Last Friday, we had the privilege of drinking wine with Steve Rogstad, the winemaker at Cuvaison.
It’s not a big secret that Cuvaison is our favorite winery. Their entire portfolio of wine is consistently outstanding. Cuvaison wines almost always appear in our blind tastings and have even won two single varietal tastings: Pinot Noir and Syrah.
We met Steve at Cuvaison’s tasting room in Carneros and tasted through their current releases while picking Steve’s brain about all things wine. It was an unforgettable experience.
We have a tradition of talking about the high points of our wine trip as we make the drive home from Napa to San Diego. Here’s a re-cap of our conversation about our experience tasting wine with our favorite winemaker.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned?
[Sally] It surprised me to learn that he didn’t like to make Zinfandel. Well, maybe it wasn’t that he didn’t like to make it but it was just harder for him to make. That was surprising to learn for something that’s so damn good.
[Jeff] Yes! It was interesting to learn that Zinfandel grapes had more variability even in individual clusters that many other varietals.
[Sally] What about you?
[Jeff] I think for me it was learning about the Sauvignon Blanc clone called Sauvignon Blanc Musque. We don't typically like Sauvignon Blanc that's fermented only in steel, but we like Cuvaison's. Now we know that we like Cuvaison's and Cade's (which is made the same way) because of the Musque clone. It doesn’t produce that high grapefruit taste that you typically get in Sauvignon Blanc.
[Sally] It was also cool learning about the concrete eggs that more wineries like Cuvaison are using for fermentation. We’ll definitely have to learn more about that.
[Jeff] Yeah, we found three wineries on this trip that are doing that (Cuvaison, Cade, and Reynolds Family.)
[Sally] I also liked learning about the flexible layout of their winemaking operation. It was cool that they could reconfigure everything to meet the demand of whatever they were working on.
[Jeff] Yes. It seems like a real advantage to be able to adjust your capacity almost on the fly based on whatever grape you are harvesting. Didn’t he say that he learned about this “smart shed” design from a winery in Australia?
[Sally] That conversation about the smart shed really brought out our nerd side.
How would you describe the experience of tasting wine with Steve?
[Jeff] It was cool that we were really drinking and enjoying wine rather than just tasting it.
[Sally] One thing that struck me is that we usually take copious notes when we’re tasting, but we didn't this time. We know we’re going to like their wine as long as Steve’s the winemaker. To me, it was really more about the experience of sharing the wine and learning more about it.
For example, I enjoyed learning about the location of the vines being the number one factor that influenced the wine.
[Jeff] He talked a lot about how the different factors such as irrigation, soil, weather, etc. are all connected to the location. He even talked about using a different winemaking style depending on where and how the fruit was grown.
[Sally] For me, it was great to see his passion come out as we talked about his wine.
[Jeff] I think it was fun to just sit there and talk. Never once did he stop and tell us we were supposed to get notes of leather or whatever.
[Sally] Yes. It was funny that he half-jokingly said they sometimes just make that stuff up.
We tasted a lot of stuff, what was your favorite?
[Sally] I really liked the Spire Pinot Noir. The other one that disappeared in my glass pretty quickly was the Brandlin Cab. It was… magical.
[Jeff] You know, when you look at it, their wines aren’t cheap, but they’re very reasonable for the quality of wine you’re getting. They have an excellent quality-to-price ratio.
[Sally] They definitely have a high QPR. What was your favorite wine?
[Jeff] I would say your picks are really good ones. I’d also say that every time I have the Mariafeld Pinot Noir, I’m surprised by how good it is. It’s slotted price-wise between their higher-end Spire Pinot Noir and their larger production Estate Pinot Noir, but there’s something about the Mariafeld Pinot Noir that just hits my palate the right way.
Bonus notes: We both talked about their outstanding Pinot Noir. The 2012 Estate Pinot Noir just received a 91 point rating from Wine Enthusiast. Reviewer Steve Heimoff said, "It defines the Carneros style."