This year, Emma and Charlie of Thorman Hunt were joined by the Wine Director of The Connaught Hotel and the Head Sommelier of their 3* Michelin Restaurant, with whom Thorman Hunt has developed a California wine program. Since summer ’21, they have championed our CA portfolio, serving BTG: Harlan Estate, Eisele Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay, and Ceritas Hellenthal Pinot Noir. They also list further TH wines and different formats from these producers and others in, and far beyond, California.
SUNDAY 7TH AUGUST
Ceritas John Raytek (pictured) was due to be away the week of our trip, so we met with him on the Sunday, having landed late the night before. We were invited to lunch at his home followed by a tasting and walk around the winery. He shared some incredible back vintages of Trout Gulch Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Peter Martin Ray Cabernet Sauvignon, plus others.
Wow, what a tasting! The descriptors “precision” and “delicacy” are easily thrown around in the wine trade, yet the wines of Ceritas truly exhibit these qualities in abundance! We tasted a mini vertical of the stunning Zephyr before our visit.
MONDAY 8TH AUGUST
Cuvaison We were seated at Cuvaison’s tasting room, which has a spectacular view overlooking the vineyards. The Chardonnay is a more restrained style than prior vintages. The Pinot Noir is typically Californian with succulent fruit.
Shafer It was great as always to see Doug and the team. They kindly invited us to lunch at Napa’s legendary “canteen” Mustard’s Grill. Due to the fires, unfortunately Shafer produced no wine in 2020. The Chardonnay will move from the 2019 vintage to the 2021. All the wines had the classic Shafer signature: generous fruit, ripe tannins, and good structure. Relentless was the best we have tasted.
TUESDAY 9TH AUGUST
Rivers-Marie, Aston Rivers-Marie have a new winery on the edge of Calistoga. 2021 is excellent both in quantity and quality. All their wines are beautifully balanced and stylistically Sonoma. There’s a marked difference between the cuvees. Thomas Rivers Brown (pictured) has started working more with the Thieriot Vineyard, which they have on a 50-year lease. Summa Old Vines is the most Burgundian. Aston Estate is a riper style, it is getting better every year, now owned by Thomas.
Eisele We walked around Eisele Vineyard, followed by tasting and lunch at the property. The tasting was fantastic, the wines have great purity and precision. We tasted the 1995, 2015 and 2019. The future is exciting, 2019 was by far the best wine to us and we look forward to revisiting it in a few years’ time.
Turley Wine Cellars Christina Turley (pictured below) led our tasting of their fantastic Zinfandels at their winery in Calistoga, which backs onto their Estate Vineyard. Turley will trial using the Diam cork for Juvenile. We tasted a range of 2020s, which is a great year in terms of quality and quantity.
Wines Tasted: Sauvignon Blanc – a very restrained style, lots of stone fruit and floral. Juvenile – classic blackcurrant fruit, hints of spice. Old Vines – same flavour profile as the Juvenile however with more structure and power. Duarte – lovely freshness, saline. Estate – very dark inky black fruit, needs more time. Kirschenmann was very fine. Ueberoth – the star of the show with lots of dried flowers, spice and a real lift.
WEDNESDAY 10TH AUGUST
Wayfarer is set in a dramatic landscape, four miles from the Pacific Ocean, 2nd ridge line in, amongst redwood forest. The drive is stunning, albeit a 2 ½ hour journey from Carneros. As the vineyard is quite so remote, they have chosen to have the winery in Santa Rosa, as it would be far trickier to bring all the necessary equipment up to the site. Also, there’s no signal!
The wines are classic California, bright fruit, opulence and lush. WF2 Pinot Noir, Wayfarer’s second label, has lovely silky fruit. Our first vintage is arriving in mid Oct. Estate 19 Pinot – in a way the most complete wine, as it is a blend of all the different clones. At Wayfarer, each Pinot block is planted with a different clone. The blocks are all very close to one another on similar soil, but the resulting wines have different fruit characteristics.
In the Old World, Pinot clones are rarely mentioned. Contrastingly, they are almost always discussed when speaking to a CA producer, for whom they tend to hold far greater significance.
Mother Rock 19 – most red-fruit, floral and mineral. Golden Mean 19 – more dark fruit. The Traveler 19 –most serious, dark, red fruit with minerality. Golden Mean 14 – violets and truffles coming through. 2020 Chardonnay has good weight, balanced between bright fruit and richness. Less oak than 19
Screaming Eagle We were fortunate to have dinner with Armand of Screaming Eagle who generously shared a bottle of their Sauvignon Blanc, 2017. A true unicorn wine, which indeed lived up to its reputation. Lemongrass, elderflower, chalky and ethereal in texture.
THURSDAY 11TH AUGUST
It was wonderful to spend the morning with the legendary Bob Levy (pictured below), who was the Director of Winegrowing for many years, prior to Cory Empting. He showed us round four of the five BOND sites, all but Vecina.
Spending time with Bob, you really get a sense of the intricate nuances of Napa’s soil composition, similarly the impact of the variances in elevation and aspect. They choose not to include the AVAs on the BOND bottlings. Within a single AVA there is a multitude of terroirs. As Bob explained, vineyards on the Mayacamas mountain range, are completely different to that of the Vaca, and the flat valley floor.
Over lunch, we tasted a horizontal of BOND 2011, which was a much cooler year than most, often thought of as a sommelier’s vintage. The wines are focused, elegant and precise. Quella was the star on the day.
Harlan Estate In the afternoon we walked through the Harlan Estate vineyard with Cory, Director of Winegrowing for Harlan Estate and BOND (pictured). Under his stewardship, they have moved to dry farming, which they believe has further elevated the quality of the fruit and enabled them to pick earlier similarly. This is especially important with the risk of fires as the late summer progresses.
Will Harlan and Francois Vignaud, Associate Director of Harlan Estate generously shared a bottle of 2001 vintage which was showing beautifully.
FRIDAY 12TH AUGUST
We woke up early to take the more scenic route down the coast via the Big Sur, to our newest discovery Talley Vineyards. Talley Vineyards is in the newly classified AVA San Luis Obispo, also known as the “SLO Coast”. This is said to be CA’s coolest wine region, due to its proximity to the Pacific and cold air, which funnels through the hills. The Estate for both the Chardonnay and Pinot is a wonderful cool climate style with refreshing acidity. The Chardonnay is citrus led with hints of ginger and stone fruit. The Pinot has red fruit and floral notes, with refined tannins.
Rosemary Single Vineyard is situated in Talley’s coolest spot and includes their oldest vines for both Chardonnay and Pinot. A similar profile to the Estate but with more floral, smokey notes and energy.
The Hilt, Jonata Matt Dees the winemaker met us at the Jonata’s guesthouse. He’s not only an excellent producer but also a great BBQ-er. The cactus was quite yummy, and not too slimy. Radian and Bentrock are some of the furthest west vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills, and so are some of the coolest sites in the area. For both Chardonnay and Pinot, we particularly enjoyed the crunchy fruit and tension of the Radian. The Bentrock is slightly more opulent.
MONDAY 15TH AND TUESDAY 16TH AUGUST
We met with several prospective producers. We look forward to sharing more detail soon, once we have tasted through the highlights with our team.