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boutique wines



"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.

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Spell Estate

Spell Estate

"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 pleased to introduce Spell Estate and their acclaimed boutique wines from Northern Califronia. Winemaker Andrew Berge chats about the importance of soil types and the different vineyards where they source their grapes.


After many years of collecting and enjoying fine wines – with an emphasis on Pinot Noir - Bill and Tiki Spell founded Spell Winery in 2006 with the goal of producing world class Pinot Noir from Northern California.  Pinot Noir when at its best captures a sense of time and place.  In producing single vineyard designated wines our mission is for each wine to have a distinctive characteristic unique to each vineyard from each vintage.  The current release consists of four Pinot Noirs – one blend and three single vineyards, one Chardonnay, and one Vin Gris.  

One trait commonly touted by many wineries throughout the world is the soil quality their grape vines are rooted.   At Spell, we believe that it may be the single most important factor in defining the distinctive character of each wine.  Spell sources fruit from vineyards located as far north as Laytonville in the heart of Mendocino County and as far south as Petaluma at the southern end of Sonoma County.  The (driving) distance between these two vineyards is slightly more than 125 miles.  In comparison, the extremely diverse Côte d’Or in France is about 30 miles long.  

The soil taxonomy of each vineyard is as varied as the geographical diversity.   Soils rang from gravelly loam with moderate permeability and low water holding capacity to expanding clays with slow permeability and high water holding capacity.  The vines rooted in these varied soils take up varying levels of macronutrients and micronutrients which form the foundation of vine development.  The available water within the soils directly influences how and when these nutrients are delivered and consumed by the vines.  The whole process of vine growth is powered by the amount of sun each vine receives. 

Determining the impact that soil, water, and sun have on the composition of each grape and ultimately wine, is beyond the scope of this blog post.  Trying to comprehend the complexity of the matter is captivating and will be a life-long endeavor for me.  

Recently, I have been exploring the association between tannin profiles, specifically perception of tannin on the palate, and soil types.  I admit it. I love tannin. They are the backbone which enables elegant demeanor and composure of flavors of every great wine.  Their presence acts as an anti-oxidant which allows wines to age gracefully for years, even decades in some circumstances.

At the peak of ripeness, the Spell grapes are hand harvested in the vineyard and delivered to the winery in half-ton bins.  Once at the winery they are processed and fermented separately according to vineyard, block, and clone.  The protocols are the same for each lot as it is our goal to preserve the essence of each vineyard. The underlying theme is all about extraction with the goal of producing wines with excellent concentration, balance and age-ability. 

Initially when we started the process of sourcing vineyards soil type was not a significant part of the discussion.  Given the great distance between vineyards it is not surprising each of the Spell vineyards has a different soil type.  These vineyards yield grapes that produce a wine with its own character and the soil is just one contributing factor to their tannin profile.  It is a privilege to work with these growers and their fruit.  Provided below is a brief description of each vineyard along with its specific tannin profile.  

To learn more about Spell wines please visit

  • Alder Springs Vineyard, owned by Stuart Bewely, is located 3 miles west of Laytonville, CA.  Surrounded by rugged and undeveloped Mendocino forest the vineyard starts at an elevation of 1,700ft and climbs to over 2,000ft.  The primary soil profile in our blocks consists of decomposing sandstone from an ancient sea bed.  The tannin profile of this wine consists of super fine grain or dusty-powdery tannins.  
  • The Weir Vineyard, owned by Bill and Suki Weir, sits in the heart of the Yorkville Highlands.  About 8 miles east of Boonville at an elevation of 700 to 900 ft.  The Weir Vineyard consists of a conglomerate of gravely loam formed from a base of Schist.  Blocky square tannins are the signature of this wine.  
  • In western Sonoma county, overlooking the township of Freestone lies the Dona Margarita Vineyard.  Owned and farmed by Marimar Torres, the vineyard sits at an average elevation of 500 ft.  The sandy loam, Goldridge soils produce a wine of intense flavor, concentration and a silky smooth, almost velvety tannin profile.  These soils cover most of the Western Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley appellations and is one factor that has made wines from this region world reknown. 
  • The Terra de Promissio Vineyard is in the Petaluma Gap area of Sonoma County.  Owned and farmed by Diana and Charles Karren, the Terra de Promissio Vineyard has an elevation just above sea-level.  The Spell block sits on the hip of the vineyard as it shifts from a western exposure to an eastern exposure.  The soil profile here is a shallow clay-loam mixed with some expanding clays soils.  The profile is one defined by broad shouldered tannins with a hint more bitterness than astringency.    

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Alma Fria

Alma Fria

"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 Alma Fria, a boutique winery crafting beautiful wines from the remote ridgetops of Annapolis (Sonoma Coast AVA). 


"Meet Alma Fria" by Jan Holtermann

The Name:  Alma Fría \al-mah free-ah\: the soul of a family; the cold of a geography.

The Journey:  For three generations and up until 2010, the Holtermann family had the privilege of importing and representing many notable and leading wineries from all over the world.  In working alongside each of the different wineries, we were intimately exposed to the work culture, the philosophy, the winemaking style and the vision each had of their place in the global wine map.   Our import selections spanned from very rare finds to million case wines.  The personal relationships developed with the entrepreneurs, the enologists, the marketers and the viticulturists leading these organizations provided a unique perspective through which we were able to gain deep insights into the allure, challenges and intricacies of winegrowing. In this craft, success can be defined in many ways but, almost inevitably, behind the most inspirational winery cultures, there was a mix of humility, long-term commitment, hard work, understanding of terroir and attention to detail that made them unique. 

Since 2011, my wife and I along with our two daughters migrated to Northern California and planted new roots in the remote ridgetops of Annapolis on the West Sonoma Coast.  From this beautiful and remote place, we are committed to handcrafting Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays of elegance, finesse and complexity.   We believe our wines should reflect their place of origin, and be an expression of our family vineyard and other carefully selected cool coastal sites.  Through our wines, we strive to express the intersection of place and family – the beautiful cold Pacific climate so perfect for Burgundian varietals, and the soul of a family long-dedicated to the love of wine.

Reflecting on our wine journey, we constantly remind ourselves just how fortunate we are to work with terroirs of such potential and beauty and to do it with the help of talented and great people with whom we beat down together the remote paths and the gravel roads that make up this special region.

Holtermann Vineyard

This is remote farming at its best, viticulture on the fringe.  The property is located just north of the town of Annapolis, CA (population 200) and 5 miles inland from the captivating Sea Ranch coastal community.  The proximity to the ocean provides moderate temperature fluctuations that lead to balanced fruit development.  The soil is composed of a thin layer of sandy loam (Josephine series) of volcanic origin, marine sediment from ancient sea beds and rocky formations. 

Doña Margarita Vineyard

The gravelly, uphill drive to the vineyard, the density of the wild forest of redwoods and pines just behind, the proximity to Freestone and Occidental, small towns with such great character, and the overall condition of the vineyard, all represent in more ways than one the combination of beauty and ideal growing conditions of this region.  This vineyard is 7 miles from the Pacific Ocean, it is a very cool microclimate where the coastal fog provides very cool nights but sits just below the vineyard during the days allowing for ideal sun exposure.  The soil is composed of a thin layer of sandy loam (Goldridge series) of volcanic origin and marine sediment over fractured Sandstone subsoil. We are very grateful to Marimar Torres for trusting us with her fruit for one of our two single vineyard designated wines.

Alma Fria_The People.JPG

The People:  In Carroll Kemp, winemaker, and Greg Adams, viticulturist, we have found true journey companions.  Their talent and profound familiarity with the nuances and complexities of winegrowing within the West Sonoma Coast, their entrepreneurial advice, an attention to detail and most importantly, a shared philosophy of a “vineyard first” approach to winegrowing, have created a “working chemistry,” a blend if you will, that has been instrumental in realizing our vision.


The Wines:  2012 is our first vintage in bottle and the range is made up of two single vineyard Pinot Noirs that represent the north and south extremes of the West Sonoma Coast:  Holtermann Vineyard and Doña Margarita Vineyard, complemented by two appellation wines, a Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay.  For the 2014 vintage, we will add a single vineyard Chardonnay from Campbell Ranch in Annapolis.

To learn more about our wines and read some of the early buzz written about them since their recent release, please visit

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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 Trombetta Family Wines, a mother/daughter winemaking team with ties to Paul Hobbs, from Forestville (Sonoma Coast AVA). 

With their start in home winemaking, the mother/daughter team of Rickey Trombetta Stancliff and Erica Stancliff brought Trombetta Family Wines to life as a commercial endeavor with the release of their 2010 Gap’s Crown Pinot Noir. We caught up with them in the heart of the Sonoma Coast AVA at their tasting room (well, the family’s kitchen table) in Forestville, California. 

VAULT29: A mother/daughter winemaking team is pretty unusual. How do you make it work?

Rickey:  When we started out we did a lot of the work together but as things progressed, I was doing more in the vineyard and Erica focused on the winemaking.

Erica: Now mom takes care of all the marketing and office stuff and I’m in charge of the production side. It seems divided but there’s quite of bit of overlap.

R: My production training was initially learn-by-doing as a home winemaker, later moving on to work with Paul Hobbs. Erica was bitten by the wine bug early and then attended Fresno State for her enology degree, so she’s very at home in the vineyard and cellar..

E: My mother’s training with Paul really helped her understand the process and how important the intangibles are to winemaking. She’s also real comfortable being out in public, while I prefer to spend my time in the winery.  

VAULT29: Rickey, how did Erica first become interested in wine?

R: We’d have wine with dinner all the time and as she was growing up, her dad would always ask her to smell the wine and describe it. He encouraged Erica to communicate in a sensory way, telling us what she thought about the wine. When I began working with Paul, he became a family friend and we spent a lot of nights around the dinner table, talking about wine. Erica was there, and wine became more of an activity than it just being a beverage on the table.

She didn’t show much interest in winemaking as a career until her junior year in high school. After talking with Paul and other winemakers in the area, they all suggested that Fresno State would be a great place for her to begin studies toward a wine career, given the school’s emphasis on a practical, rather than theoretical, winemaking education. In a fortuitous coincidence, Erica, an accomplished equestrian competitor in Three Day Eventing, was offered a scholarship to join the team at Fresno before she’d even applied, so there might have been a little bit of fate involved in the decision.  

VAULT29: Were there big changes between being a home winemaker and doing it on a professional basis?

R: My husband (Roger) and I planted Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Merlot at our house in 1998. We did a good job with our farming, but once I started working with Paul, my eyes got opened to all of the small touches that impact your grapes and the finished wine. The right trellising, how to maintain vine health, and deciding when to pick are all big deals that sometimes are overlooked when you’re doing it as a hobby. In the pro winery, I learned first-hand how important it was to clean up constantly and to keep everything sanitary. We were aware of this as home winemakers, but never practiced it to this fanatical level until we were making wine for sale. Roger is still a home winemaker and he’s benefited from some of what we’ve learned doing it commercially. 

Even though we don’t own the vineyards where we source Trombetta’s fruit, the growers let us give them input on how they’re farmed. It’s proven that practical experience gained from my work commercially has been good for Roger’s home winemaking, while at the same time the hands-on work we do at the house gives us a frame of reference for what the growers we work with for Trombetta are up to. 

VAULT29: Erica, when we think of the Paul Hobbs winemaking style, we think of lush, overwhelming fruit, and big, masculine wines. The Trombetta Family wines have a very different personality. Did that naturally happen or did you consciously try to stay away from the Hobbs winemaking approach?

E: 2010 was the first vintage from Trombetta Family Wines but before then, my parents talked about all of the different wines that they liked and would want to have the family name on. Their preference leaned toward something elegant and food friendly, with lots of finesse. What they wanted to present was their passion for what a Sonoma Pinot should be. Our wines are little lighter on the oak than Paul’s, maybe with a slightly greater emphasis on refinement, not power.

VAULT29: So do you approach the wine with a style in mind or is it dictated by what that particular vintage’s fruit has to offer?

E: Both. Every vineyard has its own profile, and each vintage provides growing conditions that are unique. Our goal is to maximize the characteristics of the site and the weather and produce a wine that is still definably “Trombetta.”

R: We’ve now released three vintages of Pinot Noir from the Gap’s Crown Vineyard and while they’re different, there’s definitely a family resemblance, not only in terms of the vineyard, but of the way we’ve handled the élevage. I’m particularly proud of our 2011. It was a notoriously difficult vintage in the Sonoma Coast AVA, with the weather doing everything entirely wrong for pretty much the entire season. We scheduled our pick for early in the morning (so early it might as well be called a night harvest) and a couple of minutes after the last grape went into the bin, the skies opened up and let loose with a couple of inches of rain. When it was young, the wine reflected the lean, tough conditions of the vintage, but as its matured in the bottle, it’s evolved into a very elegant, feminine wine that captures everything we look for in Pinot Noir. A lot of those same elements are also noticeable in our 2012 Gap’s Crown PN and even in our 2012 Sonoma Coast bottling, made from fruit sourced in the Petersen Vineyard on the valley floor near Sebastopol.

VAULT29: You’ve just released the 2012 Trombetta Gap’s Crown PN along with the 2012 Trombetta Sonoma Coast PN. What’s on the horizon?

R: We’ve made Chardonnay for the first time in 2014. It came from a small block at the top of Gap’s Crown. It’s cool and benefits a lot from the nighttime breezes coming in from the coast, an ideal spot to grow Chardonnay.

E: Our long range plan for the Trombetta portfolio has always been to bring Chardonnay into the program. The market likes it, we like it, and we lucked out in finding such a great fruit source. Our really long, longterm plan is probably going to be to produce a Bordeaux blend of some sort. It’s something I feel a real affinity to and we think it would be a great addition to what we’re already doing. Back when I was first tasting wine, I got to taste a Merlot from the Michael Black Vineyard in Napa. It may have been the wine that sent me down the pathway to becoming a winemaker. Ideally, we’ll one day be able to buy fruit from Michael or at least in Coombsville, we’ll see what happens over the next 4-5 years. We’re not in a hurry, and we’ll only do this when the time is right.

R: For the near future, we’d just like to build a solid base of supporters and please a big enough group of people to enable us to build our production slowly. We want it to be small, maybe adding another Chardonnay or two and of course, the Bordeaux blend. PN is my great love, and if we can develop more grape sources here, we might do another vineyard-designate PN if it feels right.

The Tombetta Wines are made by Rickey Trombetta Stancliff and Erica Stancliff. Their most recent releases are available at fine wine shops and restaurants around the country, as well as directly from the winery at

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