Taste of Howell Mountain: Plan Now for this June Event!

Tickets are now on sale for the Taste of Howell Mountain, which is a fun event for a great cause on Howell Mountain in Napa Valley. The Taste of Howell Mountain is a great opportunity to experience many Howell Mountain wines and all for a great cause — to raise money for the Howell Mountain Elementary School. Tickets will go fast, so don’t hesitate if you’re interested or looking for a good reason to visit Napa Valley on the weekend of June 18th!

Here’s my post about last year’s event to give you a sense of the fun you’ll be in for if you attend.


Winemaker Helen Keplinger: One to Follow

People will tell you that much of winemaking takes place in the vineyard. They say that 80% of what goes into a wine’s quality is produced in how that vine is grown and nurtured. I buy that in many ways. That leaves at least 20% to the skills, abilities and palate of the winemaker. That 20% really matters. Helen Keplinger is one winemaker to follow – no matter where she is or what grapes she is working with, her wine is of remarkable quality. (See this recent post called California Women of the Rhone, which highlights Helen and three other winemakers who focus on Rhone varietals.)

I first tasted one of Helen’s early wines back in 2008. The bottle was a full throttle Grenache named Red Slope. The vintage was 2006, and I remember it well. Rich, fleshy and deep fruit flavors. I immediately went back to buy more and immediately joined the Keplinger mailing list. I have been buying her wine ever since and watching as her career and reputation have taken off. She has worked with many of the best in Napa Valley and been the winemaker for several different labels.

The focus for her winemaking, though, is Rhone Varietals (notably, syrah, grenache, and mourvedre). As she states, Rhones are the “wines she and her husband DJ reach for most often.” They are food-friendly and, in my opinion, lovely to quaff by themselves. Helen sources her grapes from many different areas in Northern California, such as Sonoma and Amador County. They are then transformed by her deft hand.

In addition to her Keplinger wines, she makes a red wine under the name of Vermillion. I just opened the most recent vintage of this wine and quite frankly was wowed. It is a 2014 – very young – yet very approachable. It has bright red fruit; it’s plush on the mid palate; and it has a long finish. This wine is a blend, of course, of Rhone varietals. This all for only $35 a bottle! This is a real value and something I would highly recommend. At the current time, since it is a small production, the only way to obtain the wine is by signing up at the Vermillion website. This would afford access to the Vermillion offering each spring.





Spelletich Family Winery: A Tasting with the Winemaker

Wine tasting, in and of itself, is a wonderful experience. Exploring the aromas, sorting through the flavors, the weight of the wine, and, oh yes, the finish. How long does it linger? Does the wine call you back for more? That alone is a pleasure.

What about having a thoughtful, established, well-educated, experienced winemaker to taste through the wines with, as well? What about that opportunity? That is a very cool scenario. That is just what it is to taste wine at Spelletich Family Winery.

This is a small, family-owned winery that has been in business since 1994 in the Napa Valley. Just recently, they opened a tasting room in an industrial setting just north of the Meritage Hotel in the southern part of the Valley. It is situated in what has become known as the “Crusher Wine District.” Many fine wine, boutique wineries are located in the area. While in an industrial setting, the tasting room is welcoming and comfortable.

Barb Spelletich is the winemaker and co-owner. She also hosts the tasting experience with guests. And I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Two big reasons – the information/education and, of course, the wine. Barb lets you enjoy the wine and provides great background about the evolution and the blending of the wine. For her, winemaking is akin to the artistry of a chef. It is about balancing flavors and aromas to produce a great product that then translates into a pleasurable experience for the individual. While there is great art in both, she  also fully appreciates the science of her craft. The opportunity is here to have a great educational experience with a winemaker and sip well-crafted wine.

On our visit, I was really impressed with the first wine, which was a 2011 Chardonnay that had not been through malolactic fermentation. Really – this was a five-year-old Chardonnay that tasted fruity and fresh. We then sipped a 2013 Pinot Noir that was a wonderful expression of the varietal. My favorite from the morning, though, was the 2010 Estate Cabernet. It was well-balanced, dark black fruit that lingered on the palate. It paired beautifully with my steak at dinner that night. The combination of the cabernet and a steak was a must have after tasting the cabernet earlier that day,

This was a really educational, informative visit at Spelletich. You do not often get the chance to taste through wines with the individual who crafted them. I really encourage you to take the opportunity to schedule a tasting when you are in the Valley. A great opportunity to be educated and enjoy the wine experience.