purely domestic wine report | Winery of the year 2018 


The wines from Martha Stoumen | a preview of v. 6.1

When I am not tasting or writing, I am looking for producers that are not yet on my radar screen. Even when I locate a new producer, sometimes it takes the comments of a friend to remind me to be a little more diligent in my effort to follow through. That happened after I came across the wines from Martha Stoumen about two months ago only to have my memory jogged by my friend, Ken Zinns, who tasted her wines a few weeks ago. I got in touch with Martha, and arranged to get samples shipped in.

When you get to experience a producer in their first iteration there is always the risk that in the light of day, they could have tried to over-achieve to make a ‘gorilla in the room’ impression that is incongrous, yet can’t be ignored. Only those who have apprenticed with some of the best will have the confidence and wisdom to stay true to their core philosophy and aren’t that concerned with pleasing people like me. You can’t know how much I admire that from a producer. Stoumen’s approach is distilled from the influence of working under winemakers in Germany, France, Italy, Australia and California (Chris Brockway of Broc Cellars) where she gleened lessons that led to her devotion to fringe sites and varieties made with a passion that in medieval times would possibly be considered alchemy. These are exciting wines that are stunning in their subtlety, from ancient vine (Zinfandel planted in 1963, Carignan, 1948) vineyards that for lack of an advocate bringing their virtues into focus would be lost to nondescript blends, or worse. Amazing quality for the prices charged. Don’t wait on these wine. 

92 NV martha stoumen rose teal drops

California, 13.5%, 103 cs., 60CG|40Z, $22

White cherry and honey, chamomile, faint flowers and nectarine. Sur-lies fermentation and aging provides a leesy aspect to aromas. Whole cluster and neutral oak. The palate is bright with undertones of richly textured golden fruits, spritzed with honey and lees. Drink 2017 - 2019.

95 2015 martha stoumen carignan

Mendocino, Venturi Vineyard, 12%, 215 cs. $28

A nose of bright pomegranate, raspberry and crushed cherry, dry chalk and graphite. The palate is clean, fresh bright red fruit - pomegranate and cranberry; vibrant and textured throughout. Hard to push away from this stunner. Drin 2017 - 2022. 

94 2016 martha stoumen red wine post flirtation

California, 11.3%, 330 cs., 65CG|35ZN, $20

The nose is cherry with notes of lemon ice and sticky raspberry. The palate is lively on entry with toned red berry and stone fruit, rose petal. Try it chilled for hot eather alternative to whites or rose. Drink 2017 - 2020. 

93 2015 martha stoumen red wine mendo benchlands

Mendocino County, 14%, 120 cs. 60 Nero D’Avola | 40 Zinfandel, $30

The nose is a dense blue fruit with elevated spice and salt-kissed sweet wild grapes. The palate entry immediately spills in to the impressively wild core of firm, gripping strawberry caps overlsaying cherry and raspberry. Beautiful notes of liqueur like brightness and depth. Drink 2017 - 2021. 




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.