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Vineyard511 pt 1

Vineyard511 pt 1

"Wine Mic Monday" is a VAULT29 series based on an "open mic concept" where wineries take over our blog...because every glass and bottle of wine has a story. This week we are proud to feature Vineyard {511} a family owned and operated winery rich in history, high in the hills of the acclaimed Diamond Mountain AVA who believes, "Like a great restaurant that is a reflection of its chef, a great wine is a reflection of its winemaker, as well as of its vineyard‏."

Vineyard {511} and the Wines of Diamond Mountain District by Ed Ojdana

Napa Valley Map | VULT29

Located just two miles southwest of Calistoga, CA, Diamond Mountain has a long and rich winemaking history in Napa Valley.  Constant Diamond Mountain Vineyards, laid out near the mountaintop at 2,200 feet above sea level, is one of the oldest vineyards in Napa Valley, dating back to the late 1890s.  The Diamond Mountain District AVA, created in 2001, is unique with only 500 acres of vines, mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, although small amounts of other varietals, such as Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc, are also grown. Wineries located in the Diamond Mountain District (DMD) AVA are small production wineries, ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand cases each year.  Diamond Mountain Ranch, owned by Sterling Vineyards, is the largest vineyard on Diamond Mountain, with about 200 acres of grapes on 307 acres of property.

Vineyard {511} on Diamond Mountain

Vineyard {511} on Diamond Mountain

In 2008, Ed and Irene Ojdana purchased a 6-acre estate on Diamond Mountain, which included a small vineyard, originally planted in 2001, with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.  Although Ed had some experience in the alcohol beverage industry, having worked at Olympia Brewing Company in the 1970s, neither Ed nor Irene had a background in the wine industry other than knowing they liked great wines.  Over the years, they had visited Napa Valley many times and always thought it would be a great place to live when they gave up their day jobs.  Since then, they have learned a great deal about farming vineyards and producing wine, and particularly what makes mountain wines so different from other valley wines.

What to Do With an Acre of Grapes?

The prior owners of the Ojdana’s estate had planted the vineyard in 2001.  The vineyard, planted on a steep, west- facing hillside, draws the warm afternoon sun, allowing the grapes to slowly ripen during the growing season. A vineyard management company farmed the vines, and the grapes were being sold to the Duckhorn Winery at the time Ed and Irene purchased the property.  Dan Duckhorn was a close friend of the prior owners.  In 2007, however, GI Partners, a private equity group, bought a controlling interest in Duckhorn Winery, and Dan retired from active management in the winery. Because of the relatively small annual harvests (2 to 3 tons of grapes), the new management at Duckhorn was not interested in further purchasing the grapes.

Ed & Irene Ojdana, Owners Vineyard {511}

Ed & Irene Ojdana, Owners Vineyard {511}

Ed and Irene closed on the property in early 2008.  There was much to do as the house on the property was in need of remodeling and updating, which became their focus for the remainder of 2008.  Consequently, they sought another buyer for the grapes.  They quickly learned how easy it was to make connections in the valley. Through Paul and Sue Frank, friends from Los Angeles and owners of Gemstone Winery at the time, they eventually met Pam Starr, one of the superstar winemakers in the valley, whose resume includes Winemaker at Spottswoode Vineyard and Winery prior to founding her own winery, Crocker Starr.

Through Pam, Ed and Irene sold their 2008 harvest to boutique winery Garric Cellars, with Pam as their consulting Winemaker. Their 2008 harvest was disappointing, yielding only one ton of grapes from a vineyard that historically produced 2 to 3 tons.  They eventually learned that the vineyard management company had not properly irrigated the vineyard during the growing season, which resulted in the low yield.  An important lesson was learned about staying involved in the active management of their vineyard, rather than totally relying on a farming company.

As part of their agreement with Garric Cellars, Ed and Irene received 5 cases of wine made solely from their 2008 harvest. They will occasionally open a bottle for visitors to Vineyard {511} so, if you are able to get an appointment to taste their wines, be sure to ask about it.

With 2008 under their belts, it was clearly time for a change in direction for the vineyard. The storm clouds of the Great Recession that rolled through in 2009 had a devastating impact on Napa Valley and on the 2009 harvest. As wine producers cut back on their 2009 production plans, growers were hit hard.  Signs began appearing along Highway 29 advertising large quantities of grapes for sale – something unheard of in the valley.  Ed and Irene found themselves without a buyer for their 2009 harvest, as Garric Cellars also cut back on its production for 2009.

And so, the idea of producing wine under their own label took hold.  In the turbulent economic times of 2009, this was a risky decision.  However, given the time it takes to age an outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon, Ed and Irene rightly thought that the economy would be well on its way to recovery by the time their Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon was ready for release in early 2013.

Rob Lloyd, Winemaker Vineyard {511} 

Rob Lloyd, Winemaker Vineyard {511} 

Finding a Winemaker

The next challenge was to find the right winemaker.  Like a great restaurant that is a reflection of its chef, a great wine is a reflection of its winemaker, as well as of its vineyard.  Ed and Irene wanted an experienced winemaker, who believed in their vineyard and who could make a wine that reflected the Diamond Mountain District terroir.  As luck would have it, family connections played a key role in their search. Irene’s nephew, Geoff Silverman, had grown up with Paul Frank.  Paul is the son of Rich Frank and a highly-talented entertainment executive.  He and his father Rich currently are executive producers of Royal Pains, now in its seventh season on the USA Network.  Rich Frank, one of Hollywood’s most creative executives and longtime Disney executive, is also the owner of Frank Family Vineyards, near Calistoga, CA.  Geoff arranged a private tasting for Ed and Irene at Frank Family Vineyards during one of his visits to Napa Valley.  They were graciously hosted by Dennis Zablosky, the winery tasting room manager, who is often touted as one of the valley’s “legends.”

When Dennis heard that Ed and Irene were looking for a winemaker, he promptly volunteered that he had just the person for them – Rob Lloyd.  Rob is a graduate of UC Davis, where he received a master’s degree in Enology in 1999.  He subsequently worked at LaCrema as an Assistant Winemaker and then at Rombauer Vineyards, from 2001 to 2008, first as Assistant Winemaker and then as Winemaker.  While at Rombauer, the winery received many new accolades and awards for its wines, including being named by Wine Spectator as one of the Top 100 wines in the world in 2007.  In 2009, when Ed and Irene met Rob, he was, and remains, the Winemaker for Jessup Cellars and consults for several other wineries, including Humanitas, John Anthony Vineyards, and Handwritten Wines.  He also has own label: Lloyd by Robert Lloyd.

During the “courting” process, Rob visited Ed and Irene’s vineyard a number of times in the summer of 2009, tasting and analyzing the grapes from various parts of the vineyard. After much suspense, Rob told Ed and Irene that he thought he could make a “pretty good” Cabernet Sauvignon from the grapes, one that would reflect the traditional Napa cabs before the high alcohol, jammy, fruit forward wines became the trend.  Although mountain fruit is known for its tannins and often requires years of aging in the bottle, Rob felt that he could make wine that was drinkable upon release, as well as age well over a 10 to 15 year period. The wine would need to be aged in French oak considerably longer than the typical Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is aged to accomplish this.

Rob also recommended that Ed and Irene hire a new vineyard management company, one that he knew well, worked with, and trusted.  They subsequently hired John Truchard’s Vinewerkes company to farm their vineyard.  John’s family is well known in the valley (Truchard Vineyards).  John grew up in the valley, and it was only natural that he would continue their farming and winemaking tradition with his own vineyards and label (John Anthony Vineyards)...To Be Continued...

Please tune in next Monday for part 2 of Vineyard {511} and the Wines of Diamond Mountain, as Ed discusses topics like:

  • What to Call It?
  • Designing the Vineyard {511} Logo and Label
  • Getting to Know the Diamond Mountain Neighborhood
  • Mountain Wines vs Valley WInes

Be sure to add your Vineyard {511} wine experiences in the VAULT29 app!

"Like" Vineyard {511} on Facebook and "follow" them on Twitter @Vineyard511



"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!

Canepa Koch

Canepa Koch

"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 Neil Koch, proprietor and winemaker at Canepa Koch Wine Cellars. Neil trained under Philip Melka at Seavey Vineyards, Bryant Family and Vineyard 29, and was assistant winemaker at Lewis Cellars. 

"From Forest to Barrel to Bottle" by Neil Koch featuring “the dude”

As the rain starts to fall in late November, all the wine from the previous vintage is in barrel. For our wine, “the dude”, the barrel is not just a vessel for 18 months, but plays an important role in the maturation of our wine. 

The barrel process starts in the oak forests of France with the most prevalent species being French sessile oak (Quercus Petraea).  The trees in these forests can be anywhere from 200-300 years old.  For example, in the French National Forest of Troncais, Napolean first planted these trees to be used for ship masts.  

Once the French government deems the trees are “ready”, the logs are cut and sold at auction to cooperages (barrel makers) in France.  These cooperages then cut the logs into staves (the wood pieces which make up the barrel) and age them in seasoning yards for 24 - 36 months.  After the seasoning process, the staves are formed into barrels using galvanized hoops, then toasted on an open flame to the winemaker’s desired toast level.

After 12 years of making my own wine, I am still amazed by how much influence a barrel has on the outcome of a wine.  Mark Canepa and I have been making “the dude” since 2009 and have used 100% French oak in all of our vintages, both red and white.

Typically in red wines French oak adds sweetness, body, length, and structure.  Darker notes, such as chocolate, espresso, and spice are brought out in the wine. It transforms brighter red notes into darker richer components.  In white wines, the barrel adds texture, spice, caramel, and butterscotch components, while fattening the wine’s mid palate.  

The barrel’s toast level also greatly impacts the wine.  A lighter toast adds more wood structure to the body of the wine, but fewer toast related aromatics. Higher toast levels elevate the wine’s aromatics and impart a sweeter, toastier component.

For “the dude” Napa Valley Red Wine, we typically use a blend of medium plus toast and heavy toast to add structure and increase complexity in our wines.  The fruit from our Rutherford vineyard needs more structure, such as a medium plus toast, while our Atlas Peak and Coombsville fruit can handle a higher toast level.

Come Spring 2015, our wine will make its final transition to bottle, where all of these factors including wood sourcing, seasoning, toast level, and barrel aging have played a part in making “the dude”.

"Like" Canepa Koch on Facebook & "Follow" them on Twitter @CanepaKochWine

Be sure to add your Caepa Koch 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!