Taste Our Terroir Part 3: McGrail Vineyards

McGrail Vineyards
McGrail Vineyards

During my second and final day of Livermore Valley’s Taste Our Terroir, sponsored by Visit Tri-Valley, I had the great honor of visiting McGrail Vineyards and experiencing From Vine to Glass: Through the Winemaker’s Eyes with winemaker Mark Clarin.

Time for class!
Time for class!

What made this visit so special is that Mark is passionate about Livermore Valley and winemaking. He is also a wine educator, whether he realizes it or not. However, since we received an academic-like handout to take with us, I think that seals the deal. I’ve visited many vineyards during the eight years I’ve enjoyed wine at a serious level, but this time, after having taken three Wine & Spirit Education Trust certification courses, everything clicked.

Vertical Shoot Positioning at McGrail Vineyards
Vertical Shoot Positioning at McGrail Vineyards

We started out in the vineyard where Mark discussed vineyard management – the impact of site choice, elevation, the Mediterranean climate, the rain shadow, and Livermore Valley’s East-West orientation – as well as the clones planted, soil type, vertical shoot position trellises, drip irrigation, and North-South row orientation. He made my inner wine geek come alive.

Cabernet Sauvignon Véraison at McGrail Vineyards
Cabernet Sauvignon Véraison at McGrail Vineyards

Although McGrail produces a variety of wines – Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon – we primarily focused on the estate-grown and produced Cabernet Sauvignon during our tasting experience in the barrel room of the winery. The best part of the visit was that we had the opportunity to taste Cabernet Sauvignon aged in Hungarian, American, and French oak to show the effect that various oak choices have on the wine. McGrail typically ages their Cabernet Sauvignons 30 months in oak.

Tasting Cabernet Sauvignon at McGrail Vineyards
Tasting Cabernet Sauvignon at McGrail Vineyards

Our first Cabernet Sauvignon was the 2010 A Jo Elet, which means The Good Life in Hungarian. This wine was big and bold, with lots of blackberry, plum, baking spices, and tannins. The second was the 2011 The Patriot, aged in American oak. It exhibited aromas and flavors of plum on the front of the palate, black cherry and vanilla mid-palate, and firm (but softer than the A Jo Elet) tannins on the finish. Next, we tasted the 2007 James Vincent, which Mark fondly called the shizzle. This wine was aged in French oak. It was smooth and supple, with great structure and tannins, and aromas and flavors of blackberry and plum. As Mark noted, wine is a living thing, and continues to develop in the bottle. Our final wine of the tasting was the 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, aged in a blend of barrel types. I tasted red berries on the front of my palate, rich black fruit mid-palate, then substantial tannins on the finish.

Mark Clarin, kick-ass winemaker/educator
Mark Clarin, kick-ass winemaker/educator

This visit was by far the best vineyard tour and tasting I’ve experienced to date. Mark Clarin is a gifted winemaker and teacher. His passion for winemaking and his love of Livermore Valley make a tour and tasting at McGrail Vineyards an unforgettable experience.

Lastly, but certainly not least, I want to thank Visit Tri-Valley again for the opportunity to visit and the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association for an outstanding slate of activities for this year’s Taste Our Terroir.

Cheers!
Beth

P.S. Mark, if you read this, that’s my water cup in your hand! This is the reason I was taking all the photos!

Livermore Valley’s Taste Our Terroir Part 1

Appetizer Combo at First Street Alehouse
Appetizer Combo at First Street Alehouse

I recently participated in Livermore Valley’s Taste Our Terroir, courtesy of Visit Tri-Valley. I could not be more impressed by the quality of the sessions, the food, and the wines, as well as the hospitality provided to me by Visit Tri-Valley. I hope my schedule will allow me to visit the area again in the near future.

Vanilla Ice Cream Sundae at First Street Alehouse
Vanilla Ice Cream Sundae at First Street Alehouse

Lunch at First Street Alehouse
My host decided we should eat lunch here prior to the first event, which happened to be next door, so this could not have been planned more perfectly. First Street Alehouse is located in downtown Livermore, which with all of its restaurants, bars, and shops, merits future attention.

Altamont Beer Works Shelter IPA
Altamont Beer Works Shelter IPA

The alehouse was founded in 2000, is family owned and operated and “wants to be your home away from home.” It boasts 24 beers on tap and is “home to the largest publicly displayed beer can collection, housing over 6000 cans.” The food here is pub fare, so my host and I split an appetizer combo, shared a hamburger, and enjoyed a vanilla ice cream sundae for dessert. As a beverage, I always drink local wherever I am, so I chose Altamont Beer Works Shelter IPA (6.5% ABV, 60 IBU), described as,

A true “West Coast” IPA, which is hop flavor forward without the hop bitterness. Large amounts of hops are used at the whirlpool and dry hop additions, to bring you the unique flavors of the hop varietals…

It is named after the Rolling Stones’ song “Give Me Shelter.” The movie of the same name recounts the 1969 Altamont Speedway Free Festival.

Secrets of a Sommelier
Secrets of a Sommelier

Secrets of a Sommelier: The Art of Blind Tasting
After lunch, I headed next door to take part in my first event, Secrets of a Sommelier: The Art of Blind Tasting, at Double Barrel Wine Bar. The bar’s sommelier, Gerald Gilligan, lead the group in blind tasting six wines, two whites and four reds, using the Court of Master Sommelier’s Deductive Tasting Format and Tasting Grid. I am thrilled to share that I guessed all six wine varieties correctly as well as guessed both the wine and the producer for one of the samples we tasted. All of the wines sampled were from Livermore Valley producers. Below are my brief tasting notes.

Court of Master Sommeliers Deductive Tasting Format
Court of Master Sommeliers Deductive Tasting Format

2013 Page Mill Sauvignon Blanc: This wine was almost clear in color and dry. It was fermented in stainless steel. It had medium-plus acidity, alcohol, and finish, and aromas and flavors of green apple, lemon zest, melon, and pear.

2011 Retzlaff Chardonnay: This wine was pale gold and fermented in oak with some malolactic fermentation. Thus, it had a creamy mouthfeel and possessed aromas and flavors of melon, peach, pineapple, tropical fruits, and nuts.

2008 Wood Family Merlot: This was the most interesting wine of the tasting. After six years, this ageworthy wine still exhibited great structure and firm tannins. It was garnet in color with medium body. It displayed aromas and flavors of baking spices, cherry, plum, and vanilla.

Double Barrel Wine Bar
Double Barrel Wine Bar

2010 Nottingham Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon: This wine was purple-red in color with a full, viscous body, medium-plus tannins, and aromas and flavors of blackberry, blackcurrant, blueberry, spice, and vanilla.

2009 Concannon Petite Sirah: This is the wine whose grape and producer I guessed as soon as it was poured into my glass, my Bottle Shock bar moment, if you will. The wine was full bodied and robust, with fruity and funky aromas and flavors of black and bing cherry, blackberry, coffee, and plum. Concannon was the first United States winery to varietally label Petite Sirah with their 1961 vintage.

2012 3 Steves Zinfandel: This wine was purple-red in color, medium-to-full bodied, and revealed aromas and flavors of chocolate, dark and red berries, and a spicy finish.

Upon the conclusion of our tasting, we celebrated our blind tasting success and camaraderie with glasses of bubbly. Shortly thereafter, I was on my way to my next event.

To be continued…

Cheers!
Beth