2008 Novateur White Blend
White Blend •Red Hills Lake County
California: Lake County
What We Say
Today’s wine drinks well above it’s price class, earning it today’s QPR (Quality to Price Ratio).
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Mission Codename: Golden Slumber
Operative: Agent Red
Objective: Return to sustainably farmed Fortress Vineyards, secure their night-harvested Novateur, a unique white blend from the Red Hill region of California’s Lake County – for our eager Operatives.
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Fortress Vineyards
Wine Subject: 2008 Novateur Red Hills White Blend
Winemaker: Nils Venge
Backgrounder: The Red Hills Lake County AVA is distinguished by red volcanic gravelly soils and a distinctive lake-land effect breeze/wind that moderates temperatures. The Fortress Vineyard has one of, if not the highest, elevations in the Red Hills. The Fortress Vineyard is located on the northwestern boundary of the Red Hills appellation directly overlooking Clear Lake and the town of Kelseyville. Positioned very close to the Lake on the ridge of the mountain, the vineyard benefits from a direct daily breeze that keeps the individual vine environment 6 to 8 degrees cooler on any day than the areas below the vineyard. The Red Hills Lake County AVA is a part of the larger, multi-county North Coast AVA comprised of four counties: Lake, Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino.
Semillon, made famous in France’s Bordeaux region has a history that is much more difficult to determine with records dating back to the 1800s. Today, it thrives in Australia, South Africa and Chile. In California, Semillon is regularly used as a blending component with Sauvignon Blanc.
Sauvignon Blanc originally hails from the Loire Valley in France, but has found new homes in other parts of France (Bordeaux, where it is blended with Sauternes); New Zealand, and specifically the Marlborough region as well as California. It is generally dry and crisp with flavors of apples, pears and tropical fruit and tends to have bright acidity that lends itself well to pairing with spicy foods. Sauvignon Blanc Musqué. The term Musqué is usually suffixed to the name of certain grape varieties to indicate a clone with musky or Muscat-like properties.
This blend of 70% Semillon and 30% Sauvignon Blanc Musqué turns the conventional blending of mostly Sauvignon Blanc on its ear. The result is the delicious treat this is today’s fantastic wine.
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – This wine shows the deepest golden yellow that we have ever seen on a table wine.Perfect clarity and perfect color concentration give the wine a solid-looking body. When swirled, the wine moves quickly and settles quickly. After a moment, chubby tears form high on the glass, then take a long time to reach the surface, reveling clues its weight on the palate.
Smell – Deeply fragrant and rich on the nose, this wine gives off big fruit, creamed honey, vanilla and sweet white flowers. Distinctive honeysuckle, acacia, pear and white peach leap from the glass. As the wine warms slightly, hints of soapstone, flint and soft Meyer lemon appear, rounding out the wonderfully fragrant nose.
Feel – Voluptuous and full, pure silk and cloudy softness, on entry. When the wine is on the colder side, it shows a bit of grippy dryness at the mid-palate. This becomes far less pronounces as the wine warms, even slightly. At any temperature, there is an eventual dryness that appears at the lips, cheeks and the edges of the tongue – where a flinty minerality appears.
Taste – Very sweet and very delicious, this wine pours on the flavors, lead by sweet orange blossom, creamed orange honey, pear flesh, peach skin. Under these, soft spice, white minerals and bright acids carry the fruit flavors and sweetness to a long finish.
Finish – Mouth-coating at first, this wine has a clean, medium-long finish that begins with bright white fruit and tails off to citrus, a hint of spice and a flinty minerality.
Conclusion – Made by one of our favorite winemakers, Nils Venge, this is a gorgeous, super-sweet, delicious wine that we want to have on hand as a compliment to hard, strong cheeses, scallops, dried meats or spicy Asian cuisine. The night-harvested mountain fruit in this wine shines through and, even at 28 Brix, the wine has great structure and complex flavors. The Sauvignon Blanc Musque clone is something to experience, delivering flavors that you many never have tasted before. Kudos to out friends at Fortress Vineyards for crafting a wine that breaks from the norm, and delivers a sweet and exciting experience.
Subject: Nils Venge
Wine Education: UC Davis – BS in Viticulture and Enology. I have over 40 years of winemaking experience in Napa including Villa Mt. Eden, Groth, my own labels – Saddleback Cellars, Envy Wines and Cougar’s Leap/Black Rock – and as consultant for several boutique wineries in Napa, including Fortress Vineyards.
California Wine Job In Brief: As noted, I make wine under my own labels and am the consulting winemaker for several other boutique wineries including Fortress Vineyards.
Winemaking Philosophy: First and foremost, I always strive to capture as much of the true varietal character and the character of the particular site or terroir in each wine. I also work to make each wine balanced, smooth and one that will age well.
First Commercial Wine Release: 1974 – Villa Mt. Eden Cabernet Sauvignon.
AGENT RED: Greetings, Nils. We are thrilled to be showing your 2008 Fortress Vineyards Novateur today. Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.
NILS VENGE: Thank you, I am delighted to be here.
RED: Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?
NILS: Yes, my parents were Distributors in Los Angeles and represented many high quality suppliers. I was introduced to the best quality wines at an early age. I looked forward every Christmas to see what special wines my father would pour for the dinner. Most years the selection would include a wonderful Chateau Latour and Chateau D’Yquem.
RED: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?
NILS: Definitely Chateau Latour inspired me from the start. For a domestic wine, I have always looked to Ed Sbragia’s Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon as a standard.
RED: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today.
NILS: Novateur is a unique blend of Semillon (70%) and Sauvignon Blanc Musque Clone (30%). The Musque Clone is the Bordeaux clone of Sauvignon Blanc and expresses true Sauvignon Blanc flavors. Novateur should not be considered as only a dessert wine, it’s also excellent as an appetizer wine. It’s on the borderline at 3% residual sugar but has good acidity to balance the sugar and with the alcohol being lower it fits being an aperitif style wine. This wine is not cloying and is extremely food friendly. This wine is easy drinking and a nice touch of honey comes through on pallet which makes it appealing. This wine is best served in the afternoon or early in the evening instead of late evening at a nice, chilled temperature.
RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?
NILS: Assorted cheese plate with dried fruit and roasted nuts.
RED: In your opinion, what makes the Fortress Vineyard so special?
NILS: The Red Hills Lake County AVA is one of the four counties making up what is known as the North Coast AVA (Napa, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties). The Red Hills is quickly gaining a reputation for producing excellent, high quality wines. The entire area is generally of a higher elevation which brings intense ultraviolet light efficiently to the leaves for optimal photosynthesis and ripening of the fruit. The Fortress Vineyard is a particularly high altitude mountain vineyard planted on the ridge of Mt. Konocti volcanic mountain itself. Fortress Vineyard ranges in elevation from 2000 to 2400 feet which is quite high for North Coast vineyards. Because the Fortress Vineyard is located on the volcanic mountain itself, it has very complex soils which add complexity to the wines. And because the ridge on which the vineyard is located directly overlooks the large Clear Lake below, the vineyard experiences a daily “Lake Effect” wind coming from the lake and cooling the soil and grapes helping to maintain the all important acidity while the grapes ripen.
RED: 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 VINEYARD can be seen in this satellite photo.
What the Winery Says
About This Wine:
French for “innovative”, Novateur is contemporary in style, produced for contemporary foods. It emerges in the glass as untamed, exotic fruit, with minerality and a bright strand of honey. Pair this wine with foods ranging from prosciutto and figs or blue cheese mac and cheese to strong, salty cheese and desserts.
About The Winery:
Gary and Barbara Snider’s passion for grape growing began early in their relationship while both were pursuing degrees at UC Davis. In the intervening years between college, marriage, raising two children, and purchasing their first vineyard property in 1988, Gary pursued a corporate career in San Francisco while Barbara taught at the college level and later completed law school. They both continued to manage full time careers while developing their hillside vineyard in Knights Valley. Their son, Tim, also learned the business “from the ground up” while working on the vineyard during the summers while finishing high school and college.
After 10 years of growing and selling grapes from the Knights Valley vineyard to various Napa Valley wineries, the Sniders began looking for new possibilities in Lake County in the area that is now known as the Red Hills Lake County AVA. They saw great potential for growing high premium grapes on a mountain vineyard. They purchased several contiguous parcels of land on a ridge on Mt. Konocti overlooking Clear Lake and in 1998, and using their years of research and experience, began development of the high-altitude mountain vineyard. They later named the vineyard the Fortress Vineyard for the many rocks cleared and pushed along the side of the mountain forming medieval-like rock walls throughout the property.
After evaluating the first few crops from the Fortress Vineyard, the Sniders realized that the fruit from this vineyard had distinctive qualities and with the 2004 harvest, made their first wine under the Fortress Vineyards label – a Sauvignon Blanc made 100% from the Musque Clone. Nils Venge who is well known as an outstanding Napa winemaker began consulting for Fortress Vineyards in 2007. With this change, the Sniders moved their winemaking to Napa. 2009 has proven to be a year of development as the Sniders have recently introduced three new wines made from the 2007 harvest. In addition to the Sauvignon Blanc wine they have been making, they offer Novateur, an off-dry contemporary wine made from a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, Finale, a late harvest 100% Semillon made in the traditional Sauternes style, and a Petite Sirah – all made from grapes grown on the Fortress Vineyard.
About The Winemaker:
Lars Bjorkman was born in Fresno, California to Scandinavian parents. After graduating from Clovis high school as a football star, he was recruited to play at UC Davis where he began his studies as a Biology major.
Eventually he came back to one of his first college classes, Introduction to Winemaking, to change his major to Viticulture and Enology. Here Lars truly realized his future in the wine world. Internships at Gloria Ferrer in Sonoma, R.H. Phillips in Dunnigan Hills, and Stonehaven Vineyards in Padthaway, South Australia, soon followed.
After receiving his B.S. he began work as the Enologist at Flora Springs Winery where he helped to make many award winning wines. In 2006the changed jobs to become the Assistant Winemaker at Saddleback Cellars in Oakville under the well-known winemaker, Nils Venge. Here Lars oversees all winemaking and vineyard operations.
Since then, his duties have expanded to overseeing winemaking and vineyard operations at Envy Wines as well as overseeing winemaking for Fortress Vineyards with Nils Venge as consulting winemaker.
Nils Venge – Fortress Vineyards is proud to announce their new consulting winemaker, Nils Venge. Nils has over 30 years of winemaking experience in the Napa Valley, and now brings his expertise to Fortress Vineyards.
Nils graduated from UC Davis in 1967 with a BS in viticulture and a minor in enology. In 1970, after serving a tour of duty in Vietnam, Nils began his career in the wine industry as a vineyard supervisor for Charles Krug Winery and later, Sterling Vineyards. By 1973 Nils made the transition into winemaking by becoming winemaker and general manager for Villa Mount Eden.
In 1982, Nils joined forces with Dennis Groth to form Groth Vineyards and Winery. Nils served as winemaker and general manager. In 1985, Nils was bestowed the honor of being the first American winemaker to receive a perfect ‘100 Points’ from Robert Parker Jr. for Groth’s Reserve Cabernet. In that same year, Nils began making wine under his own label, Saddleback Cellars, from grapes grown on property he and his father-in-law owned together. Saddleback Cellars’ first vintage was released in 1982.
Nils parted from Groth Vineyards in 1993 to become a consulting winemaker and to make wine under his own label, Saddleback Cellars. Nils later added Venge Vineyards, a Venge family operation with his son Kirk. Envy Wines is his newest collaborative venture. In addition to now consulting for Fortress Vineyards, Nils’ winery clients include such prominent wineries as Keenan, Del Dotto, Plumpjack and Moss Creek.
Harvest Date: Sauvignon Musque, October 20, 2008 (28° Brix); Semillon, October 16, 2008 (28° Brix)
Total Acidity: 6.4 g/L
Residual Sugar: 3%
Cooperage: Stainless Steel and neutral French oak barrels
Cases Produced: 550 (375 ml x 12)