Coterie Cellars: Where the Wines Are Inspired by the Vineyards

Kyle with his wines pic 2

Kyle Loudon, Coterie Cellars winemaker, takes a queue from Mother Nature when making his small-lot Rhône and Pinot Noir wines. (Photo by Cynthia Bournellis)

As a contributing writer to, I sat down with husband-and-wife team Kyle and Shala Loudon, owners of Coterie Cellars, to talk about the passion and inspiration behind their Rhône and Pinot Noir Varietals.

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The Hawk that Led Me to the Crow

There are times in one’s life when wine tasting just has to wait. Take today, for example. I was on my way out the door to attend a wine-tasting event when the phone rang. I let the machine answer to see who it was. When I heard my dad’s voice, I picked up the receiver in the event that it was an emergency.


George, the hawk spotter. (Photo by Cynthia Bournellis, 2014)

An emergency it turned out to be. “Hey Cindy,” my dad said excitedly. “You’ve got to come over and see what I have in the backyard underneath your Pippin tree!” He’d come across an injured hawk and wanted me to come rescue it. He knew I used to volunteer at a local wildlife rehab center and figured I’d take the hawk there—if I could catch him.

I grabbed my cat carrier, some gardening gloves and a towel and raced over to my parent’s house. There it was, a red-tailed hawk in all of its feathered beauty, just beneath my Pippin tree like my dad said. My father, who’s 90 keep in mind, said he tried to catch the hawk but couldn’t because it kept skirting away.

I tentatively approached the bird of prey, but it stumbled backward, flapping its wings. It obviously was in some sort of distress, but its wings did not seem broken. And, its legs looked fine. Just as I was about to throw a towel over the hawk, it flew up and rest upon the top of the fence. I tried to coax it down so that it wouldn’t go over the fence and into the neighbor’s backyard where a couple of dogs lived. The hawk allowed me to get close enough to touch it, but before I could grab the bird, it flew on top of my father’s shed, and from there launched into a tall pine tree in an adjacent backyard.


Red-Tailed Hawk. (Photo is in the public domain courtesy of Mark Bohn-U.S. Fish and Wildlife)

While resting on a limb, a number of adult mockingbirds began dive-bombing the hawk. I assumed that the hawk was near a nest of baby mockingbirds. The adults pecked at the hawk’s wings until it flew from the tree and out of sight. I went to the house where the tree resided and asked the homeowner if I could check her backyard. She said she had seen the hawk earlier that day and had called animal control, which came out but failed to retrieve the bird. According to the homeowner, the hawk had been in the neighborhood for a couple of days.

one-black-crow cropped

Black crow. (Photo courtesy of

We searched her yard some more but found nothing. So I walked down the street hoping to find that the hawk had landed somewhere in plain view—still nothing. As I searched, I noticed a black crow hobbling on the grass. Its left leg was broken, and it was having difficulty getting flight. I slowly approached the bird and threw the towel over it. I gently lay the crow in the cat carrier, and as I removed my hands, our eyes met. The crow’s eyes were black as coal as it stared at me, quiet as could be. I can’t imagine how frightened it must have been, not knowing what its fate would be. But, I spoke softly to the beautiful creature, reassuring him (or her) that everything would be okay and he’d be up and around in no time. Hopefully, he sensed reassurance in the soft sound of my voice. The crow lay quiet until we reached the wildlife center, where I knew he’d be in good hands.

While I may not have saved the hawk—hopefully it’s not injured and was just having an “off” morning—I did rescue another keystone species. So, all in all it was a good start to my day. I think a glass of wine is now in order.

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1940’s Hollywood Glamour Captured in a Classy Chilean Wine

roxypicklogoSometimes the traditional tags used to describe wine—tar, damp earth, lavender, blackberry and white pepper for reds; peach, passion fruit, lemongrass and wet stones for whites—just won’t do. Sometimes a good old analogy is needed to get the mind, and the palate, stirring.

I find that celebrities—human and non-human—are a great source of creative expression when describing a wine. For me that celebrity (or should I say, movie star) is American actress Lauren Bacall. And the wine: 2008 Gê (Gê is the Greek word for “earth”), from Emiliana Organic Vineyards, Colchagua Vallede, Chile.

Source: Banfi Vintners, 2014

Source: Banfi Vintners, 2014

Before I tell you what it is about this wine that evokes images of a star known for her husky voice and sultry looks, let me say that I first looked to my own kind. There are so many famous felines, including Felix the Cat, the animated cartoon character created during the silent film era; the Pink Panther—the character not the diamond—of the series of comedy films featuring Inspector Jacques Clouseau; Duchess the Cat, the elegant feline from the animated Disney movie The Aristocrats; and even the regal lioness Elsa, star of the 1961 motion picture Born Free. All embodied at least one trait that I could attribute to the wine. But, as much as I love these fine-furry friends, neither of them made the cut.

For some reason this wine screams to me “Lauren Bacall.” So I’ll go with my instincts, as I’m wired to do. Bacall is one in a million, a memorable film star who will withstand the ages. And like Bacall, the 2008 Gê is one in a million, and definitely age-worthy.

A young Lauren Bacall. Her sultry looks are mesmerizing.  (This photo is in the public domain.)

A young Lauren Bacall. Her sultry looks are mesmerizing.
(This photo is in the public domain.)

A blend of organic and biodynamic grapes—Syrah, Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon—this wine speaks volumes just like Bacall. Both are deep and mysterious yet approachable, complex yet balanced, elegant yet structured, feminine yet bold, sophisticated yet gutsy, soft-spoken in a throaty sort of way yet heard.

I adore this wine, as much as I adore Bacall. With an ample body, the 2008 Gê has a soft mouthfeel and is well proportioned. Everything you want in a wine is there: earth, spice, fruit, minerals, flowers, tannins, acid and more.

On the surface, the wine is a beauty, just like Bacall. A gorgeous deep violet color catches the eye. An alluring, sultry nose holds your attention for quite some time, despite the high percentage of alcohol (15 percent). Surprisingly, the alcohol is not obnoxious but instead is rather warm and inviting. What follows are aromas of juicy purple berries, candied dark fruit and dark red flowers, as well as hints of tobacco and graphite. The longer I breathe-in the wine’s aromas, the more mesmerized I become. It’s as if I’m being seduced by Bacall herself.

Supportive acid and silky tannin envelop flavors of blackberry, dark plum and black pepper. Hints of mineral and bitter greens complete the long, smooth finish.

Emiliana Organic Vineyards recommends cellaring the 2008 Gê for 15 years, and pairing it with venison, boar or other wild game. Sounds like a plan, being the carnivore that I am. To do the wine further justice, I’ll enjoy it while watching a classic Bacall movie, her first.

Viñedos Emiliana S.A.
WTC Building
Avenida Nueva Tajamar 481 Of. 905, South Tower
Las Condes, Santiago, Chile
Phone: +56 2 2 353 9130

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Mount Eden Expands with Domain Eden and Silicon Valley Bank Financing

ImageImageMount Eden Vineyards, a 40-acre estate in the Santa Cruz Mountains above Saratoga, Calif., has a history shrouded in mystique nearly as thick as the fog that occasionally surrounds its vineyards. It is this mystique and—more important—the minimalistic, unwavering winemaking and viticultural practices of owner, winemaker-grower Jeffrey Patterson that have given rise to what wine critics call some of the most elegant, balanced and sophisticated California wines.


Mount Eden Estate vineyard overlooking the Santa Clara Valley. (photo by Cynthia Bournellis)

As a contributor to Practical Winery & Vineyard, I sat down with Jeffrey and Ellie Patterson, owners of Mount Eden Vineyards, to learn how they are cultivating the future of one of the most premier wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA.

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The Composition and the “Creek”: Listen, Sip and, by all Means, Weep

tear drop croppedThere are things in life that are so beautiful they make me weep. Two in particular are Adagio for Strings, a composition by the late Samuel Barber; and Branciforte Creek Pinot Noir, a voluptuous wine made by Jeff Emery, proprietor-winemaker, Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard.

Before I explain what it is about this composition and this varietal that bring me to my knees, I have to say a few words about their creators, both of whom found their passions early in life. Barber attempted to write his first opera at the innocent age of 10; Emery began a winemaking apprenticeship shortly before reaching the legal age of adulthood.

Samuel Barber (Photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1944) U.S. Library of Congress

Samuel Barber. (Photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1944; U.S. Library of Congress)


Jeff Emery samples grapes in the Santa Cruz Mountains. (Photo by Cynthia Bournellis)

Jeff Emery samples grapes in the Santa Cruz Mountains. (Photo by Cynthia Bournellis)









Each went on to produce unpretentious “works of art.” The late music critic Olin Downes wrote, “Adagio for Strings is honest music, by an honest musician.” I can say from personal experience that, regardless of vintage, Branciforte Creek Pinot Noir (l lovingly call it “the Creek”) is honest wine, by an honest winemaker, who, like Barber, has a passion for music. I do not know if Barber knew anything about wine (I would like to believe he did), but he certainly knew how to manipulate the senses with a piece so delicately powerful that it is considered by many to be the most popular orchestral work of the 20th century.

B-Flat, consisting of the pitches B♭, C, D♭, E♭, F, G♭, and A♭ (Artur Jan Fijalkowski)

B-Flat, consists of the pitches B♭, C, D♭, E♭, F, G♭, and A♭. (Artur Jan Fijalkowski)

Adagio for Strings begins softly, like sexual foreplay, shifting and heightening as the melody suspends slowly upward. It is like being led blindfold down an erotic path by a sensuous, illicit lover—you just don’t know what’s around the corner. After a two-beat hesitation of the violins, cellos and basses follow, encircling you tighter in tense melodies and beautiful harmonies.

The music undulates, taking you from one emotion to the next, until culminating multiple times into significant climaxes—with the final one so powerful it pierces the soul. A long pause follows, and just when you think the concerto is about to end, the opening theme comes forward before softly fading away on a dominant chord that leaves you wanting for more. Adagio for Strings has a haunting finesse, just like the Creek.

Pinot Noir cluster, Branciforte Creek Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains. (Photo by Ken Swegles)

Pinot Noir cluster, Branciforte Creek Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains. (Photo by Ken Swegles)

Branciforte Creek Pinot Noir is Adagio for Strings in varietal form. While Adagio envelops the auditory senses, the Creek seduces the olfactory senses. The wine’s aroma is seductive and intoxicating: like a slow, soft, wet, steamy kiss bathed in lavender and rose petal, cola berry, dark cherry, and rhubarb pie—all of which ascend from the glass on angelic wings of perfume.

2010 Branciforte Creek Pinot Noir. (Photo by Cynthia Bournellis)


Elegant and sophisticated, Branciforte Creek Pinot Noir is just as subtle as Adagio for Strings in the way that it manipulates those who experience it. Round, soft and sexy, the Creek caresses your palate with the “hands” of a skillful, tantalizing lover. Intriguing flavors and aromas of cedar and fennel move classically among the layers of deep red fruits, flowers, exotic spices and damp earth.

The unabashed pleasure one derives from the Creek does not stop after the first glass. This elegant Pinot Noir comes forward even more with some time in a decanter, or in-bottle the next day—revealing further nuances that not only arouse the senses, but also culminate in a supple and memorable long, warm finish reminiscent of being adrift in the afterglow of sex. The ultimate tempter, Branciforte Creek Pinot Noir is too delicious and beautiful to experience just once. Besides, you would not want your forbidden lover to ravish you only one time, would you? Like Adagio, the Creek leaves you wanting for more.

A vineyard worker (far left) serenades dormant Pinot Noir vines at Branciforte Creek Vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Photo by Ken Swegles)

Listening to Adagio for Strings while sipping Branciforte Creek Pinot Noir is a spellbinding experience filled with sensual flirtation, erotic foreplay, unadulterated passion and sheer ecstasy that will make you sigh with contentment and—above all—weep.

Adagio for Strings musical score. (New York Philharmonic)

Adagio for Strings musical score.
(New York Philharmonic)





Olin Downes once noted that “[with this piece], Barber achieved something as perfect in mass and detail as his craftsmanship permits.” For Samuel Barber, Adagio for Strings may be a lifetime of music expressed in a concerto. For Jeff Emery, well, you would have to ask him. But I believe that Branciforte Creek Pinot Noir is a lifetime of winemaking expressed in a varietal.


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August Briggs 2005 Napa Valley Syrah—A Wine Worth Waiting For

RoxypicklogoI bought this wine seven years ago and opened it last month for Open That Bottle Day Night. I feared that I may have kept it too long. Where’s the fruit, I mused? A heady aroma with a whiff of barnyard overtook my nose (and you know how sensitive my nose can be).

Strong tannins, loads of black pepper, earth and tar dominated my palate, masking any signs of fruit. The finish was slightly bitter. Fortunately, I have a patient nature, so I decided to let the wine breath. I waited, and waited and waited some more. After 20 minutes in the glass, the fruit was still fighting to emerge. So I put the cork back in the bottle and called it night.

“Patience” is the operative word with this opaque wine, the inkiest Syrah I’ve ever encountered. This wine is shy—it needs at least 24 hours to express itself. Had I not been blessed with patience, I may have missed out on an exceptional Syrah.

Meow! Oh what a difference a day makes. The next evening, the wine decided to speak to me. Luscious aroma of blackberry pie enveloped my senses. Not to be mistook for jammy—instead, think brambleberries soaked in a rich, thick, gooey balsamic vinegar and sprinkled with sugar to tame any tartness.

Let’s not forget the tannins, pepper, tar and earth—they were still obvious but had the graciousness to let the fruit shine. The finish—albeit a bit short—was warm and spicy, leaving my palate tingling. With firm acidity, this complex, well-structured Syrah kept on giving through Day 3.August Briggs 2005 Syrah 1

2005 August Briggs Page-Nord Vineyard, Napa Valley Syrah. It’s worth noting the Brix (28.5) and alcohol (15.1%).

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Tartrate Crystals May Not Be a Girl’s Best Friend, but They Sure Are Pretty

Me behind the tasting bar at SCMV_fall 2013_cropped_aYou are enjoying your wine tasting when the next thing you notice are crystal-like deposits resting at the bottom of your glass. Don’t panic. Your wine pourer hasn’t slipped you a mickey.

Often referred to as “wine diamonds,” these solids are actually tartrates that form in wines that typically have not been treated.

Tartrate crystals, considered by the average consumer to be a fault in wine, can be mistaken as sugary particles or even broken glass. Many wine books shed light on the topic. However, I think David Bird says it best in his book Understanding Wine Technology: The Science of Wine Explained. Written for the non-scientist, Bird explains what tartrate crystals are and how they occur.

“This deposit is not tartaric acid, as is commonly thought, but is either calcium tartrate or, more likely, potassium bitartrate (cream of tartar), originating in the grape. This is caused either by a poorly conducted stabilisation process or by the initial presence of protective colloids, which have prevented the deposition of the crystals during the stabilisation process and which have subsequently denatured.” 

He goes on to explain what colloids and denaturization are, but I won’t numb you with the details. What’s important is that you gain a basic understanding of this phenomenon so that you can further appreciate wine.

To prevent tartrate crystals from occurring, winemakers can chill the wines to near-freezing—a process called “cold stabilization”—causing the tartrates to precipitate out. The wine is then filtered to eliminate the crystals. This procedure, however, can be costly and may not guarantee results.

Since cream of tartar originates in the grape, it would make sense that tartrate crystals would be a natural element in wine. Nonetheless, most consumers wince at the sight of these deposits. I can’t tell you how many times the phrase “Yuck! What’s that in my glass?” has been uttered across the tasting bar. For me, tartrate crystals register nary a blip on my “yuck” radar. Sulfur dioxide or “smoke taint” is more likely to make my nose curl.

Tartrate crystals won’t kill you or change the flavor of the wine. If anything, they may taste slightly bitter. There are two things you as a consumer can do to eliminate them:

1. For white wine, set the bottle upright for a while to allow the crystals to fall to the bottom. Then slowly pour the wine, keeping an eye on the deposits so that they do not flow toward the neck of the bottle and ultimately into the glass. For red wine, set the bottle upright as well and remove the entire capsule (foil). After a while, tilt the bottle using one hand—with your other hand, shine a flashlight on the underside of the bottle’s neck while pouring to spot any crystals.   

2. If you do not have a steady arm and a keen eye to do Step 1, you can filter the wine—either into your glass or into a decanter—using a wine funnel that has a removable screen.

Tartrate crystals can also end up on the underside of the wine cork. If so, brush them off with your finger. Just make sure your hands are clean; you don’t want to contaminate the cork if it’s going back in the bottle.  

I recently came across this beauty of a crystal that had been stuck to a cork. It’s nearly the size of a half-carat diamond.


Light orange in color, this tartrate crystal is from the underside of the cork from a bottle of 2010 Marsanne, Michaud Vineyard, Saratoga, Calif. (Photo by Cynthia Bournellis)

So there you have it. Hopefully, I’ve been able to dispel somewhat the myth of wine diamonds. The next time you experience tartrate crystals, just embrace them. There are more important things in life to worry about.

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