Saturday, October 2, 2010

The 2009 Culling Begins

Ahead of our October component tasting, the process of giving a coherent shape to a collection of hundreds of barrels of 2009 Bordeaux varieties started in earnest this week.

Even at this early stage, I get a sense that Merlot is going to play a much more important role in the final blend than it did in the first two vintages of Lineage. The 2009 vintage was just wonderful, the wine (from Block 9 at Ghielmetti Vineyard) has a great density of black cherry notes and really interesting tannin expression to it.
Befitting a world-class wine with structure and ageability, Cabernet Sauvignon will play the dominant role. Both Clone 30 from Ghielmetti and Clone 8 from the Folkendt Vineyard are showing really well at this time.
We picked Clone 30 twice in 2009, and the differences in density and flavor components are very noticeable in the two wines. The late-pick lot shows great tannin structure all the way through the wine, semi-sweet chocolate and espresso notes, and a wonderful fullness to the mid-palate.

The Folkendt wine (this wine has a great story in that this was the first vineyard we ever used for Steven Kent though our last harvest there, until the past year, was in 2001) is gigantic. Vaguely reminiscent of Clone 191 in its monolithic hugeness, this Cab is all black fruit and tannin...from entry to long finish. 

The process of putting Lineage together starts with Cabernet. The First Step is to determine which Cabernets have the potential to make up the base of the wine. The Second Step is then to pick which specific barrels harmonize the most beautifully. Once that is done, the next steps involve layering in the best barrels of the other varieties. As of this week, I am through Step 2 and moving ahead on Step 3. Next week, I'll let you know where things stand after working through the many mock blends that lay ahead.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Trying to Keep Perspective

Capi, the Wonder Dog
If we had more than one chance a year to bring in the grape crop, I'd be more sanguine about threatening weather like we had today. Add sprinkles to the north of us and temperatures in the 60's to an already very mild year,  and it's enough to drive you nuts.

The photo to the right is of the western sky over Livermore looking through the Forman clone Petit Verdot block at the highest point of the vineyard. While it didn't actually rain as I was taking my dog on a grape inspection tour, the cold temps and overcast skies don't do much to help further ripening.

We pulled our last fruit for Lineage (Malbec) off the site on November 6th last suspicion is that we could be later than that this year.

Notwithstanding the sketchy weather, the fruit itself looks great. Clone 30, our most important block, has great uniformity of color and relatively small berries and clusters. Clone 4 Cabernet also looks immaculate, at this point. If we get the right weather for a stretch, a lot of this lateness we're experiencing now will be gone. And days like today will only be valuable as blog fodder. 

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Progress of Progression

Knowing how a wine is going to age is a straightforward question with no easy answer. Experience with a specific wine from a particular site over many vintages gets you closer to a general answer, but with all the variables attached to a season's weather, and that wine's winemaking, barrel regime, the quality of the cork, the way the wine was stored, etc. a definitive response is very hard to come by.

One way to judge ageability is to see how a wine reacts to oxygen over a period of several days. On August 27th, I opened the 2007 Lineage alongside a barrel sample of 2008 Lineage and evaluated them over a period of a week to gauge how they would progress in your cellar.

The thing that struck me immediately was how well-structured the wines were. In the past, Livermore's lack of tannin (compared to wines from further North) has caused the wines to be taken less seriously by the press and they should have been. With this lineup of wines, there is no problem. The 2007 Lineage was "rich," with a "tannic mid-palate," and "great length." The 2008 Lineage had "nice tannins" but was "tight." The second day, the wine had opened up aromatically and structurally to reveal licorice and black cherry and wonderfully focused tannins. On August 28th, 2007 Lineage had begun to open up a bit...still emphasizing black fruit and massive tannins, but now tobacco and roasted herbs and black cherry liqueur were showing themselves.

Earlier today, on the 31st, the wines were at their most impressive. Left just with a cork in a half-filled bottle, the oxygen that would have thoroughly decimated many of those high pH trophy wines from Napa, was showing, instead, how beautiful the first two vintages of Lineage are.

The fruit in 2008 Lineage evolved from dark cherry to black cherry and cassis, the mid-palate maintained its viscosity and some of the tannin had rounded out. The wine had great length and persistence. The 2007 was simply glorious. Aromatic notes of forest floor, black fruit, loam, dark plum unfurled in a very open, inviting nose; in the mouth, the wine showed its world-class pedigree in its round viscosity, gorgeously persistent mid-palate tannins with great length.

There wasn't a hint of oxidation in the wines...there was obvious "age" and transformation, but there was no sense that the fruit for the wine had been harvested too ripe...structurally the wines have really held together well. Try this exercise at home, next time you have wine that is supposed to be ageable. If the wine isn't more complex and delicious the second and third day than the first, the wines were not made with balance in mind.

The first vintage of Lineage is nearly sold out. If you'd like to get in on the ground floor of this exciting project, click the link to order. The 2007 Lineage will be released on October 17, 2010.  

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

First Vintage of Lineage Nearing Release

I want to thank all of you who have inquired about and committed to the inaugural vintage of Lineage.

The 2007 vintage is sleeping peacefully, waiting patiently to be transferred to your enthusiastic hands on October 17, 2010.

Those of you who have actually become Lineage Collectors have already guaranteed your six-bottle allocation. You will have received an email from us early today indicating your status.

For those who have signed up on our Interest List but have not filled out and returned an Order Form, your allocation is NOT yet guaranteed. Click the link here to download an Order Form. We have many more people on our Interest List than we have wine available; in fact, the first vintage is nearly gone. To guarantee your allocation, we need to receive your Order Form by September 15, 2010.

Thank you again. We greatly appreciate your support and look forward to sharing the first of many great wines with you.

--Steven Mirassou

Friday, August 13, 2010

Fine Tuning for Better Wine

Once you have a great vineyard site that has reached a certain level of maturity and begins to produce fruit of world-class quality, subsequent farming and winemaking become exercises in fine tuning.

We have identified several blocks from Ghielmetti Vineyard that provide the highest quality of fruit from the site. Block 5B is the home to Cabernet Sauvignon, Clone 30. This is the best block on the site, and this year we will be looking to build even more intensity of fruit here by dropping yields down to the 2.5 tons/acre level. We'll do this by dropping fruit twice at veraison, lopping off about 15% each time we make a pass so that the remaining cluster (1.5 per shoot) will be that much more consistent and complex.

In the winery, we have narrowed our cooperage choices down significantly. Three French barrels and two American will provide all the wood for Lineage. Each variety, and each clone gets its own mix of barrels to bring out the specific components we want for the wine.

As of mid-August, the Lineage blocks are just now getting a little bit of color. We are, like everyone else in California, a bit behind. There is every reason to believe, though, that by the end of October, the next vintage of Lineage will be safely fermenting away.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Evolution of a Different Sort...

In a recent post, I wrote about the relative importance of wine evolution vs. wine aging. Michael Pollan, in his  amazing book, Botany of Desire, explores the wonderfully twisty idea that certain plants have evolved human tastes in order to insure their continued existence.

In his sections on the apple and tulip, Pollan posits that these plants have selected for specific human desires (sweetness in the case of the apple, beauty in that of the tulip) through the generational physical manifestations that fire our imaginations. The book explores the possibility that both the human and plant are manipulating each other in a farthest-reaching evolutionary dance...just a wonderful thought to chew on.

Let's put this through the wine filter...can it be said that the first natural (arbitrary) cross between Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc which led to the creation of Cabernet Sauvignon, in turn lead to that new variety's hegemony among red grapes because it appealed to man's desire for richness and round fruit and structure? Did we choose to plant a lot of Cabernet in California because it happened to grow well and produce a tasty wine or did the grape fulfill our desires and therefore subtly compel us to spread its genetic material?

I don't that there is an answer, but what great fun to contemplate over a great glass of wine.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Ordering Lineage

We have received a large number of Orders for our new wine as well as a number of questions. To place an Order for Lineage fill out the Invitation form that was mailed to you and fax to 925-373-6324.  You will receive a confirmation letter shortly after we receive your order.

Thank you very much for your support. 

Monday, February 22, 2010

Evolution's the Thing

Back when my dad started selling wine, there were only a handful of premium wineries in California, and the only model for world-class Cabernet was the wine from Bordeaux. Those wines were significantly lower in alcohol and less fruit-filled than their California counterparts. They were also very tannic, nearly undrinkable wines when they were young.

The concept of laying Cabernet down before you drank it and for ascribing inherent quality to a wine that can (or needs to) age before it is drunk is directly related to the Bordeaux experience. California wineries trying to make exceptional Cabernet emulated Bordeaux even when the viticultural conditions in their home state blessed them with a completely different kind of wine.

To my mind, the biggest, brawniest Cab in the room is not the prettiest pig at the Fair. Often, these huge monsters are so out of balance that by the time the tannins have softened with age, the piddling fruit that had started the journey was long gone when the wine was finally opened.

I love big, BALANCED wines. Cabernet is a grape that has tannin, and even more tannin is imparted to the wine when it is aged in newer barrels. Cabernet shouldn't apologize for having structure, but it also shouldn't haughtily beat its chest for having way more tannin than the rest of its constituent parts can elegantly support.

All wines will age. Tannins will soften out. Some wines will, no doubt, age better than others. What is important is not the wine's ability to age, it is the wine's ability to evolve into something worth waiting for. Great wines give you something substantially new each time you drink them...some new palette of secondary aromas, the dramatic debut of a heretofore shy mix of flavors, the effortless marriage of fruit, wood, and structure.

Great wines are like great books. No matter how long or short, each time you open them they always have something new to teach.

Friday, February 19, 2010

What's Art Got to Do With It?

In his book Linchpin, Seth Godin defines an artist as one who changes an audience's perception of the status quo. The medium doesn't matter; the message doesn't even matter. The artist uses his "paintbrush" to re-envision, to re-create reality.

Winemaking is certainly a be really good at it requires time, experience, passion, diligence, luck, great fruit, a vision. Is winemaking art?

Using Godin's definition, the act of winemaking is the canvas or the paintbrush or the marble...if there is art, it is in the ability of that wine to change the winedrinker's perception of quality...quality of the winemaker or quality of the appellation.

There are as many definitions of art as there are people. Art or not, Lineage is meant to change perceptions. This wine is meant, in part, to show wine lovers that the Livermore Valley is a special winegrowing place, and that it's lack of success up to this point is simply a failure of imagination, not a failure of appellation.

Friday, February 12, 2010


I just finished Malcom Gladwell's wonderful book, What the Dog Saw, and one of the essays underscored a thought I was having about Lineage. Gladwell was describing his conversation with a playwright who had used some of his material, without attribution, for one of her plays. His immediate outrage at the act of plagiarism, upon reflection, turned to very thoughtful discourse about how the concept of plagiarism can change depending upon the way the work is used or what it becomes.

Gladwell wrote that though the playwright used roughly 650 words worth of phrases from his work, the way she used them was so wonderfully different that the phrases became just simple bricks in a beautiful edifice. What became important to Gladwell was the difference between something that was transformative and something merely derivative. 

While plagiarism doesn't exist in the wine world, there is no lack of "me-too"-ism especially in regard to the production of ultra-luxury wines like Lineage. The mission for me is the same thing that became acceptable for Gladwell...I am out to transform the idea of the Livermore Valley from a quaint, average-quality wine region to one that can compete with and be compared to any great region in the world.

To be certain, the best Bordeaux blends from California owe their inspiration to those from France. But, the similarity between French and California blends ends at the grapes used to make the wines. In the same vein, Lineage will be different from the blends made in other parts of California. It will have its own structure, its own way of expressing the intricacies of five different grapes. And, in my opinion, it is in those differences that the greatness of wine lives.  


Monday, February 8, 2010

If I Didn't Have Uncertainty, I'd Have No Certainty At All

One of the things that has always fascinated me about wine is how each contact point with it is an entirely new experience. When I am tasting through a specific lot of wine to determine which (if any) barrels are of great-enough quality to be included in Lineage not only is each barrel unique within the context of that lot, but also those barrels change dramatically from one tasting to the next. What seems like the right blend in April may not be quite good enough 6 months later.

It took me 18 months to be really satisfied with the inaugural vintage of Lineage - 2007. I thought I had the blend nailed...then found out after tasting a mock-up of it over the course of several days that one element was just a little too conspicuous. I did get it later, though.

I'm going through this wonderfully unnerving period of uncertainty again now. Over the last couple of weeks, I have been tasting through all of the 2008 vintage lots of Cabernet and Bordeaux varieties to finalize the next Lineage. I have been through the Cabs four times now since post-malolactic fermentation in March 2009 and have seen beautiful growth in the wines. (Recent tasting notes can be found here.)

I have gotten to the point in which I know what clones (and which percentages of each) will make up the base for Lineage. Now comes the layering of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, and Malbec on top of the Cabernet to create the sense of complexity and age-worthiness that this wine must have.

The wines change in barrel; they change in bottle; they change in the cellar; they change just standing around, and from the top of the glass to the bottom. Even though the change is constant (and mostly for the better!) there comes a time when I have to say..."This is it! This is Lineage!" 2008 is nearly there. (Become a fan of Lineage's Facebook Page for more insight)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Starting Small...Only the Best Make the Final Cut

Though the Lineage Wine Company will release just one wine, I cull through about 100 others to get down to the very best. I look at each barrel of wine - even if it is only one of 15 barrels from the same lot of Cabernet, for instance - as a separate entity.

The wine in each barrel is ultimately "colored" by its time in that container...some barrels impart more toasty wood than others, more chocolate or graphite or cedar. Even barrels from the same cooper, forest, and toast level can taste dramatically different.

In making the final blend of 2007 Lineage, only 5 barrels made the final cut. As you can see from the detail on our label, those five barrels yielded 1193 Bottles, 60 Magnums, 10 Double-Magnums, and 10 Five Liters, less than 120 cases total.

No matter how many cases Lineage Wine Company may produce in the future, you can be sure that they will be the best cases that we can produce.    

Monday, February 1, 2010

One Line

"...touched by that dark miracle of chance which makes new magic in a dusty world."
-Look Homeward, Angel

Sometimes you find what you are looking for; sometimes it finds you. Had a nurseyman from France not been late to the gold rush; and had he not found the sublime fecundity of the Santa Clara Valley; had his daughter not married another Frenchman and had a son before that first husband's early death; had that great grandfather not felt the green tug of the earth too, and not had two sons who had four others who made a premium brand in the antediluvian days of the California wine business; and had one of them not had a son who crossed the country to the big cities to grow up and then recrossed it, feeling the same beat of the asphalt under the verdant carpet of Livermore Valley vineyard; if all, or even a single one of these things, had not spooled out the way they did, there would be no chance for this Lineage.

Lineage - the wine - is a mission, a challenge, and an idea. Nothing like it has ever been attempted from our growing area. It is our mission, challenge, and idea to show that this is so because of a failure of imagination not a failure of appellation.

Whether the forebears knew it or not, Lineage began with them. It is up to this generation to bring it to the larger world. Join our Mailing List to take the journey with us.  

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

2007 Lineage: The Wine

The potential quality (now realized) of the 2007 vintage was apparent shortly after our Bordeaux varieties finished malolactic fermentation in the spring of 2008. The best lots had an uncommon richness and abundance of structure and varietal character that hinted at what our inaugural vintage of Lineage would be.

After 18 months and a score of mock blends, We arrived at what we thought was the best representation of the Lineage mission. 2007 Lineage is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon (clones 30, 4, and 191), 15% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec, and 2% Merlot.

The resulting wine, which was bottled on January 14, 2010 and will be released on October 17, 2010, promises to be a benchmark for Livermore Valley wine.

In the nose one senses a complex interplay between the dark-fruit, Cabernet notes of cassis and black cherry; the subtle contribution of Cabernet Franc's herbal signature; the dark chocolate and mocha of French and American oak. In the mouth, 2007 Lineage is a very big wine. From an entry of constrained dark fruit to a mid-palate full and tight to a tannic and long finish, the wine showcases the very highest attributes of each variety and promises the forthcoming elegance and maturity that are now subsumed by the exuberance and muscularity of youth.

2007 Lineage should be laid down under proper cellaring conditions for 3-5 years before drinking, and it will reward patience for 15-20 years.

We are honored by your interest. Please join our Mailing List for more information about the availability of Lineage.

Friday, January 8, 2010

What is Lineage? Is it Worth Caring About?

Ever since I started in the wine business, I have had as my chief goal the creation of a single wine from the Livermore Valley that eventually could take its place among the world's best. After years of effort, I am very excited to introduce you to a new brand and a new wine - LINEAGE.

Handcrafted from the five classic Bordeaux varieties, all of which were harvested from the Ghielmetti Vineyard, Lineage highlights the elegance, complexity, and age-worthiness that the best of these wines contain. 2007 - one of the finest growing seasons in memory - marks the inaugural vintage of Lineage. After tasting hundreds of barrels only five were considered great enough to be included in this first offering.

If you are a lover of great wine, someone truly devoted to drinking wine that is a product of a vision, of great farming, of meticulous barrel choices, then Lineage is worth caring about. It doesn't hurt, either, that this is the first wine of its kind from the Livermore Valley: it is consciously crafted with the knowledge that it must and can compete on the world-stage.

A partnership between the sixth generation of America's oldest winemaking family and the world-class growing area that is the Livermore Valley, Lineage represents a mission and a promise to spare no effort to handcraft one of the world's great wines.

We look forward to sharing Lineage with you.