I’ve never been speed dating but if I had, I’d imagine it to be fairly similar to a recent experience at a portfolio showcase for Trialto.
I was invited to interview 3 of Trialto’s wine producers at one of my favourite downtown spots in Calgary – Yellow Door Bistro. I arrived and was greeted by Lesia from Trialto (who is lovely and one of the best marketing managers in the biz!). She ushered me to a table where I would have approximately 30 minutes with each producer which needed to include time to taste a few of their wines. Here’s a snapshot of what I came away with – aside from an adrenaline rush.
Ready, set, go!
(I chatted with US/Canada Export Manager, Randy Fabian)
Created 08/08/08. Amongst the Beijing Summer Olympics and the global financial crisis, Peter Yealand was bucking trends and growing vines where others said it wasn’t possible.
The Awatere Valley is the driest and most southern growing region in Marlborough. Others had deemed the coastal area too difficult to grow grapes because temperatures are up to 8 degrees cooler than other more desirable areas. Yealands decided to focus on moving forward and used cutting edge green technology and highly innovative thinking to be the world’s first carbon-neutral winery from inception. And today, all 133 vineyard blocks on 1,000 hectares are certified sustainable.
Yealands grows majority Sauvignon Blanc (because it’s New Zealand, c’mon). Their subsequent focuses are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
How they succeed:
Yealands appointed Natalie Christensen to the position of Chief Winemaker earlier in 2019. Natalie understands the unique microcosms of the property and how small pockets of temperature anomalies and rolling hills can affect the end wine product.
Why they’re on top:
Estate grown, made and bottled is a huge accomplishment which Yealands proudly hangs their hat on. In addition to the aforementioned CarbonZero and sustainable accreditations, they’re also in the process of completing their vegan certification.
Peter Yealands Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2018 – 70% Awatere Valley, 30% Wairau Valley. – Awatere is closer to the ocean and considered a slightly more premium growing space. – Soils and proximity to the ocean bring a unique spin on the profile: slightly less grassy and green, more lime citrus and key lime tartness. – Round. Layered.
Yealands Estate Single Block S1 Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2018 – Won world’s best sauvignon blanc in a Decanter magazine blind tasting in its first year of production. – Made with wild yeasts. – Zingy with citrus and green apple right off the bat – Mellows out with a silky texture and saline finish. – A roller coaster flavour evolution.
State of Flux Awatere Valley Chardonnay 2018 – A new line endeavour allowing for experimentation in the property’s micro pockets. – Fermented in neutral concrete eggs giving a softer profile. – Displays typical Chardonnay flavours (yellow apple and pear), but the buttery aspects are friendly and approachable. – Perfect amount of power to pair with food without being overbearing.
Peter Yealands Marlborough Pinot Noir 2016 – A slightly off from centre New Zealand style, reminiscent of a Burgundian Pinot. – 3rd-year French oak gives smoky, allspice and cinnamon aromas. Cherry fruit undertones. – Dynamic and layered.
Founded in July of 1977 by Miljenko ‘Mike’ Grgich. Born in 1923, he fled his home country of Croatia in 1954. After some time in West Germany and Vancouver, he finally arrived in the Napa Valley in 1958. His life story is fascinating, you can read all about it here.
Where and What:
366 acres spread over 5 Napa vineyards. American Canyon grows the majority of their Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Merlot and has marvellous cooling effects being right off the San Francisco Bay. Carneros is home to one-quarter of their planted acres; mostly the same grapes as American Canyon with a sprinkling of Cab Franc as well. Heading north, the 63 acres in Yountville is where their Cabernet Sauvignon resides, along with some Merlot. Finally, the Rutherford and Calistoga sites grow grapes a combined 52 acres of sun-drenched Zinfandel, Petite Syrah, Petite Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
How the succeed:
Simply put: Chardonnay. Chardonnay is the reason for Grgich’s success. Without the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay (which Mike made), the historic 1976 Paris Tasting would have just been another ho-hum wine competition. But Mike’s Chardonnay bested the top white Burgundies to win first place. This phenomenal accomplishment hurtled Mr Grgich and the Napa Valley to the forefront of the international wine community. Today, Chardonnay accounts for half of Grgich Hills Estate entire production which is about 30k cases. Chardonnay, to say the least, is Mike Grgich’s passion.
Why they’re on top:
Grgich Hills Estate boasts an earth-friendly agricultural philosophy. All wines are estate grown on 366 acres of vineyards. Every acre is certified organic and farmed Biodynamically, allowing the estate to proclaim itself as the USA’s largest Biodynamic vineyard acreage. The winery itself has also converted to solar power.
Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Fumé Blanc 2016 – One of the most elegant and approachable Fumé’s I’ve ever tasted. – The Sauvignon’s lime and tropical profile is the sturdy backbone while the subtle oak and nutty salinity allow for this wine to sing.
Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Chardonnay 2014 – Seriously: Buy. This. Wine. – A roller coaster of sensations. – Smooth and elegant quickly ramps up to a zingy mid-palate followed by a balanced, fresh and lingering finish.
Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – Probably one of my most favourite compositions: 86% Cabernet Franc with bits and pieces of Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. – Bold dark berry flavours, loads of currant and plum beautifully intertwined with baking spices, black pepper, mocha and a touch of dried rosemary.
Grgich Hills Estate Yountville Napa Valley Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 – A true terroir love story. – Made from vines planted in 1958 in Yountville, the winery considered pulling them out after a virus attacked the leaves. – Patience along with a willingness to experiment with Biodynamic farming turned things around. – Luxurious and rich without being heavy. Finessed and elegant without being whimsical. Sturdy, bold and full of character.
(I chatted with Constance Savage, General Manager)
L’Ecole was founded in 1983 by Jean and Baker Ferguson before Walla Walla had even established its AVA status. They were at the forefront of the local industry, being the third winery in the community and the 20thcommercial winery in the State. Today, L’Ecole No. 41 is owned and operated by Jean and Baker’s daughter and son-in-law, Megan and Martin Clubb. The tasting room occupies a portion of the historic Frenchtown schoolhouse – which is a centrepiece of the winery’s labels. Its building was originally built as a log cabin in 1870 and was rebuilt in 1915.
Where & What:
The majority of the AVA’s vineyards are red with only a small focus on white wines. Semillon and Merlot are the winery’s two most historic varietals. Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon were introduced in the late 80’s. The majority of their portfolio is a part of their barrel program (which currently consists of 2,000+ French and American oak barrels). Their Chenin Blanc and Grenache Rosé are the only wines to see stainless steel.
As the Merlot category continues to recover after its decimation in the movie Sideways, Walla Walla is primed with ideal growing conditions and quality winemaking. Plus, California continues to price themselves out of affordable Cabernet Sauvignon – again, Washington is seeing increases in sales of Cab in response to the demand.
Why they’re on top:
L’Ecole is currently celebrating its 15th win from Wine & Spirits Magazine as a Top 100 Wineries of the Year for 2019. Their wines often appear on Wine Spectator’s and Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 Wines of the Year. And they’ve even see ratings as high as 95 points from Decanter. But one of the main reasons to incorporate their wines into your repertoire is because of the special community in Walla Walla. Being a 3-hour drive from a major city, the wineries share a special bond and kinship – with a level of support for each other not always found in other wine growing regions. Family is a focus for the Clubb family’s personal legacy as well as their visitors. Bring your kids when you’re in the area because the tasting room has a playground outside for them to enjoy while you explore the offerings inside.
L’Ecole No. 41 Columbia Valley Semillon 2016 – 85% Semillon & 15% Sauvignon – Gloriously smooth. – A natural step up from your typical whites, fermentation takes place in neutral barrels. – Layered and elegant with notes of melon and blossom with a vibrant acidity and refreshing finish.
L’Ecole No. 41 Columbia Valley Merlot 2015 – The valley’s dry conditions combined with the long days needed to ripen Merlot make it one of L’Ecole’s flagship wines. – Long summer days and cool nights present a fresh acidity. – Lovely, berry fruits on the forefront with earth, cedar box and spice woven throughout.
L’Ecole No. 41 Columbia Valley Syrah 2016 – 78% Syrah with support from 20% Grenache and 2% Mourvedre. – There’s a dried herbal layer behind the blueberry and cherry forefront. – Bold and complex with some black pepper spice and vanilla round out the flavours. – A bright acidity shows off (as it should!) on the finish.
L’Ecole No. 41 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 – 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from various select vineyard sites. – Luxurious inky colour in the glass with brooding character. – – Dark fruits such as black cherry, fig and rip plum combined with savoury Mexican chilli cocoa. – Sultry tannins, well balanced.