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 2

Blending With Wente's Winemakers Studio
Blending With Wente’s Winemakers Studio

Blending With Winemakers Studio

When I last left everyone, I had departed Double Barrel Wine Bar and was on my way to Taste Our Terroir‘s next session, Blending With Winemakers Studio at Wente Vineyards. Thank you again to Visit Tri-Valley, who sponsored my attendance at this session.

Blending With Wente's Winemakers Studio
Blending With Wente’s Winemakers Studio

For those who may not know, Wente’s history dates back to 1883. The winery is still family owned and certified sustainable and the grapes are estate grown. Wente was the first winery in the United States to produce varietally-labeled Chardonnay (1936 vintage) and is known as California’s First Family of Chardonnay™. Karl D. Wente is Wente’s fifth-generation winemaker.

My blend
My blend

The winemakers blending session was nothing short of fabulous. There were six of us and our instructor in the session. Our instructor gave us an introduction to Livermore Valley’s climate, so that we understood the impact of its east-west orientation between the San Francisco Bay and Central Valley. We tasted through our building block red wines: four Cabernets from different vineyards ranging from cooler to warmer climates, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot and Malbec. My favorite Cabernet was from the Smith Vineyard and yielded lots of red and black fruit and acid. My favorite non-Cabernet was the Petit Verdot. I was very tempted to make a 100% Petit Verdot, but the label said red blend, so I opted to the follow the rules. However, I was reminded why I love Petit Verdot: it’s a big wine with loads of dusty tannins and dark berry and chocolate flavors. I selected the Petite Sirah primarily for color and the Malbec as the wine that bridged the flavor gap between the cooler-climate Cabernet and the Petit Verdot. I played with three blends and finally decided to go rogue with 55% Petit Verdot, 25% Smith Vineyard Cabernet, 10% Malbec, and 10% Petite Sirah. We bottled our blends, then added the cork, foil, and label. It was my first attempt at blending, so it will be interesting to see how it turns out after the bottle shock wears off.

Photo op with Owner-Chef Eduardo Posada
Photo op with Owner-Chef Eduardo Posada

Dinner at Posada

My Visit Tri-Valley host, Emmy, picked me up for dinner that evening and had selected an off-the-beaten-path place to try. I probably would have never discovered Posada if it weren’t for her. Posada, the catering company and restaurant, was founded by Eduardo Posada, a man who followed his passion for cooking for the past 30+ years from his humble beginnings to where he is today:

Posada got his first taste of a culinary career in the early 1980s, making and selling breakfast burritos for $1.25 from a cart he attached to the back of his 1976 Ford LTD in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Fresh Tilapia Ceviche
Fresh Tilapia Ceviche

Posada offers innovative and fresh Southwestern cuisine paired with wines from Livermore Valley. My host and I enjoyed a selection of tapas, including BBQ Duck + Blue Corn Cakes + Red Cabbage Slaw and Duo of Mahi Mahi Tacos + Watermelon Salad. Emmy selected a local Chardonnay and I selected a local Grenache Rosé. For dessert, we had churros paired with Mexican hot chocolate.

Churros and fruit paired with Mexican hot chocolate
Churros and fruit paired with Mexican hot chocolate

What a delicious end to a fantastic day! Day 2, I head to McGrail Vineyards.

Stay tuned!

Cheers!
Beth

 

Livermore Valley’s Taste Our Terroir

Taste Our Terroir Logo (https://www.lvwine.org/)
Taste Our Terroir Logo (https://www.lvwine.org/)

At last year’s Wine Tourism Conference in Portland, Oregon, I connected with the director of Visit Tri-Valley in an elevator at the host hotel, of all places, and she invited me to visit the area. Many months later, I am honored to be included as a media guest at Livermore Valley’s Taste Our Terroir this weekend. Taste Our Terroir begins Thursday, July 24 and goes through Sunday, July 27. Tickets for events with availability may be purchased through links on this webpage. My itinerary includes a lunch at First Street Alehouse, dinner and brewery hopping on Saturday night to be determined, and lunch and tasting at Garré Winery, as well as the following key wine events.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

SECRETS OF A SOMMELIER: THE ART OF BLIND TASTING 1:30PM – 3:30PM at Double Barrel Wine Bar
If you’ve always been a little mystified by how professionals describe and compare wines, you are not alone. Join sommelier Gerald Gilligan from Double Barrel Wine Bar, in this interactive introduction to blind tasting. You will take a step-by-step sensory journey through six world class grape varietals. Discover the clues that each wine holds to its true identity. By the end of the seminar you will have the confidence and the opportunity to compete in a blind tasting competition.

BLENDING WITH WINEMAKERS STUDIO 4PM – 6PM at The Winemakers Studio at Wente Vineyards
Uncork your inner winemaker at The Winemakers Studio at Wente Vineyards. In this session, you’ll taste, evaluate, and blend estate blocks of wine to create your very own bottle of wine. Imagine having the finest wines, finest barrels and all the tools you need to create an amazing wine you can keep to sip with a delicious dinner or give away as a special gift.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

FROM VINE TO GLASS: THROUGH THE WINEMAKER’S EYES 11AM – 1PM at McGrail Vineyards and Winery
Whether you are a wine enthusiast or an aspiring winemaker, join us to learn the winemaking process from the vine to your glass. Winemaker, Mark Clarin, will lead you on a tour from the estate vineyard to the crush pad and into the barrel room for an educational tour and tasting. Sip award-winning Cabernets and learn the process involved in creating these fine wines.

Hope to see you in Livermore Valley this weekend!

Cheers!
Beth