THE DIFFERENCE A VINTAGE CAN MAKE.

It was a beautiful spring day on San Juan Island. The sun was out with a slight breeze blowing the newly budding trees, keeping the air fresh and clean. I was heading to a tasting of Steele wines at San Juan Island Cheese, a fairly new restaurant/cheese shop owned by Richard and Sheri Daly, two awesome people who have really set up a nice place to have lunch and try a variety of cheeses. Richard and Sheri set up the tasting in the back of the restaurant, an outdoor area that is perfect if the sun is out. The planets aligned, and alas, a perfect day.

Bill Bishop came to the island as a representative of Steele Wines. Bill is one of my favorite Steele employees with an illustrious history in the wine world. Not famous, just illustrious with many a story to tell. He has worked for Jed Steele for the past twelve years traveling across the United States and into Canada, promoting the wines of Jed. Bill has been entrenched in the wine world since graduating from U.C. Davis and then camping out in Mondavi’s vineyards while knocking on winery doors looking for a job (times have certainly changed), over thirty years ago (he never got caught with his pitched tent in the wineries vineyards). He secured a job, and has been employed in the wine business since. He is a garage wine maker (you can take the boy out of Davis, but not the Davis out of the boy) and has a two-thousand bottle cellar. He has a home on the Napa River in Carneros (he paid $95,000 for it in the 80′s…Crazy!).

Bill met Jed when Jed was the wine maker at Edmeades (he actually helped start the winery) in the seventies, before he went on to be the guy who put Kendall Jackson chardonnay on the map. They crossed paths again in 2002 and Bill came on board as the National rep. for Steele wines. Full of authentic stories and an encyclopedic knowledge of wine, I could listen to him talk for hours. Certainly, the right man to represent Jed’s wines since Jed shares many of the same traits. Jed too has an encyclopedic knowledge of the wine world and is an iconic figure amongst his peers.

So here we were, out in the back of San Juan Island Cheese in the sun tasting some of the wines of Steele Winery, listening to Bill and enjoying the food that Richard and Sheri prepared for the tasting. The whites were from the 2012 vintage and I was blown away by the difference between these and the ’11′s that I have been selling at the store this past year. I had spent some time down at Steele Winery in October of 2013 and Jed had told me that he was very pleased with the 2012 vintage. 2011 was a tougher vintage with leaner wines being the result. I liked them, since Jed is a very good wine maker, able to bring out the best in his wines even in a tough vintage. However, the ’12′s are a different animal all together.

The ’12 Shooting Star sauvignon blanc is a plusher version of ’11 with creamy fruit notes of white grapefruit pith, lemon and lime notes with a little melon thrown in. I had been wondering why this sauvignon blanc was flying off the shelf recently, and now I understand. If you haven’t had an Aligote and want to try one, I suggest the 2012 Shooting Star Aligote. This hit a “10″ in the delicious category with enough acidity to help it stand up to goat cheese, oysters or clams. Both of these whites roll in at under fifteen bucks. It was the 2012 Steele Cuvee Chardonnay that I was most curious about. The ’11 version was just a little awkward to me with the oak wrestling the fruit, giving it an angular feel on the palate (we still sold a ton of it at the store). The ’12 brings this beautiful chardonnay back to what I am used to with Jed. Creamy and seamless on the palate with tropical fruit notes marrying perfectly with the oak and acidity. A chardonnay lovers chardonnay and certainly a great value at nineteen bucks. I am looking forward to trying the ’12 Shooting Star chardonnay and the reds that will be further down the road.

Steele Winery is located in Lake County California (Kelseyville) and produces three labels, Steele (of course), Shooting Star and Writer’s Block.

Cheers!
Stan The Wine Man

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