Yorba Wines: Sutter Creek’s premier label

Ann Kraemer crafts Italian, Rhone varietals on Shaker Ridge Ranch

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Ann Kraemer’s 2011 Barbera can be served with a host of entrees, including pizza. Love its easy drinking style.

With a family farming tradition, dating back to 1769, the Yorba name has been associated with cattle, grain and oranges. Today’s Sutter Creek Yorba Wines brand, while still linked to the cattle days by the brand on their bottle, is all about farming sustainability and remarkable wines in Amador County.

When Ann Kraemer and family bought the Shake Ridge Ranch in the Sierra Foothills region in 2001, the family took on the name for their Amador County label. They planted their first vines in 2003.

As owner and vineyard manager of the family winery, Kraemer applied her previous experience of vineyard management for wineries like Cuvaison, Clos Pagase, Swanson and Domain Chandon and has transformed the area’s Zinfandel success into a highly successful winery which includes Rhone, Italian and experimental varietals.

I’ve met up with Ann a couple of times in the past and, during a quick visit to Sutter Creek, I was again drawn to the tasting room the vineyard manager occasionally occupies. I was in luck; Ann was pouring.

Today’s post is to pique interest and encourage visitors to drive up California Highway 99 northeast of Lodi, California, and head toward Old Highway 49 to Sutter Creek. And while I could not stay long enough for a trip out to her 46-acre plot of vineyards, Kraemer’s passion for farming and fine tuning her Zinfandel and Barbera varieties clearly got me reacquainted with her grapes so many other wineries crave.

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Ann Kraemer and her family purchased the Shake Ridge ranch in 2001, planting vineyards by 2003. On this day I was lucky to taste her 2007 and 2010 Zinfandels side-by-side.

Of course we tasted through her Barbera and Italian varietals many times in the past and, even as she was pouring us a taste of the 2011 Barbera, I set a bottle aside to take home. I love its light spice, easy drinking and already smooth texture. It’s almost a Grenache-like mouth-feel. This wine can be served with most any food except for fattiest cuts of meat. I love its sweet berry jam, juniper, earthiness and spice beginnings to cranberry and rich blueberry and herbs on the finish. This wine is downright delicious and elegant.

As we chatted and reacquainted, Kraemer shared her love for her family and how grateful so many participated in the daily workings of Yorba Wines. As I listened, she shared how extended family members worked in the vineyard to the tasting room. And as they have grown, especially over the last few years, she admitted Yorba Wines and the Kraemer family will have to hire more folks. She beams sharing how her sisters, cousins and others all help out, creating memorable wines.

She then pulled out her 2007 Zinfandel and the 2011 version, her most recent release. The joy was all mine as we chatted about the intense dark fruit of the Amador County ’07.

I am a sucker for wines that are given time to relax and opportunity to smooth out, becoming silky with essences of chocolate, blackberry and cedar and a hint of coffee. The 2007 is lush, rich, balanced and plenty of structure. I slurped up the whole pour. And while the 2010 were so freshly minted, I loved the opportunity to taste the sheer skill Ann and Yorba winemaker Ken Bernards who also produces a private label: Ancien.

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Talking with Yorba Winery’s Ann Kraemer is so engaging. She drew me into discussions ranging from Graciano, Tempranillo and Greco di Tufo to expanding her efforts at Shake Ridge Ranch. I can’t wait to return for a vineyard visit.

The 2010 Shake Ridge Vineyard Zinfandel was brighter than the 2007 with notes of plum and raspberry. However, this wine is not for the faint of heart. There is so much depth awaiting to be realized. I grew up picking blackberries and raspberries as a kid and this wine is all about wild blackberries and its brambly and herb flavors.

The spice, bright raspberry flavors and cedar are there but subdued and not yet fully developed. Actually, many might prefer this wine now as it is fruitier than its 2007 cousin. In a very difficult year, Bernards and Kraemer have created an Amador County gem in the making. This Zinfandel would be perfect with roast chicken and turkey.

Her vineyards are right in the heart of Gold Rush country. Much of the land has quartz, volcanic rocks, ocean bottom, and metamorphic rock. Miners dug through the hills looking for gold and now Kraemer grows liquid gold.

Our chat veered off to her Rhone and other Italian varietals–Petite Sirah, Graciano, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Greco di Tufo and others– and touched on her commitment to low- input, organic and biodynamic methods in the vineyard. Winemakers from all over California want her fruit and Ann sells up to 80% of it to wineries like Favia Wines, Keplinger Wines, Newsome Harlow, Turley, Dirty & Rowdy Family Winery, Gallica, Forlorn Hope and Buccella.

Our last tastes were from her Shake Ridge Amador County 2010 Red Wine–definitely a wine and taste of The Ranch. The 2010 version of Shake Ridge Red is like no other! The big, brawny structure of 50% Petite Sirah is balanced by 25% Graciano and 25% dainty Malbec. Kramer says imagine a sumo wrestler balancing two dainty ladies on his shoulders.

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Yorba Wines are one of nine tasting rooms in Sutter Creek on Old Highway 49 in Amador County.

She talked how Graciano is a fiery redhead on one side and Malbec is a prim lady on the other. I love the big flavors of black raspberries, juicy plum, black cherry and savory notes. This is to be enjoyed with earthy, savory meats and roasted veggies.

See what I mean? Who talks like this? Kraemer has creative story characters to help describe her wines.

So, I need to set aside another full afternoon or morning and meet Ann in her vineyards. I want to see her immaculate and almost cult-like rows that so many revere. She has such a passion and sets her standards so high that I know her wine is made in the vineyard.

In only 20 minutes of discussion beyond the tasting, I want, no need, to see the results of her crop management, irrigation practices, harvest timing and, more often than not, risk taking. She has earned the respect not only of her Amador County vintners but those over the hills to Napa, Sonoma down to Paso Robles and beyond.

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The Shake Ridge Amador County 2010 Red Wine is a blend of Petite Sirah, Graciano and Malbec.

Yorba Wines is one of nine tasting rooms in Sutter Creek. There is plenty of free parking nearby at a lot next to the post office. There are so many still to talk about and this post is just an introduction. Ask Kraemer about her Rhône—Syrah, Grenache, Viognier and Mourvèdre along with her Zins, Italian varietals and experimental vines. You will need to stay the night and return for a couple of visits. I need to return to know more about this respected Rhone Ranger.

Yorba Wines are located at 51 Hanford St., Sutter Creek, California 95685 in Amador County. Call the tasting room (209) 267-8190 or the vineyard (209) 267.5055, visit the Yorba Wines website and/or email them at info@yorbawines.com. Tasting room hours are Thursday – Monday noon-5 p.m.

Be sure to read TalesoftheCork’s previous blog post, “Changing Lodi Zin culture: Klinker Brick Winery.” 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.

Changing Lodi Zin culture: Klinker Brick Winery

Fifth generation farmers Steve and Lori Felton grow brand

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Fifth generation grape growers, Steve and Lori Felton, opened Klinker Brick Winery in Lodi, Calif. in 2000.

A Zinfandel stronghold and track record of over 150 years, Lodi, California, has long attracted lovers of Old Vine Zins. Since the early 1900s though today, generations of families have farmed and produced over 40% of California’s premium Zinfandel and the region has long been branded that way.

Steve and Lori Felton, fifth generation Lodi grape growers, continue this family farming tradition and now exclusively farm, grow and produce wine on land their ancestors planted. And while they worked in the industry for years producing Zinfandel for other wineries in Napa and Sonoma Counties on 16 individual vineyard blocks of Old Vine Zinfandel, today they produce premium Old Ghost Old Vine Zinfandel under their Klinker Brick Winery label.

However, Klinker Brick Winery, founded by the Feltons in 2000, continues to change the way wine enthusiasts view the Lodi wine region.

From their first vintage of Klinker Brick Old Vine Zinfandel in 2000  and their first vintage of Farrah Syrah in 2001, the Feltons and Klinker Brick have set out to produce world-class wines that move far beyond the Lodi growers who singlehandedly kept the American wine industry alive during Prohibition, sending out thousands of railcars each harvest full of Zin, Tokay and Alicante Bouschet.

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Old Ghost represents the best Zinfandel harvested each year at Klinker Brick Winery. This is lush excellence, perfect with prime porterhouse, grilled lamb or beef stews.

With a passion for producing exceptional wine and the vision and passion of winemaker Joseph Smith, Klinker Brick views themselves as stewards of the land and their ancient vines. They have also expanded and are creating award-winning Syrah, Petite Sirah and dry Rose among other wines. In addition to their own property, they manage a number of vineyards in the region with the goal of producing award-winning fruit.

Smith joined Klinker Brick in 2008 after starting his career in the nineties as an apprentice with Gnekow Family Wines. In fact, Smith actually made his first bottle with Felton as a consultant in 2000. Smith says his and the Felton family’s love for many varieties helped fuel their passion and they seemed to gel. The Feltons were ready to expand from just the farming aspect of the business and took Smith on to build Klinker Brick Winery as a label.

“While we are known as Zinfandel producers and branded as a Zinfandel region, we are wine drinkers and wine producers,” Smith said. “We like Zinfandel but we also like Rose, Cabernet, Cab Franc, Albariño and many others. I like all these wines and it depends on the occasion and where I am at as to what I want to drink.

“Kicker Brick has been very successful in creating world-class Zinfandels but I (we) wanted more,” Smith continued. “Five years ago, I knew I made a great white wine and Rose, and even though we started little by little, people have applauded our efforts. The wines have done very well in the tasting room. While this makes good business sense, it has been the love of our product that has grown the Klinker Brick brand.”

Klinker Brick concentrated on wine distribution first and then built up their tasting room. While they distributed a core three wines nationally, they used tried and true Lodi varieties  that had been forgotten by some. Consider their Carignane vineyard is over 108 years old and their Old Vine Zinfandel is harvested from an 90-year-old vineyard.

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Klinker Brick Winery owner Steve Felton (middle left) and Farrah Felton-Jolley (right) are now six generation grape growers in Lodi, California. Winemaker Joseph Smith (middle right) has led the winery’s production since 2008.

With the help of their daughter, Farrah Felton-Jolley and her husband, Stefan, the family now moves to the six generation of grape growers. Farrah joined the winery in 2009 after graduating from the University of the Pacific with a degree in Business Administration. With a passion for grape growing, organic gardening, cooking and a love for wine, she travels and promotes the family winery and wine as VP of marketing & sales. Stefan is the most recent addition to the Klinker Brick Family, managing winery operations, compliance, website and information technology.

“We are making wine that we love and believe in,” Smith said. “We don’t short change ourselves or the consumer. When we decided to make a Rose, it had to captivate me–a Rose from start to finish. We grow our grapes for Rose with all Rhone varietals (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Carignane). That’s our style of Rose. We are serious producers of a classic dry, crisp Rose.”

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Wine Enthusiast gave Klinker Brick Rose blend 90 points and a “Best Buy” designation for their 2015 version. It is a dry blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignane.

The winery distributes their Bricks Rosé nationally, producing 4,500 cases. The blend has is crisp, light with citrus aromas and flavors of ripe strawberries, grapefruit and subtle watermelon.

However, the winemaker believes they still produce an award-winning Rose because they do not shortchange the vineyard. They grow the grapes, cultivate the vineyards and are managed from beginning to end.

“The process is quality driven,” Klinker Brick owner Steve Felton says. This starts in the vineyard. We’ve got to have the highest quality right there. And that’s the tough part of growing grapes–maintaining the quality. Fortunately for us, not only are we a winery but we are also growers and we’ve been doing that for six generations. I guess you could say, we have a handle on growing grapes.”

Over the years, Steve has been growing grapes for some of the best producers in the State, so that keeps them in close to the heart beat of the land and the expectation high quality demands.

“We always over deliver wines for the price and that starts in the vineyard,” Felton said. “And of course our winemaking staff is outstanding. Joe is very hands on. He still makes sure he is there each step of the way.”

With a large winemaking staff, Smith’s challenge is to keep quality high despite a high case count with so many different varietals. And he definitely is the one behind what’s in the bottle.

“While I am in charge, and then collectively, nothing goes in the glass without the round table,” Smith said. “I am the guy in the cellar making the protocols. I haven’t changed how I make these wines from day one. I am physically in the winery and in the vineyard, making sure the wines are made the way we want it done.”

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The 2013 Farrah Syrah has ripe plum, blackberry, anise, pepper, exotic spices and earthy notes. Serve it with grilled meats, spicy tacos or mushroom risotto.

Of course the Klinker Brick is still widely known as a top shelf Zinfandel producer. Their  Old Ghost Old Vine Zinfandel ($37) is created with standout fruit, sourced from the best Lodi vineyards. Taste the blackberry, anise and exotic spices. Pair with your prime porterhouse or grilled lamb.

The winery owns or manages 18 Zinfandel-vineyard blocks that range from 50-125 years old in the Mokelumne River sub-appellation of Lodi. Wines from this warm climate and sandy loam soil create yields from gnarly, old vines with intense color and flavor. This region produces exceptional Zinfandel and Syrah.

Klinker Brick has access to Syrah vineyards over 125 years old in the same Mokelumne River region. Their award-winning Farrah Syrah and Farrah Syrah Grand Reserve are rich, vibrant and full of black fruit and spice flavors.  These are first class wines created for foodies and hearty wine drinkers. Both have amazing structure and balance with long, lingering finishes.

The 2013 Farrah Syrah exhibits aromas of ripe plum, cacao, and smoky oak with subtle earthy floral notes. The palate is greeted with bright and vibrant flavors of blackberry, anise and exotic spices. Supple tannins and superb balance lend structure to this full-bodied Syrah with a long, lingering finish. Enjoy with grilled meats, spicy tacos and Mexican dishes or mushroom risotto ($20).

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The Old Ghost Old Vine Zinfandel paired so well with the rich, herbed  earthy sauce of the beef stew.

Their Old Vine Zinfandel is their flagship and still their most popular wine. Wilfred Wong, Wine.com gave the latest release 94 points. It is a blend from 16 different vineyards with an average of 85 years. Taste these beauties as the dark fruit, spice and tannins with just a hint of pepper and anise will tantalize you ($19). This is a go to Zin for burgers, BBQ, hearty pizza or by itself.

While the farming aspect has long been a part of the Felton family’s history, an expanded Klinker Brick Winery from its modest beginnings is now an internationally-distributed brand of world class wines. And as Wine Enthusiast named the Lodi region their 2015 winner, isn’t it time you booked your next wine tasting trip to Lodi, California? There are 88 wineries to explore but be sure to put Klinker Brick Winery on your list.

For more information on the wines of Lodi, California, read Lodi Wine Country: Boutique winery innovation and learn more about the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center (LoCA).

Kinker Brick Winery is located at 15887 N. Alpine Road, Lodi, California 95240. They can be reached via phone: (209) 333-1845 or through email: info@klinkerbrickwinery.com. Their wines can be ordered online or find a retail outlet via the Klinker Brick website.

Be sure to read TalesoftheCork’s previous blog post, “Old Fig Wine Cellars: A Central Valley urban dream.” 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.

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The Klinker Brick Carignane is easy to drink and fresh with black cherry and black tea aromas. I love hints of leather and earthy dried sage notes. caption
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The Petite Sirah is rich and brooding with flavors of espresso, dark chocolate and blueberries that linger long on the palate.

 

Simple Super Bowl wine choices: Lead with confidence

According to Super Bowl XLVII By The Numbers (via @digtriad), “Americans will consume an estimated 50 million cases of beer on Super Bowl Sunday. For those counting at home, that’s 1.2 billion beers.” So with over 325,000,000 gallons of beer washing down tons of junk food, BBQ wings, chili and pizza, are any of you willing to stand up against a sea of hop lovers to pour, swirl and sip from the vine?

Food and Wine editor Ray Isle (@islewine) quipped this morning on Twitter, “…it takes a brave soul to open some wine.”

Be sure to include wine for your informal Super Bowl party. Central California coast wines like Ancient Peaks Zinfandel provide an excellent beverage alternative to bring your own beer.
Be sure to include wine for your informal Super Bowl party. Central California coast wines like Ancient Peaks Zinfandel provide an excellent beverage alternative to bring your own beer.

Cultural traditions create closeness and the NFL’s Super Sunday has become a national holiday, heck an icon, for Americans, galvanizing communities regardless of race, age, political preferences or religion. For one Sunday a year, most can put aside bias and prejudices to gather in a sometimes unlikely consortium to cheer and debate over the pride and bragging rights of two cities.

Then, for the sake of the underdogs amongst you, be strong and courageous. The fruit of the vine has every right to be in that living or family room, den, community center and converted garage. While Anheuser-Busch, Budwieser, and the MillerCoors family of beers and/or a plethora of micro beers are most likely to fill the coolers, a glass of wine most certainly fits well with Super snacks.

On Feb. 1, 2013, Isle posted his Best wines for Super Bowl snacks as part of CNN’s Eatocracy page. And to take this just a bit further, I want to add my suggestions for those looking to serve BBQ wings, chili and nachos. The following choices should be easily purchased even today at your local grocer or may even be buried in your wine closets.

The Adobe Red is a proprietary Zinfandel-based blend with effusive aromas of cherry spice, blackberry and pepper, with hints of brambles and plum.
The Adobe Red is a proprietary Zinfandel-based blend with effusive aromas of cherry spice, blackberry and pepper, with hints of brambles and plum.

The following are easy drinking, inexpensive wines meant to wash down party foods. For goodness sake, save your best occasion vino for $100 meals at destination restaurants. However, even a wine connoisseur can enjoy simple wines. Be sure to open the bottles a couple of hours before serving at room temperature.

Zinfandel blends:

2009 Clayhouse Adobe Red Zinfandel-based blend: The 2009 Clayhouse Adobe Red is a flavor fusion of 32% Zinfandel, 25% Petite Syrah, 13% Malbec, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah and 9% Petit Verdot. The blend has overtones of cherry and blackberry which dominate the palate. Spices and pepper linger with hints of branbles and plum. The finish is balanced with vanilla and oak characteristics.

2009 Phantom by Bogle Vineyards: This California blend of 52% Zinfandel, 46% Petite Sirah and 2% Mourvèdre, has some spice to it along with rich black raspberries and briary boysenberries in a full-bodied wine with hints of cedar and juniper.

Zinfandel

The 2010 Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel is a classic bottle from Sonoma County. The spicy, lush black fruit of Alexander Valley offers up briary and raspberry flavors, along with structure, of cooler Dry Creek Valley. Take the time to enjoy the mocha, tobacco, leather and exotic spices in this fabulous 100% Zinfandel wine.

Earning “Steal of the Year” honors in Sunset Magazine, 93 points in Wine Spectator and a San Francisco Chronicle Top 100 Wine of The Year, the 2010 Ancient Peaks Zinfandel is rooted in their estate Margarita Vineyard. This Ancient Peaks offering is 100% Zinfandel offers vibrant aromas of crushed raspberry and blueberry with a dash of sweet oak. Bright, juicy flavors of raspberry, boysenberry and black cherry anticipate notes of cola and spice. A smoky vanilla note joins luscious acidity on a rich, jammy finish.

Cabernet blends

2009 Tres Sabores ‘Por Que No’ Zinfandel blend: This Napa red is from St. Helena and is a bistro and BBQ favorite. If you have yet to try this blend of 53% Zinfandel, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Petite Sirah, & 1% Petit Verdot, I say Why Not! enjoy its dark red blend. The juicy, mild raspberry and blueberries flavors and has hints of black pepper give Por Que No its party favorite label. This bottle needs to be on your ‘go to’ list.

Wine Spectator consistently gives The Prisoner between 90-93 points since 2003 and has been a Top 100 wine fixture since 2007.
Wine Spectator consistently gives The Prisoner between 90-93 points since 2003 and has been a Top 100 wine fixture since 2007.

Orin Swift’s The Prisoner 2010 Napa Valley Red wine is reminiscent of wines first made by Italian immigrants who originally settled the Napa Valley. The wine has a dense red and black hue that is framed in vibrant crimson. Look for black currant, dark blackberry, cherry, and cassis rounded out by subtle hints of seasoned French and American oak. The finish is long, lingering and filled with soft velvety tannins lasting for nearly thirty seconds. The blend is 44% Zinfandel, the 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Syrah, 9% Petite Sirah, 2% Charbono and 1% Grenache; this gives the wine soft, integrated tannins which allow it to be approachable now and with a pleasant finish. Wine Spectator consistently gives The Prisoner between 90-93 points since 2003 and has been a Top 100 wine fixture since 2007.

Now I want to go on record to say a good bottle of beer like a Russian River Brewing Company’s double IPA Pliny The Elder can add so much to tasty eats. And there is nothing wrong with a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Firestone Walker Pivo Pils, Red Stripe Jamaican Lager, Dos Equis Dark Lager or a Waldhaus Spezial Gold lager from Germany.

However, there are so many great wines available today for backyard BBQs and informal parties. Don’t be intimidated by those only tipping the smaller bottles. I know you have a favorite beer too but don’t be afraid to uncork a bottle of wine at a casual event. The party is a food event and that is exactly what wine is meant to enhance.

For those who only watch the game for the commercials, here are the 18 best Super Bowl beer commercials (VIDEO) as reposed by FoxNews.com.

If I haven’t convinced you to add wines to your beverage list, there are other options besides the classic Super Bowl beer list from the top two providers. You might check out BeerAdvocate’s Top 250 list. They list many of the most popular, thirst stopping and taste-bud numbing beers, including web sites and availability. Let me know which is on your list.

Read the Jan. 26, 2013, The Grape Tray reopens in Fresno’s Opus I Center to check out the latest post. For other blog entries, use the top menu bar to scroll through more Talesofthecork.com stories. Or start with one the past articles like Caliza Winery: Bowker turns horticultural focus into viticulture dream.