Lightening Wines is a new sip for me. Winemakers Randy and Brooke Hester were kind enough to send me a few samples to taste what their small batch winery is all about. This Napa-based winery focuses on Rhone-style wines, sourcing much of their grapes from El Dorado County, California’s self-proclaimed “Rhone-zone.” As someone who loves Rhone wines and appreciates California’s diverse expression of the grapes that are so dependent on both region and winemaker, I was eager to taste what Lightening Wines had to offer. Always skeptical about white blends in general, spoiler alert: I was very much impressed by this CDP Blanc. Well-balanced, refreshing, and just downright tasty, I was able to enjoy with several meals throughout the week.
I’ve followed winemaker Janu Goelz for quite some time—admittedly mostly on social media. What I immediately recognized was a young woman passionate about building her brand and business. Located on the outskirts of San Jose in Gilroy, California, Alara Cellars is one of a handful of boutique wineries in the Santa Clara Valley. Most folks forget about this piece of California wine country, and I love how she embraces it, pouring her wines at both local Silicon Valley hangouts and, now, at regional shows and competitions.
Oh how her brand has grown into such a success.
After interviewing her for a feature in our magazine, I finally got to meet her a few weeks ago at my company’s annual Bottle Bash party during the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium. She is just as friendly and delightful as her wines suggest. So I feel privileged to review one of her wines here on my humble little website.
I learned about Matthes Vineyard through winemaker-friend Cynthia Cosco of Passaggio, who sourced her Grenache Blanc and Marsanne grapes from Henry Matthes for her 2016 vintage of Grenache Blanc. In fact, she didn’t just source those grapes, she struck a deal with Henry — in exchange for his exclusive fruits to use for her own Grenache Blanc, she would help him make his 2016 vintage. The difference between the Passaggio and Matthes styles is that Henry prefers to age his Grenache Blanc in oak, whereas Cindy prefers all stainless. So it takes more time for the Matthes Vineyards estate wines to be ready for release. So, today I present to you a sneak peek at Matthes Vineyards 2016 Grenache Blanc.
“Our wine business is the smallest licensed/permitted Vineyard/Winery in Sonoma Valley,” says Henry Matthes, proprietor of Matthes Vineyards. It must be true, the Matthes Vineyards sits on a 1/3 acre parcel of land with just shy of 700 vines on the property. Though Henry started out as a grape seller, his modest vineyard now produces between 100 – 150 cases under his own name. Small-lot, indeed, so it was a privilege when Henry invited me to taste his wines.
Jon Fones, co-owner and winemaker of Cellars 33, says that when starting a winery, one tends to grab at the fruit they can get their hands on — vineyards with available, affordable contracts with fruits you’re able and willing to work with. After working with Napa-based Chardonnay for a number of years, Fones — through a tip from a fellow winemaker — turned his sights to Lodi where, he found, the Grenache Blanc in Clay Station Vineyard grew just beautifully (and, yes, affordably). It may have been a bit experimental at first, working with a new grape variety within his portfolio, but now Cellars 33 is focused on Grenache Blanc as their white wine. “With the fruit from Clay Station,” says Fones, “We can express the source through our wine. And that’s really what we’re all about.”