As DC braces for its first cold snap of the season, I’m reminiscing about July in Malibu!
Wine grapes growing in Malibu
In a region known more for surfing and celebrities than vino, I had the opportunity to have lunch with an outstanding winemaker, Elliot Dolin. He was kind enough to share his wine, chat his past life on the road with Willie Nelson, and the newly designated AVA in Malibu over lunch at V’s.
Dolin wasn’t always a winemaker, or even aficionado. In fact, in the mid 90’s he started out knowing “next to nothing about wine at the time other than the fact that wine was either red or white.” It was at a friend’s regular wine gatherings where he began learning more, collecting wine and taking classes at UCLA.
After purchasing a home in Malibu, Dolin realized he had land perfect for growing grapes, and so began his vineyard in 2006.
“Given our proximity to the coast, Chardonnay was the logical varietal choice. There was then no question that we would pursue the production of wine from these grapes,” said Dolin.
Elliot Dolin with his 2011 Chardonnay
Although the cost of production at small, family owned wineries can be prohibitive, Dolin had his eye on expansion from the very beginning.
“Effective with our 2012 vintage, we have dramatically expanded our production to include four distinct single vineyard Pinot Noir bottlings. In addition, for the 2012 vintage, we have produced a proprietary red wine made with grapes grown in a vineyard at a much higher elevation in Malibu. Thus, our 2012 production was close to 2000 cases, almost 10 times that of 2011.”
This is good news for wine lovers here on the East Coast!
“Given our higher, yet limited, production, we’re currently seeking distribution channels that will make our wines available throughout the United States.”
Currently, his Chardonnay is available to enjoy in DC at Oya. Drinkers can expect a well balanced wine with a rich, creamy mouth feel, tropical fruit notes and vanilla on the palette. It recently received 90 points from Wine Spectator.
2011 Chardonnay, which recently received 90 Points from Wine Spectator.
2013 was an odd year for California vintners. Harvest broke records in many areas with its early timing, but Dolin is optimistic.
“We are quite excited about the 2013 vintage. Our Estate chardonnay vineyard produced almost exactly the yield that we targeted. And the barrel samples that I have tasted reveal a very promising 2013 vintage for both our Estate Chardonnay and our single vineyard Pinot Noir grapes.”
There was quite a lot of hoopla over the designation of Malibu as its own distinct AVA. Dolin’s perspective on how this affects his own winemaking:
“The new Malibu Coast AVA allows us to label and identify our wines as being produced with grapes from a specific region, versus being limited to identifying them as originating from either “Los Angeles County ” or “California”. Aside from establishing this sense of place for our wines, we also benefit from the official government recognition that establishes the Malibu Coast as a legitimate wine growing region.”
Dolin was a professional musician for much of his life and has great stories of touring with music greats Ray Price, Willie Nelson, Johnny Paycheck, Faron Young, Ernest Tubb, and Merle Haggard. When he’s not making wine or music, Dolin is an avid classic car collector.
From Dolin’s days as a professional musician. Pictured: Ray Price and Willie Nelson. In Willie’s sunglass lens you can see a reflection of the legendary steel guitar player Buddy Emmons.
Have you tried wine from Malibu?
I recently attended a celebration of Tarara Vineyard‘s 25th anniversary, moderated by winemaker, Jordan Harris.
After a Leesburg lunch with Just the Bottle, we made our way to the winery to join something of a motley crew of Virginia wine bloggers and press.
There, we enjoyed a glass of their Boneyard Bubbly before exploring 5 flights of wine, including verticals and selections from the library. We sipped and chatted 25 years worth of wine-making in the tank room before taking in the last of 2014’s summer concert series on the late summer evening.
Despite the bevvy of Riedel crystal glassware and artisanal cheeses, the event was anything but pretentious. Harris set the tone early on with his assertion that a “winemaker is the most overplayed profession in America.”
I don’t know that I agree with him on that, but the evening offered a rare opportunity to lob questions at a winemaker in a small group setting.
As Virginia comes into its own as a respected wine producing state, it faces a serious marketing dilemma. Attempts to pigeon hole the diverse terroir have led people to make associations with the Loire Valley in France, asserting “Viognier THE Virginia Grape”, “Cab Franc THE Virginia red grape.”
One of the most popular discussions among Virginia wine makers and consumers lately has been that there doesn’t need to be a state anything and to let Virginia be Virgina. While marketing has its place, I’m a much bigger fan of letting the wines and terroir speak for themselves.
When Harris joined Tarara in 2007, the winery made some major changes. There was a distinct lack of focus that they decided to tackle head on.
“You’re only as strong as your weakest link,” said Harris. In this case- that meant wine. And so they got to work. He axed the top three sellers and replaced equipment. Harris is only willing to produce and do what he enjoys- with one major exception: Cab Franc.
If he were to have a Facebook relationship status with THE Virginia red grape, it would most certainly read, “It’s complicated,” but Tarara can’t seem to keep it on the shelves. Relationship status aside, Harris produces some outstanding Cab Francs (although we seem to have opposite preferences when it comes to vintages!)
Cab Franc is known as having some of the greatest variability between vintages of any variety. “I just don’t trust it,” said Harris.
Cab Franc flight
The 2012- to my palette- was outstanding. Well-balanced, earthy, with just a touch of funk and pepper I love to taste in Cab Francs. “Hedonistic,” was Harris’ assessment of the vintage, but I don’t expect Cab Francs to exhibit exceptional restraint. This wine was no shrinking violet, and that’s just how I like it!
Other stand outs from the tasting include the Tranquility Red 2010, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat. This wine showed incredible finesse. Slow to open up, I liken it to the introvert at the party that proves worth getting to know. The longer you gave it, the more it gave back with ripe dark fruit and earthy balance. This wine speaks quietly, but profoundly, if you care to listen.
The 2010 Syrah was another treat. No longer available for sale, this $100 gem (gasp! A $100 bottle from Virginia!?) was elegant with spicy ripe fruit, espresso, licorice and exquisite balance. This was an elegant wine with some serious staying power that will only get better with age.
With winemaker, Jordan Harris.
Thanks to the entire Tarara team and winemaker, Jordan Harris, for sharing some of your gems on this special evening- we may not agree on our favorite vintages, but it’s always refreshing to meet a winemaker willing to spill the secrets (and the juice!) behind one of Virginia’s most established wineries!
Tasting Room Hours of Operation
Monday – Thursday 11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Friday – Sunday 11:00 am – 6:00 pm
For a special occasion, consider booking the private room for a reserve tasting!
I recently guest blogged over at Virginia Wine in my Pocket’s new “Go!” feature about my restaurant and winery picks for a quick Charlottesville, VA getaway. If you’re planning a weekend getaway this fall, check out my recommendations here!
Taking in the view at Trump Winery with a glass of blanc de blanc
I’ve included 2 stand out wineries including Pippin Hill, Trump, a great local company that offers private vans so you can sip safely, and some amazing restaurant options!
Head on over to VAWIMP GO! for more details, and enjoy some eye candy below!
Grape vines at Pippin Hill Winery
Cheese and Charcuterie at Pippin Hill Winery
The view of the vineyards at Trump Winery
Are you planning any weekend getaways this fall? What are some of your favorite Charlottesville wineries and restaurants?
I believe it was Hemingway who uttered these infamous words (although there is certainly some debate!). In any regard, sometimes it’s easier said than done!
I’ve just come back from the Wine Bloggers Conference in the Santa Ynez Valley, California, and so it is somewhat ironic that I’ve been in something of a writing drought.
I met hundreds of passionate people committed to putting words on a screen to inspire, to document, to promote; countless wine makers and vineyard owners. I saw the grapes turning from green to purple, embarked on solo winery visits and road trips with friends, tasted wines and saw places and met people that have me inspired and excited.
And yet, here I sit. Hands hovering over my keyboard for the last several weeks. Countless posts saved to “drafts”.
I think it’s hard sometimes to communicate what is inherently, for me, an intensely social experience. There is a sense of communion when sharing a glass of wine or food with someone. However, writing is an intensely solitary experience- most often done late at night when the house is still and quiet.
This conference was anything but- it was engaging in the most frenetic of ways. It was simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating.
Caught sending one of the hundreds of tweets I sent- what we were doing when we weren’t tasting. Follow along @districtwino!
And so here I am. Filled up past the brim with experiences and tasting notes, unable to quite distill everything down into a 300 word post. It’s still fermenting. So for now I’ll leave you with a few photos.
Grape Clusters at Malibu Family Winery
Yes, the one from “Sideways”. It was divine.
Tasting Amarone from Banfi Vintners
Enjoying a moment in the afternoon sun
Post conference excursion to Santa Barbara
What’s inspiring you lately? Any other wine writers out there suffering from over-stimulation?
I’m headed to the mountains of North Carolina today for a camping trip and one of the wines I’ll be bringing with me is a tried and true we order by the case chez Marriott. (Yes, I take wine camping.)
Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Dry Riesling
It’s a wine I’ve poured at a number of tastings and brought to countless dinner parties. It was even on our Thanksgiving table this year!
Invariably, when I say I’m pouring an Australian riesling an eyebrow or two is lifted, but there’s always a fight over the last splash.
It’s wonderfully bright and acidic with crisp citrus notes, light minerality, and a bone dry finish. The high acidity makes it extremely food friendly, and it makes an excellent porch wine all on its own! It retails for around $15-$16.
So branch out this summer and give this tried and true a try- you won’t regret it.
What are your tried and trues? Have you ever packed wine on a camping trip?