I knew outta the gate I wanted pimento cheese somewhere in this issue. Magnolias Uptown Down South cookbook by my old friend Donald Barickman provided me with a perfect complement to our 2021 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I took the liberty of riffing on this dish easy to make for an easy meal. If you want the full tilt boogie recipe buy the cookbook.
INGREDIENTS (serves 4)
Boil water with a spoonful of salt. When it gets rolling add smaller gauge potatoes (3 per person) and cook until tender when pierced by a fork (15 min. or so) Drain them when done. Heat a cast iron skillet to a little north of medium setting, add some olive oil, then the potatoes. Using the bottom of your fave, flat-bottomed coffee cup, gently press the potatoes until flat and about a half inch thick. When they start to crisp up, flip them and repeat. At this point, I like to sprinkle with some spicy red pepper and add a little butter to the pan. Turn off the heat and let those rascals bask in all that goodness. Light your grill! Brush filets with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place filets on a hot grill, close the lid and cook a bit below desired temp (depending on the fire’s intensity, a filet should cook about 8-10 min. per side to reach medium rare). When you get close to the desired temp, take filets off the grill, slather the tops with Pimento Cheese, put them back on the grill, close the lid and leave for another 2-3 minutes. Serve immediately. Assemble it all on a plate, toss a simple green salad with vinaigrette of your choosing, pour a big ‘ole glass of our ’21 Napa Cab and enjoy your feast.
Come As Strangers, Leave As Family...
As we celebrate our tenth year open at the Chateau, our immediate thoughts go to all of you who have walked through these doors and celebrated milestones of ours, as well as your own. Throughout the years of growth, challenges, high and lows; you were right there with us. You have given our working life meaning, and we look forward to another decade of making memories with all of you.
With hope and gratitude,
Michelle, Jenna, Alli, Danyel, Dominika, and Ace
A message from Jamey -
'Ten Years Gone'... one of my all time fave Led Zeppelin songs and exactly where we find ourselves in our Napa Chateau and Tasting Salon; Seems insane to me. Every time I take the Oak Tree Expressway to work, I am so grateful Michelle & I did this with all of you. It seriously floors me how many folks have become family by virtue of 1075 Atlas Peak Road. Cheers to all the stoke and energy we feel when sharing a glass!
The 2021 growing season was lovely, with a mild spring and summer. There were a couple of days in the low 100s mid June and early September. Yields were pretty normal.
The Napa Valley Cabernet is delicious now, but will reward those who decide to put it down for a spell. A blend of roughly 78% Cabernet Sauvignon from Coombsville with gravelly loam and alluvial soils and 22% Cabernet Franc from a spot a bit east of the Valley with alluvial soils.
The 'Walala' Pinot Noir continues to be a Burgundian fever dream, for me at least. I get tickled at Mother Nature when she decides to remind me of lessons learned from past farming experience. Pinot Noir is a fickle, fleeting type of lover; Here this morning, gone this afternoon. I had a gut feeling something was amiss up top at Walala 3 days after sampling perfectly ripe fruit. I first learned about temperature (heat) inversion while farming a vineyard for Turley on the tippy top of Howell Mountain. It’s when things stay hot above the fog line at night and you get lulled into enjoying cool foggy mornings down in the valley below. Thank goodness I had a bad dream that woke me up a little after midnight, I made some coffee and drove straight back up to Walala and made the picking call from the vineyard with the sun coming up. 2 Brix jump in 2 days!!!
Winemaker’s Vineyard Notes: Located in Annapolis sitting high up on a knoll where you can see the Pacific on a clear day. Soils are a blend of alluvial and Goldridge loam. Mix of Dijon clones 828 & 113. Dry winter, mild spring and summer with handful of days in the low 100s. Normal yields. Harvested 4 tons.
Winemaker’s Tasting Notes: Stainless steel fermented, aged for 16 months sur lees in 100% French oak; 35% new oak. Dark ruby red in color. Dense nose of bright Bing cherry, cranberry, pencil shavings & mint. Secondary aromas of sarsaparilla and orange pekoe tea. Bold, jammy flavors of Bing cherry pie and ripe plum. Long finish of spicy, wild strawberry, and baker’s chocolate framed nicely with fine tannins.
Cases Produced: 250
Harvest Date: September 8th, 2021
Winemaker's Vineyard Notes: The Cabernet Sauvignon is located in Coombsville, made up mostly of gravelly loam and alluvial soils. The Cabernet Franc is from a spot a bit east of the Valley with alluvial soils. Roughly 78% Cab Sauv and 22% Cab Franc. Uneventful, warm spring and summer with a handful of days in upper 90s low 100s. Normal yields.
Winemaker's Tasting Notes: Stainless steel fermented, aged for 22 months sur lees in 100% French oak; 75% new Darnajou barrels. Bottled unfined, unfiltered. Dark purple in color. Deep, rich nose full of red currants, violet, & cassis with hints of bay leaf. Secondary aromas of rhubarb, rose petal, coffee, and tobacco. Bold, ripe flavors of red currants, cassis, blueberry, and baker's chocolate. Loooong finish, framed by supple tannins, pomegranate, a wee bit of tobacco.
Cases Produced: 88
Harvest Dates: Cabernet Sauvignon - September 20, 2021 / Cabernet Franc - October 10th, 2021
When Michelle and I are in NYC we always have a meal at Balthazar. The Balthazar Cookbook is a French bible to me and something I use throughout the year. The Foreword by Robert Hughes is a gift to all those that love the truth behind our most cherished food institutions. Their recipe for mussels nails with our Rose. I polished off a bottle last night while enjoying them with a baguette just to make sure I didn’t lead you astray.
A large crock of mussels seems glamorous late at night and workmanlike at lunch. Shiny and black, mussels evoke images of the Mediterranean, but they're also inexpensive and quick to cook. The broth itself is half the point and the crusty bread is as important as a spoon.
In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, melt the butter over a low flame. Add the shallots, garlic, celery and thyme. Gently sauté for about 15 minutes until the vegetables are soft but not browned. Season with a pinch of kosher salt. Add the wine, pepper, and crème fraîche, raise the heat to high. Once the liquid comes to a boil, add the mussels, stir gently, and cover with a tight fitting lid. Cook for 3 minutes, or until the mussels open. Add the parsley and stir gently. Serve in large bowls (remembering to discard any unopened mussels), with crusty bread and chilled 2022 Whetstone 'Silvaspoons' Rosé.
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.
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
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
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.