Nov 27, 2016

Getting our Grüner on at Hahndorf Hill Winery

Just like your first real kiss or that first love, the first time I tasted Grüner Veltliner I was never to be the same again. I had been kissed and my heart (palate) was hooked. It was the debut White Mischief Grüner Veltliner (a fruit-driven, less dry style) from Hahndorf Hill Winery in Hahndorf South Australia in the beautiful Adelaide Hills. I was immediately smitten with this beautiful wine. In the years since that first sip I look forward with anticipation to heading back to Hahndorf Hill Winery every year to taste the new vintage and see what else is on offer as well as enjoy a wonderful ChocoVino experience.

The most important grape variety in Austria, Grüner Veltliner achieved worldwide awareness and popularity at the end of the last century. It is a fertile variety and therefore requires a deft touch in the vineyard with things like yield regulation. It grows especially well in deep loamy soils, does not like dryness and is sensitive during flowering. Grüner Veltliner delivers all quality levels - from light, acidity-toned wines to the highly ripe Prädikat wines. The site and the yield are crucial to the quality. Spicy, peppery versions are preferred and so are versions yielding stone fruit notes. Grüner Veltliner is capable of producing very fine, full-bodied wines well capable of ageing. Until I was introduced to this wonderful wine by Larry at Hahndorf Hill Winery and in an instant I was hooked.

Having been unable to source healthy Grüner plant material in Australia, HHW (Hahndorf Hill Winery) in 2006 was able to import three different clones directly from Austria, which all passed successfully through the quarantine system. Then in 2009 they imported a further three clones again from Austria, making a total of six clones of Grüner that were planted in their vineyard.

In 2010 they released their debut vintage, which they affectionately named GRU. This was the first production of Grüner Veltliner in South Australia (and the second within Australia, the first being Lark Hill, a year earlier, in the Canberra wine region).

In addition, the HHW GRU Grüner Veltliner 2015 was selected to represent Australia at the prestigious Six Nations Wine Challenge 2016, where it was (not surprisingly) awarded a Double Gold Medal.

At Hahndorf Hill Winery they now produce four different styles of Grüner Veltliner - a classic style, GRU Grüner Veltliner; a more fruit-driven style, White Mischief Grüner Veltliner; their reserve style, GRU2 Grüner Veltliner and soon (maybe already) will be releasing a late harvest style called Green Angel.

Winemakers like to tell you that their wines go with everything but in the case of HHW Grüner Veltliner, Austria’s (Adelaide Hills soon) best known white wine, it’s true. Short of Sunday roasts and large juicy steaks you can match it with practically anything. At first glimpse, that umlauted ü in Grüner may give off a tongue-twisting impression. But the name is actually simple to pronounce, it's "Grew-ner Velt-leen-er". Really, if Pinot Grigio and Cabernet Sauvignon easily fly off the tongue, then certainly Grüner Veltliner will. Or just join us and call it Grüner.

This wine has a lovely fresh aromatic citrus quality on the nose that carries to the palate with a mouth filling citrus and stone fruit combination. With the almost perfect amount of acid that makes your mouth water and beg you to drink some more. Before you know it the bottle is empty. What a lovely wine that at *** earns an 8+ on the scale.

As I mentioned early in the piece, I look forward every year to tasting the latest from Hahndorf Hill Winery and the Grüner is a major reason. Ok, and the great staff that also provide a wonderful tasting as well as the ever amazing Chocovino experience that are really icing on the cake.

Happy Wine Adventures,


Nov 18, 2016

A winemakers journey.

Way back in the Santa Cruz Mountains is an old estate that few ever get to see that has been producing wonderful Pinot Noir for over ten years. Established in 1881 by California pioneer Pierre Cornwall this grape growing property was once owned by the famous director, Alfred Hitchcock. Today Heart O' The Mountain is owned by the Robert Brassfield family and produces a limited amount of hand-crafted, Estate grown Pinot Noir made by winemaker Brandon Armitage.

Brandon Armitage started his career 19 years ago in New Zealand. where he studied Viticulture in Central Otago and started getting his hands dirty working on helping to establish new vineyards and working in existing ones. While completing his technical degree in Viticulture he was volunteering all of his free time to winemaking. Working for Carrick Wines in New Zealand a love for Pinot Noir was born. After years of traveling back and forth from northern hemisphere, Colorado/Oregon/California, to southern hemisphere New Zealand making wine, he was able to develop the skills needed to grow and nurture grapes into the best Pinot Noir the Santa Cruz Mountains has to offer!

Brandon Armitage is the winemaker and President of Armitage Wines and is now taking over the general management of the Bassfields Heart O the Mountain operation for whom he has been making wine for for a number of years! The Brassfields have built a reputation based on family, exceptional quality and a passion for making stellar wines from one of the most magical places within the Santa Cruz Mountain AVA, known as the old Alfred Hitchcock estate, Mt. Roberta and Heart O' The Mountain.

Heart O' The Mountain Vineyard was planted with specific clones, orientation and rootstock best suited for the terroir and micro climate of the estate. Five clones have been planted, 777, 828, 667, Pommard and most recently 115, offering different characteristics to be showcase the property and some to be crafted into the best Pinot from the area.
The Brassfields hard work and care evolved into a wine that was only available to people they connected with and who became club members. As members grew so did production and different styles of Pinot from the same vineyard thus creating the single clone series. While blending the clones together fills in the spaces, balancing tannin, sugars and acids providing a balanced wine experience, being able to try the different components of the single clones provides a better understanding of what goes into blending. Showing off single clone wines is part of what separates the estate from other wineries in the area.

Bob giving us some history in the English rose garden
As the winemaker-owner of Armitage Wines and taking over the responsibility of HOTM, Brandon has put a lot of thought into how he is going to balance the two labels and maintaining the exclusivity of the brand Heart O' The Mountain.  All Heart O' The Mountain Vineyard single clone wines will have the original Heart O' The Mountain label.
These wines were once only available to club members but now can be tasted at the Aptos California tasting room. As of the 2014 vintage, Heart O' The Mountain Vineyard wines that are a blend of the different clones will have the Armitage label on them.  
Brandon says the focus is still the Allocation Club and they want members (their family) to have exclusive access to certain aspects of the business such as club events and HOTM winery visits.  
Both labels can be purchased through the website at  Club members can access or create an account on the website, purchase wine, and have the wine shipped to them or pick it up at the Postal Annex in Scotts Valley or at the Tasting Room in Aptos. 

Armitage Wines and Heart O' The Mountain has opened the wine club up to new members as the vineyard has produced more grapes in recent years and they plan on making all of it into wine!  They also believe the best marketing is word of mouth and have created a Referral Program where they have a few different wines that they keep in their Library, so if a member refers someone to the club, they gift them  a bottle of wine from the library. Nice touch!

At the recent unveiling of the 2014 vintage at the Estate we asked Brandon what were some of the current changes people will see and what directions he may take the labels in the future. He said not much is going to change but is looking to grow production a bit but staying the course with the current process. He is looking forward to getting into the vineyards and putting his hand on the vines to up the quality even more.

When we asked Brandon what one thing he had learned in his time in New Zealand that he uses to this day he straight out stated that the one thing he believes is that paying attention makes a difference. You must pay attention to the details Brandon says, that way you never have to recover only monitor and guide the wine to its be its best.  

Bob Brassfield gave us a wonderful tour of the estate and gave us the history as well. While Hitchcock did not live there he used the place for entertaining guests. We can only imagine what a thrill it must have been for those guests as the place is spectacular. We also had a long chat with Bob about the circumstances that brought about his association with Brandon and how it has come that Brandon has come to be taking over the operation. Bob is excited to see what is to come and has the utmost confidence in Brandon's wine making and vineyard management skills. 

With that all being said what about the 2014 releases? We tasted through the 2014 HOTM 667, HOTM Pommard Clone, HOTM 828, HOTM 777, Armitage Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir, Armitage Chalone 'Dry Hole Vineyard' Pinot Noir as well as the Armitage Mt Roberta Reserve Pinot Noir. All quality wines. These are relatively young wines and are not yet set to be released for a month or so, but all tasted very good.

These are very impressive wines from a small vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains and Brandon is really one to watch, or as we prefer to do, continue to taste and drink his wines (strictly so we can continue to inform). With wine this good it wont be long before there will be a waiting list to get an allocation of his wine. 

Join the club now while you can so you don't miss out!

Happy Wine Adventures,


Oct 16, 2016

2013 Pinot Nior's from Armitage Wine

Not that long ago we came across this wine maker that just knocked our socks off. A self proclaimed maker of Pinot Noir. After a taste of the range we were hooked. The wines we tasted were;

2013 Carmel Valley Pinot Noir. This is hefty for a Pinot. It has tannin's that will need a little time to figure out who they really are. This wine changes in the glass over time quite a bit. Time should prove this to be an interesting and enjoyable different style Pinot Nior. *** 7.

2013 Santa Cruz mountains Pinot Noir. 
Soft feminine and delicate A sexy young girl who enjoys leading you astray. Oh baby. Hey honey can I keep her? 100% new oak. Would not have guessed. Just delightful *** 7+.

2013 Armitage Chalone
2013 Dry Hole Vineyard Chalone Piñot Noir.
A full sumptuous, voluptuous wine that has it all going on. A Marilyn of wine. Great balance and a crackin finish that just checks all the boxes. This wine is feminine but is a bit like that sultry woman that can make grown men blush. A siren that one cannot resist. Please sir can I have some more. No new oak. *** 8.

2013 Santa Cruz Mountains Mt Roberta Reserve Piñot Noir.
2013 Armitage SCM ReserveThis is a beautiful svelte wine that has beautiful aromatics and a balanced and round mid palate. The finish is like a great suspense novel from a master that holds you on the edge of your seat for an extended period of time. A technical descriptor for this wine would be 'Yum'.  This is the same as the Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot but selected barrels that Brandon feels are the best of the best. The best of the best is a little more rounded and fuller. This seductive wine is a lover with a feel for substance and connection that will make your night one to remember. ** 8+.
Head on over to Aptos California and have a taste of some pretty darn good Pinot Noir. We are soon to taste the pre-release of the 2014's and we cant wait.
Happy Wine Adventures,


Oct 9, 2016

Scones, helicopters and 100 year old port, Barossa

What is one to do when your mum is turning 90 and needs for nothing? Start a kind of, what have you not done list, that might be of interest and or fun to do list...

A big day was planned and although most things were not a surprise, it was still a surprise as I don't think she believed me when I told her of the itinerary. Mum lives in Paradise. No really, she literally lives in Paradise. Its a suburb of Adelaide South Australia. Given the location it seemed easy to create a special day. A day of firsts in the Barossa Valley.

We took off early enough to get a full day of activities in, even with the rain. The first stop was a lovely coffee shop in Lyndoch. The Lord Lyndoch was a lovely sojourn for Cappuccinos, tea and scones with jam and cream. Oh how I miss the decadent thick cream of Australia.

After some yum in our tummies it was back onto the road. It was not long driving through the beautiful southern Barossa that the rain stopped and we came to our next stop, Barossa Helicopters. In her 90 years mum has never been in a helicopter. We did our preflight and headed of to see a bunch of Barossa Icons from the air. What a trooper. Mum just hops on in and gets buckled up. Moments later we are going airborne.

As we gently cruised across the vineyards of the beautiful Barossa we started trying to spot the winery. Not as easy as one would think. One place that was relatively easy to spot was Seppeltsfield, where we had plans for later in the afternoon. We also spotted, Gods Hill,  Whistler, Two Hands, Hentley Farm, Chateau Tanunda and also flew over the whispering wall. A lovely flight with spectacular views and a recommended stop when in the Barossa. Thumbs up from Mum!
Rain didn't slow us down.
VIP tasting area.
Next up was the stop that I was most looking forward to. The main event. The icing on the cake. A stop at Seppeltsfield . First up was a beautiful lunch at Fino. All four of us ordered something different and we each were delighted by our choices. The food, the service and the accompanying wines were fantastic. Next up for Mums (and mine) big day was a tour to learn of the Seppelt family history and their profound influence on the Australian wine industry.

Nigel talking to sister in law
about her birth year port.
We toured the 1851 Seppelt homestead, Elm Walk, 1877 Distillery and 1860s Blending Cellars. Some wonderful stuff that Mum just ate up. Then it was time for our private tour host Nigel to take us to the luxurious VIP mezzanine lounge and taste the current releases of port. First up a Grand Tawny 10 years average age. Then a Para Rare Tawny at 18 years average followed by a 21 year Old Para Tawny. The final taste in the VIP lounge was an amazing 1986 Para Liqueur Tawny. The pinnacle of the day was then wandering around in the barrel room of the world’s longest and only unbroken collection (lineage) of single vintage tawny since 1878. Here we were told of the history of the contents and it was amazing. During our wandering we also got to taste all our birth year ports.

Mum enjoying a 1926 port.
We started with a 1976, yum. Then a 1963 that was divine. Next up a 1958 and then for the birthday girl a 1923. Seppeltsfield’s Centennial Cellar is the remarkable vision of Oscar Benno Pedro Seppelt, who in 1878, began the legacy of maturing single vintage Tawny for 100 years before release. The VIP tour was finished up with a taste of a 100 year old port. What a special and amazing tasting it was and what a great day. Mum was stoked and the rest of us were as well.
An amazing adventure and all just a short drive from Paradise...

Happy Wine Adventures,

Our tour guide Nigel showing some other guests a good time.

Oct 2, 2016

Aeration by AERVANA... Is it for everyone?

We were recently sent a very nice power aerator. Now we have never really used aeration much. Generally only if we feel that the wine needs it to help drink-ability. Our normal approach is if we can swirl it into drink-ability we do it. So looking at this fancy and very nicely packaged aeration device we were wondering if it would revolutionize our drinking pleasure or just end up sitting on the shelf and keeping company with a couple of others.

The AERVANA is a well packaged and a quality device. Well made and works exactly as advertised. Tip; read instructions and follow. This way you will avoid the wine being sprayed all over the counter and splashed all over the surrounding counter items and walls. This is no fault of the AERVANA device but a simple user error. The actuation button is on the top, which after having used it a couple times makes perfect sense. But the first time while putting it into and onto the bottle pushed the button and, well, as referred to above, wine everywhere.

So how do we determine if this is a must have device for our wine drinking friends. We decided to gather a few bottles of young big reds to put it to the test. With 20 Riedel Bordeaux wine glasses, two bottles of big reds and five eager drinkers one glass of each wine straight from the bottle and one glass each of wine poured through the AERVANA. Now it became immediately apparent that we needed a little wait time to let the air bubbles disperse otherwise identifying the AERVANA wine would be child's play as it pours it frothy red wine. Within a minute or two there are no tell tale bubbles.

The company says:
Aervana is out to enhance the wine experience of wine lovers everywhere. Aervana offers a new and sophisticated way to aerate your wine with the ease of pushing a button. It’s also the first aerator designed to leave sediment in the bottom of the bottle and not in your glass.
What varietals does Aervana work best with?
Aglianico | Bordeaux blend | Cabernet Sauvignon | Mourvèdre | Nebbiolo | Nero D’Avola | Petit Verdot | Petite Sirah | Syrah (depending on the region) | Tannat | Tempranillo | Touriga Nacional

So our results? The votes counted, and four out of the five drinkers preferred the AERVANA poured wine (both wines Bordeaux). Wow we thought, that is a big recommendation.

Did it revolutionize our drinking pleasure? Is this a must have? Can we now live without it? Yes and no. We know, that is not an answer. WE continued to use it on many other wines and found it a bit mixed on improved initial drinking pleasure. On reflection, the wines that seemed better were all on the company varietals list. Perhaps not a coincidence.

So the take away is this. Nicely leaves the sediment in the bottle not the glass. Very cool and easy dispensing and cleans up super easy. With heavy and younger wines of the recommended varietals we experienced the AERVANA does make the wine more approachable for the average drinker in a nice classy and convenient dispensing package.

Happy Wine Adventures,


PS: Still using it...