Beginning in mid-2005, I spent the better part of the next two years working between offices in Denver, CO and California’s Bay Area. To ease the burden of weekly cross-country flights to/from my home in Virginia, I would spend a weekend a month roaming the wine trails of Napa and Sonoma.
For much of this time, my California wine aperture was limited to Napa and Sonoma. It wasn’t until a chance discussion in late 2006 with a desk receptionist at the hotel I frequently stayed in that I became aware that there were wineries in the Livermore Valley and Santa Cruz Mountains area. As it turned out the hotel desk receptionist held a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) certification and was a weekend wine slinger in the tasting room at a winery in Livermore Valley (on Twitter: @LVwinegrowers).
Making the 40-minute drive east from San Jose to the heart of Livermore Valley instead of fighting the bumper-to-bumper drive north up the 101 or 880 to Sonoma was an easy sell.
I recall the hotel desk guy including Steven Kent Winery in his list of must visit wineries when I visited the Livermore Valley area. Since this first trip to the Livermore Valley pre-dated by wine blogging and note taking days, I can’t remember if I visited the tasting room but I do recall reading about Steven Kent Mirassou (on Twitter: @StevenMirassou) — a sixth generation member of the renowned Mirassou wine family and his mission to make iconic Cabernet in the Livermore Valley that rivals the greatest red wines in the world
Since that first trip to the Livermore Valley I’ve been interested in smaller, boutique wine regions with deep histories that are turning out excellent wines but are often overshadowed by their larger neighbors (reminiscent of Virginia).
When the folks at Balzac Communications contacted me about participating in a virtual Twitter tasting featuring Steven Kent Mirassou’s wines I jumped at the chance.
The Steven Kent portfolio includes three labels — Lineage, The Steven Kent Winery (on Twitter @skwinery), and La Rochelle (on Twitter: @larochellewine). Tonight’s tasting will include wines from two of his projects:
- 2011 “Lola” (Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon Blend) $24
- 2010 La Rochelle Chardonnay, Dutton-Morelli Lane, Russian River Valley $65
- 2009 La Rochelle Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands $38
- 2009 La Rochelle Pinot Noir, Donum Estate, Carneros $75
- 2009 Steven Kent Petite Verdot, Ghielmetti Vineyard, Livermore Valley $50
- 2009 Steven Kent Cabernet, Home Ranch Vineyard, Livermore Valley $65
Started in 1996, the Steven Kent label focuses on growing Bordeaux varietals in Livermore Valley with a strong emphasis on Cabernet Sauvignon. The La Rochelle label, which Steven acquired from his cousins, focuses on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
To learn more about him and to provide my fellow tasters some insights that we cannot get in 140 characters, I asked Steven share his story and mission here…
Drink What You Like: Share a couple of things/factoids that you would like Twitter tasting participants to know about your background, wines, or region.
Steven Kent Mirassou: Though the Livermore Valley lost the storytelling war to Napa (viz. the potential quality of Cabernet Sauvignon) long ago, it did not lose its inherent viticultural excellence. Livermore was Napa before Napa was Napa. There was more acreage devoted to the BDX varieties in Livermore than Napa prior to Prohibition; the first famous tasting win (not 1976 but 1889) was for a Livermore Valley Sauternes blend, and UC Davis was telling growers in the 1940s and 50s that there was no better place in CA to grow BDX varieties than in Livermore.
The Mirassou family’s history owes a great deal to the potato. On a voyage back to CA from France, Pierre Pellier, my great, great, great-grandfather saved the bud wood he was bringing from all over France (and may have actually contained the first clones of Pinot Noir and Mourvedre) from a water shortage by buying an entire lot of potatoes, cutting a hole in each one and inserting the buds. They gave over their moisture, and the family’s cuttings survived.
DWYL: Describe your philosophy in the vineyard and cellar?
SKM: I am trying to make wines (with an emphasis on Cabernet-based offerings) that typify the special quality of the Livermore Valley. Our wines are about beauty, complexity, and excellence much more so than the sheer tannic power typical of other regions. We farm for small yields from specific vineyard sites and we make our wines in small fermentation vessels. Each wine goes through extended cold soaking so the native flora are able to give over their singular flavors, aromas, and textures and then each lot is inoculated with a yeast strain matched to site and clone to finish the primary fermentation. Complexity-building is continued by allowing for extended maceration where appropriate, and each wine is matched to a set of barrels that will support fruit and hone structure. Each phase of elevage is arbitrated by my mouth last. There is no set time for any one part of the process. I taste constantly to determine just the right time to press, to take out barrel, to release, etc.
DWYL: By most accounts 2012 was an excellent vintage for your neighbors to the north in Napa and Sonoma. Describe the 2012 vintage in Livermore Valley, and how this compares with the last couple of years?
SKM: 2012 was a wonderful vintage for BDX varieties in Livermore Valley too. After the very cool 2011 and rain-soaked-at-harvest 2010, 2012 was a wonderfully even and long vintage that provided ripe and clean fruit. Our best clones…clone 30 and 8 cab have great intensity and aromatic complexity and the overall yields were definitely larger than 2011 and 2010.
DWYL: What vintners or regions do you look to for inspiration (and favorite wines)?
SKM: Ridge Montebello is a lodestar wine for me in its historical importance and the fact that it has achieved a level of quality and importance while hailing from an appellation outside of Napa. In terms of producers that I particularly like: Spotteswoode for elegance and balance, Stags’ Leap for their historical import and the beauty of Fay Vineyard fruit.
I look forward to tasting Steven’s wines this evening with our local wine group here in Virginia Beach and interacting with the other tasters from around the US. Anyone can participate in the tasting by picking up a bottle of Steven Kent or La Rochelle wine (check here), and by following the #StevenKentWines hashtag on Twitter.
Many thanks to Steven Kent Mirassou for sharing his time and wine, and to the team at Balzac Communications for organizing tonight’s virtual tasting.