COWBOYS, MAPLEWOOD AND SYRAH - Steve Bjerklie writes from New Hamphire


Back in the fall of 2013, a windstorm took down a stately old sugar maple on some acreage we own in Dorchester, NH. I didn’t have a chainsaw just then, so I let the fallen tree rest and dry out for more than a year before cutting it up for firewood. The past few weekends I’ve been at the task, sawing rounds off the trunk and the larger branches, and it’s a beast of a job. The tree, maybe 150 years old, is four feet in diameter at its thickest, and the wood, now nicely dried out, is hard as stone. (It burns great, though.)
While I work the old tree on a chilly gray afternoon, I like to think about the delicious stew my wife Cindy makes on cold days, a hearty concoction she calls “cowboy bean.” It’s amazing how thoughts of good, hot food can make sawing rounds of heavy trunk-wood in an icy, biting wind much easier, especially when those thoughts include a wine that is one of my favorites. For there’s nothing better with cowboy bean stew than a great big syrah.
Syrah is the basis for the elegant, complex red wines of the northern Rhône region in France. It can also be made into a fruitier, much simpler wine, as cheap shiraz (as syrah is called there) from Australia demonstrates. In the United States, syrah (not to be confused with petite sirah, which is a different grape altogether) tends to be denser than light Australian shiraz but is usually not as multi-dimensional as the best Rhônes.
There are exceptions, though. My favorite American syrahs come from Washington state, particularly the Walla Walla Valley. There, the hot, dry summers and cold, sometimes bitter, winters and the rocky, volcanic soils stress syrah vines just enough to concentrate an abundance of flavors into the grapes. Indeed, the region has attracted several French-born vignerons in addition to a new generation of young winemakers. The highest-end Walla Walla syrahs — those from Cayuse, Spring Valley, Sleight of Hand, Trust Cellars, Long Shadows and SYZYGY, among others — are all but impossible to find in the eastern U.S. outside of a tiny handful of exclusive restaurants, though it’s very much worth trying to get on mailing lists for these wines. However, excellent Washington syrah is widely available under the Columbia Crest label, and the New Hampshire State Liquor store wine list includes terrific Walla Walla syrah from K Vintners and Charles Smith.
This isn’t to say other regions don’t produce fine syrah. Randall Grahm, the original “Rhone Ranger,” began growing Rhone varietals, including syrah, in California north of Santa Cruz back in the 1980s. His winery, Bonny Doon, makes a very good syrah called “Pousseur” that’s on the NH State Liquor list. In addition to Santa Cruz and Bonny Doon syrahs, I’ve tasted good syrahs from the Sierra Foothills and the Paso Robles area in California and the northern Willamette Valley in Oregon.
Not to forget, of course, syrah’s ancestral home, the Rhône Valley in southeastern France, which produces some of the finest wines in the world. Syrah has been grown there for wine for 2,500 years, and across the millennia the French vignerons have learned a thing or two about how to make great wine from this wonderful grape. If you see the word “Cornas” in large type on the label of a French wine, snap it up. That sub-region of the northern Rhône produces, arguably, the best syrah anywhere. With Cornas in your glass, you are in for a truly special wine experience. This beautiful wine would certainly pair well with Cindy’s cowboy bean stew. Even a Frenchman might say “Mon Dieu!” to the match while a maplewood fire warmed the room.
(Steve Bjerklie is a writer who works from the Half Pint Farm in New Hampshire.  This column first appeared in online magazine, in January 2015)

Industry Veteran Raul Marques Joins ACI CORK USA

Sales Executive brings more than
30 years of experience to
Raul Marques is the latest addition to the sales team at ACI CORK USA. Mr. Marques, a native of Portugal’s cork-growing region, has logged more than three decades in the cork business, occupying a progression of sales and management positions and working with winery customers around the globe.

Headquartered in Fairfield, California, ACI CORK USA provides cork and non-cork closures to producers of wine, distilled spirits, vinegars and oils in the US, Canada, and Mexico.

“Raul’s comprehensive knowledge of the industry is a great asset to our company,” comments Armando Andrade, General Manager of ACI CORK USA. “In addition, he shares our commitment to maintaining a premier position in customer service to the wine industry as our market share continues to grow.”

Since beginning his career on the production floor of a cork manufacturer near his home town, Mr. Marques has had a first-hand view of advances in all facets of the business, from forest management to the adoption of sophisticated processing technologies to the location of finishing plants near winemakers to foster frequent and convenient communication.


“Corks nowadays are much more reliable, thanks in large part to the continuous process improvement and rigid quality control practices such as those in place at ACI CORK USA,” he notes. “Today’s wineries enjoy a wide variety of closure options to protect their products and support brand identification initiatives. As a supplier it’s a definite advantage to offer a gamut of cork types, capsules and screw caps, along with the flexibility to meet their unique delivery requirements.


“I’m very pleased to serve our customers throughout California in this new capacity,” Mr. Marques concludes.
ACI CORK USA, celebrating its 10th anniversary in the United States, is located at 2870 Cordelia Road, Suite 150, Fairfield CA 94534. Telephone: (707) 426-3566.
ACI CORK USA provides cork and non-cork closures to producers of wine, distilled spirits, vinegars and oils in the North American market. Corks are sourced from Portuguese companies that use world class technology to produce all-natural cork wine stoppers; other cork-based products sold by ACI CORK USA are the new innovative Nanocork™, several types of "technical" corks produced via agglomeration processes, closures for sparkling wines, and Bartop™ closures. Screwcaps and capsules, included in the ACI CORK USA product line, provide one-stop shopping for any wine closure need. After custom finishing each product to exacting customer specifications in the modern 30,000 sq ft Fairfield CA plant, ACI CORK USA provides closures to more than 600 winemakers in the USA, Canada and Mexico.

2014 Vintage Report from Nevada County, California: Sierra Starr Vineyards

Anne Starr pours Sierra Starr's
wines in their Grass Valley
downtown tasting room
Jackson Starr of Sierra Starr Vineyards, Vineyard Manager and Assistant Winemaker, sends along this very informative 2014 Vintage Report. Sierra Starr Vineyards is located in Grass Valley, CA, and is part of the growing number of quality vineyards in Nevada County, CA. You can learn more about them on their website (click here)


2014 was an exciting and extremely busy vintage here at Sierra Starr Vineyards. The vintage began nicely with warm and dry conditions in month of April. Although we certainly would have liked to see more rain during the rainy season, here in Grass Valley we did see 36+ inches of rain. The cool, wet weather retreated to a warm dry spring and we saw bud break 7 days earlier than normal (what ever normal is anymore) on April 14th with the Sauvignon Blanc being the first variety to push. Diligent canopy management began quickly after bud break to focus energy and promote growth. Soil nutrient tests were conducted on different vineyard blocks, pre bud break, to asses current soil nutrient attributes and deficiencies. From these findings a very specific fertigation and irrigation program was designed and implemented to maximizing vine performance while still adhering to our gentle farming practices. We escaped late spring without any frost incidents (knock, knock), and bloom began first in the Sauvingon Blanc on May 22, again keeping this season’s growing trends about 1 week ahead of average. The Zinfandel followed on May 25th and the Cabernet Franc the week of June 1st.


With verasion beginning the second week of July we knew harvest would certainly be commencing quicker than anticipated. And we were not disappointed.


Harvest began August 19th with the first of two Sauvignon Blanc picks. Our First Zinfandel pick of the vintage fell on September 9th, which is 2 days ahead of last year and about 3 weeks ahead of the old normal. On September 24th with rain looming, the Starr family, Phil, Jack, and Anne picked 3 ton of Petite Sirah (by themselves) in a 13 hour marathon, but hey, we got it in before the rain! The Cabernet Franc, our last variety to harvest, was picked on October 3rd to immediate accolades by both Phil and Jack due to the intense development of color and flavor.


The 2014 vintage yielded wines with intensity and freshness. These aspects are emphasized by the balance of sugars and firm acidity achieved in the winery. We feel this is truly a symptom of our very intense farming and our vineyard site, blessed with dry days, lots of warm sun, and cool nights.


It is also worth noting that our estate vineyards expanded during the 2014 vintage. With the addition of 900+ new vines (about half of our new hillside), we certainly feel the expression of our vineyard site is worth exploring and expanding. In doing so we took on two new varieties including Semillon and Riesling. Also expanding our holdings with varieties that have showed promise for us, Cabernet Franc, Petite Sirah and Alicante Bouchet. 

We at Sierra Starr are extremely excited and proud of the wines produced from the 2014 vintage and wait anxiously for their development in cask and tank before bottling down the road. 


The Starr Family

Sauvigon Blanc from Around the World

It’s not like we really need a special day to enjoy Sauvignon Blanc, but the wine industry designated one recently.   And so we gathered an interesting selection of Sauvignon Blanc from various wine regions of the world, and proceeded to taste them. 

I started with a Sancerre,  which has long been my favorite white wine with fish.  It pairs so magnificently with New England lobster that I can’t imagine going to Boston and having lobster there without a bottle of Sancerre at the table. 

The Sancerre I chose is the Domaine de la Perriere Sancerre 2013, produced by Saget La Perrier, a leading premium winery in the Loire Valley of France.  Managed now for 9 generations of Saget family owners,  currently the brothers Jean-Louis Saget and Christian Saget were brought up in the vineyards and learned to respect the soil and the vines from a young age.   Their love is reflected in this Sancerre.

This is a dry white wine with flowery fruit flavors that linger for a long time on the palate, and the characteristic minerality that defines most Sauvignon Blanc, along with a somewhat grassy aroma.  12.5 percent alcohol.  Suggested retail price is $24.99.

Next up, the Dashwood Sauvignon Blanc 2013 hails from from New Zealand’s Marlborough region, where the winds whip through the valleys each day and where towering mountains frame the vineyards.  Dashwood produces wines that are certified as sustainably grown, in vineyards in the Awatere and Wairau sub-regions of Marlborough.  This Sauvignon Blanc has an incredible aroma and a wonderful structure.  The fruit flavor is bright and fresh and zesty.  You’ll taste stone fruit like apple and pear, citrus, and some tropical flavors too.  13 percent alcohol.  Suggested retail price is $14.99

Casablanca, Chile, is the next wine region for our Sauvignon Blanc Day celebration.  The Los Vascos Sauvignon Blanc 2013 is a result of the vision of Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) to expand their estate by growing in South America.  Los Vascos was the first French viticultural investment in modern Chile.

This is a very fine wine at a very moderate price.  The Los Vascos Sauvignon Blanc is lively and refreshing with a perfect balance of fruit and acidity.  The spring and early summer of 2013 were cold in Casablanca, and the resulting late harvest yielded very aromatic grapes. The winemaker chose to express these remarkable aromas in this wine, and the bouquet is of lemon,  grapefruit and exotic fruit, with an aroma we don’t often get in other Sauvignon Blancs: boxwood.  Really scrumptious.  13 percent alcohol.  Suggest retail price of $13.99.  Grab some for the summer.  You won’t regret it.

This information appeared in the June 12 issue of The Tahoe Weekly, in myWine Time column

Garagiste Wineries - Featuring Dubost Ranch of Paso Robles

Kate Dubost in the Tasting Room
What is a garagiste winery?  The term often refers to folks who make wines in their garages, as they begin winemaking.  There is also a growing movement in California, primarily based in the Paso Robles area, of garagiste wineries.  The website says this:  GARAGISTES – (gar-uh-zhē-stuh) n, Fr. – A term originally used in the Bordeaux region of France to denigrate renegade small-lot wine makers, sometimes working in their garage, who refused to follow the “rules.” Now a full-fledged movement responsible for making some of the best wine in the world.”

I visited a Paso Robles garagiste winery, Dubost Ranch.  With production capacity now of 1200 cases a year, winemaker Zachary Raines along with owner Kate Dubost (also known as “Mom”) have produced an impressive array of wines since their first vintage in 2003.  All wines are hand bottled, hand corked and hand-foiled.  Talk about a labor of love!
The tasting room - cool place on a hot day!

One of the interesting aspects of Dubost Ranch winery is their commitment to being as sustainable as possible.  The building housing the barrels, equipment, and tasting room is built of bales of rice straw.  This provides a natural insulation, important in the Paso Robles area where the days are hot and the nights are cool.  This temperature variation, however challenging from the storage point of view, makes for great grape growing conditions!

The Dubost 2009 Crianza, Paso Robles, is a blend of 20% Grenache, 40% Tempranillo and 40% Syrah.  “Think of it this way,” said Kate.  “It’s Iberian Peninsula meets the Rhone…but with a bit more acidic tones.”  The aroma is of dried fruit and vanilla, with a subtle hint of oak.  Taste is clean and refreshing, with a nice fruitiness and that acidity for balance.  104 cases produced.  13 percent alcohol. $25 the bottle. 

Their newest release is the 2010 Estate Cuvee.  This Cuvee, of which only 70 cases were produced, is a blend of 34% Syrah, 33% Petite Verdot, and 33% Malbec.  The color of deep garnet gives you an inkling that the aroma will be heady, with cedar, anise, vanilla, cherry cola and a hint of mint.   This wine has a big body, with well developed tannins and a sweet lingering finish.  All fruit was sourced from Dubost’s own vineyards.  16.5 percent alcohol.  $45 the bottle. 

The 2009 Reserva, made with fruit from Starr Ranch Vineyard, Paso Robles, is a fairly tannic wine blended from Syrah and Tempranillo.  Carbonic maceration led to aromatics of coffee and lavender, and a taste of dark fruit and rich oak.  150 cases produced.  17.4 percent alcohol. $40 the bottle.

I also enjoyed their 2010 Carmenere, their Rose, and the 2009 Homestead Red.  Descriptions and prices are on the website, and they’ll gladly ship to you.  Or visit them at 9988 Chimney Rock Road, Paso Robles.  Call for hours 805-226-8463.

Freckles, the Dubost Winery cat

This appeared in June 2014 in my Wine Time column in The Tahoe Weekly

Wine Country Wedding

June is a wedding time of year, and the younger generation of 20-and-30-somethings plans many of their weddings at wineries.  Apart from the main event, winery weddings provide an aspect that everyone enjoys: wine tastings and drinking.

My first experience of a wine country wedding was a few weeks ago when the Canadian side of my family decided that all available Taylors should come to my second cousin Kevin’s wedding at the Vintage Inn in Yountville.  It was great fun!  And, at 6 p.m. in mid-June, there was still plenty of sunshine. 

I’d never heard of One Hope Wines, but when the wedding toasts noted the bride’s extensive volunteer work, it all made a lot of sense.  One Hope is known for its give-back-to-charity policies and its website states “Every Bottle Makes an Impact”.  Half of wine sales profits go to charity.  Wine buyers can select the wine they most enjoy by varietal, or be guided by the cause which the varietal supports.  Check their website, for more detail.

 I enjoyed three wines, all nicely paired with hors d’oeuvres and dinner items.

The chilled sparkling wine, so appropriate for toasts and so welcome on a hot day, was the ONEHOPE California Brut Sparkling Wine.  French Colombard grapes provide the freshness and light color in this sparkler.  Aroma is of fresh green apples and nectarines, and the crisp taste of fresh fruit like peaches, sweet berries and pear stays nicely on the palate.  It is somewhat creamy, with refreshing bubbles.  11 percent alcohol.  $18.99 the bottle.  Half the profits are donated to end childhood hunger in America.

The 2011 ONEHOPE California Pinot Noir is hand-crafted by winemaker Rob Mondavi Jr.  Grapes are sourced from vineyards in Napa, Sonoma and the Central Coast of California.  There are intense strawberry and date flavors in this spicy yet lush-tasting wine.  These grapes had extended ripening on the vine, and then were aged in American Oak to give a nice tannin structure to the wine.  13.5 percent alcohol.  $18.99 the bottle.   Half the profits are donated to help pets find their forever home.

The 2009 ONEHOPE Santa Barbara Reserve Chardonnay has wonderful fruit aroma and a great balanced acidity.  There are accents in the aroma of citrus and stone-fruit such as nectarine and pear, and the taste features a hint of minerality along with apricot and apple flavors.  A creamy oak and some rich butter notes make a nice round finish.  14.2 percent alcohol.  $23.99 the bottle. Half the profits are donate to the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund.


The Vintage Inn lawn provides
a cool oasis for a June wine country wedding

This information appeared in The Tahoe Weekly column, Wine Time, in June 2014. 

Congrats to Kevin and Amanda!

Laetitia Wines are Not Only Good, but Well-Promoted

Laetitia Vineyard and Winery shares their love for their Santa Barbara terroir and provides some excellent pairing notes and recipes.  I am aware oft his because every once in a while, I receive a press release that is so good that it's worthwhile passing on in toto to my blog readers.  This is the case with the information provided by Parker Sanpei and Associates about their client Laetitia wines.

"Second-generation winery owner, Nadia Zilkha, has walked a diverse path through everything from the world of finance to film production and medical innovation. Through it all, she remains focused on achieving balance between her love for family, her aptitude for business, and her passion for philanthropic causes.

At Laetitia Vineyard & Winery, on California’s Central Coast, Nadia and her father, Selim Zilkha, have partnered for decades to promote and oversee the production of top-tier sparkling and Pinot Noir wines from both the Laetitia Vineyard and the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard in Santa Barbara County.
Laetitia Vineyard & Winery has had a very successful past year including being named a Top Pinot in California by Karen MacNeil, write of The Wine Bible. They also have a sister brand named NADIA which has also been producing some noteworthy wines," wrote Elissa Wiese.
Summer is the perfect season to enjoy two recent releases from NADIA Wines and their estate property, Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard.
PRT_BNDSBOSD13_Mid_20140508_141606.png2013 NADIA Sauvignon Blanc
The 2013 growing season at Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard was ideal, with marked similarities to that of 2012. The vines enjoyed a little more warmth, which translated into a slightly heavier than ideal crop. To retain balance and even ripening, the NADIA team balanced the crop load by thinning a percentage of the fruit. Additionally, they added more cross arms to the vineyard’s trellis system, promoting dimpled lighting for a cooler fruit zone with even ripening, ideal color and no sunburn. As a result, the wines are beautifully expressive, balanced and extracted.
The 2013 Sauvignon Blanc was whole-cluster pressed, chilled, and then allowed to settle before fermentation began. A combination of stainless steel and small neutral French oak barrels were used for six months’ aging in stainless steel for six weeks. To maintain crispness, the wine did not undergo malolactic fermentation.
In the glass, the 2013 NADIA Sauvignon Blanc wafts aromas of mango peel,
tropical kiwi and night-blooming jasmine. On the palate, cooked stone fruit and zingy key lime notes are softened by hints of dried field grass. The wine’s refreshing, mineral-driven backbone is balanced by weight and texture imparted by partial aging in neutral French oak, in addition to stainless steel.
Pairing: Chicken Satay, Coconut Rice and Cucumber Salad
· 1 (15-ounce) can light coconut milk, divided
· 1/4 cup lime juice, divided
· 4 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
· 1 tablespoon low-sodium tamari or soy sauce
· 3 teaspoons light brown sugar, divided
· 1/2 teaspoon Sriracha hot sauce
· 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut lengthwise into strips
· 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
· 1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
· 1 large carrot, thinly sliced
· 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
· 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
· 1 cup brown jasmine rice
In a medium bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup coconut milk, 2 tablespoons lime juice, ginger, tamari,2 teaspoons sugar and hot sauce. Transfer 1/4 cup of the mixture to a small bowl and set aside. Add chicken to bowl with remaining marinade and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. Add peanut butter to 1/4 cup mixture in small bowl and whisk until smooth. Place cucumber, carrot, remaining 2 tablespoons lime juice, remaining 1 teaspoon sugar, cilantro and salt in a medium bowl and toss until combined. Refrigerate peanut sauce, cucumber salad and
remaining coconut milk until ready to serve.
When ready to cook, place rice, remaining 1 cup coconut milk and 1 1/4 cups water in a medium saucepan and heat to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce to a simmer and cook 45 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork.
While rice cooks, thread chicken onto skewers and discard marinade. Preheat grill to medium heat. Cook chicken until cooked through, about 4 minutes on each side. Serve with peanut sauce, cucumber salad and rice.
32_3fe41aa3adec03bda553f7ed9b49c15b.png2012 NADIA Cabernet Sauvignon
The 2012 growing season was an ideal one for Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard, which experienced noticeably warmer weather than that of 2011, and with 250 additional growing degree days. The result was riper fruit characters in the grapes and better control of dry farming. With calculated control over its watering practices, the NADIA team was able to encourage an adequate amount of struggle in the vines during their growth pattern to translate into a crop of expressive complexity with abundant fruit and earthen flavors.
A Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, this wine’s varieties were each crushed and fermented separately, and blended at 10 months. The wine is aged for 16 months in 30% new French oak, 20% new American oak and the remaining 50% in neutral French oak.
The 2012 NADIA Cabernet Sauvignon shows aromas of wild blackberry and forest floor with notes of sweet cigar smoke and perfumed violet woven throughout. On the palate, layers of chocolate-covered cherries, anise and salty sea air are underscored by rich cedar, with firm yet supple tannins unwinding over time in the glass.
Pairing: Grilled Bison Burgers with Sautéed Mushrooms
· 1 tablespoon olive oil
· 2 teaspoons kosher salt
· 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
· 8 ounces mixed wild mushrooms, trimmed and quartered if large
· 1 large egg
· 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
· 1 medium garlic clove, minced
· 1 pound ground bison meat
· 3 white rolls, cut in half horizontally and toasted
Prepare a grill for medium-high heat. On the stove, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. When shimmering, add oil, and heat over high until smoking. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring rarely, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper, remove from heat, and set aside.
Mix together egg, Worcestershire, garlic, remaining 1 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl until egg is broken up. Add bison meat and mix until thoroughly combined.
Shape meat mixture into 4 patties and place on the grill. Barbecue until browned and springy to the touch, about 8 minutes total for medium.
To serve, top buns with burgers, divide mushrooms evenly between burgers, and close with top bun halves.
For more information on NADIA wines, please visit
About NADIA WinesFar from the windswept coastal foothills of sister company, Laetitia Vineyard & Winery, lies a land of elevated, quiet grace. Framed by chalky cliffs and planted to vines that are drenched in sun by day and chilled by the cover of night – this is the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard, the home of NADIA Wines. Comprised of the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard’s highest echelon Bordeaux and Rhône-variety grapes, NADIA Wines eloquently champion the high-elevation terroir and inexhaustible potential of the Sierra Madre Mountains. For more information about NADIA Wines, please visit Tastings are conducted at Laetitia Vineyard & Winery, 453 Laetitia Vineyard Drive, Arroyo Grande, CA 93420.