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 everyday...you 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 winesales@stevenkent.com 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 Vinography.com 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.