Thursday, May 31, 2018

Winery Spotlight: Chateau Montelena

Chateau Montelena's history dates back to 1882.

By Jennifer Primrose
Thursday, May 31

If you know your wine history, you know that Chateau Montelena in Calistoga, California, essentially put Napa Valley on the map! With that being said, we decided to pay a visit to the famous chateau during our vacation in California this past May. Walking up to the chateau is pretty impressive and breathtaking, and just knowing the antiquity behind the family and its legend made it one of our favorite stops.

We decided instead of reviewing the wines at Chateau Montelena, we would spend a moment to tell a little bit about the history behind the chateau and the people that put this wine and Napa on the forefront in the wine industry.


Chateau Montelena has a long history dating back to 1882, when Alfred Tubbs, a San Francisco entrepreneur, became the original owner of the winery, then named A. L. Tubbs Winery. In 1886 he brought on a French-born winemaker and constructed the English Gothic-style castle and by 1896 the winery was the seventh largest in Napa Valley. Then came Prohibition and subsequently, the end of the winery.

Post-Prohibition, Tubbs grandson, Chapin Tubbs, decided to continue with the legacy of growing grapes and making wine and in 1940 changed the name to Chateau Montelena. After Tubbs' death in 1947, the winery did not function again for two decades.

Chateau Montelena is located in Calistoga, California.
In 1958, the Chateau was sold to York and Jeanie Frank who emigrated from Hong Kong prior to World War II. It was during this time that they constructed the Chinese gardens and Jade Lake. During a visit, guests are invited to walk the grounds and take in the serenity of the gardens.

Jade Lake at Chateau Montelena.

By the early 1970s the winery once again found itself under a new owner by the name of Jim Barrett. Today, the leadership continues under Jim's son, Bo Barrett.


The Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, or better known as the Judgment of Paris, has changed how Napa Valley wines were viewed against European and French wines.

The event took place on May 24, and put some of the best wines in France against, at the time, a little known region in California – Napa Valley. The judges included some of the best sommeliers in the business. In the white wine category, a total of four white Burgundy wines went toe-to-toe with six Chardonnays from California.

There was never any doubt amongst the judges that France would win hands down. In fact, only one journalist even bothered to show up for the event that day. And then came the surprise. The shock of all shocks! The winner of the blind white wine tasting was the 1973 Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena. But it didn't end there. California also won in the red category with a 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stag's Leap Wine Cellars – once again beating the French.

We can all thank a fellow by the name of Steven Spurrier (no, not the Heisman Trophy football coach), an English wine shop owner living in Paris who decided to hold this competition in the hopes of showcasing what was going on in California at the time. This event changed the world of wine as we know it. Today, California is now home to more than 4,200 wineries – followed by Washington state, Oregon and New York.

We had a fantastic time visiting Chateau Montelena in Calistoga, where we sampled 6 wines that day. Our favorite was the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, which made an appearance in the tasting room that afternoon. Unfortunately, we do not have a bottle of the winning 1973 Chardonnay of which can only be found in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

And there is your history lesson for the day. How a wine competition changed the world of wine. Cheers!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

McRitchie Winery & Ciderworks celebrate a milestone

Patricia and Sean McRitchie during the winery's 11th anniversary party in May.

By Jennifer Primrose 
Monday, May 29, 2018

On Saturday, May 26, McRitchie Winery & Ciderworks celebrated a special occasion. On that rainy day, the crew at the winery played host to a packed house to celebrate its 11-year anniversary.

And to celebrate the coming of its second decade of creating award-winning wines, the winery was opening up bottles of its rare Petillant Naturel wines – adding them to the tasting line-up for one day only.

Owners Sean and Patricia McRitchie addressed the crowd promptly at 3 p.m. to say thanks to all their fans and wine club members. “We are really appreciative to everybody that has come out today,” said Patricia. “We have the best staff … and that helps make the winery possible in the tasting room and winery,” she said.

Loyal fans of the winery made their way towards a table lined with two different versions of Petillant Naturel – Petit Manseng and Petit Verdot.

Sean was set to lead a toast, saying a few words about his mentor, but as it was an emotional letter on his phone, he handed it over to Patricia to read it aloud to everyone in the room. After she completed the letter, everyone in the room toasted to the winery’s success.

Sean then told the crowd if anyone is ever interested in seeing the winery, just peek in and they should find him hard at work. “I tend to hide out there a lot,” he said. I like the mechanics of wine making. But I love when people are curious and want to stop by and look around at things. I’ll bore you to death about the details of the machinery in the winery.” That seems like a stop inside the winery is due the next time we visit.

Now, if you’re not sure about Petillant-Naturel – they are typically sparkling wines that are bottled before primary fermentation is complete. They avoid secondary yeast or sugars, which are often referred to as “Methode Ancestrale.” This method tends to lead to a more rustic, cloudy Champagne-style wine.

These two “pet-nat” wines by McRitchie are very limited. With the Petit Manseng you can expect light floral and tropical notes. While with the Petit Verdot, look for the taste of berries with a bubbly finish.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Winery Profile: NHL Players draw success with Vineyard 36

By Dathan Kazsuk and Jennifer Primrose
Wednesday, May 23, 2018

If you're a fan of the NHL and follow Carolina Hurricanes' hockey – you know that we haven't had much to cheer for since they won the Stanley Cup back in 2006. And if you are a fan like we are, you should know that goalie Cam Ward along with former Hurricane's D-man Tim Gleason co-own a winery in the Napa Valley called Vineyard 36.

But just how did we find out about this awesome collaboration? Once again, our friend Ben Cash at Taylor's Wine Shop had a tasting a couple years ago featuring Vineyard 36 and brought in co-owners Ward, Gleason and Jason Earnest. We came in and tried the wines and were able to chat with all three owners about their wines and what direction they planned on taking the winery.

Vineyard 36's barrels are actually stored at Vineyard 29's facility in St. Helena, California.

So, when we were planning our Napa vacation, we decided to reach out to Vineyard 36 to see if we could get a private tour and tasting of their wines. Through a few emails back and forth, we were eventually able to set up a time and date with Vineyard 36's director of hospitality, Scott Barber.

Note: For all you non-Hurricanes' fans out there, the name Vineyard 36 comes from Ward's jersey number "30" as well as Gleason's number "6" jersey. The trio previously wanted to name the winery CANES, but were advised to forego that due to Cain Vineyard & Winery that subsides down the road.

Being a very small winery, Vineyard 36 doesn't actually have a facility or tasting room, so they produce and store their wines inside Vineyard 29. It just happened to be fate for Vineyard 36, since its current winemaker, Keith Emerson, is also the director of winemaking at Vineyard 29. 

Yes, there's a lot of numbers going on here ... Vineyard 36 at Vineyard 29 and the address is 2929 St. Helena Highway. The winery is nestled in an area of St. Helena that's near wineries such as William Cole, Revana Family Vineyards and Markham Vineyards. 

We came to the closed gate at V29 and said we were there to see Scott from V36. "OK. Make your way up the hill and make your first right," said the voice behind the intercom. As we were parking, Scott was standing outside to greet us. 

Once inside he showed us around the facility while pouring us the winery's latest release Рits first ever Ros̩ release РResilience. This ros̩ was released to its wine club members, and as of the release of this blog, has officially sold out! At least we were fortunate enough to buy a couple bottles that day.

That afternoon, while in the chilly caves of Vineyard 29 we were able to sample three new wines resting in the barrels. One of which will be new to the market beginning in 2019, when Vineyard 36 releases its Black Aces signature red wine blend. Scott asked us if we know the meaning behind Black Aces – which we didn't. We were told that it's a hockey term that means the following:

Players who are recalled to the NHL from their AHL or junior teams when those teams own seasons end. Since the NHL has no roster limits after the trade deadline, any of these players would be eligible to come into a game, but usually don't unless there are injuries.

After we sampled from the barrels we moved over to sample several wines from the current release, which included the UnMask and Cross Check red blends. We currently had two years of the Cross Check in our wine cellar at home, and after leaving the cave, we will be adding the latest vintage to the cellar.

Vineyard 36 is open for visits on a limited basis by appointment only. Priority is given to mailing list customers and members of the trade. They can be reached at

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Over A Glass: From Wall Street to Wine Street

“What’s happening in North Carolina is amazing and I’m so glad to be a part its story.” 

--Jay Raffaldini

In our latest Over A Glass series, we caught up with Jay Raffaldini, owner of Raffaldini Vineyards and Winery in Ronda, North Carolina.

When one drives up to Raffaldini Vineyards, you are immediately swept away to another land – a vivid Italian villa that overlooks one of the most picturesque views in the Yadkin Valley – the Blue Ridge Mountains. Once inside you are greeted by a bevy of friendly staff, multiple tasting bars and stunning Italian-inspired North Carolina wines.

Triangle Around Town caught up with Jay one April morning to learn more about how he paved his path – from Wall Street to making wine here in North Carolina. The humble Raffaldini talked about his reasoning on starting the NC Fine Wines competition, as well as NC wines in general and the future of the industry as a whole.

What we learned as we spent time with Jay was how much pride he has in his business and his product. We started our interview inside the barrel room at the winery and eventually made our way over to the villa. While on our way to the villa down the dirt road, Jay asked for a ride and hopped in the backseat of our car. Our conversation lead to our upcoming trip to Napa and several recommendations Jay had for us. At the gate leading to the winery, he asked if we can pull over so he can close the gate behind us. As we were making our way up the path to the villa Jay stops to bend down and pull a few straggling weeds he saw out of the corner of his eye. On that particular day, we noticed some wasps swarming the front door of the villa and immediately he reached for his phone and wasted no time in handling the situation. Why did we notice these things and take note? Because this hands on approach to your business – whether it be a winery, a store or a service – this personal touch is something that we not only admire but what brings us back time and time again.

Below are excerpts from Triangle Around Town's interview with Jay Raffaldini.

Raffaldini was born to Italian parents and raised in New York City. As part of his Italian heritage and upbringing, he developed an appreciation for vino, but not so much for the taste at a young age. What he eventually learned is that wine brings people together while forming a bonding sense of community.

He eventually went on to start a career on Wall Street where, taking lessons from his upbringing, would take his clients out for dinner and a nice bottle of wine. It was then where he began to develop a taste for the wonderful nectar. Following a positive career in the industry, hitting the age of 40 and some accumulated wealth, he decided it was time to look to his next transition in life – a winery.

The first step in starting any good winery is finding the prime location. In the year 2000 and with Jay being from New York state, he realized that going to the West was too far. The East coast at the time, only had three options, upstate New York in the Finger Lake region, Long Island and Virginia. "I loved reds so it kind of ruled out the Finger Lakes . And Long Island, the main grape is Cabernet Franc and I hate Cabernet Franc!" Raffaldini adamantly declares. He then turned his attention towards Virginia, which showed a lot of potential. But after some research, he discovered that before Prohibition, North Carolina was producing more wine than California. After hiring a consultant from Napa Valley, where they looked at 62 pieces of land, he decided to settle on Ronda, North Carolina.

Raffaldini Vineyards & Winery located in Ronda, North Carolina.

Deciding on North Carolina, Raffaldini states, "Here we have the chance to do something different ... and to be a leader." Currently, Raffaldini Vineyards is the fourth largest in the Tar Heel State, but if he were in California, the winery would be ranked in the 2,000s. As more outsiders with a passion for wine come to the state, they are identifying property suitable for this industry. "The last 10 vineyards started in North Carolina are all from out of town people. Why this is relevant is ... in North Carolina, we're saying, this place makes good wine." Jay predicts this area will explode in the next five or so years. In fact, he recently sold several parcels of land to two Raffaldini wine club members with the intent to move to the state to start their own wineries. When asked if he sees this as competition, he says, "No, I'm creating a destination." His sister also plans on opening a B&B, cottages and restaurant within the next 2-3 years right down the hill from the winery. 

When asked about what grapes do well here in the state, Jay explains that it is the risk of being a pioneer. You simply don't know what will do well until you try. He goes on to use an analogy that falls in line with Wall Street. "If I bought a stock for $10 and it goes to $12, I should be buying more of it. If it goes to $8 I should not be buying it. If this grape is doing great, plant more of it. If this grape is doing badly, get rid of it."  

The year 2017 introduced fans of Raffaldini to its first collaboration with JOLO Winery. RaRa Sisboombah is a mix between wine makers JW Ray and Raffaldini. When asked how this collaboration came about he says, "The reason we did this is we wanted to plant a flag that if you adhere and work together good things can happen." The relationship between JW and Jay is evident when you see them together – the camaraderie and friendship. Jay describes JW as 'very passionate,' and continues by adding, "It's not just about making wine, but collaborating and sharing success stories." 

Jay Raffaldini & JW Ray at the 2018 release of the collaboration wine, RaRa Sisboombah.

Jay Raffaldini was the mastermind behind the NC Fine Wines Competition, which just completed its second year in 2018. "I started the NC Fine Wines by looking at what was done in Virginia. They were a little more strict with what they allowed. Here in NC, we let muscadine and grapes from out of the state in," says Raffaldini. But does he feel these awards will help the state gain some traction in the grand scheme of things? "Sure I do," he proclaims. "I think we need to win awards in other states such as Virginia and California to get the attention we deserve." Raffaldini holds firm that by doing so, down the road, in roughly 10 years, the state will grow from 150 vineyards to close to 500 vineyards. That's some wishful thinking. When you ask Jay if to be a true North Carolina wine, 100 percent of the grapes need to be grown here in the Tar Heel State. "Yes!" He passionately says. "The hard part about making wine is growing the grapes and the variation of grapes where they're grown is profound. The key to grow here is to have control of the output."

What's the next big thing for the NC wine industry? Well, Jay says the key is hospitality. The addition of lodging, restaurants and artisans. "For every $1 spent in Napa, $7 is spent on non-wine," he says. That's a profound statistic. But this future is encouraging guests coming from Raleigh and Charlotte to spend the night, stay for dinner and make it a weekend getaway rather than a day trip.

Raffaldini's Grande Riserva and the story of what is known as the bumblebee wine is a good one. We recently heard winemakers are described as artists and that's not hard to see, as each one we have met have their own creative side and how they create their masterpieces. Jay is also a great story teller and one of our favorites is the story of the bumblebee that graces the label of the Grande Riserva – a blend of Montepulciano, Petit Verdot and Sagrantino. 

Click below for the video to hear Jay's story of this wine.


By Jennifer Primrose & Dathan Kazsuk
Twitter: TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | Instagram: trianglearoundtown | Pinterest: TriangleAT | Email:

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Winery Review: Plumpjack Winery

Sir John Falstaff, a fictional character that's appeared in a handful of William Shakespeare plays. A plump and vain man, who is the sidekick to Prince Hal – the future King Henry V. Spending most of his time drinking at the Boar's Head Inn. This is the character that was coined "Plumpjack" by Queen Elizabeth. And this is where we spent part of a perfect Napa afternoon drinking some fine wines.

We were both familiar with the name, but never had any of the wine prior to our visit. One day we were talking with our friend Ben Cash of Taylor's Wine Shop in Raleigh, and he mentioned if we're going to Napa, we need to reach out to his friend Rick Ratliff at Plumpjack and pay him a visit. And that's exactly what we did.

The Plumpjack winery and group was founded by ex-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and friend/investor Gordon Getty. The winery was founded back in 1997 when Newsom and Getty acquired roughly 53-acres of land in Napa Valley. Plumpjack was the first Napa winery to start using screwcap closures for its wine – something you wouldn't expect from a winery in Napa Valley. 

Upon entering the winery, we promptly met Rick, who was working behind the tasting bar. Rick asked when we arrived in town, and we told him just a couple of hours ago from our trek from Santa Rosa to Napa. He asked if we paid a visit to the Russian River Brewing Company, which of course we did. "Dathan love his beer," said Jen ... "So of course we stopped there."

I told him we picked up a 6-pack of its very popular Pliny the Elder pale ale to bring home with us. I think Rick approved of the purchase.

We decided on the current release tasting, starting with the 2016 Reserve Chardonnay. The taste of apples, pears and lemon zest were all prominent with this Chardonnay. Made with 100 percent Chardonnay and only 248 barrels produced, it was one of the best Chardonnay's we tasted on our vacation. We followed that up with the 2015 Merlot – a wine very rich in dark fruits. There would be no vulgar quotes from the movie Sideways coming out of our mouths from this full-bodied Merlot.

Next we sampled the 2015 Adaptation Cabernet Sauvignon – which we had to pick up a bottle of this to bring back home. This blend of 78 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 22 percent Merlot was a unique blend of berries, chocolate and just that perfect amount of acidity. Our final wine – at least on the list was the 2015 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. But with Petit Verdot being the second grape instead of Merlot, we got a little more of a herbal garden in the aftertaste – sage or maybe some mint. 

We now follow Rick out the backdoor to check out the patio and the view of the mountains in the distance as he pours us a Stag's Leap district Cabernet Sauvignon from Plumpjack's sister winery down the road, Odette. This wine tasted of overly ripe cherries, violets and pencil shavings. I think Jen and my eyes grew twice the size when we tried this lavish wine. We also sampled a Sauvignon Blanc from another sister winery, Cade. A nice vibrantly acidic white wine to end our tasting for the afternoon.

After our tasting, Rick had a few moments to show us around the facility and inside the winery itself. He pointed out where Screaming Eagle Winery rested on the hill above Plumpjack, and even further up the hill where the Starkist Tuna family lived. 

It's people like Rick that make visits to Napa so enjoyable. People want to feel special and that's exactly what Rick did for us. From the history of the winery and its owners – to the wine – the hospitality and even at the end, helping us find out our next location to visit. And just like our visit to Italics Winegrowers during our stay in Napa, we suggest dropping into Plumpjack and let them show you the great assortment of wine. We promise you won't be disappointed. 

TAT's own Dathan and Jennifer take a selfie with Plumpjack's Rick Ratliff (left to right).

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Winery Review: Italics Winegrowers

By Dathan Kazsuk

"It's true, the winery is new. But the soil is as old as dirt."

That's the motto used by Italics Winegrowers, one of Coombsville AVA's newest wineries on the block. This viticultural area lies just east of the city of Napa and is home to a whopping 34 wineries. These wineries are all small producers and family-owned – and visits are by appointment only. Out of all these wineries we selected Italics because, as I like to say, 'Go with what you know.' 

We've tasted Italics here in Raleigh several times during the annual Triangle Wine Experience weekend, had the opportunity to talk to managing partner Taylor Martin in Wake Forest, and we're both familiar with the wines produced by Italics' winemaker, Steve Reynolds of Reynolds Family Winery. So visiting Italics was a no-brainer.

Upon our arrival at Italics, we slithered up a pathway to the top of a hill. Behind us a body of grapevines running in different directions, each lots fruit just beginning to bud with the end of spring just around a month away. The morning fog hangs over the ridge of the Vaca mountain range in the distance. The brisk, morning air feels good, as a slight shiver chills the body. Or maybe it is the anticipation as we finally make our way to the crest of the hill and view the three large concrete caves that penetrate the hillside.

The picturesque view behind us led to snapping a few photos before we made our way to the entrance of the cave's main tasting room. As we walked into the room we were met by our host for the tasting, David Gunkle. After we confirm that we're in the right location he starts by pouring us a sample of the winery's Proprietary White Wine, a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. Gunkle walks us back outside to tell us the history of the grounds and the Taylor family who owns the winery. 

"We have several things in common," Gunkle tells the two of us while still enjoying the view outside. "I'm from North Carolina, too. I just moved from Garner to Napa three weeks ago," he says. It always seems no matter how far we stray from Raleigh or North Carolina, we always find some connection back home. Gunkle then goes on to tell us that he used to be the wine manager at our local Total Wine down the road, and that we even have mutual friends back in Raleigh. What a small world.  

As we made our way into one of the entrances on the side of the hill I think to myself, 'We are now entering a Hobbit hole filled with outstanding wine.' But this was a little more high-tech than any Hobbit hole I've ever seen. David proceeds to tells us all about the equipment inside the cave, as well as what juice is in each barrel, and we even get a quick lesson on how to read the labels on the head of the barrels. 

Shortly after our tour of the caves we made our way to the main tasting room, where set up lie before us. Four wines glasses, our tasting sheets and note pads. David pour the first red for us, the 2013 Italics Sixteen Appellations. Made up from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. 

That was followed by the 2015 Italics Proprietary Red Wine, 2014 Italics One of Sixteen Cabernet Sauvignon from Howell Mountain and the 2014 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. All these wines were just as great as the last one David poured. As we enjoyed our wine, we continued to discuss all-things-Raleigh. We discussed two of our favorite Raleigh-area breweries, which David and Dathan both agreed on Trophy Brewing and Bond Brothers. And we even discussed some North Carolina wine – and how there are some good wineries in our state that could fit right in the friendly confides of Napa Valley.

"I really like Jones von Drehle," David says. "We are club members, and I'm actually keeping my membership with the winery." Again, such a small world. We are also club members of Jones von Drehle, and told him we're looking forward to the winery's pick up party this June.

The tasting continued as David then decided he was going to pour for us the estate-grown 2015 Cabernet Franc. This rare wine grows on roughly 1-acre of land on the property and it allocated exclusively for wine club members. The nose of this wine was like smelling fresh, ripe plums with a bouquet of violets – and was pretty mind-blowing.

When all the wine was consumed and we made our purchase and said our goodbyes, we came to the conclusion at the end of our Napa excursion that this was one of our best experiences of the trip. The hospitality we received from the winery (from one of its co-owners prior to arriving, to David's reception and email conversations with Italics' Victoria Stewart) was second to none. If anyone reading this plans a visit to the Napa-area, do yourself a favor and make Italics one of your stops. You'll fall in love with the product produced by this winery just like we have!

Italics Winegrowers is located at 70 Rapp Lane in Napa. They can be reached at 707-258-0106 or my email at