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 ;)
(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,
The 2019 growing season started with lots of rain that continued well into May. Spring was long and cool with a 2-week lag time behind a normal vineyard trajectory.
Once we got to set though, we had a run of heat in the low 90s to low 100s for a solid week that seems to have made up some ground heading into veraison. Set was fantastic by the way, and yields look (at least to me) as healthy as last year if not more so.
So another year of lots of top work in the vines!
The "soup" of the Whetstone story starts with these two wines for this release: Catie’s Corner Viognier and Pleasant Hill Pinot Noir. I have been working with these vineyards since 2002 when I was still under the Turley roof and first launching Whetstone Wine Cellars.
In our case, the "nuts" of the Whetstone story may be when Michelle and I decided to jump all in and grow Whetstone together, build a life and dailiness around this business while raising four children…. But I digress.
What happens next could not be possible without the care and thoughtfulness that goes into the collaborative preparation: attention to detail in the vineyard, great fruit, all eyes on the cellar, the gracious hospitality with our dream team at Whetstone, and the experience around your own table sharing Whetstone wines with friends and family.
In the beginning, I had to go with my gut and cautiously choose vineyards and farmers that I knew would be worth a lifetime of relationships. When I look back on foundations of our success it starts here:
Charlie Chenowith planted and farms Pleasant Hill Vineyard. He has taught me a lot over the years about the subtleties of growing world-class, California Pinot Noir. Born and raised in Sebastopol, Charlie manages and owns hundreds of acres of storied vineyards throughout the Russian River and Sonoma Coast appellations. Pleasant Hill is planted in Goldridge loam soil, which from my perspective reads a bit like pound cake; well-drained soils tempered by foggy mornings, warm days and cool nights.
Christine Magretts oversees all farming/business ops at Catie’s Corner Vineyard, where we get our Viognier. She and I have been working together since I founded Whetstone in 2002. The vineyard is planted in Goldridge loam soils riddled with river cobbles. Bi-lateral cordon pruning was established here to open up the canopy, expose it to more sunlight, and give the vines more stoke with less competition underground due to a less vigorous soil. I like to set a really big crop (think 7-8 tons to the acre) then throttle it back to 3-4 tons per acre with a rigorous fruit drop at Veraison. The Dutton family farms this place and is shepherding it into the barn with a level of quality our customers have come to expect.
And speaking of the barn, Rebecca Laird owns and runs Laird Family Estate where I have been making Whetstone since 2005. With 50 years in the wine business, her family’s history and expertise, state of the art custom crush facilities and shared goals to produce great wines gives me a great home to make our wines.
I take so much pride in watching these wines continue to shine and make their way into homes across the country. A big shout out to those that have been enjoying these wines for years and for first timers…….these wines are the foundation of Whetstone so we look forward to sharing them with you!
Vineyard Notes: Sustainably farmed, cool climate vineyard site, Goldridge loam soils. Normal spring budbreak, fairly hot summer with record heat first week of September. Yield of 2.8 tons per acre; 2/3 clone 115 and 1/3 clone 667. Havested on September 8th.
Winemaker’s Tasting Notes: Stainless steel fermented, aged for 16 months sur lees in 100% French oak; 35% new oak. Deep ruby in color. Bright, expressive nose of dusty raspberry, ripe Bing cherry, violets, and clove. Secondary notes of saddle leather and mint. Medium-bodied flavors of Bing cherry, ripe raspberry, orange pekoe tea and tobacco. Finishes long with bright notes of alpine strawberry and baker’s chocolate.
Vineyard Notes: Sustainably farmed, cool climate site, river cobbles and Goldridge loam soils. Very rainy winter ending a string of drought years. September. Yield of 3.9 tons per acre. Harvested the grapes September 11th.
Winemaker’s Tasting Notes: Barrel fermented in neutral French oak and aged for 16 months sur lees. Golden honey in color. Rich nose full of banana runts, guava, licorice, pineapple and orange rind. Background notes of jasmine and paper whites. Mouthful of ripe pear, orange cream-sicle, lime, liquid minerals, and peach liquor. Finishes long and bright with hints of lemon meringue, citrus and subtle tarragon.
As for this harvest, 2018 will go down as the largest crop in the history of California grape growing. Despite the yields, the concentration and natural acidity of the wines in barrel run counter to what I figured might be the end result. Tickled on all fronts is what I feel as I put these wines to bed for the next 12 months.
Many thanks for your continued support and friendship,
"Music is the wine that fills the cup of silence." - Robert Fripp
Michelle and I love to consume music. We have been fortunate that the universe has connected us with some of the best people working in the music business. The live shows at Whetstone are really an extension of what we do every day. It is always about the experience and how we connect with people. In an ever-changing industry, our story of struggle, lucky breaks, setbacks, perseverance and support from people who believed in us is what almost anyone can relate to.
Over the past half of the year Michelle and I have been on a tear reading through accounts of musicians and influencers that cemented their fame. A few books struck me as amazing not only for the first person accounts, but for the brutal honesty penned by each artist:
For me, successful musicians and winemakers seem to understand what it takes to monetize passion. Music is no different in degree of difficulty and lifetime commitment to your skill set. Also, I love understanding why people are who they are and what influences drive them to be/do certain things. In each of the books you get a full discourse on heroes and villains alike that shaped the artist. These books are for the workers, dreamers, lovers and loners, artists, freaks or anyone who wants to be baptized in the holy river of rock and roll.
The folks that shaped me most begin with my grandmother Marguerite “Rita” Rodwell. I bused tables and washed dishes at her restaurant The Rice Paddy in Georgetown, SC during the summers beginning at age 10. She taught me the importance of Southern Hospitality and the art of being present.
My first job and lucky break in the wine industry was driving a tractor and pruning old vine zinfandel for Larry Turley of Turley Wine Cellars under the direction of Ehren Jordan of Failla Wines. I garnered a ground level education in farming, along with a few life lessons and the opportunity to launch Whetstone.
Christophe Morin and Jacques Seyssess from Domaine Dujac gave me a crash course in farming Pinot Noir in Burgundy and the importance of family. Jacques once said to me: "If it comes down to making 1000 cases less wine in exchange for being at all your kids’ games- do that."
Fred Scherrer had a huge impact on me as a California winemaker & true Vigneron. He put Dehlinger on the map in 1994 and has continued to farm, harvest, and craft wonderful Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir under his eponymous label Scherrer. The finesse he employs in his wines while not being afraid of the abundant California sunshine is an art form that I aspire to.
So, without further ado, I present...2018 FALL RELEASE WINES (along with the perfect book pairings):
TASTING NOTES: Stainless steel fermented, aged for 10 months sur lees in 100% French oak; 20% new oak. Bottled unfined, unfiltered. Ruby red in color. Ripe nose of candied raspberry, dark cherry, and floral rose petal tea. Background notes of Bing cherry, freshly picked mint and tarragon. Medium-bodied, vibrant flavors of velvety plum and red berry fruits. Secondary flavors of ripe cranberry tea, cherry cola, citrus peel and hints of tobacco with long, ripe tannins and bright finish.
BOOK PAIRING: "Born to Run," like Bruce, a crowd pleaser and true blue.
TASTING NOTES: Stainless steel fermented, aged for 28 months sur lees in neutral French oak barrels. Dark purple in color. Expressive nose full of ripe red currants, savory red meats, black licorice and saddle leather. Secondary aromas of white pepper, bay leaf, cinnamon, and pipe tobacco. Intense flavors of raspberry, cassis and currants, with hints of baker’s chocolate and tobacco. Finishes long with velvety tannins and lively acidity.
BOOK PAIRING: "Just Kids," like Patti, a bit more punk rock and just gets better with age.
TASTING NOTES: Stainless steel fermented, aged for 16 months sur lees in 100% French oak; 35% new oak. Bottled unfined, unfiltered. Deep ruby red in color. Really big nose of alpine strawberry, rose petal, anise and clove. Secondary aromas of orange citrus peel, cayenne, and Mexican chocolate. Full-bodied flavors of ripe cherry, dark raspberry, and blueberry pie. Luxurious, long finish with flavors of dark red fruits and baker’s chocolate framed by soft tannins and mild acidity.
BOOK PAIRING: "My Life Inside Rock And Out," like Bill, a class act all the way.
Crack a bottle, grab a book and enjoy!
- Jamey Whetstone
To my 10 year old, Watson, this term is used in reference to old videos of Michael Jordan launching a dunk from the foul line.
To my 17 year old, Sterling, it is simply a path to the next hold while rock climbing.
For me, hang time for our fruit means phenolic ripeness in all its many facets. The heat spikes we experienced this summer were unparalleled and drove sugars sky high without the requisite softening of tannins and respiring of acids...until mother nature pumped the brakes for most of August. We were very fortunate to have harvested all our grapes before the fires began with our last pick of Syrah coming in on October 5th.
Another wave of heat coupled with 50 knot winds on the night of October 8th proved to be a recipe for the disastrous fires here in Napa and Sonoma counties. With the smoke cleared, blue skies and fresh air have returned to our lovely home here in Wine Country. We remain in awe of the strength of our community and grounded by the simple pleasures of hang time with family and friends.
So as we embrace fall and think about hang time with ones we love this holiday season, we have some special offerings for you:
We are harkening back to a staff-favorite: our 2012 vintage! Having just opened a few bottles, these wines are starting to come out of their infancy. I'm impressed by the way they are taking on weight and nuance as they loosen their grip on the vintage with more structure and a bit more tannin.
When we think of the holidays, we think of Pinot Noir here at Whetstone. So we're offering you a fun way to take a trip through the Sonoma Coast Appellation with our 4-pack of 2014 single-vineyard Pinots! Starting from the Petaluma Gap all the way up to Annapolis, each vineyard has a unique topography and micro-climate that translate directly into your glass.
Need a little Southern charm in your life? Our famous Fried Chicken Supper is featured in this stunning table top book: Napa Valley Entertaining, by Blakesley Chappellet, with photographs by Briana Marie. In addition to the people and places, this recently published gem artfully highlights the true beauty of food, entertaining, and hospitality. To make it even more charmingly Southern, we are including a bottle of our 2014 'Jon Boat' Pinot Noir!
We're raising a glass to you and yours...
Cheers to some quality hang time with family and friends this holiday season!
- The Whetstone Crew
Jamey, Michelle, Addie, Alli, Lauren & Jess