The first reviews on 2013 BLACKMAIL, from Blackbird Vineyards

I remember the first time I tasted Blackbird Vineyards Merlot. It was in Fall 2005, shortly after I joined Vinfolio to direct their domestic wine acquisition program where the mission statement was pretty clear. Make Vinfolio the destination for emerging American wines that nobody knew about. Every once in a while, my CEO would ask me to taste the new brand made by someone he knew. Virtually none of these panned out as something I wanted to offer, but one of them became a legend.

One day he called and told me to come to the San Francisco office to meet with the principal of a new wine brand. As a preliminary I asked him who was behind the wine, the variety and what it was called. I didn’t recognize the name, Michael Polenske who I learned was successful in his myriad business and entreprenurial pursuits and wanted to enter the wine business the right way. 

The variety, Merlot, from Napa Valley was of passing interest. There were only a few I considered worth a damn. Then he said it was called Blackbird. I recall that I immediately said something like “Do you mean THE Blackbird Vineyard?” The answer was, “Yeah, he bought the Blackbird Vineyard.” I let that last bit run over me for a few seconds as I thought back to the 1999 Selene Merlot, Blackbird Vineyard from Mia Klein that I ranked highest in 2004. To me, this place was among the Holy Grail of Merlot in Napa Valley along with Paloma. 

What came out of the first meeting with Michael impressed me that he was fully aware of the responsibilty he had after acquiring this jewelbox of a property. It was also clear that he didn’t do anything halfway. He knew of my earlier impressions of Selene which used only 55% Blackbird Vineyard fruit. He let me know his would be 100% from the site.

This was the 2003 Blackbird Merlot and there were about 75 cases. After tasting it with him the following week I asked him for two things:

1. Sell it all to me.

2. Then raise the price for the next vintage because it deserved it. 

I wrote the first professional review on Blackbird Merlot in October 2005., which makes it my longest continuous tracking of any producer. Fittingly, Blackbird was on the cover of pdwr #1. 



Blackbird Vineyards is now in its 11th release with the 2013 vintage and continues to broaden the offerings made by winemaker Aaron Pott. The latest are single variety bottlings of 50 cases each of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and offered as Blackmail. The first professional reviews are below. 





93 2013 Blackbird Merlot Blackmail

Napa Valley, 14.5%, 50 cs., 100MR, $100

This is what started it all  - The premiere release from Blackbird was the 2003 Merlot. The nose is cedar, plum and cherry with notes of chocolate and hazelnuts and whiffs of earth. The palate is full and supple on entry with black cherry, dense cocoa and licorice with a velvet-like structure. Drink 2017 - 2024. 

95 2013 Blackbird Cabernet Sauvignon Blackmail

Napa Valley, 14.5%, 50 cs., 100CS, $100

Shows a beautifully lively nose of boysenberry, licorice, blossoms, fresh currant and herbs. The palate entry offers impeccably sophisticated layering with a firm mid-palate core of currant, herb and blackberry underscored by chocolate - silky and pure. Finishes with firm berry and menthol. Drink 2017 - 2030.

94 2013 Blackbird Cabernet Franc Blackmail

Napa Valley, 14.5%, 50 cs., 100CF, $100

The nose is densely packed with chocolate, plum, spice, wet stone and blueberry. The palate entry is sticky prune plum with a leaner, more refined core redolent of cedar, warm berry, herb and firm tannins that are silkier given time in the glass. Drink 2018 - 2030.

For more information on these wines, go here.

These wines were received as professional samples and tasted over three days at Left Hand Rule Studio in Sonoma Valley.



pdwr Winery Of The Year 2015 | Wayfarer Vineyard

Click on the image to read about the pdwr Winery Of The Year | 2015


Special Report | 2009 and 2010 Hobel Cabernet Sauvignon

April 6, 2013, Calistoga

After a couple months of trying to get on each others schedules, i was finally able to get together with Cameron and Bahenah Hobel and grower Dick Engelhard at their vineyard today. The property is situated on a gentle slope just off Franz Valley School Road not more than 5 minutes from my house. In addition to Hobel, Engelhard grows for several other high profile producers that even though he didn’t ask me to mention, I choose not to. The wines are made by Thomas Brown who has been responsible for some of the most sought after wines made in California. 

The vineyard blocks used by Hobel are primarily divided among See Clone, 4 and 6. Premeiring in the 2009 vintage it was one of the wines (along with Luscher Ballard) I needed to learn about from Carl Studer in Lucerne, Switzerland. 

2009 Hobel Cabernet Sauvignon

Napa Valley, Engelhard Vineyard, 14.5%, 193 cs., $75

Typical of the 2009 vintage the nose is forward with round, ripe impressions of spice, blackberry and supple stone fruits. The palate is beautifully supple with red currant, blackberry concentration and intensity on the mid-palate finishing with impeccable balance. Drink 2013 - 2022. 96 points.

2010 Hobel Cabernet Sauvignon

Napa Valley, Engelhard Vineyard, 14.1%, 313 cs., $75

The nose has outstanding red fruit and blackberry coupled with underlying black walnut and whiffs of juniper. The palate is firm blackberry on entry showing just stunning purity in the fruit. It is very dialed in for balance with a supple, polished finish of plum, blackberry, carbon and black walnut. Drink 2013 - 2022. 94 points.



Special Report | 2010 Petrichor Les Trois Rhone Blend

Petrichor Estate, owned by Jim and Margaret Foley is nestled in at 1100 feet on the western ridge of the Mayacamas Mountains in Sonoma. I began following this brand last year with the premiere release of the 2009, made by Duncan Arnot Meyers. The 2010 has come into its own since tasting next to the premiere release earlier. Produced from what they grow in vineyards planted around their home, it yielded a mere 173 cases of a Grenache/Syrah blend. Aged in 100% neutral French Oak, the wine underwent native yeast fermentation.


2010 Petrichor Red Wine Les Trois                      

Sonoma County, Estate, 13.5%  GR|SR, 173 cs. $48 

The nose unapologetically shows off a richly-textured savory olive and carbon depth that reminds me of an old-school mixed blacks California red from the mid-sixties (Louis Martini, perhaps?). Underneath that first impresssion are layered blackberry, graphite, currant, cherry, licorice and purple herbs. As with the 2009, I find an inspired bandwidth of aromas that are quite exciting to discover; they come as quickly as I write them. The palate is beautifully textured with polished red currant and mocha along with well-formed structure. The wine is 70% whole cluster fermented and contains Alban clone Grenache, and Syrah from the plantings of 877 and 470. Drink 2013 - 2017. 91+ pioints 





Special Report - 2009 Nicora - lightning in a bottle, the debut of Nick Elliott

May 4, 2012 | Paso Robles - When I was returning home from World of Pinot Noir in March, I stopped off in Paso Robles to taste at Epoch, Terry Hoage and Herman Story. As the wine business anywhere is somewhat of a small community, I always ask about new producers that may be emerging. I heard the name Nicora at my first stop (uttered in what I took to be ‘real insider skinny’. The next stop allowed me to learn a little more about the credentials of the maker and look at the website. After that, the brand went on my short list of producers to follow up with the next time i was in the area, which was Hospice du Rhone, where I finally met the winemaker, Nick Elliott. As I was moving through the tasting at a pretty fast pace, I asked if we could meet up a week later when I returned from my tasting trip to Santa Ynez. We got that chance yesterday and the results were very impressive.

When first meeting winemaker, Nick Elliott, I got the impression of a serious young man who appoaches the business of winemaking with the reverence and appreciation of someone who is doing something that is bigger than what they would have ever imagined. In other words, humble and grateful for the opportunity. As recently as 2005, Elliott was not even near the wine business, instead involved in his family’s multi-generational general contracting business located in the Central Valley. But taking a chance to come to Paso Robles doing a first vintage on a consulting project working for Scott Hawley (Torrin) got the juices flowing and his premiere release 2009 sold out in a flash. 

The duo of rhone variety blends; Euphoric, 85GR|15SR, and Buxom, 90SR|10GR are arguably some of the best premiere releases I have seen come out of the central coast, period. Primarily, they have very well defined aromatic focus, with polished, lengthy and dynamic fruit expresion on the palate. There is a lot to like…

“It is a very rare occurence when a brand (even one well mentored) debuts with wines of this stature. Elliott’s plans for growth are deliberate, and incremental. I see nothing to get in the way of consistently solid wines coming out of here. Definitely a winemaker to watch, it is clear he absorbs the wisdom of what he learns like a sponge.” doug wilder, pdwr


93 2009 Nicora Red Wine Euphoric

Paso Robles, 16.0% alcohol, $48. 50 cs. 85GR|15SR

Immediately, the wine shows a gorgeous nose of intense and lively black and red raspberry with an overlay of warm underbrush and pulverized rock, blossoming from the glass like an orchid, along with savory and mineral notes. The palate is very smooth and bright on entry showing an unusual overall balance focused on supple, savory and ripe flavors of cherry and red currant. Drink 2012 - 2022. 


94 2009 Nicora Red Wine Buxom

Paso Robles, 16.0% alcohol, $48. 50 cs. 90SR|10GR

An immediately intense and pure nose of blackberry and black pepper with plenty of polished extraction. The palate shows flavor shadings of rich chocolate, black pepper and berry/currant. It is very approachable, supple and polished. Drink 2012 - 2020.