April 23, 2014 | Matt Armanino
Jaime Dowell, currently the Assistant Winemaker to Jean Hoefliger, has had an adventuresome decade. After completing a degree from UCDavis in Viticulture and Enology she earned her stripes working at Artesa Winery and Cardinale in Napa Valley. Then in 2002, an opportunity came along to work in her family’s art gallery so she abandoned the wine biz to try something new. After 6 years of owning and managing the gallery, Dowell felt a hole in her life without winemaking and returned to the craft by becoming the Winemaker for a small brand in Livermore, CA while continuing to manage the art business. Within three years of this juggling act she realized that her passion for winemaking was undeniable and decided to sell the gallery in order to manage a harvest of high end Pinot Noir at Villa Maria Estate in Marlborogh, New Zealand. Upon returning to California in 2011, Dowell became the Assistant Winemaker to Randall Grahm at Bonny Doon Vineyard until she met Jean Hoefliger of Alpha Omega Winery and JH Collection where she is currently managing the day-to-day winemaking for all the projects Jean can sink his teeth into, including Armanino Family Cellars!
What is your favorite part of the winemaking process? This is a difficult question to answer, each part is so fascinating and important to a successful wine. Pre-harvest we’re spending time in the vineyards refining the wine by starting with the viticulture. Harvest time is critical to capturing what we shaped in the vineyard. Aging and blending you see a wine develop into its own personality becoming the best it can be. Bottling you say “goodbye and good luck out there in the real world” with a sense of catharsis. Really, just can’t choose!
What is your favorite Armanino Family Cellars wine? Each one is so unique and special, but I really enjoy “food wines”, so I’d have to say the Whitewing Pinot Noir from Russian River always has a fresh acidity and ethereal fruit quality that is typical of the region. This is often my choice.
What is your favorite season in the vineyard? I really like Spring the best, when the vines are just waking up. Once the shoots have progressed just enough you can get a pretty early idea of how the fruit will be for the season…its like the first sonogram for a new growing baby!
What is the biggest challenge you face as a winemaker? Time management. There are always so many plates spinning in the air for a winemaker that it’s a balancing act to decide which to-do gets priority….but with the right, hard-working team, it all gets done when it’s supposed to.
If I stopped by your place on a Tuesday night, which wine would likely be on the table? Depends on the time of year….but if it were a warm Tuesday in the summer after a long doggie walk in the late light before harvest….Sauvignon Blanc or fresh-style Chardonnay.
If you could eat one last meal at a restaurant anywhere in the world, which would it be? Hmmmmm, impossible to answer, but I recently had an amazing meal at RN74 in San Francisco. Small and low key, impeccable and unique flavors, plus the staff was extremely attentive and friendly. Can’t wait to go back!
January 20, 2014 | Matt Armanino
2013 Year in Review
As we kick off 2014, it is a great time to remember all of our 2013 accomplishments- and there were a few.
2013 was a great year for Armanino Family Cellars. Although wine reviews are only a small part of the picture for a winery, the recognition is always welcomed especially when it comes from reviewers that you have always respected as a winemaker and consumer. One of those reviewers for us has always been Robert Parker. 2013 was the first time that we had the opportunity to have Robert Parker taste and review our wines and we were not disappointed with the results. Robert Parker tasted our two 2010 Cabernet Sauvignons, The Hunter and The Pointer, and gave both of them glowing reviews and 92 points. That was confirmation that our wines are heading in the direction we have been hoping for. Additionally, the Wine Enthusiast rated our 2011 Ringneck and 2011 Whitewing pinot noir with well-deserved 92 points each.
In 2013 we also bottled our 2012 Pinot Noirs, grapes grown in what many are calling the "classic" and "perfect" growing season and harvest. We believe these wines reflect the love and care that Mother Nature provided. We are extremely proud of these Pinots and think they are the wines that our fans have come to love and expect from an Armanino Pinot-big, fruit concentrated pinots that give your mouth a ride.
On a personal note, we ended 2013 with some family time and made one of Papa’s dreams come true – to hunt alongside his sons and grandsons, a pastime that has provided Papa with some of his fondest childhood memories of his father and grandfather. In 2013, three of Papa’s youngest grandsons passed their Hunter’s Safety test and took their first steps to joining a long line of Armanino upland game hunters. A few days before Christmas, Matt and Andy treated Papa and their 4 sons to a hunting trip in Red Bluff at Redbank Outfitters’ Ale and Quail Club. All 4 boys, including the 3 newest hunters successfully (and safely) brought home quail, chukkar and pheasant to fill the freezers with wonderful game that pair so perfectly with the Armanino Family Cellars collection of wines. What a perfect end to a great year.
We hope your year was full of great memories and we hope 2014 is even more promising.
Andy, Matt and Papa and all of us at Armanino Family Cellars
October 4, 2012 | Matt Armanino
Perhaps. Harvest is starting to unfold and you can sense the excitement at the winery. Mother Nature has cooperated and we have one of the most balanced crops in years. This Summer the daytime temperature in Napa got over 80F on most days and rarely exceeding 100F once. These warm sunny afternoons are perfect for the ripening period. On most nights, the temperature has dropped into the high 40s--which allows the vines to recharge and keeps the grapes fresh. This is the weather that produces a classic Napa vintage. After an ideal growing season such as this, grape growers and winemakers alike are asking themselves if this could be one of the best harvests in years.
At Armanino Family Cellars, we started with our pinot grapes from the Russian River that came in first with a perfect balance between ripeness and acidity that shows the real advantage of that appellation. While the wine is still fermenting it is showing these great characters of strawberries and red fruit with a solid elegance. Next, we harvested pinot from Maldonado’s Los Olivos Vineyard from the Southern part of Napa, which has a really juicy and ripe profile in a style of Pinot that shows a little more jam notes with amazing depth. The acidity is a little lower because it is on the ripper side for those that like our big Pinots.
Although some of our grapes are not yet in the barn, we are optimistic that this is going to be one hot vintage.
Cheers! Andy, Matt and Papa
February 10, 2012 | Matt Armanino
We are a family that loves to cook. It is a part of our heritage and something we enjoy doing together. Growing up with a mother that was a chef and restaurateur, we had no choice but to take an interest in cooking. This love of food and cooking has been passed down to our children who love watching the Food Network. Their recent show, “The Next Iron Chef” was more popular than “Survivor” in our household. My 10 year-old son, Justin, took a particular interest in the show and Michael Chiarello in particular. Every week Justin would be amazed by what Chef Chiarello created and it was in those moments that Michael became Justin’s hero. After a failed attempt to catch a glimpse of Michael at his Napa Valley restaurant, Bottega, Justin decided he would email Chef Chiarello and ask him if he could come and visit him sometime. We told Justin not to set his expectations too high because Chef Chiarello is a very busy man. We were all impressed and surprised when Justin received an email back from Chef Chiarello inviting him to Bottega for a tour of the kitchen.
Two weeks ago, our family headed to Napa to check on our wines in barrel followed by a fabulous lunch at Bottega. Not only did Chef Chiarello visit our table and sign Justin’s chef’s jacket, but he whisked the boys back to the kitchen for 35 minutes of cooking gnocchi, tasting some new additions to the menu (including tongue) and then had them make their own desserts (ricotta doughnuts, tiramisu in a jar and panna cotta). It was like a dream come true for Justin and Nicholas. While the boys were busy in the kitchen, Alexa and I enjoyed Michael’s 2009 Chiarello Bambino Cabernet Sauvignon, which paired nicely with our Lamb and Eggs and Rabbit Ragu. In return we shared with Michael our Armanino Family Cellar’s 2010 Whitewing Pinot Noir and 2009 Hunter Cabernet Sauvignon (which are both tasting fantastic). Great food, great wine, great fun… once again reminding me what it’s all about for us at Armanino Family Cellars!
November 29, 2011 | Matt Armanino
One of the best parts of being in the wine business is meeting terrific people that share your passion for great wine. Although we have met many people since the inception of Armanino Family Cellars, one of the greatest stories is bottled in our Paesani Zinfandel. One day I received a call from a club member, John Armanino. After spending some time investigating if we were actually related (there are quite a few Armaninos in the San Francisco Bay Area) we sadly concluded we were not-at least directly. What we did discover is that we have a lot in common. We have wonderful families that we cherish, we are both licensed attorneys and we love to eat great Italian food and drink great wine. The relationship began with a dinner out with my brother, dad and our wives and developed into much more. What we also discovered is that John’s wife Michele has family in the grape growing business, growing Zinfandel grapes in the Yorkville Highland’s vineyard of Mendocino County. John called me one day and proposed a great idea-he’d give us a ton of grapes and we’d make the wine to share between our families. We had moderate expectations having never made a Zin. After having my brother-in-law, Kevin Akers design a label under a new name, Paesani, representing our two families, we bottled a wonderful zinfandel, too good not to share. This year we made the wine again to share with our wine club and friends. When you open a bottle of Paesani, I hope you experience the same sense of family as we did in making it.
November 3, 2011 | Matt Armanino
The 2011 harvest is officially upon us and our pinot noir fruit is already “in the barn”! This year we were given an Indian summer, cool temperatures followed by heat in September, then light sprinkles in October. Luckily all of the pinot noir made it in before the first rain.
This year we were fortunate to have several important additions to the family. First and foremost Jean Hoefliger has signed on as winemaker completing the final blend composition of our newly released 2010 offering just prior to harvest. Jean, a native of Switzerland, earned a winemaking and viticulture degree at the Swiss federal school of Changins and went on to make wines at the esteemed estates of Chateau Lynch-Bages, Chateau Carbonnieux and Meerlust. With international winemaking experience from Switzerland to Bordeaux to South Africa, Jean arrived in California where for five years he continued to hone his craft as winemaker for Newton Vineyard. In addition to directing the winemaking for Armanino Family Cellars, Jean is also the winemaker for Alpha Omega Winery. We are privileged to have Jean contribute his award-winning winemaking techniques and direction to create our elegant, first-class wines.
To ensure that our wines are meticulously cared for from grape to bottle, we are also thrilled to move our wine production to Alpha Omega Winery. This move promises that our wines will receive Jean’s attentive care and nurturing throughout their journey. With Jean’s attention to detail and a distinguished winemaking facility in the heart of the Napa Valley, we are confident that the wines of Armanino Family Cellars will continue to garner awards and accolades for years to come.
In addition we have had the help of a new optical sorter out on the crush pad which has taken berry selection to new heights. With five additional harvest pros on the sorting table we are ensuring that nothing but the best fruit makes the final cut.
We have seen some incredibly small berries this harvest and while that means that our production will be down the fruit has incredible concentration along with balanced acidity. At this point the fruit is finishing up primary fermentation which means that the sugar has fermented to alcohol and we are ready to press the wine off of the skins.
We are looking forward to the impending release of our 2010 vintage and welcome any and all questions you have about harvest or the new vintage!
September 23, 2009 | Matt Armanino
The 2009 Harvest has begun! The first grapes that we picked were our pinot noir grapes from the Amber Ridge Vineyard in the Russian River. The grapes were gorgeous. Richly developed fruit flavors, with nice sugar levels and natural acidity. Very few over ripe or under ripe grapes - which made sorting and crush a breeze. Our pinot noir winemaker Chris Nelson said “these are the best grapes from Amber Ridge we’ve ever had. I’m really excited about this vintage!”
The next grapes into the winery will be from Doctor’s Vineyard later this week and then our Howell Mountain cabernet from Ink Grade. Our Coombsville cabernet and La Encantada pinot will remain on the vine for a more weeks developing with the warm weather we are experiencing here in California.
I love this time of year when the winery is full of life, excitement and activity.
April 8, 2009 | Matt Armanino
We are extremely excited to share with you The Wine Spectator’s recent "Outstanding" review of Armanino Family Cellar’s "The Whitewing" Pinot Noir. The Wine Spectator included Armanino Family Cellars in its April 1, 2009 article - "38 Outstanding Wines".
As excited as we were about last year’s inaugural release of our wines, we are even more excited about the quality of this year’s lineup of Armanino Family Cellars’ wines that are aging gracefully in barrel. Because of the increased demand for our wines, we expect this year’s release of wines to be fully allocated to members of our wine club, "The Family".
To ensure your allocation of our award winning, limited production wines, please "Join the Family".
Matt, Andy & Papa
September 22, 2008 | Matt Armanino
“To make a great wine one needs
a madman to grow the vine,
a wiseman to watch over it,
a lucid poet to make the wine,
a lover to drink it.”
For two weeks in late June and early July, I had the great pleasure of visiting Piergiorgio Castellani, the owner of Castellani Wines (www.castelwine.com) and his wonderful family at their beautiful home and wine estate in Tuscany. The estate, Poggio al Casone, is a 100 acre, 100% organic wine estate approximately 20 kms southeast of Pisa, Italy, where Piergiorgio and his winemaking team are making some of the finest Sangiovese based wines in the region. But what’s most impressive about Castellani’s operation is his total commitment to sustainable and organic farming practices. Piergiorgio’s commitment to “natural viticulture” consists of an intense focus on biodynamic farming practices targeted at reducing the impact of chemicals and mechanical interference with the soil in his vineyards and the vines themselves. These practices include minimal cultivation of the vines, a ban against artificial irrigation, insecticides or fungicides in the vineyards, and use of only natural, organic-based fertilizers. Piergiorgio has also partnered with the University of Pisa on an experimental program aimed at producing autochthon vines and a selection of ancient Italian red varietals once in extinction. It is Piergiorgio’s hope and belief that these ancient varietals will be a key blending component that will allow for a superior Super Tuscan to be made at Poggio al Casone and throughout the Tuscan region.
The two weeks I spent with Piergorgio and his family were energizing, educational and inspiring. Beyond his charming hospitality, good humor, quick intellect and 100% Italian charisma, Piergiorgio’s heartfelt passion about his family, his land, his farming practices, his research and experimental vineyards and, most of all, his wines was infectious. Two weeks of great conversation and walks through his vineyards, mouthwatering Tuscan meals, and lots of laughter with Piergiorgio and his family reminded me that the common thread shared by every truly exceptional person I’ve met, whether it be a farmer, an artist, a chef, an author, or a wine producer, is a deep passion and enduring love for what they do and how they do it. It encompasses a desire to continually improve as part of an unending quest to deliver the best of themselves in their work.
As Dali said, perhaps it is part madman, or perhaps part lucid poet, but in Castellani’s case, it is certainly his passion that is driving him to produce world-class, Italian wines. And, for a brief moment of time this summer, it was his passion that reminded me that what drives us at Armanino Family Cellars is part of the same Tuscan spirit.
June 14, 2008 | Matt Armanino
At Armanino Family Cellars, we are extremely excited to be bottling our first 4 wines over the next few months: The Hunter, The Pointer, The Whitewing and The Ringneck.
Collectively, these wines tell a story that is rooted in family tradition – it is a story about hunting of course, but more than that, it is a story about father and sons spending time together, doing what they love. It is about laughing and learning, spending time in the outdoors, sharing quality time as a family and creating great memories.
Individually, each of these wines tells a unique story of its own. Their story is intimately tied to the variety, vineyard and appellation from which they come. They are expressive, bold and full of character.
The Hunter - 2006 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon
The grapes for The Hunter 2006 Cabernet come from a portion of the historic To Kalon Vineyard owned and managed by Andy Beckstoffer. To Kalon, which roughly translates to “the highest form of beauty” in Greek, is routinely recognized as one of the premier vineyards in California. The Wine Enthusiast has named the To Kalon Vineyard one of California’s 5 Best Single Vineyards (the only Cabernet vineyard on the list).
“To Kalon has been the source of some of California’s most famous wines for a century. It is one of the greatest homes of Cabernet Sauvignon in the New World.” - Steve Heimoff, Wine Enthusiast, June 2005.
We expect The Hunter to represent the flagship of our valley floor Cabernet offerings for years to come and hope that you have a chance to enjoy this first offering.
Tasting Notes: The Hunter 2006 Cabernet has a phenomenal combination of power and silkiness. Made 100% from grapes from the To Kalon Vineyard in Oakville, The Hunter is dense and opaque with a dark purple color and a deep violet rim. Supple and elegantly styled, with rich flavors built around a core of creamy oak, ripe currant, and black cherry flavors that are intense and complex without being heavy. The nose seduces with heady aromas of black cherry, mocha and dried herbs. Satiny, viscous and weighty in the mouth, the palate lavishes with flavors of cassis, tobacco and bitter cocoa around a classic core of cigar box and spice. Ripe tannins and toasty oak provide a long lasting, memorable finish. The Hunter 2006 Cabernet can be enjoyed now but will continue to improve for the next decade.
The Pointer - 2006 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon
We source grapes from Ink Grade vineyard on Howell Mountain for The Pointer. The soil is composed of rich red clay and volcanic ash that stresses the vines and produces powerful small berries rich in flavor and mountain tannins. The Pointer is an assertive mountain Cabernet that impresses from the first sip and lingers on the pallet for a long, long time.
Tasting Notes: The Pointer is a classic Howell Mountain Cabernet marked by seductive aromas of black currant, blackberry and vanilla, with spice and toasty oak enhancing complexity. Medium-full in body, the mid-palate is marked by flavors of ripe black cherry, tea and spice. The silken finish is long and notable for its creaminess, revealing tight, chewy, mountain tannins and intense tobacco, blackberry and cherry flavors making a final statement. This rich and velvety wine may be enjoyed now or cellared for 10 years or more.
The Whitewing - 2007 Amber Ridge Pinot Noir
Very few vineyards have emerged on the Pinot Noir scene with the same splash as the Amber Ridge Vineyard. Amber Ridge’s notoriety has been fueled by an impressive amount of critical acclaim (and huge Wine Spectator scores) given to virtually all of the Pinot Noirs produced from this site. In fact, it is fair to say that this vineyard, which is located in the “upper reach” of the Russian River Valley (located immediately adjacent to the famed Gary Farrell Starr Ridge vineyard), is well on its way to becoming one of the up and coming stars of Sonoma County.
Tasting Notes: The Whitewing 2007 Amber Ridge Pinot Noir is a dark ruby red color and offers a vibrant nose of five spice, dark cherry and violet aromas that give way to sweet, round flavors of dark cherry, raspberry and vanilla. The prototypical Russian River pinot noir offers an impressive balance of luscious fruit and bright acidity that result in a lush, velvety mouth-feel and long lasting finish.
The Ringneck - 2007 La Encantada Pinot Noir
We are extremely excited to be able to make The Ringneck with grapes from this superb vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills. La Encantada is organically farmed and home to six different Pinot clones. The vineyard lies on the very western edge of Santa Rita Hills, making it one of the coolest sites in the region. It is planted on a ridge which straddles the Santa Ynez River Valley and is open to the full impact of the cooling afternoon maritime breezes. The resulting grapes produce amazing dark and powerful pinot noirs loaded with rich flavors, earth and spice.
Tasting Notes: This impressive, dark pinot offers aromas of cherry, spice and pleasant earthiness. The entry is powerful and highlighted by deep, dark fruit flavors, forest floor, spice, and tobacco. This complex wine has an Impressive mid palate texture and a slightly rustic, quality that is reminiscent of a fine Burgundy. Although this wine can be enjoyed now with a hearty meal, its impressive balance of acidity, velvety tannins and full throttle flavors will allow it to continue to evolve for years to come.
We are excited to share these wines and their stories with you.