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30 Dec 2009 Happy New Year!
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I would like to wish everyone a very happy and prosperous new year! 

2009 was an “interesting” year to say the least.  Lionheart Wines saw some good development of the brand and some great wines going into the bottle.  The year has helped me focus on what Lionheart needs to do better as well as what wines make sense to be producing in 2010 (assuming we have the cash for that!).  I would like to continue to focus on Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese and Rose.  The white Rhone wines are lovely but the market place is not quite ready for them.  I could be changing my tune if I can figure out how to get the production costs down to a more managable price point. :)   I love syrah but it has not caught on as well as I planned on.  Again, who knows Syrah might bust out with the right production costs.

In 2010, we will be releasing some very good wines from the 2007 and 2008 vintages.  So, please keep your eye out for them.  Also, if you know a place that you would like carry Lionheart Wines, please let me know where so I can contact them directly.  Jen and I are looking forward providing great wines and service to our wine club members and retail partners. 

May you enjoy a lovely and safe time including some of the grape on New Year’s Eve and New Year Day!  Please make sure you have a designated driver!

Leon Glover
Winemaker, Lionheart Wines

17 Dec 2009 2010 Pinot Noir Shootout – Preliminary round
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I had the pleasure of participating as a judge in one of the preliminary round judgings for the 2010 Pinot Noir Shootout.  Note: I have entered by 2007 Sonoma Coast, Pinot Noir in the the event.  My wine was not tasted in this particular preliminary round. 

As part of the judging system, only 32 wines are tasted at a time in the preliminary rounds.  Each wine will be included in two preliminary rounds to make sure the wine is of appropriate quality for the final round of judging.

The wines in this preliminary round with the score I gave the wine plus what the range of scores for the round were if I have the data for it:

Flight 1:
85 pts – Heart O’ The Mountain, 2007 Estate Blend, Santa Cruz Mountains, 385 cases, $48 retail
89 pts – Belle Vallee Cellars, 2007 Reserve, Willamette Valley, 1088 cases, $28 retail
88 pts [80-90] – Mietz Cellars, 2006 Carmine’s Vineyard, Russian River Valley, 150 cases, $35 retail
91 pts [86-91] – Hahn SLH Estate, 2007 Santa Lucia Highlands, 2591 cases, $29 retail
88 pts – Eric Ross, 2008 Saralee’s Vineyard, Russian River Valley, 310 cases, $40 retail
85 pts – Wild Hog Vineyard, 2008 estate, True Sonoma Coast, 348 cases, $35 retail
90 pts – [77-90] – Willamette Valley Vineyards, 2007 Elton Vineyard Pinot Noir, Willamette AVA, 410 cases, $45 retail
88 pts – Wedell Cellars, 2006 Hillside Vineyard, Edna Valley, 100 cases, $125 retail

Flight 2:
84 pts – Baretto, 2007 Reserve, Santa Cruz Mountains, 172 cases, $40 retail
89 pts – Escarpment, 2007 Martinborough, New Zealand, 3000 cases, $36.99 retail
87 pts – Signorello, 2007 Estate, Las Amigas Vineyard, Carneros, 104 cases, $50 retail
87 pts – Valley of the Moon Winery, 2008 Carneros, 4440 cases, $20 retail
80 pts – Kyra, 2007 Washington State, 380 cases, $22 retail
91 pts [80-91] - CRU, 2008 Sppellation Series, Santa Lucia Highlands, 240 cases, $32 retail
82 pts – Brandborg, 2006 Estate, Ferris Wheel Estate, Umpqua Valley, 450 cases, $38 retail
91 pts [79-91] – TR Elliott, 2007 Three Plumes, Russian River Valley, 150 cases, $40 retail

Flight 3:
86 pts [82-91] – Pacific Coast Vineyards, 2007 Babcock Vineyard, Santa Rita Hills, 88 cases, $62.50 retail
85 pts [71-91] – Handley Cellars, 2007 Anderson Valley, 4029 cases, $30 retail
86 pts [79-88] – Phillips Hill, 2008 Ring of Fire, Anderson valley, 150 cases, $45 retail
87 pts [79-91] – Surfrider, 2008 Edna Valley, 548 cases, $27 retail
87 pts [75-91] – Lion’s Pride, El Molino High School Vineyard, Russian River Valley, 120 cases, $40 retail
83 pts [80-92] – Orentano, 2007 Russian River Valley, 400 cases, $40 retail
83 pts [80-89] – Wild Earth, 2008 Central otago, 7000 cases, $29.99 retail
84 pts [74-92] – Clary Ranch, 2007 Estate, Clary Ranch Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, 458 cases, $36 retail

Flight 4:
86 pts [75-91] – Villa Mt. Eden, 2007 Grand Reserve, Russian River Valley, 1120 cases, $23 retail
83 pts [76-86] – Firesteed, 2008 Oregon, 25114 cases, $15.99 retail
91 pts [83-92] – Deaver Vineyards, 2007 Sierra Foothills, 112 cases, $24.99 retail
89 pts [79-89] – Kyra, 2008 Washinton State, 350 cases, $22 retail
87 pts [82-91] – Phillips Hill, 2008 Oppenlander Vineyard, Mendocino, 600 cases, $45 retail
84 pts [81-89] – Balletto Vineyards, 2007 Burnside Road vineyard, Russian River Valley, 300 cases, $34 retail
82 pts [81-87] – Erath, 2006 Leland Vineyard, Willamette Valley, 550 cases, $45 retail
85 pts [80-90] – CRU, 2008 Appellation Series, Santa Maria, 317 cases, $32 retail

My scores tended to be in the middle or toward the higher end of the ranges.  I scored the first two flights a bit higher than I probably should have as I needed to calibrate my scoring range a bit.  This is a great example of why wines should be tasted double-blind to make sure they deserve the score given.  If I was judging more often, I think the recalibration time would be much quicker.  Also, after each flight the judges discussed the high and low scores of each wine which is a great way to get feedback on how you are rating a wine.

I hope that my wine makes it into the final round!  I guess only time will tell.

22 Oct 2009 Georgian Wines…7000 years and going strong!

Archeologists have found evidence of wine production carbon-dated to around 5000 BC in the country of Georgia.  The word, wine, comes from the Georgian word “gvino” which the Greeks and Romans shortened to vino which the French then changed it to vin.  Georgia has over 500 unique grape varietals.  38 grape varietals are officially allowed for commercial viticulture.  The approved varietals include: Saperavi, Rkatsiteli, Tsolikouri, Tsitska, Chinuri, Goruli, Mtsvane, Kakhuri Mtsvane, Odzhaleshi, Orbeluri Odzhaleshi, Aladasturi, Obchuri Dzvelshavi, Aligote, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Usakhelouri, Alexandriuli, Mudzhuretuli, Otskhanuri Sapere, Krakhuna, Chkhaveri, Tetra, and Khikhvi.

Georgia geography is basically a valley located between two mountain ranges and the Black Sea.  Most of the valley is planted with grape vines.  It is the same latitude as parts of France, Italy, Spain and Northern California.  So, it has the potential to produce great grapes and should start to be taken seriously in the West.  Georgia has five viticultural zones: Kakheti, Kartli, Imereti, Racha-Lechkhumi, and the humid subtropical zone.

Georgia has become known for its sparkling wine.  The sparkling wine has been nearly completely consumed by Russia and former Soviet Union states  until the armed conflict between Russia and Georgia.  Russia has started to boycott Geogian products, so Georgian wine producers have started to export their still and sparkling wines beyond Russia. 

The wine distributor that I work for has started to carry the Bagrationi 1882 sparkling wines from Georgia.  If you have an opportunity to try these sparkling wines, I suggest that you do.  The wines are made from varietals only available in Georgia resulting in a unique flavor profile somewhere between Champagne and Cava.  The methode champenoise produced sparkling wines are produced from the Chinebuli, Mtsvane and Tsitska varietals.  Chinebuli is a rare varietal from the Kartli region of Georgia.  The charmat method sparkling wines are non-vintage with some variable % of  Chinebuli, Mtsvane and Tsitska varietals depending on the specific lot.

30 Jul 2009 Bottling 2007 Roaring Red

A quick update from Lionheart Wines….

I bottled the 2007 Roaring Red, Proprietary blend, yesterday into shiners (bottles without labels for capsules).  The chemistry for the wine is: S02 – 32 ppm, pH – 3.58, TA – 5.3 grams/liter, ABV – 14.65% and VA of 0.60 grams/liter.  We ended up with 26 cases plus 9 loose bottles.  It is a small amount of wine but the challenge will now be to sell it given the challenging environment. 

I need to get the label text figured out and submitted for TTB approval.  After the labels are approved and printed, I will get the shiners labelled.  The wine will not be released until the fall so the wine has time to integrate and get over bottle shock.  I learned from the 2006 Roaring Red that it need about 6 to 8 months for the wine to fully integrate, but you could tell how the wine was going to evolved after 4 months or so.

The final blend works out to be:
55% 2007 Dry Creek Valley, Syrah
23% 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon
6% 2007 Mourvedre, Lodi
5% 2007 Napa Valley, Petite Verdot
9% 2007 Napa Valley, Malbec
2% 2007 Napa Valley, Merlot

So, this blend is very nearly a Bordeaux Blend just missing some Cabernet Franc to complete the big 5 varietals.  I guess you could say that this is a Bordeaux blend interpreted via the Northern Rhone (as the Syrah was co-fermented with Viognier).  The wine is a big, bold wine and truly lives up to the name — Roaring Red!

02 Jul 2009 2007 Alysian, Chardonnay, Cresta Ridge Vineyard, Russian River Valley

Medium- lemon green core transitioning to water white rim

Medium+ intensity aromas of mineral, apple blossom, green apple, asian pear, ripe pear and slight diacetyl

pronounced intensity flavors of apple blossom, green apple, asian pear, green apple, bosc pear, oak and hint of diacetyl (layered, complex and evolving); medium alcohol; long length, medium+ concentration; medium+ acidity.

Excellent quality due to the aromas / flavor intensity, concentration, long length, complexity, excellent typicity.  Gary Ferrell has done a tremendous job on his initial release from his new winery, Alysian.  The wine is complex, balanced and will hold up well for many years.

Alysian wines are very good now but will be excellent with a few years in the bottle.  The oak is very well done and a nice balance to the aromas/flavors intensity and profile.

30 Jun 2009 Breaking radio silence….2008 white Rhone blend being bottled!
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It has been quite a while since my last blog entry…my bad.  The amount of work being a Sales Representative for a spirit and wine distributor is quite large especially when you have a good sized territory.  You have a lot of people to get to know and learn what products will help them be successful.  I do have a ton of wine tasting notes to post that I will try to get some of them up this weekend hopefully.

The 2008 vintage is shaping up to be a special vintage for Lionheart Wines!  The 2008 Rose turned out fantastically.  The 2008 white Rhone blend (used to be The Angel’s Share — need to be change due to potential trademark infringement) is tasting fantastic and will be bottled into shiners on Wednesday.  The 2007 Roaring Red is shaping up very nicely; this year’s blend is 70% Dry Creek Syrah, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa, and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon from Red Mountain in Washington.  The 2008 Pinot Noir blend is very good and is very similar to the 2007 Pinot Noir!  The 2008 Sangiovese is quite good and will be evaluated in greater detail in the next month or so.  The 2008 Syrahs (White Hawk and Thompson) have great promise…just need more time in the barrel to see where they will end up qualitywise.  The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon is very powerful and complex.  Overall, I am quite happy with what was produced in the 2008 harvest.  Only time will tell how good or great the vintage is for Lionheart Wines.

Other activities:
I am starting on blending for the 2007 Roaring Red, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and checking on the various 2008 wines.  Also, I have been looking into securing fruit sources for the 2009 harvest.  I went down to Paso Robles AVA, San Antonio AVA and the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA to check out Marssanne, Roussanne, Sangiovese, Syrah and Pinot Noir sources.  The economic uncertainty has created some very good fruit sources to be available.  The big question is what we can afford to produce.  I am leaning toward a Pinot Noir, Rose, white Rhone blend and a Santa Barbara Cabernet Sauvignon.  The actual production depends on production costs, trucking costs and final fruit costs.  I have also been looking into alternative custom crush facilities where the produced wine would be shipped to Crushpad for final bottling ( to fit into the Crushpad commerce program).  The details on how this shakes out will be figured out in the next month or so.

Inventory: We are down to 14 bottles of the Rose — if you would like some, you should buy it very shortly.  Local restaurants snapped up the rose — British Banker Club in Menlo Park, Metropol in San Francisco.  The rose can also be found at Segona’s Farmer Market in Redwood City and Half Moon Bay Wine and Cheese. We are down to 8 cases of 2007 McGinley Roussanne, 9 cases of 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, 20 cases of Roaring Red, 11 cases of 2006 Syrah (Santa Barbara), 50 cases of 2007 The Angel’s Share, 20 cases of 2007 Pinot Noir. 

It is a bit hot right now to ship wines but if you are local, please let me know and I am happy to delivery the wines to you (if you are near SF). 

More information coming soon!  We need to set the date and location for the next Mane Event release party.  The 2007 White Hawk Sangiovese is taking fantastic!  It will be officially release at the end of the summer — futures will be sent out when the weather cools down enough to ship it.  If you would like to wait on having it shipped to be part of the fall releases, please let me know.

14 May 2009 General Update
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I do apologize for not keeping up my regular posting on the blog.  I have been very lately with many things — finding new fruit sources for the 2009 harvest, tasting events, ramping up on the sales effort, label design/printing, and wine blending.  I have a ton of wine reviews to type up and post as soon as I have a couple of hours to type up my notes on. 

Recently, I have taken on a second job — working as a sales representative for Bock Wines & Spirits.  It is partially a sign of the economic times but it is also a great learning experience to close the experiential loop on the wine industry — educator, producer, direct sales, sales on-premise, sales off-premise, working for a distributor, and pounding the street to see how the rubber meets the road for all price segments in the wine and spirit industry.  I must say that I have a new found respect for sales representatives and customer service personnel. :)   My work with Bock Wine & Spirits helps me better understand what the consumer really is buying so I can taylor the wines to be more marketable, more responsive to market trends and provide additional financial support to make sure Lionheart Wines is a strong and growing premium brand. 

The amount of work associated with being a wine & spirit sales representative is very large and never ending.  It is really about relationship building and effective communication…and keeping knocking on all possible doors all the time.  I am getting ramped up on what needs to be done to be successful but need a bit more time to hit my stride.  The great thing about the situation is that I get to sell Lionheart Wines along side with a great portfolio of other products — it makes more efficient use of my time while establishing relationships in the industry.  So, it is a win-win for both Lionheart Wines and Bock Wine & Spirits.    It has also forced me to be more systematic in my marketing and sales efforts — focus on working smarter not harder plus leveraging technology where possible.

23 Feb 2009 2007 Seawind Chardonnay, Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands

Appearance: Bright, clear medium- gold/yellow core to  water-white rim.

Nose: clean, medium+ intensity with flavors of chalky mineral, honeycomb, cantaloupe

Palate: medium+ intensity; medium- acidity, medium+ alcohol, medium+ concentration, medium+ length; flavors of honey, mineral, cantaloupe, oak and a dried white grape finish.  The wine has a noticable palate weight similar to a viognier but it could use some more acid to backup the ripe fruit flavors and heavy palate weight.  The finish is not as crisp as I would prefer.

11 Feb 2009 Mendoza, Argentina — Day 1

Wine tasting in Mendoza is quite a bit different than in the US.  The concept of people randomly dropping by a winery to try the wine is a very new concept for Mendoza.  Each winery typically has 24 hour on-premise security to deal with potential break-ins / theft.  Given the level of security, it is necessary to contact the winery ahead of time (typically at least a day) to set up a time to visit.  My wife, Jen, set up the touring for the day using a local tour service — Amphora Tours.  I would highly recommend using Amphora tours as they know quite a few of the local wineries and which wineries make up a good tour.  They provide a one day tour of the valley and a one day tour of the Uco Valley (higher elevation and further away from downtown Mendoza). 

Day 1 tour of the valley included four wineries: Clos De Chacras (a “boutique” bodega in the Chacras region of Mendoza), Renacer (a mid-sized bodega in the Lujan De Cuyo wine region), Ruca Malen (a large production bodega in the Lujan De Cuyo wine region ) and finished the day at Bodegas Benegas (in the Lujan De Cuyo wine region).  The four wineries were a great snapshot into the winemaking traditions of Mendoza, how the winemaking techniques have evolved over time and what the future direction of the winemaking in Mendoza. 

The Mendoza region is considered high-desert with sudden and very violent hail storms.  The valley floor vineyards were nearly all covered in protective hail nets.  Initially, I thought the netting was for protection from birds but our tour guide told us about the severity of the hail storms.  The week before our visit, a large area about 300 KM south of the valley was hit by a very bad hail storm that wiped out the entire vintage in the area; after the hail stopped falling, there was baseball sized hail about two feet deep on the ground!

Clos De Chacras is a very old winery (100 year+) which has been family owned for most of its existence.  The winery did change hands once during the 1970’s economic problems in Argentina.  The winery production is very small by Mendoza standards — about 6500 cases of wine per year.  All the production techniques are similar to what is done at Crushpad with the exception of the use of concrete fermentation and storage tanks.  The concrete tanks insides are covered with epoxy every two years to avoid cement and wine interactions.  The oldest concrete tanks from the 1920’s have been converted into caves for bottle aging.  The winemaker is a young man who recently graduated from one of the local winemaking schools in the valley.    We tried three wines: 2005 Cavas De Crianza, Merlot ($8 USD or 24 pesos), 2005 Cavas De Crianza, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza ($10 USD or 30 pesos), and 2005 Gran Estripe blend ($29 USD or 84 pesos).  All three wines were quite good especially for the price point.  The Gran Estripe I would say is an excellent wine.  If you have a chance to try any of these wines, you really should.

ReNacer is considered a small producer by Mendoza standards.  The location is beautiful, great facilities and a lovely tasting room.  The winery uses stainless steel tanks for fermentation (at the moment) and mostly french oak barrels.  The winery is currently constructing a set of underground cement fermentation tanks to help control the fermentation temperatures and use the ground’s natural temperature to keep cooling energy costs down.  The use of cement tanks is coming back into vogue in the Mendoza Valley.

As part of our tasting experience, we got to do a blending experiment using Malbecs grown from three different regions in Mendoza: Ugarteche (700m altitude), Agrelo (990m altitude, clay and medium sized rocks in the soil), and La Consulta (1100m altitude, rocky soil, less hail due to proximity to the Andes).  Ugarteche sourced malbec was pronounced perfumed with aromas of roses, coffee, plum, blackberry, and boysenberry, medium+ tannins, medium+ alcohol and flavors of coffee, boysenberry and raisin/fig.  Agrelo sourced malbec was medium+ intensity on the nose, aromas of violets, rose, cedar, smokey red cherry, black fruit;slightly drying medium+ tannins with flavors of black cherry, black currant, smoke, cedar and a slight savoriness on the palate.  La Consulta sourced malbec was medium+ intensity on the nose with aromas of rose, cherry and flavors of red cherry, slight cranberry, black cherry.  The higher the altitude, the fresher the fruit flavors. 

For people who have not tried blending wine, I highly suggest it as it is an eye-opening experience.  You realize that blending truely is an art . You must be patient, methodical in analysis of your components and each blend you try, take good notes and have an open mind to new blends.  Wine chemistry is very sensative in how a slight change can drastically alter what you smell, taste and how the wine feels in your mouth.   As a winemaker, I started off the blending session with 50% Agrelo, 30% Ugarteche and 20% La Consulta — I like it quite a bit which was surprising since it was the first attempt after tasting the components.   Jen made an interesting blend of 75% La Consulta, 15% Ugarteche, 10% Agrelo; the blend would be great after 3 to 4 years of bottle aging and the fruit of the Agrelo did a lot to help make the tannins of the La Consulta more approachable.  After the blending session was over, we did try three wines from ReNacer: 2007 Malbec, punto final Classico, Mendoza (32 pesos or $10 USD); 2006 Malbec punto final Reserva, Mendoza; 2007 Enamore, ReNacer+Allegrini, Mendoza ($40 USD).  All the wines were very good especially the Enamore.

Our third winery stop was combined with lunch.  We had a fantastic 5 course lunch at Bodega Ruca Malen.  Each course was paired with a wine from the winery.   The wines we tried were 2007 Yauquen Chardonnay (21 pesos), 2007 Yauquen Malbec (21 pesos), 2007 Ruca Malen Petit Verdot (42 pesos), 2006 Ruca Malen Cabernet Sauvignon ($40 USD), and 2007 Kinien Malbec.  The wines were very well paired with the food.  We did get to try a local drink called Mate which is similar to tea but has a strong dried herb taste. The Petit Verdot was probably my favorite wine at the meal.

The last winery we visited was Bodega Benegas.  This is a recently renovated 100+ year old adobe winery.  The winery has some very old estate vines — 75+ year old Sangiovese and 100+ year old Cabernet Franc vines.  The new owner has put in $3 to $4MM USD into the renovation.  The facility is quite impressive with a very nice cellar for barrel aging, converted old concrete fermentation/storage tanks into bottle storage for the 12 month bottling aging given to most of their red wines and a large crushpad area that includes a large number of “smallish” cement tanks used for fermentation.    The cement tanks for fermentation can be heated using natural gas burners to heat the bottom of the tank.  Old pneumatic basket presses are used instead of more modern equipment to get a gentle pressure on the skins.

We tasted the following wines: 2007 Carmela Benegas, Rose of Cabernet Franc & Malbec (31 pesos), 2005 Sangiovese (65 pesos), 2005 Syrah (65 pesos), 2005 Meritage Blend (65 pesos), and 2005 Benegas Lynch, Libertad Vineyards, Cabernet Franc (140 pesos).  The wines were all very good, well made and quite drinkable.  The Rose was a bit too sweet for my personal tastes.  I would highly recommend seeking out Bodega Benegas as the quality of the wine is very good especially at the US price point.

My take aways from the day’s tasting were the following: 1) US production costs are going to have to drop significantly if they want to be able to compete with Argentinian wines once the exports start flowing (only about 5% of Argentina production is currently exported), 2) wine quality in Mendoza is very good across the various price points from jug wine to ultra-premium, and 3) the marketing materials are very well-done.  Overall, the US needs to take note of what is happening in Mendoza as the wines from there will be a force to be dealt with very soon!

11 Feb 2009 2005 Benegas Lynch, Libertad Vineyards, Cabernet Franc, Mendoza
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The wine is priced at 140 pesos at the winery.  The  100+ year old vines are located by the Mendoza River on estate vineyards.

Appearance: clear, deep ruby with slight brick core -> ruby rim

Nose: medium intensity with aromas of floral, sweet floral, orange blossom, red cherry, kirsch

Palate: high acidity; medium- fine grained tannins; medium+ length, medium- body; pronounced intensity; flavors of cherry(red and black), orange blossom, hint of marmalade, violets; medium alcohol.

Quality: Excellent; drink well now but could hold for 5 to 7 years.  The orange blossom and hint of marmalade is reminiscent of a Rutherglen Muscat which is very surprising but gives a hint of sweetness that surprisely combines very well with the other aromas and flavors.  

Jen and I purchased of bottle of this to have that evening with dinner.  The wine was tremendous!  I wish we had sent some home.