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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.

The Hit List: ZAP Festival

The Hit List: ZAP Festival

Daniel Santos, Contributor

Daniel Santos, Contributor

Zinfandel Wines have been produced in California since the early 1800s.  A rich and flavorful wine, Zinfandel has a great history in California.  The origins of the grape have long been argued with some believing that the grapes originated in Italy, Croatia, and other simply championing Zin as an American vine and wine.  In the 60’s and 70’s a professor from UC Davis discovered a link to an Italian varietal named Primitivo, the grapes seemed to be genetic cousins.  That discovery let to questions about a possible Croatian connection but the truth remained elusive for many years.  In 1991 Croatian-born Mike Grgich, of Grgich Hills Winery, helped to create ZAP along with other winemakers with the purpose of helping to promote Zinfandel wine and also to raise money for research for this beloved grape[1].  In 2001 researchers discovered nine ancient vines off the Dalmatian coast in Croatia known a as Crljenak Kaštelanski a grape that is indigenous to this region[2]

ZAP was held this year at the Presidio in San Francisco and the Golden Gate Club and the Film Centre.  There were over 86 wineries participating in the event many of them pouring 2-3 wines each.  It is a Zinfandel lover’s dream!  The majority of the producers were from California, but some of the wineries that attended came from as far as Arizona and Texas and one producer even made the journey all the way from Italy!  Zinfandel is a grape with quite a bit of range.  While much of the market has been flooded with a lot of very ripe, extracted, jammy wines, you will find Zinfandel in all its manifestations here at ZAP.  Colder cooler climate zins will sometimes exhibit some more peppery notes and herbaceous and floral characters, while the warmer climate zins will have their trademark blackberry character.  When you arrive at the ZAP experience you will be handed a program, wineglass, and a baguette!  You will need all three.  

The event is held in two different building and its set up with multiple tables with each winery pouring through a selection of wines that they have brought especially for this event.  This year we were pleasantly surprised at the quality of Zinfandels that are being produced from all the different regions. Like always, there are generous cheese tables where you can stop to gather your thoughts, write some notes, and cleanse your palate with some fine cheeses!   

Christian Tetje, Owner & Winemaker at Cypher Wines

Christian Tetje, Owner & Winemaker at Cypher Wines

But ZAP is also about the people, we had the opportunity to meet winemakers from different regions that were producing great wines with their own signature style.  We met Christian Tetje, owner and winemaker of Cypher Wines.  Christian set up an impromptu tasting in the middle of the tasting hall and led a motley crew of us who were looking for cheese through a vertical of one of his wines, Anomaly.  The wines were amazing, a blend of Zin and Rhone Varietals.  It was one of the nest tastings we had all day, and to top off the experience he pour a wine aptly named Zinbitch, I know, it’s fun to say!  Just as quickly as he set up, he packed up and moved on elsewhere in the event.  Talking to Christian it was easy to see that he is passionate about what he does and we plan to visit him in Paso very soon!

Nils Venge, Winemaker Saddleback Cellars & Daniel Santos

Nils Venge, Winemaker Saddleback Cellars & Daniel Santos

We also ran into Nils Venge from Saddleback Cellars. Nils has been producing wine in the Napa Valley since the 70’s and had worked and consulted for some of the most respected names in Napa.  He earned the title as the King of Cabs when he scored 100 points for his Groth 1985 Cabernet from Robert Parker, his wine was the first American wine to ever score a perfect 100 from Parker.  We tasted through his great wines at ZAP and were couldn’t resist but take a picture with Nils.  

ZAP is a great event to participate in, we suggest you plan for it next year when ZAP will be celebrating 25 years!  Bring some friends or meet them there, we know you’ll have a great time.  If you can’t wait till next year send us an email [contact] and we can point you to some other local events that are upcoming, or you can read our blog to see which producers we are showcasing.  My next event will be the Russian River Barrel Tasting festival, it’s a tough job but someone has to cover what’s happening in wine.  Cheers!

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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.

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