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.
As I mentioned in my review of the Emeritus Vineyards 2015 Hallberg Ranch Pinot Noir, this is my first time tasting from this winery. One of the things that intrigued me about Emeritus Vineyards is their story surrounding dry farming. According to the winery, dry farming Pinot Noir is common in Burgundy, but rare in California. But because of the Goldridge soils found in Emeritus’s Hallberg Ranch vineyard, located in the Green Valley AVA of Sonoma County, owner and vintner Brice Cutrer Jones decided to dry farm his vineyards since he purchased the land in 2007, planting the original apple orchard to grape vines.
The Goldridge soil with the underlying clay loam forces the vines to dig deep (nearly 20 feet) into the soil for water. This is something you may have read about in conjunction with the heartier Bordeaux varieites (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, even Petit Verdot and Malbec), but is — at least to me — a funky concept for the delicate Pinot Noir grape. According to Jones, this actually gives his Pinot Noir more complexity, a noteworthy minerality, and also allows the grapes to develop fully matured flavors at a lower Brix. Jones’s partner, Kirk Lokka notes, “Most growers pick at higher sugar levels because modern irrigation practices dilute the grapes with an excess of water. This is not the case with dry farming.”
The Pinot Hill Vineyard, located in Sebastopol, is also dry-farmed. And, again according to the winery, once Jones and Lokka purchased this property and instigated their dry farming methods on this Pinot-centric plot of land, Emeritus not has the largest dry-farmed estate in Sonoma County “and possibly California.” There are 107.76 acres planted on Hallberg Ranch, 30.68 acres planted on Pinot Hill.
Ok, that was a lot of talk about soil and stuff. But what does that all taste like in the glass?
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 reviewed the Shafer Vineyards 2015 TD-9 last year and enjoyed it so much, I had to do a vintage update. One of the things I love (besides the taste) is the story behind the name.
At 50 years old, John Shafer left his business shoes and commuter trains behind in Chicago, trading them in for a pair of boots and a TD-9 tractor. Without a green thumb to speak of, he picked up his family and purchased his first piece of Napa Valley property. On that property were old sheds and ancient farming equipment — among them an International Harvester tractor from the 1950s. One of his first challenges was learning how to drive the rickety old beast — but he loved every moment of it.
I can very much relate to this story: shifting gears, changing trajectory — that’s really what life is all about isn’t it. And when you find success in that new direction, so much the better. So cheers to you, John, and the Napa Valley legend you created by making that decision.
Emeritus is a new winery for me, but has a 10-year Sonoma-based history. Emeritus was founded in 1999 by Brice Curtrer Jones after he purchased the 115-acre parcel named for previous owners, Don and Marcia Hallberg. The land was planted as an apple orchard, but Curtrer knew the value of the land in terms of grapegrowing and saw the potential for beautiful Pinot Noir.
Hallberg Ranch is located in the cool, Green Valley region of the Russian River Valley—an AVA that, in my opinion is an up-and-coming one, and one that is producing some of Sonoma’s most interesting Pinot Noir as of late.