Thursday, May 28, 2009

Serendipity at Lynmar Estate

The world of wine often graces me with the most wonderful and memorable moments.  It’s not always the wines, but the people.  Involvement with wine stirs a passion and zest for life not found in other industries.  I experienced one of those days last week when I stepped into the tasting room at Lynmar Estate in Sonoma Valley.  Typically, at most estates, you belly up to the bar, and methodically and joyfully, work your way through the portfolio taking as many notes as possible. Upon being greeted at Lynmar, which was founded by Lynn Fritz in 1990, I was immediately escorted to the patio under the beautiful California blue canopy.  I found a nicely positioned bench overlooking the meticulously manicured garden and vineyards.  Hospitality and culinary coordinator, Stacy Sheridan, graciously and enthusiastically served a lovely flight of white wines followed by another of red. This is the grand cru of work environments.

Many estates in Napa or Sonoma wine country have gloriously magnificent tasting facilities.  Unfortunately, the wines don’t always equal the show.  This is not the case at Lynmar. 

Lynmar winemaker and former winemaker at Flowers Vineyards and Winery, Hugh Chappelle (photo-left), incorporates a philosophy that allows the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines to reflect the unique terroir of the vineyards.  Elegance and harmony are trademarks of Chappelle produced wines. Despite a busy schedule, Hugh courteously stopped at my bench to offer his greetings and invite me back for a more in-depth tour.  This guy is also a lover of great olive oil.

Sustainability, biodynamic and organic farming practices are a devoted religion in this cool climate at Lynmar.  Therefore, any discussion of Lynmar must mention the head gardener, Michael Presley, the Kolbe Bryant or Lebron James of gardening.  Michael’s goal is to sustain all life needs within one mile of Lynmar (currently it’s ten).  This is hard for me to fathom given my sustainability universe is five continents and three oceans.

After listening to this articulate and passionate evangelist of biodynamic and organic farming discuss flax, white mulberry, living seed banks, compost-making chickens with orange egg yolks, vinegar, the mega outdoor pizza oven (I missed the party the night before), and the Laguna de Santa Rosa (the watershed habitat for a host of creatures), you are truly inspired and feeling better about the future of our plant.  Yet, Michael isn’t trying to change the whole world, only his.

This holistic attention to detail is part of the woven fabric of the Lynmar success and is essential to maintaining consistent quality from year to year, regardless of nature’s challenges.  Now, how about some wine?

Not many in California can produce a Chablis-styled Chardonnay.  The 2006 La Sereinite Chardonnay, named after the river flowing through the Chablis appellation in France, expresses minerality not often found in California Chardonnay.  The citrus, apricot and white peach presents refreshing acidity and length.

The 2006 Russian River Chardonnay illustrates how a top winemaker can produce a quality wine in a challenging growing season.  The higher humidity required careful and arduous fruit selection, which produced a floral and creamy lemon aroma with hints of apple and pear.  Despite the humidity, nice levels of acidity were maintained.

As with children, I don’t often pick favorite wines.  They each have there own uniqueness and qualities.  Then again, there’s the Quail Hill Vineyard Chardonnay, a signature vineyard at Lynmar that also produces Pinot Noir.  The 2005 shows Chardonnay elegance from a cool, long growing season and outstanding Chardonnay vintage.  This is an extraordinarily complex wine, but I will be brief.  Lemon, melon and grapefruit harmonically embrace the brightness and minerality.  During the recent Memorial Day weekend, a bottle was enjoyed during a magnificent sunset overlooking a 60-mile wide span of the Pacific Ocean in Laguna Beach—then, sadly, there was an empty bottle—what a shame.

The Lynmar Pinot Noirs begin with the 2006 Russian River Valley, which is composed of the Quail Hill Vineyard and sourced fruit from local growers.  Violets, cranberry, and black and red baked cherries marries terroir-based earthiness and acidity.  This is no Syrah “wannabe” Pinot Noir.

Now, the 2006 Quail Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir is what this regal varietal is all about. Those red fruits of cherry, cranberry, strawberry and raspberry combine nicely with the earthiness, graphite and integrated toast.  The wine should continue to develop through at least 2012.

The 2005 Five Sisters Pinot Noir is a blend of the finest five barrels from the estate and top source growers.  The name stems from the bond of Lynn Fritz’s five daughters.  The vineyards represented are: Hawk Hill (largest component), Jack Hill, Ferguson, Terra de Promissio, and Quail Hill.  The wine is bright, silky, structured, rich, and concentrated. This wine is simply terrific.

The 2007 Terra de Promissio, which is one of a group of wines available only to Lynmar Estate Advocates Club members, offers a glimpse at the highly proclaimed, slow-ripening 2007 vintage.  The dark fruits and typical baking spice highlight a wine of intensity and balance.

For more information and where to purchase, check out

With my anticipated 20-30 minute Lynmar tasting before lunch turning into a thankfully serendipitous two hours, a Moroccan lamb sandwich and a glass of Dehlinger Pinot Noir awaited my arrival at Underwood Bar & Bistro in nearby Graton.

Coming soon is Merry Edwards Winery!



Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Littorai Wines: Elegance and Integrity

If you enjoy wines made with integrity and character, Littorai Wines of Heidi and Ted Lemon must be on your wish list and in your cellar.  Littorai is located outside of Sebastopol in Sonoma County, California.  Their vineyards are on the North Coast in Sonoma Coast, western Sonoma, and Anderson Valley in Mendocino County.  The renowned cool morning fog of the North Coast produces age worthy Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines that are bright, fresh, aromatic, and elegant.  Ted Lemon trained and apprenticed in Burgundy and was the first American to be hired as the winemaker and vineyard manager in Burgundy at Domaine Guy Roulot in Meursault.  The Littorai stable harmonically reflects and personifies the individual and unique terroir of each designated vineyard. Syrah "wannabe” wines will not be found here.

Integrity is illustrated through integrated sustainability and biodynamic agriculture practices. With Littorai, these are not mere buzzwords, but a whole way of life.  A newly constructed winery exemplifies the green revolution.  Dormer windows in the winery open automatically in the early morning to capture the cool morning air and is cycled throughout the bales of straw insulated facility maintaining appropriate temperatures.  The air conditioning has been used only once this year.  Wastewater is recycled and used for vineyard and property irrigation.

A further reflection of the Littorai character is Ted Lemon’s decision to declassify the 2008 Savoy, Cerise and Roman Vineyards in Anderson Valley and the Hirsch Vineyard in Sonoma Coast due to wildfire smoke.  Bottled under the Sonoma Coast and Les Larmes Pinot Noir labels, the 2008s are for early drinking and excellent value. 

During a recent visit to the winery, I tasted three of the 2006 Pinot Noir designated vineyards, Thieriot Vineyard (Sonoma Coast), Roman Vineyard (Anderson Valley) and the Haven (Sonoma Coast).  Thieriot has a lovely rich texture with notes of raspberry, pepper and graphite.  The Roman Vineyard, which is similar to Hirsch, is aromatic and lies in a more moderate climate with lesser daily temperature swings than the higher altitude vineyards.  If you like mouthwatering, balanced acidity in your Pinot Noir, you will be sure to love the Haven Vineyard with its significant fog influence.  I have tasted the Hirsch previously and found it to have a firm structure with excellent aging potential.

Although Littorai is known more for its Pinot Noir, please do not overlook the Chardonnay lineup.  They are nothing short of outstanding. Their freshness, acidity and judicious use of oak mirror high quality white Burgundy. The pear, melon and floral Charles Heintz Vineyard will soon arrive in my cellar.  While I was devouring a succulent veal chop, David Baker, sommelier at John Ash & Co in Santa Rosa, offered high praise for the Littorai Chardonnays, particularly the Thieriot Vineyard.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention other members of the Littorai team.  Neil Bernardi (photo), the associate winemaker, is a bright, energetic young man who truly appreciates his blessed opportunity to apprentice under the masterful Ted Lemon.  And the personable and enthusiastic evangelist of the Littorai story, Sheri Wood (photo), can handle all of your ordering, tasting and informational needs.  Please check out the Littorai wines at

In the coming days, there will be more from Sonoma with Lynmar, Merry Edwards, Copain, Ledson and other estates.  

Sunday, May 24, 2009

"Extra Virgin?" "Cold Pressed?"

During the course of conducting olive oil tastings the past ten years, I'm frequently asked, "Are these oils extra virgin?" "Are these oils cold pressed?"  Those questions are somewhat equivalent to asking if wine has alcohol.   The terms offer consumers little or no information in selecting a quality olive oil.  Unlike seed oils, heat is not used in the production of extra virgin olive oil. Therefore, it's all cold pressed.  Plus, the term gives no hint of the processing system used in producing the oil. 

The International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) requires the acidity level to be less than .8 of one percent for an oil to be "Extra Virgin."  Unfortunately, the FDA has not promulgated standards for olive oil.  As for this much misunderstood term, "extra virgin," there is wrongful assumption by consumers that all extra virgin olive oils (EVOO) are the same.  At a recent advanced sensory evaluation of olive oil course on Australian and New Zealand olive oil, sponsored by the University of California-Davis, Richard Gawel, an expert in every detail about Australian olive oil, shared startling consumer research findings on olive oil from the down under.  It seems that 45% of consumers believe that health benefits are the same in all extra virgin olive oils. WOW!  We have our educational work cut out for us.  There is a vast disparity of health benefits and flavor among the extra virgin olive oils sold in the U.S. 

How can a consumer determine the quality of a olive oil?  We will address these issues in future posts. Please be assured, you will become a better buyer of extra virgin olive oil.

Here's one tip for today.  Our olive oil producing friends in California have taken this issue into their own hands.  A producer is required to submit its olive oil to a panel of expert olive oil tasters who judge the oil on a host of characteristics including flavor, absence of defects and aroma.  If the olive oil passes the panel's judgment, the producer is permitted to attach a gold seal on the label stating, "Certified California Extra Virgin."  Considerable work has gone into creating this panel and the process has integrity and provides consumers with a high degree of confidence.   Of course, there are issues about how the oil is cared for after it leaves the producer's hands, but more on that later.  

I encourage you to explore EVOO produced in California.  The quality of many oils rival those coming from the Mediterranean.  Buying an oil that is a "product" or "imported" from Italy is certainly no guarantee of quality.  In fact, there is an abundance of poor, defective olive imported into the U.S. every year.   There will be more on this in future posts. 


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Apollo Olive Oil & Darrell Corti

The week began in Sacramento having lunch with old friends Steven Dambeck and Pablo Voitzuk of Apollo olive oil.  They make three extraordinary oils.  Their Mistral has garnered a long list of awards and has been featured in Food and Wine and Men's Health magazines.  A few years ago, they installed an innovative milling system from Italy that maximizes the freshness, flavor and healthy qualities of the oil by minimizing air and water.  The result is an oil with a polyphenol count many times other oils.  Polyphenols are the healthy compounds, antioxidants, that make olive oil one of the healthiest foods on the planet.  If you are looking for enormous health benefits with plentiful flavor this is your oil (and who isn't). Their 2008/2009 oils were released this week and can be purchased at

A visit to Sacramento would not be complete without visiting the food, wine, olive oil and spirits legend, Darrell Cort of Corti Brothers.  Once again, Darrell introduced me to something new and fabulous, the Italian red grape varietal, Uva Rara. It makes a marvelous medium bodied, food friendly wine with balanced acidity and tannin.  Good luck trying to find it other than at Corti Brothers.  Call them at 916.736.3800 and they will happily ship to you.  You will want to be on their mailing list to receive their always informative and interesting newsletter.  There's no web site. 

Welcome to Crush and Press

Hello, I'm Bill Sanders and welcome to Crush and Press.  Here I will share my thoughts and experiences as I journey through the vast and wonderful world of olive oil and wine.  Enjoying food and wine is one of those simple, but often under appreciated, pleasures of daily life.  Let's stop and think about this precious present.  Forget the blurred activity of the day and savor the moment.  Join me on the journey.  The rewards can unexpected and abundant.