Hawk & Horse Blog


Enjoy this image of the Biodynamic vineyard in spring!

By Cori Solomon

LearnAboutWine’s Stars of Cabernet yearly event in Los Angeles is always well attended. Having the opportunity to taste and discover such a wide selection of Cabernet Sauvignon in one venue is truly awesome.

This year’s event started with a seminar that Ian Blackburn moderated and featured Jean Hoefliger, the winemaker at Alpha Omega, Aaron Pott, winemaker and Lars Ryssdal, General Manager, Ackerman Family Vineyards.

Jean Hoefliger is from Switzerland and originally thought his calling was law. From there he moved to Wealth Management but all along had a longing and interest in wine. Listening to his passions he later earned degree in winemaking and viticulture. He has worked in Bordeaux and South Africa at wineries such as Chateau Lynch-Bages and Meerlust. When he was offered a position at Newton he jumped at the opportunity because he felt the winemaking process in America is more creative. Currently his is at Alpha Omega.

Aaron Pott also began his career at Newton Vineyard. During one of Michel Rolland consulting trips in California, Aaron convinced him to find him a job that might take him abroad. This exchange enabled him to work for six years in France, which culminated with a Masters in Viticulture from the Université of Bourgogne. During that time he was winemaker at Château Troplong Mondot and later became director of Château La Tour Figeac. He returned to California to be winemaker at St. Clement. He now consults for many vineyards and has his own winery, Pott Wine.

Before becoming general manager of Ackerman Family Vineyard, Lars Ryssdal has a background as wine educator and sommelier allowing him to be very astute in winery brand management, wholesaling and restaurant trade.

The seminar focused on the 2011 vintage and we sampled three 2011 vintages, one from each winery. This was followed by three other wines, which varied in vintages.

For Jean Hoefliger, the 2011 vintage was not an overly powerful year. The Cabernets did not have to be softened with Merlot or Petit Verdot. They could stand on their own. Jean’s 2011 Alpha Omega Cabernet has an alcohol level fewer than 14%. The wines have more acidity with more potential for aging.

Aaron Pott pointed out that the weather conditions, increased rain were ideally suited for a well-rounded wine. This rounded profile is due to diversity from the warmer and cooler climates throughout the year that affected both the hillside and the lower valley of Napa. With the excessive rainfall those winemakers with foreign experience found it easier to deal with the conditions than those who did not.

The wines sampled at the seminar were the Alpha Omega ERA 2011, a fragrant Cabernet Sauvignon with hints of cloves and spice. The wine displays a high acidity and low alcohol and is slightly earthy yet has a soft round quality.

Pott Wine La Carte et Le Territoire 2011 is an even blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot with a sweet aroma of licorice that is balanced and wonderfully smooth.

Ackerman Family Vineyard served a barrel sample of their 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon. Aromas of Lavender and allspice were predominant. We compared the 2011 to a 2003, which was a medium bodied Cabernet Sauvignon.

An interesting wine that Jean Hoefliger shared was the Monteverro, Toscana. This Tuscan wine shows off the freshness of the Cabernet Sauvignon from this region, the southern tip of Tuscany. The vineyard location is warmer than Napa and at the same time closer to the sea. The winery is one of the most technologically advanced in the world. The wine speaks of cherry and spice. It was a real winner.

Our last wine at the seminar was the Pott Wine 2011 Her Majesty’s Secret Service, a very fruit forward and balanced velvety wine that has cinnamon aromas. The vines for this wine produce one cluster per shoot.

At each of these tasting events there typically is one winery that stands out from all the others. It is one that you overhear everyone in conversation mentioning. At Stars of Cabernet that winery was Lake County’s Hawk and Horse Vineyards. The winery owned by Mitch and Tracey Hawkins is Demeter Certified biodynamic. Biodynamic farming means the land is worked in harmony with other aspects of nature. Some of the principles are similar to organic farming yet is it a different method. The biodynamic process improves the vitality of the soil thereby promoting the growth of the vines. Cows play an important part of the system of farming as the cow manure is used in the preparations to enrich the soil. The winery utilizes a herd Scottish Highland cows to assist in the process. The wines are extraordinary. The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon is a bold dark red in color wine that is very balanced with just enough spice and a velvety finish. The 2009 HHV/Block Three Cabernet Sauvignon blends 5% Petit Verdot with the Cab. The 2009 Latigo, a late harvest Cabernet Sauvignon is a real gem when it comes to dessert wines. The grapes are picked at 28 brixs and aged three years in French oak. Like a port there is just enough sweetness to round out a meal. Tasting this wine you will definitely want seconds.

Grigch Hills offered one of the finest Merlots. It is a Cabernet Sauvignon lover’s Merlot, as it tasted more like a Cab than your typical Merlot. This is a cool climate Merlot. The wine exudes flavors of strawberries, is velvety, balanced and smooth ofnthe finish. Both the 2009 and the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignons were excellent. I found them both very complex with rounded tannins.

Rocca Family Vineyards presented an overall excellent selection of wines. Rocca organically farms their grapes. The 2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Grigsby Vineyard, Yountville is elegantly balanced with hints of cherry and spice and smooth velvety tannins. The 2009 Merlot, Grigsby Vineyard was a favorite. The cool climate that year enhanced the cherry flavors and perfected the ideal Merlot. It was a year where the grape clusters were small so the concentration and depth of the wine is intensified. The finish is soft and smooth. The 2009 Syrah, Grigsby Vineyard is rich with dark fruit flavors. The 2009 Vespera, Proprietary Blend combines 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petit Sirah, 12% Petit Verdot and 1% Syrah. Vespera, which means evening star in Latin, is a very fruit forward wine. All the wines sampled from Rocca were full-bodied with a rich balance.

Kelleher Family Vineyard’s 2008 “Brix Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon is a must to try. It is a rich full-bodied fruit forward wine with aromas of raspberries and cherries.

Other wines worth mention is the Steven Kent Portfolio, 2010 Lineage from Livermore Valley and the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore Valley. Both exude flavors of cherries but the later is very drinkable and fruit forward. The Heitz 2007 Trailside Cabernet will continue to age beautifully and you can never go wrong with a Cabernet from Heitz.

These are just a few of the exceptional Cabernets sampled at LearnAboutWine's Stars of Cabernet.

Enjoy this trailer from the award-winning documentary One Man, One Cow, One Planet. The documentary illustrates the dire need for biodynamic and organic farming in today's genetically modified and manipulated agricultural industry.

"This incredible documentary takes you into the heart of the world's most important renaissance, led by one lone New Zealand farmer."- www.onemanonecow.com

By Guest blogger Anneli Rufus

We all have aspects of ourselves that we find a bit embarrassing. I don’t mean the physical stuff. Or those cell phone pictures we never should have sent. Or that Hanson sweatshirt hidden in your bureau drawer. I mean intrinsic tastes that we can’t change.

For me, it’s this: I dislike wine. What could be more uncool in a native Californian who writes about the food-and-drink scene, has spent long sunny months in France, Spain and Italy and lives within sight of the Napa Valley? Call me an unworldly hack, but I’ve tried and tried and yet nearly all reds, whites and rosés taste alike to me — and I find that taste harsh. I think I’m not alone in this. I think more of us dislike wine than want to admit it. And that’s our “inconvenient truth.”

Having been told by wine experts that the more I sipped, the more sensitized my palate would become, I was dragging myself around a “wines of Spain” gala in San Francisco one day, feeling like a rank imposter, when I happened upon a sherry booth. My first sip of Pedro Ximénez was like stepping off a cliff into a magical radiant room-temperature pool of enchanted electric honey. Suddenly I realized: I do like wine. Sweet wine. And sweet wine is wine.

Wine snobs tend to dismiss, discount and disrespect sweet wines — because, in their eyes, anything sweet smacks of childishness, and anything so simply sumptuous and uncomplicatedly easy to like can’t be trusted, thus (to them) sweet wines are the vinicultural equivalent of Kool-Aid. But sweet wines have held crucial roles in world civilization since ancient days: Used in religious rites, praised in poetry, these are the liquids of prayer and love.

Thus began my sweet-wine quest. In the ensuing months I sampled Marsala in the Sicilian seacoast town for which it is named. Also in Sicily, I discovered passito — a type of concentrated naturally sweet wine made from exotic, golden-green Zibibbo grapes, aka Muscat of Alexandria, which are allowed to dry into luscious raisins before being fermented. At the Firriato winery on Mount Etna’s eastern flank, I tried airy L’Ecru passito, named for the straw whose hue it evokes.

At the Donnafugata winery on volcanic Pantelleria, an Italian island closer to Tunisia than to Italy (and where Giorgio Armani has a home-away-from-home), I sipped award-winning amber-colored Ben Ryé passito after touring the vineyards where Zibibbo were being harvested and the hot, windswept platforms where the grapes are laid to dry.

“Only the best grapes get dried,” Donnafugata’s technical director Antonio Rallo — who operates the winery with his jazz-singer sister José and their parents Giacomo and Gabriella — told me. “We’re not trying to capture the flavor of the fresh grape but rather to dry the grapes under the sun in the wind to create an aroma that is completely different from that of the fresh grapes. This is our philosophy: not to preserve the aromas of the fresh grape but to find the new aromas of the dried grape.”

Paired with sharp cheeses at Ristorante Cibus in the medieval hill town of Ceglie Messapica in Italy’s “heel,” I sampled Aleatico, a subtly sweet local red the color of garnets that is made at the nearby Tenute Rubino winery.

Home again and still pursuing my quest, I sipped Jewish ceremonial wine, Oregon ice wine, German Gewürztraminer, Portuguese Madeira and Port and fortified biodynamic Port-style Latigo wine made by California-based, family-owned Hawk and Horse Vineyards. Now I know: Sweet wines are the wines for people who think they hate wine. (Wine snobs probably like sweet wine too, but won’t admit it. And that’s their inconvenient truth.)

Do you like maple syrup? Freshly squeezed fruit juice? Bold, exotic kombucha? Apple pie, butterscotch custard, cherries jubilee? Then you’d probably like sweet wine, which offers all the simple, tingly-tangy excitement of those things — plus a fermented, barrel-aged je-ne-sais-quois.

Hawk and Horse winery manager Tracey Hawkins calls jewel-red, smoky rose-scented Latigo “a special favorite of mine. I crafted it based on my memories of the Ports I enjoyed on a visit to Portugal when I was in my very early twenties,” Hawkins told me.

“We make it in the traditional Port-style,” said Hawkins, “Harvest late with high sugars and then fortify with high proof. We use a very expensive, oak-aged brandy for our high proof because nothing less would do.” Hawkins uses Latigo in treasured recipes for poached pears, sweet-potato pie and flourless chocolate soufflé.

Aging the wine in new French oak barrels “gives it caramel notes and extraction. We get such a great response to the Latigo at tastings,” Hawkins said. “People who love Port end up loving it — and people who say they don’t usually like Port also end up loving it.”

How sweet.

Photographs by Kristan Lawson

San Francisco, October 2013----Tracey and Mitch Hawkins, proprietors of Hawk and Horse Vineyards, will present their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2009 Latigo at a book signing for Mast Brothers Chocolate: A Family Cookbook, on October 29 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Omnivore Books. Brothers Rick and Michael Mast will be coming from their home base in Brooklyn to speak and sign copies of the book, which has a foreword by Thomas Keller.

The event is gratis and there is no need to RSVP. Omnivore Books is located at 3885 Cesar Chavez Street (San Francisco 94131).

Rick and Michael Mast are the co-founders, owners and master chocolate makers of Mast Brothers Chocolate, pioneering "bean to bar" chocolate making in New York City. Sourcing cocoa with unique flavor profiles from around the equator, they roast the beans in small batches to create truly handmade chocolate, one of the very few chocolate makers to do so. At their flagship factory and retail shop in Brooklyn, their distinctive bars are wrapped in exquisite custom papers that they have designed and are sold at specialty food shops around the country and around the world.

In Mast Brothers Chocolate: A Family Cookbook ($40) they share their unique story and recipes for classic American desserts like chocolate cookies and cakes, brownies, bars, milkshakes, and even home-made whoopie pie. There are mouthwatering savory dishes as well, like Pan-seared Scallops with Cocoa Nibs and Cocoa Coq au Vin. With striking color photographs throughout, this cookbook celebrates the vision and allure of Mast Brothers Chocolate, the leaders of the American craft chocolate movement and the choice of the world's great chefs: Thomas Keller, Dan Barber, Daniel Humm, Alice Waters, and Alain Ducasse all choose Mast Brothers Chocolate for its purity and distinctive tasting notes. The Mast Brothers’ commitment to traditional craft makes their chocolate stand apart. Out of a desire to fulfill a dream and to make a statement about sustainability, they made headlines when they sailed twenty metric tons of cocoa beans harvested in the Dominican Republic to New York on a three-masted schooner. It was the first commercial import by schooner to the Port of New York since 1939. Photographs and the full story of the sail are included in the book. Founded in 1999 by the Boies and Hawkins families, Hawk and Horse Vineyards is one of the very few biodynamic estate vineyard wineries in California. Family-owned and family-operated, the ranch is a historic property in the Red Hills AVA of Lake County and specializes in estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignon and Latigo (port). The winery’s current releases are the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon ($65), 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon ($65) and 2009 Latigo (a Cabernet-based port-style dessert wine, $85 for a 750 ml or $45 for a 375 ml bottle).

A visit to Hawk and Horse Vineyards is a step back in time, to the white-fence-bordered pastures full of horses, a charming home-turned-tasting room with an antique Victorian bar, historic photos of the property and local memorabilia. Recently the California State Fair awarded Hawk and Horse Vineyards a Certificate of Excellence in Viticulture. The winery farms its 18 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot biodynamically. The vineyards straddle slopes from a 15% grade to 85%, at elevations up to 2,200 feet, situated in the Red Hills AVA of California.” The soil literally glitters due to the abundance of Lake County “diamonds,” tiny silica fragments which are the remnants of volcanic activity from the Mayacama and Vaca volcanic mountain ranges and nearby Mt. Konocti, a now dormant volcano. “Our family feels that a biodynamic approach brings you a wine which is a true expression of our sense of place,” explain Tracey and Mitch Hawkins. Hawk and Horse Vineyards has been Demeter-certified since 2008 and California Certified Organic (CCOF) since 2004.

The ranch is home to a small herd of Scottish Highland cattle as well as the horses and an enormous range of wildlife---from Red Tail hawks to bees, owls, bear, wild boar, bobcats, mountain lions and squirrels. Bird-watching brings glimpses of woodpeckers, bluebirds, herons, ducks and more. The property includes a plaque documenting the historical location of El Roble Grande, the largest Valley Oak ever recorded in California.

Located at 13048 Hwy. 29 in Lower Lake, California (95457, 707/942-4600), the winery welcomes visitors Saturdays and Sundays from 11:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. or by appointment (www.HawkandHorseVineyards.com, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ). The grounds include a picnic area; also offered are extended tours of the ranch and vineyard, by appointment.


Hawk and Horse Vineyards