Napa Valley

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September 20, 2011 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

2011 Harvest — Day One

Monday, September 19th... a warm #Harvest morning at Alpha Omega Winery in the Napa Valley. My first day on the job.

Today was my first official day of Harvest; the reason I came to California all those weeks ago. To say that the days leading up to this new beginning have been nothing short of joyous, rapturous occasions would be… dishonest – an injustice to my psyche and to the psyches of those around me.

I made facetious remarks about coming out here to dig for gold and tonight, burdened by the simplicity of life: on the verge of utter ruin! living a seemingly luxurious lifestyle! I find myself living out some absurdo-spectacle partly my own making but largely the manifestations of forces pushing and pulling me in many directions. What is it I am looking for? I was hoping to find it in the bottom of a barrel of wine and today… what I found was this:

Bottom of a 10,000 gallon tank - what's left of SB that made it's way into barrel.

Residual lees, yeasts, grapes, skins, sediment, etc. The fruits of labor, strewn about a cold and stainless steel-clad battle field. These are the suds of life. These are the bubbles of my hopes and dreams. I can see myself in them; a child’s bubbles, a suds-laden afternoon of carefree happenstance.

Here we are: Harvest.

There were no bells or whistles. I showed up to work at 8:00am. Everyone speaks Spanish. I speak English and I tell people I used to speak Italian and have been trying to speak French for years. Who cares. Remember Larry Harbison? “Who Gives a Flying F##k.” God save Larry Harbison. God save the King.


I worked hard and the reality is that the work is gratifying. I’m not just saying that because it’s one of those phrases people like to use… the temperature was 96 degrees outside, but the comforts of a cool cellar are to be reckoned with. I used to hay farm. When you farm hay, you live and breathe 96 degree days for 18 hours straight and just before you collapse from utter exhaustion, you have to drive yourself home.

I’m on the Harvest team at Alpha Omega Winery. The winemaker is Jean Hoefliger and the Assistant winemaker is Henrik Poulsen.

We sulfured some wine today. You ever pour liquid sulfur into barrels of aging Chardonnay? Me either, until today. I was climbing up barrels stacked eight high (about 35 feet in the air) galloping (it seemed) from barrel to barrel.

“Don’t worry, they won’t go anywhere,” shouted Issac, one of the other cellar workers. “They better not,” was all I could think of in reply.

My job was to stir the sulfur into the wine by using a metal cleaver-looking tool to stir, stir, stir. 100 barrels later, it was time to wash crates; the kind of crates the grape-pickers use to bring in the grapes from the fields. They look like this:

Srcubin away in a citric bath.

After that we made a yeast bath and poured that bath into a tank full of SB (Sauvignon Blanc) for a private client. We fed the yeasts yeast food a.k.a. “Fermaid-K” a mixture of diammonium phosphate, potassium, ammonia, carbon, etc… goodies to help the yeast go forth, prosper and be merry.

Fermaid-K looks like this:

Just kidding! But don’t you wish it did. It looks like this, really:


And finally, just when my Mexican friends and co-workers thought I was one young pup from somewhere they’ve never heard of, they tried to pull a fast one on me.

“Try one of Lalo’s candies,” said Isac.

“Yeah,” said Lalo in Spanish, “have a candy you silly girlie boy-man,” again in Spanish. (I was able to translate by recalling all my middle-school Latin. Sure did come in handy).

“I’m no dummy, gents. I wasn’t borne yesterday. I was borne the day before,” I said. I didn’t try Lalo’s candy. I had heard already from someone who warned me that these alleged “candies” have landed people in the hospital and have rendered grown men completely immobile for a 24 hour period. I’m looking forward to more. Day two, here I come…


September 3, 2010 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

From Margaux to Montelena

Alexander Valley

Napa, the land of gold mines and rattlesnakes, the prairie, the edge of the universe, the unsung hero, the fortified grape juice of the ages, the age-old saying, the home to cavemen and cellar masters, the indisputable heavy-weight champion of the world with 987 TKOs. Napa: where I was in the month of August.

Behold, a short list of wines consumed:

  1. 2007 WesMar Russian River Pinot Noir
  2. 2005 Robert Foley Merlot
  3. 2004 Domaine De Bois Boursane Cuvee Des Felix Chatauneuf-du-Pape
  4. 2001 Cuvaison Napa Valley Merlot Carneros
  5. 2000 Robert Mondavi Sauvignon Blanc Boytritis
  6. 1997 Rodney Strong Merlot
  7. 1997 St. Supery Chardonnay (Sadly, over the hill)
  8. 1996 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay (Still good!)
  9. 1990 Chateau Margaux
  10. 1985 Clos Du Val Reserve Napa Valley
  11. 1982 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges De Latour Private Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

And, a photographic journey of the wines tasted (no tasting notes, just a record of the labels):

August 19, 2010 1 comment Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

The Noble Rot (events): Los Angeles and San Francisco


KCRW-AM (The NPR affiliate in L.A. produced this segment on our little dinner party on Willshire Blvd.

The piece, hosted by Eddie Lin aired on Good Food, and here is a link to Eddie’s blog Deep End Dining.)


Carla Ramey, Jonny Cigar, Jeff Morgan, Jodie Morgan, David Ramey, Brian Quinn

Take One: Los Angeles

The humid and sweltering New York City morning of August 5th gave way to stale and moist air as I left my apartment at 4:30am ET and headed to the airport. Our plane touched down in L.A. at 10:30am PST and the humidity was gone and the temperature hovered around 67 degrees. On a mission with A Razor, A Shiny Knife, to host a night of remarkable culinary feats, later we would head north to San Francisco to host a Noble Rot event as well.

Our themed dinners, “Two Perspectives: Modern Meets Establishment,” were heartily embraced by local media and we were privy to a series of preview articles in Zagat, Daily Candy, Urban Daddy, Thrillist, Grubstreet, and Eater.

In L.A. we were hold up in West Hollywood, and luckily, everything we needed was just a 10-15 minute drive away. We prepped all day Thursday and Friday, waking at the wee hours and traversing the city for Ultratext, Liquid nitrogen and tacos. The L.A. Times dished up quite an article about Saturday’s event.

The venue: 5900 Wilshire Boulevard (the former Variety Building). We hosted a cocktail hour on the rooftop, 33 stories up, overlooking the tar pits and then shuttled guests back down to the lobby for a meal of duck fat, rare short ribs (sous-vide), black truffles, chocolate, cheese frozen in liquid nitrogen and more. The wines we paired were produced by Garagiste and Estate-winemaker Anthony Yount who makes these tasty wines, accompanied here by notes from Anthony, embellished upon by yours truly:

2009 Kinero Alice – 100% Grenache Blanc

This porch-pounder screams, “Get off my lawn before I put up an electric fence to keep you and your damn dogs off my property!”
Conveniently Egotistically packaged in 500ml bottles, you may not even need the glass with this wine. Aromatics of stone fruit, lemon peel and wet sand lead into an explosive palate of green apple and citrus. The lively finish is driven by a 2010 Tesla at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour in 4.1 seconds. (Did I mention that Tesla donated a car (for the evening) to one lucky guest for the L.A. event?)

2009 Kinero Rustler – 100% Roussanne, James Berry Vineyard

In contrast to Alice, this is a whimsical white wine. Aged in equal parts new French oak, new Hungarian oak, and stainless steel – it is full bodied, with hips like white elephants, yet still balanced on one leg while hoola-hoops encircle its tusks. Rose petal, honeysuckle, Neil Diamond, and sage pioneer juicy flavors of orange marmalade, Vermont autumnal scenery, brioche and citrus sorbet or walks along the Seine. The finish is textured, zesty and long-forgotten by days of yore.

2007 Denner Dirt Worshipper – 95% Syrah, 5% Viognier – Denner Vineyard

This wine has post-traumatic coital aromatics – so much so that if you weren’t involved with what proceeded it, you may not like it. However, since you were, you’re probably going to need a cigar (or a pellet gun)… On the nose there are vibrant memories of driving the autobon, boysenberry and pomegranate in your hair as ideas of sandalwood and white pepper, and birkenstock indulge your senses. The core of intense black fruit on the palate is framed by an elegant label of a vine digging deep into the dirt.


Take Two: San Francisco

Cirino and I drove north along the 5, to San Francisco, for an event called “Garagiste Meets Establishment: A Tale of Two Winemakers.” We were quite fortunate to have two highly lauded and talented winemakers join us for the event and show their wines: Jeff Morgan and David Ramey.

According to Wine Spectator magazine, David Ramey is one of a handful of winemakers who have essentially created the modern-day era of winemaking in America through an effective blend of Old World and New World tradition. Ramey was among the first modern winemakers to promote natural yeast fermentations and unfiltered wines—long before it was a trend. His eponymously named winery is located in Healdsburg in Sonoma County where he produces highly sought-after wines. Jeff Morgan is the only commercial winemaker in the United States who is also a professional wine and food writer. The former West Coast Editor of Wine Spectator, he now makes his own Covenant and RED C Wines in Napa Valley. Unlike Ramey, however, he doesn’t own his own winery. Instead, he operates as a “garagiste,” making do as best he can in other winemakers’ digs. That said, both Ramey and Morgan make wines that consistently garner some of the highest scores and rave reviews from pundits like Robert Parker and Wine Spectator.

Our event featured one white and two reds from each winemaker, in addition to some incredibly delicious bubbly provided by Domaine Chandon, as an homage to Morgan’s latest cookbook: Domaine Chandon Cookbook; Recipes From Étoile Restaurant. The Napa Valley-based restaurant just received its first Michelin star; and to celebrate we paired gougeres from the cookbook with Chandon bubbly as guests arrived.

In keeping with our theme, Jeff Morgan represented the “Garragiste” winemaker and David Ramey was our “Traditional” or “Establishment” winemaker. We discussed the advantages and disadvantages of each style of winemaking: difficulties and control, style and preference. The wines we poured are listed below along with notes from the winemakers.

Jeff Morgan’s Wines:

Lavan Chardonnay (2008)

Fermented and aged in twelve French oak barrels, the wine is richly textured yet blessed with bright acidity for balance and potential biblical war-related uprisings; it’s also layered with lovely pear, fig, citrus, toast and mineral notes. It was not filtered or fined.

Red C Cabernet (2007)

100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, the blend includes some of the barrels from Covenant that don’t make it into our premier bottling, but that still show excellent character and finesse.

Convenant Cabernet (2007)

Made from grapes grown on a 3-acre parcel of the historic Larkmead Vineyard in Napa Valley, just north of St. Helena. It is 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, made exclusively from the free-run wine after fermentation and aged only in French oak barrels for approximately 18 to 20 months. It is an age worthy wine fit for the cellar, but also is blessed with soft, plush tannins that make it easy to drink upon release.

David Ramey’s Wines:

Russian River Chardonnay (2008)

Small lots Chardonnay grapes from: 38% Martinelli Vineyards, 35% from four different Dutton ranches, 15% from Rochioli Vineyards, 9% from the King Vineyard off Piner Road, and 3% from Green Pastures Vineyard (a 40-year-old Wente vineyard back Felta Creek Road). Goldridge loam and gravelly soils give a crisper mouthfeel to this Russian River chard, compared with Carneros counterparts.

Claret, Napa Valley (2006)

This is Ramey’s entry-level Cabernet blend, and this vintage is composed of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Malbec, 4% Merlot, 3% Syrah, 2% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. Perfect for the time you stopped wearing Adidas sneakers everywhere and bought your first pair of loafers. Moving on up…

Annum, Napa Valley (2006)

A new release, this represents Ramey’s version of a “winemaker’s wine.” Having spent so much time working in Bordeaux and visiting Burgundy, the Loire and the Rhone, Ramey contends, “I’m deeply steeped in French winemaking traditions, including their orientation toward the growing site or region. Thus, all our wines are either vineyard designates or regional blends.” Annum is an appellation wine, it is the one blend they can make each year that allows them to select from a range of vineyards to make the best blend possible that vintage. This inaugural release is 96% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot, and 1% each Cabernet Franc and Malbec. The vineyards chosen include the J. Davies Vineyard on the Schramsberg Estate (61%), the Larkmead Vineyard (34%), and Somerston Vineyard (5%). Get on board!


We are so grateful to Jeff and David for spending time with The Noble Rot.

Special thanks to Noe Veneable whose beautiful voice and elegant performance lent just the right vibe to the evening. Noe performed on the third floor with views of the Golden Gate Bridge in the background as she strummed her guitar to the quiet and anticipatory ears of an audience hanging on her lyrics.

Thanks to everyone in California that made our event possible, especially to our host for offering her home in the Presidio.

Saturday, August 14th saw the Noble Rot collaborate with a razor, a shiny knife on a dinner event, which was held at the same location. Brian Quinn’s flickr page will show you pictures of that event.

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