Wine & Travel

Snooth User: Richard Foxall

Good deeds, good wine, good people--cysurvivor makes it to H'burg

Posted by Richard Foxall, Jan 17, 2016.

One of our charming new posters, cysurvivor, was fishing for recommendations here for a visit over MLK weekend.  Since we're all pretty free with our half-baked ideas and opinions, we had plenty of ideas for him, didn't we?  Since Mauritson kept showing up on the list, it looked like it would make the final cut, so I went on private messaging and offered to help arrange something using my wine club privileges.  We settled on Friday afternoon, January 15.  After a brief morning court appearance that morning, I headed out to Dry Creek Valley. The rain stopped, and it looked like it was going to be a very good day.  Sometimes the omens are just right.

Traffic was light and both the Cys and I were going to arrive early, even though he had committed to stopping at In'n'Out burgers to satiate his wife's craving.  In'n'Out is apparently still not in NYC, where the Cys reside.  Since we were on for 2:30 and going to make it there 45 minutes early, Mr. Cy wanted to stop at Ridge first.  As he said, he might not get another chance--especially since the winery would be participating in the frenzy that is Winter Wineland this weekend.  I had pulled over on Dry Creek Road to check my phone and caught the message in time, so I took a right and bombed up the hill to Ridge on Lytton Springs.  I walked in and Mr. and Mrs. Cy were standing at the tasting bar; since we never sent photos, I told them I was wearing a Captain America hoodie to make it easy.  As I walked in, they smiled and waved.  The tasting bar pourer looked at me and said, "You look familiar."  I mentioned I am up there a lot, had been to Ridge within the last year, and he asked if I wanted to taste something.  I said, "Well, I tasted through the current vintage of Zins last time I was here, but I wouldn't say no to a taste of Monte Bello."  No sooner said than done.  Pretty nice pour--I didn't see measurer on the end of the bottle and had to tell him "enough."  The Cys were tasting the Pagani Ranch Zin.  We chatted for a while, the pourer and I talked about land values in the area, up and coming Pinot makers (he used to make Pinot for deLoach), and other wine topics.  The Cys got a pour of Monte Bello, I got a refill, they bought two bottles each of the Pagani and Kite Hill Zins, and it was time to go to Mauritson.

Getting a healthy pour of Monte Bello made me feel my good deed (as if I wasn't in it for myself) of introducing our Snooth friends to DCV had already been amply rewarded.  But the fun was just starting.  Of course, the day was already long for the Cys, since they flew out from New York, getting up at 4:30 their time (yes, that's really the middle of the night), and it was now 2:30 Pacific.  But they were looking young and strong, so off we went.

There was one legal spot in the Mauritson parking lot, so I parked backed into a row of vines on the edge of the winery's apron and left the spot for the Cys.  We headed in, and I told the tasting room staff we were there to taste with Emma Kudritzki Hall. the assistant winemaker.  We were directed back to the winery proper, a place I have been many times, but it seemed different this time.  There were four new vertical oak fermenters--they looked really new--so there's much less space than before.  The room felt cooler than usual.  Even in the Captain America sweatshirt I was shivering. Emma joined us after a few minutes, and we headed out to the receival area, where the sun was shining. She explained (among many things in her enthusiastic, rapid fire way), that they do custom crush, so they have to have the ability to take in both half-ton boxes and different ones that some growers prefer.  She explained that the 2015 harvest they used a post-destemmer sorting table that helped them eliminate the shot berries that were very prevalent in the harvest. 

We walked between the winery and the barrel warehouse as we continued talking.  There were scores of barrels outside on the ground.  Mauritson raises their wine in small lots, so nearly each barrel is unique.  A grower once told me that people who don't grow their own fruit have to talk about cooperage, but the Mauritsons grow their own fruit and obsess about cooperage.  There's a huge diversity of types of barrels as they search for the perfect mating of wine and barrel.These barrels on the ground had been brought down for topping.  There was a winery worker walking around with a hose and a keg topping barrels.  When we got inside the barrel house, we saw where the kegs came from.  Emma explained that topping has to be done with the same wine, so they keep lots of kegs on hand with amounts that can be used to top the barrels.  They do limit their crush customers' lot diversity so the barrel house doesn't become a keg house. 

Then it was back to the winery, where a table was set up with tasting glasses and the usual accoutrements--water jug, bucket for dumping and spitting, breadsticks.  I'm not so big on rituals, but I love this one!  We were joined by the new national sales manager for Mauritson,  Brittany.  While we had been walking around, we were sipping Mauritson's Sauvignon Blanc, which is a wine that other winemakers in DCV tell me they drink when they want a break from their own wines.  It's always great stuff, and very reasonable at about $21 a bottle.  Before we sat down to taste through the Rockpile reds, we sampled the current vintage (2015) from stainless steel tank.  Part of it had been fermented in one of the new vertical fermenters--this was a much richer tasting SB than they usually make.  It has just completed malo, and the buttery popcorn element is really pronounced.  Also very cloudy.  Tasting wines that are not finished is always interesting--somehow the wine converges on its end point, but if you catch it at certain points, it's very hard to see where it is going. 

We sat at the long table and started in with the reds.  First up was the 2013 Rockpile Westphall Zin.  Among Mauritson fans, this has always vied with the Cemetery for most popular of the single vineyard Zins.  I have been a Cemetery partisan, but I get why some prefer the Westphall:  It's more feminine, floral, silken, where the Cemetery is dark fruits and hidden power.  This 2013 Westphall is just off the charts.  It's all that and more.  I have always said that Rockpile Zins are more Bordeaux like, while Talty, my other favorite, is more Burgundian.  Rockpile can bring out a lot of tannin as Zin goes, and it can have the dark, structured, lush texture of a really good cab, while keeping the fruit and brambles of Zin.  But this Westphall is more delicate, while still not a shrinking violet.  Emma was a Pinot maker at McCrostie, and still makes Pinot with Clay and for a couple other projects, and she affirmed that they had treated this a little more like Pinot, bottling earlier to preserve some of its nuance.  Stunning wine.  Absolutely one of the best Zins I've had.

Next up was the Jack's Cabin.  I drink a lot of Jack's because it is ready earlier.  It trends to red fruit, but also to early development of secondary flavors.  This young wine already had a chocolate note that Emma pointed out.  In other vintages, it has been leather or smells like antique luggage. This is a very nice vintage of Jack's.

Next up was Pritchett Peaks.  This is a newer vineyard that the Mauritsons are farming for another family they have known in Dry Creek for generations.  While a good and typical Zinfandel, the 2013 repeats a fairly common theme with this wine:  It's a little flat tasting.  I'm not sure if this wine will develop more over time, or if the vines need more time.  I suspect they will improve with age, both the vines and the wines, but they haven't fared quite as well in comparison.  That's the problem with running in such fast company.

I was spitting, as was Mr. Cy, but both he and the Mrs. were looking a little faded.  Emma and I were chatting away about the different aspects of the vineyards, why Lake Sonoma made it such prime territory for growing Zinfandel, and how the family relationship affects farming decisions--Clay makes the wine from grapes his brothers farm, to oversimplify.  But the whole family makes decisions, and there's lots of opinions and history in a family that has worked the land in Sonoma County for 140 years and knows all the other farmers.  (You could pair your wines with lamb or beef from animals the family raised--Clay's father provides all the beef for Project Zin from his ranches, for one.) Our new friends had been up for too many hours to count, but they were hanging in there.

I would have propped them up and opened their jaws if I had to:  The next wine was 2013 Cemetery Zinfandel.  This has long been my favorite, as I said.  This is dark blue fruit, more brooding than the others.  No shortage of fruit or tannin in this one, but I suspect it's just a little bit dumb right now.  It had a month less rest time in bottle than the Westphall, Emma said, and that was showing a little.  At this point, I'd give the nod to the Westphall as the better wine and I don't think that's going to change.  Coming in second in that race is no shame at all. 

Still to come were two more Rockpile wines, but they were not Zins.  (The Rockpile Ridge Zinfandel and the Uncle's Block are sold out, so we weren't going to get to taste those.  Mr. and Mrs. Cy will now be obliged to visit my home next trip to get a glass or six.)  Petite Sirah was next.  This always comes from the Madrone Spring vineyard, and used to be blended, at least in part, with the Zinfandel.  Clay made a decision a couple years ago to stop putting PS in the Zin.  It means that the drinking window for these wines is shorter--probably at peak for 5-10 years from vintage.  Something like a Ridge, which can't be labeled Zin because of its high PS and Carignane content, can drink for 20 or even 30 years.  But it also means that the all Zinfandel wines maintain more of their own distinction (don't ever say there's no California terroir, or that Zin doesn't express it) and more of what makes Zin special.  That said, I'm glad the Petite Sirah gets its own special treatment.  Some years it has not been made at all, but most years its very good and, in years like 2004, it became epic.  While the tannins are quite clearly there, a signature of the grape (assuming you really have the grape), they don't come at you full on.  I detected a sweeter kiss of oak toast in the PS than in the past, and lots of chewy, savory notes.  Mrs. Cy looked at the Mr. and mouthed the words, "This is a wine you are going to like" before his first sip. 

Last up in the tasting was the Rockpile Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon.  My first Mauritson purchase was a Cab Sauv, and they make it well, but it's not their specialty.  It's always a Bordeaux blend, usually with some representation of all the varietals except Petite Verdot--Emma told us earlier that the PV tends to simplify the wine and take it away from the fruit and complexity they are looking for.  I commented that, to me, Rockpile is first and foremost a Zin territory.  The Rockpiles from Mauritson really elevate the grape to "fine wine" and "classic grape" status, which only a few Zin makers can do.  The cabs have to compete for pride of place, and there are other wineries putting their everything into Cab.  I commented that we'd just had Monte Bello before coming over to the winery, and that is a first-growth level of cabernet.  But even as I was saying this, I could smell the cab in my glass improving.  It's never gong to make me forget Monte Bello, but at a third of the price, we'll be serving Rockpile Cab at my parents' Christmas dinner for as long as we have them.

So that was the end of the formal tasting.  I lured Emma into talking about the port-styled Independence, and next thing you know, she was bringing in the chocolate and that squat bottle that it comes in.  I thought this would be a fun treat for Mr. and Mrs. Cy to end on.  They must have been suppressing yawns at this point as they told us about their early dinner plans, but they stayed upright long enough to purchase some of the Westphall and load it into their rental car.

With promises to get together again, we went our separate ways.  Let's hope we can get together for another online and join up with some of the rest of you. 


Reply by dvogler, Jan 17, 2016.

Nice recount Richard!  I know your hospitality well! :)  BTW you didn't buy a bottle of the Monte Bello did you?  ;)

Reply by Richard Foxall, Jan 17, 2016.

Why buy it when you can drink it for free? ;-)

No, it's out of my range.  I keep an eye on sales, but it never really goes on sale.  At $150, it's a steal compared to a lot of cult wines, but the $150 bottle of Cab I am most likely to buy is Pritchard Hill, because I can get it for the ITB price whenever I want. 

Reply by outthere, Jan 17, 2016.

Nice write-up Fox. it's a shame you don't have any passion when it comes to Mauritson. ;-) Thanks for the invite, sorry I couldn't make it. In hindsight I would have been better served to join you since Friday was a horrible work day for me. Glad to see everything went well.

Reply by vin0vin0, Jan 17, 2016.

Great write-up Fox!  When we did the Dry Creek Passport weekend last year, Mauritson was by far the best wine and overall experience. I wouldn't say they treated us like royalty, it was better, more like family. Hope you didn't overload the Cys ; p

Reply by dvogler, Jan 17, 2016.

Well Fox, can you give me a more detailed, albeit from memory, tasting note?  I have always wanted one.  There are several in Victoria.  One is a 2007, another place has 2010 and yet another has the 2012.  I was thinking the 2012 would be the best vintage, but obviously to drink when I retire.  Although our dollar has plummeted, it's a relative bargain because they haven't changed the price of the US wine that was already in stock.

Reply by EMark, Jan 17, 2016.

What an outstanding report.  Excellent, Fox.

I will also endorse the excellent hospitality that the Mauritson tasting room shows to walk-in visitors.

Let the thread drift begin.  What can you tell me about Beekeeper Cellars?  It received a shout-out from one of Mrs. Emark's Facebook friends from Cal Poly.  It intrigued me enough to get on their e-mail list. 

Reply by JonDerry, Jan 17, 2016.

Sounds like a fun outing Fox, what vintage of Monte Bello did you all taste?

DV, I would go with the 2010 Monte Bello, that way we could taste the 2010 versus one of my 2012's some day! Actually, I think 2010 will be the longer lived (maybe a little more complex) vintage, as it was a little cooler and trying.

Reply by MJET, Jan 17, 2016.

Nice job Fox! 

Reply by dvogler, Jan 17, 2016.


Fox said it was the 2012 (over on the HBD DM thread).

Reply by Richard Foxall, Jan 17, 2016.

Yes, the Monte Bello was 2012.  2007 was a great vintage, and well worth a purchase if still in stock at the old exchange rate.  '10 was a vintage that worried a lot of growers/makers, including some of my old reliables (Bell, Talty), but Parker and WS went ape for it.  Selection was the key--raisined grapes from the heat spike didn't make it into the best product.  Santa Cruz Mountains (and hence Monte Bello) was spared the worst heat spikes. so it will be great as well. 

I am a big advocate for Clay's wines, but it's pretty hard to fault them, and the wine is what started the relationship.  As he says, 95% is good fruit and 5% is not messing it up.  Easier said than done--his brothers, whom I have never met, work very hard to grow grapes that demand careful vinifying. It all starts with them. He respects that and constantly listens to what is happening with the wines that result.  To be clear, Emma is a huge factor, too.  Her outside perspective is part of the constant dialogue that makes it work.  They literally compete to make the best lots; I think the fact that she's an All-American athlete (water polo) and he was a D-1 football player raises the stakes and the respect.  Sooner or later, someone is going to dangle a head winemaker job at a prestigious house in front of her. 

Mark, I like those Beekeeper wines, but the prices aren't enticing to me.  At the lowest Rockpile membership, I get all the Rockpile wines including a really good Syrah and Petite Sirah, and the prices are competitive.  On the other hand, if you just want a Rockpile and are okay with a little bit more fruit forward profile, buy the Beekeeper and avoid the commitment.  I'll serve you the 2013 Westphall when you come up here. But don't do a walk-in the next time, let's go together. (We can also do Bella or Talty or Chappellet if you want, and we can all join OT for Mike's wines.)

Reply by dmcker, Jan 17, 2016.

I'll add to the chorus: excellent report, Fox. Passion is a good thing.

Reply by EMark, Jan 18, 2016.

Sounds good, Fox.  The Beekeeper website gives no indiction of pricing.  Getting on the mailing list is free.  We'll see what happens if I get a solicitation.  I actually have several Rockpiles in my inventory.  I'm just trying to figure out a way to speed up the clock on them.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Jan 18, 2016.

Mark, you are healthy enough that waiting a few years on those is a good gamble. 

OT, you would have had a good time.  CY and the Mrs are great.  They will check back in when they get home, I'm sure.  It sounds like his local contacts put our recommendations asunder, but it was Winter Wineland weekend, so things were going to be crazy.  I think they were headed for the Glen Ellen area, and they did text me that they were drinking Mauritson Cab Sauv over Saturday dinner with family, so someone besides me must like the stuff!

DV, my initial reaction was that it reminds me of why I like Cab.  I don't drink as much CS as I used to because a lot of it just doesn't do much for me.  The last couple months, Spring Mountain Vineyard and that Monte Bello reminded me of why people fall hard for Cab.  The 'Bello is voluptuous without being obvious or tiring, holds tons of fruit in balance with minerality and acid, already hints at the chocolate, leather, tobacco secondaries that will compete for center stage in the future.  The tannins are right below the surface, so you never feel them hitting you in the face, but you get the idea the wine will last.  The finish is a good 40 seconds, even at this early stage, and  reprises all the stages of the palate pretty convincingly.

Reply by cysurvivor, Jan 18, 2016.

Great write up. Really captured the visit perfectly. Almost wish we had met up with you at the end of our trip because I probably would have bought more westphal. Had to keep buying in check early on. Overall has been a great trip and meeting Richard at Mauritson and ridge was one of the big highlights. Resting up now for our last dinner but will give a full when we get home and I actually have a keyboard. Richard, there may be a surprise for you in the mail next wk. thx again.


Reply by dvogler, Jan 18, 2016.

Thanks Richard.  I'll start scouting for one.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Jan 18, 2016.

CY, appreciated but unnecessary--the pleasure was mine.  Just support our California independent wineries. 

If you get out to SF or Oakland for a conference or just a trip, we'll do something like a horizontal and vertical and you can see how Westphall and Cemetery rival each other.  We can delve into other fun things, too.

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