What We Say 2006 redFOUR Rhone Style Red Wine
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Mission Codename: HeretoFOUR
Operative: Agent Red
Objective: Respond to reports that Westwood Winery crafts wines of remarkable quality and value. Raid their cellars and return with a stellar Westwood wine for our thirsty Operatives
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Westwwood Winery
Wine Subject: 2006 redFOUR Rhone Style Red Wine
Winemaker: John Kelly
Backgrounder: The Sonoma Valley AVA is one of the oldest wine growing regions in California with the first vines being planted in the early 1800s. The AVA is located along California Route 12 and its eastern boundary are the southern end of the Mayacamas mountains. The unique micro-climate with less rainfall and fog than other parts of the region along with its unique soil provides ideal growing conditions for Cabernet Sauvignon and other red varietals.
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – Deep garnet with a fine plum edge. At its core the wine shows as slightly darker, but beautifully clear. The wine settles quickly, when swirled, leaving behind thick, tightly-packed and widely-spaced legs.
Smell – A big and lofty rush of fragrant aromas leap from the glass to greet you. The wine shows off a big and very pleasing blueberry and raspberry, with dried dark flower petals, black cherry, slate, leather, brier patch, black pepper and white pepper.
Feel – Soft and velvety, voluptuous with a solid mid-palate weight. Balanced acids and minerals work together in an intriguing interplay that gives the wine a complex feel.
Taste – Bursting with flavors, the wine leads with blackberry, black cherry and red plum. These are soon followed by mineral-driven spice and fruit compote.
Finish – Medium-long, with bold dark fruit, suspended by the minerals and soft spice on the palate.
Conclusion – This is a delicious delight that really took our tasting panel by surprise. This blend owes its unique flavors and aromatics to the perfect and somewhat unorthodox blending perfected by its winemaker, John Kelly. Each varietal plays beautifully with the other, and I get the impression that it is the Tannat – a very unique Basque varietal – that holds this great wine together. If you are looking for a great value and a great Summertime treat, this is an original, very tasty, and very fun wine. Go Westwood!!
Mission Report:WINEMAKER INTEL BRIEFING DOSSIER
SUBJECT: John M. Kelly
WINE EDUCATION: post-graduate degree in Biochemistry from UC Davis, on the job at a retail wine store
CALIFORNIA WINE JOB BRIEF: trained at Westwood, R.H. Phillips, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Duckhorn Vineyards and Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards before going out on my own.
WINEMAKING PHILOSOPHY: pre-emptive minimalism: respect tradition in light of modern understanding, don’t do anything in the vineyard or winery that forces me to take extra measures later.
WINEMAKER QUOTE: “How far down the rabbit hole do you want to go?” I guess I explain things pretty well – people end up asking me questions they had never thought to ask before.
FIRST COMMERCIAL WINE RELEASE: (DATE) first Westwood release was a 1984 Pinot Noir from Lake County. My first vintage in control of Westwood was 1995.
AGENT RED: Greetings, John. We are thrilled to be showing your 2006 Westwood redFOUR blend today. Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.
JOHN: Glad to have the opportunity to chat with you, Agent Red.
RED: Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?
JOHN: We always had good wine at the dinner table when I was growing up, but it was a trip to Napa Valley in the early 70s that sealed the deal for me. I was too young to taste at the wineries, but the vineyards, the smells in the cellars – they made an deep impression that never wore off. Plus my parents brought back a boatload of great wine – mostly reserve Cabernets – that we enjoyed for years after. It was working for Mansion Cellars – at the time the only fine wine shop in Davis – for a year (1986) that started my career.
RED: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?
JOHN: My archetype is probably my first taste of a decent Valpoilicella. Boillot red Burgundies from Volnay and Pommard, my first Vieux Telegraphe, a Clape Cornas, Acacia, Chalone and Calera Pinots… So I guess it was not “a” wine.
RED: Who do you make wine for?
JOHN: Our plan has always been to make wines I like, and then find the consumers who are as excited by them as I am. We don’t make a lot of wine – under 2,500 cases.
RED: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today.
JOHN: We bought an incredible piece of ground in 1998 and planted it in 2001 to wood we got from Tablas Creek nursery. The Haas and Perrin families had brought this wood from Ch. Beaucastel’s favorite vines, and certified it at UC Davis before propagating it into their own vineyards. I think I was the first guy to plant any of these Beaucastel selections in Sonoma: a Syrah, two selections of Grenache, a Mourvedre, a Counoise and a few vines of the non-Rhone variety Tannat. Nursery mix-up resulted in a significant number of Roussane vines in the Syrah block.
We called the wine redFOUR simply because it is the fourth red wine we made for Westwood but all six varieties are present in the 2006 redFOUR. There’s a reason these grapes have been blended for centuries in Chateaueuf – the blend is more interesting and complete than the individual varietals. Each taster will find something different, but I find crushed raspberries, black and white pepper, hints of wet stone, roses and black truffle. The tannins are restrained, and the cool climate at the vineyard assures a great natural acidity. This may be among the most food-friendly of our wines.
RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?
JOHN: Favorite? Whatever I had with it last that worked well! I thought it went really well last night with Vietnamese bahn mi: a baguette filled with sweet-spicy grilled pork, fresh-pickled carrots, onions and radish, cucumber, cilantro, spicy mayonnaise and a thin slice of pork pate. A few nights ago I was in LA for a dinner where chef Mark Gold of Eva Restaurant paired it with a potato agnolotti garnished with fried baby artichoke – this was not a pairing I expected to work, but it was fabulous! This is a versatile wine. I’ve probably paired it more with different lamb dishes than with anything else.
RED: In your opinion, what makes the Sonoma Valley so special?
JOHN: Our little corner of the Sonoma Valley appellation is different from the rest. It’s got deep gravelly soils, it’s relatively cold. When it heats up in Kenwood it’s 15° cooler at our site. All the wines we have made from our Annadel Estate Vineyard have a mineral note that gives them a unique sense of place.
RED: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?
JOHN: Topping, evaluating blends for the 2007 redFOUR, prepping for bottling and harvest.
RED: How would you recommend people approach your wines and wine in general?
JOHN: With an open mind! Leave aside expectations and preconceived notions. Especially with Westwood wines – our wines don’t fit the “California” profile. They are soil-driven rather than fruit driven.
RED: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
JOHN: Yes – a glass of wine. If you find yourself in downtown Sonoma, come see us!
RED: You know that I will! Thank you so much for your time. We learned a lot about you – and your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans!
Wine Spies Vineyard Check:
The location of the Westwood Winery tasting room, just off the square in downtown Sonoma, can be seen in this satellite photo.
What the Winery Says
About This Wine:
This wine is a deep garnet red in the glass, with rosy edges and perfect clarity. The redFOUR opens up to an explosive perfume of rose petals, crushed raspberries, white pepper, black cherries, briar, leather, black pepper and wet concrete. In the mouth the initial impression is one of weight and softness, with pleasing fruit flavors and excellent equilibrium. The finish is long, complex and spicy; the structure of the wine really asserts itself in the aftertaste – this wine truly merits the “iron fist in a velvet glove” description. Our 2006 redFOUR continues the evolution of the food-friendly style we have envisioned for our Rhône blend. As with our first release in 2005, the 2006 Westwood redFOUR remains a screaming value.
The Vineyard: Planted in 2001, the Rhône varieties at our cool-climate Annadel Estate Vineyard continue to mature: seven different blocks of Syrah, three blocks of Grenache, a block of Counoise and a block of Mourvedre. We also have a tiny block of the relatively little-known varietal Tannat. Our vineyard site has a unique combination of soils and mesoclimates that allowed us to locate each of the varieties in expositions where they ripen properly. We sourced budwood for some of these varieties from Tablas Creek nursery – the mothervines for this wood came directly from the famed Château de Beaucastel. In-house we refer to the redFOUR as our “Beaucastel blend.” The 2006 vintage marks our second release of this California iconoclast, styled like its progenitors from near Avignon but very much a showing its unique Sonoma Valley sense of place.
The Blend: Our 2006 redFOUR is a blend of 38% Syrah, 26% Mourvedre, 23% Grenache and 12% Counoise. The balance includes almost 0.5% of the white Rhône grape Rousanne from field blending, and a hint of Tannat from topping. After vinification, the components of the blend were aged in French oak, about 10% of the barrels new. This markedly soil-driven redFOUR is assertive but balanced, with a racy floral perfume overlaying black cherry fruit, a peppery minerality, and briary and leathery notes.
About The Winery:
NEW WORLD WINES WITH TRADITIONAL STYLE: Westwood produces wines that satisfy desires for depth, structure, balance and finesse. Our wines are soil-driven and food-friendly. Westwood’s Annadel Estate Vineyard is planted to Dijon and heritage clones of Pinot Noir, several clones of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Counoise and Tannat. Starting with the 2008 vintage our wines are all Estate-produced and -bottled.
We currently bottle one Estate Pinot Noir, a varietal Syrah, our proprietary redFOUR Rhône blend (Mourvedre, Grenache, Counoise, Syrah, and a hint of mystery), our 4-Part Rosé, produced as a saignée de cuve from Grenache, Mourvedre, Counoise and Syrah, and finally, a small amount of varietal Tannat. Our total annual production is around 2,000 cases.
A NEW WINERY WITH A SOLID PAST: The modern history of Westwood began in 2002 when the winery – founded in 1984 by Bert Urch and Betty Stoltz – was purchased by John Kelly and partners and moved to Sonoma Valley. Today John – a UC Davis-trained biochemist with over two decades of winemaking experience – is making Westwood wines from grapes grown on the Annadel Estate, a unique vineyard planted by the partners in 2001.
The Apprenticeship of John Kelly: John Kelly and Westwood go way back. He and Bert befriended each other while working together in the Department of Biochemistry at Davis, where John was pursuing his post-graduate degree. After Westwood was established as a commercial operation John began helping Bert out at the winery whenever he could.
When John decided to pursue a career outside academia he first took a job managing a high-end wine shop in Davis, and then interned in wine production at R. H. Philips Vineyards in 1987. In 1988 he landed an assistant winemaker position with the prestigious Napa Valley Cabernet producer, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. At SLWC, John’s responsibilities grew to encompass viticultural research – which allowed him to put his training as a scientist to use.
John maintained his relationship with Westwood as his winemaking apprenticeship progressed, continuing to assist whenever he could. Then in 1992 he left Stag’s Leap for a short but instructive stint at Duckhorn Vineyards before moving on into a deeply rewarding research position at Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards, Sonoma County’s famous Chardonnay producer in the Russian River Valley.
Late in 1994, while still at Sonoma-Cutrer, John took over winemaking at Westwood when Bert Urch suddenly passed away. In 1995 John put to use lessons learned from his associations with wineries successfully specializing in one grape – Chardonnay at Sonoma-Cutrer, Merlot at Duckhorn, Cabernet at Stag’s Leap – and decided to focus his attentions on Pinot Noir at Westwood.
A New Partnership: In 1998, John was working as Technical Director for the wine service laboratory Vinquiry and devoting nights and weekends to Westwood. Though fully engaged in these pursuits, when presented with an opportunity to form a partnership with investors to acquire potential vineyard land, he took it.
The partnership bought an undeveloped parcel located at the northwest end of the Sonoma Valley appellation, in the cool Santa Rosa Plain–Russian River drainage basin. They immediately set about improving and planting their unique site, taking the historic place name of the surrounding area to call their development the Annadel Estate Vineyard.
While the vineyard was being established the partnership approached Betty Stoltz, the owner of Westwood, with an offer to buy the winery. A deal was struck and closed in 2002, and in anticipation of working with the grapes from Westwood’s Annadel Estate the new owners determined to move the winery from its original Sierra Foothills location to the town of Sonoma.
The Move To Sonoma Valley: While waiting for the Estate vineyard to come into production, John secured contracts to buy Pinot Noir fruit from two very high quality vineyards, one in the Sonoma Valley appellation and one in the Sonoma Carneros. John and his partners brought Westwood to market in its new Sonoma Valley incarnation with these two Pinot Noir bottlings, along with the superb Haynes Vineyard Napa Valley Pinot Noir which Westwood produced from 1985 through 2005. Starting with the 2008 vintage, all Westwood wines are 100% Estate Bottled.
We have taken full advantage of the unique combination of soils and exposures at our Annadel Estate Vineyard, planting Pinot Noir in the coolest areas. Presented with a diversity of soils and meso-climates at the site we decided to expand the range of wines offered under the Westwood label. In the warmer locations we planted an unusual selection of red Rhône varieties: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Counoise. We originally planted a small amount of the inky, aptly named Tannat to give us new blending options for our unique reds, but have since found it can make a really interesting varietal wine at our site.
The Future of Westwood: After several vintages the wines we have produced from the Annadel Estate have started to show a clear sense of place, a distinctive structure and minerality that will define the Westwood style going forward.
Ultimately Westwood will release two Estate Pinot Noir bottlings – one vinted from modern-era Dijon clones and a second Pinot assembled from our collection of California Heritage clones.
We will release four wines from our other Estate varieties: our redFOUR – a proprietary red wine blend, a dry pink wine we call our 4-Part Rosé, produced from saignée de cuve of our Grenache, Mourvedre, Counoise and Syrah grape lots, a varietal Syrah, and a small amount of varietal Tannat.
Westwood has embarked a new chapter in its history – in Sonoma Valley, where we will continue to produce distinctive artisanal red wines in our iconoclastic soil-driven style.