Fresh off his trip from the Mohegan Sun Wine Fest, Matt Manuel from Chacewater Winery visited our sold out classroom Monday night for a little Q&A session and tasting of his families organic wines.
Chacewater Winery is tucked away from the glitz and glamour of Napa and Sonoma in the Lake County AVA of California. With vineyard and olive grove properties spread across the region and into the Sierra Foothills AVA, Chacewater is fully CCOF organic certified.
I've been preaching for several years that we should begin to draw our attention to Lake County for their value driven wines while they are still relatively inexpensive and before every big wine conglomerate devours the landscape and drives up prices. The Sauv Blancs, to me, have been crisp and clean with the best of what California has to offer while nodding to what Bordeaux has been known for. Their CabSauvs have been big bold reds that could easily compete with anything twice the price coming out of Napa or Sonoma. On this particular night, Matt opened many people's eyes as to what this region and vineyard are fully capable of doing while at the same time maintaining full CCOF organic status and over delivering on the price point. If it seems that I over use that term "over deliver" it's because when you have the opportunity to try something of this caliber, something relatively unknown to us here in CT like the underdog in a sporting competition it surprises you. Chacewater is a prime example of the type of wineries and vineyards we are looking to work with and promote over the many mass marketed brands out there that dot the big box stores and grocery chain shelves. While they may get overlooked in a mass marketed sales plan, they find homes with smaller retailers that can take the time to develop relationships between the consumer and the winery/vineyard especially through smaller tastings like ours this past Monday night,
Matt Manuel was born the same month the Manuel’s planted their very first vineyards in the Sierra Foothills. These vineyards have now grown to be Ponderosa Vineyards and supplies some of the organic grapes for Chacewater wines. At one time, Matt's family produced organic grapes that were later sold to Fetzer for their organic Bonterra wine project. As Matt went on to tell the story that Lake County was mostly known as a grape growing region where most of the crops were sold off to larger wineries and vineyards. That was then and today most of those vineyards have now begun to make wine themselves and open up tasting rooms of their own. Matt, still owning the charm of a humble farmer, absolutely knows his way around a vineyard answering a slew of great questions from our audience about organic practices. You can tell he grew up in this business and that he's not here for a sales pitch. There's not only a lot of knowledge being bestowed on us, but you can hear the pride in his delivery of information. This is what his family has been doing for a long time. Pointing to the map several times to show where his home is and how the mountains, the lake, the cool temperatures at night all influence the way the grapes grow. It all comes from his love of his home and not from a tech sheet given to a sales person the day of his flight to the east coast.
In this day and age, the consumer wants full transparency about what goes into their products especially food and drink. The less intervention the better. That night the general consensus is that most of the wines labeled "organic" have been rather underwhelming. . Again, this is why we do what we do and seek out wineries like Matt's. Small family wineries have a home with us and being able to have this opportunity to host Matt, share this experience with the group of 22 people that night and now through this blog we are able to connect you with Matt's family's life work, their vineyards and their wines.
During the course of the discussion we sampled four wines from Chacewater that showed extremely well that night. Click on each photo for our descriptions from the night. While each one was a great example of the potential of what this region is capable of doing, the Chardonnay and Syrah really stood out. Not to exclude the SauvBlanc or the Merlot which was NOT I repeat NOT what everyone expected from a California Merlot, but showed exactly what Merlot is capable of doing in the hands of the right wine maker.
Towards the end pf the discussion the topic of sulfites came up...naturally so (pin intended). Yes people, sulfites are naturally occurring in wine and as Matt stated, if they were not in the wine then the wine would be dead. We're talking parts per million and in the case of Chacewater, I believe it was something minuscule like 50-100 parts per million as opposed to the bigger companies which are far more. The label of "sulfite free" needs to be updated to "no sulfites added" to avoid such confusion, but that is a topic for another marketing class altogether.
We wrapped up the discussion just after 8PM. As small of a state as CT is, it is a long day traveling to different accounts to connect us to the name on the bottle with the faces behind the scenes that make it.
Before leaving, Matt and our sales rep Johnathan treat us to Chacewater's newly released 2015 vintage of their Cabernet Sauvignon
Again...wine exists outside the county lines of Napa and Sonoma. Do not dismiss soemthing if that AVA does not appear on the label. Heck, even Sbeastiani is beginning to supplement their under $20 Cab Sauv with Lake County Cab so take notice of the transition. Look at the color of that wine in the glass. We can 100% assure you that the nose and flavor were on point. As soon as we clear out some of our Cabs we will surely replace them with the Chacewater.
Thank you again to Matt Manuel of Chacewater and Johnathan Norwich from our distributor for putting this all together and making for a great night. Now your homework...get out there and try wines from Lake County and the Sierra Foothills.
And as always...Cava is not Champagne.