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Wonderment Wines: Living the Dream!

It’s been said that ‘happiness is not a matter of intensity, but of balance’ and we couldn’t agree more. That’s why we’ve created our family of Wonderment Wines. Focused on specific terroir and vineyards using the perfect balance of dedication, integrity and fun that makes life so enjoyable.
— Stephanie Cook

‘phrases to live by….purposely on the CORK of each bottle of Wonderment Wine’ 

Wonderment: Who we are - Terroir, Terroir…!!

Wonderment Wines produces handcrafted single vineyard designate wines.  We specialize in Pinot Noir, Heritage Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Semillon & Sauvignon Blanc from premier vineyard sites in American Viticultural Areas (AVA) such as Carneros-Napa County, Oak Knoll of Napa County, Carneros-Sonoma County, Russian River Valley, Rockpile and Lake County. Working closely with top growers in these respective AVAs such as Dutton Ranch, Mauritson, Bacigalupi and Hyde Vineyards our wines are focused on specific terroir where each wine represents the vineyards distinctive style and expression.  We incorporate artisanal methods with minimal intervention in both the vineyard and winery with the specific goal of creating wines of balance, finesse and elegance.  

Owner & Winemaker: Stephanie Cook - Who I am…. !!

Stephanie cook, owner & winemaker

Stephanie cook, owner & winemaker

I was born and raised in Leesville, South Carolina and a have been a resident of Charleston the past 17yrs, I began traveling the world as a fashion model, living and working in London, Milan and Istanbul in my late teenage years and early 20s.

Landing back in South Carolina, this time in the wonderful city of Charleston, I turned my lifelong love of food into a new career, earning my culinary degree and graduating magna cum laude at Johnson & Wales University ten years ago.  After staging in a restaurant in Milan, I returned to the incredible food, history and beauty of Charleston. What an amazing city Charleston is; full of southern charm, soul, and fantastic people.  I put my hospitality and entrepreneurial skills to the test, creating and leading the successful special events and catering company, Bridgeside Events, which I later sold.

All the while, my dream to become a winemaker waited patiently for its moment. After losing my Dad unexpectedly, the man who made homemade Muscadine wine in the laundry room, it motivated me to make my dream of being a winemaker a reality.  

Not long after, I met Bob Biale of Robert Biale Vineyards and informed Bob that I was coming to work for him. True to my word, I worked the 2011 harvest in Napa, soaking up every bit of knowledge I could.  The Bob and the cellar staff have become life long friends and mentors.  The experience was truly life altering!

Also in 2011 while working harvest I bought my own grapes and made my first Pinot Noir (a barrel of precious Dr. Stan’s Vineyard) and two Zinfandels. These three exciting wines constitute Wonderments very first release and the realization of my Dream!

In 2012, I continued honing my skills at Spottswoode Vineyard & Winery, a historic Victorian era estate in St. Helena and I fell ever more in love with winemaking.  In 2013, I worked as the senior intern at Anomaly Vineyards for acclaimed winemaker Mark Porembski.  In spring of 2014 I decided to go down under to New Zealand, specifically to Marlborough and spent 8 weeks in the role of Vintage Winemaker for Spy Valley Wines.  Then during the fall 2014 Napa/Sonoma harvest I worked harvest at Staglin Family Vineyard with winemaker Frederik Johansson.

Each of these experiences have helped shape what today are Wonderments highly acclaimed vineyard designate bottlings.  I am so fortunate for my experiences with each of these special wineries and the people that define each of them.

The Wines: What we represent…!!

Preceding the 2012 harvest, we were able to quickly build a handful of relationships with some of the top growers in Sonoma and Napa AVAs : Bacigalupi, Dutton Ranch, Hyde, Mauritson.  Since the 2012 Vintage we have produced six red wines focused on Pinot Noir and Zinfandel along with a historic half acre block of Russian River Valley Petite Sirah.  

These six bottling have been produced every year since, with each year providing us more and more understanding of the wines ‘sense of place’.  These varietals, as evident early on with our first vintage in 2011, were chosen for very specific reasons.  As a South Carolinian with a culinary background the balance and synergy between food and wine is tantamount for an elevated experience.  Pinot Noir for myself and for many is ‘the great’ wine of the world and is such an amazing compliment for so many types of food.  As a varietal, it is elegant and feminine with a subtle backbone of power.  Zinfandel on the other hand is the great heritage varietal of California and for many is considered ‘The American Wine’ - planted and farmed by the first settlers to the Sierra Foothills over 150 years ago.  For me, it is again the compliment Zinfandel provides with a variety of cuisine - it produces a wine with balanced fruit, mouthfeel and acidity.  Interestingly, many winemakers consider both these varietals to be difficult to produce consistent, quality wines - quietly that also might have been a motivator!!  Lastly - it is a privilege to have found such a fantastic little half acre of Petite Sirah in the Russian River Valley.  These vines are twenty years old and dry farmed.  I will always remember John Bacigalupi explaining how he and his father Charles decided which PS vines to graft over to this block.  The genetic material for this block of PS is filled with over 100 years of RRV harvests.  For Wonderment it is our Cabernet Sauvignon Imposter - filled with fruit, structure and joy in any situation.  Bring on the steaks and the ‘Big Green Egg’. 

For the 2013 Harvest we were focused on producing a white wine.  We were able to convince Larry Hyde and his son Chris to sell us a row of Semillon planted in 1978 during the original development of their 160 acre Carneros-Napa Valley vineyard.  This row of slightly diseased almost 40 year old wines have been so much fun to work with.  The 150 vines produced about one ton of fruit each vintage producing approximately 50 cases of Wonderment Hyde Vineyard Semillon.  During each vintage we barrel ferment in stainless steel then age for 4 months in neutral French oak before bottling.  We are excited to see this wine age but at only 50 cases the 2013 vintage sold out quickly.  and currently the 2014 vintage is available.  Sadly, the 2015 vintage (currently in bottle) will be the last of this Vineyard designate bottling as this part of the Hyde vineyard was redeveloped in spring of this year.  Yet, we are excited to be releasing our first Sauvignon Blanc from the Las Trancas Vineyard farmed by the Hydes and located in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley next spring. We were able to get a few tons for the 2015 harvest and are extremely excited to share this wine with our new and existing supporters!

This journey the past five years can only be described as ‘Living the Dream’..  more specifically ‘Living my Dream’ and hopefully you will enjoy and find time to share my dream with your friends and family.

Vineyard 36

Vineyard 36

Meet Jason - co-proprietor of Vineyard 36 - a Napa Valley winery created by three friends with a mutual passion for friendship, wine and hockey. The story begins with Jason's first visit to Napa Valley and a private, guided tour with Dave Del Dotto himself. It was this particular wine experience that changed Jason's life and led to his first winery venture, Tobacco Roads Cellars. Eventually, he would befriend Cam and Tim - two professional hockey players in the NHL - who had a shared love and appreciation for wine. In this exclusive piece, Jason shares how these three came together to chase one shared dream - Vineyard 36 - and the stories behind the wine labels, UnMask and Cross Check.

Vineyard 36 is the story of three friends living individual dreams, brought together by a mutual love and appreciation for wine.  It begins with Jason Earnest’s ownership in Tobacco Roads Cellars – a boutique winery located in Napa Valley named after the rivalry between Duke University and the University of North Carolina.  Known for big, bold California Cabernets, Jason would often travel and host Tobacco Road wine dinners in restaurants across the US. 

At one particular event in North Carolina, Jason met Cam Ward – a prominent professional hockey player for the Carolina Hurricanes – who quickly became one of Jason’s best customers.  The guys always managed to keep in touch, even after Jason sold his ownership in Tobacco Road Cellars and relocated to New York.  During hockey season, anytime the Carolina Hurricanes came to town to play the New York Rangers, they met up for dinner with fellow teammate Tim Gleason. 

Fast forward to one evening when the curiosity of owning a winery came up in conversation.  This initial, wine fueled discussion lead to several others, and a decision was made to make 3 barrels of Cabernet.  Jason, Tim and Cam shared creative input during the blending process; the wine went from barrels to bottles; labels were added and the stash was divvied for personal consumption between friends and family. 

For the highly anticipated tasting of their inaugural release, Tim, Cam and Jason met in Fort Lauderdale on Jason’s boat.  They opened a bottle, hoped for the best and…were completely blown away at the gorgeous wine! Jason vividly recalls Tim’s reaction: a big smile and a hope it wasn’t going to be THIS good.  All three agreed this was something special, so talks quickly turned into strategy and CANE Estate was born. 

Since Tim and Cam both played for the Carolina Hurricanes, CANE Estate seemed to be the perfect name for the venture, especially in the Carolina market.  But with dreams of expanding and creating a nationally recognized brand, they settled on Vineyard 36 – the summation of Cam Ward (#30) and Tim Gleason’s (#6) jersey numbers. 

From inception to present day, all three friends agree quality and passion are two of the most important factors when producing consistently balanced, beautiful wines.  Each year, their fruit is sourced from boutique, privately owned Napa Valley properties, typically 10 acres or less.  The wine labels – cleanly designed with a little edge – tell their own unique stories, especially the Cross-Check and UnMask blends.  During one of the Carolina Hurricane games, Cam Ward went to visit the injured Tim Gleason in the locker room and snapped a photo to send to his family as reassurance he was well attended to.  The captured image resurfaced when their Cross Check wine was ready to be labeled.  Both Jason and Cam thought the photo perfectly matched the intensity of the wine, but it took some convincing on Tim’s part.  The only way he agreed to his personalized image on the bottle was if another blend captured Cam in action.  You can find Vineyard36’s ode to Cam on the goalie-inspired label, UnMask: a zinfandel based wine with Syrah and a secret grape varietal.  To date, no one has been able to successfully guess the secret blend – but anyone who does will be offered a complimentary bottle!

Get your hands on their very limited portfolio of wines!  Stay up to date with Vineyard 36 by joining their mailing list or following them on the VAULT29 app, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.  Barrel tastings can be set up by emailing them, as all tastings are appointment only.

Anthem Winery

Anthem Winery

Team Anthem was founded in 2009 with a mission to produce small quantities of handcrafted wines from the most distinctive and promising mountainous vineyards in Napa Valley. Anthem's winemaker is the talented Jeff Ames - 2008's Winemaker to Watch - while industry renowned John Truchard oversees duties as vineyard manager. The gorgeous bottle-wrapped label is a topographic map displaying the contour of the land around the winery, with a star pinpointing Anthem's exact location.

We are honored to have Proprietor Julie Arbuckle exclusively shares her Top 5 lessons she has learned in the wine industry. It's clear to see Anthem has every aspect of what it takes to stand out from the crowd!


The Top Five Inside Facts I have Learned in the Wine Business By Julie Arbuckle, Proprietor of Anthem

1.  The wine business requires immense patience.  Especially when starting with raw land, it can take a decade or more of time, hard work, and investment to build a successful winery.  When we began the process of planting our vineyards in 2007, we knew it would be years until our dream of having a winery would come into fruition.  In 2009, our vineyards were still not capable of producing the ultra-premium fruit we require.  Nonetheless, with the encouragement of our vineyard manager, John Anthony Truchard, we decided to jump-start the process by hiring a winemaker and purchasing grapes from another Mt. Veeder grower.  Now that it is 2015, we are finally about to release our exquisite 2011 Mt. Veeder Estate Cabernet we planted seven years ago.  After the first Cabernet harvest on our own land in 2011, the wine spent about 20 months in the barrel and will continue to mature in the bottle before we release it this Fall.

2.  A wine’s quality is largely dependent on Mother Nature.  The Napa Valley in general and Mt. Veeder in particular has an ideal climate for growing grapes, but even here, if the Spring and Summer are not warm enough to ripen the fruit, or if frost sets in after but break, making ultra-premium wine can be a challenge.  In our hillside Mt. Veeder location on a bench overlooking North Napa, we haven’t had frost and have great sun exposure, so we have always been able to get our grapes perfectly ripe.  In 2011, however, we risked our entire crop by opting not to pick our grapes before the Fall rains came unusually early although many other wineries opted to pick before the rain.  Fortunately, the rain had no effect on the quality of our grapes and they got the additional dry weather and hang time they needed to fully ripen.

3.  Earning praise and high scores from wine critics will not alone build a new wine brand.  In our short time marketing our wine, we have earned high praise and scores, but it is not the only element that goes into establishing a successful wine brand.  New high end wineries need to find ways to get their wines on the palates of their target consumers and to earn those consumers’ loyalty and trust, which again takes time.   To earn our customers’ loyalty and trust, we do whatever it takes to ensure our wines are consistently lights out blockbusters.  In most vintages, this philosophy results in us selling any wine that does not meet our extremely high quality standards to other wineries while it is still in the barrel.

4.  One cannot underestimate the importance of a wine’s packaging, especially with all the options available today.  Our label and packaging, designed by John Schall, really speaks to our customers and has been featured on wine blogs, videos, and even the cover of a book about beautiful bottles.  My husband conceptualized our back label that identifies every factor and decision that went into making each of our wines in an approachable format.  It makes my job marketing to wine experts easy except of course when I need to update the labels for each new vintage of wine we bottle.

Anthem Winery & Vineyards Grapes | VAULT29

5.  Not all vineyards are created equal – not even close.  When it comes to producing world-class wine, the quality of the grapes can determine about 85% of the quality of the wine.  In short, the quality of wine that can be made is largely determined by the time the grapes are harvested.  When I interviewed 100 winemakers in order to find our superstar winemaker, Jeff Ames, I was surprised to hear most winemakers agree that their job was to adjust and control the last several factors that can improve a wine’s quality.  These factors include, but are not limited to, skilled winemaking, a smooth fermentation process, and access to the best barrels.  We use 100% French Oak barrels, mostly new Taransaud and Darnajou barrels.  The bottom line is even the best winemaker cannot make an incredible wine from average grapes.   

Be sure to add your Anthem wine experiences using the VAULT29 app!

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"Wine Mic Monday" is a VAULT29 series based on an "open mic concept" where wineries take over our blog to write about aspects unique to them and their wines. This week, we are proud to feature Lamborn Family VineyardsThree Generations of Elegant Howell Mountain Wines, Artfully Expressed by acclaimed Winemaker, Heidi Barrett.

"Label Talk: Let's Make It Meaningful" by Brian Lamborn

Like so many of the wines being produced today, wine terms themselves are becoming homogenized and, as a result, obsolete. The term “boutique” is a great example.

What exactly is a boutique winery? Larry Walker addressed the issue in his article on small wineries (“Starting And Staying Small,” January 2006) to help the industry better understand this often-used phrase. But I fear that perhaps the designation has gone the way of other favorites, thrust into meaningless oblivion by overuse and abuse.

Terms like “private reserve” and “old vine”—these fancy phrases are often nothing more than marketing gimmicks used by many labels in an effort to set them apart from others. By making this terminology the standard rather than the exception, the words have become rote in use. As an industry, I feel we need to either assign proper definitions and adhere to them, or rely on marketers to come up with catchy new phrases.

While we are faced with stringent regulations on grapegrowing and winemaking, why is it that some of the terminology that goes on the bottle is overlooked? When it comes to the wine, we must, within a very specific percentage point, accurately label the alcohol content. We must tell consumers that the product they are purchasing contains sulfites—I wonder how many consumers actually know what sulfites are—and the bottled wine must be at least 75% varietal to label it as such. These are very precise regulations that ultimately protect consumers; they know what they are buying, as it is clearly defined. Meanwhile, other wine-label terms are completely undefined.

“Old vine” not only has no legal definition, there isn’t even general agreement on its meaning. Some people say vine age should be 35 years to qualify, while others argue a minimum of at least 50 years. As it stands now, the term can simply mean: “My vines are older than yours.” And what percentage of the grapes must be from old vines in order to earn this classification? There are some phenomenal wines coming from vines that are more than 50 years old— they are labeled “old vine,” and should be allowed that luxury. But what about wines made from 20-year-old vines?

“Private reserve” (or any number of variations) is a term we find on wine labels that also has no legal definition, and therefore cannot guarantee any special meaning. While there are wineries that do use this term to describe wines produced from exceptional grapes or elite vineyards, the fact that anyone can put it on his label makes it meaningless.

What’s my point? Let’s define these terms! By giving them actual meaning, not only will we enjoy truth in marketing, but truth in the bottle.

Just do an Internet search for “boutique winery,” and you’ll see what I mean. I’m not certain how every winery within the last 10 years has become a “family” and/or “boutique” winery—regardless of case production and quality—but if the trend doesn’t end soon, wine producers will become like so many wines these days: the same. Personally, I would find it more rewarding to actually earn the classification of “boutique,” than to self-proclaim it.

Producers essentially use wine labels as mini-advertisements. They creatively utilize style and terminology on the labels to make their wines more appealing. Descriptive terms such as “private reserve” and “old vine” can be great marketing tools; defining them would undoubtedly strengthen their impact for the wineries that earn the right to use them.

At our family winery, we use the phrase “proprietor grown” on our labels. We do all the work ourselves, we grow high quality grapes and we’re very proud of it. It isn’t a term that should be abused or taken lightly. It’s one of the few terms that can actually mean something today.

If you’re not familiar with us, we are a “boutique,” “family winery” with “estate grown,” “cultCabernets and “oldvineZinfandelshandcrafted” with care in “small lots” by “artisan” winemaker Heidi Barrett.

"Like" Lamborn Family Vineyards on Facebook & "Follow" them on Twitter @lamborn.

Be sure to add your Lamborn experiences in the VAULT29 app!

The Hit List: Napa Valley Experiences

The Hit List: Napa Valley Experiences

Wine drinkers always want to know: Where can I find a good glass (or bottle) of wine?  Well, we have you covered! This week in "The Hit List," we feature a few of our favorite experiences in historic Napa Valley:

BUBBLES in CAVES, Schramsberg Vineyards: One of the few places you can find sparking wine for those of you who love the bubbles - and this is the best of the best in the Valley. Take a walk through history and drink wine along the way at this famed estate high in the hills of Diamond Mountain. Discover the 3rd oldest wine caves hand dug by Chinese railroad workers after the gold rush. Learn about "Methode Champenoise" and the art of riddling. The J. Schrams and Reserve are our favorites, in addition to other non-sparkling offerings like the Davies Cabernet Sauvignon. 1400 Schramsberg Rd, Calistoga 

 Riddling racks inside Schramsberg's historic caves. Photo credit:

 Riddling racks inside Schramsberg's historic caves. Photo credit:

SMALL PLATES/WINE/OLIVE OIL, Round Pond Estate: In the heart of the Rutherford district is one of the most picturesque wineries with award winning wines and a variety of experiences to choose from. Try the delicious food and wine pairings or the olive oil tastings from the estate's own olive oil press. Our favorites: the 2013 Sauvignon Blanc and, of course, their 2010 Rutherford Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. 875 Rutherford Road, Rutherford

UNIQUE EXPERIENCES, Merryvale Vineyards: Located directly on Hwy 29 is Merryvale, a family owned and operated winery notably known for beautiful Cabernets. We were blown away by their private cheese and wine tasting inside the 25,000 gallon historic redwood barrel. Do yourself a favor and book this incredible experience! We loved the Silhouette Chardonnay and, of course, the flagship Cab. 1000 Main Street, St. Helena

Merryvales_a view from within the tank.jpg

CAVES AND REDWOODS, Reverie Winery: This small family owned winery is tucked away off the beaten path of Hwy 29 on the hillsides of the Diamond Mountain appellation. If you are a serious winelover, you will love these limited production, ultra premium boutique Bordeaux style wines. The tour starts inside the caves and ends under the giant redwood trees. Hopefully when you visit, Messi - the winery dog - makes an appearance too! Very few wineries rival this all around experience. 1520 Diamond Mountain Rd, Calistoga

Reverie Redwoods.jpg

Got your own favorite winery experiences? Be sure to add them to the VAULT29 app! Cheers and happy discovery!