Fort Ross Wines

Diana Schweiger, the National Sales Manager for Fort Ross Vineyards was conducting the wine tasting at the Fine Wine Source in Livonia, Michigan.  When we got there, there was not a crowd at the moment, which made it easier for me to take my rank-amateur photography shots of the wine.  It was interesting listening to Ms. Schweiger discuss the winery, the wines as well as her earlier days, as she comes from a wine making family as well, of no relation to the Fort Ross Vineyards.  She also had photographs of the winery and how the blocks were laid out, and she had some technical tear sheets as well, which is probably more interesting to wine geeks like me, than to the average person going in to taste some new wines to take home.

The Fort Ross Symposium Pinot Noir 2013 delivered to me what I expect from this grape.  This was like all of their wines Estate Grown, but it contained four percent Pinotage.  This wine was aged for eleven months in French Oak, of which a quarter was new and the wine was finished unfined and unfiltered.  There were three-hundred-fifty-nine cases of this wine and I think it will cellar nicely for seven to ten years.  I like the darker color of this Pinot Noir compared to the Sea Slopes, and the nose was much fuller, and I found the wine to be full-bodied and textured.

The last wine of the conducted tasting was the Fort Ross Pinotage 2012 which got my Bride nervous.  She has had two Pinotage wines, one that she enjoyed and one she had me finish, so she is still on the fence on this varietal.  Pinotage was first developed in South Africa in 1925 and is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault (which used to be called Hermitage).  Lester and Linda Schwartz the owners and founders of Fort Ross Vineyard are from South Africa and in tribute to their homeland sourced Pinotage bud wood from the original founding blocks in that country and were the first private growers to import grapevine cuttings through the Foundation Plant Services that operates alongside the U.C. Davis School of Viticulture and Enology.  This wine was aged for ten months in French Oak, of which fifteen percent was new, and they produced three-hundred-seventy cases.  I think that this wine will age nicely for about ten years.  Here was a nice dark inky wine, and I have found that Pinotage goes out of its way to discover and unmask the terroir of the estate.  From the four or five different Pinotage wines that I have had, I find that it is the wilder and gamier relative of Pinot Noir and can really deliver when it is done right, and this bottle of wine hit all the right notes for me and is perfect for a big hearty dinner in the middle of winter.  I have to say that all in all, I enjoyed the wines of Fort Ross Vineyard and Winery and look forward to having them again.

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Fort Ross Sea Slopes

Fort Ross Vineyards has the distinction of being the closest vineyard to the Pacific Ocean and they were one of the proponents that helped create the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA and it was achieved in 2012.  In 1988 Lester and Linda Schwartz purchased virgin forest and grasslands in the high coastal ridges of the Sonoma Coast overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  Even though they were told that the area was not wine country, they persevered and began experimenting with different clones and trellis systems and irrigation systems.  In 1994 they laid out by hand fifty-three acres of small blocks or parcels of land according to their studies and research.  Around 2000 they began producing their first wines and in 2012 they hired Jeff Pisoni as their winemaker.  This was the real reason that I went to Fine Wine Source to taste these wines.

The first wine that we tasted was the Fort Ross Sea Slopes Chardonnay 2016 and like all of their wines at the tasting they were all Estate Grown.  With the unique layout of the vineyard and the small blocks or parcels that may have different varietals growing in the adjacent parcel, almost all of the harvesting is done by hand.  This wine spent fifteen months aging in a mix of Stainless Steel and French Oak (of which twenty percent was new).  The color of the wine was what I would call a classic Chardonnay yellow, and I could detect minerals in the nose and in the taste, which was very crisp and refreshing.  There was just over twenty-five-hundred case made of this wine.

The other wine of this collection was the Fort Ross Sea Slopes Pinot Noir 2014.  The two wines in the Sea Slopes collection showed a determined leaning towards the Burgundy region and that is fine with me.  This wine was aged for nine months in French Oak, of which ten percent was new and the wine was produced unfined and unfiltered.   I found the wine to have a softer color and nose, but maybe I expect more from Pinot Noir, I did notice some Pomegranate during the tasting. There were still two more wines to try from the winery.

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Blason D’Issan

“Impetuous” maybe one of the greatest lines of cinematic dialogue especially when uttered by Michelin Oge Flynn and it has nothing to do with wine, but it best describes my Bride when she tasted this wine.  I am never sure how my Bride will respond to a wine tasting as I think she goes for the pure enjoyment of tasting new wines and while I do as well, I also think about an article.   To me, wine is the bonding agent that adheres one moment to another in my writings.  I may not drink wine every day, but there is always something to remind me about wine daily.

We were doing a wine tasting at Fine Wine Source in Livonia and this particular wine Blason D’Issan 2015 caught our attention.  While the gentleman that was pouring our tasting using the Coravin system, I think he just presumed that I would associate Blason D’Issan with Chateau D’Issan, one of the Third Growths from the legendary Classification of the Medoc in 1855.  Blason is a French word for “coat of arms” and I guess that is a nice way for them to list their second label.  Chateau D’Issan is from the commune of Margaux and it is one of the districts that I totally enjoy, encountered the most and probably drank the most or it may be tied with Pauillac.  The Chateaux is rather legendary and has been recorded in history as the wine served in 1152 at the marriage between Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England.

The best word in my mind to describe the great wines of Margaux is silky, I know it is a rather ethereal word, but it just seems like the perfect word when describing certain beverages.  The major difference between the first and second label, since all the fruit is from the same estate, is that the fruit harvest for Blason is from the younger vines, and since they started making this wine in 1995, as an alternative wine that is more fruit forward and drinkable much earlier.  One hears of some of the leading Margaux wines still being in their prime from the earliest years of the last century.  This wine is sixty percent Cabernet Sauvignon and the balance is Merlot.  The Blason is aged for fourteen to sixteen months in oak, of which a third is new, the blending and the aging is slightly different compared to the first label.  So, you may be curious why I started off with “impetuous” and now I will tell you.  I hadn’t even brought the wine up to my nose to start the tasting regimen, when my Bride had announced to me, that she was in love with the wine and wanted at least a six pack.  The joys of traveling with the Exchequer.

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My Day Out

I was feeling quite good even with a sore gum after dental surgery, but it was like my first day out.  We had gone to a special wine tasting that I will get to, as well as some other wines that we encountered, which will all be in good time.  My Bride had to have some time for herself, not that she doesn’t mind doing wine tastings, actually I haven’t met anyone that doesn’t like a good wine tasting.  She wanted to see a movie and yes it was another chick flick, but that was alright as I liked the first.  The new Mama Mia movie was fun, but to me, not nearly as entertaining as the original, but I am not a movie critic.

We also went out for dinner and I was looking forward to it, as I have been babying myself from before the surgery and I was still being careful, but it was going beyond soup.  We went to one of our new regular restaurants French Toast which is Cajun in its flavor.  My Bride went with one of their specials of the night which was pan-sautéed Mackerel with grits and asparagus.   I was still being careful and I went with shrimp and grits.  I can’t wait till I am ready for something chewier.

We continued the day with more wine as there is something commendable about this avocation of mine.  My Bride had a glass of Ruffino Lumina Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie IGT 2016. This light straw-colored wine was just the ticket as far as I was concerned to go with the seafood and the creaminess of the grits. This wine is only aged for ten days in Stainless Steel and is meant for quick and easy consumption and not for cellaring. The Delle Venezie IGT encompasses the three main areas noted for Pinot Grigio, namely Veneto, Friuli-Giulia and Trentino.  An easy choice and it paired well with her dinner.  As for me I went with a glass of Benziger Family Winery Chardonnay Sonoma County 2014.  This was just a soft buttery finished wine that was produced with whole cluster pressing with cold fermentation and then aged for nine months in Hungarian Oak barrels.  Benziger Family Winery purchased the old Wegener Ranch on Sonoma Mountain in Glen Ellen back in 1980.  The winery started transitioning towards being biodynamic in 1995 and were certified in 2000.  It was just the perfect way to end my day and my first day out.

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Korbin Kameron Wines

My first day out in the real world after the first phase of my oral surgery regimen and I went wine tasting.   I couldn’t think of anything better for my gums and missing tooth, but some fine wines to salve the trauma.  My Bride and I had a full day planned and the first stop was to The Fine Wine Source in Livonia, Michigan and I was rather hesitant.  Not about the wines, but having the Exchequer of the Funds, because she can get quite animated about wines, even more than I do, and that can be a dangerous situation.   Korbin Kameron wines is the brand for Moonridge Vineyards located on Mount Veeder, a curious location which separates Napa County from Sonoma County and there nineteen acres can be found on both sides of the slope.  Mitchell Ming is the proprietor along with his wife, and the winery is named after his twin children and his other daughter has a vineyard named for her.

The Korbin Kameron Rosé Moon Mountain 2017 was a delightful wine.  Here was a Rosé wine that was made from Merlot grapes and from what I could gather the wine was made, because they were not sure about the grapes that had survived the major fire of that year.  Moon Mountain AVA was just granted in 2013 and it is a relatively new designation for Sonoma County.  The area is known for the iron rich volcanic soil and an elevation that is above the Sonoma Fog, so it has a warmer and a longer growing period compared to the areas lower down the slope; I also feel that this designation will see more play in the years to come.   A beautiful hued glass of wine with a freshness of fruit to the nose and taste of pomegranates to me, and this wine totally belied that it was Merlot, and I am a major Merlot fan, but then I have always been loyal to my old friends.  I will venture to go out on an easy limb and claim that this wine had a short aging period in Stainless Steel and there were one-hundred-fifteen cases of wine produced.

The other wine from Moonridge Vineyards is their Korbin Kameron Cabernet Sauvignon Mount Veeder 2012 and now we are on the Napa County side of the slopes.  Mount Veeder is in a very popular area with Carneros and Napa to the Southeast and Oak Knoll District and Yountville to the West.  Here was a true Napa Cabernet from the color, to the nose with a big chewy wine that had a long count aftertaste, I mean what more could you desire?  This wine spent eighteen months in French Oak and it was a very lush wine, the downside if there is, was that only fifty cases were produced.  My Bride will be wanting to share some of these wines and I can’t complain.

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Ehler’s Estate 1886

Some days the Gods look down at you and smile when you run into a wine shop for a moment, or so you think.  I had to run into The Fine Wine Source in Livonia, Michigan and with the wonders of the Coravin system my visit was a little longer than expected.  The Coravin system is a God-send to the wine trade, I am not as sure for personal use, but with this system they can pour a glass of wine without removing the cork and the wine will keep for some time and the wine will stay fresh.  It is a perfect tool for doing impromptu wine tastings.  The wine I got to taste was Ehler’s Estate 1886 Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 from St. Helena in Napa Valley.

Bernard Ehler bought a dying vineyard in the late 1800’s in what is now St. Helena and he replanted the ten-acre vineyard and included an olive grove as well.  In 1886 he completed the construction of his stone barn that today is the winery building even on his original Bale Mill Winery.  About a century later and the winery changing hands a few times until Jean and Sylvaine LeDucq slowly but surely bought parcel by parcel and recreated the original Bale Mill Winery but renamed the property Ehler’s Estate in his honor.  The winery has been rated 100% Certified Organic and I am sure that is how Bernard Ehler did his work back then.

The Ehler’s Estate 1886 Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 was a big wine fresh from the bottle even without the aid of breathing.  The wine is eighty-five percent Cabernet Sauvignon with an additional blending of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot.  The wine was aged entirely in French Oak, of which seventy percent was new and it was aged for at least twenty months.  This was a big wine in the classic style that I learned to appreciate back when I was a kid.  It reminded me a Claret with the big nose, strong color and a big chewy taste with a very long count on the finish.  This wine hit all the important points in my quick tasting and in fact it was so delicious I had a little bit more.  Another interesting item about this wine is that 100% of the proceeds from the sale of their wines are returned to the LeDucq Foundation to support International Cardio-vascular Research.

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Last Graduation

I think we have gone to the last graduation party for the year and the last one was for my nephew.  I am basically retired, but I try to help out a store if I can, and the week up to my nephew’s graduation was a killer.  I have almost lost my “sea legs” when it comes to retail and here I was almost working fifty hours in five days, the only saving grace was that I was working inside and not out on the pavement as this additional time to work coincided with an art fair and sidewalk sale.  They had the good fortune that it did not rain, but the temperatures and humidity were classic Michigan.  I arranged to leave an hour earlier than planned at the store, which was not a problem, the problem was that the store is so far away from our home that my Bride drove me to work, dropped me off and made the day of it with a former co-worker who is now retired and widowed, so they went out for a leisurely lunch and of course some shopping in another state.  When she picked me up to go to the party I was still fresh as a daisy considering that I had worked nine hours in a shirt and tie and sport coat (my usual attire for work), but the daisy wilted within a half hour of arriving at my Brother’s home.

As soon as we arrived and were walking up the driveway to the backyard, we ran into the man of the hour and congratulated him.  He also informed us that we should go straight to the garage in the back, because that is where the caterers had set up for the party, and they were getting ready to leave soon, and since they were located about two hours away, I could understand their desire to call it a day.  In spite of my cracked tooth and an abscess, I had to eat the food from this catering company.  Can you say Armenian food?  I skipped the salad course, because it appeared to have Feta cheese and that is not Armenian.  I went directly to the delicacies that this caterer is known for.  There was Lahmajoon the delightful individual sized Armenian “pizzas” that one just rolls up and finishes in a couple of bites, I might add that this caterer makes the Lahmajoon in the same time honored and spiced the same as when my Grandmother was alive to make them, and yes, I piled them on the plate, because I was one of the last to arrive.  There was also Cheese Boereg, a light flaky pastry that is stuffed with a Brick cheese and is baked a golden brown, and yes plenty of those as well.  I also made some room for some Armenian Pilaf, which the caterer did a good job, but not nearly as good as my Bride’s.  Then there were three chaffing dishes filled with Sheesh-kabob, chicken, beef and lamb, and of course I only did the lamb.  I was extremely happy with the food and I did make the most of it.

By the time that I got to the backyard for the festivities, I had already removed my tie and sport coat, it was that hot, in the mid nineties for the minority that still use Fahrenheit for temperature.  I went up to the bar that was just off of the pool area and I went right passed the red wines as I wanted something that was in the ice troughs.  The safest of the white wines, is one that we actually have at the house ourselves, because my Bride is quite partial to it, just to drink.  I got a couple of glasses of JaM Cellars Butter Chardonnay 2016, as it is an easy to drink Chardonnay for the price. The wine carries a California AVA designation as the fruit comes from Mendocino County, Santa Barbara County and Clarksburg. It is a commercial bulk wine that has some appeal, and since it is not done in oak barrels for aging, they use oak chips to impart the taste of the oak and the butter taste and texture that one gets from small batch Chardonnay wines.  I really did not go beyond that wine as it worked in the heat of the backyard and after the long week of work, I was worn out, but I did make sure that I not only got a business card from the caterer, but I took a photo of the truck, after all, I may lose the card, but a photo on my site stays.

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