an extremely vibrant, fragrantly high toned cool climate Pinot. Piercingly aromatic notes of Wild Strawberry, Kirsch, Rhubarb, with a nice layer of exotic Spice. The palate is classically proportioned and tightly focused. Firm mid palate tannins that remind me of tart plum skin are followed by bright mouthwatering acidity. As these wines age, natural sediment may form over time. Our wines are unfined and unfiltered because sterile wines have no soul. Resident Wino Tasting Notes: The Tron of Pinot Noir. For Wine Geeks: delicate, beautiful, precise, complex and futuristic…it is what is in my glass all day. 125 cases handmade.
A mention here about what it takes to devote yourself to making less than 1,000 cases of wine. You spend on average 7 days a week outside tending the vineyards; you spend 16 hours a day tending the juice in the fomenters – hand stirring, and God know what else; 6 hours a day wondering where the money is; 1 hour a day wondering if you ever had any; and 1 hour a day for life. 1000 cases on their schedule probably nets you $65,000 per year. An average of 110 cases per wine for the world. If they were Domaine Romanee Conti they would be flying a Lear Jet. But they are not. They are two young, beautiful people who are making ridiculous wines. You have to try them and you have to buy them. And as an incentive – I got between 2 and 3 cases of each of them – that’s all, with maybe a promise of more if I’m good!
Viognier La Naris – 2009: $35.00 per bottle. No case discount (not enough bottles)
Chardonnay Sleepy Hollow Vineyard – 2007: $45.00 per bottle. No case discount (3 cases purchased, 1 is going home with me)
Pinot Noir Roma Vineyard – 2010: $52.00 per bottle. Don’t even bother to ask about a case discount (18 bottles)
Pinot Noir Kendric Vineyard Marin County – 2006: $56.00 per bottle. Don’t be silly (24 bottles)
Grenache Santa Ynez Valley – 2007: $25.00 per bottle. 10% on 12 but be quick. 3 cases only
Graciano – Ripken – 2009: $38.00 per bottle. 2 cases promised, maybe 3 if I’m lucky.
Weatherly Cuvee – 2009: $50.00 per bottle. 3 cases requested, if I get them 1 case goes home.
Call me if you want to order them – the Viognier, Pinot Noir Roma and Weatherly Cuvee are coming direct from the winery so will be here toward the end of October. The rest will be here on Wednesday and probably be gone by Saturday.
All the best – Cai – a not so well known wine critic
Monday10.00am – 7:00pm
Tuesday10.00am – 8:00pm
Wednesday10.00am – 8:00pm
Thursday10.00am – 8:00pm
Friday10.00am – 8:00pm
Saturday10.00am – 7:00pm