Showing posts with label winemaker. Show all posts
Showing posts with label winemaker. Show all posts

Monday, November 20, 2023

Great Beer From Firestone Walker

Beer lovers on your gift list will find that their steins runneth over when they get the box containing the first shipment of Firestone Walker's 2024 edition of its Brewmaster's Collective Beer Club. If you decide to get it just for yourself, we understand.

The Paso Robles brewery now has this year's Brewmaster's Collective available, providing 21 rare and exclusive beers delivered in four quarterly shipments, plus a welcome beer. The hand-curated collections by Head Brewmaster Matt Brynildson features an array of barrel-aged offerings from Vintage and Barrelworks programs in small-batch creations. The collection allows the brewery to continue to push its creativity, innovation, and traditions.

The cost for the entire year of the Brewmaster's Collective is just $399 plus tax, or $425 with five installments of $85. Enrollment is open now and will continue until capacity is reached. You can find out more here:

The brewery was kind enough to send me a handful of the new selections. They are:

XXVIII Anniversary Ale - Blended Barrel-Aged Ale

This is the 18th edition of the Anniversary Ale, which this year celebrates the 27th anniversary of the brewery. The blend mixes five distinct ales which were aged in bourbon barrels. 

Brynildson says this Anniversary Ale is the most eclectic. He calls it a "testament to the blending skills of our winemaker friends." The blend is created each year by a collaboration between the brewer and local winemakers. He figures, who knows more about blending than winemakers? 

Brewmaster's Tasting Notes: "The finished blend is deep dark mahogany in color and expresses decadent up-front barrel aromas with notes of toffee and cocoa powder close behind. The mouthfeel is smooth and silky with rich caramel flavors complemented by toasted nut, vanilla and coconut accents. An absolutely stunning barrel-aged beer and a true testament to the winemakers' skill in blending not only for aroma and flavor, but also for texture." 

The five ales:

33% - DDBA Batch 10k – Aged in Wheated Bourbon Barrels - Imperial Special Bitter

29% - Dividing Time – Aged in Wheated and Rye Bourbon Barrels - Munich Wine Made in Collaboration with Private Press

13% - Bravo – Aged in Bourbon Barrels - Imperial Brown Ale

13% - Rip This Joint – Aged in Bourbon Barrels - Imperial Stout Made in Collaboration with Side Project

12% - Velvet Merkin – Aged in Bourbon Barrels - Milk Stout

This beer has alcohol at a wine-like 12.5% abv.

This dark brown beer has a beautiful nose, full of rich coffee, chocolate and bourbon notes. A nice light brown head dissipates over a few minutes. The palate is simply amazing. Smooth and creamy, this looks and drinks like a stout, but with much merrier flavors - mocha, espresso, a hint of anise and nutmeg. It is a wonderful thing to have around the holidays. 

The rest of the sampler:

Apple Jack Flash 2023 Vintage

This is an English Style Barleywine Ale. The brewers say they sourced "freshly pressed apple juice from Gizdich Ranch in Northern California and combined it with English Barleywine before fermentation." They then "matured the beer in AppleJack barrels for 12 months."

I am told that applejack is basically an apple brandy, a beverage which was produced and consumed by the American colonists as early as the late 1600s. Alcohol sits at 12% abv.

This beer has a chestnut color, with cream colored foam made up of fine bubbles. The nose gives nutty coffee notes and sweet caramel, like a custom-made candy bar. The palate has great acidity and a fruity edge to the malty flavor. 

Rip This Joint 2023 Vintage

This is an Imperial Stout Aged in Bourbon Barrels, which pretty much tells the whole story. Alcohol is even loftier here, at 13.9% abv.

This brew is as black as night. Almost no foam, and what is there dissipates quickly. The nose offers notes of strong, black coffee, chocolate, anise and vanilla. The palate is thick and malty. Those chocolate and coffee notes are here as flavors, too. This is one amazing stout. 

Between Two Grahams 2023 Vintage

Another Imperial Stout Aged in Bourbon Barrels, this one has chocolate, vanilla and cinnamon in the blend, with alcohol at 11.5% abv.

The wine is dark brown, with a head that dissipates quickly. The nose and palate both offer a mix of spice and sweetness. The flavor makes me think of a cross between a Vanilla Coke and a cup of strong coffee.

Balaton Bones

This is an American Wild Ale fermented with Balaton Cherries. This type of cherry has a sweet-tart flavor and is said to be an exceptional fruit. Alcohol is much lower in this one than in the other beers in the sampler, at 6.3% abv. 

This unusual beer pours up looking cherry-red, but after the pour is complete it has more of a raspberry tint. The nose offers what wine people might call a foxy aroma, rather like a wine made from North American grapes. The more I sniffed it, the more it reminded me of a Muscadine wine. As for the palate, sweet-tart is a good descriptor. It tastes a lot like the candy of the same name. Whether that is a good thing or not depends on your tolerance for Sweet Tarts. This was my least favorite beer of the five in the sampler, but I am not a fruit-in-my-beer guy in the first place. 

The other four beers I tasted were astoundingly good, good enough to justify springing for membership in the Brewmaster's Collective Beer Club. 

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Friday, October 16, 2015

Naked Wines: Crowdfunding Meets Wine Club

Crowdfunding has become a prime way to raise money these days for just about any project - even winemaking. marries the crowdfunding aspect to the wine club concept in an online wine service that not only sells wine, it gets it made, too.

Naked Wines founder, Rowan Gormley, calls his company "a privately funded online wine company that helps everyday wine lovers drink like the rich and famous." They also help to crowdfund promising winemakers in the process. "Over 200,000 customers - called Angels," says Gormley, "invest directly in winemakers by setting aside $40 per month, all of which goes toward their next purchase. The company invests these funds in top-tier winemakers around the world to make wine exclusively for"

One such vintner funded by these Naked Wine Angels is Spanish winemaker Tomás Buendía, making wine in the land of his heritage, the Castile region. "I have always wanted to create wines that reflect a sense of place," Buendía says. "The wines of my homeland are worth discovering and deserve a place in the world market, and I’m excited about the opportunity to produce honest, authentic wines so people can enjoy a glass or two of good, healthy wine every day."  Thanks to Angel investors, Buendía has the funds to create his own label and share it with the world.  

"Tomás produces fantastic wines in one of the largest winemaking regions on the planet," Gormley says. "We’re looking forward to the big, bold wines he’ll deliver to Angels under his new label to provide a premium taste of Spain at a price a new generation of wine drinkers can afford."

Naked Wines spokesman Ryan O’Connell answered a few questions about the company by email:

  • Naked Wines looks like a wine club, but is branded as a crowd funding venture. Is that accurate?

"Naked Angels aren't getting automatic shipments like most wine clubs. Nor are they forced to buy wine at a certain rate like most wine clubs.

"Angels put $40 a month into their Naked piggy bank. That's like a savings account that they can use to buy wine (whatever wine they want, whenever they want). If they decide they don't want any wine, they can withdraw money from their piggy bank for free (even if they want to leave us and close their Angel account permanently). So it's significantly different from the wine clubs I've seen.

"And it's not just branded as crowd-funding; it really is funding hundreds of winemakers around the world. Winemakers like my parents and me get funded long in advance of bottling day and it wouldn't be possible without the Angels."

  • So it's sort of like a flex account for wine? You put $40 into your account each month and when you have enough banked, you can order a case?

"That's very accurate - and you can also spend more than what you've saved up just like a flex account. The big difference here is that you still have to pay the tax man. We sure wish we could make wine tax-deductible!"

  • There is a waiting list to become an angel. Why is that?

"In 2014, we came dangerously close to running out of red wine. Exponential growth is great in most silicon valley startups, but it takes over a year to produce a bottle of wine from scratch and we were growing so fast that our loyal Angel customers were starting to feel the repercussions. This is the kind of business that really relies on treating customers like royalty - we have no business without our Angels. So we implemented a waiting list to help us time the release of new winemakers with the induction of new Angels.

"Now we know every thousand or so Angels on the waiting list will fund one new wine from a talented, independent winemaker."

  • How are winemakers selected to be funded? Do they apply on their own? Can Angels nominate a favorite?

"Winemakers regularly apply on their own. Angels also nominate their favorite wines, and we'll try to track down the winemakers behind those labels. It's been pretty organic as we gain steam and momentum, more and more indie winemakers find out about us and join our ranks."

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Hawking And Horsing: A Glass Of Wine With Mitch Hawkins

There is no horsing around when Mitch Hawkins, of Hawk and Horse Vineyards, decides to tell you about his world. He emphasizes the importance of his family, but he also takes some time to hawk his wares.

I had the pleasure of joining Hawkins for a glass of wine at Hollywood’s Roosevelt Hotel when he was in Los Angeles recently. He poured his Hawk and Horse 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon of the Red Hills AVA, the southernmost in Lake County.

Hawkins is a big believer in biodynamic farming. "Biodynamic agriculture views the farm as a self-contained, self-sustaining ecosystem responsible for creating and maintaining its individual health and vitality without any external or unnatural additions," he writes on the winery’s website. He is proud that his vineyard is Demeter certified. The Demeter Association is known as the first label for organically grown foods.

"We are passionately dedicated to quality from the ground up," he states. "From the selection of our vines and vineyard site, to the most carefully detailed farming practices, we pay special attention to every aspect of the wine growing process. Our soil and climate are perfectly suited to growing Bordeaux varieties, and we specialize in Cabernet Sauvignon."

Hawkins peppers the conversation with numerous farm boy references, proud to talk about the dirt under his fingernails. Figuratively speaking, of course. He cleans up real nice for his forays into the big city.

After a career that has included several disparate occupations, he says of growing his grapes, "I can't imagine doing anything else."  He loves talking about the various attributes of his hillside vineyard - the red volcanic soil and the adherence to biodynamics first and foremost. He even had pictures of his land, which he showed like a proud papa.

Oh, and he really is a proud papa. He had pictures of his family to show off, too. They are rodeo people, and he has two girls who participate in barrel racing. A brief interlude occurred while he found a video on his phone of one of his daughters racing a horse through a course set up in the dirt around an array of barrels. The family’s allegiance to the horse world was driven home when he explained that they had bought land on Howell Mountain - a coveted winegrowing site - for use as a rodeo arena.

Eventually, he returned to the discussion on grapes. "Biodynamic farming is a method of working the land in harmony with the dynamic forces of the cosmos and elements of nature," he said. "It was developed by Rudolph Steiner, who lectured that the earthly and cosmic forces work in the farm through the substances of the Earth."

His 18-acre estate is home not only to grapevines, but also a herd of Scottish Highland cattle, who also participate in the biodynamics of the farm. He produced another batch of pictures, showing him burying horns full of dung and worm casings, all in the effort to make the land one with the nature around it. He brough a collection of "Lake County diamonds," the quartz rocks found in the soil on his vineyard site.

Although Hawkins is the winemaker, he recruited some good help - consulting winemaker Dr. Richard Peterson. Hawkins' 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon is 100% Cab, aged for 21 months in French oak, 90% of which is new. Alcohol in the 1,500 cases produced sits at 14.1% abv and it sells for $65. For his blended wines, he is quick to credit his wife, Tracy, for having the great palate that enables her to call shots on the final blends.

Hawkins is justifiably proud of this wine. "This is one of our most elegant vintages to date," he said. "Long hang time and cooler temperatures gave this vintage great complexity, and it got a 98-point rating!"

This Cab is very dark, deep ruby - almost black. If it were green, it would be English racing green. The luscious nose demands attention immediately. I told Hawkins that it's one of those wines I could just smell and never get around to tasting. He quipped, "I never get tired of hearing that." Minerals, earth and blackberries are in the forefront, graphite comes on after it opens. The palate is elegant, but there is plenty of tannic structure. I want a rib eye with it. Hawkins suggests a New York steak. The lovely cassis flavor hits the minerality just right.

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Friday, May 1, 2015

A Moniker By Any Other Name: Mark Beaman, Winemaker

Does the name Mark Beaman ring a bell? When I was approached about joining the winemaker bearing that moniker for dinner, I thought there was something familiar about the name. It took a little digging - just a little - to find out why.

The publicist insisted that “you may not know winemaker Mark Beaman, but you likely know his wines,” and that turned out to be the case. Beaman is assistant winemaker for Parducci Wine Cellars, but that was not the memory nerve that was struck. Fifty Shades of Gray Wine wasn’t it either. Ah, Wines That Rock! That’s it! The wines that serve as a liquid tribute band for the likes of the Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead and Woodstock - Mark Beaman is the winemaker who rocked those Mendocino County grapes into the bottle.

The wines Beaman was at dinner to pour - and pour - were those bearing the Moniker label. These wines - sourced exclusively from Mendocino County - pay tribute to the three generations of the Thornhill family, Beaman’s employers. Beaman liked the Thornhills so much, he married one of them. “I had the job first,” he is quick to point out, “then I met my wonderful wife.”

Beaman was raised in a farming family in Washington state and kept the dirt under his fingernails with a stint as a soil conservation expert in the Peace Corps. Oddly, it was during that time in East Africa that Beaman became interested in winemaking. He saw the fermentation process there as the locals made mead, honey wine. He got his feet purple at Washington’s Columbia Crest winery before moving to Mendocino.

Beaman loves making Moniker wines in Mendocino County. “It was my desire to work for a small family winery, and I like that the Thornhills are very progressive in their farming practices and committed to crafting the highest-quality wines possible.” He particularly likes the varietal choice that is possible due to Mendocino’s microclimates and - of course - the soil types.

Beaman opened his dinner comments at the bar, noting that in Chardonnay, oak is like a painting frame. "If you notice it, it is too gaudy. It should serve as a framework. It should accent, not dominate."

He points out that Mendocino Wine Company - the parent company of Moniker Wines - is the oldest winery in Mendocino County, founded in 1932. He feels that Mendocino County's problem has been marketing, not growing or winemaking.

He is doing what he can to get the word out about what a great wine growing region is found in the county. How did he end up there, instead of at a more established winery? He wanted the opportunity "to experiment and be part of something being built in the present day." Beaman also was attracted by the"incredible diversity of grapes grown in Mendocino County."

His Moniker Chardonnay shows great fruit and bright acidity, which he attributes to the diurnal shift - the differential of warm and cool temperatures achieved in the county during the growing season. Notes of Asian pear and spice are joined by a great touch of oak. The fruit is gorgeous, absolutely beautiful. This Chardonnay is elegant, not oaky or steely. A 4% hit of Viognier adds floral aromas as it warms. Beaman says the presence of the Viognier gives a "second life to the wine."

"I'm not about the winemaker tricks and what I can do," he says. "I'm about the growers and capturing what they do and bottling it."

For red wines, Moniker employs redwood tanks - huge ones. The redwood tanks are over 100 years old and Beaman says the redwood "does not impart flavor to the wine, even when new. It does smooth the tannins quite a bit, though."

The Moniker Pinot Noir has a lovely, graceful, raspberry nose with gentle notes of tea and coffee. The palate is very rich, with red berry, cherry and black tea. Very gentle tannins make for a smooth sipping experience.

According to Beaman, the wine gives a "nod to Burgundy, but it's definitely a California Pinot because it has to through a lot of yoga poses before it's just right. It needs aeration to get it past its assertive phase."

Of the Moniker Cabernet Sauvignon, Beaman says it's a "cerebral, fireside wine," although it is great with food, too. Notes of gunpowder and mint are immediately obvious, while the "olive tapenade will come out," he says. Beaman says he really likes that he didn't mention blackberry or currant in the flavor profile. He is obviously proud to present a Cabernet that elbows its way past the usual descriptors and delivers something a little deeper.

The Moniker Wines are something on which Beaman can be very proud to place his own moniker.

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