Paul Hobbs Napa Valley CrossBarn Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley, USA

Drunk November 2013, Goodman City, London


The winery

The owner and winemaker Paul Hobbs Winery, Paul, grew up on a working farm in upstate New York, Paul experienced first-hand the influence of terroir on the character of fruit, when his father had him taste apples of the same variety grown in different orchards several miles apart from one another. The diversity of flavors and textures made an impression on him and would later influence his approach to winemaking.

First hired by Robert Mondavi for his expertise in oak aging, he then joined the Opus One team before moving on to Simi Winery.

He founded Paul Hobbs Winery in 1991 and Vina Cobos in 1999. Twice named Wine Personality of the Year by Robert Parker, Jr., he continues to be a leading consultant winemaker around the globe.

1969 - Paul Hobbs’s first sip of wine, 1962 Château d’Yquem, served by his father.

1991 - Paul Hobbs Winery is founded.

1998 - Land is purchased in Sebastopol, California, which will become Katherine Lindsay Estate.

2003 - First crush in Sebastopol

2005 Paul Hobbs 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard earns 100 points from Robert Parker Jr.’s, The Wine Advocate.

2010 Wine Spectator ranks Paul Hobbs 2008 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley #6 on the Top 100 Wines 

2012 Robert Parker Retrospective: "Paul Hobbs 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard earns 100 points from Robert Parker Jr.'s, The Wine Advocate"

The wine

The grapes for Paul Hobbs' Crossbarn Cabernet Sauvignon are hand-harvested from select vineyards across Napa Valley. It was aged for 17 months in 15% new French and American oak barrels before being bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Dark ruby in color with cherry aromas. Plenty of upfront fruit on the palate with blackcurrants, plum with a chocolate note. Balanced, with tannins somewhat offset by acidity but still perhaps could do with some ageing. Good value for a Napa Balley cabernet sauvignon but not best in class.

Sine Qua Non, Five Shooter Syrah 2010, Ventura, California, USA

Drunk November 2013, Hawksmoor Guildhall, London

The winery

The wines of Sine Qua Non, "without which nothing" are made by the eccentric Manfred Krankle in the outer suburbs of Ventura California, in a winery described by Robert Parker as "a set scene from the movie Mad Max". This is true cult wine, it takes 6 years to get onto the waiting list for the winery. There are stories of divorcing couples fighting over the rights to their position on the list. Those on the list sometimes flip their allocation. This is when a person on the mailing list buys their allocation and then puts it on the secondary market to turn in a healthy profit, as wines will sell for two, four, six,  or as much as 10 times their release price.

Krankle came to California from Austria in the early 1980's. In 1989 he opened the LA restaurant Campanile, the accompanying La Brea Bakery became a national chain of shops which Krankle sold out of in 2001. There is a excellent Forbe's article about Krankle at

Each bottle is produced in very small quantities from low yields, bought in from trusted growers in the central coast area. With little estate fruit to speak of and constantly changing tastes, Manfred Krankle rarely makes the same wine twice, prefering to be able to chop and change vineyards as he sees fit. Krankle says, "The real differentiation in my mind comes from if you’re willing to go through great lengths for a very small reward."

While this is an unorthodox approach for a quality producer it doesn't seem to affect the quality of his wines, which regularly receive Parker scores in the high 90's, very often reaching the mythical 100 mark. Robert Parker has awarded 12 Sine Qua Non wines 100-point scores so far, placing Krankl's winery well ahead of the most famous Burgundy and Bordeaux châteaux. As Krankl himself says, "People buy Sine Qua Non, they don't give a toot where it's from".

Sine Qua Non was created after the 1994 harvest of a Bien Nacido Syrah named “The Queen of Spades”. Krankl made only four and half barrels and sent a bottle to Robert Parker with a handwritten note and overnight Sine Qua Non went from just another wine label that no-one had heard of to the must-have new talent. Parker called Krankl after tasting the wine and scoring it a stupendous 95 points - the highest score an American Rhône blend have ever received. "We were going to give our home number [for customers to ring] and he said, 'You might wanna rethink that because you’re going to get a lot of calls!'”

In the last few years Manfred and his wife, Elaine, have begun creating their own vineyards dedicated to Rhone varietals. Previously, Manfred had made wines with Bryan Babcock and John Alban and still sources much of his fruit from Alban’s vineyard. Their winemaking philosophy is to work in very small batches, gravity flow, natural yeasts (unless a fermentation problem is anticipated), long lees aging for the whites and repeated racking for the reds to open them up. This is a modified explanation of a very dedicated and artistic approach to winemaking. The wines are simultaneously very rich and elegant, superbly balanced and thoroughly harmonious with food, never overwhelming.

Krankl's idiosyncrasies are a product of his laid back approach to wine. He took up winemaking as a hobby, not an occupation. He claims he never felt the pressure to “conform to be commercially successful." He has never written a business plan, has never had a budget, and in the absence of such constraints, he has operated the winery “from a rather emotional or passionate standpoint.”. “We are sort of this oddball outsider,” he admits.

Their wines really only began to hit full world-class qualitative levels in 2000. The vineyard sources have largely changed from Alban, Stolpman, Bien Nacido, Shadow Canyon and White Hawk Vineyards to primarily estate vineyards Cumulus Vineyard in Ventura County and 11 Confessions Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills. 

His reds fetch some of the highest prices of any Californian wines, according to Wine-Searcher’s statistics. The 1998 Hospice du Rhône Alban Vineyard Syrah currently sells for an average $2570 before tax while his first wine, the 1994 Queen of Spades Syrah would set you back at least $2400.

The wine

I felt very lucky to have the opportunity to try this cult wine from California, The Five Shooter Syrah 2010. Krankle sounds like a cool dude indeed and this has been on my wish list for a long time because of the price outstanding £325 in a restaurant, £200 retail!

It is actually a blend of 85% Syrah, 5% Grenache, 3% Petite Sirah, 5% Roussanne, 2% Viognier.

The first thing that strikes you is how different this is to a standard Californian Syrah. Deep, deep red in the glass, really smooth on the palate with incredible floral and fruit notes on the nose. Berry, smokiness, pepper and spices. A long, long finish. Incredibly complex is all I can say...I wish I had another bottle to take my time on and figure this one out. No wonder Sine Qua Non is so difficult to get hold of in any quantity. A connoisseurs choice, some Sommeliers have been known to steer their least favoured customers to other wines! Wowsa! Shame is so crazily expensive. I guess this is a wine for a wine lovers bucket list.

Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir, 2008, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA

Drunk November 2013, Hawksmoor Guildhall, London


The winery

In 1989, Ken and Grace Evenstad came to Oregon with a vision to produce top quality pinot noir. They purchased 42 recently logged acres atop the renowned Dundee Hills in Yamhill County, Willamette Valley, where Oregon Pinot Noir began.

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Domaine Serene (named after Ken & Grace's daughter, Serene Evenstad Warren) produced their first wine in 1990, earning 90 points from esteemed critic, Robert Parker Jr.

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Erik Kramer is the winemaker for Domaine Serene. Like many others in the field, winemaking is a second career for Erik. In 1999, he left a successful profession as a corporate geologist in the oil industry to pursue a career that allowed him to follow his passion for science and appreciation for fine wine. That career change prompted him to obtain a Postgraduate Diploma in Viticulture and Enology from Lincoln University in Christchurch, New Zealand, where he graduated with honors. Erik has now been making wine in Oregon’s Willamette Valley since 2004.  He joined Domaine Serene as winemaker in 2011 and has also worked for several highly acclaimed wineries in Oregon, New Zealand and Washington. 

Domaine Serene has 3 vineyards - Winery Hill, Evenstad Estate and Jerusalem Hill:

Winery Hill Estate is an 80-acre hilltop in the Red Hills, one mile North of the Evenstad Estate. The winery is built into the West side of the hill. Twenty acres of Dijon clone Pinot Noir are planted on gentle, South and West-facing slopes along the driveway with elevations of 800 to 850 feet. The volcanic soil is Jory type.

Evenstad Estate, crowning the southernmost hill in the prestigious Red Hills of Dundee, is one of the most unique vineyard estates in the world, ranging in elevation from 520-800 feet. The seven vineyards of this site face East, South and West, with views of the Cascade Mountains, the Coast Range, and the Willamette Valley. Clones, rootstocks, microclimates, slope and elevation allow for the creation of distinct and complex wines. There are seven producing vineyards on the Evenstad Estate: Mark Bradford, Fleur de Lis, Etoile, Gold Eagle, Clos du Soleil, Grace and Côte Sud. The soil in all of these vineyards is Jory type. It is an ancient, crumbling volcanic soil with a very distinctive red color.

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Jerusalem Hill Estate is about 13 miles South of the Evenstad Estate, on the East side of the Eola Hills, Yamhill County, Willamette Valley, Oregon. The Estate encompasses 90-acres of gentle East-facing hillside on Jerusalem Hill. Jerusalem Hill Vineyard has 55-acres planted to Pinot Noir. Vineyard elevation is 200-300 feet. The sedimentary soil is called Woodburn.

The wine

The Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve is the winery’s flagship wine sourced from estate vineyards in the Dundee Hills and Eola-Amity Hills. It is a blend of 40% Pommard, 51% Dijon, and 9% Wädenswil clones sourced primarily from estate vineyards grown in the Dundee Hills (70%) and Eola Hills (30%). Aged 17 months in 72% new French oak barrels. · 

Medium purple colour in the glass with powerful fruit and smokey nose. Black cherry, blackberry and raspberry fruit are expressed with oak in the background. Silky smooth with a long finish. Excellent. A classic Oregon Pinot Noir. 

Joseph Phelps Pinot Noir 2010, Freestone Vineyards, Sonoma Coast, USA

Drunk November 2013

The winery

In the late 60s, Joseph Phelps was running one of the largest construction companies in the U.S. when he won the bid to build Souverain Winery (now Rutherford Hill) located a few miles outside of St. Helena. Enamored with the beautiful Napa Valley and contemplating a career change, in 1973 he bought the 600-acre Connolly cattle ranch in Spring Valley, and began planting vineyards. The winery was completed in 1974 and that same year the first Syrah was made, the first grapes were crushed at the new facility and the first of his famous Insignia wine was produced. 

Today, the Phelps estate consists of the Spring Valley Home Ranch outside of St. Helena, Banca Dorada in Rutherford, Las Rocas and Barboza vineyards in Stags Leap, Yountville Vineyard in Oak Knoll, Suscol Vineyard in South Napa, Backus Vineyard in Oakville and Larry Hyde & Sons Vineyard in Carneros.

Beginning with the 2009 vintage, estate-grown wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Insignia, Cabernet Sauvignon Backus Vineyard (the single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Oakville) and Eisrébe, a dessert wine made from the Scheurebe grape. In addition, Syrah is produced from the Larry Hyde & Sons Vineyard in Carneros.


Though the main focus is on Bordeaux varietals, Joe Phelps has had a life-long love affair with the wines of Burgundy and a desire to craft wines in that style. Originally Chardonnay was sourced from St. Helena, later from Yountville and then from Carneros. Through the years, however, Joe continued to search for the ideal spot to grow both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and his search ended when the perfect combination of climate, soil and location was found in Freestone, located in the Sonoma Coast AVA, a mere five miles from the Pacific Ocean. In 1999, Joseph Phelps Vineyards began developing 100 acres of vineyards just outside of Freestone on an area which used to be a dairy farm. 

Though the site was meant to be focused on Chardonnay, it turned out the site was actually equally or better suited to Pinot Noir. Planting began in 2000 with staged replanting until 2007. Freestone Vineyard Estate consists of three areas. The "Pastorale Vineyard" was planted to 34 acres of Pinot Noir and 21.7 acres of Chardonnay at the end of Freestone Flat Road. The Pastorale Vineyard was then joined by two other nearby vineyards following the acquisition of additional property: "Quarter Moon Vineyard" (41 acres of Pinot Noir), and "Ferguson Vineyard" (6 acres of Pinot Noir).

A 40,000 square foot winery in the center of Pastorale Vineyard was built into the hillside and employs gravity-flow via its three level construction. 

Ripening grapes properly in this relatively cold climate is challenging and yields can be very low due to poor berry set in the cool days of the spring growing season. It is not unusual to have 45 degree temperature swings in the area.

The first vintage of Pinot Noir produced from Sonoma Coast grapes was released as the 2004 Fogdog Pinot Noir. Fogdog is a bright or clear spot that appears in a breaking fog. This wine contained grapes from three estate-grown vineyards: 70% Freestone, 26% Quarter Moon, and 4% Ferguson. In 2005, 600 cases of Freestone Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($75) were produced and in 2006, 2,700 cases ($75). The value label, Fogdog, was retained for both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Beginning in 2007, the high-end Chardonnays are Ovation, Freestone Sonoma Coast, and Freestone Pastorale Vineyard. The premium Pinot Noirs are Freestone Sonoma Coast, and vineyard-designates from Quarter Moon Vineyard and Pastorale Vineyard.

The top blocks in the cellar are chosen for the Quarter Moon and Pastorale vineyard-designate bottlings and the remaining wine that is the more complex and structured is chosen for the Freestone bottling. The most fruit-forward blocks go into the Fogdog.

With the 2010 vintage, the brand was changed to Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyards

The Joseph Phelps winemaking philosophy is “…creating the very best wine from the vintage we’ve been given; to take what we get from the vineyard and to express the terroir and the beauty of the vineyard in every bottle of wine.”  “our wine should reveal itself as complex and balanced, and it should express that 'soul' that we want here at Joseph Phelps Vineyards.”

The wine

100% estate-grown Pinot Noir from Freestone Vineyards (51% Quarter Moon Vineyard and 49% Pastorale Vineyard). Harvest Dates September 28 - October 12, 2010

With the small to medium sized Pinot Noir clusters, fewer whole clusters were used in the fermentations. Aged 14 months in 55% new and 45% two- to three-year-old French oak barrels before bottling on February 13, 2012.

The 2010 season started with modest rainfall and cool to moderate daytime temperatures. Budbreak was nearly complete in the Pinot Noir vineyards by the middle of March. The unusually extended frost season lasted from April into late May but caused little damage throughout the Pinot Noir vineyards, due to the elevation and hillside slope. Cold air naturally continued its journey to the valley below. Bloom was completed by early June. Veraison began the second week of August and the majority of all blocks were complete by August 25th. The quality of the grapes looked excellent leading up to harvest and a warming trend in the latter half of September completed the ripening needed throughout the vineyards. Picking began on September 28th and finished well before the late October heavy rains descended on the region.

The 2010 Pinot Noir growing season was slow and cool, producing exceptional fruit with uniform sugar and acid levels, making for ideal natural winemaking conditions. The finished wines are balanced and fresh with a distinctly Freestone spice element.

The nose is filled with cherry, spice and oak. The palate is smooth and silky with earthy notes, raspberry, plum, black cherry, orange peel with toasted vanilla/oak. A long satisfting finish. My first Sonoma coast Pinot Noir and delicious! Now to try his much applauded Insignia wine!


Shea Wine Cellars Estate Pinot Noir 2007, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA

Drunk October 2013

The winery

Shea Wine Cellars is the winemaking effort of grape growers Dick & Deirdre Shea, based in Newberg, Oregon.

They use 25% of Shea Vineyard’s production for their own effort and sell the remaining grapes to other producers in Oregon and California.

Shea Vineyard was first planted to wine grapes in the late 1980s. Today Shea Vineyard is a 200-acre property with 140 planted acres. 135 of these acres are planted to Pinot noir vines and the balance is planted to Chardonnay.

Roughly 25% of the Pinot noir fruit produced each year by Shea Vineyard is used by Shea Wine Cellars for its releases. The other 75% of the Pinot noir fruit is sold to some of the finest winemakers in Oregon and California. The first vintage was produced in 1996 and Shea make around 5,500 cases of wine per year.

Shea vineyard sits on sedimentary soil over fractured sandstone. Vine spacing is 5×7 yielding 1,245 plants per acre. Shea was one of the early vineyards in this area of Yamhill County and on this soil type. 

See the video about the Yamhill Carlton AVA at where Shea wines are based.

The wine

Only 4,100 cases were produced of this 2007 Estate Pinor Noir and its a treat to be able to try a bottle from this small production from this boutique Oregon winery. 

It is medium ruby, crimson and the nose is fruity and earthy with black/red cherry and raspberries. The palate is intense yet structured with a juicy, spicy intensity with a hint of cloves and oakiness. The finish is powerful.

Another fab Oregon Pinot Noir and I feel fortunate to have another 5 bottles to drink. The second glass tastes better than the first, and there sure was a temptation to drink even more of this delicious wine.

Bought Handford wines, Old Brompton Road.