Posts Tagged ‘Mendocino’

“One of the best we’ve ever made”: 1978 and 1977 Cabernet from Sunrise Winery

June 14, 2019 1 comment

Since my last post of one month ago, I have spent all of the time I usually dedicate to the wine blog transcribing 18th century letters related to the Madeira trade in America.  To lend you a sense of the effort, just two of the sources I am using, one letterbook and one partial collection of letters, encompass nearly 900 pages.  While I am not transcribing every single line, I am attempting to read each one.  Sometimes an interesting statement regarding Madeira may be hidden amongst a paragraph about fish and flour prices.  It is compelling work but my tasting notes of both young and old wine are piling up.

While the name of Sunrise Arata has been stuck in my head for some time, I cannot recall having drunk a single vintage.  I resolved this issue the other week when Sudip came over.  Sunrise Winery was founded in 1976, at the old Locatelli Winery, by Eugene Lokey and Keith Holfeldt.  In 1977 the Stortz family was brought in as participants due to the unexpected startup costs of the winery.

The Locatelli Winery ceased producing wine by the 1960s.  When Sunrise Winery started up, there were only a handful of vines left but the fermentation building still stood with both redwood and concrete vats.  The concrete vats were of larger capacity than needed and too deteriorated for use.  The redwood vats were taken apart, cleaned up then installed inside the concrete vats.  Small oak barrels were also brought in.  The first vintage was produced that first year in 1976.

During the summer of 1978, the house above the wine cellar caught on fire.  It only burned one wall of the fermentation building but the debris fell down into the cellar where barrels and bottled wine was stored.  Much of the bottled wine was destroyed by the firemen entering the building.  The tops of many barrels were burned to destruction but there was salvageable wine in barrel.  With the help of Martin Ray, Ridge, Woodside, and others, pumps, hoses, and portable tanks were set up to rescue the remaining half of the wine.

They repaired what they could in time for a very small crush that fall of 1978.  A little white wine, some Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon from Arata, and the 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon from Frey Vineyard were all that was made.  Ronald Stortz called the 1978 Frey Cabernet “probably one of the best we’ve ever made” during his 1993 interview now found at the D. R Bennon Trust Fund website.

True to history, the 1978 Sunrise Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Frey Vineyard, Mendocino is good!  At first I was underwhelmed but one hour after I double-decanted the bottle it was fully open.  No doubt there is good, clean flavor and attractive grip.  The 1977 Sunrise Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Arata Vineyard, Saratoga, Santa Clara Valley did not fare as well.  Whether it was weak fruit to begin with or torture from the fire and salvage effort, I do not know.  It did, however, evoke old-school cooperage like the old redwood vats it was fermented in.  I find that rather cool.


1978 Sunrise Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Frey Vineyard, Mendocino
This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon aged for 20 months in 50 gallon American oak barrels.  Bottled November 1980.  Alcohol 12.6%.  Dark black fruit in the mouth while initially firm, fleshes out with air.  After one hour, this initially firm wine shows good Cab flavor and still has structure that lends texture in the end.  What was a short finish lengthens and offers grip.  I would not have expected such good, clean flavor.  *** Now but will last.


1977 Sunrise Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Arata Vineyard, Saratoga, Santa Clara Valley
This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon aged for 16 months in 50 gallon American oak barrels.  Bottled August 1979.  Alcohol 12.8%.  Funkier with vintage perfume and very ripe aromas on the nose.  Tart, fresh fruit greets in the mouth with both a greenhouse and old wood cooperage note.  Clearly learner than the 1978, it becomes more herbaceous and ultimately falls apart as the 1978 improves.  * Now drink up.


Recent drinks or cheap stuff that tastes like Aubert and Sine Qua Non

We tried a number of value wines over the holiday break and I am happy to report there are certainly some fine values out there.  The 2016 Lafage, Novellum, Chardonnay is being compared to Aubert and the 2015 Lafage, Bastide Miraflors, Syrah & Vieilles Vignes de Grenache, Cotes du Roussillon to Sine Qua Non on a budget.  The former is ample in flavor and body, the later shows more focus.  At $15 each you cannot go wrong with either.  For a few bucks more I highly recommend you try the 2015 Antoine Touton & Fred Torres, Seleccion, Montsant.  Think mixed berries, fat, and juicy acidity!  The 2014 Mas Marer, Montsant is good too, just keep it in mind it is a structured wine from Monsant.  Finally, the 2016 Maitre-de-Chai, Carignan, Poor Ranch, Mendocino profess to fall in the middle camp of Californian wine making.  There are firm flavors of red fruit, bright acidity, and fine citric tannins.  There are hints of that Pilsner natural wine style which I find distracting but perhap you will not.

2016 Lafage, Novellum, Chardonnay – $15
Imported by Eric Solomon/European Cellars.  This wine is 100% Chardonnay.  Alcohol 13%.  A very light straw yellow color.  The nose is mineral with white, tropical flowers.  The tropical fruit continues in the mouth with floral notes and a nutty body that is supported by just enough acidity.  The wine takes on a mineral hint towards the end.  This wine has ample body with grip underneath and a baking spiced finish.  *** Now – 2019.

2015 Lafage, Bastide Miraflors, Syrah & Vieilles Vignes de Grenache, Cotes du Roussillon – $15
Imported by Eric Solomon/European Cellars. This wine is a blend of 70% Syrah and 30% Grenache sourced from vines averaging 55 years of age which was raised in concrete tanks and demi-muids.  Alcohol 14.5%.  The flavors come across as ripe at first then they show more focus with cool red and black fruit.  This focus is good, carried by slightly juicy acidity into an almost chewy finish.  The wine becomes floral and citrus infused with air.  There is some textured structure to support drinking over a few years.  ***(*) Now – 2021.

2015 Antoine Touton & Fred Torres, Seleccion, Montsant – $19
Imported by Lawrence Boone Selections.  This wine is mostly Garnacha with some Carignan sourced from vines mostly on clay and calcareous soils.  It was raised in stainless steel.  Alcohol 14%.  Grapey on the nose.  A dense, almost glycerin start brings fresh floral berries, and pure fruit covered with fat.  There is a bit of texture as baking spiced flavors come out.  The red fruits morph to blackberries.  In the end the seductive mouthfeel and juicy, acidity supported brambleberries, are hard to resist.  ***(*) Now – 2021.

2014 Mas Marer, Montsant – $15
Imported by Weygant-Metzler.  This wine is a blend of 40% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 15% Merlot aged for 14 months in used French oak and concrete tanks.  Alcohol 14%.  A moderately structured wine of cherries and herbs with good acidity moving the wine along.  It has a bit of a stone/earth note to it.    It shows a touch of bottle age already but might develop further into the year.  **(*) Now – 2022.

2016 Maitre-de-Chai, Carignan, Poor Ranch, Mendocino – $27
This wine is is sourced from vines planted in the 1930s and 1940s on soils of mostly sand and granite.  Alcohol 13.2%.  Sampled over two nights the nose remains delicate with bright berry aromas.  In the mouth are tight, slightly focused red fruit and some very fine citric tannins.  The firmness of flavor matches the bright acidity making this wine more about texture than depth of flavor.  It is verging on a natural style.  ** Now – 2021.

More Chardonnay Than I Realized

March 21, 2014 1 comment

I drink Chardonnay from California and while I have bought bottles of Kendall-Jackson, Vintners Reserve from a famous DC merchant, other wines in the $20-$30 range can offer an engaging experience.  Recently both Jenn and I have been enjoying bottle after bottle of 2012 The Ojai Vineyard, Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County.  If the name Ojai sounds familiar that could be due to all the press it received as a result of the Wine Writers Symposium, check out Robert Parker Responds to Jon Bonne.  I think this wine will hit its peak towards the end of the year but right now offers up a nice blend of fruit, acidity, oak influence, and presence.  The 2012 Elizabeth Spencer, Special Cuvee, Chardonnay, Mendocino had lots of verve and remained lively for days.  It was a young wine that could use half a year in the cellar but I was attracted to the acidity and tannin combination.  I enjoy tannins in a white wine.  The 2010 Brewer-Clifton, Chardonnay, Santa Rita Hills may at first seem austere but reveals itself to be a careful combination of the savory, tang, acidity, and smoke.  More reflective than quenching but I enjoyed it.  Both Jenn and I liked the 2011 Antica, Chardonnay, Napa Valley on the first night when it had yellow fruit, salivating acidity, and stones but then it kind of fell apart the next night.  Be sure to drink it in one sitting.  The 2012 Crossbarn by Paul Hobbs, Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast had yellow tropical fruit, lively acidity, spices, and perhaps a little too much intention for my preference.  I believe there is good diversity in the wines below so try one that sounds most attractive to you.  These wines were purchased at MacArthur Beverages.


2012 The Ojai Vineyard, Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County – $25
Alcohol 14%.  The color was a medium golden-straw with a nose of Chardonnay and some toast.  In the mouth there was controlled ripeness complemented by nice spices and texture.  With air it took on yellow, juicy fruit, and a vein of baking spices.  There was acidity on the tongue tip and increasing texture that left a persistent aftertaste.   *** Now-2017.


2012 Elizabeth Spencer, Special Cuvee, Chardonnay, Mendocino – $25
Alcohol 14.1%.  The color was a very light straw.  The nose remained subtle with tropical notes and sweet nuts (yup).  The finely textured fruit in the mouth had a core of acidity and pleasing tannins which were ripe and built on the cheeks.  It was somewhat compact to start with but over several days built some roundness to the firm white fruit.  Had lots of verve.  *** Now-2018.


2010 Brewer-Clifton, Chardonnay, Santa Rita Hills – $28
Alcohol 14.0%.  There was a little smoke to the yellow fruit aromas.  In the mouth the wine had some savory weight, acidity, and grip from the start.  It had tang and freshness combined with weight and an expansive aftertaste.  There was a chalky finish before the acidity hit the back of the throat and the smoke return in the aftertaste.  Deliberate.  *** Now – 2015.


2011 Antica, Chardonnay, Napa Valley – $30
This wine is 100% Chardonnay which was fermented in 30% new French oak then aged for six months on the lees.  Alcohol 13.8%.  The color was a light golden yellow.  The nose was fresh with yellow fruit and underlying toast.  In the mouth the fresh acidity balanced the white and yellow fruit.  The wine showed some density with salivating acidity and some stone notes.  It was best on the first night.  *** Now.


2012 Crossbarn by Paul Hobbs, Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast – $25
This wine is 100% Chardonnay which was fermented in stainless steel, underwent malolactic fermentation, then 12-15% saw oak.  Alcohol 14.1%.  The nose bore yellow, tropical aromas that mixed with some toast.  In the mouth was a slightly textured start with a crisp start of yellow fruit that was felt on the tongue tip.  It was round in the mouth, lively on the tongue,  with ripe spices in the finish.  It ended more lush with a tropical hint to the flavors.  ** Now-2015.


2012 Melville, Chardonnay Estate, Santa Rita Hills – $26
Alcohol 14.5%.  This was the most forward with rounder, softer flavors and toast notes.  Not my style.  * Now.