Berthoud Vineyards & Winery

2003 'Ursus Minor' Red Table Wine

Red Blend

California: Sonoma County: Sonoma Valley

Offer Expired:Mar 07, 2012 at 11:59 pm
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Mission Codename: The Little Bear

Operative: Agent White

Objective: Secure a limited allocation of the the second wine released by Michael Berthoud.

Mission Status: Accomplished!

Current Winery: Berthoud Winery

Wine Subject: 2003 ‘Ursus Minor’ Sonoma Valley Red Table Wine

Winemaker: Michael Berthoud

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. Today’s exceptional blend is comprised of estate grown Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot.

Wine Spies Tasting Profile:

Look – Deep and dark garnet that becomes almost inky black in its slightly opaque core. Along the edges the color lightens only slightly and shows hints of garnet clarity. When swirled, clusters of very slow fat headed tears thin as they descend to the wine below.

Smell – Rich and bold, this fruit forward wine invites you in with aromas of ripe black and red berries including blackberry, currants, raspberry and cherry liquor all framed by by earthy and toasted oak notes. Black licorice along with bittersweet chocolate, soft green herbs and spice adds depth and complexity.

Feel – This dry and full-bodied wine has well developed but sturdy finely grained tannins that meld with dusty minerality and its balanced acidity.

Taste – Classic red Bordeaux flavors abound in this ripe, rich and deep blend that shows great varietal character. Ripe, spiced and earthy red and black berries linger with black licorice, toasted and smokey oak and dark bittersweet chocolate. Notes of spice, a hint of leather and cigar box also make an appearance

Finish – Very long and rich with the ripe fruit clinging to the palate along with this wine’s other flavors for several minutes as the textured tannins dries the tongue and invites another sip.

Conclusion – The *2003 Berthoud Winery ‘Ursus Minor’ Sonoma Valley Red Table Wine * is a delicious, and great value, red blend that is fruit forward without lacking complexity on the nose and palate. A sturdy and textured structure makes this wine great for grilled meats. Enjoy this wine tonight, after letting it breathe, or cellar for three to five years.

Mission Report:


SUBJECT: 2003 Ursus Minor

WINE EDUCATION: Enology Degree from California State University, Fresno.

CALIFORNIA WINE JOB BRIEF: Chateau St. Jean 1986 – 1989; Arrowood Winery 1989 – 2004; Berthoud Vineyards & Winery 1998 – Present; Mayo Family Winery 2004 – Present

WINEMAKING PHILOSOPHY: Minimal intervention. Old world techniques to achieve wines of austerity that can age well.

FIRST COMMERCIAL WINE RELEASE: March 1999 – Chasselas Dore


AGENT RED: Greetings, Mike. We are thrilled to be showing your 2003 Ursus Minor today. Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.

MIKE: It’s a pleasure to be featured.

WHITE: Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?

MIKE: Growing up in a European family where wine was served at the dinner table my entire life and where I was served wine with water from the age of 12.

WHITE: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?

MIKE: I have always been a fan of great Bordeaux style wines. They are my favorite to drink as well as the ones I wish to emulate.

WHITE: Who do you make wine for?

MIKE: Myself, every time.

WHITE: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today.

MIKE: 2003 Ursus Minor – entirely estate grown, produced and bottled from our 4 1/2 acres of grapes. It is 60% Merlot, 30% Cab, 8% Cab Franc, 1% each of Malbec, and Petit Verdot.

WHITE: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?

MIKE: Anything bold enough to match up with it. Steak, big sauces and finally, my personal favorite, a European style cheese plate.

WHITE: In your opinion, what makes the Sonoma Valley so special?

MIKE: Sonoma is the birth place of California wines. Plus the fact that I have spent most of my life here, makes it a special place!!

WHITE: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?

MIKE: Racking the reds

WHITE: How would you recommend people approach your wines and wine in general?

MIKE: With a very open mind. I always say, “it is basically very simple, if you like it, it’s good” I really try to not over complicate things.

WHITE: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

MIKE: Enjoy our wine in the same spirit in which it was made – with good food and surrounded by family and friends!!

WHITE: 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! Thank you very much

Wine Spies Vineyard Check:

The approximate location of Berthoud Winery can be seen in this satellite photo.

What the Winery Says

About This Wine:

Just like its big brother Ursus, Ursus Minor comes entirely from grapes grown on the six acre Berthoud Estate. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot are all represented in this blend. A true artisanal wine of tremendous value that we hope you will enjoy.

About The Winery:

Berthoud Wines (Berthoud is pronounced: BEAR2) are produced and estate bottled in the barn depicted on the label from vines that are meticulously managed to yield less than two tons of small, concentrated grapes per acre. The grapes are punched down by hand several times each day in traditional open-top redwood vats during fermentation to maximize color and flavor extraction in the gentlest manner possible. A 19th century one-ton basket press delivers only the highest quality wine directly to a combination of premier French oak barrels. After approximately twenty-two months of aging, the wine is bottled without any fining or filtration. The result is handcrafted wine that exudes the personality of the Berthoud family, their property and the artisanal style in which it was made.

The story of the Berthoud family began in the Old World. Claude Berthoud spent his youth in a small Swiss village outside of Geneva in the 1930’s and ’40’s. Wine played an integral part in village life. Grapevines etched the hillsides surrounding the village and wine was poured in every home at every meal. Claude’s childhood dream was to farm his own grapes and make his own wine.

After many adventures, he ended up in California in 1954. His first winemaking experience came in a San Francisco garage in 1967 with Zinfandel grapes purchased from a vineyard in Dry Creek Valley. He employed Old World winemaking techniques that he observed while growing up in his native Switzerland, such as fermenting grapes in open-top vats and aging wine in small, oak barrels.

The results were positive, inspiring him to fulfill his childhood dream by settling permanently in historic Sonoma Valley to a six-acre property in 1972. With the help of his son, Michel (Mike), Merlot vines were planted immediately and within a few years they were making wine from their own grapes.

Over time, Mike’s interest in wine and winemaking became his focus. He received a degree in Enology from Fresno State University and went to work for Richard Arrowood in the cellar at Chateau St. Jean in Kenwood, meanwhile still producing Berthoud wine for his family and friends. In 1989, he left Chateau St. Jean to become the winemaker at Arrowood Winery.

After 15 years at Arrowood Winery, Mike left to become the winemaker at Mayo Family Winery, while still operating Berthoud Winery with his family. Berthoud wines are now available for tasting and sales at the Mayo Family Winery tasting room in Glen Ellen, CA.

His studies and experience in the industry have exposed him to the technical side of winemaking on a large scale and have reinforced his opinion that producing wine on a small scale with the use of production methods that have been in practice in Europe for centuries is the preferable way to produce wines of personality.

Technical Analysis:

Varietals: 60% Merlot, 30% Cab, 8% Cab Franc, 1% each of Malbec, and Petit Verdot. All co-fermented.

Brix: 24.4

Alcohol: 14%

Aging: 22 Months in Barrel

Winemaking: The wines were fermented in an open top redwood vat. They were punched down by hand at least four times per day by various family members. Upon completion of fermentation, they were pressed in a basket press and transferred directly to barrels. During its 22 months in barrel, it was racked a minimum of five times before bottling. Bottling was accomplished on a six spout gravity filler and then the bottle was corked by hand. As always, absolutely no fining or filtration took place.

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