Mentors throughout the years...
I knew I wanted to quit my restaurant job the day I got to go spend a few hours with Larry, Ehren Jordan, Bob Nicolayson, and Thomas Brown up at a spot called the Whitney Tennessee Vineyard. Bright, cool, windy day of pruning vines with the Turley crew in February 1998. Larry had his candy apple red Suburban backed up against the vineyard, cooler on the tailgate provisioned with pork chops, veggies and couple bottles of Alain Graillot Crozes Hermitage.
They gave me a pair of old pruning shears, a handful of vines-worth of how to prune, & sage advice telling me not to “ruin the vintage ahead.” An old oil barrel had been sliced in half, one end cut out, a flat top welded on top, bicycle handles at one end to help steer, an old bicycle tire attached to an original fork for rolling. We’d fill the open end with the cuttings, a sprinkle of diesel and lite that puppy. Half hour later Larry is cooking chops and veggies on the flat top. Solo cups filled with Rhone Syrah, sitting in folding chairs enjoying a meal with new friends in a box canyon accented by a vineyard of old vine zinfandel in the northern end of Napa Valley. Are you fucking kidding me?!?! I gave my notice that summer and never looked back.
Larry, having a long career as a successful ER Doc, founded and sold his interest in Frog’s Leap Winery, and created one of the first world-renowned “cult wineries” Turley Wine Cellars….was also there to look at my business plans and give hard-earned advice as to what was silly and/or sound. Larry taught me fiscal responsibility when I had none. He also taught me to be good for my word no matter what. I have been through some extraordinarily lean years of my own making and he was always there to encourage/help me along within reason. I honestly don’t know how things would’ve turned out for the Napa Whetstones sans Larry.
Ehren was my boss at Turley Wine Cellars for the 7 vintages I worked there; A true vigneron and wildly rare in California. A vigneron directs all things vineyard and winemaking. He/she can diagram the vineyard layout, dial in a spray rig, adjust the spader depth, lead a pruning seminar on all things spur, cordon, or guyot, set up vineyard irrigation complete with fertigator, direct a vineyard crew from bud break to harvest, oversee all nuances of winemaking from when the grapes hit the barn, to fermentation temps, to pressing, to barrel down, to lees aging and all the specific oak influences in precise percentages, bottling predilections…all the while dictating pace of sales both wholesale and DTC.
I always thought Ehren should’ve been CEO of IBM, etc. An art history major, he just had a knack of knowing the right thing to do for any occasion involving the business of wine, vineyard or dinner parties. I was his assistant winemaker for Turley and a few years for Failla, his own winery. Ehren and I raised our first children a block away from each other, used the same contractor to remodel our first homes, got our pilots licenses in similar time frames, traveled to France & Steeler playoff games at Hines Fiend together, and drank a boat load of Kermit Lynch imports after long days on the crush pad.
The only person who pushed me more throughout my life was my high school football coach. But no matter the workday (realizing I absolutely earned his ire on most occasions), we’d retire down the ship’s ladder into his home subterranean cellar and choose a bottle of 20 year old Chave Hermitage Blanc and, maybe, a magnum of Thierry Allemand Cornas for dinner. His collection was ridiculous and Ehren was overflowing with generosity when you’d earned it.
I was fortunate enough to have worked with him developing his estate property out on the edge of civilization atop the Mohrhardt Ridge in Western Sonoma County. No electricity, a phone line, water from a “creek” we ran a 2 horse pump out of that ended up some hundreds of feet uphill by solar power into two 500 gallon tanks that funded the vineyard irrigation; Awesomely nuts and challenging and life affirming. My wife will tell you I am not a very reliable handyman so Ehren had his work cut out with me. I’d spend half dozen weeks out there most summers doing vineyard work, driving a tractor, killing rattlesnakes, running from wild boar, cooking meals by gaslight and fireside, sleeping like the dead. I owe EJ so much.
A message from Jamey -
In 2002 Turley was growing precipitously. Splitting time between facilities in Paso Robles and St. Helena and the myriad of vineyards all over the state did NOT leave much time to start a wine company. Leap and the net will appear.
The first vineyard contract I garnered for newly formed Whetstone Wine Cellars was 'Catie’s Corner' Viognier. Sara Lee Kunde was the larger than life owner of Catie’s. She and her husband Richard owned and farmed hundreds of acres of grapes throughout Sonoma County. The thing I remember most about her was feeling like an integral, albeit very tiny, part of her grape empire. She insisted on being the one driving you to look at vineyards and discuss farming which was and is super rare.
The river cobbles and Goldridge loam soils a bit north of the Santa Rosa airport were perfect for my needs. The deal over there is dropping lots of fruit at veraison so crop levels are around 3-4 tons per acre. The flavors of apricot and aroma of honeysuckle only come at lower tonnages that tend to concentrate the finished wine while keeping a measure of acidity. I love Viognier from Condrieu and felt this Russian River spot could get me as close as possible.
The 'Pleasant Hill' vineyard fell into my lap spring of 2003. I used to follow Patz & Hall pretty closely in those days. They had just started a relationship with the vineyard owner Bob Jenkins and the vineyard manager Charlie Chenoweth. Charlie is a storied grower in Sonoma County. James Hall introduced us and that kicked off a 20 year relationship continuing today.
I love the soils there; Goldridge loam (think dense pound cake) throughout the entire vineyard. Clonal selections were also apropos for me at the time = Dijon clones 115, 667 & 777. The icing on the cake was being located smack dab in the middle of a fantastic swath of the Russian River appellation on the backside of Sebastopol. The climate there is absolutely brilliant for growing California Pinot Noir that still looks, smells and tastes like the real deal.
Charlie will tell you I’ve relaxed a bunch since we first started working together. He’s taught me a ton about growing grapes in the past 2 decades and hopefully we’ll enjoy another spell of similar length.
Some of you know I keep a running, hand-written journal year around. Excerpt from 06/06/20: "Gorgeous mid 70's. We reopened on 05/31 and crushed it! Folks did not leave, drank lots of wine & were just wonderful. Several regulars here today (that were here last Sunday!) are coming back tomorrow! Everyone bringing friends..."
Those are the moments I have chosen to look back on over the past two years. Of course, if you are a California grape vine you may find it impossible to grasp any upside to the harvest of 2020.
Catastrophic fires all around us started on 08/17 and by 09/28 we'd lost the Viognier crop at 'Catie's Corner'. The 'Pleasant Hill' and 'Walala' vineyards both survived to good measure by simple luck of geography.
You'll have to wait until the fall for the 2020 Walala. In the meantime, we'll release the hounds on the 2020 'Pleasant Hill' Pinot Noir for your drinking pleasure.
Spring Release Wines
2020 'Pleasant Hill' Pinot Noir
Winemaker’s Tasting Notes:
Stainless steel fermented, aged for 16 months sur lees in 25% new French oak. Ripe nose of Bing cherry cola, honeysuckle and anise. Secondary aromas of orange pekoe tea, violets and hints of cinnamon. Medium-bodied flavors of dark cherry, chocolate covered oranges and quince. Finishes long with silky tannins and hints of Satsuma oranges and baker's chocolate.
2018 'Catie's Corner' Viognier
Although we are sorry for the loss of the 2020 'Catie's Corner" Viognier, we cracked open a bottle of our 2018 and decided to share these last few delicious cases with you!
Winemaker’s Tasting Notes:
Barrel fermented in neutral French oak and aged for 16 months sur lees. Nose is all Giddyyyupp! Big, ripe aromas of pear, quince, apricots and orange licorice. Background notes of honeysuckle, citrus rind & paper whites. Flavors of Japanese pears, apricot, golden apple and peach liqueur. Finishes long and bright with hints of lychee, citrus and a touch of taragon.
1996 - Moving to Napa
Landing in Napa August 1996 was abrupt. My first wife and I had left behind pretty idyllic life in Charleston, SC on promise of a small bungalow in a vineyard near Mustards Grill and a job waiting tables there. About half way across the US and two weeks into our sojourn I was faxed an offer to be an Assistant Manager paying roughly half of what I would’ve made as a Waiter. Upon arrival the address we were given for said bungalow was riddled with human-sized holes in the exterior walls and a lack of indoor plumbing. I’ll spare you the next few months’ worth of lodging shenanigans.
One of my duties at Mustards was to assist the wine buyer, meaning stocking, inventorying, costing, etc. It also gave me direct access to all Napa Valley wineries we did business with. You have to remember, the Valley was way small back then… Don Weaver would come down and deliver my allocation of Harlan himself. Gil Nickel, Rob Sinskey, Jason Pahlmeyer, Helen Turley, Barbara Eisley, Bill & Barney Rhodes, Al & Boots Brounstein, Bart & Daphne Araujo, Chuck Wagnoner, Bob & Margrit Mondavi, Tim Mondavi, Michael Mondavi, Jim Barber, David Abreu, Dan & Nancy Duckhorn, Christian Moueix, Larry Turley (remember this name!), Jamie Davies, the Chappellet's… not to mention so much of Hollywood. It was nuts the folks I’d meet and get to know in a few short years.
So was it the Mongolian pork chop over mashers with pickled cabbage and finished with Chinese mustard that packed the place day and night? It was, but it was also one of the greatest wine lists of all time to pair with that upscale “truck stop deluxe” fare. Michael Oullette was the wine buyer and managing partner and he was a F&B savant. He bought all the obligatory Napa and Sonoma wines, but to lure the winemakers themselves he knew that wasn’t enough. (I mean, who wants wants to drink the juice they make for a living while alternatively choosing between Chave and Rayas to go with a burger?!) So he cherry picked from the greatest wine houses the world over in the greatest vintage years; Chave, Vega Sicilia, DRC, Jayer, Comtes Lafon, Lafite Rothschild, Ducroux Beaucaillou, Guigal, Raveneau, Dauvissat, Latour, VT, Rayas, La Nerthe, Rudy Weiss, Pichler, Prager, Nigl… you get the idea.
Anyway, after spending two years at Mustards raking in $28K/year pre tax I had two job offers to choose from:
1 - Front of House Tasting Room Manager for a handsome raise and solid hours
2 - $10 bucks an hour driving a tractor and working in a wine cellar.
Be very careful what you wish for …
Charleston, South Carolina is a magical place, integral to me becoming me. Less James Dewitt Whetstone Jr, more Jamey Whetstone. One of the spots that indelibly imprinted the Low Country ideals of drink hard, play hard, work hard on my soul was Magnolias… Uptown Down South Southern Cuisine.
The year was 1994. Two hour wait any-night-of-the-week with reservations booked for months in advance. No other front/back team like it ANYWHERE in the Carolinas at that time. I’d grab a case of Budweiser and a 5th of Jack Black on my way into work and give it to the kitchen pre-shift when I arrived to set up my station; I did this knowing I’d f@ck something up at some point during service and need a re-fire on the fly without any explanation. Fast forward to heat of battle at 8:30pm Saturday - order 2 rickshaws to cobblestone Lodge Alley side of the building, call Carolinas down the street and set up tequila shots with beer backs for 4 at the bar, confirm your station was handled by the Server Assistants for next 8 minutes, jump in rickshaws and have them ride like hell to Carolinas, jump out and cruise into their packed restaurant in full Magnolias uniforms (slick advertising right?!), guzzle said booze, hop back into rickshaws, re-enter your station with enough adrenaline and (smug) stoke to push through the rest of the shift.
Donald Barickman was the founding chef/owner of Magnolias and a good friend of mine. To say he set the bar for fine dining in CHS from the day they opened in July 1990 would be a gross understatement. He was the first I knew of to establish relationships with local purveyors of all things - rice, flour, seasonal vegetables and fruits, seafood, beef, poultry, dairy.
What follows are a few of my favorite recipes of his paired up with our wines:
Warm Cream Cheese Brownies with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Chocolate and Caramel Sauce + just cause you should ;)
Life is beautiful...
There are no words to express how amazing it has been to reconnect with many of you in person again this year... your conversations and experiences have inspired us! We love to hear how much you enjoy our newsletters and always look forward to receiving your thoughtful messages.
This time, we've decided to highlight some of our favorite words of wisdom, insights, and lessons learned from our collective time under lockdown that you've all shared with us over the past year; with the common theme being "Celebrating the small moments in life". Let this be a reminder to all of us that these lessons be maintained and built upon, to create an even better life than the one before.
- We all learned to be kinder and care for our neighbor, we slowed down, parents spent more time with their kids. We focused more on our physical and mental health and learned to appreciate the things we used to take for granted. Remember how grateful we felt for any random act of kindness from a stranger's smile to a ray of sunshine?
- Spontaneous performances filled us with joy, leaving our house for a walk was a moment to cherish. Smallest victories became a reason to celebrate.
- We kept family closer and made work more flexible. We realized we could be effective and productive making "work" fit into our circumstances rather than adapting our lives to fit a corporate mold.
- Families who were physically together spent much more time with each other. For those separated we relied on a lot of screen time together; checking in, celebrating marriages, anniversaries, births, birthdays and holidays. From virtual tastings, events, weddings, meetings and concerts -- everyone learned to Zoom, and created amazing moments.
- There was a shift to self-care, to give ourselves space and patience, no longer an indulgence but a necessity and priority. With gyms closed we embraced more traditional forms of exercise and the great outdoors; running, biking, walking and hiking.
- The Earth's health improved this last year. We walked more or cycled instead of taking a car or public transportation. We shopped less and had less waste overall as the majority of people were working from home. And the added bonus is that it helped our planet too.
- Realizing how fortunate we are and being grateful for it is an important mindset for recovery. We must remember that our good fortune is an opportunity to lift others up and no success is attainable without the support of a community or movement.
A message from Jamey -
I am listening to The Uplift Mofo Party Plan by the Chili Peppers as I write this. I feel stoked, albeit a bit dated due to the fact the album came out in 1987. I was enjoying my freshman year at Appalachian State University and bought my first mountain bike that year. My entire world changed for the better. The same goes for Whetstone as we release our first ever 2019 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
I love the Napa Valley more than any place I’ve ever lived. As a business we have always zigged where others zagged but now feel a very sincere need to pay homage to many of my Napa heroes… Barbara Eisele, Robert Mondavi, Al & Boots Brounstein.
Many of you are thinking: “What in the world is happening out in Napa?! Jamey has been our bastion of all things Burgundy and Northern Rhone…” and I always will be. I just stumbled onto something special vineyard-wise and it inspired me to make something out of it. 2020 gave Michelle and I time to talk about 'what's next?'. So stay tuned for more surprises in coming releases!
Winemaker’s Tasting Notes:
Stainless steel fermented, aged 16 months sur lees in 100% French oak (35% new). Bottled unfined, unfiltered. Gorgeous shade of ruby in color. Pretty & floral, with ripe raspberry and mint. Perfumey notes of bay with orange pekoe tea, hints of swiss mocha & forest floor. Medium-bodied flavors of Bing cherry gives way to a long finish of wild strawberry and baker's chocholate framed by fine tannins.
Winemaker’s Tasting Notes:
Stainless steel fermented, aged for 22 months sur lees in 100% french oak (75% new). Bottled unfined, unfiltered. Garnet in color. Big, brambly nose of blackberry, boysenberry, and blueberry with a hint of mint. Background notes of semi-sweet cacao and lavender. Flavors of blackberry, currant, and cassis give way to a long finish of baker's chocolate and fine tannins. Old-world sensibilities abound.
Let's get Dad ready for grilling season...
It's summer once again,
which means it's time for Jamey
to swap his Carhartts for his board shorts and
get the grill ready for another round of his famous ribs!
(check out the recipe below)
And nothing pairs better with BBQ ribs
than the perfect Pinot...
To make your backyard BBQ's righteous, check out our special gift packs for that rad dad in your life!
Father's Day Specials
Choose any 3-pack special and include
a gift message in your order notes to
make gifting thoughtful and effortless!
Delicious meals and great bottles
have been keeping our stoke levels high...
Here is Jamey's famous rib recipe to keep you inspired:
CAUTION: This recipe will cause an uproar amongst the slow-cooked, fall off the bone rib folks, and you will be the focus of ridicule and wild speculation as to your lack of knowledge on the subject…until they taste it.
You make us smile...
Most of you kept your sense of humor and charm through 2020, which helped us keep ours! If you have requested an appointment through our website, you may or may not have responded to the last question- 'Tell us something fun about you and your guests'. Most of you sent love notes, check-ins and most importantly, shout outs to Ace and the team. Many of you were celebrating anniversaries, reunions of family and friends, birthdays or just wanted a safe space to spend a sunny afternoon.
We thoroughly enjoyed many of your responses, so much we thought it would be fun to share with the rest of your extended Whetstone family.
Here are the top 10 responses from 2020:
(our reply in parentheses)
Just some girlfriends needing to get some fresh air
after 42 days of homeschooling. (Word!)
The head of the group may always be on the phone.
(As long as it is not on speaker.)
We recently became plant parents.
(Hope you’re are getting enough sleep.)
We're not fun. (We can help you work on that.)
My girlfriend is quite unique be prepared. Her name is Aime.
(We’re a little nervous- how about a private table?)
Maybe I'll come engaged- fingers crossed. :)
(We will try to act natural. Is there a code word?!)
I love Chardonnay, my guest doesn’t really drink wine.
(Great, we don’t make chardonnay.)
I love sea otters and surfing. (So do we!)
Just found red wine is good and grapes. I love swimming in nature.
(I think we understand.)
My friends doesn’t like wine—help me change his mind.
(You are coming to the right place!)
A message from Jamey -
As I look at a bluebird sitting on our string lights over the Chateau lawn raising hell with the world below, I am reminded how wonderful it will be to welcome all of you back this spring. Days are now longer; we’ve had an extremely mild winter, and we are stoked to enjoy Whetstone wines with you again!
The 2019's are pretty spectacular. I am biased, yes. The 2019 Viognier is exotic, hedonistic, and should have you laughing out loud as you careen into your second glass with some scallops and a squeeze of Meyer lemon. The Pleasant Hill Vineyard seems to taunt me every…freakin’…year… to just try and screw up Russian River Pinot Noir perfection. I did not, btw ;)
So many thanks for all your support. It means a whole lot.
2019 'Catie's Corner' Viognier
Winemaker’s Tasting Notes:
Barrel fermented in neutral French oak and aged for 16 months sur lees. Golden honey in color. Very exotic, perfumy nose full of lychee, apricot, guava and clove. Background aromas of pineapple, peach liqueur, banana runts, and gardenia. Ripe, delicious flavors of pineapple, apricot, and guava. Finishes long and bright with hints of peach liqueur, liquid minerals and
2019 'Pleasant Hill' Pinot Noir
Winemaker’s Tasting Notes:
Stainless steel fermented, aged for 16 months sur lees in 100% French oak; 25% new oak. Deep ruby in color. Big, expressive nose of Bing cherry cola, chocolate covered oranges and floral jasmine. Secondary aromas of Chinese 5 spice and blueberry pie. Ripe, full-bodied flavors of dark cherry, blueberry and baker’s chocolate. Finishes long with silky tannins and hints of orange peel and ripe plum.
A message from Michelle -
About a week or so after our first shut down in March, I was asked by a friend - "Can you look at this as a blessing?"
At my age, I have learned to not speak the first thing that comes to mind. I thought about the question and my headspace at that time… confused, scared, frustrated, worried- and after a minute, I simply said. ‘Not yet’.
I hadn’t thought about this conversation until I sat down to write this newsletter and to reflect on the year. How do I feel now? Blessed.
For me, like most of you, it is difficult to see so much suffering and struggle and to give myself permission to find and focus on the good. To speak to it sometimes feels tone deaf but we have to be hopeful and appreciate all the positives 2020 has brought us - perseverance, growth and gratitude.
There were definitely some highs and lows, but here are my top 5 blessings from 2020-
5. Making friends out of acquaintances. For those of you who could, you showed up and shared your friends, family, and homemade treats with us. It has been a pleasure getting to know so many of you better this year. Your friendship, conversation, and encouraging support have been such a bright light for me. For those of you farther away, your cards, emails, calls, and virtual visits kept me connected and grounded.
4. A deeper connection and level of support with my community and our friends in the hospitality industry, especially our restaurant partners. It has been inspiring to see their resilience and grace, their love and passion for what they do under these challenging circumstances. Some of the most memorable meals of my lifetime were had this year.
3. A chance to slow down. More home cooked meals. More walks with Ace.
2. A deeper appreciation for the place I call home, our beautiful property and all the gifts, experiences and relationships our business has provided me.
1. Amazing conversations with my kids. There was a lot to talk about and process this past year. I am grateful for the time with them. Watching them develop their own ideas, opinions and beliefs while navigating their way through 2020, using their own compass.
I always love hearing from you all and am always inspired when I do, so if you would like to share any of your blessings, please drop a note . And thank you, Allison for proposing the question.
My best guess is that we will probably need to remain closed through January or at least most of it. And if you are like me, you may have depleted a bit of your wine stash this holiday season. We have extended our holiday bundles and specials through January if you need some replenishing. We are available any day for curbside pick up too! Just shoot us an email if you want to come by or just want to say hi! Wishing you and yours a very welcomed New Year and sending you all love, hope and peace.
- Michelle Whetstone
A message from Michelle -
As I write this newsletter, listening to the song "Silver Linings" by First Aid Kit, there are a few lines that standout and are on repeat in my head…
Take me some place where there's music and there's laughter
Gotta keep on going, looking straight out on the road
Can't worry 'bout what's behind you or what's coming for you further up the road
I try to keep on keeping on
Be it for reason, be it for love
I won't take the easy road
A song's never just sad
There's hope, there's a silver lining
Show me my silver lining
While the path is not always straight and life doesn’t always go according to plan, I believe in perseverance, grace under pressure and realizing that a moment that feels like a rejection from something good is actually redirecting us to something better.
So, about those silver linings...
With the closure of Whetstone on March 19th, Jamey and I found ourselves reinventing our business and ourselves once again. On May 31st, we reopened our doors, just the two of us, pouring wine and hosting our guests. You all showed up, shared your stories and reminded us of why we do what we do. Personal and professional growth seems to be the reoccurring theme within all of our households and businesses over the last few months; an awareness of the need to slow it down, take more time with family, more time for ourselves and each other, more time to reflect and with much more gratitude... silver linings.
Jamey and I will celebrate 15 years together this year, a partnership in life, kids, marriage and business. Three out of four kids left the nest earlier this year. Like many of you know with kids, life became more of a blunt and realistic view into what real adulting looks like for them and the reality that we as parents could not hide or protect them from it any longer. But they persevered and figured it out on their own; mature, resilient and able to navigate using their own compass. They are changed by what they have seen and experienced this year, but they are inspired and want to be part of something bigger and better… silver linings.
Mother Nature is the one constant and still in charge as we are heading into our 18th harvest for Whetstone and our fall release. For most of us, there are more dinners at home and more wine being opened than ever before so without further ado, some words from Jamey about our new releases.
A message from Jamey -
With a sincere sense of gratitude and loss of a vineyard I’ve worked with since 2005, we bring forth the last vintage of the Phoenix Ranch Vineyard Syrah. WARNING: This wine is ridiculous on all fronts and will challenge your ideas of what’s possible in New World Syrah; Audacious, brash, full tilt boogie, in need of some taming… all thoughts coming to mind when enjoying this wine. Tragically, 2017 was the year of the devastating fires here in Napa, Sonoma and many portions of California. We were very lucky to have harvested the Syrah two days before the fires began.
The 2018 Walala Vineyard Pinot Noir is a real nice crossover vehicle between Old & New World Pinot Noir. The vineyard shines through the older it gets and the longer I work with it. The power and finesse of this vineyard and resulting wine should be perfect now, but will still reward with many years of cellaring to come.
We humbly thank all of you for your many years of patronage and friendship. Your continued support and encouragement inspire us! We have so much gratitude for the amazing leadership and resilience of our Whetstone team, continuing to define our brand and frankly to just ‘show up for us’ even when it is still anything but business as usual!
Jamey and Michelle Whetstone
(was 710. now 625.)
(was 570. now 495.)
So cheers to sunsets, backyard BBQs, great wine and gnarly waves!
- offer valid on all available wines in our shop through 6/10 -
- no code needed, we will personally add the surprise bottle(s) to your package -
We want to see your smiling faces enjoying this wine,