Dinner pairings with Buena Vista Wines

California’s first premium winery continues excellence

Buena Vista Winery old and new | BuenaVistaWinery.com

Whether or not you trace back California winemaking to pre Gold Rush days or after Prohibition, grape and wine production in California rivals any region in the world. And as we tasted through three wines from a reborn Buena Vista Winery, our appreciation for this Sonoma winery goes beyond its historic sites.

Founded in 1857 by Agoston Haraszthy, the self-proclaimed “Count”, Buena Vista Winery is California’s first premium winery.

The Count’s passion for innovation and excellence not only led to California’s first premium winery, but also to the development of the California wine world as we know it today. The Count saw the grand vision for producing fine wine in Sonoma County, and Buena Vista was his vinicultural laboratory.

Buena Vista property began producing wine on an old, dry-farmed vineyard pre-Gold Rush. The land was developed by The Count of Buena Vista, Agoston Haraszthy de Mokesa of Hungary. | BuenaVistaWinery.com

He created the first gravity flow winery in California and excavated the first wine caves. The Count had been the first to experiment with Redwood barrels for aging and fermenting, and he brought over 300 different varieties from Europe to California.

Now fast forward to last week, Geena and I paired three Buena Vista wines over the course of a week, tasting new releases from the winery known for “purple gold” – the perfect ‘terroir’ and exceptional wines. While the winery’s revival is well documented, we had not sampled Buena Vista wines for years.

The impetus behind this week with Buena Vista was an invitation from the folks at thewininghour.blogspot.com. Owner and leader Lin shared how this historic winery created the first California property to make a true Champagne in Champagne. I was hooked and looked forward to receiving my shipment and began reading its history.

The Count Founder’s Red Wine blend is sourced from Buena Vista Wineries Sonoma properties.

We learned the Buena Vista property already was producing wine on an old, dry-farmed vineyard on the site pre Gold Rush. In 1852, under the direction “The Count of Buena Vista,” Agoston Haraszthy de Mokesa of Hungary, the 800-acre ranch was purchased and developed.

The Count understood that great wine comes not just from great grapes, but also from great terroir—that magical combination of all the attributes of a particular site required to create remarkable wines—from the soil, to the climate, to the site’s exposure to the sun, to the vine itself. Upon first experiencing Sonoma, The Count knew immediately that this was going to be that perfect place for producing superb wines.

I agree!

Throughout the decades, The Count’s innovation and legacy have been passed down to others over the years; the property’s historic relevance and central role in California’s history kept the winery alive and producing wines during difficult years. And while others owned a produced wine on the property, it wasn’t until after World War II ended that the vineyards began their journey to a premium winery location.

However, after it was reborn, after Prohibition and first vintage in 1949, the winery and its owners began to promote innovation, championing new winemaking techniques to the state—including cold fermentation and the process of aging wine in small French oak barrels—thereby once again contributing to the rebirth of California’s incredible wine industry.

Our Mexican steak, homemade refried beans, roasted red peppers, sliced avocados and fresh fruit were a wonderful match to the Buena Vista The Count Founder’s Red Wine Blend.

Our first taste of Buena Vista Wine was just after we opened a bottle of 2014 The Count Founder’s Red Wine blend ($20). I popped the cork just after 2 p.m. and decanted it for 30 minutes before sending it back to the bottle. I wanted to open it up a little before sipping while we prepared dinner (a common practice of mine with young wines).

The fact is cooking and tasting both wine and the foods as we create is so important. While we often will look at up dozens of receipes in the planning process of our meals, we test taste, herbs, spices, simmering broths and sauces ALONG with wine to determine which food and wine pairings compliment each other.

The Count countered the spices in the beans and Mexican steak very well. You might also pair it with BBQ beef or country-style pork ribs.

Sourced from vineyards across Sonoma County, the 2014 vintage of The Count – Founder’s Red Wine offers aromas of rich, dark chocolate and soft baking spices, blending 8 varietals. Aromas include dark chocolate, dark berry, plum with hints of cinnamon and vanilla (baking spices). Nicely strucured and well-balanced, this wine has a long, dense finish that lingers long after the first sip.This immediately enjoyable wine will continue to evolve in the bottle over the next two to three years.

We paired The Count with pan-fried Mexican flat iron steak that we had covered with an oil, chipotle and cracked pepper run for a couple of hours. While those sat, we prepared roasted red peppers, cooked up a pot of spiced refried beans, sliced avocados and mangos and blood orange wedges.

Our second Buena Vista wine pairing coincided with a stormy, wet, and cold January night. We had planned on a second steak dinner the night before, opening the Cab, hoping to pair it with ribeye. However, the storm changed our minds.

The Chateau Buena Vista 2013 Napa Valley Cab. was silky smooth and we couldn’t help but start sipping while the soup simmered.

The weather report predicted an epic cold front and storm far beyond “dreary and wet” in the San Joaquin Valley a couple days later. So we were a bit nervous as we had already opened the 2013 Chateau Buena Vista Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($50) and were eager to try it, not wanting to wait another night.

“Is it versatile and pair with a hearty, Italian soup?” Oh boy, we were thrilled.

The Cab is rich, lush and opulent. Red currant, blackberry, black plum and black, dusty cherry with just a hint of chocolate and even coffee. The dark, subdued dark fruit flavors were delicious with the soup my wife calls, “Mimi’s Soup” after her great aunt who made the family recipe for nearly 90 years.

So Mimi’s Soup takes center stage: Chopped vegetables (whatever is in the kitchen, pantry and fridge at time of creation, including kale, onions, garlic, carrots, celery, stewed and/or fresh tomatoes, bits of potato) spices, white and kidney beans, orzo etc. We cook the Italian sausage separately with spices, onions and garlic (at the end), adding beef stock and top with Parmesan cheese.

This is a showstopper all around. Love how versatile the Cabernet is and I know this would pair well with lighter grilled meats. Wilfred Wong of Wine.com calls the 2013 Chateau Buena Vista Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon the “poster child” of the winery. He’s not far from the truth.

The 2013 Chateau Buena Vista Napa Valley was lovely velvety goodness with “Mimi’s Soup”, a hearty Italian perfect on a stormy, cold January evening.

Buena Vista Winery joined the Boisset Collection in May 2011. Today, Proprietor Jean-Charles Boisset is returning Buena Vista to its original glory with the complete restoration and re-opening of the champagne cellars, which have been unavailable to the public for over 20 years. Buena Vista wines are being driven to greater heights under winemaker Brian Maloney and winemaking consultant David Ramey, including the reintroduction of Sonoma, in honor of where it all began.

Our final Buena Vista wine actually was created as a Boisset Family Wine and from their collection in Champagne, France. Yes, they have a marvelous sparkling wine from France called Buena Vista La Victoire Champagne ($75!

The Buena Vista La Victoire Champagne is elegant, with honey and brioche aromas with stone fruit, pear and peach notes.

Later during our Buena Vista week, we had so much fun thinking about and pairing this Champagne with all sorts of foods and came up with three or four that really seemed to capture our attention. The sparkling was elegant and paired so well with an assortment of appetizers.

We set the table with sour cream & onion potato chips, sour cream and caviar, mixed Italian olives, puffed pastry and Brie with sour cherry preserves, and finally smoked salmon, cucumber, shallots over a dollop of Crème Fraîsch with dill, lemon oil and lemon peel on a Spanish Regains “Tapas” Sesame Cracker from Pardners Pantry, Atascadero.On a side note, I must admit, I did save a little Buena Vista Champagne for a late night popcorn and movie time. One of my favorite snacks all around.

Anyway, the sparking is sourced from 70% Pinot Noir Premier Cru vineyards from Montaigne de Reims, and 30% Chardonnay from Grand Cru Mesnil sur Oger and Chouilly.

Love the Champagne’s elegant mouthfeel with grapefruit, honey and brioche aromas. It is so well-balanced with white stone fruit, peach and peach notes. We really enjoyed this sparkling with so many different snacks. And, I know it will go so well with most anything.

The Buena Vista La Victoire Champagne is so versatile. The bubbly paired well with appetizers, including potato chips and caviar, Italian mixed olives, baked Brie and sour cherry preserves and smoked salmon, cucumber bites.

The Buena Vista wine cellars have undergone extensive restoration from 2011 to 2015 when the renovation was completed. Once again, Buena Vista is becoming the embodiment of the California wine world.

This is the vision that Count Agoston Haraszthy predicted 150 years ago and continues with Jean-Charles Boisset to today, and like many of his other visions for the Golden State, today it has come true.

The caves at Buena Vista Winery.

Today the hope and vision of The Count has been restored and reinvented again. Jean-Charles Boisset and his family purchased the Buena Vista Winery in 2011, beginning a two-year renovation that has refocused and renewed Buena Vista Winery into a world class site. They join a collection historic wineries as part of Boisset Family Estates. Buena Vista produces over 25 varietals of still wines as well as sparkling wines from both California and France.

Be sure to read TalesoftheCork’s previous blog post, “Cambria, Paso Robles Wine Country host BlendFest.” And if winemakers, wineries or restaurants are interested in a TalesoftheCork wine and/or food review on the blog, InstagramTwitter and/or Facebook, please send us a request via email: talesofthecork@gmail.com or use DM on social media. TalesoftheCork also offers social media seminars for businesses.

Vino & Friends hosts JUSTIN Winery in Fresno

After opening a 1,500 square foot wine bar in Fresno on the NE corner of Cedar and Shepherd, owners Chuck and Jen Van Fleet built quite a lunch and after-work following in 2006. They gathered with friends, tasted, toasted and favored bottles of wine together. By 2011, the couple believed their regulars were ready for an expanded food and wine experience.

This summer Vino & Friends Wine Store & Bistro celebrated it’s first anniversary and expansion in the new tasting room, August 4, 2012. The new digs are four doors down in the Via Montana Shopping Center. With chef Katie Parker creating the menu, and a 750 ft. private party room for big groups, food service is now carefully paired, using over 40 wines by the glass or a 300+ bottle line-up. The energy in the air vibrates as people come to meet and hang out.

After opening their first wine shop in 2006, Chuck and Jen Van Fleet moved 75 feet down and reopened as Vino & Friends Wine Store & Bistro, Aug. 4, 2011.

I arrived at Vino & Friends for a visit with Van Fleet and Steve Lister of JUSTIN Vineyards and Winery to talk about JUSTIN’s award-winning wines, Sept. 22.

Van Fleet, a former Miller Brewing Co. rep. and General Manager for Auto Trader, was hosting Lister, JUSTIN’s wholesale sales manager. The bistro was abuzz. Lister was pouring and sharing tasting notes, so I spent my first 30 minutes with the Vino & Friends owner.

Chuck and Jen’s vision for a wine bar had its roots while they lived in Sacramento. The couple often traveled to Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo and Napa Valley, visiting favorite restaurants and wine-tasting before deciding to become entrepenuers.

“I wanted to own my own business,” Chuck said, “and after managing the Northern California Online Auto Trader for years, constantly traveling, I was ready to settle down. I wanted to do something I was passionate about. I looked at coffee shops and tanning businesses, but we both loved wine. Vino & Friends has become our passion.”

The bistro’s table and bar were filled to near capacity as Chuck and I spoke. I marveled how the staff energetically interacted with the patrons, serving food throughout my three-hour (2-5 p.m.) visit. The atmosphere was relaxed, comfortable and easy. I saw plates of butternut squash ravioli and specialty burgers go out all afternoon. This is not just a wine bar.

Owner Chuck Van Fleet, left, has expanded his wine bistro to include over 300 wines and 40 wines by the glass. The menu includes appetizers like stuffed figs and prosciutto-wrapped melon, ahi toasted minis or a Chef’s charcuterie platter are available besides salads, bruschetta, paninis, specialty burgers, pizza and pasta, and chef-created crepes.

“We had a strong wine club membership at the first location and I was confident it would grow as we expanded,” Van Fleet said. “All they have to do is park in a new spot. And while the new store looked like it might be too big for us, the increased business has created a menu for success.”

The original Vino & Friends only staffed four employees and now Chuck has 26 folks on the payroll. When new hires begin, Chuck trains all of them in tastings and flavor characteristics in food, beer and wine. They all know how to pair the food on the menu with the wine in the shop Chuck said. Chuck believes this has gone a long way to guarantee a successful bistro experience.

“Opening a wine bar and then moving to a larger store didn’t seem risky at either time,” Van Fleet said, “because our growing wine club membership and five years of learning the business put us into a place that created a successful business. At the time we opened in 2006, there wasn’t a lot of competition or wine bars around, so we flourished. We are an independent wine bar and bistro without a corporate ladder to answer to. We listen to our customers and are not afraid to make changes to improve our service or selection.”

Vino & Friends’ wine club is divided into two groupings: the Black Bag Club ($40/mo.) and Cellar Club ($80/mo.). Wine tastings are $5 for members and $10 for non members. However, six beers are also on tap, including New Belgium and Firestone breweries.

Today, Vino & Friends boasts over a 700 wine club membership that is growing each month and a wine list that has far exceeded the original offering.

Van Fleet was careful to point out that Vino & Friends is not trying to compete with the Sequoia Brewing Co. when it comes to beer sales.

“I have a great relationship with the owner, Jeff (Jeff Wolpert of Sequoia),” Chuck said. “We refer and share customers back and forth. In fact, I also enjoy going to Campagnia and appreciate what Tony is doing over there (both establishments near Champlain and Perrin). In fact, Jen and I had a glass of wine at Campagnia to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary.”

When Chuck is not taste testing one of his 300+ bottles of wine for his inventory, he enjoys a glass of Heitz Cellars or Buehler Cabernet for dinner. In summer he enjoys a glass of Rosé or Pinot Blanc.

Vino & Friends continued to buzz as Chuck was called to the back for a phone call. The demographics this afternoon were over 75% women, chatting over a glass of JUSTIN wine and appetizers. As the Clovis High’s 30th anniversary reunion leadership group began to arrive with flowers and decorations for their private party, Steve Lister shook Chuck’s hand sat down at my table.

Lister immediately engaged with me, sharing how the Fresno wine market keeps him coming back three to four times a year. On this trip, Flemings Steakhouse was sponsoring a wine dinner and Chuck asked him to lead a JUSTIN wine tasting earlier in the day. Lister was quick to agree and was easily the star attraction this afternoon. He praised Chuck as a wine connoisseur and passionate about the wine business.

With tables to the right of them crowded, Steve Lister, left, of JUSTIN Winery chats it up with Vino & Friends owner Chuck Van Fleet, during the Sept. 22 tasting. Lister was pouring JUSTIN wines during his two-day Fresno visit.

“I really identify with the local wine merchants and owners,” Lister said. “I’ve become friends with Chuck and Jen over the years and enjoy promoting wine with them. They are very knowledgeable about California wines, especially from the Paso region. We get together when I am in town and often share a meal as well.”

A Wine and Spirits national salesman, Lister met his wife, Beth, five years ago while she worked at Napa’s Trefethen Family Vineyards. They both happened to be at a wine shop in Los Angeles, hanging out at The Wine House.

I have been a fan of JUSTIN Wines for a decade and recently opened a bottle of 2005 ISOSCELES during a wine dinner at my home. While that year is not readily available, the 2009 vintage is still for sale both at JUSTIN and at Vino & Friends.

Normally quiet and shy away from the wine business, Steve is riding the wave of success at JUSTIN Vineyards and Winery, despite the corporate purchase of the winery from Justin Baldwin. Baldwin, who originally purchased 160 acres in 1981, planted Bordeaux-style blends from estate vineyards in the hills just west of Paso Robles. Today Lister has the enviable job of promoting award-winning wines that came from No. 1 wine region in the world (Wine Spectator 2010).

But it wasn’t always that easy to sell JUSTIN wines.

“When I first started years ago, I used to have to try and convince people to check out what was going on with Paso wines,” Lister said. “Very few folks gave Paso Robles a second look but owner Justin Baldwin was a genius and purchased land that was perfect for the Cabernet Bordeaux-style blends he has made famous. Now people call me and ask what is going on in Paso.”

Lister has been around JUSTIN Winery for over ten years, watching the winery bottle 20,000 cases to 105,000 cases of wine last year. He started when the sales force numbered three folks to over a 100 this year, two years after the winery was sold to Fiji Water.

“My biggest adjustment is learning how to utilize the new tools, people and personnel and recognizing all the additional resources,” Lister said. “The new owners and management have been incredible. We no longer just try to maximize our share of the California market, but are still a small winery going after a national market share. I have found Justin Winery to still be focused on customer service. My passion for wine and people have not changed since Justin Baldwin sold the winery.

Founded in 1981 by Justin Baldwin, JUSTIN Vineyards and Winery is one of the “pioneers” of the Paso Robles AVA. Winery tours of the production facilities, ISOSCELES Center, Barrel Chai, and Caves are offered at 10:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m., and 5 p.m. daily.

The winery came together as a result of Baldwin purchasing land west of Paso Robles when few wanted it. Lister said Baldwin always focused on quality and insisted on buying from partners in the area who had the best Cabernet Sauvignon grapes blended them to express a Bordeaux-style for the ISOSCELES and Justification labels.

Their iconic bottle is the ISOSCELES Reserve. Sourced entirely from the home estate vineyard planted in 1981, this wine reflects the pinnacle of Baldwin’s efforts. Vines planted on native root stock, in nutrient depleted soils, are dry farmed and hand harvested. This label can only be purchased via the JUSTIN Wine Society.

Today that quality and patience in building a world-class winery is still a focus as the new corporate ownership has put in new acreage and is introducing a new line of wine called Right Angle: a blend with 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Petite Sirah, 12% Malbec and 7% Petite Verdot. The 2010 is now available for a short time for $30.

Wine tasting is available seven days a week at Vino & Friends. However, on this occasion, I tried the JUSTIN 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. Special wine tastings are arranged each Saturday from 2-5 p.m.

“I still believe in the winery and I still champion JUSTIN wine,” Lister said. “I think the sale of the winery was a perfect storm for all of us. We are thriving and have had our best years in consecutive order as the wines of 2008-2010 have been bottled and sold. And I agree with Justin Baldwin when he says, ‘I’m making wines, not trophies.’ Our wines are meant for consumers to consume at a reasonable price.”

After my hour with Lister, my wife, Geena, and I settled down for a tasting of the just released JUSTIN 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. The bottle ($25) had been opened for less than an hour and was delicious. The nose was of black fruit and its velvety texture was ready to drink without food. However, we paired a Trio of Bruschetta ($10.95) to go with it and experienced Vino & Friends from the sidelines for the next hour.

Today JUSTIN Vineyards and Winery is a 740-acre ranch, including 200 new acres of vines at the JUSTIN Estate Vineyard, DeBro Vineyard, the Adelaida Hills Vineyard and the newest addition: Templeton Hills. JUSTIN Winery is located at 11680 Chimney Rock Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446 USA. Be sure to inquire for upcoming events, including the JUSTIN Wine Harvest Weekend: Friday, October 19 – Sunday, October 21. Be sure to make reservations! They can be reached at 805.238.6932 or 800.726.0049.

Vino & Friends Wine Store & Bistro is located at 1560 E. Champlain Dr., Fresno, CA 93720. Chuck Van Fleet brings in a new winery each Saturday for a tasting. The October 2012 line-up includes Jeff Runquist (Oct. 6), Rombauer Vineyards (Oct. 13) and Sextant Wines (Oct. 20) and Frank Family Vineyards (Oct. 27).

Van Fleet is also planning a Brown Bag, blind tasting wine dinner for the first 22 people who show up at Vino & Friends, Nov. 7. The men are to bring a Cabernet and women a Chardonnay. The group will vote and the winners receive a free dinner. The cost is yet to be determined. A Nov. 14 beer dinner is also planned so please check their web site for more information. Vino & Friends can be reached at 559.434.1771.

For more information on Vino & Friends, check out TasteFresno and their 2011 VIDEO interview of Chuck Van Fleet.