Thursday, August 13, 2009

The (Olive) Hills are alive, with the sound of the Doobies!

B. R. Cohn Winery-Sonoma County California

“Our 2006 Silver Label Cabernet is aged in French Oak for one year,” Bruce Cohn, owner of Sonoma County’s B. R. Cohn Winery of Glenn Ellen, California said proudly. “ And the wine sells for only $17.99. You won’t find too many winemakers who make cabernet at that price who use French Oak!”

Cohn was pouring his 2006 Silver Label Cab and the more expensive 2006 Sonoma Valley Olive Hill Estate Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon to a small, but enthusiastic gathering of wine aficionados at Binny’s South Loop location in Chicago. The informal tasting was part of his national tour to introduce consumers to the label that has become a staple in many fine restaurants.

“All of the great steak houses have my wine,” he said while posing for a photographer. “Morton’s, Gibson’s, The Palm. Jerry Kleiner loves my wines and has them in all of his restaurants, including Carnivale, Gioco and Via Ventuno, the old Room 21.

What makes my wines unique is that I’m trying to show that Cabernet can be well balanced and drinkable now as well as something that can age gracefully for years to come. So many wines are either or. They may have great aging potential, but they’re nothing you can bring to the table now. My winemaker, Tom Montgomery, is a master as crafting wines that are drinkable now, but have that aging potential.”

Tom Montgomery brings curriculum vitae to his current position as winemaker to B.R. Cohn that would be the envy of anyone in the wine business. Having grown up in the rich agricultural basin of central California, he earned his degree in enology from Cal State University. He then spent five years in the Napa Valley where he worked for the original Napa Cellars. He then moved to San Luis Obispo where he served in the dual roles of winemaker and vineyard manager. He then returned to Napa, first to Cosentino winery and then, in 1997, to Conn Creek for six vintages, where he produced the landmark Bordeaux blend ‘Anthology’ which garnered numerous awards and critical acclaim. After earning his MBA, he came to B.R. Cohn with the goal of creating consistent high quality Cabernet Sauvignon. Just one taste of the magnificent Olive Hill Estate Cabernet brings to mind the words “Mission Accomplished!”

Bruce Cohn is no slouch in the wine background department either. He brings 35 years of wine country wisdom to his role as proprietor of the B.R. Cohn Winery, founded in 1984 in the heart of Sonoma Valley.

In addition to overseeing day-to-day operations at the winery, Cohn has also established B.R. Cohn Olive Oil Company, producing extra virgin olive oils from the estate’s 140-year-old Picholine olive trees, which were imported from France. He also produces premium handcrafted vinegars and a line of gourmet culinary items.

Cohn also possesses another asset that is unique among all winery owners, he has for years guided the ascendancy of one of the most successful popular music groups of all time, The Doobie Brothers. Cohn continues to fuel his passion for music through his work with the multi-platinum band. They’ve even made their way onto a B.R. Cohn wine label, the Doobie Red Series, with proceeds benefiting the National Veterans Foundation. In fact, The Doobie Brothers will be performing at the winery Saturday, October 3, on a bill with Pablo Cruise and Little Feat (am I getting a flashback to old Fillmore Street days in San Francisco?), with proceeds benefiting the Veterans Foundation and various children’s charities. On the evening prior to the Binny’s tasting, The Doobie Brothers headlined a concert at Ravinia Festival on Chicago’s lakefront in suburban Highland Park, one of many national appearances the group will make this year. For more information, visit

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Louis M. Martini Wines a Legend of Longevity

Dwight The Wine Doctor-Michael Martini and how wine saved the City of San Francisco

Michael Martini is the upholder of a unique legacy. “My family is part of a proud tradition of Italian Americans that saved the City of San Francisco during the Great Earthquake of 1906,” he said during an Evening with Michael Martini of Louis M. Martini Winery in the beautiful private dining rooms and gardens of Carlucci Restaurant in Downers Grove. “That was the year my grandfather began making wine in the Napa Valley. When the fires began to rage after the earthquake, the families that lived in Little Italy near Fisherman’s Wharf covered their homes with mattresses and soaked them with the wine they had in their cellars. That saved Little Italy. That’s not a myth,” he said emphatically. “That’s a true story.”

Thus began an enduring legacy. “Louis M. Martini is the oldest continually operating family winery in the Napa Valley. I’ve been the winemaker there for 32 years; my father was the winemaker for 33 years before that. My grandfather kept making wine right through Prohibition, supplying it to the Catholic churches.”

Standing in the outdoor terraces of the restaurant, with an ornate Roman fountain gushing its celebratory waters, Martini held court for a crowd of 50 wine enthusiasts who had arrived to sample seven of his latest vintages, including 2006 Louis M. Martini Napa Valley Chardonnay, 2006 Alexander Valley Cabernet, 2006 Gnarly Vines Zinfandel, Monte Rosso and the star of the evening, Lot 1 Cabernet Sauvignon, a single vineyard, 100 per cent Cabernet offering. While signing a label with a flourish for one collector who had purchased a bottle, Martini talked about what it was like to grow up as part of a winemaking dynasty in the nation’s most storied winegrowing region.

“I didn’t think of it that way growing up,” he said, while sipping a glass of Lot 1 in the garden terrace.” When I wasn’t in school, I was always working at the winery, doing everything from harvesting the grapes to tending to the wine in the cellars.”

After graduating from the world-renowned winemaking program at U.C. Davis, Mike worked alongside his father before taking over as winemaker in 1977.

“We’ve become known over the years for our unique treatment of Cabernet Sauvignon. We’ve recently received another superior rating from Robert Parker and have been invited back, once gain, to the Wine Spectator’s Wine Experience in New York. You have to score 90 and above in order to get invited to participate, and we’ve been asked to come back year after year.”

Carlucci restaurant set out a dazzling array of Italian American specialties to accompany the superb wines, including their signature Crispy fried Calamari, Traditional Italian Sausage and Sweet Peppers over Soft Polenta and an assortment of thin crust pizzas, done in the restaurant’s rustic wood-burning brick ovens.

“We pride ourselves on our focus on Cabernet,” he said. “Everyone talks about massive Cabernets, but what we’ve been able to do is show how this wonderful grape can express that power with elegance, grace and finesse.”

Mike honed his winemaking skills further by studying winemaking techniques first-hand in Bordeaux and Burgundy, He’s been applying what he learned in the micro-winery he had built just outside his office in St. Helena, in the heart of the Napa Valley. “We’ve got some great wines coming from those small plots. Lot 1, which we’re pouring tonight, is the culmination of a blending from five different plots. You can taste the full expression of the Cabernet grape in the blend, from a strong, almost ‘old vines’ characteristic on the palette to an herbaceous quality from some of the newer vines on the nose.” A tradition lives.