Hatcher Winery-Finding Gold in Calaveras Wine Country

I had the privilege to attend the 19th annual Calaveras Winegrape Alliance President’s Wine Weekend (http://calaveraswines.org/).  The event is hosted in the boutique downtown main street in the town of Murphys. The weather was absolutely perfect and the streets of this quaint downtown were packed with a diverse crowd, commemorative wine glasses in hand.  Smiles, bare skin, and wine buzzes were abundant on this unusually warm February weekend that celebrated a marriage of holidays, Valentines and Presidents’ Day.  22 wineries participated and it was an awesome event to attend.  Mark your calendars now to celebrate the 20th annual event next year.

Tasting some of Calaveras County’s finest wines, my palate was opened to another world of California wines right in the heart of “Gold Country.” Grape growing and the production of wine in Calaveras County reach back to the mid 1800s, born to the desire of miners from France, Germany, and Italy whom craved this lovely beverage.  The gold miners’ demand for wine produced vineyards cascading up through the hillsides.  The Sierra Foothills rivaled Napa and Sonoma in sheer size and volume of wine growing.  The entry of prohibition, the wine industry in the Sierras all but vanished.  It took many decades to infuse it back to life.  Some of the pioneers of the “re-birth” of the wine industry in Calaveras, were Stevenot(http://www.stevenotwinery.com/), Milliaire(http://www.milliairewinery.com/), and Chispa (now Black Sheep winery (http://www.blacksheepwinery.com/)).

The last decade in Calaveras can be compared to the “Gold Rush” of the mid 1800s, only this time, the discovery is quality wines.  There are many great wineries in the area but I am profiling Hatcher Winery (http://www.hatcherwinery.com/) as my gold nugget discovery.  Owner and winemaker, Matthew Hatcher, produces a wide variety of wines with high quality fruit and matched artfully with the right oak barrels.  His brother Sewell assists him in the business and together they yield some of the finest wines I have had the pleasure of trying from the Sierra Foothills.

Matt Hatcher harvests a relatively small production but an abundance of varietals to experience.  I have never met a grape I didn’t like but when it comes to wines- whole different story. I have a discerning palate for finer wines that can be savored.  Wine is meant to be enjoyed and It is obvious that Matt takes the utmost care from the grape to bottle.  One by one, I enjoyed every single vintage Matt poured for us.  There are only a handful of winemakers in California that can produce such an amazing portfolio of wines and Matt is making a name for himself as one of those.

The following wines were available for tasting:

2012 Sauvignon Blanc, 2011 Viognier, 2010 Beckmen Zinfandel, 2010 Barbera, 2009 Mouvedre, 2009 Sewell Blend, 2008 Petit Verdot, 2009 Petite Sirah, as well as a couple dessert wine offerings.

The lineup caught my attention as each vintage was well balanced, full flavored, and showed each grape at its’ finest.  I was pleasantly surprised by Matt’s wine making ability and quality of fruit apparent in each tasting. Hatcher wines benefit from oxygen exposure, a sure sign of quality wine.

#SipSavorServe

  • 2010 Barbera- dark and deep in color, aromas of ripe summer berries and fruit, jammy flavors of raspberries, toasted oak, all spice, with a light linger of cassis and dark fruit.  A Calaveras classic varietal aged in American oak, A great wine to stock up at $25.  Great wine to sip on with brie and french bread. I give it 92 #CMKpts
  • 2009 Sewell- Rhone style blend consisting of 40% Syrah, 30% Grenache, with the final 30% being made up of Cinsault, Petite Sirah, and Mouvedre. A big nose of red fruit, blackberry, currant, and freshly bloomed roses.  The Syrah takes the lead with blackberries and strawberries balanced with toasted oak.  It flows through with light flavors of tobacco and baking spices.  A great blend that can be savored with a variety of hard cheeses, meats , and dishes.  At $24, you can’t go wrong purchasing a few of these.  I give it 90 #CMKpts
  • 2009 Petite Sirah- Nothing petite about this lush, big wine.  Dark purple in color, aromas of rich dark chocolate, heavy toasted oak, nice acidity, balanced with ripe dark fruits.  This wine is a must have.  While tasting great now with proper decanting, this vintage will only improve over the next 4 or 5 year. Serve with a big barbecue steak. 92 #CMKpts

Cheers!

Cameron Marc Kossen

CMKWine.com Twitter: @CMKWine

CMKWine8@gmail.com

Calaveras Presidents’ Wine Weekend-Millennial Guide

For most young wine enthusiasts, the prospect of a Saturday spent trying new wineries is a covetable agenda. Valentine’s Day 2015 in Calaveras Wine Country was no exception, the day ripe with uncorked potential. Located just 2 hours east of the San Francisco Bay Area, the Calaveras county wine region is marked by its rolling green foothills, stunning vistas, and rocky terrain. Perfect for a retro and laid back weekend away, it also offers an intriguing assortment for wine lovers as thirty-eight grape varietals thrive in twelve microclimates across a 3,000-foot change in elevation.

The area is most well known for housing Hovey Winery, La Folia Wines, and Hatcher Winery, a few of the 22 wineries in the Calaveras Winegrape Alliance. The focal point for tasting the unique flavors of the region is downtown Murphys. Tasting rooms bump elbows with taprooms, boutiques, and restaurants in an easy to access historic main street setting.

This weekend the Caleveras Winegrape Alliance was throwing it’s 19th annual Presidents’ Wine Weekend event. For $20, participants received a commemorative wine glass and were able to sample a ‘limited-tasting’ flight at participating wineries both Saturday and Sunday. Several wineries offered complementary food tastings, and Chatom Vineyards capitalized on the weekend’s theme displaying life-size cardboard presidents waiting to be used in a selfie session.

Downtown Murphys’ Main Street was bustling with enthusiastic participants, and the event served as the perfect platform for experiencing an authentic taste of the area. Murphys makes for a fun weekend away, combining the historic feel of the wild west with an array of hipster wino’s and friendly locals. Mark your calendars for next year’s event, and head up early to sneak in a hike at local Natural Bridges ( http://www.gocalaveras.com/natutral-bridges-hike/ ) or a picnic in Big Trees Park.

The region’s most noteworthy varietals are Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Barbera, and Syrah prompting some of our #SipSavorServe recommendations are below:

  • Sip: Chatom Vineyards 2013 Semillion (Rich tones of toasted almond and honey on the mid-palate. Finishes with notes of vanilla and stone fruit.)- Sip while relaxing poolside or patio party with friends.
  • Savor: Hatcher Winery 2009 Petite Sirah (Nothing “petite” about this, boasts flavors of dark chocolate, dark fruit, and round tannins.) – Savor while catching up on your newest Netflix obsession.
  • Serve: Hatcher Winery 2010 Barbera (Raspberry and allspice open up to a big jammy mid palate, finishing with oak and tannin.)- Serve with a savory sausage pizza and enjoy.

See link below to plan your trip to enjoy Calaveras Wine Country:

http://calaveraswines.org/area-information/

Cheers!

Skylar Schock

Chief Marketing Officer

CMKWine

Priorat Spain: 800 Years of Wine Growing

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Priorat Spain is a fascinating wine region with some of the oldest wine growing and production of delicious wines.  It is located in North-Eastern Spain, situated between Barcelona and Valencia and in the Catalan region.  Priorat is 25 miles off the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. If you visit, be prepared for a different version of Spanish (Catala) but a passion for winemaking and wine unparalleled worldwide.

The wine growing dates back to 1194 and was originally tended to by Monks from the Carthusian Monastery of Scala Dei. The monks cared for the vineyards for over 6 centuries until they were expropriated by the state in 1835.  Towards the end of the 19th century, phylloxera devastated the region and it was not until the 1950s that the vineyards began to re-emerge.

The terrain is mountainous, rocky, and fairly rural with terraced vineyards rising up in the hills and mountains.  The climate is hot, with long summers, very little rain, and cool evenings.  The soil lacks nutrients and the roots extend down nearly 30 feet to reach the base water to sustain.  The soil type is mostly llicorella, which drains exceptionally well and is composed of red and black slate, mica, and quartz that has started decomposing.  The conditions yield very low quantities of fruit but the quality is phenomenal and the wine growers take great pride in producing world renowned wines.  The farming is mostly done by hand, making the work painstaking.  The farmers and winemakers have great passion and love for their grapes making exceptional wines.  This makes this unique terroir one of my favorites in Spain.

The main grapes are Garnacha (Grenache) and Carinena (Carignan).  Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot are commonly grown as well and blended into the wines to provide more power and structure.  The vines are low yielding, thus producing flavorful and deep structured wines.  Priorat has quickly garnished global acclaim and its’ fast rising fame has made it some of the most expensive Spanish wines.

I am featuring 3 wines from Priorat that I have had the privilege to experience and share with you.  They vary in vintage, price and composition of the blend of the 4 grapes above.  I have also included 3 of my most trusted palates to experience these wines with me.  What use is great wines without being shared with great company and enjoyment.

The first comes from Marco Abella and it is their Loidana, vintage 2009.  This wine has great balance, structure, and although it has power, it exudes a delicate formation of 37% Garnacha, 31% Carignan, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Syrah.  Straight out of the bottle, this wine shows masterfully.  With hours of air, it continues to improve.  As the winemaker shared with me, “all the care in the vineyard is strictly by hand.”  The love and passion they put forth in their wines is completely apparent in this bottle.  On the nose, I get red fruits especially strawberry.  On the palate, the flavors of blackberries, dark cherries, cassis, licorice, white pepper and spice protrude through the finish.  There is even a hint of dark chocolate, leather, and tobacco on the back layers.  It has nice acidity and round tannins.  I  give this young wine 92 pts and will revisit in a few years, expecting it to only improve with age.  It is distributed through the Terlato family and is found in the United States priced under $30 per bottle.  I would recommend enjoying this wine through 2020.

The second wine comes from Cellars Unio and is their 2009 Roureda Llicorella Gran Seleccio Vitis 60.  It consists of 40% Grenache, 40% Carignan, 10% Syrah, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. On the nose, light pepper and ripe black fruit are present but not overwhelming.  The wine is well balanced with flavors of dark berries, blueberries, wild berries, tobacco, licorice, and peppery flavors.  It is firmly structured and has firm tannins. This bottle was imported in the United States by Grape Expectations, Inc.  It can be found priced in the mid $20s. I give this wine 89 pts and believe it has some potential to improve over the next few years.

The last Priorat wine we experienced, is the 2005 Noster Inicial.  It consists of 70% Grenache, 25% Carignan, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.  You would never guess that it is predominately Grenache as it comes in big and seemingly high in alcohol.  This dissipates over a couple hours after opening to round out.  It has a nose of smoke, spices, and dark berries.  The black cherry and dark fruit flavors unfold with licorice and raisins with a bit of dusty tannins in your mouth.  For a wine found around $15, it is quite a bargain and I would give it 88 pts.  I would recommend allowing this wine to breathe for a couple hours and enjoying by 2017.

Although I think you cannot go wrong with the region of Priorat, depending on your price point you can find wines that are approachable at their youth or bottles that are age worthy and only going to continue to impress for years to come.

Cheers!

Stags Leap: history spanning over three centuries in Napa

Stags Leap Sunset

Stags Leap-Chimney Rock Vineyards

One of my favorite appellations in Northern California, Stags Leap, boasts a long and storied history.  With the unique soils of coarse loam, clay, and filled with rocks, it produces an unfair abundance of amazing wines. Wineries such as Regusci, Shafer, Clos Du Val and Stags Leap helped establish this region and put it on the map decades ago.

Stags Leap is a resilient appellation which survived prohibition, phylloxera, gangsters, and many other challenges. Today it produces wines of power and elegance.  Cabernet Sauvignon is the main grape that flourishes here but wineries have planted a variety of other grapes to produce wines of amazing balance that rival some of the most storied and well received wines of Bordeaux.

Over a half century ago, Nathan Fay planted 70 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon in the coarse volcanic soils along the Silverado Trail.  Famed wine producer, Joseph Heitz, purchased most of the fruit and produced Heitz “Fay Vineyard” Cabernet. This was one of the first wines to be labeled and produced with its’ vineyard designation on the bottle.  This helped bring attention to the Napa Valley which had many years to go to achieve the stature it holds today as one of the premiere wine growing regions.

In the mid 1970s, Stags Leap Cellars put their wines up against the storied wines of France. They stood up to Mouton-Rothschild and Haut Brion and in blind tasting, and won.  This was an amazing time for Napa and built momentum and respect for the wine producers of this region.

Today, some of my favorite wineries in Stags Leap District are Chimney Rock, Pine Ridge, Odette, and Regusci.  Chimney Rock boasts a beautiful tasting room that is modeled from a Dutch style South African building.  Over a decade ago, V.P. of winemaking, Doug Fletcher, passed the reigns to a young up and coming Brazilian winemaker, Elizabeth Vianna. Since then Elizabeth has produced a large portfolio of amazing balanced and structured wines for the Terlato family. She has a winemaker’s dream of a vast variety of fruit and terroir to produce wines of the highest caliber and consistency. Some of my favorites are the Ganymede, Clone 7, Alpine Vineyards, and of course their amazing Cabernet Franc.

Regusci resides next door and has some of the longest history of producing wines in the District. Winemaker, Charles Hendricks, produces wines of fierce structure that practically stand up on the their own. Charles produces fantastic bottles of Cabernet, Merlot, Zinfandel,  Syrah, and Chardonnay.

Pine Ridge is another of my favorite wineries producing wines of extraordinary elegance and structure that exemplify what Napa wines are all about. The diverse appellations and terroir produce world renowned fruit of character.  Pine Ridge’s Stags Leap Property of approximately 25 acres rises up steep terraced hillsides that require the majority of the farming to be completed by hand. They grow Cabernet, Malbec, Petite Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Chardonnay.

Although, Napa boasts many appellations of amazing grace, the small Stags Leap District is one to visit and enjoy the many wineries that produce top notch wines that will be sure to impress.  The architecture of the wineries will produce great photographs and memories that will last a lifetime.  You will definitely want to experience the wines and history that make this place so magical.