A Tribute to Grace Wine Company
Meet the maker
Founded way back in 1889 by a pickle magnate called John Henry Fisher, the original property was planted to the vine and a winery was built so that barrels of the estate wine could be produced and sold in San Francisco. Thanks to the earthquake of 1906 Fisher went out of business and was forced to sell the estate, following which it fell into disrepair until the end of prohibition. By 1941 it had been purchased by an Englishman called Jack Taylor, who re-christened it Mayacamas (after the Native American word for the property) and embarked on a replanting program. When Bob Travers took over in 1968, Mayacamas was already well respected locally, but Bob – who had trained at Heitz Cellars and was a protégé of Andre Tchelistcheff – saw there was potential to make world-class wine there. From his very first vintage, Bob fulfilled this promise, and by the time of the 1976 tasting in Paris (which included the ’71 Cabernet), Mayacamas was regarded as one of California’s great wineries.
Located at the top of the awe-inspiring Mount Veeder (which has its own AVA), the quality and longevity of Mayacamas’ wines is a product of the terroir on which the grapes are grown. At 550-750m above sea level in the crater of a long extinct volcano, this combination of altitude, complex volcanic soils and dry farming yields concentrated berries that give wonderfully structured and complex wines. The oldest vineyards still in operation are the Chardonnay terraces (planted in 1950 and ’52), but there are also blocks of Cabernet from the ‘60s and Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc from the ‘80s.
In addition to the terroir, Mayacamas was also distinctive for the old school way in which Bob Travers made the wines. Over time, thanks to the rise of UC Davis and the critic-led environment of the 1990s and 2000s, the traditional approach at Mayacamas became deeply unfashionable. Travers conducted all of his fermentations in concrete tanks, with native yeasts and zero chemical ‘assistance’. The wines were then aged in very large, very old wooden casks (reminiscent of those used by old school Barolo producers) for 18 months, followed by 6-12 months in old barrels and finally two years in bottle. Extraction of tannins was gentle and the wines saw no new wood, with the results being light in alcohol and medium-weight in body, giving away very little in their early years but blossoming into ethereal wines with time. The famous critics were always unimpressed, leading to Mayacamas becoming increasingly marginalised and almost completely forgotten in the modern era of souped-up ‘icon’ wines from further up the valley. In 2013 Charles Banks purchased the property (becoming only its fourth owner since 1889) and installed Andy Erickson as head winemaker and Annie Favia to oversee the viticulture, with a pledge to stay true to the style of wine that has become synonymous with this incredible estate.
The wines themselves can be truly spectacular. While there is excellent Merlot, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc made at Mayacamas, it is Chardonnay and especially the Cabernet Sauvignon for which the property is best known. The Chardonnay combines richness and honeyed weight with vibrant citrus fruit and a vitality that only old vine mountain grown fruit can provide in California. The Cabernet has such precision on the nose and palate, with focused berry fruit, leafy and earthy notes, and a sense of varietal character that is as true as any example you will find. As the wine ages it picks up more leather, rose petals and forest floor, but always with a purity of delectable dark berry fruit. Old vintages seem to meet somewhere at the crossroads between old Claret, Burgundy and Barolo and give the taste an insight into why Mayacamas has always been considered such a magical wine estate.
Meet the maker
It is a breath of fresh air to find someone as passionate about Beaujolais as Julien Sunier at a time when most producers in the region are happy churning out wines that taste like liquid candy. The Domaine is located in the town of Avenas with vineyards scattered on three different Crus: Regnie, Fleurie and Morgon.
Following in the tradition of his friends Lapierre & Thévenet, Julien is a natural winemaker who practises biodynamic viticulture. Hand picked grapes are brought to the winery where they undergo a long and slow carbonic maceration before élevage in old Burgundy barrels for eight to twelve months. There is very little in the way of additions, with only minimal sulphur used at bottling and absolutely no chaptalization, artificial yeasts or other adjustments.
Meet the maker
Since establishing his reputation at Newton Vineyards in the 1980s, where his Unfiltered Chardonnay became an instant classic, John Kongsgaard is now rightfully revered as the one of the finest winemakers in California. From their bunker-like winery at the top of Atlas Peak Mountain, John and his wife Maggie produce profound wines from Chardonnay, Albarino, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon with the help of their son Alex and assistant Evan Frazier. The wines are produced in tiny quantities and are difficult to find, but the trouble is more than worth it once the cork gets popped.
Like his friend and contemporary Cathy Corison, John Kongsgaard studied at UC Davis in the mid-1970s and had a front row seat for the explosion in interest in Californian wines following the 1976 Judgement of Paris tasting. Having decided to make Chardonnay his speciality, John scored a winemaking job at Newton Vineyards and was duly dispatched to Burgundy to witness how the best white wines in the world were made. After visiting, befriending and observing the winemakers at Coche-Dury, Comtes Lafon and Bonneau du Martray, John decided to bring much of what he learned back with him to California. That wasn’t as easy as it sounds, however, as these practices flew in the face of the technical training he had received at UC Davis and the conventional Californian wisdom of the time. Rather than load his must with sulphur dioxide to protect it, and laboratory yeasts to ensure a quick fermentation, John decided to follow the old school European Burgundian approach and let the must oxidise. This high risk strategy requires bravery and patience, but John was rewarded when the wine emerged from its brown stupor brighter and fresher than ever before. It also had more weight and complexity than expected, and when the world got to taste the results a new star had been born.
These principles are still followed to this day at Kongsgaard, the label that John founded in the mid 1990s. He is also insistent on using the highest quality low yielding fruit, which he either farms himself at his home vineyard or purchases from long term partners such as Larry Hyde and Lee Hudson (two of the finest grape growers in the USA). The wines are fermented and aged in French oak barrels, with native yeast fermentations, minimal sulphur additions and minimal batonnage. The results are Chardonnays that combine incredible weight with grace and a lightness of touch that is amazing considering their concentration. In Burgundian cellars, you have to wait until the Grand Cru wines before experiencing this level of power and finesse. While all of this is true of the regular Kongsgaard Chardonnay, the 300 case production of The Judge (named for John’s father, who worked in the profession) is an even more intense experience.
In addition to producing great wines, John has also acted as mentor for some of the most important young winemakers now plying their trade in the state. Abe Schoener of the Scholium Project, Duncan Meyers of Arnot Roberts and Andy Ericksson of Mayacamas (and previously Screaming Eagle) have spent time learning from this modern great of Californian wine.
Meet the maker
The Chavy family are well established in the Côte de Beaune, with Alain, Jean-Louis and Phillipe all making wine in and around Puligny-Montrachet. Hubert Chavy had been selling the bulk of his production to the top négociants for many years, but since his son Romaric took over, they are bottling nearly everything they produce.
Romaric started at Wine School at the age of 12, before working as an apprentice for his godfather François Mikulski in Meursault. He followed this with stints working in South Africa, Spain, Greece and the Languedoc before taking over from Hubert at just 22 years of age.
Incredibly experienced for such a young winemaker, Romaric is totally focused on realising the unbelievable potential of his stellar vineyard portfolio. About 40% of Romaric’s vines are in the village of Puligny-Montrachet, where he has prime parcels in spectacular sites such as Les Enseignères, Premier Cru Les Folatières and Premier Cru Champ Gains.
The wines are full and rich, but with a wonderful freshness and vitality that makes them a pleasure to drink in their youth. This is a truly exciting domaine and Romaric is sure to be a star of the (not so distant) future.
Meet the maker
Château Minuty has been a famous name in Provence since it was built in the mid-1800s, but when it was taken over by Gabriel Farnet (grandfather of the current owners) in 1936, it quickly became recognised as one of the region’s benchmark properties.
Today Jean-Etienne and François run the estate, continuing the family's focus on quality by reducing yields, building a new winery, replanting their Carignan and Ugni-Blanc with Grenache Noir and Vermentino and pioneering the use of pressurage direct in the production of their rosé wines. This involves taking the first free-run juice that is released by loading the press with the grapes. The weight of the fruit is enough to bring about a light pressing and this premium juice is run off to be fermented separately, giving a rosé wine with sumptuous texture and elegance. The ‘M’ de Minuty Rosé (in its world famous curved bottle) is made using 70% pressurage direct, while the ‘Rose et Or’ cuvée is made solely from this technique and is a rosé wine to rival any in the world.
Although 70% of production is given over to their rosé wines, there are also some excellent whites and a rich, silky red. These are serious, complex wines that are perfectly suited to the cuisine of the region and a permanent fixture on the most prestigious wine lists of the Côte d’Azur.
A Tribute to Grace Wine Company
Bodegas Marques de Reinosa
Castello di Querceto
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