Many of you know that I am a big fan of Flora Springs. While Flora Springs is one of Napa Valley’s largest family owned and operated wineries, the staff there always make me feel welcomed, whether I visit the tasting room or the estate. In the wholesale market, you might know Flora Springs because of their iconic Trilogy red blend, as well as their readily-available Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, merlot, and sauvignon blanc.
However, there is more to Flora Springs than meets the store shelf eye. If you delve into their winery-only wines, you will discover some hidden treasures. One of these surprises is the 2013 Poggio del Papa. The other night, I was in the mood for pizza and wine and decided to open this, purchased at the tasting room for $40. The Poggio del Papa is a crazy-cool, Napa Valley version of a super Tuscan-style red blend consisting of 76% sangiovese from Cypress Ranch Vineyard in Pope Valley, along with small percentages of other varieties like 10% malbec, 10% syrah, and 4% petit verdot from vineyards in Oakville and Rutherford. The resulting wine is red fruit dominant, yet with underlying layers of black fruit, cocoa, mint, and spice. Dusty, soft tannins coupled with juicy acidity seal the deal. Only 667 cases were produced, so this wine won’t last long. I recommend buying a few bottles to taste across the next decade.
Can you keep a secret? In my opinion, the 2013 Poggio del Papa is the one of the best, lesser-known wines that Flora Springs crafts. Therefore, because of its uniqueness, food friendliness, and age worthiness – all at an affordable price point – I’ve selected the 2013 Flora Springs Poggio del Papa as a Beth’s Smart Sip.
Before there was the wine chick, there was the travel chick. Looking back over the last 19 years, I now see a pattern of evolution: from college professor, to travel manager, to a wine business professional, to all three at the same time, the latter of which propelled me to Napa. The sum would not be the same without all of the facets of me coming together. I will always be Travel (Traveling) Wine Chick, with travel coming first. It’s a part of my soul and one of my continuing passions.
A long-distance relationship during 1997-2012 is what forced me to learn about travel, especially air travel, and to love it. Early on, I learned that if you consolidate your air travel on one or two airlines and you fly frequently, you will earn what is called elite status, which gives you lots of perks, especially avoiding some of the airlines’ nickel and diming (free checked bags, free premium economy seats) and occasional upgrades to first class.
Since 1997, I have held elite status on one or two airlines, mostly because of the aforementioned relationship which has since ended. As airlines began to merge, my loyalties changed. My primary carriers were US Airways, then Delta. Over the course of the years, I held status at one time or another on US Airways, Delta, Continental, Northwest, and United, as I tried different carriers and alliances. Status on a few were achieved by status matches, where one airline will match the status of another to entice you to fly their airline. When my teaching job and relationship ended in 2012, then I worked from home in 2013, and finally I moved to Napa in 2014, I no longer had as much time and money to travel, so it was much more difficult to retain status. However, I managed to travel enough to maintain status on Delta during 2013-2015. As 2015 came to an end, I decided I would request a status match to United, which made sense, because I usually fly from San Francisco, one of their hubs. United granted me trial status, but I had to earn it to be able to keep it for a year, which meant flying 12,500 miles in 90 days. I had never attempted to do such a thing. My air travel has always had a destination, not flying for the sake of flying. In spite of the limitations of time and money, I decided to go for it.
I already had one trip booked on United for December, but it was only 1356 miles, a round trip to Seattle to spend the weekend with a friend. My holiday trip was already booked on Delta, so my only option to complete the challenge was to squeeze in three trips in January. I booked three 24-hour trips: SFO-PHX-SFO and SFO-BOS-SFO twice. I booked three nights of hotels, two free and one paid. The first weekend to PHX was a breeze, with all flights on time. I was upgraded to first class both ways, so I traveled comfortably. The next weekend would be the hardest of them all because of Winter Storm Jonas. My flights to BOS were likely to be canceled. However, I called United and they worked with me to change my ticket to fly somewhere else to avoid the inclement weather. The result was SFO-IAH-MIA-IAH-SFO with only around three or four hours of sleep at a hotel before returning. The saving grace of that trip was that all of the flights were fantastic and on time and I was upgraded on two of the four. Otherwise, I would not wish that kind of schedule on my worst enemy. The final weekend, BOS was a go. The outbound flight was outstanding. I was upgraded to first class and the food and onboard service were as if I were flying internationally, not domestically. We were served a multi-course lunch (salad, main course, sorbet, and a cookie), complete with hot towels for freshening up and warm nuts with pre-dinner drinks. On the return, I arrived early to the airport as I usually do, and thank goodness, because a United gate agent was directing those of us early birds to get on the 7:35 a.m. departure. As it turned out, my original 9:10 a.m. fight ended up departing BOS six hours late due to a mechanical delay. I made the right decision to follow the gate agent’s insistence that I get on the earlier flight. Kudos to United for being so proactive.
Now I am at home writing this and so glad this month is over. All in all, I flew 11,908 miles this month. My routing and total flying can be found at this link. Combine that with the 1356 miles earned in December, I surpassed the challenge with a total of 13,264 miles. Also of note is United seems to be turning itself around. I flew eight flights in January, two in December, and two in October, and all were great. Out of 10 upgrade eligible flights, I was upgraded on six. The amenities and onboard services in both classes of service, first and coach, were better than expected. Until January 31, 2017, I will continue to enjoy elite status on United.
My frequent flyer friends will read this and appreciate, maybe even applaud my efforts. The rest of you will think I am batsh** crazy and I am. In retrospect, I am happy I achieved my goal, but I basically put my life on hold for a month to do it. Traveling alone and for long distances isn’t for the weary. It demands that you be strong and comfortable being alone for many hours at a time. It also requires that you are OK with feeling exhausted. I survived, but I’m looking forward to being home in Napa as the wine chick, until a trip with a destination calls my name.
Cave de Turckheim, founded in 1955, is a cooperative of 216 growers in Alsace that produces a variety of wines, including Crémant d’Alsace brut, demi-sec, and rosé brut, chasselas, gewürztraminer, muscat, pinot blanc, pinot gris, pinot noir, riesling, sylvaner, and a selection of Vendanges Tardives (late-harvest wines) under different brand names. I have had the great pleasure of tasting a couple of these wines already, including the Mayerling Crémant d’Alsace Rosé Brut and the 2013 Cave de Turckheim Tradition Gewürztraminer. The wines are imported to the United States by Magnum Wines International, for whom I used to work.
The 2013 Cave de Turckheim Tradition Pinot Gris, Alsace, produced in stainless steel, is a gem of a wine and a great value. It is luscious, floral, and fruity – both on the nose and the palate – with aromas and flavors of honeysuckle, orange, tropical fruits, and spice. It is textured and rich, yet crisp and lively with acidity. I love the interplay of fleshiness and brightness.
Pinot gris is not often my first choice, but it is a wine like the 2013 Cave de Turckheim Pinot Gris Tradition, Alsace, that reminds me time and time again that no two pinot gris are alike and to keep tasting, because you are bound to find one that you love. The ability of this pinot gris to win me over with its level of quality at an accessible price point is why I’ve chosen this wine as a Beth’s Smart Sip.
I’ve been struggling with this topic ever since it was announced, which is why I have waited until now to attempt to write about it. It is challenging to narrow down the phrase second chance to a single focus. A second chance can happen every day, in every moment that one chooses to change direction or be someone or something different.
In #MWWC18, I wrote about my crisis, which turned out to be a second chance. I was a community college professor living in Virginia who, after the end of a 24-year teaching career, moved to Napa, California to begin again in the wine business.
After a few months of living and working here, I realized that my career was not what I wanted. While I will always be appreciative of the opportunity and open door that allowed me to follow this path, I knew early on that I had landed in the wrong place. I would have to tread water for a while to get the experience I needed to move forward. After a year, I began to look for new employment. I didn’t realize that it would take me seven months to find a fit. Finally, in September 2015, I started my journey at Ehlers Estate, my second, second-chance career.
Ehlers Estate, like me, has had its fair share of second chances. Founded in 1886 by Sacramento grocer Bernard Ehlers, the winery flourished under the leadership of Bernard and his wife, Anne, until the early 1920s, when it fell into the hands of a variety of owners, including bootleggers Fred and Manny Domingos, who operated the winery from 1923 to 1958, through the repeal of prohibition on December 6, 1933, when they could legally operate as Bale Mill Winery. In 1987, French philanthropists Jean and Sylviane Leducq, longtime wine lovers and enthusiasts, gave the winery its current-day, second chance. It took the Leducqs 14 years, until 2001, to cull vineyard parcels to include the stone barn winery built by Bernard and Anne Ehlers in 1886, the original 10-acre property, and the historic olive grove.
In 2008, Ehlers Estate underwent another second chance, the hiring of winemaker and general manager Kevin Morrisey, who himself had faced second chances throughout his life as a cameraman turned winemaker. His internship at Château Pétrus in Bordeaux and his talent and leadership at other Napa Valley wineries such as Stags’ Leap Winery and Etude made him the ideal candidate to take Ehlers Estate into the future.
Ehlers Estate produces 100% estate Bordeaux-style wines from 100% organic vineyards. Grape varieties grown are cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot, and sauvignon blanc. The winery produces one 100% cabernet sauvignon wine, the Leducq Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as two other cabernet sauvignons, the ‘1886’ Cabernet Sauvignon and Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, which both include blending amounts of merlot, cabernet franc, and/or petit verdot. The remaining merlot, cabernet franc, and petit verdot grapes are given a second chance to shine on their own as single-varietal wines: the Ehlers Estate Merlot (with a touch of cabernet franc), Cabernet Franc, Sylviane Rosé of Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. The only white wine is the Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc.
Each new vintage at Ehlers Estate is a second chance, a new opportunity to showcase the unique terroir of its vineyards located in Napa Valley’s narrowest point between the Mayacamas and Vaca Mountains, as well as Kevin Morrisey’s expression of this terroir and fruit through his hands-on, personal approach to winemaking. The resulting wines are approachable, well balanced, polished, and distinctly Ehlers Estate. As Morrisey says,
Making wines that express our terroir is the goal,” he says. “You can’t always articulate it exactly. But when you taste it, you know it. Just like hearing the accent of someone who grew up within a few miles of you. It’s distinct and recognizable, and it’s the sound of home. It strikes you and cuts through the mix, singular and individual, and intensely and familiar. And there’s no possible way to mimic it. It’s either there, real and recognizable, or it’s not. (http://www.ehlersestate.com/)
Every bottle of Ehlers Estate wine is replete with second chances. The liquid inside is ever-changing and evolving. When opened, each bottle will provide a second chance to be more delicious than before. With each sip, one tastes the progression of second chances across time, from 1886 through today, from Bernard and Anne Ehlers, to the Domingos, to Jean and Sylviane Leducq, to winemaker Kevin Morrisey, and the footprints they have left on this enduring 42-acre estate in St. Helena, Napa Valley.
*This review is an entry for #MWWC22: Second Chance, as described at this link. Voting has been extended through January 29, 2016 due to a first-time-ever, three-way tie. Vote HERE.
It seems like yesterday that it was 2015 and now it is mid-January already. Where have these few weeks gone? Only two weeks until February (and my birthday, yay)!
Earlier this month, I published a review of four wines from Trump Winery, a review of Domaine Carneros for American Winery Guide, and a review of the NV Faire La Fête Crémant de Limoux for Snooth, so I am still actively writing. I hope that you will read these reviews if you have not already! However, the beginning-of-the year craziness and workplace intensity have not allowed me to focus as much on other wine samples I received late last year and I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. That being said, here are three that I have tasted and recommend for your enjoyment.
2013 Hope Family Wines Treana Red, Paso Robles (sample, $45 SRP) The Treana Red is comprised of 75% cabernet sauvignon and 25% syrah aged 15 months in 65% new and 35% once-used French oak. It is young and voluptuous, with an apparent clinginess and deep purple color in the glass that is unrivaled. On the palate, the mouthfeel is sumptuous and the tannins firm, with aromas and flavors of blackberries, blackcurrant, vanilla, and spices. I sipped this wine over the course of three days with and without food and it was still quite powerful on day three. My favorite food pairing with the Treana was a hearty steak. Decant this and drink now or hold this one for 10-20 years. 15% ABV, 7000 cases produced.
2013 Banfi Wines Centine Rosé, Toscana IGT (sample, $11 SRP)
This wine finishes the trifecta of Banfi Wines that I received as samples and it might very well be I saved the best for last. The 2013 Centine Rosé (or Rosato, as I suggested it be called), produced in stainless steel, is simply lovely for a wine that comes in at around $11. It’s a blend of sangiovese, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, so it’s more of a medium-bodied rose, with nice aromatics and flavors of strawberries and wild raspberries. The finish is longer than I would expect from a wine at this price point and the acid shines. I paired this pretty, salmon-pink wine with tail-off, pink shrimp prepared with butter and a touch of this rosé. For those inquiring minds, yes, I cooked. Enjoy this rosé, er, rosato, with a variety of foods. ABV 12.5%.
2011 Bodega Garnacha Alto Alberche 7 Navas Roble, Castilla y León (sample, $18 SRP)
This is the third sample of garnacha sent to me by Magnum Wines International, LLC and New Spain Wines. Similarly to the other samples, the grapes for the 7 Navas Roble come from the Alto Alberche Valley in Castilla y León, where the vines are 60-70 years old, resulting in lower yields, but very intense, high-quality berries. Unlike the previous two, the 2012 Bodega Don Juan del Águila Gaznata Joven and 2013 Bodega Garnacha Alto Alberche 7 Navas Garnacha Joven, this wine sees four months of aging in twice-used French oak barrels and was not bottled until March 2014. It still retains the characteristics of old-vine, high-altitude garnacha, such as floral aromatics, bright cherry fruit, and spice. However, it has more noticeable tannin structure and body from the oak aging. This is a great value at under $20. 14.5% ABV, 3200 bottles (266.67 cases) produced.
At this moment in time, I have one more post planned for January. In the works are more reviews for American Winery Guide and Snooth in the coming months. I hope that I can count on you for your continued support and readership.
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy.
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
~ Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
A little over years ago, I was invited to participate in #VAWineChat with Drink What YOU Like’s Frank Morgan and Trump Winery’s winemaker Jonathan Wheeler. The two sparkling wines, the 2008 SP (Sparkling) Blanc de Blanc and 2008 SP (Sparkling) Rosé were both fantastic and the name on the bottle went mostly unnoticed.
Fast forward to 2015. I was asked again to participate in #VAWineChat, tasting four wines from Trump Winery. I immediately said yes, because I remembered how good the wines were two years ago. However, this time around, just the mention of the name Trump in social media outlets has caused extreme reactions on both ends of the spectrum. I was on the receiving end of some divisive, presumptuous tweets and I found myself in Facebook discussions having to defend my choice to taste the wines. I wanted to say, “It’s wine, for goodness sake!” Some assumed that because I tasted these wines and enjoyed them, I must be sending a message about politics. I was not. From what I have observed and read, some are buying the wines because they love the name or boycotting the wines because they hate the name, without having tried the wines. Has the name Trump trumped what’s inside the bottle? I hope not, because the wines, the livelihood of the winery employees, and the impact on local and Virginia wine tourism and economics are what matter most.
Award-winning Trump Winery (formerly Kluge Vineyard and Estate until 2011), was planted in 1999 and is Virginia’s largest estate winery at 1300 acres with 195 acres planted. In 2013, Wine Enthusiast awarded the 2007 SP (Sparkling) Reserve a score of 91 points, which is the highest rating ever received by a Virginia wine. The president of the winery is Eric Trump, who was named a Wine Enthusiast Rising Star in 2013, and is also a key fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital through The Eric Trump Foundation. The general manager is Kerry Woolard, herself a star in the Virginia wine industry by her own right. Winemaker Jonathan Wheeler has worked for the winery since 2006 and brought with him winemaking experience from Sonoma and Monterey, California; Marlborough, New Zealand; and the Finger Lakes, New York. An estate winery would be nothing without a vineyard supervisor like Rafael Sánchez, who has been with the winery since 2004, and brought with him experience from Salinas Valley, San Joaquin Valley, and Paso Robles, California.
On Thursday, December 10, 2015, a few of us gathered online via Ustream and Twitter, while some met at Trump Winery for this most recent #VAWineChat. We were hosted by winemaker Jonathan Wheeler and Drink What YOU Like’s Frank Morgan. The winery sent those of us who tasted remotely a box of four sample wines along with a beautiful folder of technical sheets and even a tasting mat. This was by far one of the most organized tastings in which I’ve ever participated. I loved that Jonathan led the discussion while Eric Trump jumped into the conversation on Twitter. Frank, of course, was the consummate facilitator. As expected, the wines were very good. Below are my tasting notes.
2009 Sparkling Blanc de Blanc, Monticello, $24.00
This sparkling wine from Central Virginia near Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello is a rich, creamy expression of 100% first-press chardonnay from Trump Winery’s best grapes. It’s weighty and textured in the mouth, with flavors of yeast rolls, tree fruits, citrus, and loads of juicy acidity. You would be hard pressed to find a vintage sparkling wine at this price that is so well made and delicious.
2009 Sparkling Rosé, Monticello, $28.00
Brut Rosé is always a favorite for me and this is no exception. Although only 8% pinot noir (92% chardonnay), the pinot noir characteristics shine. The wine is a pale salmon color and even the frothy mousse reflects some of the color. Bright, red berry fruits dominate the nose and palate. The mouthfeel is creamy and the acid is as lively as the bubbles. This is an amazing value for vintage brut rosé.
2014 Chardonnay, Monticello, $16.00
I’m not quite an ABC (All But Chardonnay) gal, but I have become particular about still chardonnay. Thankfully, this chardonnay is my style: stainless steel fermentation, no malolactic fermentation, a bit of sur lie treatment, and 90% stainless steel, 10% oak aging. This wine is almost clear in the glass with yellow edges. It’s fruit forward, yet round, with bright citrus and tree fruit aromas and flavors, a hint of spice, and lively acidity. What a steal at $16.00.
2014 Meritage, Monticello, $20.00
This pre-release sample is very young, but should come together with more time in the bottle or some decanting, should you decide to open it sooner rather than later. It’s a Bordeaux-style blend (40% merlot, 35% cabernet franc, 20% cabernet sauvignon, 3% malbec, 2% petit verdot) that exhibits a softer side of red with its 13% ABV. It’s medium ruby in color with medium body and fine tannins. The nose and palate are delighted by flavors and aromas of blackcurrant, black cherry, bitter chocolate, and coffee, with a warm, spicy, tart cherry finish. This is a whole lot of wine for $20.00.
No matter which side of politics you find yourself, these wines are worth trying and tasting. The Trump Winery story is one of crafting high-quality wines from locally grown grapes and supporting the local economy. Make your decision whether to buy or not buy based on how the wine tastes, not the name. That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
Cheers to the wines and the people that make them!
It seems appropriate to close out the writing year with an end-of-year post. At this moment, I don’t have a plan of how this is going to evolve, so please bear with me and stay along for the ride.
First and foremost, thank you to those of you who have been reading, especially those of you who may have been around the four and a half years this website has been in existence. Thank you to the various wineries and wine public relations businesses who have sent me samples for consideration. This endeavor is still purely a hobby and I do not earn any money to do this. However, I do believe that this website was one of a few catalysts that led to me living and working in Napa, so this is why I continue to write.
The readership of my website has increased exponentially in 2015. I believe there are a few reasons for this, such as being featured as a top 100 wine blog on a couple of websites such as Wine Turtle and Exel Wines. My writing has also been featured in wine writing challenges and on other websites such as American Winery Guide, Grape Collective, The Drunken Cyclist, Snooth, and Wine Turtle, which has brought new readers to this site. I also won the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #18 (#MWWC18) with this post. I am forever grateful for this fortuity.
I am especially thankful for the opportunity to write winery reviews for American Winery Guide. I have published seven reviews the past four months. While I love tasting and drinking wine, from the very start of this endeavor, I have been called Travel or Traveling Wine Chick, with travel coming first. Travel experiences are my niche. I love sharing my impressions of a winery and/or its winemaker(s), and if a wine tasting review fits, I add it. In 2016, you will see more travel, winery/wine experiences, and follow-your-passion stories in my writing.
The other day, WordPress sent me my end-of-year statistics for this blog and I was a bit surprised at the staying power of some of the posts. Three of the most viewed posts this year were written in 2012, 2013, and 2014. The top five viewed posts are:
Themes of travel, winery, and personal experiences dominate four of these posts. As to the Skinny Vine post, I am not sure why that’s still popular, as I was such a beginner three years ago. It is cool to see how far I’ve come, though.
The top referrals to my website came from Facebook, Twitter, Wine Turtle, The Drunken Cyclist, and The Fermented Fruit. The latter two websites are written by two of my dearest wine writing colleagues and these connections warm my heart. It would also seem that the next time that I see them, I owe them at least a drink.
These were difficult to choose, but below are my favorite experiences and/or writing of the year published on this website, American Winery Guide, and Snooth, in sort of alphabetical order. Most touched me on a very personal level. When I reread these, I feel as if I am reliving the joy and pleasure I felt during the visits and tastings. If you haven’t read them, please do. Better yet, please visit these producers and/or taste their wines.