This January, Castello President Georg Salzner and Winemaker Peter Velleno planted our first cork tree. Native to southwestern Europe, the Quercus suber cork oak tree can grow up to 100 feet tall, and is sure to thrive in the Mediterranean climate we enjoy here in Napa Valley.
Wine Corks are made from the bark of the cork tree, which needs to be stripped and peeled off by hand. Cork trees are typically harvested every seven years, and are a renewable resource since the tree is not cut down and only the outer layer of bark is removed. It takes a cork tree 25 years to reach maturity before its bark can be harvested, and we are looking forward to our first Castello cork harvest in 2042!
Wine grapes can be an incestuous little bunch. Genetic mutations and cross-breeding varieties can spring forth entirely new and delicious fruit (a famous example being the marriage of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc to produce the illustrious Cabernet Sauvignon grape), and considering winemaking and viticulture have been progressing steadily for millennia, it’s no wonder we have such an abundance of varieties to choose from today.
One of the most intriguing family trees (or vines…) is that of the Pinot family, with the noble Pinot Noir reigning supreme at the head of the table. This dark-skinned grape was one of the first to be cultivated for the purpose of making wine, with records dating as far back as the first century AD in Roman-occupied Gaul (France). From these humble beginnings, the grape has mutated over generations to produce a number of clonal offspring, including Pinot Gris and its more elusive sibling, Pinot Blanc. Here at the Castello, we are fortunate enough to offer all three of these delicious family members in our tasting room, and call two of them by their Italian names of Pinot Grigio and Pinot Bianco.
The names of these three Pinots are in many ways referring to the color of the berry’s skin, with Noir (French for “black” or “dark”) clusters having dark-skinned berries, Gris (“grey”) traditionally ranging from pinkish-grey to deeper purple berries, and Blanc (“white”) having light-skinned berries. In fact, due to Pinot Gris’ darker color, it can also be made as a rosé-style wine, though it is most commonly fermented without skin contact, and so is seen primarily as a white wine.
Our Pinot Grigio (Gris) comes from Anderson Valley in Mendocino County, roughly a two hour drive northwest of the Castello. Here, the cool, coastal climate helps to produce a refreshingly dry and crisp white wine, bursting with zesty notes of citrus and green apple. Light in body and with a racy acidity, it is an excellent accompaniment to light appetizers and soft cheeses.
While not as famous as zesty Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco (also known as Pinot Blanc or Weißburgunder) is slowly gaining recognition around the world as an elegant alternative, offering a bit more body and complexity while still showing fruit-forward and refreshing notes on the palate. Because of these characteristics, it can often be mistaken for a lighter-styled Chardonnay. We try to craft our Pinot Bianco in the style of the Pinot Bianco wines from the Alto Adige region of northeastern Italy where it is most commonly grown, striking a balance between creamy and crisp, and allowing the fresh fruit flavors of apple, pear, and white flower to shine through.
Pinot Noir (Nero in Italian) is a beautiful yet tricky grape to cultivate, with its thin skins demanding a cooler climate and more attention than its lighter skinned relatives. For this reason, we source our Pinot Noir fruit from a variety of vineyards that all have a coastal influence on their climate and soils. We make a number of limited production Pinot Noir wines from these vineyards, including the family-owned Terra de Promissio vineyard in the famed Petaluma Gap of Sonoma County (for more, see Mary Davidek’s blog post: “Terra de Promissio: Checkmate Castello”). We also source from several of our own estate vineyards, located in Anderson Valley, Los Carneros, and Green Valley of Russian River Valley near the Sonoma coast. Each of these locations can lend subtle nuances to the finished wine, which is why we also produce our Il Rubino Pinot Noir, which combines the best characteristics of these locations into a beautiful “ruby”-colored blend.
Pinot Noir is also one of the main grapes used in making the sparkling wines of Champagne, along with Chardonnay and, to a lesser extent, Pinot Meunier. We have recently released a new sparkling wine named Spumante del Castello in honor of our 10 year anniversary which is made in the methode traditionelle (formerly champenoise) and is comprised of 25% Pinot Noir and 75% Chardonnay from our vineyards in the southern end of Napa Valley.
With so many options to choose from, it’s no wonder that the Pinot family is so well-loved and respected throughout the wine drinking world. We are proud to feature this clonally diverse clan here at the Castello, and look forward to welcoming Pinot enthusiasts and novices alike to our tasting room to get to know our Pinot famiglia.
February 14th is once again upon us, and whether you are celebrating Valentine’s Day, Single’s Awareness Day, or simply the weekend, it’s a great occasion to celebrate with a glass (or two) of wine. But which wine would suit such an occasion? The answer: love the wine you’re with.
I hear a lot of people who come to tasting rooms looking for the “best” wine. People who have never visited Napa Valley and are searching for the famed bottles acclaimed by the likes of Robert Parker, Wine Spectator, and Wine Enthusiast. Cabernet Sauvignon is King here, so naturally when the person behind the tasting room bar pours a sample of their “best red wine,” you’re supposed to swirl, sip, and swoon over its magnificent structure and balance. If you love big, bold, tannin-punching Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, by all means, swoon away (more often than not I’d be right there with you). If, however, you are one of those who prefers a lighter bodied red, or perhaps a white wine, or even a (gasp!) sweet wine, you might find yourself in a bit of a dilemma. Is it okay to politely pass up that singular bottle everyone around you is clamoring for and request the wine your taste buds are craving? Absolutely.
Wine, like love, is a highly sensory experience that can be very different for different people. Some wines you can taste and have that “ah-ha!” moment, while others leave you less than impressed. But this is one of the best things about wine tasting: there are no wrong answers. You can taste the exact same wine as the person next to you at your wine tasting tour, have two completely different opinions, and both be completely correct. Every person’s taste buds are different; there can be no universal explanation for exactly what happens when you take that first sip. That single taste can transport you to a specific moment in time and place in a way other beverages rarely can. So find that bottle that transports you to your happiest of places, and whether you’re raising a glass to your lover, your friend, or yourself, just remember to love the wine you’re with!
One of the most frequently asked questions we get in our tasting room is how to age, store, and serve our wines, which can vary greatly depending on the type of wine being talked about (for a handy reference, check out our Ageability and Cellaring Chart to see just how to store and serve your favorite bottles of Castello wines). But if you're looking to pop your favorite bottle tonight and need a quick tip on the best temp to serve it, look no further! We've got a few wine serving secrets that will help you get the most out of every drop...
First and foremost, "Room Temperature" is normally not the correct temperature to serve your red wines! If the room your wine has been stored in is on the warmer side (above 65° F), your wine will be too warm and those beautiful fruit flavors will be masked by a stronger presence of alcohol. Conversely, your white wine stored in your refrigerator will most likely be too cold if you pop the cork right after you take it out, again masking the fruity or floral notes and structure with simply a refreshing temperature (think about that ice cold bottle of Pinot Grigio you consumed much faster than anticipated).
Here's a good rule of thumb for serving wines when you don't have access to a wine fridge:
♦ Red Wines: if your red wine is at room temperature and your room is warm, pop the bottle in the fridge for 15 minutes. This allows the temperature of the wine to drop just enough to reveal the beautiful layers within the bottle. For lighter bodied reds (especially Pinot Noir), it's best to err on the cooler side, as the flavors and aromas of these wines tend to be more delicate and benefit from a slightly cooler temperature.
♦ White Wines: if your white wine is coming straight from your fridge, let it sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, bringing the temperature up just slightly so you can enjoy all of the wonderful fruits and flavors in your glass. If you're in need of a super quick chill and forgot to put that bottle in the fridge in the first place, don't panic! Wrap a wet paper towel around your room temp bottle and pop it in the freezer for 15 minutes and it will be the perfect serving temp before you know it! Just be sure to set a timer so you don't forget about it!
Most red wines should be served between 60-65° F. Most white, rosé, and sweet wines should be served between 47-52° F. These quick and easy tricks should help to make sure you get the most enjoyment from every sip!
On Saturday, June 18, we hosted The Capulet Ball at the Castello for our Wine Club members and their guests, and spent a magical night under the stars as San Francisco's We Players performed a fully-interactive selection from Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. Thank you to everyone who was able to attend this fantastic event, and a special thanks to the incredibly talented We Players for such an incredible performance! Please enjoy a few of our favorite photos from the evening below:
Eagerly awaiting the first guests for the Capulet Ball
Our Wine Club members certainly know how to dress for a ball!
Sir Lancelot made an appearance to welcome the Capulets and their guests
Guests enjoying a welcome glass of our Castello Cuveé before heading underground
Juliet posing for a selfie before dinner begins
Capulet welcoming her guests while her nephew Tybalt sulks in the background
Romeo enjoying himself with our Wine Club members
A beautiful evening for dinner in the Courtyard
After dinner, guests were taught the Capulet Family Pavane in the Great Hall
Capulet meets the illustrious County Paris
Juliet and County Paris dance for guests before she runs away
"For saints have hands that pilgrims hands do touch, And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss" - Juliet
Juliet declaring her love for Romeo from the balconey of the Covered Loggia above the Courtyard
If you missed their amazing performance at the Castello, be sure to catch the full production of Romeo and Juliet at the historic Petaluma Adobe State Park, running August 12 - September 25!
Click the image below to learn more:
To see more photos from the evening, click here.
It’s about to get a lot greener here in wine country...
Not to say it isn’t green already. After years of record drought, the rains have finally arrived, and we have been incredibly fortunate to have a very wet winter thanks to a record El Niño. The much needed moisture has created the perfect conditions for cover crops to blossom beneath the sleeping vines, and the valley has been awash in vibrant greens and the bright yellow of mustard flowers, which are providing beautiful views as well as adding necessary nutrients back into the soil in preparation for the 2016 growing season.
Mustard flowers blooming between old vine Zinfandel
And speaking of growing season, it looks like the 2016 growing season has officially begun! With the arrival of bud break in vineyards all across Napa Valley, freshly pruned vines are beginning to show the first signs of foliage with tiny buds peeking out from the sleepy canes. Bud break typically begins in late March/ early April for this region, which means we’re experiencing a slightly earlier than usual start to the season this year. This growth may be slowed a bit by the current rains we’re experiencing, but as soon as the weather clears and warms up a bit more we should be seeing a lot more action in the vineyards.
Rainy days at the Castello
Bud break is a very delicate time of year, as the new vines are very vulnerable to inclement weather such as frost. Many vineyards have special turbines designed to keep air circulating around the vines in the case of a sudden cold snap (Castello sommelier Mary Davidek has a great blog post on the subject). With the relatively mild temperatures we’ve experienced this winter (again thanks to El Niño) frost should not be too big a concern, and as long as the storm systems moving through aren’t too strong, rain is still welcome!
Baby Cabernet Sauvignon leaves heralded the start of the 2015 season
Here at the Castello’s estate vineyards, we’ve just begun to see bud break on our Sangiovese vines. Just like leaf patterns and grape clusters, new buds can look quite different between grape varieties. For example, Sangiovese buds tend to be bright spring green, while brand new Cabernet Sauvignon leaves have an elegant, almost rusty tinge around their edges. We’re looking forward to greeting the new buds as they pop up around the Castello, and welcoming the start of the 2016 growing season!
Sangiovese bud break in front of the Castello
If you have ever taken a guided tour of the Castello, you will have walked past our Library Rooms, filled with the Castello’s older vintages resting quietly in their cool brick shelves in small, frescoed rooms behind hand-forged wrought iron gates. One of these rooms even houses wines from Dario’s great grandfather’s original winery in San Francisco, dating back over a century. These dimly lit rooms raise numerous questions from inquisitive guests: what is the best way to age wine? How should you store your bottles? How long should you age them? Are those 100 year old bottles still drinkable? All great questions! Now for some answers…
♦ Storing Your Wines
Whether you’re planning on enjoying the bottles you brought back from your trip to the Castello next week, next year, or next decade, there are a few simple steps you can take to ensure that your wine will be perfectly ready to drink when you pop that cork:
- Store cork sealed bottles on their side. This will help to ensure that the cork stays moist, preventing it from drying out and letting oxygen into the bottle.
- Store screw cap bottles upright. Since there is no cork, there is no need to store these bottles on their sides.
- Keep your wines out of direct sunlight. The back seat of your car or your kitchen window are definitely not ideal places to keep your favorite bottle of Castello wine. Light can be damaging to wines, altering their delicate chemical balance and potentially even heating up your wine. This is why the lights you see in our Library Rooms are dim and red, and also why most ageable wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon come in deep green bottles; the color of the bottle helps to prevent light rays from penetrating through the glass.
- Store your wines at a cooler temperature. Hot wine = cooked wine, which can be a sad sight to see (and a terrible thing to taste). You’ll notice heat damage to your bottles if the cork appears to be popping up from the bottle. Most wines are best kept around 55° Fahrenheit (13° Celsius). Keeping them cooler also helps to slow the aging process. Storing your bottles in a slightly humid environment (60-70% on average) is also helpful for preventing the cork from drying out at the end not in contact with the wine. If you don’t have a wine fridge or cellar, keeping them in a cool place out of direct sunlight, like a closet or a wine rack in the coolest part of your house, should do the trick just fine.
♦ Aging Your Wines
Are a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Pinot Grigio capable of aging the same amount of time? Definitely not. There are certain characteristics of specific grape varietals, as well as how the wines are aged before bottling, that determines a wine’s ageability. The vast majority of wines available in the market today are meant for consumption sooner rather than later. Some, however, absolutely benefit from some quiet time in the cellars.
- Bold red wines like our Il Barone Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and La Castellana Super Tuscan blend are capable of long-term aging, typically up to 15 years from the vintage date on the bottle. This is because these wines have the structure capable of aging due to the tannins imparted from thick skins of the Cabernet grapes as well as the new French oak barrels they’re aged in. As the wine sits in the bottle, these tannin molecules are linking together and falling to the bottom of the bottle as sediment; which is often why so many younger Cabernets tend to pack a bigger “punch” than older vintages (and also why so many older red wines are decanted to remove the sediment). While these wines are fantastic to drink now, they can be even better after laying down for several years, as the structure of the wine smooths out and the tannins are allowed to integrate further.
- Light-bodied white and sweet wines like our Pinot Grigio and La Fantasia are meant for drinking within the first five years from its vintage date. These wines are prized for their bright and crisp qualities; as they age these characteristics tend to fade. So if you’ve been hanging onto that bottle of 2006 La Fantasia, it might be time to pop that bottle before it’s too late!
- If you’re ever curious about how long to age your favorite bottle of Castello wine, check out our Ageability and Cellaring Chart, which shows the proper time, temperature, and storing positions for our premium and reserve wines.
So whether you’re building your own Tuscan-inspired brick and frescoed underground cellar, or are simply looking to keep your prized Castello wines from cooking in the living room of your apartment, there are plenty of ways to ensure that you’ll be enjoying your favorite bottle at the best time, temperature, and place! Just be sure to drink them before they turn 100!
The 2015 Harvest season is in full swing here at the Castello, and on Saturday, September 21st we celebrated our newest arriving vintage with our 8th Annual Harvest Celebration and Grape Stomp Competition! Wine Club members and their guests enjoyed delicious food paired with Castello wines, live music in the courtyard, winemaking demonstrations in our fermentation rooms, and of course, our annual Grape Stomp Competition! Check out our photos of the evening below:
Our enthusiastic Grapes were a hit with our guests!
Guests were able to sample freshly fermenting Gewurztraminer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Malbec in the Red Wine Fermentation Room
The calm before the storm on the Crush Pad...
Team #6 cheering on their bottle filler to the finish line!
Congratulations to Team #1, our First Place Stompers!
Thank you to everyone who attended this great event! We hope you had a "grape" time!
It has often been said that if Cabernet Sauvignon is king here in Napa Valley, then Chardonnay is queen. Chardonnay has reigned supreme among white wine grapes in California since the Judgment of Paris in 1976, when Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay trumped the French competition in a blind tasting and helped to put Napa Valley on the map of world-renowned winegrowing regions. Today, there are over 100,000 acres of Chardonnay vineyards planted throughout California, and the varietal remains one of the top white wines consumed by Americans each year.
One of the reasons for Chardonnay’s popularity is the wide variety of styles it can be crafted in, based on where the grapes came from and how the wine was aged. While the majority of Chardonnays are aged in oak barrels, unoaked Chardonnays are rapidly increasing in popularity due to their brighter, fruitier notes, and both aging styles offer a wide range of complexity in the finished wines.
Chardonnay at the Castello
Here at the Castello, we produce two Chardonnays every year from two select cool climate vineyards in California. Our Napa Valley Chardonnay fruit comes from own estate vineyard in the Los Carneros AVA (American Viticultural Area) in the southern end of the Napa Valley, which is meticulously tended to by our Vineyard Manager, David Bejar, who has worked with Dario Sattui and our winemaking team for the past 17 years. Our Bien Nacido Vineyard Chardonnay comes from the iconic family owned vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley in Santa Barbara County, along the Central California Coast. In using these two cool climate vineyards to produce our Chardonnays, we hope to showcase the unique terroir of each region while utilizing both traditional and innovative winemaking techniques.
Our Bien Nacido Vineyard Reserve Chardonnay
All of our Chardonnay is harvested at night in order for the fruit to arrive at the Castello cold, which preserves the its delicate aromatics and natural acidity. Once the fruit gets to the winery, the whole grape clusters are placed into our two pneumatic, or “bladder” presses, which gently presses the juice from the skins and seeds. The juice is then pumped into Burgundian French oak barrels, where it ages for 8-10 months. We use 50% new and 50% second use French oak barrels on our oak-aged Chardonnays, which provides a balance between showcasing the terroir of the vineyard, acidity and fruit characteristics of the varietal, and the subtle notes of toast and spices that come from each individual barrel.
Two of our clear-headed oak barrels, which show the wine aging on the lees
After the wine has undergone primary fermentation, which converts the sugars in the juice into alcohol, our winemaking team then selects a specific number of barrels to undergo malolactic, or secondary fermentation. Here, the malic acid in the juice is converted into lactic acid, which gives Chardonnay its signature creamy mouthfeel (think “lactose” like milk). Roughly 40-60% of our Chardonnay barrels undergo malolactic fermentation, depending on the characteristics of the vintage and the acidity levels of each blend.
La Rocca Chardonnay – A new twist on a classic wine
If you have visited the Castello on a guided tour, you may have noticed our concrete fermentation eggs in the Grand Barrel Room, our 12,000 sq ft cross vaulted room three levels underground. We have been using these concrete eggs for the past several years to craft select single vineyard white wines like our Ferrington Vineyard Dry Gewurztraminer and Tyla’s Point Pinot Bianco, and beginning with the 2013 vintage we are also fermenting and aging a select amount of our Bien Nacido Vineyard Chardonnay in one of these eggs. We have named this unique, limited-release wine “La Rocca,” which means “The Fortress” in Italian. The egg shape allows for a natural suspension of the lees (sediment) compared to aging in traditional stainless steel tanks, without imparting any flavors or aromas found in oak barrel aging, and the higher acidity and tropical fruit characteristics of the Bien Nacido Vineyard Chardonnay made this fruit a perfect choice for aging in these unique vessels.
Cellar Master JoseMaria Delgado sampling our Napa Valley and La Rocca Chardonnays at The Grand Barrel Party
We are excited to make two Chardonnays from this historic vineyard in both French oak and concrete, as these two differing styles help to show the versatility of the varietal as well as the vineyard. Our La Rocca Chardonnay from Bien Nacido Vineyard is released each year to several of our shipping clubs, and we look forward to showing off the versatility of this beautiful Burgundian grape with our trio of California Chardonnays with each vintage!
With over 500 wineries here in beautiful Napa Valley, we are honored to have been chosen by FlipKey as one of the top Napa Valley Wineries worth traveling for! Congratulations to the other fantastic wineries who have also made this list, and we hope to see you soon in this world famous wine growing region!