In Vino Veritas

Wine Lover’s Guide to Top Ten Domestic Pinot Noir Events



There is something about Pinot…

There are more events dedicated to Pinot Noir in this country than any other grape variety. Despite it’s relatively small market share (due to small volume produced) it’s popularity in certain wine circles is unmatched. Pinot Noir lovers are a fiercely loyal and dedicated group. Both on the consumption and production side, Pinot Noir attracts a certain type of wine enthusiast. Some call them enlightened, artistic, esoteric, even odd. I call them my best friends. Pinot People share a special bond that is hard to describe but easy to experience, and assimilate. Continue reading

Appellational Series – Calistoga AVA – Top Ten Wineries


“Wine is sunlight, held together by water.” – Galileo Galilei

In 2009, Calistoga was granted a status of American Viticultural Area, or AVA. Its unique geology and wild diversity of topography, geography and climate makes it a premier growing region within Napa Valley. First vines were planted in 1862, since then dozens of new vineyards took hold; the AVA now represents some of the forefront of California wine making.

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Greg La Follette – Overalls Tell All


“Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.” Albert Camus

Greg La Follette

Greg La Follette

 If one made a movie about Greg La Follette’s many occupations, the public would likely consider it a fiction film. Prior to his wine career, he was a bag piper, seminary student, scientist, and groundbreaking cancer researcher. Today, he is one of the most important winemakers of our time.

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In The Big Heart Of Big Sur


“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”

-Dalai Lama

The first weekend of every November, the Big Sur Food & Wine Festival serves up an extraordinary hedonistic experience against the jaw-dropping backdrop of California’s most stunning coastline. The event is a three-day affair that offers a mosaic of wine seminars, walk-around tastings, luncheons, dinners and late-night parties. Continue reading

Sensational St. Helena


Pour out the wine without restraint or stay,

Pour not by cups, but by the bellyful,

Pour out to all that will.

Edmund Spenser  Epithalamion

St. Helena offers an embarrassment of riches when it comes to food and wine. It is home to the famed Culinary Institute of America – the professional birthplace of dozens of talented chefs who went on to culinary fame and fortune. It is the wine country equivalent of Miss Universe pageant, with beauties everywhere you look.

Appellation St. Helena is a thriving viticultural community that stretches from the heart of the valley floor to 400 foot elevation. It boasts an extensive diversity of geographic and climactic conditions and is planted to a wide variety of grapes. It’s fifty plus vintner members redefined the standards of excellence once set by Charles Krug.

Here are twenty-one examples of wineries who call St. Helena home. Notably, many brands listed source fruit outside of appellational boundaries:

BRAND Napa Valley

This picturesque twelve acre mountain estate is located on beautiful Pritchard Hill, overlooking Lake Hennessey. Crafted by Philippe Melka, the wines from this spectacular estate are stunningly pure in their terroir and varietal expression.


(Image credit: Brand Napa Valley)

Barbour Vineyards

Jim Barbour, legendary consulting vineyard manager to many of Napa’s premier wineries, also produces his own wine. The grapes for his estate wine are sourced from a low-yielding, dry farmed vineyard, planted to Grace budwood.  Celia Welch (whose clients include Scarecrow, Keever, Kelly Fleming, Lindstrom, etc.) is the winemaker. She crafts wines are that distinct, elegant, and plain stunning.

Miniscule production means you should be getting on the mailing list right this second.


(Image credit: Barbour Vineyards)

Bryant Family Vineyard

A cult since its inception, Bryant Family wine is as exclusive as it is extraordinary.

Don Bryant’s vision of greatness involved such notable wine personalities as Michael Rolland, David Abreu and his one-time winemaker, Helen Turley. A slew of famous winemakers followed; this elusive, mailing list only brand remains a huge cult among the cognoscenti.


(Image credit: Bryant Family Vineyard)


Valeri Bure was in the middle of a flourishing hockey career when his Montreal teammates introduced him to pleasures of fine wine. His initial attraction never wavered and turned into a hobby into a second career of vintner. Bure aspires to create small lots of meaningful wines. He hired Luc Morlet, a 20-year-old industry veteran with stellar track record to implement his vision. Result? Phenomenal offerings.

Bure - Briana Marie Photography

(Image credit: Briana Marie Photography)

David Arthur Vineyard

Founder, Don Long, hope to create family legacy when he acquired 1000 acres on then little known, Pritchard Hill. In the 1970s, his son, David Arthur Long, began planting vines on the property. Don’s vision solidified when David’s daughter Laura joined the family business. Twenty-five years of stellar winemaking at one of Napa Valley’s premier sites has earned the David Arthur brand national acclaim and extensive critical praise.

David arthur

(Image credit: David Arthur Vineyards)

DR Stephens Estate

Don Stephens, an attorney and private equity guru, acquired a stunning hillside estate in 1996 and planted it predominantly to Cabernet. Winemaker, Michael Hirby, who joined DR Stephens in 2010 is a rock star since his Behrens & Hitchcock days; he crafts delicious wines of character and authenticity. The wines, which are highly allocated, are featured in a limited number of top restaurants. I fell in love with their Chardonnay, most of which is rumored to have disappeared into Don’s private cellar.

Dr Stephens - Ken's Wine Guide

(Image credit: Ken’s Wine Guide)


Jeff Smith and Kelly Maher, coupled with the winemaking genius of Bob Foley (Pride, Foley, Switchback, Paloma) created a brand that immediately caught fire with wine industry insiders. Their wines are estate sourced from two vineyards; one located in St. Helena, and one in Calistoga. Try their divine Malbec and don’t forget their gorgeous Sauvignon Blanc.

Hourglass Winery - Charles Communications Associates

(Image credit: Charles Communications Associates)

Fairchild Napa Valley

If you are not familiar with Larry Fairchild’s labor of love, take note. Larry’s extraordinary instincts, attention to detail, and relentless pursuit of excellence has resulted in top-notch wines.  Made by the highly regarded and sought-after Philippe Melka, the wines are expansive, profound, and yet, elegant; a signature trait of a master winemaker at work.


(Image credit: Jones Becker)

Gandona Winery

It’s remarkably easy to fall in love with both the estate and its engaging proprietor, Manuel Pires, who transformed a steep rocky plot into a hillside paradise. Composed of fruit sourced from four separate blocks, the wines have uncommon breadth, depth of flavor and age worthiness. Philippe Melka, once more, gets well-earned credit for his mind-boggling skills. Vineyard manager, Jim Barbour, steadily guides this precocious, yet immensely generous land. Their wines engage your very soul.

Gandona - Napa Wine Project

(Image credit: Napa Wine Project)


Joseph Phelps Vineyards

Much has been said about Joseph Phelps’ legendary brand. Back in 1974, a construction company owner with a love of Burgundy, Joe Phelps, built a winery which became synonymous with all things great about Napa Valley. Now, a 40-year-old phenomena, their flagship Insignia blend is widely regarded as one of the wine world’s greatest achievements.  If there was a Napa Wine Hall of Fame, Joe and his legacy would surely occupy a prominent spot alongside Robert Mondavi, Joe Heitz, or André Tchelistcheff.

Joseph Phelps

(Image credit: Joseph Phelps Vineyards)

Levy & McClellan

This husband-wife collaboration , Martha McClellan (Sloan, Checkerboard) and Bob Levy (Harlan, Bond), planted their hillside vineyard in 1999.  With such renowned founders, Levy & McClellan was poised for a runaway success. This humble, yet wildly talented couple, produce wines of uncommon elegance and refinement.

Levy & McClellan - The BPW

(Image credit: The BPW)

Melka Wines

One of Napa’s most sought-after consulting winemakers, Philippe Melka, also produces his own wine. His highly regarded wines earn stellar reviews each and every vintage, regardless of what nature delivers.  Sourced from a variety of sites within Napa Valley, his Metisse, Mekerra, Majestique and CJ blends represent Philippe’s vision of what the diverse vineyards of Napa Valley can deliver.


(Image credit: Melka Wines)

Merus Wines

Critically acclaimed Merus was established by Erika J. Gottl and Mark Herold in 1998, which was considered by many critics to be a very challenging vintage. However, having earned 93 points from Robert Parker on their first release, the brand established itself as an undisputed contender for greatness. In 2007 Merus was acquired by Bill Foley and the wines are now crafted by the renowned winemaker David Ramey (Chalk Hill, Dominus, Rudd) and David Lattin (St. Emillion and Troplong Mendot). It boasts 7,000 square feet of caves and a remodeled, state of the art winery. The wine? As intense and complex as ever.

Merus - Eat Every Day

(Image credit: Eat Every Day)

Morlet Family Vineyards

Luc Morlet hails from a prominent vintner dynasty in France, yet he was inexplicably drawn to the charms of California wine country. A few years after settling in California and crafting stellar wines for his clients (Peter Michael, Bure, Cabaud, Carte Blanche, Vineyard 7 & 8), he and wife Jodie started their namesake brand. Their handcrafted Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and sparkling wines have won over critics, trade and consumers alike.

Morlet - The Huffington Post

(Image credit: The Huffington Post)

Ovid Napa Valley

Named after the ancient Roman poet who wrote about transformation and transcendence, Ovid Estate wines are a perfect blend of ancient technique and modern technology. Planted to classic Bordeaux varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot are crafted by Austin Peterson, along with winemaking consultant Andy Ericsson.  Their ever-changing blends tell a powerful tale of sense of integrity and finesse. The wines offer a wide spectrum of aromas; a virtual kaleidoscope of flavors and sensations.


(Image credit: Ovid)

Realm Cellars

Once in a while a brand is born of seemingly unlikely confluences. A former U.S. Army medic, an investor, a winemaker came together to produce what is perennially one of my favorite Napa wines. The brand survived a devastating 2005 fire that wiped out their entire production, ownership changes, and divorce. With nine years under its belt, Realm Cellars production has grown from a handful of cases to 2,500. Their fruit is sourced from some of the most notable vineyards in Napa, including the famed Beckstoffer – Dr. Crane and To Kalon Vineyard.

Realm Cellars

(Image credit: Realm Cellars)

Vineyard 7 & 8

The parcel of land lying above the fog zone on majestic Spring Mountain, now known as Vineyard 7 & 8, was acquired in 1999 by the Steffens family. It was planted by the industry veterans David Abreu and Rick Forman, predominantly to Cabernet, along with some Chardonnay. Martha McLellan and Wesley Steffens collaborate on making wines of purity and distinction. Meticulousness, micro fermentations, rigorous yield control and hand sorting contribute to the magic made in the cellar. One of my top Napa wineries delivers exceptional offerings each and every vintage.

Vineyard 7 & 8

(Image credit: Vineyard 7 & 8)

Vineyard 29

Located on Napa’s famed Highway 29, Vineyard 29’s history began in 1989 when Tom Paine and Teresa Norton came to Napa Valley to retire and instead found themselves in the middle of planting and tending to a vineyard on their newly acquired property. The original winemaker was Gary Galleron, followed shortly by Heidi Barrett. The brand was acquired in 2000 by Chuck and Anne McMinn who also picked up Aida vineyard nearby. The McMinns built a state-of-the-art gravity flow winery and caves, filled it with the finest equipment, and hired Philippe Melka to make the wine. Minimal intervention, labor intensive techniques and use of finest modern technology to monitor every part of winemaking process ensure wines of maximum integrity and intense varietal character.

Vineyard 29 - Fake Plastic Barrels

(Image credit: Fake Plastic Barrels)

Saunter Wines

Owner, Josh Clark, is a Napa Valley native who has spent most of his youth in the vineyards.  Josh not only took over the family’s vineyard management business; he also set out to produce stellar wines under his own label. Saunter wines are crafted by none other than Thomas Rivers Brown, who developed a stellar reputation while working at Turley estate under the tutelage of Ehren Jordan.

Saunter Wines

(Image credit: Saunter Wines)

Seven Stones Winery

Named after an imposing work of art at the estate, Seven Stones’ three acres of vineyards are tended to by the famed Piña Vineyard Management. Boasting the wine making prowess of Aaron Pott, this stunning property overlooks Meadowood Resort. Seven Stones produced a hit Cabernet Sauvignon in its very first vintage. Immense and complex, the wines are ultra-concentrated and age worthy, yet offer a bevy of satisfying hedonistic characters upon release, an unbeatable combination.

Seven Stones

(Image credit: Seven Stones Winery)

Spottswoode Winery

Spottswoode was established by Mrs. Albert Spotts in 1910 and acquired by Mary and Jack Novak in 1972. Spottswoode’s first Cabernet Sauvignon was released in 1982. Today the historic vineyard is known for its Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, wines of impeccable balance, refinement, and integrity. Winemaker Aron Weinkauf is in charge of the estate’s meticulously farmed twenty-four blocks. He remains faithful to the Novak’s pursuit of perfection in every vintage.


(Image credit: Spottswoode Winery)

Follow the yellow brick road of stellar vineyards and winemakers and you will find yourself in the wine wizard’s paradise.

A great way to immerse yourself into St. Helena is to attend the annual BASH event that takes place in April at the CIA and is a tremendous opportunity to taste over a hundred wines from the same appellation side by side.

Some believe there is nothing better that the intensity of mountain fruit, some love the plush, seductive dance of the valley floor wines. Both are a wonderful adventure for the mind and palate. What are you waiting for? St. Helena, the wine goddess awaits your company.

The Fillons Of France


“Live, Laugh, Love, Leave a Legacy” – Stephen Covey

During a recent trip to France’s Languedoc region, I was privileged to meet the Fillons. This inspiring young family who, in pursuit of their dream to craft fine wine, took stock of their lives, and made a drastic series of decisions that resulted in a profound change to their life.

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7th Annual Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival (Part Two)


 “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” – Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

NYCWFF featured more than 100 events spread across various venues in New York City. The festival’s second day featured three fantastic events:


  • Blue Moon Burger Bash, presented by Pat LaFrieda Meats Purveyors and hosted by Rachael Ray
  • Dominique Ansel’s Wonderland, hosted by the Cronut Creator himself
  • Rock & Roll Night Market, hosted by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto

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Taking a bite out of the Big Apple: New York City Wine and Food Festival


“Remember when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received, only what you have given.” – Parker Fitzgerald

On Oct 16-19, a rather extraordinary event took place in New York City, titled: New York City Wine and Food Festival or “NYCWFF” – a star-studded culinary affair that raises funds for ending hunger, through charitable organizations such as NY Food Bank and Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry. Five hundred chefs, many of which are household names, showed up to get creative for the sake of these charities. Continue reading

Appellational Series – Top 10 Wineries of Stag’s Leap District


Stag’s Quantum Leap

A lot of us know Stag’s Leap District as the appellation that made history in 1976 by putting American wines front and center. At a blind tasting that became known as the “Judgment of Paris,” nine French judges awarded first place in a blind tasting to the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon. It surpassed French superstar wines such as Mouton-Rothschild and Leoville Las Cases.  It was the most stunning upset in wine history. Years later, history repeated itself during a reprisal of the tasting, when yet another wine from Stag’s Leap, Clos Du Val Cabernet, won the tasting. Continue reading

Appellational Series – Top 10 Wineries of Rutherford


“My dear, my dearest dust; I come, I come.” -Diane ZahlerThe Thirteenth Princess

Rutherford is a tiny Napa Valley appellation consisting of only 6,650 acres under vine. One of Rutherford’s key characteristics is that the fruit spends more time in the sun than any other appellation. Located between the Mayacamas and Vaca mountain ranges its diurnal temperature shifts (warm days followed by cool nights) allows Rutherford fruit to ripen evenly and steadily. Continue reading

New Generation of Cahors – An afternoon with Fabien Jouves and Emmanuel Rybinski



“Irreverent men make the best wines”


On a recent trip to southern France, one of the most memorable visits took place in the Malbec country of Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) Cahors, France, a picturesque region along the Lot River.

Wines from this AOC must contain at least 70% Malbec grapes. These days Malbec, also known as “Cot Noir,” is widely regarded as the signature grape for Argentina, which boasts over 70% of worldwide plantings of the variety; yet its roots are firmly planted in French soil. Malbec was introduced to Bordeaux in the 18th Century. This dark and opulent variety was blended into Bordeaux to bolster color and deepen flavor. Cahors gave Argentina its first Malbec cuttings in 1852. French versions are invariably dynamic, energetic, age worthy and quite restrained in their youth. Malbecs made in Argentina tend to be more lush and fruit-forward. Continue reading

Appellational Series – Top 10 Yountville Wineries


A Little Appelation That Could

Boasting the very first vineyards in the Napa Valley; planted by George Yount in the mid-1800’s, Yountville became an appellation in 1998. Although relatively small, 2700 or so acres are under vine, it is the home of some of the top growers and vintners in Napa Valley. Diversity of soils and microclimates facilitate a number of varietals, besides Cabernet Sauvignon, to thrive. There are some terrific Sauvignon Blancs and a stellar Petite Syrah or two. Don’t let its size fool you. This viticultural area is overflowing with wine gems no discerning drinker can afford to miss. Continue reading

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