La Rochelle Winery, located in the historic Livermore Valley, and owned by Steven Kent Mirassou, sixth-generation of America's oldest winemaking family, specializes in producing small volumes of world-class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
We just wanted to share with you (here and here) what other people are saying about new releases of our wines. Some of these wines are still available through our store, some are available to restaurants and wine shops as well. Click the links for more information about our vineyard partners, to view videos about the 2010 vintage, and to check in with what's going on at the Winery.
For those that sell our wines to restaurants and wine shops, there is a wealth of information in the "For the Trade" section of our website including tech sheets, reviews, and release schedules. Here are links to technical information on current wines:
90 POINTS - 2009 Pinot Gris, Mark' Vineyard (Arroyo Seco) "Brilliant, mouthwatering acidity marks this refreshingly clean wine. It's very ripe, showing pineapple and lemon sour candy, papaya, green melon and vanilla spice flavors. Straddles the border between bone dry and just off-dry, although the honeyed sweetness might not show up officially. Great with Thai, Vietnamese and Asian-fusion fare." (Wine Enthusiast 02/11 - SH)
90 POINTS - 2008 Pinot Noir, Sleepy Hollow Vineyard (Santa Lucia Highlands)
"A big, muscular Pinot, in the manner of this vineyard. It's dry but sweetly rich and dense in cherries, black raspberries, mulberries, cola and cedar, with thick tannins. The silky texture and bright acidity make it drinkable now, yet it should develop in the bottle over the next six years." (Wine Enthusiast 02/11 - SH)
The French invented the notion of terroir. Terroir is the "it-ness" of the place. The weather, the stuff that makes up the dirt, the direction of the line rows, the amount of sunlight the vineyard gets, the amount of wind are all aspects of the terroir of the vineyard. A more modern definition of the term would include the philosophy of the wine maker, the philosophy of the vineyard manager, the existence of other plants and animals, etc. as part of the whole of the site.
There are many who argue the existence or importance of this overarching site concept, but there are few who would argue that certain sites have something special about them. We believe that our Home Ranch Vineyard is just one of those special places.
We have done many tastings involving all of the Cabernets that we produce, and even when those tastings are done blind, it is impossible to miss the Cabernets produced from Home Ranch fruit. While these wines share a richness with Ghielmetti Vineyard Cabernet and a structure with Smith Ranch Cabernet, what they don't share with any other wine produced in the Livermore Valley is the exotic perfume of pepper and mint and menthol that one associates with the oil from wind-break trees.
As the winds blow in from San Francisco Bay each afternoon they come charging through the Livermore Valley from West to East. Right next door to our Home Ranch Vineyard is a stand of trees - pepper trees and eucalyptus trees - whose essential oils are blown on to the grape skins of the Cabernet that resides right next door. These essential oils become an essential part of all our Home Ranch wines. Being red wines, the skins of the grapes that make them are exceedingly important. There is no way to separate the oils from the trees from the skins of the grapes themselves. Consequently, these aromatic additions become part of the finished wines. In a true sense, the terroir of the Home Ranch Vineyard includes this perfume; a Home Ranch wine that did not have this note, however subtle, could not be said to be a true product of this particular site.
I have come to love and appreciate this quirk of location, this happy accident of arboreal fortune. For without this particular aspect of "it-ness," the Home Ranch would be a much diminished thing indeed.
The question most often asked by wine lovers is also a question that doesn't have a straightforward answer. The answer to When should I drink this wine? has as much to do with the personal preferences of the wine drinker as it does to the relative drinkability of a wine.
I have a love of big, tannic red wines. For my palate, the ability of the wine to age is secondary to the wine's youthful structure and integration. This is purely a personal thing, though. My dad, who was weaned on Bordeaux, prefers his Cabernets with some age on them; he wants to experience the secondary flavors and aromas that come about through the mysterious calculus of bottle + oxygen + time.
But because this question deserves a considered - if somewhat hedged - answer, we have developed a "Drinkability Matrix" that provides a great deal of information regarding the origin of our wines and a range for drinking the wines at their peak.
Take a look at the Matrix and tell us whether the information was useful and if there is anything else that you would like to know that would improve your experience with our wines. The updated Cabernet chart is available on our website now. The Future Release Program and Collector's Circle charts will be up this week.
One of our most consistently popular wines has been Vincere. This super-Tuscan style wine, a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet grown on our Home Ranch, has always been predominantly Sangiovese. We have 1.1 acres of this grape planted on the home ranch, and it is the main grape in the Chianti region in Italy. Since 2000, when I made the first blend of this wine for a restaurant friend in South Florida, we have prized Sangiovese for its ability to give this blend its acid structure, its red fruit, and much of its length.
The Cabernet portion of Vincere is there to provide weight and structure and darker fruit notes to the wine. And because of the singular terroir of the Home Ranch, with its "Home Ranch Perfume," a wonderfully complex matrix of aromatic tree oils, the Cabernet from this site serves as a very obvious complexing agent in the blend.
In the nine previous releases of Vincere, Sangiovese has played a dominant role. In 2008, however, we ran short of this grape in our vineyard. After making a number of mock blends, we decided that the Cabernet-dominant wine that is the 2008 vintage was still Vincere; it still retained a spirit of the super-Tuscan style wine we were attempting to make. In fact, it has been the quality of the wine and not a recipe that has guided the blending of Vincere from the very first vintage.
After recently tasting the 2008 and 2007 wines side-by-side, a number of really interesting things became apparent. Though the wines were different in structure and different in the sense of which variety was most dominant, they were very similar in tone. Vincere is a rich wine that's meant to be explosive aromatically; it's meant to be viscous in the mouth and to provide a foundation for a wide variety of foods with which you might choose to pair it. Both of these wines passed this test.
They were both very true to their vintage also. 2007 was a classic vintage in California. Nearly every wine we made that year had an opulence and a richness and a dark-hued fruit palate that surpassed nearly every vintage prior to that. 2008, on the other hand, was a vintage of structure. The fruit palate was more about cherries than the black raspberry and cassis that we see in 2007. The 2008 wines have a mid-palate shape to them that is very intriguing; this is a vintage that should age dramatically well. Again, both of these wines passed that vintage specificity test.
Finally, for all of their differences, these two wines share one thing in common: as with most of our wines, they were significantly better the second day. The tightness and shy fruit that one has seen in the Steven Kent wines when they are first opened is present here also. Aerating the wines, or decanting them for a couple of hours prior to drinking, really helps to open up the wines both aromatically and from a structural standpoint.
For those people who have come to enjoy this wine, we believe that you will like the 2008 wine as much as any other previous release. The reasons may be different, but that's what great wine is supposed to be. It's supposed to be a reflection of a vineyard site, a given year of weather, and a winemaking philosophy.
The 2008 Vincere is made exclusively for members of our Future Release Program. For more information about joining our club and getting your allocation of Vincere, click this link.
Sometimes it's easier to see what a wine is when it's in a group of wines that it's not. Even a wine you know well can have different sides of it shown.
I was calling on a friend, Greg Bardakos, the wine director at a great restaurant in Los Gatos called Steamers, and decided to have a glass of wine and a bite to eat. Greg has been pouring the Steven Kent for quite a while, and this day he also had it in a flight with two other cabs from two different appellations.
I've always felt that one of the primary differences between Livermore Valley Cabernet and Napa Valley Cabernet is the tannin content in the wine. Livermore Cabs tend to have real dense, rich, fruit upfront and a tannic structure that one perceives mostly on the finish. Contrast this with Napa Cabs which usually display tannin running all the way through the wine but not nearly as much fruit as Livermore.
It intrigued me then, when I tasted the 2007 Steven Kent alongside the 2007 Robert Hall Cabernet from Paso Robles and the 2007 Mount Veeder Winery Cabernet from Napa Valley. One would expect the mountain fruit in Napa to be tannic and have a limited amount of fruit. And as a gross generalization that's how I perceived the wine. More specifically though, the Mount Veeder had beautiful, if muted, fruit. It was more red cherry than cassis and had significant tannin all the way through the wine especially on the finish. But there was more fruit there than I thought there'd be before I tasted the wine.
The Hall Cabernet was a beautiful wine also. This wine, I think, showed a bit more dark fruit than the Mt. Veeder wine and had a plushness on entry that neither of the other two wines had.
It was my old wine, though, that was most surprising. This Livermore Valley offering is one of the best we've made so far. One of its defining characteristics is its tannin level (when compared to previous vintages), tasted alongside these other two wines, however, it showed significantly darker fruit (black even), and a tannic structure on the finish that nearly rivaled that of the Mount Veeder.
Tasting as many wines of my own as I do (especially in comparative flights) has revealed that the context and order in which the wines are tasted dramatically affects how one perceives tannin and structure in the wines. Still, it was very gratifying to see that the Livermore stood up quite well in both richness and tannin to the other two wines.
Greg does a wonderful job with the wine program at Steamers. Steamers is a Los Gatos landmark and is highly recommended for both the wine and the food.
Man, the only reason to be in the wine business is to make something great. It is to produce something that makes the wine lover, and those new to wine, pause a moment, think...and feel...and respond. The world is FULL of well-made wine that is well-priced and perfectly adequate. Perfectly adequate has no place at Steven Kent.
Anyone, whether they be wine reviewer, writer, winemaker, widget manufacturer...if they aren't working everyday to make something memorable, something truly worth remembering, they're wasting everyone's time. So too for the wine lover. if you are not demanding a great wine drinking experience then you're shortchanging yourself. In 2011 we are dedicated to continuing to provide a great wine drinking experience, the opportunity to see and drink the best that Livermore Valley has to offer. We look forward to sharing those experiences with you.