From the Grapevine

(Story by Phillip de Give)

As of this writing, USA Today is collecting votes to determine the best Wine and Food Festival in the nation, and the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta is in the running. The excitement and wine-related activity in town is shared by many restaurant owners, retailers and wine aficionados—and with all the luncheons, seminars, field trips and amazing tastings that take place over five days, there will be numerous opportunities to sample and drink new wines.

The best place to start your tasting is with Champagne, and the Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Réserve Blue Label is bright, fresh and crisp. It is perfect with bagels and cream cheese, popcorn or shucked oysters. Another favorite aperitif is a glass of Riesling. This varietal is a true classic making some of the world’s greatest wines. An off-dry version can be a gentle starter for the palate. While Southern New Mexico is famous for an assortment of red Italian varietals grown around Deming, Riesling can thrive in vineyards at higher elevation in the northern part of the state. Mirabal Reserve Riesling, made from grapes sourced at 6,000 feet in Dixon, is brand-new to the market. This wine should pair well with Southeast Asian dishes or milder Hatch green chile.

If you’re looking for wines that go with chile and eclectic cuisine, one should explore wines made from indigenous Mediterranean varietals. Tornatore Etna Bianco from the terrain of Sicily’s famous volcano, and Olianas Vermentino from Sardinia have aromas and flavors reminiscent of herbs, tree fruit and ripe citrus. These wines are fun to pair with vegetable dishes, warm weather fare and surprisingly, slightly aged cheeses.

From Spain, one of Santa Fe’s favorite smaller Rioja wineries will be represented at the Fiesta, Bodegas Ontañon. The Ontañón Tempranillo Blanco is made from a white mutation of the dark-skinned Tempranillo grape. It has been recognized by Rioja’s Regulatory Council and now is a permitted variety in their classification. The wine almost has a cornucopia of flavors reminiscent of white flowers, citrus and pineapple.

Also paring well with those dishes is a classic favorite that is back in style in a big way—Sancerre. The crisp, delicate, but persistent flavors of this 100% Sauvignon Blanc make it a new darling of both wine newcomers and Baby Boomers. Pascal Jolivet Sancerre, imported by Frederick Wildman, is a delightful rendition.

Your search for white and red wines that have not been smitten with oak will be well rewarded if you attend events hosted by importer Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant. They will be introducing wines from Corsica, Sicily and Sardinia, and their exhaustive portfolio of small family estates includes Northern Rhone Syrahs, Corsican Rosé, Bandol and Cassis (the wine, not the liqueur) from Provence, Burgundy and Bordeaux.

This year’s honoree, Tablas Creek Vineyard, will bring the Esprit de Tablas Blanc, a blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Picpoul. That is a Rhone varietal mix that makes sense in the warmer climes of Paso Robles, making a wine of “excellent concentration…and dramatic perfume.”

If we want to look at classic varietals, we need to include No. 1 in popularity—Chardonnay.  The new release of Ferrari Carano Sonoma County 2017 Chardonnay displays all the buttery, apple, cinnamon and pear overtones one could want from a California offering.

For a classic varietal in red wines, don’t miss Pinot Noir, with some lovely domestic examples at the Fiesta. They can show a great spread of flavors from tart red to deep black cherry and great diversity from Oregon to California. Do you like higher acid wines reminiscent of Burgundy? Go to the Willamette Valley and Sokol Blosser Winery. This B Corp (Beneficial Corporation) winery, by definition, takes a responsible look at the impact of their decisions not only on shareholders, but also on employees, customers, the community and the environment. The Sokol Blosser Dundee Hills Estate Pinot Noir 2016 displays a long delicate finish of savory flavors and cherry fruit.

Merry Edwards, the Grande Dame of Russian River Pinot Noir, will be attending the first few days of the event in person. Having recently sold the winery to Louis Roederer Champagne, catching her at the wine dinner at The Anasazi Restaurant may be a rare opportunity. The knowledge and experience that she brings to the table with this varietal in California is amazing. Her Pinot Noirs are rich, bold and full of flavor and would stand up to short ribs, duck breast and many beef dishes. Look for the Merry Edwards Winery Klopp Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016.

For many wine lovers, the reigning king of wines is Cabernet Sauvignon. One of the newest wineries to make it to New Mexico is Notre Vue Estate Winery & Vineyards. The estate spans two world-class growing districts in Sonoma—the Chalk Hill appellation, with its ashy volcanic soils perfectly suited for Bordeaux varietals, and the ancient riverbed of the Russian River appellation, ideal for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Tasting these wines will be a great illustration of Sonoma’s wine diversity. I’ll be looking for the Notre Vue Bordeaux Blend 2014. Three Bordeaux grapes are grown on the Chalk Hill portion of the estate: Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. Together in this blend, they produce a dark fruit medley of black currant, blackberry and black cherry.

Finally, consider finishing your tasting of Cabernets with a special focus. A pre-eminent Napa AVA is Stags Leap District. Among the wines sourced and produced from this prestigious AVA are these three Cabernets: Clos du Val Hirondelle Vineyard, Pine Ridge Vineyards Stags Leap District, and Silverado Vineyards Solo all made from Stags Leap District estate fruit providing an enlightening tasting comparison.

For more information about the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta, visit santafewineandchile.org. The ever-popular Grand Tasting is on Saturday, September 28 from noon to 4 p.m.

Tablas Creek

(Story by James Selby/Photographs Courtesy of Tablas Creek Vineyard)

“My Dad latched onto this festival,” says Jason Haas, son of Tablas Creek Vineyard founder and renowned importer the late Robert Haas. The festival he’s referring to is New Mexico’s Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta. “Our first was 2002,” Jason Haas says.  “My mom, dad, my wife and I came out together to pour our wines. Dad thought it was a fascinating event. He was impressed with the caliber of people he met and the restaurants in Santa Fe.” With a chuckle, Jason Haas recalls, “That first year, my dad brought out a vine-grafting machine and vine roots, set it up and did a seminar on how to graft vines.” The very vines in Robert Haas’s hands were—and continue to be—a generational link between two countries, two families, two wineries and two worlds of wine.

Robert Haas, who died in March of 2018 at the age of 90, joined his father’s wine and spirit retail business, M. Lehmann in Manhattan (known today as Sherry-Lehmann Wine and Spirits), in 1950 after college. (One of Local Flavor’s contributing writers, Philip de Give, began his wine career as a stock boy in that store.) For more than 20 years, Robert Haas developed relationships with the great wineries of France. In the early 1970s, he relocated his family to Vermont and started his own import company, Vineyard Brands. Like an ambassador, Robert Haas is credited with reestablishing commerce within the industry between Europe and the U.S., a relationship that was severed following two wars and further damaged by prohibition. He began representing wines throughout Europe and the world’s best regions, often being the first importer of their wines into the U.S. Most significant was his partnership with the Perrin family, owners of Château de Beaucastel of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the southern Rhône Valley, a famed estate dating to the 16th century.

“As a kid, it seemed normal to go to France for six weeks every year to hang out in cellars and vineyards,” Jason Haas says in a recent telephone interview from his desk at Tablas Creek Vineyard, where he’s partner and general manager. “In Vermont, as guests at our house, we’d have winemakers and distributers around regularly from all over the world.” During the early years of Vineyard Brands, Robert Haas began bringing the Perrins to the states for sales trips. These family gatherings on both sides of the Atlantic led to a quest for a location with a maritime climate and limestone soil similar to that of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and to partnering in a venture to make wine. In 1989, the Perrtins and the Haases  founded Tablas Creek Vineyard on a former alfalfa farm in Paso Robles, Calif. From the beginning, the Tablas Creek partners focused on Rhône-style wines to be made organically. “It was clear,” Jason Haas recounts, “that much of the clonal material available in the United States would not produce the quality of wines we wanted. It was vital to import our own rootstocks from France, the same genetic source, to replicate the historic vineyards of Beaucastel.” A lengthy protocol for importation of viniferous plants was mandated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, involving a three-year period of quarantining and testing to ensure plants were free of viruses and pests. In 1994, the planting of well-known Rhône varieties like Syrah and Grenache began at Tablas Creek, along with relatively unknown grapes such as Grenache Blanc, Picpoul, Counoise and Mourvèdre. It would be another three years before those vines yielded mature fruit and the first vintage was bottled.

Tablas Creek also began to propagate its vines. “Initially, we weren’t thinking of a commercial opportunity,” Jason Haas says. “What started in 1989 as a small movement generated a ton of interest; people had never seen this kind of program and we were getting a ton of requests for vines. It was a big decision. But we realized if we made the cuttings proprietary it would hold back the category of Rhône wines. We felt if the tide rose up for everyone, we could stay at the front of it.” The Tablas Creek Vineyard nursery has since sold millions of cuttings to more than 600 wineries throughout California, Washington and as far away as Virginia. There are dozens of grapes grown in the Rhône Valley, 13 of these are approved in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, with another eight approved in Côtes du Rhône appellation. The Tablas Creek nursery now has the complete collection of clones. “We take our vines seriously,” Jason Haas says. “They are now 25 years old, and we’re a generation in. We’re just now hitting our stride.”

Tablas Creek Vineyard produces between 15 and 20 wines each year. Their flagship, age-worthy blends, Esprit de Tablas, a red based on Mourvèdre, and the Esprit de Tablas Blanc, primarily from Roussanne, are chosen from the best lots and modeled on Château de Beaucastel’s tête de cuvée, signature red and white wines.  Their Côtes de Tablas and Côtes de Tablas Blanc are an homage to classic, regional wines of Côtes de Rhône made with Syrah and Viognier, respectively, and crafted for charm and readiness to drink. All are made from fruit grown on the Tablas Creek estate.

Patelin is French slang for, roughly, ‘country neighborhood’ and wines under the Patelin de Tablas labels incorporate fruit sourced from some of Paso Robles’ top vineyards planted with cuttings from the Tablas Creek nursery. Made the same way as their estate wines, using native yeast fermentations and careful blending, they combine value and fine quality. It’s what I like to call “Tuesday night” wines—wines that don’t require a lot of swirling and sniffing, and that are meant to be enjoyed without fuss. Beyond these, depending on what the vintage provides, some limited-release, small-production blends and varietal wines become available at the winery only, or for Tablas Creek wine club members.

It’s a pearl of a year for Tablas Creek Vineyard. Not only is it their 30th anniversary, but they’ve been selected by the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta as Honorary Winery of the Year. Jason Haas, as his father did years ago, will conduct a seminar in Santa Fe on Sept. 26, pouring four 2017 varietal wines from Tablas Creek, and share a five-vintage vertical from both Tablas Creek (Esprit de Tablas) and from sister winery Château de Beaucastel (Esprit de Beaucastel). That same night, he’ll present six Tablas Creek wines during a reception and four-course meal prepared by Chef Allison Jenkins at Santa Fe’s Arroyo Vino. “The wines walk a perfect balance between the new and old worlds,” says Brian Bargsten, managing partner of Arroyo Vino Restaurant and Wine Shop. “I’ve been to the winery twice, and I’ve great respect for their innovations in creating Rhône blends of balance, restraint and approachability, made with minimal intervention. Their wines are hands-off,” he emphasizes, “essentially, natural wines.”

While Tablas Creek has been certified organic since 2003, they received biodynamic certification from Demeter USA® in 2017. This is the international farming community’s highest level of sustainable classification. Along with organic practices, it requires a holistic approach to creating a biodiverse, healthy vineyard. The goal is to create a system that has minimal dependence on imported materials, meaning the vineyard provides for all its needs from the property itself, where the waste of one part of the vineyard becomes the energy for another. Methods include composting, natural pest controls, beehives, dozens of owl boxes around the vineyards, and native vegetation to attract insects and predators. “We keep a flock of 150 or more sheep and alpacas to weed and fertilize the vineyard,” Jason Haas says. “I’m pretty sure we’re the only winery who employs a full-time shepherd!”

The joint venture of the Haas and Perrin families was not a fait accompli. In a moving memorial about his father on Blog Tablas Creek, Jason writes, “As Tablas Creek grew from an idea into a business, it encountered many of the challenges faced by any startup. We overestimated the readiness of the market for the blends we were making, and underestimated the importance of taking an active role in our own marketing. But the fundamental idea that my dad and the Perrins had was a good one, and this spot has turned out to be an extra-ordinary one in which to grow Rhône grape varieties.”

But the partnership—the families—overcame the challenges of those early years. “Near the end of my father’s life,” Jason Haas says, “he took a huge amount of pleasure in the success of Tablas Creek. We knew going into it Rhône wines will never replace the mighty Cabernet Sauvignon in popularity, but a slice of the pie would be great.”

For seminar reservations, visit santafewineandchile.org. For dinner reservations, call 505.983.2100 or visit arroyovino.com/event/20190926-tablas-creek.

Night for the Senses

(Story by Mark Johnson)

Whether this is your first time to experience the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta, or whether you’re a seasoned pro, choosing two or three of the featured wine dinners to attend out of the 35 taking place can be a daunting, if not an overwhelming decision. Do you first look through the wineries to find a couple of your ol’ favorites? Or do you decide by your preferred chefs, knowing they’ll do you right? For me, it comes down to menu and pairing, what’s in the glass and on the plate. I want to be surprised, deliciously delighted, and ultimately, supremely sated. I’ve scoured over as many of the dinners’ menus as I could get my hands on to give you the best idea of some courses that will hopefully enliven your palate…Good luck!

Sassella and Pio Cesare

Chef Cristian Pontiggia’s newest restaurant reflects many of the flavors of his hometown in Northern Italy, so it’s only fitting that he join forces with one of the greatest wineries of Piedmont, Calif. For over a century, they’ve produced some of the greatest Barbaresco and Barolos in the world. However, Chef is breaking away from his “What grows together goes together” philosophy to add a bit of a twist. I’ve always believed these Nebbiolo-based wines pair wonderfully with game—and in this case, Chef Cristian has created a course of penne pasta, boiled in a red wine of the region, along with porcini mushrooms, Parmigiano Reggiano, arugula and a sausage made of 70-percent rattlesnake and 30-percent rabbit to pair perfectly with a glass of the epic 2015 Barbaresco. This dinner is guaranteed to be one of the highlights of the entire week!

L’ Olivier and Delas Freres and Louis Roederer Champagne

In keeping with the many international flavors that make their way into the Fiesta, Chef Xavier Grenet is staying with the classic and beautiful for his dinner featuring dishes from his homeland, accompanied by one of the greatest producers in Southern France’s Rhône Valley. One of the most tried and true pairings is lamb and Syrah. Here, Chef chooses to prepare the lamb saddle, a unique and expensive cut from the loin that always displays rich and uber-savory flavors. This will be perfection alongside the dark-fruited, smoky, peppery flavors of a Syrah grown on the hills of Crozes-Hermitage.  But let’s not forget, Chef’s concluding the dinner with figs and champagne, a fitting end to a fantastic evening.

Arable and Sokol Blosser Winery

Chef Renée Fox, whose palate for great wine is as impressive as the food she cooks, has chosen one of the most elegant and old-world-style wineries in the Willamette Valley. Unlike many of these over-extracted and adulterated bottles of Pinot coming out of the central coast, Sokol Blosser shows a great understanding of the finer points of the Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris grapes. I especially love the idea of starting things off with a glass of their sparkling wine, Evolution, and a handful of sweet and salty snacks made of nuts, popcorn, brittles and crisps. But I especially can’t wait to behold her mushroom and duck ramen, which joins those gamy and earthy flavors to a beautiful glass of the 2018 Rosé of Pinot.

Market Steer Steakhouse with Stags Leap Wine Cellars

Chef Kathleen Crook, native New Mexican rancher-turned-restaurateur, is quickly becoming the most trusted person in Santa Fe to be behind the grill and prepare the perfect steak. So one of our newest restaurants has joined forces with one of Napa’s oldest and most iconic wineries, Stag’s Leap. It was winemaker (and St. John’s College alum) Warren Winiarski who put Napa Reds on the map when he won the now infamous ‘76 Paris Tasting with his Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon. This dinner will feature the current vintage of this legendary bottle, along with several other renowned bottles, including the Fay, Artemis and his Chardonnay. Chef is putting together a “nose to tail” dinner that features dishes like a smoked beef bacon, sugar snap peas, chanterelle mushrooms and truffle ricotta…need I say more?

The Anasazi Restaurant and Merry Edwards Winery

While Chef Peter O’Brien is doing what looks to be two outstanding dinners on two separate nights with both Duckhorn Vineyards (including a course featuring both of their world-famous Merlots alongside a bison filet) and Merry Edwards, it’s the latter in which Chef’s relationship and love for this winemaker really stands out. Since Merry just sold the winery to Louis Roederer, this is a last chance to taste and touch her signature wine style that put this estate on the map. The Meredith Estate Pinot Noir ’16 is paired with lamb chops for a main-course pairing, and the late-harvest Sauvignon Blanc with fruits, berries in a saffron gratin will likely steal the show.

Julia and Elk Cove Winery

If any chef in Santa Fe knows how to put on an outstanding Wine & Chile dinner, it’s Chef Tom Kerpon. He’s held almost every position within the Wine & Chile Board up to and including president, and his dinners are legendary. This is because his goal every year is “to let the food show off the wine,” an art he’s mastered. He’s also the only chef I spoke with who shares my freakish obsession with great Riesling. So, while his dinner will present plenty of umami-rich Pinot Noirs with savory meats, creamy starches and farm-fresh veggies, it’s his smoked trout with micro green salad and an Asian vinaigrette paired with a mineral-laden risqué acids Riesling that has piqued my palate and interest.

Eloisa and Michael David Winery

It comes as no surprise that Chef John Sedlar has given us the greatest quote of the year to sum up the 2019 Wine & Chile experience: “Some of the most refined palates in America will be in Santa Fe for Wine & Chile. Foods and vinos from our own Rio Grande terroir are the call of the day. Parsnips, cherries, squashes and local popcorn with Albariños, Sancerres, Roses and Merlots…..” Dishes like creamy parsnip puree, heirloom baby carrots, bing cherry jus and pan-seared white sea bass with tangerine and risotto paired with a glass of Chardonnay help put it all into context.

TerraCotta Wine Bistro and Hahn Family Wines

This year, Chef Catherine O’Brien has chosen to pair, both literally and figuratively, with arguably Monterey’s most noted winery. With Hahn’s extensive portfolio, they can choose from the best of bottlings. It would be hard to miss the mark with either the Lucienne Pinot Noir from the Smith or the Lone Oak Vineyards, but here, Chef hits a bull’s-eye. You have an opportunity to try both side by side, along with smoked Idaho trout, crispy pork belly salad with Santa Fe Farmers’ Market autumn vegetables and pomegranate-blueberry vinaigrette.

Joseph’s of Santa Fe and North Berkeley Imports

Chef Joseph Wrede and his somm, Starr Bowers, truly had the right idea this year. Rather than focusing on a single winery and working hard to create pairings to a few wines they produce, Wrede and Bowers have opted instead to join forces with an import company that specializes in bringing in handcrafted bottles from smaller, more prestigious wineries all around Europe. Chef’s focus with his dinner is on the more unique and thought-provoking wines of Northern Italy, or as he puts it, “courses that are both like mama and a sexy lady at the same time.” Take for instance the pairing of classic, old-school, done-right rabbit lasagna just like mama would make with an elegant feminine Fratelli Alessandria Barolo with a bouquet and legs that go on for days.

Izanami’s sake versus Greek wine throwdown

For the fourth year in a row, the Japanese izakaya up the mountain is holding the most competitive tasting of the year. And while Chef Kiko Rodriguez was still working on his menu as of this writing, the courses are making their way into the ring. In one corner, coming in from the Mediterranean, is the contender, the wines of Greece. With grape names like Assyrtiko and Agiorgitiko, each wine will be carefully selected by Master Sommelier Jesse Becker (to my knowledge the only MS working a dinner this year). In the opposite corner is the reigning champion from Japan—sake. This year will include sakes from Kodama Brewing Co. with brewer Eiko Kodama herself in attendance. May the best beverage win.

Compound Restaurant with Reserve Soirée

Finally, on the Friday night before the grand tasting at the Santa Fe Opera, Chef Mark Kiffin and his intrepid sommelier, Kristina Hayden Bustamante, open several of the guest wineries’ greatest bottlings. With passed hors d’oeuvres and plated food stations, you get the opportunity to taste several highly sought-after wines and pair them to whatever you care for—Sauvignon Blanc and steak? Just go for it. And if you’re wined out at this point, they’ll even bring you a cocktail to relax with. Featuring live entertainment and cocktail attire, this event will definitely sell out if it hasn’t already.

Visit santafewineandchile.org/calendar/winery-dinners.

New Mexico Wine Country

(Story by Chris Goblet/Photographs by Paige Allsup and Chelsea Canon)

On a recent trip to the West Coast, I asked a sommelier at dinner if he could name New Mexico’s three American Viticultural Areas (commonly referred to as AVAs). His response was in the form of another question, “New Mexico has three AVAs?” Indeed, this little known wine fact would likely stump most Masters of Wine, but it makes for an excellent foundation for our wine tours and empowers you with a bit of wine trivia to impress your friends with.

AVA is the stateside equivalent of the European Appellation of Origin—both define a grape-growing region by geography, climate, soil conditions, history and other characteristics. Only those wines that are grown, produced and bottled inside the defined AVA boundaries are allowed to use this designation on their bottles—it’s sort of like bragging rights that a wine is guaranteed local in origin.

In last month’s issue, we began our tour of New Mexico’s wine regions by focusing on the Mesilla Valley AVA which was established in 1985 and covers 280,000 acres from El Paso to Las Cruces. This month, we focus on the Mimbres Valley AVA, the largest in size at 686,000 acres, centered around Deming and Silver City. The largest and oldest vineyards are located in this region, and grapes grown in the Mimbres Valley are used by wineries throughout the state.

Ask any resident of Lordsburg where you can find the local vineyard and you’ll likely get a quizzical look. It’s not visible from town or Interstate 10, but New Mexico’s largest vineyard, at more than 200 acres, is planted on the border of Hidalgo and Luna counties under the watchful eye of Hervé Lescombes and his two sons, Florent and Emmanuel. The vineyard is composed of two dozen varietals including those used in their limited-release Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Mourvedre, all are worth seeking out and enjoying this summer.

The best way to experience the Lordsburg vineyard, and likely meet its founder, Hervé Lescombe, is by signing up for their vineyard tour from the D.H. Lescombes Winery & Bistro in Las Cruces. A personalized tour ranges can last several hours and includes a visit to the vineyard in Lordsburg, the St. Clair Winery in Deming and a tasting with staff back in Las Cruces. If you’re lucky, Hervé will invite you inside his idiosyncratic hand-built home and make lunch for you and the other guests as he tells old stories of his winery in Burgundy or his home country of Algeria.

The next largest vineyard in New Mexico is owned and operated by Paolo D’Andrea and his family. Paolo arrived in New Mexico in the early ’80s to help plant the original Gruet Winery vineyard near Truth or Consequences. In the 1990s, Paolo oversaw the planting of more than 300 acres of noble grapes that include Chardonnay, Cabernet, Merlot and Malbec. But the real treat at Luna Rossa Winery is the spectacular array of Italian vinifera grown in their vineyard. There are so many different grape varieties, some you may be familiar with and others you may not know how to pronounce, like Ribolla Gialla and Aglianico (Ree-BOHL-lah JAHL-lah and ah-L’YEE’AH-nee-koh, respectively).

One of my favorite bottles in New Mexico is called Nini, after Paolo’s grandmother, which features Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Barbara, Sangiovese, Refosco, Montepulciano and Aglianico, and is aged 58 months in oak. For a mere $23, it’s one of the most affordable barrel-aged wines around. Another award-winning wine from Luna Rossa is their Negro Amaro, which is a grape almost exclusively grown in Apulia, the boot heel of Italy, but which also thrives in the warm Deming climate.

Paolo has started to turn over some of the winemaking responsibilities to his son Marco, who recently returned from wine academy in the Friuli area of Italy. Marco is in the process of producing a new sparkling wine made in the Prosecco style from Ribolla Gialla, a rare white grape from the Friuli region. Once released this summer, it will be the only Ribolla Gialla sparkling in America, another premier for the U.S. wine industry that New Mexico can brag about.

When planning your road trip through the Mimbres Valley AVA, the best place to overnight and grab a delicious meal will be the artsy-funky mountain town of Silver City. Historic hotels, like the Murray Hotel and Palace Hotel, offer excellent access to the main-street district, which is filled with restaurants, old theatres and galleries. When it’s time to sit down for a meal, I recommend the lively farm-to-fork restaurant Revel, or for more traditional eats, visit Diane’s Restaurant up the street. And I always make a point of visiting the Little Toad Creek Brewery & Distillery to wrap up the evening and catch up with owners Teresa Dahl-Bredine and David Crosley.

New Mexico is blessed with so many beautiful peaks and valleys, it’s hard to pick a favorite or visit them all, but I highly recommend making the trip to the bucolic Mimbres Valley and stopping by La Esperanza Vineyard and Winery to meet proprietors David and Esperanza Gurule. The vineyard is tucked into rolling golden hills on their 600-acre ranch, which has been in the family since 1906. The winery is open every weekend, or mid-week by appointment, and no matter when you visit, be sure to spend some time sitting on the porch admiring Esperanza’s gardens or listening to one of David’s stories. And bringing your own picnic from town is not out of the question.

If you’re looking for a reason to make your own southern New Mexico road trip come to reality this month, you’re in luck. The second annual Silver City Wine Festival takes place July 13-14 at Gough Park, one of Silver City’s many community parks. A dozen wineries from around the state, including all three mentioned in this article, will pour their wines as they enjoy live music from the gazebo. Festival tickets are $15 in advance, $25 at the gate, and can be purchased by visiting nmwine.com. This annual event is low-key, never over-crowded, and there’s plenty of space to lay out a blanket in the grass and enjoy the refreshing mountain air with a glass of Gruet bubbles or one of the many reds and whites on hand.

And if you can’t make it out of town this month, but still want to try all the wines listed in this article, you can join us here in Santa Fe at El Rancho de las Golondrinas, July 6-7, for the Santa Fe Wine Festival.

Cheers!

Voilà! Hervé Wine Bar

(Story by James Selby / Photographs by Ramsay de Give)

You know that excitement when you discover a rather wonderful place heretofore unseen, unknown, bypassed on the corner, down a narrow side street, up a flight of stairs? One day, there it is; there you are. Serendipity is what it is.

Voilà! Hervé Wine Bar is one of those happy finds residing a block west of Santa Fe’s heart, The Plaza. Set back from San Francisco Street, through open gates of filigreed wrought iron, at the end of a long bricked walkway lined with wine barrels, it’s quite unlike anything else in Santa Fe.

Hervé Lescombes, a scion of a French multi-generational family of winemakers from Burgundy and Algiers, made his way to southern New Mexico and put down roots—and vines—in 1981. Three years later, the first vintage was bottled. Today, the St. Clair Winery in Deming has 180 acres of vineyards in the Mimbres Valley, one of only three officially designated American Viticultural Areas in New Mexico. At 4,500 feet, the high-elevation vineyards have a significant impact on the ripening process. It’s called diurnal variation. The heat of the day promotes sugar accumulation in grapes, while the cooler nighttime temperatures preserve desirable acidity, producing wines of balance and complexity. While the family produces multiple labels, their best grapes are used for D.H. Lescombes wines.

The Santa Fe project is unique for the family. Rather than using the St. Clair Winery name as do the other bistros and retail stores in Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Farmington, this had to be special. It was to honor their father, Hervé, 75, and celebrate a legacy. The Lescombes group remodeled the fallow space of what had been, over the last few years, incarnations of late night bar and music venues Milagro and Skylight, reopening with little fanfare as Hervé Wine Bar in May of 2018. Through the large carved doors, you’ll find a wood and stone tasting room as handsome as any along Napa Valley’s Silverado Trail. Stand and sample the long suit of still, sparkling and fortified wines at the copper-covered tasting bar and browse myriad retail offerings of New Mexican artisan specialty food items.

Move into the adjacent atrium “Garden Room.” Tall windowed walls define the restaurant from a warren of offices and galleries. Amid a profusion of plants, settle into leather sofas for a flight of wine, perch at a highboy for live music on a weekend, take a stool at the bar for local ales, or have a leisurely meal at a table, with a bottle of wine. A second story balcony lined with café tables overlooking the dining area is available for private events.  Look up through the lofty two-story glass and iron skylight into blue sky or moonlight and imagine yourself in the train station of a small European city, awaiting departure, a rendezvous or a stolen moment of anonymity.

While the Lescombes family isn’t defined by job titles, Hervé, who still spends time in the vineyard, has turned the day-to-day business over to his two sons. Emmanuel, 51, is the viticulturist whose watch is the cultivation of the vineyards and the harvest of grapes, while his younger brother, Florent, manages the winery operations. At a recent event in Santa Fe to launch their 2014 D.H. Lescombes Limited Release Petite Sirah and raise money for The Food Depot, Florent, 48, tall and lean, spoke with­­—what else?—a charming French accent. “My father wanted to be an artist in Paris, but with a young family, you know, he began to work in the wine business in Burgundy,” Florent said. “Still, he had the desire to create something unique. But, in Burgundy, you are restricted by rules and history so he explored. Deming and Lordsburg were along the way.”

In a banquet room off the balcony where guests sipped the Petite Sirah, inky and structured, and nibbled fine cheeses, Florent nodded toward the atrium. “It’s special when we produce something like this,” he said.  “We opened here because we aren’t known in Santa Fe. We want people to experience who we are. This isn’t just a wine bar. People don’t have to come here to drink. They may come for a coffee, meet friends before going next door to The Lensic, or just relax from shopping.”

Part of the experience—the serendipity—of Hervé Wine Bar is due to Marilyn Litton, general manager. Born and raised in Shreveport, LA, she’s a charismatic, natural host with her own version of a charming Southern accent. Marilyn brings courtesy, hospitality and humor, as well as considerable culinary and business savvy to the job. Florent describes it as, “Her touch.”

“After I graduated from high school,” Marilyn says, “I worked in a small café to get the feel and learned to make the perfect cheesecake.  Let me tell you, that ain’t easy! I got the wander bug and moved to California, until a friend offered me work in New York City. I packed my stuff and took off. That’s what you do when you’re young.” When her father became ill, she returned to Louisiana to look after him. As life allowed a few years later, she enrolled at Scottsdale Culinary Institute in Arizona. “It was a wonderful school, with excellent teachers who put the fear of God in you. I did my due diligence,” she says, “and after graduating, I was hired as an instructor.

“But I always traveled to Santa Fe whenever possible. To me, it was California meets the Wild West, laid back, great art scene and so beautiful. When a headhunter suggested a job at a hotel here, I jumped,” Marilyn says. Happy years were spent at the Inn and Spa at Loretto, followed by a successful stint with the Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort in Phoenix, Ariz.  Recently, having returned to Santa Fe, she spied an ad for a general manager at a new wine bar, met with the director of bistro operations for St. Clair, and was offered the job. “The family and staff were so thoughtful,” she says—and after a pause, adds, “Not something you find with corporations.”

As the remodeling began, sleeves were rolled, and myriad decisions were made collectively. “We all did tastings, thorough pairings with wine and food to get it right. When you’re new, you have no luxury to make mistakes,” she says. “We don’t serve New Mexican food, but we honor New Mexico in our own way.”  Marilyn explains, “I started researching the little guys; purveyors who needed a voice. There’s many chocolatiers, but finding one that also wholesaled was challenging. The Art of Chocolate here in Santa Fe speaks to what we do. I don’t want stuff everyone has.”  Marilyn sourced gelato from The Chocolate Cartel and bread from M’Tucci’s, both in Albuquerque. Her goat cheese comes from The Old Windmill Dairy in Estancia. “There are Southwestern influences, but our food is Mediterranean-influenced. It’s food to pair with wines,” she says.

You’ll find well-priced small plates of olives, hummus, Serrano ham, bacon wrapped dates, an array of bruschettas, soup, full-sized salads such as Niçoise and Cobb, and a selection of focaccia panini. Individually, these dishes serve as a light repast for one or to share, but in combination, any two make a filling meal. Marilyn’s culinary training comes out when she speaks of cooking with wine. “Wine doesn’t always impart flavor” she says, “but I use our Chenin Blanc in the shrimp and chorizo, and its essence jumps into that dish.” The simple pan sauce of wine, butter and parsley, along with large, sweet shrimp and piquant sausage is a pretty pair with the honeysuckle, orange zest and nutmeg notes of D.H. Lescombes Chenin Blanc. Flights are available in sets of three or four wines. Taste side by side a rosé of Syrah, redolent of fresh strawberries, a dry, citrusy Sémillon and a sassy Prosecco-styled sparkling. Pair the flight with a lime-scented Ahi tuna tartare and avocado, and vote for a winner.

Florent is correct to say their wines are not well known in certain circles. It’s a shame, and hopefully this will change now that we know what’s down the brick passageway off of San Francisco Street. You’re invited. Hervé and family await your respondez sil vous plaît.

Hervé Wine Bar is located at 139 W. San Francisco St. in Santa Fe, 505.795.7075, stclairwinery.com/santa-fe-herve.

David Ramey 2018 Wine & Chile Honoree

DavidRamey1(Story by Greg O’Byrne)

Where do you go next when your first winery job out the gate in 1979 is working at the iconic Château Pétrus winery in Pomerol, Bordeaux? Well, if you’re David Ramey, you go on to pioneer Chardonnay winemaking techniques in California at Simi, Matanzas Creek and Chalk Hill wineries in the 1980s, then take over as vice president of winemaking at the legendary Cabernet producer Dominus Estate in Napa Valley in 1996, and finally, in 1998 you start your own winery, Ramey Wine Cellars. And you focus on cool-climate, lushly textured Sonoma Coast Chardonnay and long-lived, detail-focused Napa Cabernets. Or at least, this is what you’d do if you were David Ramey.

Born in Seattle, Wash., in 1951, David, who now stands over 6-feet-tall, looks the part of the California laid-back farmer, casually dressed and sporting silver-white hair and a boyish smile. And he is just that, but David is also one of North America’s trailblazers—a man who, decades ago, innovated winemaking techniques in California that are common practice today. Over the past 40 years, David’s become what he humbly calls an American success story, referring to his Ramey Wine Cellars, which he founded alongside his wife Carla.

After 16 years of winemaking in Sonoma County for Matanzas Creek and Chalk Hill (and firmly establishing those wineries in the market), David spent the next six years in Napa as the winemaker at Dominus Estate and then at Girard Winery, where he helped Leslie Rudd establish Rudd Oakville Estate. One of California’s most respected winemakers, over the decades David’s helped pioneer and shape the way many wines are made today in North America, including malolactic fermentation of Chardonnay, whole-cluster pressing, the use of oxidized juice in white wine, native yeast fermentation, sur lie aging of white wine in barrel, elimination of acidification in red wine, and bottling without filtration.

While rightfully known and respected for their stunningly complex five single–vineyard Sonoma Chardonnays and two Sonoma appellation Chardonnays, Ramey Wine Cellars’ portfolio also includes three powerfully structured Napa Valley Cabernets, three Sonoma Syrahs and a new Russian River Pinot Noir.

On the morning of Sept. 27, more than 70 lucky Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta guests will meet David at his wine seminar to taste four of his single-vineyard Chardonnays from the 2015 vintage—Rochioli Vineyard, Westside Farms, Hyde Vineyard and Ritchie Vineyard—and then taste a rare set of library wines featuring four exceptional vintages of Ramey Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay: 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2013.

With his wife Carla, David will also pour their Ramey Wine Cellars wines at the SFWC Fiesta Reserve Tasting on Sept. 28. And guest chefs Dean Fearing, John Tesar, Mark Kiffin and Michael Ginor will each serve a course paired with a different Ramey wine at the Guest Chefs Luncheon and Auction, where David Ramey is honored as the SFWCF honoree of the year. The auction during the luncheon will be highlighted by an auction lot of nine magnums of Ramey Cabernet Sauvignon.

In anticipation of David Ramey’s visit to Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta this month, Local Flavor caught up with the winemaker at his Westside Farms Estate, where he has plans to build a new winery facility.GrapevinePlatt-10b

Local Flavor: You studied science at the University of California, Santa Cruz in the early ’70s, so how did you get into wine?

David Ramey: I hated science and was no good at calculus so I studied American literature instead and along the way learned to love wine. Then after graduating, I was driving through the Mexican desert and had an epiphany that winemaking had the same aesthetic appeal for me as literature, so I went back to [the University of California,] Davis for a Masters degree in Enology.

LF: What a great time to be at U.C. Davis.

DR: Yes, there were a lot of liberal retreads at U.C. Davis back then—Cathy Corison, John Kongsgaard to name a couple.

LF: Your first winery job after graduating U.C. Davis in 1979 was working at Christian Moueix’ iconic Petrus winery in Pomerol. What did you learn about making red wine from winemaker Jean-Claude Berrouet, and how does this translate into your Ramey Napa Cabernets?

DR: Well, nobody really works at Ch. Petrus—you work for Ets. Jean-Pierre Moueix, which is a rather large firm based in Libourne, in Pomerol.  I most definitely learned the classic Bordeaux way of making wine, which applies equally to all the Bordelaise varieties, whether Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc or Petit Verdot. It was my first exposure to native yeasts, and to not acidifying red ferments, which was all the rage in California, as was egg-white fining. We make wine the same way today, with minor modifications.

LF: Was there a similar learning experience making Cabernet for Christian Moueix at his Dominus Estate winery in Napa?

DR: A continuation of the same—and what a pleasure to be able to continue working with Jean-Claude, one of the great gentlemen of the wine world.

LF: What are some of your favorite Bordeaux producers?

DR: Moueix, of course; Lynch-Bages and Pichon Baron, which I believe are still owned by the Cazes family; [Chateau] Haut-Brion, though I can’t afford it any more.

LF: Favorite Napa Cabernet producers?

DR: Chappellet; Duckhorn [Vineyards]; Mondavi; Spottswoode [Winery]; Shafer [Vineyards]; Rudd [Oakville Estate]; Dominus—classic producers that don’t yet cost an arm and a leg.

LF: In the early ’80s when you started making Chardonnay at Simi Winery for Zelma Long, were today’s common practices of malolactic fermentation and ageing white wine on the lees in barrel techniques unfamiliar to most California winemakers?

DR: You bet!

LF: How does whole-cluster pressing and native yeast fermentation show up as flavors and characteristics in your Sonoma Chardonnays?

DR: Whole cluster pressing, which I developed in California, came from a goal of minimizing grape tannins in the juice, so the wine would be more delicate, less ponderous. Native yeast fermentation gives a slightly more complex aroma, slightly lower tannins, due to a longer fermentation—effectively yeast fining—and better integration of oak compounds, as does native bacteria for malolactic fermentation.

LF: The cool climate of the Sonoma Coast is obviously part of a great terroir for your Chardonnays. Do you have other favorite Sonoma Chardonnay producers?

DR: HdV [Hyde de Villaine] from the Hydes, who are arriving shortly for our annual tasting and lunch; Rochioli [Vineyards and Winery]; Gary Farrell [Vineyards and Winery]; Dutton-Goldfield; Morgan [Winery]; Au Bon Climat.

LF: Favorite Burgundy producers?

DR: My trainee from Chalk Hill in 1993, Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey; [Domaine] Roulot; [Maison Joseph] Drouhin; I don’t buy as much Burgundy as I used to.

LF: Wow, Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, he worked for you at Chalk Hill! His white Burgundies are so in demand today, and must-buys for many sommeliers. Like you in Sonoma, he is a qualitative leader in Burgundy.

DR: Great wines that express their place.

LF: What do you think of the current fashion of the matchstick aroma in Chardonnay developed from slightly reduced élevage in barrel?

DR: Great question! It’s an artifact of the cellar, just like Brett, VA, aldehyde or any other sulfide. The matchstick character is a disulfide which can be created by putting juice into a sulfured barrel or fermenting on heavier grape solids. I don’t mind a little bit, but it shouldn’t dominate—it’s not terroir, it’s a winemaking overlay. They’re just backing off from an infatuation with this in Australia. One doesn’t make Burgundy elsewhere by introducing reductive notes.

LF: I understand you are fond of Tuscan wines? I enjoy a lot of Chianti Classico and Brunello. You?

DR: As to Tuscan wines, I’ve pretty much migrated to Brunello—must be something about Sangiovese Grosso. I particularly have little patience for “super Tuscans.” During our visit there, the Cabernets and Merlots couldn’t match the native Sangiovese for complexity and texture.

LF: What does a typical night around the dinner table at home with your wife Carla look like in terms of what wines are being opened?

DR: Dinners and lunches at chez Ramey feature a large variety of wines—among whites, Assyrtiko, Fiano, Kerner, Vermentino, Verdicchio, Gewurztraminer from Alsace and Navarro—and Carla’s favorite, Chardonnay, unsurprisingly, often Ramey.  She doesn’t appreciate Brunello the way I do, so if I’m working on a bottle of that, we might open a bottle of Syrah, Cabernet or Pinot for her. Not that I don’t drink those, too!

LF: Are you excited about your children, Claire and Alan, working with you and the winery now?

DR: A dream come true! But there was never any pressure.

LF: What does the future of Ramey Wine Cellars look like?

DR: Well, we hope to get our winery built at Westside Farms in the not too distant future, but the permitting process is arduous.

LF: When was the last time you were in Santa Fe?

DR: June, 2016.

LF: Do you have favorite restaurants in Santa Fe?

DR: Definitely! 315 Restaurant & Wine Bar is my favorite go-to hangout; Arroyo Vino [Restaurant and Wine Shop], because Brian hosted us for a great wine dinner there; The Compound; Geronimo—Shaun [the sommelier] visited us here in June; and La Casa Sena. Plus, I’m sure we’ll discover more this trip!

LF: What are you looking forward to during Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta as this year’s honorary winery?

DR: Chiles and Chardonnay, of course! Perhaps not the best match, but we’ll figure out a work-around…

LF: I understand you are fond of hiking?

DR: That’s Carla’s and my exercise and mental floss regime.

LF: Any 14ers in your near future?

DR: Not at my age!

LF: What does your desert-island meal look like?

DR: First course, smoked salmon and avocado with toasted sesame oil and Chardonnay; second, small portion of bucatini Bolognese with Brunello; main, cassoulet with Gigondas; then, d’Affinois cheese with Alsatian Gewurztraminer.