Eat, Drink, Love
A message from Michelle -
We hope you all are enjoying the beginnings of a new year and that 2023 is full of delicious food, great wine, and plenty of harmony!
The end of 2022 found Jamey and I finally taking our 'honeymoon' after 17 years of marriage. As most of you know, we blended families in 2005 with a 3, 4, and 5 year old in attendance on our wedding day. The long, romantic vacation was put on the back burner for 'a little while', we told ourselves. In 2007 we welcomed our fourth child. In 2010 we began renovations on the Whetstone Chateau... 'maybe just a little while longer', we said.
Don't get me wrong, we traveled. Jamey and I enjoyed our quick getaways and we have great memories of family vacations over the years.
2022 found us all able to travel freely again. We enjoyed hearing about all of your adventures and seeing your posts from around the world. Now it was our turn!
Upon our return as the end of 2022 approached, it was time for some reflection; keeping up a 19th century chateau has its challenges. Sometimes, I don't look at it through rose-colored glasses like our guests do. Our time in Europe gave me a whole new appreciation for what we have at Whetstone - leaks, cracks, and all. Worn staircases reminded me of the worn staircase at Whetstone and the thousands of shoes that have given it character over the last 10 years. I was thinking of refinishing them, until Paris...
So, my plans for 2023? More travel (of course), being present (always a work in progress), and seeing things through rose colored glasses (hopefully they come in 2.00 readers) and raising a glass more often with our extended Whetstone family!
A message from Jamey -
So. Much. Rain! Hallelujah!!! After a decade, more or less, of drought conditions, we are turning a corner this winter seeing lots of green growth under vine and snowpack in Tahoe.
More rosé? Heard. We doubled the amount from 2021. Ron Silva farms the Grenache that makes up the 2022 vintage and is a wonderful oracle on all things Lodi. Funny anecdote: Alli, Danyel, Jenna, and Michelle kept coming up with Juicy Fruit as a descriptor. I didn't include it in the "official" tasting notes below, but feel we are all close enough by now to pull back the curtain on our musins, just a little bit.
I'm pretty fired up about the '21s. The Viognier will cellar longer than usual due to some timely acidity stemming from a mild summer. The Pleasant Hill is brimming with exciting nuances of a maturing vineyard.
2022 'Silvaspoons' Grenache Rosé
Winemaker’s Vineyard Notes: Located outside the small Lodi town of Galt. Redding gravelly clay loam soils. 40 degree temperature swings help balance fruit with acidity. 100% Grenache. Dry winter, chilly spring with some frost damage in parts of Lodi. Normal summer with a smidge of rain in early June. Harvested 3.3 tons.
Winemaker’s Tasting Notes: Stainless steel fermented and aged. Lighter shade of watermelon in color. Very ripe nose of passion fruit, watermelon Jolly Rancher, papaya, and guava. Background aromas of rose petal and Meyer lemon peel. Ripe, delicious flavors of papaya, wild strawberry and Cara Cara oranges. Finishes long and bright with hints of passion fruit and citrus peel.
Cases Produced: 200
Harvest Date: September 9th, 2022
2021 'Catie's Corner' Viognier
Winemaker’s Vineyard Notes: Sustainably farmed, cool climate site, river cobbles and Goldridge loam soils. Dry winter, mild spring and summer with handful of days in the low 100s. Harvested 4.4 tons.
Winemaker’s Tasting Notes: Barrel fermented in neutral French oak and aged for 16 months sur lees. Golden straw in color. GiNORMous nose of ripe peach, pineapple, and banana runts. Background aromas of honeysuckle, tarragon, mint and a hint of licorice. Tangy flavors of Meyer lemon, peach liqueur, and mandarin orange. Finishes long and unusually bright with hints of ginger, liquid minerals and citrus peel.
Cases Produced: 230
Harvest Date: September 22, 2021
2021 'Pleasant Hill' Pinot Noir
Winemaker’s Vineyard Notes: Sustainably farmed, cool climate vineyard site, Goldridge loam soils. Dry winter, mild spring and summer with handful of days in the low 100s. Normal yields, half 667 & half 115 clones. Harvested 7.3 tons.
Winemaker’s Tasting Notes: Stainless steel fermented, aged for 16 months sur lees in 100% French oak; 25% new oak. Darker shade of garnet in color. Big, expressive nose of Bing cherry cola, wild mint, cotton candy and red meats. Secondary aromas of Chinese 5 spice and cinnamon. Lush, velvety flavors of dark cherry, blueberry and elderberry pie. Finishes long with silky tannins and hints of ripe plum and caramel.
Cases Produced: 450
Harvest Date: September 14th, 2021
The last 20 years of Whetstone would not have been possible without all of you. Many of you have been with us from day one, tracking us down in a vineyard, in our kitchen, or anywhere we could pop some bottles in the early years. Sharing a glass over stories, friendship, laughs or tears have been the greatest gift to us from you. Now for a trip down memory lane...
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. (continue reading)
After spending two years at Mustards raking in $28K/year pre tax, I had two job offers to choose from: Front of House Tasting Room Manager for a handsome raise and solid hours or $10 bucks an hour driving a tractor and working in a wine cellar. Be very careful what you wish for... (continue reading)
I knew I wanted to quit my restaurant job the day I got to spend a few hours with Larry Turley, Ehren Jordan, Bob Nicolayson, and Thomas Brown up at a spot called the Whitney Tennessee Vineyard. Bright, cool, and 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 a couple bottles of Alain Graillot Crozes Hermitage. (continue reading)
Larry is a fantastic listener. Not verbose. Poignant. Speaks in parables applicable to the sitch:
Larry: "Do we have to do this now?" deadpan, heavy air, eye contact. He's a very big dude, btw.
Me: "I would like to, yes."
Larry: "Ok. (loooong pause) Then I need your business plan. We'll go over it otgether, put some parameters in place, discuss it further, decide."
Me: "That's it?!"
Larry: "Get out." (continue reading)
This is the time where everything is under control and my morning treat of nature at its finest ensues. I haul ass on the 4-wheeler away from the vineyard up to a small rocky knoll, 3400 ft ASL, that looks due south down the Valley. Being July, the blanket of fog looks like a sea of cotton stretched all the way to San Pablo Bay. Pinheads of colored balloons magically pop through and above the white blanket of fog at Yountville, sun fully up and over the Stag's Leap district. Insane the simple pleasure of a vineyard. (continue reading)
The cellar is a refuge to realize your finest hour or as is the case sometimes, "WTF am I a gonna tell Michelle happened here?!" Personally I like a long cold belt of Anisette at Angèle prior to having that conversation. SO many things to expound upon but attention spans being what they are, I'll sign off for now. (continue reading)
You know, looking back at my journal entries from 2020 I am amazed at how many of us thrived through it all. I lost my Pop, Covid hit, fires... If frogs had started bouncing off my windshield I may've grabbed my longboard, jumped in the Pacific and headed for the horizon.
The 2020 Walala Vineyard Pinot Noir was spared the fires by luck of geography, high atop Annapolis, unscathed from the carnage all around it and below. The day I made the picking call I left our house in Napa around 4:30am and rolled into the vineyard around 10:00am after being rerouted due to fires. The entire journey out there was starless; solid dark brown rust in color, and thick with the smell of smoke. Orange tinted sky shone through only at the vineyard's elevation. I got tickled sampling that morning thinking on our good fortune and walked face first into a giant Orb spider's web eliciting a different octave from my throat than normal. Ahhh the romance of the wine industry...
Winemaker’s Tasting Notes:
Stainless steel fermented, aged 16 months sur lees in 35% new French oak. Voluminous nose full of rose petal, violets, orange pekoe tea, and crème brulee. Secondary aromas of chamomile and mint, with hints of cassis. Medium-bodied flavors of ripe raspberry, cherry cola, and boysenberry pie. Long finish with bright plum, baker's chocolate, and a hint of tobacco.
Jamey has some tricks up his sleeve and some new wines coming in 2023!
In the meantime, we are keeping in line with diving into Whetstone's past and are sharing the last few delicious cases of our beloved Syrah with you! Cellar aged for your drinking pleasure.
Winemaker’s Tasting Notes:
Stainless steel fermented, aged for 28 months sur lees in neutral French oak barrels. Freakishly expressive nose of white pepper and olive tapenade, massive amounts of cassis, and spicy bacon fat. Secondary aromas of violets, blackberry cobbler, and vanilla. Intense flavors of cassis, peppery bacon, and ripe plum. Finishes long with chalky tannins, baker's chocolate, tobacco, and lively acidity.
Vigneron: noun. Person who cultivates grapes for winemaking. It’s a French term that gets to the heart of my chosen profession. IMO you must have a base knowledge in all facets of farming grapes in order to make good wine. In my experience it takes a lifetime.
Because of the way I came up in this business I learned how not to off myself on a tractor before I stepped foot into a barrel chais. Two semesters of night school entry-level Spanish are key to working land anywhere in California. The “school” of winemaking I attended espoused a gospel of do your homework in the vineyard and the rest is gravy.
You’ve all read/heard my anecdotes about Catie’s Corner, Pleasant Hill, Bella Vigna, Walala and Phoenix Ranch. Willing to bet few of you knew me when I was working with Hirsch, Savoy and Guidici. All three spots challenged me and molded me in ways that shaped my winemaking immeasurably.
Hirsch is way (way!) the fuck out there. True Sonoma Coast OG. Until you come through the eastern edge of the property and over the first rise where the old Mt Eden clone is planted…confirmed by Jasmine or her Pop, David Hirsch on site…you’re basically lost and a bit over your skis. Close to 1000 acres, 70 under vine. Hop skip & a jump from the Pacific with dozens of microclimates scattered about the property. Ditto the soils. David takes a wildly meticulous approach to cultivating each vine. Get this…he has to sign off on your finished wine from his place before you can put Hirsch Vineyard on your label. No foolin!! I loved that shit because he owns and farms the greatest Pinot Noir vineyard in the history of our beloved state, coupled with a handful of like-minded vignerons, couple of which happen to be my heroes.
I’ll address Savoy and Guidici at another time. Main thing I need to point out is that my winemaking is 75% driven by what happens in the vineyards. What I do with the fruit once it hits the barn is influenced by my 7 years of daily interactions working with and for Ehren Jordan, and to a much smaller degree with Jacques Seysses, and Christophe Morin (RIP). All three had/have old world European ideals when it comes to the cellar.
I like the idea of a clean pick, further manicured on the “magic” sorting table and into open top stainless containers for primary fermentation. Once primary is mostly complete and the free run juice has been separated from the skins, stems, & seeds I’ll press it off ever so gently and see what comes out. These days if I like what I am tasting I’ll go ahead and marry it with the free run before barreling down. I love, love, love French oak on 99.9% of all the wines I make. My preferred vessel of choice is the 225L barrel.
The cellar is a refuge to realize your finest hour or as is the case sometimes, “WTF am I gonna tell Michelle happened here?!” Personally I like a long cold belt of Anisette at Angele prior to having that conversation. So many things to expound upon but attention spans being what they are I’ll sign off for now...
"Here's the thing about the vineyard, it's where the magic happens..."
Special places. I find solitude in them. Wonderful opportunity to leave the phone in the pickup.
Setting: Tippy top of Howell Mountain.
Scene: Planting 47 acres of Zinfandel, Rousanne and Petite Syrah.
Folks in the mix: Me and the lovely men and women from Michoacán.
Chronology: As follows…
3:30 am - Arrive in pitch dark. Thinking on big rattlesnake I saw yesterday at dusk. Begin watering the myriad trays of green growing plants, thousands of them. Place 4 trays in rickety wooden, one-axel trailer hitched to 4-wheeler. I’ll repeat this process all day long.
3:45 am - Distribute the trays in the vine rows where left off yesterday. Trying to get way ahead of folks doing the planting so I can focus on cleaning up behind them, watering the blocks we’ve planted along with today’s unplanted positions. Watering ahead of the shovel makes the dirt easier to penetrate & speeds up the process.
5:00 am - Clanks of the chain link on the gate entry and faint Mariachi music below signal arrival of the gang. Several van loads and a few cars. Smells of asada and carnitas waft out of vehicles with little sound other than boots on dirt and gravel. The orange band on the horizon to the east is the morning sun.
5:30 am - Planting “music” begins with shovels hitting the dirt and rock. Plastic containers crumple while plants are being coaxed out and into the soil. Slowly the banter between friends & workers picks up. Morning progresses into day.
**Super Cool Note: this is the time where everything is under control and my morning treat of nature at its finest ensues. I haul ass on the 4-wheeler away from the vineyard up to a small rocky knoll, 3400 ft ASL, that looks due south down the Valley. Being July the blanket of fog looks like a sea of cotton stretched all the way to San Pablo Bay. Pinheads of colored balloons magically pop through and above the white blanket of fog at Yountville, sun fully up and over the Stag’s Leap district. Insane the simple pleasures of a vineyard.
3:30 pm - The planting day is done. Its close to triple digits on the thermometer. My cleanup of the entire area begins along with prep for the next morning.
5:30pm or so - My final reward/gigantic boost of stoke arrives. Larry’s pool on property is mid 60s temp in dead of summer due to some shade of older blue oaks. (Pre-insurance diving board;). After fully disrobing with no one around, the exhilaration of airborne launch before I hit the water with 180-degree views of the Valley below is FUCKING MONEY!!
The start of Whetstone...
I went into Larry’s office end of the working day. He knew I had something to get off my chest. Turley was a juggernaut; expansion & renovation of the Paso property in full swing. Howell Mountain vineyards coming on line. Failla was small but ramping and taking up whatever space was left in St Helena. Heady times with so much to do every minute of every day. And it was SO. MUCH. FUN.
Larry is a fantastic listener. Not verbose. Poignant. Speaks in parables applicable to the sitch:
Larry: “Do we have to do this now?” deadpan, heavy air, eye contact. He’s a very big dude, btw.
Me: “I would like to, yes.”
Larry: “Ok. (looooong pause) then I need your business plan. We’ll go over it together, put some parameters in place, discuss it further, decide.”
Me: “That’s it?!”
Larry: “Get out.”
Note the word “we” he used twice in our conversation. That’s how you knew you were inner circle with Larry. I had already run it by Ehren and had his blessing. After the dismantling and restructure of said plan…
Larry: ”Don’t ask me for a raise. You can make a maximum of 1000 cases here. And Jamey…this is important…Turley first, Failla a wildly distant second, and Whetstone not even on the radar. Got it?!”
Me: “Got it!”
Larry: “Get out.”
Crazy the paths we go down when we don’t know any better. Hattie was barely 15 months old and I would be divorced from her mother two years later.
Whetstone was off and running. I garnered fruit from David Hirsch, Rich Savoy and Sara Lee Kunde. Couple tons from each. Pinot Noir from the guys, Viognier from Sara Lee. Bought a few new barrels and borrowed everything else. Making the wines at Turley was the only way I could’ve done it financially. Tricky parts were tank space at harvest, trying to fit in sampling my own fruit, getting bins to the vineyard for a pick, borrowing a flatbed truck from Turley for all things involving fruit.
Savoy Vineyard is in Philo above Booneville, Hirsch is out Bohan-Dillon Road, back side of Cazadero, and Catie’s (owned by Sara Lee) north of the Windsor airport. You can go to your Maps app and figure out the driving time between those spots and Turley in St Helena. I would leave the house at 2 in the morning, strap a miner’s light on, and sample my grapes until my hands were numb. Back to Turley before sunup or other vineyards attached to my day job(s). GPS wasn’t very efficient in 2002. We used Nextel Walkie Talkie Radio phones back then so we had the newest technology, but it didn’t play out well at many spots where vineyards tended to thrive. I come outta the deep woods into walkie talkie range and would here the familiar “chirp” of my Nextel followed by a stern, non-loving voice in a low grumble/growl asking for immediate updates on my location and ETA to wherever the fuck I was supposed to be soon.
Precarious, maddening, wonderful, adventurous. Money sucking, dangerous, humbling, unfamiliar, challenging. Wouldn’t trade the early days for anything. Even now the earnest feeling I get from driving my ’94 Chevy with 333,000 miles on it to a vineyard meeting, the bank, grocery store, dinner fills me with pride and sense of well-being.
I was lucky to have Larry but I worked my ass off for that privilege, 7 days a week for many years. Blue collar is wonderful work when you want to be there and have a profitable stake in it. But man is it deafening on the molding of the body and mind. I could keep going here but feel like taking a martini break. Will pick up soon with the next installment.
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:
Down South Egg Rolls with Red Pepper Sauce, Spicy Mustard and Peach Chutney + 2019 Whetstone 'Catie's Corner' Viognier
Spicy Shrimp, Sausage and Tasso Gravy over Creamy White Grits + 2021 Whetstone Rosé
Chicken and Sage Hash with Poached Eggs and a Cracked Peppercorn Hollandaise + 2017 Whetstone 'Walala" Pinot Noir
Grilled Filet of Beef Topped with Pimiento Cheese served with Grilled Tomatoes, Green Onions, Parslied Potatoes and a Madeira Sauce + 2019 Whetstone Cabernet Sauvignon
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.