Wednesday, September 16, 2009

07 Cabs Finally Arrive!

2007 is one of those vintages that we will be talking about 20 years from now. It is opulent, complex, and age-worthy. And I have been waiting for 2 years to share it!

The first of the vintage to be available is also one of our best: the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon - Ghielmetti Vineyard, Clone 4 is the first of our two Premier Cabernet Collection wines to debut.

The Premier Cabernet Collection is comprised of the best expressions of 100% Cabernet that the Steven Kent Winery produces. In this vintage only 8 barrels out a total of 127 (6.3%) were deemed of great enough quality to earn the Premier Cabernet Collection classification.

Just 4 barrels each (roughly 90 cases of each wine, packaged in 3-packs) were produced. Based upon the response to the 2006 vintage, these wines will not last long. Click Here to Order this Wine before it's gone!

Cabernet Sauvignon - Ghielmetti Vineyard, Clone 4 Notes:

This powerhouse wine emphasizes aromatic notes of semi-sweet chocolate, graphite, mocha, cassis, and black cherry liqueur. On entry, rich and viscous flavors of dark fruit, licorice, and cocoa unfurl slowly (much more organoleptic complexity and clarity of structure come through after several hours of decanting) leading to a broadening of tannins through the mid-palate. On the finish, the full tannic scope of the wine comes through as the flavors show lengthy persistence. The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Clone 4 is less herbaceous than it was in 2006, trading in a subtle exotic wood for more power and age-worthiness. This Cabernet will benefit from several years of bottle age, beginning to show all of its grandeur in 2014. With care, this wine should age effortlessly through 2020.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

This is no time for tasting. I will be drinking my wine tonight.

This is no time for tasting. I will be drinking my wine tonight.

There are times when the shadows are long and soft in the evening, and the city is laid out before you so clearly each building shines, and the trees sough as if the ocean breezes are caught up in their crowns, and the day leading up to this, broke so green it hurt your eyes, and the grapes hang, dew-covered and rampant as the rows proceed to the horizon; and you realize you are in Northern California, in wine country, and it is a balm. And you don't think cases to be sold, or distributor problems in the mid-west or the effects of recession or think how perfect this Cabernet tastes, how its fruit and tannin and texture and finish are each perfect, and their aggregation is perfect, and the wine (it doesn't matter which one, really...just that you are drinking it now, in this perfect spot, in this perfect time) is perfect.

That's what today felt like. And that's why I drink tonight. I drink (an act of feeling, no thinking tonight) to that ineffable perfection that was the Livermore Valley the fruit coming in that will be wine in two years, to the caring touch of our winemaking team, to all of you for whom Steven Kent and La Rochelle are a part of your wine drinking life.

This is no time for tasting. I will be drinking my wine tonight.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

2006 Single Vineyard Series Cabernets - A Preview

There's nothing like being able to taste our trio of Single Vineyard Series Cabs side-by-side to demonstrate how singular each is, and how profound.

Two traits cut through the myriad differences of flavor and aroma in these three wines: intensity of fruit and richness of structure. Each wine displays that hallmark of great Livermore Valley Cabernet (deep dark/rich fruit on entry) very clearly. The rich fruit entry is where Livermore sets itself apart from the more austere, less opulent Napa Valley wines.

Along with the fruit comes toasty oak, chocolate and mint notes in the Home Ranch. This wine is dramatically complex in the nose...cassis, black cherry, raspberry, chocolate, mint; after sitting open for about 2 hours, the chocolate has morphed into less sweet cocoa powder, the fruit notes are darker and the tannins have blossomed to show both greater breadth and more edge than when the wine was first open.

The Smith Ranch is the most austere of the three wines. Structure is the watchword with this wine. Newly opened, the wine shows notes of "Liquid Smoke," toasty oak, and black fruits. There is a gorgeous, focused streak of tannin that runs through this wine in a straight line, all the way to a lengthy finish. Black fruit notes begin to show themselves after the wine sat, and a structural earthiness and tobacco notes were also evident.

The Ghielmetti Vineyard (a blend of three different clones) was the wine that showed the most dramatic change. Early, the wine showed intensity of red and black fruits, graphite, and milk chocolate in the nose. The medium tannins were confined to the mid-palate, and the wine didn't have the length of finish that it has shown before. With time, though, this wine became much bigger: red fruit turned black, chocolate took on a much less sweet aspect, and most significantly, the tannins opened up, becoming harder and longer.

All three wines share a depth and breadth of tannin that will allow them to age 10 years; each wine is very individual, and each wine writes the continuing story of world-class Cabernet from the Livermore Valley.

Fewer than 30 cases remain of the Home Ranch Cabernet. Smith and Ghielmetti will make their debut at The Table in the second half of September and will be available to purchase then. Only 50 cases of the Smith and 100 cases of the Ghielmetti Cab were produced.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Premier Cabernet Collection - 2007 Ghielmetti Vineyard - Clone 4

The 2007 vintage of Cabernets is the best we have yet produced.

While this growing year offered that extremely rare combination of world-class quality and higher-than-average volume for California as a whole, for the Steven Kent Winery, this vintage will once and for all dispel any doubts of the Livermore Valley's ability to grow Cabernet equal in quality to any other growing area.

The two Premier Cabernet Collection wines that will be released in 2010 achieve a level of richness and complexity that we not seen yet.

The Cabernet Sauvignon - Ghielmetti Vineyard, Clone 4 is significantly denser in fruit with a broader mid-palate and lengthier tannins than the 2006 PCC release. The richness and dark fruit on entry and in the mid-palate in 2006 is magnified substantially in 07. There are more non-fruit aromatics at play in the new wine, and there is significantly more structural tannin on the finish to balance out the viscosity of the wine's front end and to insure great longevity.

Only 240 three-packs and a small number of magnums were produced in this vintage. First priority for ordering is given to those who purchased last year's wine. The next priority is reserved for those who have signed up on our INTEREST LIST. The ordering period will begin on September 17th for those on the Interest List.

20 years from now, we'll still be talking about this vintage. Don't miss out.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

If You Look Hard Enough You Can See the Wine

Practically everything related to the making of wine is anticipatory. The grapes are picked and crushed and fermenting and you anticipate what the wines will taste like. You have a favorite wine in the cellar awaiting that special meal or special someone and you hope that the wine will match the picture you have of it in your head.

This time of year, if you look hard enough you can see the next wines. We are a way off for Bordeaux varieties, but the Sangiovese in the Home Ranch vineyard is just beginning Veraison, that time when grapes turn color, skins get softer, and the growing of fruit is moving toward the end point (ripeness and balance between sugar and acid) having overcome the hump of its incipience.

In about 60 days, assuming the weather cooperates, we should be harvesting Sangiovese and anticipating the next great vintage of Vincere.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Greatest Meal Ever

As I've written many time before, the best glass of wine I have ever had is inextricably tied to the people with whom I was sharing it. Same goes for the best meal. And when I can share the best food I have had in a very long time with one of my kids, the "special-ness" of the occasion increases exponentially.

On our family vacation in Las Vegas last week, my son, Aidan, and I ate at Bar Charlie on our second-to-last night. Bar Charlie is owned by Charlie Trotter and is a smaller venue inside Restaurant Charlie. The Bar specializes in kaiseki style of Japanese cuisine, think Asian tapas...small plates of exquisitely prepared food, mostly fish, some raw.

Aidan works Saturdays in the La Rochelle tasting room and is a big fan of sushi...Kawa Sushi in Livermore is one of our frequent haunts. I promised Aidan we'd devote a night in Vegas to the pursuit of raw fish and I'd heard good things about Bar Charlie.

I can't speak highly enough of the level of service and the deliciousness of the meal. We splurged and had the 14-course meal. I also had the beverage pairing accompanying each dish.

To simply list the dishes would do a disservice to the greatness of it all, but here are a few highlights:

Hawaiian Big Eye Tuna with Umeboshi and Seawater - (Aidan's favorite) a raw preparation of tuna, one section of which was wrapped around a cake of Umeboshi (a salted Japanese plum).

Tasmanian Ocean Trout with Pearled Barley & Miso - each part of the trout was used from the skin (cooked as a chip and put into Trout ice cream...really delicious!) to the roe.

Diver Sea Scallop with Chocolate & Bloomsdale Spinach - (my favorite) puree of Spinach sauce, Coffee oil (unbelievable!), and chocolate ganache cut into strips brought out the sweetness of the perfectly cooked scallop.

I admire any company that sets very high standards and that works hard to meet them. Restaurant Charlie certainly fits into this category. There's a graciousness and elegance to the way they approach food and service that is both testament to their philosophy as well as an inspiration to those of us who want to be able to provide the seemless, unparalleled, Extraordinary Experience to all who visit us.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

2008 Wine X - Step 2

I described in an earlier post the first step in the process of creating our flagship wine - Wine X - a blend of the 5 classic grapes from Bordeaux. Continuing in that vein, below is a bit more about how the other grapes get incorporated into the Cabernet Sauvignon base.

Over the last several weeks, I systematically went through each lot of wine making notes regarding the aromatic and gustatory qualities of each barrel then assigning a grade and a possible disposition for each barrel. If it was of great enough quality, perhaps it might make the SVS (Single Vineyard Series) level or even the PCC (Premiere Cabernet Collection). And if it was truly special, it might be destined for Wine X level.

After tasting through 118 barrels of the five varieties, I narrowed down the contenders to just a couple per variety. On Friday, I siphoned 375ml samples of each of the varieties (if there were multiple contending barrels for a variety, part of each such barrel went into the sample). After making notes on the wines, including a sample of the base Cabernet Sauvignon I created in Step 1, I went about blending the five samples together.

I am looking for greatness in this wine. I am looking for a wine with power, elegance, complexity of aroma and flavor, and an over-arching structure that holds all the pieces together and that will allow for age. In short, Wine X is supposed to be the greatest red wine from Livermore.

The first sample I made was in the same percentages as in the first Wine X. Then I made samples on either side, a bit more Cabernet Sauvignon and a little less CS. With each blend, I am trying to home in on just that one wine that expresses all of the grapes - the rusticity and mid-palate heft of Malbec, the color and tannin of Petit Verdot, the wistful aromatics of Cabernet Franc and a hint of her acidity - but does so in a unified way.

Generally, I make a series of samples, 5-7 or so, and let them sit for a while before I taste them for the first time. You want to give the wines a chance to sort things out some before you attach an impression to early.

So far, the wine that made the most favorable impression, the one that has the most power, grace, and ageability, contained 80% CS, 10% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec, and 2% Merlot. This, of course, is not necessarily where the the final blend will reside.

Now that I have a firmer idea about the percentages, I go back to determine what those percentages mean in terms of needed gallons of each wine to make the number of cases I want to produce. When I know that, I will remake the blends with only the best barrel or two (depending upon the gallons needed) from each lot. I will remake a series of blends with different percentages of CS again and determine my favorite. Then the process gets really interesting... More in Step 3.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Groovy Boobies Prevail

Each year our Tasting Room Team splits up into smaller groups to compete with each other to make a blend for release at the Livermore Valley Harvest Festival. Proceeds from each of the wines we have made (this year marks our fourth) have gone to support breast cancer research. last year's label is on the right.

Each team had samples of Zinfandel, Grenache, Syrah, Mourverdre, and Petite Syrah to work with. The wine had to contain at least 3 grapes, couldn't be more than 50% of any one grape, and had to be at least 16% of each grape included.

Team Groovy Boobies (Janice Fisher, Jessica Fisher, and Sharyn Bell) combined 16% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 34% Mourvedre, and 20% Zinfandel to narrowly defeat a blend made by Team X.

Their wine was wonderfully rich, with black fruit aromatics and flavors, silky mid-palate, and significant finishing tannins. Approximately, 150 cases of the wine will be released on September 6th. If you want a terrific wine and to support a great cause look for this wine (it will be named shortly) in our store in September.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Tasting Note: 2007 Mourvedre

We will be releasing Sommaro, a Mourvedre blend to members of our Collector's Circle wine club in July. This wine is our third such blend of Rhone varieties.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Jennifer Fazio, our Director of Operations and Cheese Monger to the Stars, and Cindy Turchino, our Tasting Room Manager, to taste and talk about the last two vintages of Mourvedre.

Mourvedre is not a well-known variety in America. It appears in Southern French blends and more recently in GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) blends from Australia. I think Mourvedre is one of those quintessentially "just drink it, it goes great with food kind of wines."

There is a rusticity, and leathery texture (more prominent in Stairway our 2006 release than in '07) to go along with dark plum fruit, wild strawberry notes, and nice tannin. Jennifer commented on the dramatic black pepper-quality in the nose ("a snootful of pepper" were her exact words). "You'll think it's white," she said to me, "but it's black pepper." Just for the is white pepper! Cindy got "hints of fresh cut herbs on the nose" and a "smooth flow of blackberries from the tip of [her] tongue through mid palate and a finish that is velvety soft."

Surprisingly, for our resident white wine and Pinot Noir gal, Jennifer, described the structure of the Sommaro as having only a "hint of tannin on the finish." I think the wine is more tannic than that...though the '06 is significantly more tannic and acidic than the the rounder '07. Cindy thought the tannins "make a nice showing but don't overpower the palate."

The 2006 Mourvedre (Stairway) is showing very pretty integration of fruit and wood. The delineated fruit of youth (plum, strawberry) is now an amalgam of silky black fruit aromas and flavors. The punch of acid and tannin that made the wine a potentially long-term ager is still significantly present. This quality, I think, allows for some neat food pairing options.

As far as '07 and food go, Cindy recommends a pecan crusted Rack of Lamb and roasted Rosemary Red Potatoes (that does sound good); Jennifer's thoughts turned to cheese. The picture to the right shows some of the cheeses we tried with the wine (Lenora, Jasper Hill Winnemere, Grayson, and Tomme de Montagne from 9 o' clock to 6 o' clock). I think this wine would go with meaty fish, chicken with lentils, BBQ ribs, sausages, charcuterie, just about anything.

Let us know what you think of the Mourvedre when it comes out, or any of our other wines.

Monday, June 15, 2009

2008 Wine X - Step 1

I took the first step, yesterday, in creating the second vintage of our new flagship wine...Wine X (I am waiting on the trademark office for approval before we announce the real name of the wine...I think it is much more meaningful if not as dramatic as its stand-in).

My vision for this wine is is meant to be the greatest red wine from the Livermore Valley.

I look at it as the wine my father and I sought to create when we first started Steven Kent Winery and the wine prior generations of the Mirassou family didn't make; hopefully, you will find it a testament to the Livermore Valley's world-class quality, to a wine mission 155 years in the making, and to one hell of a great wine.

You'll learn much more about Wine X over the next several months. The 2007 vintage will be released in October 2010, and the one I am working on now will follow the next year.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The First Child Still Shines

One of my biggest regrets in the wine business was not realizing how important our new Steven Kent history was going to be to our company. You probably know that my family is the oldest winemaking family in the country, having made wine continuously since 1854. And while this history means a great deal to me, it is necessarily distant as my involvement in creating it was minimal.

Not so with Steven Kent. My dad and I started the brand with an idea that the Livermore Valley could grow world class Cabernet, and we set about to prove it. I still am...and hopefully will for many years.

We spent about a year tasting our 1996 Cabernet from barrel frequently, trying to determine if that particular wine was good enough to launch not only the brand, but our winemaking philosophy, and our Mission. We decided, finally, that it was. That wine was inky dark, had great dark fruit and chocolate and wood notes, and was very well received by our first customers. It was so well received, in fact, that nearly every bottle was sold. And that is where the regret comes in.

We didn't keep enough of it in our Library so that we could see how the wine progresses over a very long time-frame.

I had the opportunity to taste the 1996 again a few days ago as part of an auction lot that we donated. The wine was still youthful: showing somewhat more dark cherry notes than I remember, but still having that great mid-palate structure, tannins on the finish, and indescribable notes that 10 years in bottle bring.

Everything is terrific with the 1996; it has many more years of life ahead of it, it tastes wonderfully now; it warms the emotional cockles of my heart. Oh, one bad thing...we don't have enough of it left.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Tasting Note: 2001 Single Vineyard Series Cabernets

The Steven Kent team had a great experience last Saturday with two older wines. Being a young company with only about 10 vintages behind us, we still don't really know how long-lived our wines can be. So when we taste a wine that is eight years old and is only now beginning to drink the way it should, we get pretty excited.

The 2001 vintage was one of the best recent vintages for California Cabernet, and we released a trio of wines from three different sites under our Single Vineyard Series program. The best barrels from the Folkendt, Home Ranch, and Block D vineyards were chosen for our inaugural offering.

After our Release Celebration for Radius IV, we opened the 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon - Folkendt Vineyard and Home Ranch Vineyard wines. The Folkendt (much as I remember) was huge, with very rich aromas of black fruit, graphite, spicy oak, and semi-sweet chocolate. In the mouth, the wine had tannin from entry forward, a wonderfully viscous mid-palate with coffee and chocolate flavors predominating. On the extremely long finish, the black fruit, non-fruit flavors, and tannin all conspired to produce a very delicious, very youthful effect.

The Importance of Richness

One of the most significant characteristics a Steven Kent Cabernet can possess is a sense of richness. More important than tannin by itself, the richness (or viscosity) of the wine signals, to me, the capacity for the wine to evolve positively over the course of its life. Tannins, without the mid-palate richness that the best Steven Kent cabs have, will only age out to thinness, becoming strident in their maturity.

The 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon - Home Ranch was also a revelation. Showing less of the characteristic mintiness that the new Home Ranch release contains, the wine had an opulent nose of black raspberry, cassis, milk chocolate, and nicely integrated wood. Similar to the Folkendt, this wine's mid-palate was gorgeously round with an emphasis on slightly less dark fruit and only a hint of the graphite that defines the Folkendt. This wine, too, finished with terrific structural tannins enveloped in ripe fruit.

If you were able to get one of the 100 six-packs we produced in this vintage, there is no need to choose favorites; enjoy them all. I won't choose either. Both wines showed great youth and even greater promise for 7-10 years of additional growth.

Just an addendum...We had the occasion today to open the third wine of the triumvirate...the Steven Kent Vineyard, D Block. Again, a very big wine up front. Intense earthy aromas with Kalamata olives and baked bread notes. In the mouth the wine's fruit was redder than in the other two wines while also picking up a little brandied quality that usually signifies age. The tannins are abundant and the finish is long, but this wine is not holding up as well as the other two. I would drink this wine now.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

2008 Vintage: A Look Forward

We just put the finishing touches on our first serious taste through all the lots of the 2008 vintage Bordeaux varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot). We tasted 14 distinct lots comprised of 118 separate barrels and while 2008 is not as round a vintage as 2007 at this point, there are a number of potentially outstanding wines aging away gracefully in the cellar.

2008 was a significantly smaller harvest for us than 2007. Yields in some of our Cabernet blocks (including clone 191 and clone 4) were down by more than 20% compared to the previous year.

At this point in time, my general observation is that 2008 will be seen as a more structured vintage than 2007; it reminds me of the 2000 vintage in which fruit did not show overtly, but there was great depth and "blackness" to the aromatics and flavors. 2008 has that same depth of dark fruit and an austerity in mid-palate structure where exuberance was the calling card for 2007.

The wines are very young, and too many times I have been fooled into thinking that a wine would be less than what it turned out to be. During this 10 days of tasting (we'll revisit the wines in about 3 months), clone 337 from the Ghielmetti Vineyard is the clear Cabernet star (the adjectives: black fruit, tobacco, big tannin, dark chocolate, chewy tannin, good length came up repeatedly in my blind tasting notes). In the past I have loved this clone for its grapey, dark fruit aspects, and it is even more expressly tannic than it was in 2007. This head-turning wine is a front runner for Premier Cabernet Collection status.

Consistent favorites: clones 4, 30, and 191 are also showing very well though they seem to be a bit behind in their development compared to the last vintage.

A new clone of Petit Verdot - The Forman clone - which was grafted over from Sauvignon Blanc in 2006, is showing beautifully. Dense dark plum and floral notes abound and the mid-palate silkiness portends a wonderfully complex drinking experience in 2011.

For those who can't wait to get their hands and palates around a new Cabernet, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon - Home Ranch is now available. Long a favorite of Steven Kent Cab fans, this gorgeous wine expresses the mint/chocolate/dark fruit matrix of our home site better than any wine since 2003. Only 120 cases were produced. Get it before it's gone.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

small lot, BIG Quality

For the first time, we have been able to figure out our release schedule so that 10 new, small-lot wines will be available to taste at one time...with your own Riedel glass...and lunch!

Our first Spring Open House will take place on May 17th from Noon to 4pm, the Steven Kent/La Rochelle site will be world-class wine Central. We will be pouring the 2006 Steven Kent Cabernet Sauvignon - Home Ranch (120 cases), 2006 Cabernet Franc (19 cases), 2006 Merlot (19 cases); 2006 La Rochelle Pinot Noir - Garys' Vineyard (120 cases), 2007 Pinot Noir - Mission Ranch, Pommard Clone in French oak (20 cases) and in American oak (20 cases) among others.

Join us for this spectacular event. $20 per person if you are a Steven Kent or La Rochelle club member and $30 per person if you are not. Only a small number of tickets are available. We look forward to seeing you.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What Makes a Region World-Class?

If the weather is similar (including the gradient in temperature from day to night and one side of the appellation to the other) and the soils are varied and the same variety (Cabernet, in this case) is planted (with the same quality clones, etc.) what makes Napa "world-class" and Livermore an afterthought?

Please, let me know.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Barrel Tasting in Livermore

This past weekend, the Livermore Valley Wine Growers Association sponsored the first annual Barrel Tasting event in which 22 wineries rolled out wines still in barrel for wine lovers to taste.

The practice of tasting wine from barrel is something wine makers get to do can't meaningfully gauge how far along your wine is, how much wood influence is being imparted to the wine if you are not tasting them from barrels on a consistent basis. An earlier post talks more about this.

Implicit in this practice is the concept of "process." Wine is a living thing; it is born in ferment, goes through adolescence and puberty in barrel (a whole lotta change happening here!); matures and eventually dies in bottle. Any sip of wine is only a single frame in a much longer movie, and while tasting from barrel - especially for the non-winemaker out there - is a lot of fun (you know, it's a whole lot of fun for the winemaker too!), it only tells a very small part of the story.

Over 1600 visitors bought tickets for this first Barrel Tasting event. We poured the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon - Ghielmetti Vineyard, Clone 191, and I thought the wine was showing exactly why this particular block of Cabernet is one of the finest in the Valley. Thanks to all those who tasted the wine and bought Futures. The wine will be released in May 2010. Only 40-45 cases will be produced.

We hope to be able to do more events like this. Opening up the wine making process makes it more understandable, and in revealing some of the mysteries of wine, makes them even more wonderful.

Monday, March 23, 2009

This Is What the 2006 Vintage "Tastes" Like

Check out what the 2006 Vintage "tastes" like according to Wordle, a cool program that creates word clouds out of text.

I plugged in the text from six or seven 2006 vintage tasting notes to see how often words were used. In Wordle, the more often words are used the larger they are in relation to other words.

It's not unusual that flavors or fruit or aromas should come up. But it's nice to see that delicious and integrated and abundance also make their presence known.

Give it a try. Show us how Steven Kent tastes to you. Make a wordle and we'll post the most delicious ones in a future blog post.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Petit Verdot: Can It Stand on Its Own?

Being a late ripening variety, the Bordelais (owing to their fickle weather) have consigned Petit Verdot to the fringes of their Cabernet-dominant blends. In their good years, you may find this big, beautiful wine blended to bump up color and tannin levels in some Left Bank wines.

In California, where the streets are lined with gold and the weather is always perfect, we believe that Petit Verdot can be much more than just a blender. On our estate vineyard we have two blocks of PV producing very purple, very big, very aromatic and flavorful wine.

This variety has made its way into Future Release Program blends in the past. But for the first time we are releasing a 100% Petit Verdot available only at The Table in the Steven Kent Barrel Room.

The 2006 Petit Verdot - Ghielmetti Vineyard, Livermore Valley is a huge wine. From the aromas and flavors of dark berry, coffee, licorice, violet, and chocolate-wrapped fruit to the mouth-coating viscosity to the significant finishing tannins, this wine WILL NOT BE IGNORED.

For this first release, we chose only the best barrel from a larger lot. The second-use barrel (2003 Demptos, Allier, Medium+) added just enough wood to hold the rampant qualities of the wine in check without being too obtrusive. Only 19 cases of the wine were produced. $55 per bottle. Because of the extremely limited nature of this release, please call our Barrel Room at 925-243-6440 or email for more information.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A New Take on the Aroma Wheel

Describing what something smells like (and being understood) can be a difficult thing. UC Davis professor, Ann Noble designed the first wheel to help people understand and communicate what they were smelling in wine.

Alder Yarrow at his blog has re-imagined the wheel in a shape that is a bit more intuitive. He offers this useful tool in a variety of languages including English, Italian, and Japanese.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Finding Our Wine

We have very consciously decided that we want to stay small...and that we want to sell wine to our friends.

Though most of our wine is sold at the Winery to members of our wine clubs, we do sell a small percentage to fine restaurants and wine shops, mostly in California (they're our friends too!)

Click on the link to see an evolving map of the fine folks all around California who sell our wine.

Teaching Your Kids About Wine - They'll Be Happier, Healthier, and Will Probably Thank You Later

In a piece on the Wine Spectator website, we learn that the French have just passed a series of laws raising the drinking age and making it more difficult to buy wine.

While wine consumption is dramatically down in France over the last several years, there has been a big uptick in incidents of binge drinking among teenagers. I would argue that these two phenomena are related.

Any time a potentially dangerous activity or product is shrouded in mystery or cloaked in an "adults" only prohibition, curious teens will find a way to not only experience them but also to abuse them.

Alcohol consumption is serious business; no one is advocating its irresponsible use. Treated with respect, though, wine offers a world of enjoyment, a myriad of flavors and aromas, and a linchpin around which our social and family lives can more memorably spin.

I would never throw my 16-year old child into a car and expect him to drive without great risk to lives and property. I don't understand why, as a country, we would think that turning 21 automatically conveys maturity and responsible behavior on a young person in respect to how to enjoy wine.

I am not talking about learning about the 1855 Bordeaux classification or how pyrazine levels in Cabernet diminish with fruit maturity. I am referring to bringing wine into the conversation with your kids and allowing them to smell and taste the wines you are having for dinner. I know with my own kids that the "big deal" of the first drink is a much smaller deal because they have already responsibily experienced it.

The French are seeing it now: they have said no to their National drink, and the kids are much worse off for it.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Clone 191...Best for Last?

One of the most exciting things about wine for me is that it is a living thing, constantly changing (for both good and bad), different from the first sip to the last, from the first bottle to the final one in the case.

When I was choosing barrels for our Premier Cabernet Collection wines from the 2006 vintage, the Cabernet Sauvignon - Ghielmetti Vineyard, Clone 191 was my second or third favorite of the grouping. It had the best structure for long-term aging, but it was also slightly monolithic in its flavors and aromas at that time.

It is 18 months later, and we are now pouring this new wine in the Barrel Room. What was largely a tannic wine with dark (if undifferentiated) fruit, is now showing that same great, broadly tannic structure - especially from the mid-palate back - but with layers of fruit aromatics and flavors that are terrifically complex.

The dark fruit has become black cherry, cassis, and raspberry; the non-fruit aromatics are now tobacco, cedar and semi-sweet chocolate. This wine has become a very beautiful example of how good Cabernet from the Livermore Valley can be.

Only 192 three-packs were produced, and only 80 remain. Click here to order this wonderful wine before it is gone. $300/three-pack.

Barrel Surfing should be an Olympic Sport

One of the most enjoyable times for me is the opportunity I get to work with our barrels. At any given time we might have 300-400 barrels of wine (of various vintages) aging in the cellar.

The barrels are segregated by wine lot, and I am usually focused enough to pick a lot or two to taste through at one time. The tools of my trade: a tape recorder, a glass, a thief, chalk, and a big bucket.

Generally, each oak growing region has its own set of characteristics of aroma and flavor; the amount of wood tannin it will contribute to the wine, and how quickly it will impart it. Toast levels, toasted heads/non-toasted heads, older oak, heads from one country and staves from another...all add a further level of complexity to the evaluation of wines and to the finished product.

What tasting through barrels teaches you rapidly is that each barrel is so unique that it is its own wine. So if there are 10 barrels of wine in a lot of Ghielmetti Vineyard Cabernet, I am actually trying to make sense of 10 different wines and how each might go together, which wines might work in the final blend, and which one(s) might be singularly great enough for the Premier Cabernet Collection, for example.

After recording the date, barrel grouping, and barrel number in my recorder, I will thief a little wine into the glass and record my impressions of the wine's aromas; then I'll take a sip, spit in my big bucket then talk about the flavors, and structure. I take the recordings and transcribe the details into an excel file so that I can "see" the wine again down the road when it comes time to put the blends together.

I repeat anywhere from 6-50 times depending on the size of the wine lots. There's usually a lot of used wine in the bucket and a fair amount on my clothes too. But I generally come away with a pretty good understanding of the progress the specific lots of wine are making, which barrels are the most outstanding, and what the blends will taste like when they are released.

More specifically, though, I come away with a greater understanding of my blending strengths and weaknesses, the style of wines I like, and I how I can be as easily influenced as any novice wine drinker by preconceptions and assumptions.

Not only is there a practical purpose for surfing barrels, but it is the best education a wine lover can get. It is exciting and humbling at the same time.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ghielmetti Vineyard - The Bordeaux Varieties

The Ghielmetti Vineyard, our estate site, is rapidly showing itself to be the best site in the Livermore Valley for Cabernet Sauvignon and the other classic Bordeaux varieties. Planted in 2001-2002, with grafting of several blocks done in 2006, the site is supplying nearly all the fruit for the Steven Kent Winery estate project.

Over the next two years, we will have released wines in each of the levels of our "Cabernet Pyramid" (more detail in a future post), and each of them will have been made from the great fruit from this site. Click on this link to see a Google map of the actual vineyard. Click on the colored blocks for more detail about the grapes planted there.

The picture to the right is of Mourvedre before harvest.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Tasting Monte Bello

Ridge Winery's flagship wine, Monte Bello, has consistently been one of the great Cabernet-based wines made in California. In many ways it is an inspiration for me as we embark on producing our own Bordeaux blend. Ridge has proven that you don't need be in Napa to make world-class wine, and you don't necessarily need to be the darling of the mainstream wine press to succeed.

Monte Bello is definitely "of a style." In tasting through their lots of Merlot, Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot (some of which will make it into the final 2008 Monte Bello blend), I was continually surprised by the modest alcohol levels in the wines.

Their wines are absolutely appropriate for their site (high elevation, older vineyards, etc.) so alcohol levels of under 13% are intuitively understandable. The Livermore Valley just won't produce that kind of fruit...and there is nothing wrong with that. The fine-wine world needs wines like Monte Bello: very tight when young, not particularly fruit-forward, but with amazing tannin and incredible ageability. And it needs a wine like our upcoming Bordeaux blend too: fantastic complexity, great mouthfeel and length, significant tannin...the finest wine we have yet made.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Table - Tasting Like It Ought To Be

On February 28, 2009, The Table debuts in the Steven Kent Barrel Room. Created to shine a spotlight on Library selection and small-lot offerings, The Table is the next step in the evolution of world-class wines and wine presentation.

Available on weekends by reservation only, up to six guests at a time will enjoy a one-hour guided tour of four spectacular wines paired specifically with artisanal cheeses and charcuterie.

Just a few openings remain for our first weekend. Please call Tracey Morretta at 925-243-6448 or to reserve your place.

The menu for February 28-March 31 is below.


Wines and cheeses are arranged in suggested order & pairing. Please feel free to mix and match to come up with your own pairings.

2000 Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore Valley
This wine yields up base aromas of cassis, bittersweet chocolate, and the dark stone fruits, and top notes of toasty oak, tobacco, and newly-turned earth. The wine has a seductive unctuousness in the mouth and balancing acidity that carries the multiple flavors throughout the extremely long finish.

Black Diamond Cheddar- Canada
Rich, full flavor and a pleasant sharpness developed through careful and natural aging by one of Canada's most acclaimed cheese producers. This cheese is aged two years.


2001 Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore Valley
The wine is inky purple, very opaque with bright edge. Aromatically, this Cabernet exhibits aspects ranging from cassis, tobacco and sweet oak to bittersweet chocolate, mint, and freshly-tuned earth. While heady now, time will only serve to open aromas up and frame the brazen force of youth. In the mouth, the wine is highly tannic and profoundly rich. Flavors of dark fruits and oak greet one up-front and persist on a long finish

Cave Aged Gruyere-Switzerland
Aged in natural caves where the air and natural bacteria endow the cheese with deep complexity, this cheese matures for at least a year. This cheese is smooth in texture and has rich, beefy flavors that are tempered by hints of apples and pears.


2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore Valley
For centuries, the Bordelais have used Petit Verdot in the blend to provide their wines with darker color and mor tannin. This wine is a perfect demonstration of how well the two varieties work together. This vintage is prfoundly dark purple with a core verging on the black. In the nose, one detects intense aromas of black plum and cassis fruit, underpinned by a layer of non-fruit aromatics: pencil shavings, wetted earth, creme brulee oakiness, dark chocolate, and subtle lavender perfume.

Chatelain Camembert-France
Camembert is an AOC (or name-protected) cow's milk cheese from the Normandy region in northern France. It has a soft, white, bloomy rind; luxurios ivory paste; and buttery, grassy flavor. The taste of a ripe Camembert is reminiscent of wild mushrooms.


2006 Premiere Cabernet Collection Cabernet Sauvignon, Clone 30, Ghielmetti Vineyard, Livermore Valley
The Premier Cabernet Collection represents the pinnacle of our 100% Cabernet winemaking each vintage. Meant to show the excellence of the Livermor Valley The 2-3 best barrels of a larger lot were choosen for this wine. Clone 30 is also called "See" clone, named for Harry See of (See's Candy family), sourced from his Napa Valley vineyard. Bottled without filtration or fining.

Ader Kase Reserve Blue- Seymour Dairy, Wisconsin
A higher fat blue that brings back memories of great blues from Germany such aas Cambozola and Montagnolo. Boasting a melt in your mouth texture with hints of earthy mushroom flavors, this is definitely not your average blue cheese.

Bresaola, Salumeria Biellese
Want something leaner or just a little break from pork? Then Salumeria Biellese's Bresaola is the thing. Humanely raised beef is rubbed with salt and spices and dry cured to a shockingly red finish. The flavor is incredibly delicate, with strong notes of clove, and get this, a floral finish. It amy sound weird for meat but it's elegant and smooth AND a perfect accompaniment to Cabernet.

Norman Love - Cru Sauvage Chocolate - Cocoa Mass: 68% Origin: Bolivia
The world's first chocolate made from beans harvested from wild cacao trees growing in the beni region of northeastern Bolivia. This harmonious chocolate possesses fresh lemon and grapefruit notes, an intense dried plum bouquet, and an exquisite hint of vanilla.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Sometimes the Claims are True

When I started back in the business in 1996, I though I knew what I was doing (so wrong!) and thought I had the "magic bullets" figured out.

A wine glass that make your wine taste better...? and even more...a different shaped glass for each major variety? Come on..."I was born at night..." etc. All it took was one taste from a Riedel glass and we switched all of the old glasses out of the tasting room. We've been using Riedel exclusively since 1999.

In the next few weeks you'll see major changes in Steven Kent (more on that later!) including an upgrade to the Riedel Vinum Extreme glass pictured on the far right above. With its huge bowl this glass allows our Cabernets to taste more "open" at a younger age and showcases the structure of the wines much more dramatically than the smaller Ouverture glass did.

Though not a cheap proposition, providing our guests with a great glass to taste out of can only improve the wine drinking experience.

After all, if the experience and the wines aren't extraordinary, what's the sense in doing it?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Radius 4 - Last Wine of the Vintage

The wine making calendar is an odd one. On one hand there is the grape growing side of things...the annual harvest which has been set by Nature from time immemorial, and hasn't differed dramatically in the 5,000 years wine has been made.

On the wine making ledger, though, the calendar is really 3 years long for us. And now, I have finally reached the 2006 vintage's December 31st.

As I noted in the previous post, our 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon has been put together, and the last wine...Radius IV followed suit yesterday.

I will post tasting notes on the wine when it is released in June to members of our Future Release Program, but the vital statistics are: 70% Cabernet Sauvignon (40% McGrail Vyd, Clone 15, 20% Home Ranch, Clone 7, 10% McGrail Vyd, Clone 8); 10% each Ghielmetti Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot.

Over time the Radius release has evolved from a Cabernet, Syrah, Barbera blend to a more traditional Bordeaux blend. Concomitant with this evolution is a wine with more tannic heft, darker fruit, and a longer consumption arc. Given the quality of Bordeaux-variety fruit coming from our estate vineyards, this blend model (always subject to the vagaries of the vintage, of course) seems to be the right one for members of the Future Release Program.

2007 beckons. Hmmm, when exactly am I now?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

2006 Cabernet Rounds Into Form

The last wine of the 2006 vintage has finally taken shape. With a renewed emphasis on our Cabernet heritage our small-production wines such as the Premier Cabernet Collection and Single Vineyard Series take precedence. Our largest production wine, the Cabernet Sauvignon - Livermore Valley, had to wait.

Numbering now at about 1,000 cases, the 2006 vintage of Cabernet will be released in April or May of this year. What began in my head as an 80%+ Cabernet blend (a little bit of Cab Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot in there to get to 100%) ended up in my glass as a 100% Cab comprised of six different clones from four different vineyards.

I drew samples from nine different barrel groups, taking wine from 2-4 barrels from each group depending upon how barrels are available. I then taste each grouping separately making notes about the wines. Next, I put together a representative blend of just the Cabernets as that wine would be the foundation for whatever other Bordeaux varieties might make the cut.

First impressions are important but hardly conclusive. I have made blends that I loved and got them home to taste them later and couldn't imagine what I liked in the wine. The same on the other pole. After making the Cab blends, I made a blend with the other varieties and let them sit while I went to get my son lunch.

Under the best of circumstances, I will have more than one blend that I like a lot. Then the questions become those of volume and the fate of the barrels that don't make this blend. Some of the folks on our hospitality team tasted the two wines that came out of this session, and the 100% Cabernet ended up being the unanimous favorite.

Right around the beginning of Spring, you'll be able to taste the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon - Livermore Valley and tell me whether I got it right.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

When to Drink Our Wines...One Person's Opinion

We often get asked when is the best time to drink a certain wine. This question is more complicated than it seems on the surface. What style of wine do you like? Do you like older wines? Do you like wine young with a lot of tannin? There really is no one answer.

We have updated our Drinkability Index to provide a little bit of guidance. Remember, though, that the best palate is your own.

Click Collector's Circle and Future Release Program for the wines of those clubs and Cabernet for info about our general release wines.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Liquid Amber - 2006 Barbera

Guess which wine was being produced in the northwest corner of Italy 400 years before the first Cabernet...go ahead, guess.

The grape, from which this wine is produced, is more widely planted in the old country than Sangiovese. It also makes up about 12% of the red wine produced in California. Know what it is yet?

When grown right, allowed to hang long enough to take the edge off its considerable acidity, it produces a wine with the wonderful aromatic mix of ripe plum, dark cherry, leather, and brown spice.

In the mouth, rich fruit abounds, and its silky mid-palate is framed by both balancing acid and fine-grained tannin.

Planted originally in the San Joaquin Valley, the grape's abundant acid was only employed to add a little bit of zing to otherwise flabby, overheated red wine. It is in the Livermore Valley on Block 3 of the Home Ranch Vineyard, though, that this often over-looked, under-appreciated variety shows true delicious character, presence of mind viz. a whole variety of foods, and courage in the face of mid-term aging.


One more also makes up 100% of Liquid Amber, the first release of 2009 for the Collector's Circle wine program. You got it now? Huh, do ya?

Oh, wait. This is embarassing. You see, I was giving all these clues: mostly a blending grape, high acid, not many 100% versions of the wine made, etc. etc. And it was right there in the title of this post all embarassing.

Anyway, the 2006 Barbera, one of the Collector's Circle's favorite wines, will be released at the Winery on January 10th. Only 192 cases were produced exclusively for members of the program. There are a few cases extra and a few spots left if you want to get this wonderful wine.