Monday, June 29, 2009

Vellum Wine on Track!

This past week Jeff and I decided on a departure from the quiet wine country setting to reach an entirely different audience that may not know we even exist...Hmm...How about... Vellum Wine goes racing!

There are many ways draw attention to a wine: having old cellars, stacks of barrels, vineyard dogs or parties with only your wine being poured. In advertisements, most wineries opt for the tried and true picture of an expansive vineyard with someone in the center holding a glass of wine as the sun sets behind them. You see it all too often... so we thought that it's time for a change of scenery.

What brilliant luck!!! Through an unlikely turn of events, it just so happened that the SCCA GT2 racecar team of John Shine and John Pecora graciously afforded us a decal space on their car. What a windfall- I certainly did not see this coming! On June 21st, for the first time, the GT2 sportscar burned up the track at the Laguna Seca Raceway in Salinas, California.

It was a great day to be trackside with John Pecora as driver John Shine accelerated past us out of the corner. It was a real thrill to be so close to the action. I felt the heat, the noise and energy of the cars come at us.

If any of you have never seen sports car racing before... Please go. These are not the same cars that drive flat out in an oval for hours... and the events are not televised. This is real nuts-and-bolts racing!

I will be back again - I'm hooked - and I am still not used seeing our logo zoom past me at speeds I may never see in my lifetime... Or maybe I will? I should probably check with my insurance agent first! :) My thanks again to John Pecora and John Shine. I hope you win the series this year! I also want to thank cinematographer Alexander Kieselstein- without his expertise behind the lens all of these pictures would be a fuzzy blur!

- Karl Lehmann

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

2008 VELLUM Blending Session

On Saturday evening Karl and I sampled the 2008 vintage and experimented with blends of our different wine lots.

Vellum's fruit is sourced from 3 world-class vineyards in Napa County, mostly from the part of Napa Valley called Coombsville.

We started the evening with a sample of what we call BDX. This is a blend that we created shortly after fermentation completed - from Petit Verdot and Merlot - our two most aromatic wine components. In glass, the BDX was an intense ruby color with a slight purple hue. The first thing I noticed about the wine was its beautiful strawberry and rhubarb aroma, brimming with freshness. Before even bringing the glass to my nose I could smell the fresh fruit flavors mixed with a strong note of sweet briar. In the mouth the wine reflected the nose, but added a strong dark cherry element. The acid (pH 3.67) was well-structured and created a great framework for the deep fruit. Sweet oak was present but subtle. And with an alcohol level of 13.9% it was well balanced and lingered in the finish.

Next we tasted Cabernet Sauvignon from our producer in the Chiles Valley AVA, a highly underrated area of Napa County. This Cabernet was deeply colored and full-bodied. In the glass it had a deep inky purple and red saturation. It carried Vellum's characteristic "espresso grounds" note very strongly, mixed with dark berries. The wine tasted phenomenal - reminding me of cherries, blackberries, cooking spices and even raspberry compote. The tannins were of a very fine grain, falling mid-palate. The acid and alcohol on this lot was very similar to our 2007 vintage - pH 3.56 and alcohol 13.91.

Finally we poured the Coombsville Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine makes up the majority of our production and is unique in its long hang time on the vine. This Cabernet Sauvignon fruit is typically harvested last in the season...sometimes into November. And yet we are able to bring it in with sugar levels far below the industry average - A GOOD THING! The wine was deep red with hints of purple...smelling of cherries, dark berries and fennel. Karl and I both noticed how remarkably "wild" the wine tasted. And I think the 2007 VELLUM reflects this as well. We have a wild character in the wine that is hard to describe...yet it is intriguing and attractive when poured out of bottle. Try it for yourself and you will know what we mean. There was also a really great yeasty note - funky and complex. In the mouth the wine had lots of weight. It was succulent and mouthwatering with fine powdery tannins. The palate matched the nose and carried a lingering black cherry flavor through to a very long finish.

Overall, the 2008 vintage is developing into a very elegant wine. We expect the final 2008 Vellum Cabernet Sauvignon to be very similar to the 2007s but with a bit less alcohol and oak influence. Balance and integration are paramount to us - and we will continue to shape the 2008 vintage in a way that reflects those ideals.

Now back out to the vineyards for the upcoming 2009s!

- Jeff Mathy

Friday, June 5, 2009

Wine Style

A few times a month Jeff and I try about thirty wines from around the world with a close circle of wine professionals. We are there to examine wines for what they are regardless of their quality and trueness to type or region.

Usually ten to twelve lesser known wines are selected blindly and placed in order to follow one another as a logical progression to prepare one's palate - whites, light reds, dark reds ,off dry and others (e.g.- Retsina...look it up!).

Despite what we think, this order is not absolute. In fact, many times we get it wrong! Where we think a wine should place, more often than not the order should be switched.

Recently, a small production Pinot Noir we had in the last tasting from Central Otago, New Zealand had more depth and character than both the following Chilean Cabernet or the Tannat from Uruguay. To me this was a surprise. I expected bolder flavors and body at least from the former but that did not happen.

The Pinot we consumed had the tannin, structure and the lingering finish. This is not the image we have of this variety. At least in Californina we think Pinot Noir is a light bodied, translucent red full of black cherry and gamey flavors. Our perception seems skewed not only by the domestic market but by what the we think the "New World" style should be.

I believe it is correct thinking to admit that we are in need of a change on how we view wine style and what we expect for our dollar. Some wines are poorly made or subject to adverse growing conditions and it shows in their composition as well as their value. This can be easily remedied in the hands of a creative winemaker who can make more with less and add a refreshing signature that can leave us guessing.

However, our current wine industry has been globalizing in recent years to bring about a homogeneity of "New World" style which is not only economical to produce but it enables wineries to neatly type cast any variety.

This past week has been a valuable lesson to me. Wine does not require a fixed image for us to enjoy it. So, I would encourage everyone who has even a remote interest in wine not to fall prey to mass market trappings. Go off the beaten path to discover unknown producers. Smaller is not better but it is a good place to start. Research who you are dealing with if you can. It has been my experience with hundreds of producers that good people generally make good wine and the opposite has also held true. Finally, challenge your mind, your nose and palate on what a grape variety should be. You may pleasantly deceive yourself (as I have) and understand that with wine - - style is everything.

- Karl Lehmann

Monday, June 1, 2009

My Marsupial Encounter...

Well... Not much of an encounter... Actually it was a Kangaroo steak that ended up on a plate in front of me! It was my first taste of this "pesky critter" (as I am told) and I did quite enjoy it.

It was lightly seasoned, pan fried on the rare side in a Porcini reduction and served with new potatoes and green beans. As I was eating it I did wonder why don't male Kangaroos have pouches?...They have stuff to carry too!

Alright...not my joke but I must say that I did expect a "gamey" flavor from it, however there was none of that - it had a slight tender beef character. I enjoyed it with a pairing of The Willows Vineyard 2004 Bonesetter Shiraz. This wine was extraordinarily silky in texture with a fine forward tannin composition and clean. There was also a very present blackberry note on the nose which carried on to the palate. This was the hook for me that provided a surprisingly good match for the Kangaroo steak and the subtle Porcini mushrooms.

I do hope to revisit this certainly uncommon meal in the future. Many thanks to my hosts Samantha and Alex for a great evening and for the rare Barossa selections they laboriously lugged from half a world away. Perhaps you can get back to see the parents again in Australia very soon! ;)

- Karl Lehmann