The Dish @ Dashe
Fish Tales and Monkey Business from the Team at Dashe Cellars
Mike Dashe Co-founder & Director of Winemaking
Anne Dashe Co-founder
Rene Calderon Winemaker
Stephanie Flasher DTC & Wine Club Manager
Monica Chappell Project Manager
Jiliane Patriarca Tasting Room Teammate
What's Happening at Dashe Cellars?
This is always a wild time of year, as we watch the grapevines develop flower clusters and we get an idea of how the crop will develop this vintage. We love looking at the tiny clusters (and of course the even tinier flowers) and the greenery develop throughout the vineyard. It’s a beautiful time of year.
Although the clusters are tiny, they contain vital information about how heavy the crop will be and how many clusters are loaded on the vine. Although you really can’t judge the quality of the fruit, you can certainly make some intuitive guesses based on how healthy the vine looks, how the weather has been at this crucial time of development, and how early or late the crop will be in the fall.
More than anything else, it tells you that the clock is ticking and that we’ll be harvesting grapes before we know it. It always seems like the last vintage just finished and that we have plenty of time to prepare, but then the vineyard itself seems to come back to us every year and reminds us that we don’t have nearly as much time as we think.
The Calm before the Storm
In the cellar itself, it’s always a calm time, as we taste the developing wines, rack them from barrel to tank or barrel to barrel, and start preparing equipment for the harvest. It’s amazing that we need to ramp up for harvest so far in advance of the grapes’ ripening, but August is just around the corner and some of our vineyards in Contra Costa county are actually harvested in mid- to late-August.
We love to hang out in the winery—it always stays within the same range of temperatures no matter what time of year, because there's so much insulation in the 60 ft ceilings and the building itself it made out of thick concrete blocks. Many thanks to the US Navel Airforce, who built this building so solidly and with so much natural insulation.
Now, we just prepare the cellar and wait for the grapes to ripen. This year has turned out to be pretty dry, which is not terrible for the grapevines (they can survive much more than most fruit trees, for example) but we certainly hope that we have a bit of moisture before the grape clusters get very much more developed.
We will let you know before too long how the vineyards are coming along and how the quality of the 2021 vintage is shaping up. In the meantime, we suggest pouring a glass of wine and hanging out in the shade (preferable at our SF City View Patio!) and enjoying the summer.
It’s getting hotter, which means that rosé wines are getting popped into ice buckets and refrigerators. Every wine maker I know is releasing (or has released) a rosé, and Dashe Cellars is no exception.
I’ll confess, we have changed our methods of making rosé over the years. Quite a while ago, our method of making rosé was a relatively simple one. We would crush red grapes—usually Grenache grapes from Dry Creek Valley—which were destined to make a bigger, more substantial wine, and simply bleed off pink juice from the tank after about 8 hours of skin contact. Voilà! Instant rosé.
Let it Bleed
This process of making rosé by “bleeding” the tank is called “saignèe,” from the French word for blood, and is probably one of the most common methods of making rosé around the world.
There certainly are a few advantages to making a rosé this way. First of all, it’s a great way of improving the depth and intensity of the red wine in the tank from which you’re bleeding off the rosé juice. Since you’re increasing your grape to juice ratio, you get more color in the wine from which you’re bleeding off. Plenty of jet-black wines on the market are helped by bleeding the tanks.
Another definite advantage is that you can pick the color of your rosé by simply looking at the juice every few hours. As time goes by, you get more color until you decide you have enough color (or the right hue of pink) and then you frantically drain the juice off of the red skins before the color changes and becomes too dark.
The drawback to this method is that if you get your timing wrong, your rosé can be too light or too dark, and the only way to adjust is by blending red or white wine into your rose to try to adjust the color.
Hot off the Press
The other method, and the one that we’ve gravitated to over the years, is dedicating the grapes you select to be rosé (and only rosé). Using this method, you designate a vineyard (or a block within a vineyard) to be your rosé block and dedicate those grapes to just be used in your rosé program. You then pick the grapes exactly when you want to make your rosé and dump them directly into the press (or occasionally, crushing the grapes and letting them sit in bins for a bit of time to pick up color, and then dumping them into the press).
This direct press method has some distinct advantages.
First and most important, since you’re dedicating these grapes to be rosé, you can select the time of picking the grapes to be ideal for making a rosé-style wine. In our case, we like our rosé wines to have good acidity, so as long as the flavor profile is correct, you can pick grapes earlier than you normally would for making red wine, so that the wine is crisp and flavorful with acidity.
Second, you can select a varietal specifically for rosé. In our case, we decided to try to use Barbera from a Clarksburg vineyard as a rosé grape, because it’s a naturally high-acid grape and makes a very refreshing, zingy wine.
An added benefit of early picking is that your rosé is lower in alcohol because you’re picking grapes before they produce a high amount of sugar.
Color is king
The final reason we love to press our rosé directly from the grapes is that we obtain a beautiful pale salmon color; quite a bit different than the color that we would obtain using the saigneé method of bleeding the tank.
Of course, wonderful wines are made using both methods of wine making, and everyone has their preference for what kind of rosé they like.
Our rosés are finished completely dry because that’s our preference. Some people prefer a bit of sweetness to their rosés, which is completely a personal taste.
What’s important is that rosés have finally risen in prominence in the wine-drinking community.
Personally, I believe that there’s nothing better than a crisp, cold rosé on a Spring or Summer day, paired with something off of the grill or with a fish stew such as a French bouillabaisse. The acidity pares perfectly with food, and the wine itself provides an immensely satisfying way to balance the heat.
Well, Spring is finally here and with some luck, we’ll have been through the worst of this last year and starting to be (relatively speaking) back to normal. Not a minute too soon. We’ve all endured one of the most trying years of our collective lives, and now that the days are longer and lovely Spring afternoons are warming us, it’s our fervent hope that all of you are feeling better and are optimistic about the future.
We really can’t say thank you enough to have supported us during the most difficult year in our 26 years in business. One of the best things that emerged from this last year was that we discovered how much people have enjoyed the City views and the bird sanctuary in front of the winery on our City View Patio. We’ve loved having you come out and share this outdoor space with us, drinking wine and enjoying food from our food truck purveyors. Your spirit and enthusiasm has sustained us here at Dashe and we certainly wouldn’t have survived this last year without you to help us through it.
Amazingly, now we’re making our plans for this upcoming harvest. Bud-break has happened in the vineyards and the vines are starting to push out. Nothing like growing things to remind us that nature doesn’t wait for pandemics or politics—when it’s time to harvest, it’s time to harvest. We’re excited as always about the ripening grapes and our plans for upcoming wines.
–Best to you all, Michael and Anne Dashe
Last year, the wine writer Eric Asimov, long time New York Times wine columnist, wrote a two-part series for his Wine School column entitled “Revisiting Zinfandel from a Less Brawny Angle” and “Finding the Heart of Zinfandel.” The focus of the two articles was to taste three current examples of Zinfandel—all of which were a more modern, lighter, and less alcoholic styles—to see how recent styles of Zinfandel compared with the bigger, jammier, more alcoholic styles of popular Zinfandels from a decade or more ago.
Frankly, the focus of the article was that Mr. Asimov’s tastes had moved away from drinking Zinfandel a few years ago because of heavy-handed ripe flavors in some of the most popular zins. He was looking to see if recent offerings from wineries that made less brawny Zinfandels was more interesting and palatable, both to him and to his readers who commented on the wines.
Here at our little urban winery at Dashe Cellars, we were gratified that he selected a Dashe wine—the 2018 Zinfandel Vineyard Select—for his widely-read Wine School series. In the introduction, he said that “I selected the Dashe because I generally like this producer’s wines, they were fairly widely available, and the bottle was cheaper than the other two.”. We’ll take that—and we’re glad that Asimov enjoys our wines.
The Times have Caught Up with Dashe Cellars?
Personally, we were a bit amused by the premise of the article because it implied that it was only a recent development that certain wineries had moved towards making lighter, more elegant Zinfandels.
But those of you who know Dashe Cellars wines from when we started in 1996 know that we have always selected vineyards and used wine making practices to make lighter, more delicate, yet complex and balanced Zinfandels.
Although our single vineyard wines such as the Louvau Vineyard Old Vines Zinfandel has traditionally been less alcoholic than our peers, we really turned the Zinfandel world on its head in 2008 when we released our first “Les Enfants Terribles” single vineyard wine—a Zinfandel, naturally—from the McFadden Farm in Potter Valley.
Are we Drinking all 500 Cases Ourselves?
The first Les Enfants Terribles wine was a fluke, in a way, because it was a phone call from a sommelier—Mark Ellenbogen from the Slanted Door restaurant in San Francisco—that sparked the creation of this wine.
Mark was extremely diligent about which wines made his Wine List at the restaurant, and he loved softer European reds such as Gamay-based wines from Beaujolais region in France, and a wide array of Pinot Noir-based wines, also from Europe.
When the Slanted Door was criticized from some quarters for not having many domestic wines, Mark reached out to me and asked if it was possible if we might make a single vineyard wine that had many of the attributes he loved in his favorite European wines to go with the cuisine from the Slanted Door: lower alcohols; lower tannins; little or no oak influence; beautiful softer fruit character; a softer, velvety texture.
I had just seen the Zinfandel grown at McFadden Farm—a high elevation vineyard—and the red grapes were surrounded by Riesling, Pinot Blanc, and Gewurztraminer white wine grapes. I immediately loved the fruit flavors of the Zinfandel but was shocked at how light-colored the red grapes were. When Mark called me up, I said that I had found the perfect grapes to make a “Beaujolais-styled” carbonic maceration wine.
We had just purchased a 900-gallon oak foudre from Burgundy, and decided we would make all of the Zinfandel in the vineyard, and age it in this huge single barrel.
When we made the wine, using the carbonic maceration technique of whole berries and whole clusters, the wine was gorgeous, but the color was so pale red that it looked like a Gamay or Pinot Noir. I was so shocked that I turned to Anne and asked “are we going to have to drink all 500 cases of this wine by ourselves?” She turned to me and said “you’re crazy. This is exactly what I had in mind when we made this wine. People will love it!”
We’ve Been Making Trendy Wine for 26 Years!
I shouldn’t have been so worried. The first Les Enfants Terribles 2007 Zinfandel from the McFadden Farm went on to become a tremendous hit at the Slanted Door, and soon word got around that Dashe Cellars was making this carbonic maceration Zinfandel that tastes unlike any other Zinfandel on the market. The wine became a darling of wine drinkers around the country who liked European wines for their balance and lower alcohols but wanted the vibrant fruit of a California wine at the same time.
Compared to many other Zinfandels out on the market, Dashe Cellars Zinfandels are lighter in style and have a certain balance between fruit and acid, with less oak and tannin on the finish. We’ve been making Zinfandels in this style from when we first released a single vineyard wine—a 1996 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel—and have kept this signature style since.
It used to be that very few wineries were making wines that were lower alcohol and fermented on native yeast. No more—it’s quite common for new wineries to make wines in this style. We are pleased that after all these years following our heart, making wines that had a balance of an “Old-World” wine, our style is now very much on target for young, innovative wine makers.
We are huge believers in making wines that reflect the vineyards, and our style champions this type of artisan wine. Many thanks to Eric Asimov and other wine writers that now are highlighting our style of wine to a broader market of wine drinkers. For 26 years we’ve made wines that are now touted as “trendy,” due to their restraint and balance. We might not be a new winery, anymore, but we’ll take the trendy label anytime, as long as people enjoy the wines.
We have more than a casual interest in Riesling, since we make a single vineyard wine from a wonderful old-vine Riesling vineyard in Potter Valley.
In case you didn’t know, March 13th has been officially designated as Riesling’s Birthday; Happy 586th Birthday, Riesling, you don’t look a day older than 400. The reason for that date is that the earliest recording of Riesling dates to March 13, 1435 in Germany, when the first Riesling single-vineyard wines were officially recorded.
For me, Riesling is the wine world's best-kept secret. Few great grapes are so affordable, grown worldwide and liked by so many. Its hallmarks are floral aromas, spice, citrus, and stone fruit flavors, and my favorite component, high natural acidity. For this reason, Riesling is a wine that can age incredibly well. It’s got it all!
What to Love about Riesling
First of all, it's incredibly versatile: It can be lightweight and super-delicate, range from dry to sweet, and can be made in both still and sparkling styles. So, basically, there is a Riesling out there for every palate. Riesling produces one of the most popular white wines in the world and is beloved by everyday wine drinkers and sommeliers alike. Not an easy feat!
Riesling has become a darling of sommeliers because of its incredible versatility for pairing with food. It’s clean, fresh, mineral expression is fantastic with vegetable dishes or seafood, and the sweeter styles are famous for pairing with spicy food because sweetness helps balance out spice. Finally, rich, luscious styles are excellent with cheese, my favorite food group.
Unique expression of Terroir
Perhaps most appealing of all, is the fact that Riesling is an expressive single vineyard wine depending on where the grapes are grown. There can be a different dimension to each bottle not to mention you can keep in your cellar for years, and it will only get more interesting.
Dashe McFadden Farm Riesling
Our 2019 Dashe Riesling is organically-grown and cultivated high in the mountains of Potter Valley on the east border of Mendocino county. Since we love dry Riesling, and especially single-vineyard wines, we made this wine bone dry with a beautiful characteristic fruit and mineral aroma, a firm structure, lush mid-palate, and a dry long fruity finish. With its lovely aromatics and mouthfeel, good acid/fruit balance, and complex minerality, this single-vineyard wine is ideal to drink right now and can also be saved for aging in the cellar. This vintage has powerful aromas, a mouth-filling velvety structure, and a depth of flavor that makes it one of the most age-worthy Rieslings we’ve ever produced.
Celebrating Riesling’s birthday is easy; just crack open a bottle and enjoy. Why not join the fun and share your Riesling experiences on social media using the hashtag #RieslingBirthday.
I love serving this Frittata with Riesling. Riesling knows how to play nice with vegetable dishes so it’s my go-to wine when veggies are the star of the dish.
Vegetable Frittata Ingredients
- 2 tablespoons Olive Oil
- 1 1/2 cups blanched Broccoli Rabe
- 4 ounces Pancetta
- 8 ounces Arugula
- 2 1/2 tablespoons chopped Italian Parsley
- 1 1/2 cups Italian Fontina cheese grated
- 8 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups half-and-half
- 4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Heat the oil in a large oven proof sauté pan. Add the Broccoli Rabe and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the Pancetta and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the Arugula and cook for another minutes until it is wilted. Off the heat, stir in the parsley and sprinkle the Fontina evenly on top.
Beat the eggs, half-and-half, pinch of salt, and pinch of pepper together with a fork. Pour the egg mixture evenly over the filling. Sprinkle the frittata with the Parmesan cheese and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until puffed and lightly browned on top. Cool for 5 minutes, serve hot or warm with, you guessed it, a glass of Dashe Riesling. No Birthday candle required.
The perfect Zinfandel food pairing
The women in my family have a common addiction... we can sit around a kitchen table and flip through cookbooks for hours on end. Can you imagine how this was transformed for us when food blogging became popular? Over the years, I've discovered new favorite bloggers and explored new cuisines and pairings, specifically Zinfandel food pairing once I started working with Mike and Anne. But no matter how wide my internet roaming goes, I always come back to my favorite blog Smitten Kitchen. I've been making this pot pie recipe for years, and it's an amazing recipe. When paired with our 2018 'The Comet' though, it takes on an entirely new life. Please, before the spring comes, make this recipe & pop the cork on a bottle of Comet... You'll forget that spring training and summer sailing are still months away.
2018 'The Comet' Sonoma County
This wine is made of Petite Sirah and Zinfandel, blended with 130-year-old vine Carignane. The blend makes for a very complex, balanced, dark wine with a long, long finish. It’s a quintessential steak-house wine, made to go with food. It will last in the cellar for years!
Aromas: Chocolate, black cherry, blackberry, followed by elements of toffee, vanilla, black pepper, and coffee
Taste: Extremely smooth and velvety entry, wine, with good acid balance, and silky tannins. The entry is of bright fruit—black cherry, blackberry, and pomegranate—and then a lush texture filled with fruit, cocoa powder, clove, and a spicy finish. The wine has a velvety mouthfeel and long finish.
Zinfandel food pairing: Asian 5 Spice Short Ribs, Grilled Venison with Berry Reduction, anything with Mole Poblano Sauce.
Pancetta, White Bean, and Chard Pot Pies
By Deb Perelman, from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook - Zinfandel food pairing by Stephanie Flasher
The pancetta, while adding a lovely, smoky base, can be omitted to make this vegetarian. In fact, I went back and forth many, many times about removing it so that this could stay in the vegetarian section, but in the end, decided it easier I leave the choice to you. For a vegetarian version, simply skip the pancetta and cook your vegetables in 2 tablespoons olive oil instead of 1. You can replace the swiss chard with any green you have around, from a hearty spinach to kale, adjusting the cooking time accordingly to make sure it wilts a bit before going into the oven to finish cooking.
As you can see from the photos, I really don’t own soup crocks. I have debated the value of purchasing some many times of the years, but you must trust me when I say I don’t have room for a single extra dish I don’t already own in my life right now. Instead, I just use two-cup bowls we already have that are ovenproof. (When buying a dish set, I always look to see if they are ovenproof, as you never know when this will come in handy.) If you don’t have ovenproof soup bowls, you can always make a large version of this in a casserole dish with one big pastry .
Weekday night tip: Make a double batch of the stew and lids. Keep them separate and for two to three nights, you can ladle what you’d like into bowls, roll out lids and bake them to order.
- 2 cups (250 grams) all- purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon table salt
- 13 tablespoons (185 grams or 1 stick plus 5 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, diced
- 6 tablespoons (90 grams) sour cream or whole Greek yogurt (i.e., a strained
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) white wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) ice water
- 1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil
- 4 ounces (115 grams or 3/4 to 1 cup) 1/4-inch-diced pancetta
- 1 large or 2 small onions, finely chopped
- 1 large carrot, finely chopped
- 1 large stalk celery, finely chopped
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- Thinly sliced Swiss chard leaves from an 8- to 10-ounce (225- to 285-gram)
- bundle (4 cups); if leaves are very wide, you can halve them lengthwise
- 3 1/2 tablespoons (50 grams) butter
- 3 1/2 tablespoons (25 grams) all- purpose flour
- 3 1/2 cups (765 ml) sodium- free or low- sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- 2 cups white beans, cooked and drained, or from one and a third 15.5- ounce
- (440-gram) cans
In a large, wide bowl (preferably one that you can get your hands into), combine the fl our and salt. Add the butter and, using a pastry blender or your fingertips, cut them up and into the flour mixture until it resembles little pebbles. Keep breaking up the bits of butter until the texture is like uncooked couscous. In a small dish, whisk together the sour cream, vinegar, and water, and combine it with the butter-flour mixture. Using a flexible spatula, stir the wet and the dry together until a craggy dough forms. If needed, get your hands into the bowl to knead it a few times into one big ball. Pat it into a flattish ball, wrap it in plastic wrap, and chill it in the fridge for 1 hour or up to 2 days.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium- high heat in a large, wide saucepan, and then add the pancetta. Brown the pancetta, turning it frequently, so that it colors and crisps on all sides; this takes about 10 minutes. Remove it with a slotted spoon, and drain it on paper towels before transferring to a medium bowl. Leave the heat on and the renderings in the pan. Add an additional tablespoon of olive oil if needed and heat it until it is shimmering. Add onions, carrot, celery, red pepper flakes, and a few pinches of salt, and cook over medium heat until the vegetables are softened and begin to take on color, about 7 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook for 1 minute more. Add the greens and cook until wilted, about 2 to 3 minutes. Season with the additional salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Transfer all of the cooked vegetables to the bowl with the pancetta, and set aside.
Wipe out the large saucepan; don’t worry if any bits remain stuck to the bottom. Then melt the butter in the saucepan over medium- low heat. Add the flour, and stir with a whisk until combined. Continue cooking for 2 minutes, stirring the whole time, until it begins to take on a little color. Whisk in the broth, one ladleful at a time, mixing completely between additions. Once you’ve added one- third of the broth, you can begin to add the rest more quickly, two to three ladlefuls at a time; at this point you can scrape up any bits that were stuck to the bottom — they’ll add great flavor.
Note from Stephanie: to make this an even more perfect Zinfandel food pairing, sometimes I'll substitute a little broth for a splash of The Comet!
Once all of the broth is added, stirring the whole time, bring the mixture to a boil and reduce it to a simmer. Cook the sauce until it is thickened and gravylike, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir the white beans and reserved vegetables into the sauce.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
Assemble and cook pot pies:
Divide the filling between four ovenproof 2-cup bowls. (You’ll have about 1 1/2 cups filling in each.) Set the bowls on a baking pan. Divide the dough into four pieces, and roll it out into rounds that will cover your bowls with an overhang, or about 1 inch wider in diameter than your bowls. Whisk the egg wash and brush it lightly around the top rim of your bowls (to keep the lid glued on; nobody likes losing their lid!) and drape the pastry over each, pressing gently to adhere it. Brush the lids with egg wash, then cut decorative vents (smaller than mine, please, as they led to lots of draping) in each to help steam escape. Bake until crust is lightly bronzed and filling is bubbling, about 30 to 35 minutes.
The dough, wrapped twice in plastic wrap and slipped into a freezer bag, will keep for up to 2 days in the fridge, and for a couple months in the freezer. The filling can be made up to a day in advance and stored in a covered container in the fridge.
If you haven't already, open up that bottle of 2018 'The Comet' and enjoy an absolutely stellar Zinfandel food pairing! I know what I'm going to be making tonight.
Perhaps one of my favorite things to pair with wine is the ever-changing cheese plate. Wine and cheese are friends from way back. Both are the product of fermentation and both can express terroir, or the taste of the place they come from. In the case of cheese, the taste of terroir emerges from the different milk-giving animals; which can range from cows, goats, sheep and even water buffalos which just happens to make my favorite cheese of all time – Mozzarella di Bufala.
This primer can serve as a perfect introduction to the basics and can offer many ways for you to expand your knowledge and understanding of artisan wine and cheese, delve into the art of pairing the two and help you discover a delicious new dimension to your wine-drinking pleasure. So Let’s Go!
Wine & Cheese Pairing Tips:
The first rule of thumb is that white wines usually pair more easily with artisan cheese than red wines do – sorry red wine lovers. White wine’s acidity cuts through cheese’s butterfat beautifully. The creamy and nutty flavors in cheese can also bring a white wine to life by contrast. Along those lines, some consider Sparkling wine the overall cheese-friendliest wine. Among red wines, the most successful to pair with cheese are the lighter bottlings. Terroir-inspired combinations, artisan wine and cheese coming from the same region, can also be a great pairing strategy.
Pairings that Please:
- White or bloomy rind cheeses such as Camembert and Brie are the trickiest to match; safe bets include one of Dashe’s soft, fruity reds from the Les Enfants Terribles Series. My pairing shortlist would include either the Bio-Dynamically grown Heart Arrow Ranch Zinfandel or the 2017 Clarksburg Grenache that was recently featured in Wine & Food Magazine.
- Hard cheeses such as Cheddar, Parmesan, and Manchego go with the widest range of wines; safe bets are medium to full-bodied reds without too much tannin. Insert an age-worthy artisan Zinfandel here – one of Dashe’s Single Vineyard Zinfandel would be just the ticket. For me, I’d unapologetically sink my teeth into the Florence Vineyard Zinfandel along with a hunk of Parmigiano- Reggiano.
- Blue cheeses can be troublesome partners for any wine apart from the classic partnerships of port and Stilton. The salty with sweet principle prevails so why not try Dashe Late-Harvest Zinfandel from the Lily Hill Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma with your favorite blue veined cheese. My favorite blue is Point Reyes Original Blue also from Sonoma County – things that grow together go together.
- Strong, pungent cheese offers no safe bets. Sweet or fortified wines are likely to pair well or try an aromatic white such as the classic combination of Munster from Alsace and Riesling. Dashe Dry Riesling from McFadden Farm has a depth of flavor that makes it one of the most age-worthy Rieslings our artisan winery has ever produced, and it’s structured enough to stand up to strong cheeses.
- For Goat milk cheeses, Sparkling wine is a good match especially with young soft artisan cheeses; the more acid in the cheese the more acid the wine should have. Along with crisp acidity, sparkling wine possesses wonderful bubbles to cleanse the palate. The 2016 marked the 20th Anniversary of Dashe Cellars and to commemorate we released Dashe 2016 Méthode Champenoise Sparkling wine.
- Sheep milk cheese can handle a robust red made from Mourvedre, Carignane or Zinfandel. Hard to decide which direction to go in? Why not have it all with Dashe Ancient Vines Sonoma blend. Another option would be to go with one of two Dashe Single Vineyard Petite Sirah; Louvau or Todd Brothers Ranch, which is a wine club exclusive.
Strategies for Harmony:
Cheese and wine is a classic pairing - like peanut butter and jelly or cookies and milk. Both are natural artisan products, created using a standard process but with a myriad of results. When planning a cheese platter, try upping the ante with roasted nuts, walnut bread and a selection of dried fruits to create a more wine-friendly match. When serving a selection of artisan cheeses, try to choose three or four which all pair well with a particular style of wine. Highly oaked and super-tannic wines can be difficult to pair with cheese so try avoiding these options.
Just say cheese please!
Back in 1995, before Dashe Cellars was a gleam in the eyes of Michael and Anne Dashe (and back when Anne’s name was Anne Bringuet), a visit to Brittany France, Anne’s homeland, was a revelation.
It started with the cuisine—creperies that were on almost every corner; oysters that were plucked right out of the river and eaten in front of your eyes; the freshest langoustine and fish you’ve ever tasted; butter that crunched in your mouth from embedded salt crystals; Kouignman and croissants so delicate that they melted in your mouth. The food simply was spectacular.
But beyond the cuisine, there was artisan wine. First, I was surprised to learn, there wasn’t any local stuff. There are no grapes grown in Brittany (to speak of). Lots of apple cider that went beautifully with crepes, but no Bretagne natural wine.
Instead, there were the wines of the Loire Valley, a scant 2 hours away from Brittany at its closest edge. To be honest, I didn’t know much about Loire wines. I had worked in Bordeaux, visited Burgundy, the Rhone, Champagne, the Jura. But the Loire? It was a place I knew about because of Sancerre and Poully-Fuisse, and I knew that Vouvray existed. That was it.
What blew my mind, in retrospect, is that the stores in Brittany were just filled with amazingly inexpensive bottles of Loire wines that I had never imagined. Just a few euros (francs at the time, but who’s counting) would buy you a great bottle of wine in the local supermarket. Whites from Montlouis and Touraine, beautiful light reds from Chinon and Bourgueil, crisp dry white wines from Muscadet. For a bit more, you could have beautiful complex wines from the hills of Sancerre, a balanced and age-worthy Vouvray or Savennières, or a luscious red from Saumur.
We devoured lots of Loire wines, every time we came out to visit Anne’s family in Brittany.
Dashe Chenin Blanc Makes its Debut
Years after that first introduction to the wines of the Loire Valley—and after we had started Dashe Cellars—we became dedicated drinkers of Loire wines.
We especially learned to love the many aspects of Chenin Blanc, a varietal that had a terrible reputation in the US (mostly because of years of uninteresting white wines made from huge vineyards in the Central Valley of California). The more we looked at wines made from Chenin, the more we learned to appreciate the spiciness, acid balance, and texture that make it one of the great varietals of the world.
At Dashe Cellars, the focus had mainly been on red wine varietals, except for a wonderful little Riesling that we had made, since 1999, from organic grapes on the McFadden Farm. We had made a conscious decision not to make Chardonnay (too many Chardonnays made in CA!), but our customers were constantly saying that they wanted us to make another white wine. We thought about what kind of wine WE liked and decided that if we ever were to find a region and vineyard with excellent Chenin Blanc grapes, we would try our hand at it.
Luck came our way in the form of the Heringer vineyard in Clarksburg, CA. This region has one of the largest concentrations of Chenin Blanc vineyards anywhere in the state. The reason is wildly logical: the local government paid for a soil and vineyard consultant to analyze the terroir of the region and recommend what varietals the area would be best to grow. The consultant came back with “Chenin Blanc,” which puzzled the local growers since it was not considered a top grape varietal. But to their credit, they started planting it and found that the resulting grapes and wine were of unusual quality.
We Start Making Chenin Blanc: Black BART arrives
Dashe Cellars made its first artisan wine Chenin Blanc under our Les Enfants Terribles label from the Heringer Ranch in 2016. It was a hasty decision (we had just found the vineyard just before harvest) and came with another hasty decision: I wanted to make Chenin Blanc in a concrete egg. I had talked with other producers of Chenin Blanc, both in the US and in Europe, and there seemed to be a consensus that the complexity, texture, and aromatics of Chenin Blanc were all greatly highlighted when fermented as a natural wine, in concrete. We paid a ridiculous sum to purchase the perfect concrete egg (the price of impulsive buying), and the only one available so close to harvest was jet-black. They threw in a bright red DASHE logo for free, to make us feel better. We nicknamed it “Black Bart,” although really it looked more like Humpty Dumpty.
From the start, we wanted to make a “Loire-style” Chenin, whatever that meant. The goal was to have something with great texture, good acidity, lovely minerality, and a long finish.
We found that fermenting Chenin as an artisan wine in concrete and in stainless steel fermenters made a HUGE difference in the resulting wine. The same juice went into the fermenters, but the resulting wines may well have come from completely different places. The concrete fermented wine was quite different in texture (round, velvety, mouth-filling) and had toasty elements to the flavors, almost like champagne. We presumed that the egg-shape promoted lots of yeast contact during fermentation and aging, which (like Champagne) resulted in the characteristic toasty, fresh-bread aromas.
In contrast, the stainless-steel fermented wine had much more structure, almost steely, and was fruit forward. Together, the two lots made for an extremely vibrant, complex wine. We loved it.
In the end, we blended the two together to highlight the best parts of both fermentation styles and released it to customers who were delighted to have another white wine available from Dashe.
Cabernet Franc Rounded Out the Loire Valley Connection
We enjoyed the Chenin Blanc from Heringer vineyard so much that when we found out that they had a few rows of Cabernet Franc on their home ranch, we had to see if we could make a lighter-bodied Cabernet Franc—something in the style of a Chinon or a Bourgueil from the Loire.
When we first made the wine from these grapes, we simply couldn’t get our heads around it. It showed flavors of cassis and black cherry, which was lovely, but also had an edge of green olive and herbs, that simply was confusing to us when the wine was young.
We decided to put the wine into some nice French oak and waited until the next year or so to see how the wine would evolve.
Some time went by until, one day, Rene Calderon was racking the wine from barrel to barrel and we suddenly remembered that the wine was languishing in barrel without us tasting it for quite a while.
With no expectations, we tried the wine and looked dumbfounded at one another. In the past year, it had changed from a gangly child to a full-blown mature wine. Simply put, it was gorgeous and had nothing in common with the wine that we had tasted when it was in its youth.
This wine was filled with aromas of blueberries, and cherry, and spice. Just lovely. Anne remarked that it reminded her of some of the delicious and structured Chinon wines that were made from Cabernet Franc, which her family loved drinking when she was growing up.
We had gone from wondering if this was just a wasted experiment to asking ourselves how fast we could get it into bottle so that we could share it with our Dashe fans.
Here at Dashe Cellars, we have always been known for our Zinfandels, especially wines that reflect the combination of New-World fruit and Old-World balanced style. We’re proud of being standard-bearers for that style of Zinfandel.
But every once in a while, it’s great to get back to our roots and make wines that we fondly remember from when we first met. The wines of the Loire are never far from our hearts, and these versions of Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc are some of our favorite wines in the Dashe Cellars lineup of wines. They are often our go-to wines when we come, tired from work, to pop open a cork and relax, sipping, at the end of the day.
Rene Calderon sat down with our DTC Manager, Stephanie Sawyer over a glass of wine recently (2017 Petite Sirah from the Todd Brothers Vineyard, one of Rene's favorites!). They talked about everything from his life transitioning from Mexico to Napa, California to building a career in winemaking. Toward the end of the bottle, they even started talking superpowers... enjoy the fruits of their hard work!
You have had quite an adventurous life! Starting in Mexico as a Philosopher and moving on to being a Winemaker in California. Can you tell me a little bit about your professional journey to get to this point, some of the steps that you've had on the way, and what inspired you to get into Winemaking?
Well sure, I landed in Napa from Mexico in 1996. It’s funny to me now that 1996 was the year that Dashe Cellars was founded and in that same year I arrived in Napa from Mexico. In Napa, there are two things that you do: you work in wine or you work with wine. I wanted to work with wine, in the production side of the business. I started working with Franciscan on the bottling line in the beginning of 1997. I worked on the bottling line for a couple of months and started moving up pretty quickly. In the nineties, there were a lot of production jobs available, so there was a lot of opportunity for growth. 1997 was my very first harvest working in the cellar; it was pretty easy work at the time. Digging out tanks, pumpovers, super-easy jobs, the very first jobs that they get you to do. You get a pump, you know how to use a pump, then do a pumpover and repeat it one hundred times. I loved the cellar, I loved the work and I still do. Once you learn how to do a lot of things, the work is very independent. I worked for Franciscan for about three years before moving on. Franciscan in a very large Winery, about half a million cases. At that point, I wanted to do more fancy, hands-on winemaking with a smaller producer. The winery that I moved to was Stags Leap Winery and they were making about 50,000 cases at that point.
I wanted to figure out if I really wanted to go back to school. In Mexico, I was studying to be a Philosopher, so I wanted to figure out if I was going to go back into this area of study and teach or if I wanted to do something else. Stags Leap was very small, the cellar crew was only five of us, plus the Winemaker and Enologist, I really liked working there. I really enjoyed working closely with the Winemaking staff, there was direct access to them. They oversaw all the work so I was able to see how they made decisions, how they worked with the wine, and they started to explain to me why things were important. This was a big influence on why I decided to go back to school and study Winemaking.
Spanish is my native language, so to dive deeper into the material I started with improving my confidence in English. My first ESL class was in 2003 at Napa Valley College and I transferred shortly to Oakland, I always wanted to live in Oakland. I love living in the city and I missed it when I was in Napa. I gained my transfer to UC Davis in 2008 and graduated 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Viticulture and Enology. I had worked in the cellar for ten years before taking time off to finish my degree full time, the only vintages that I missed were 2007, 2008, and 2009.
After graduation, I started with Wente Vineyards in Livermore for the 2010 vintage. I ended up working at Wente because I still was living in Oakland and wanted to stick around. Wente offered me a position in the laboratory, which was something I had never done before; it was winemaking by the numbers. I was out of the cellar and it was completely analytical, I enjoyed being able to bring my knowledge of the cellar into the lab without the context, with just the numbers. That helped me to put a lot of the theory that I had learned into practice. I was with them for three years and became the Assistant Winemaker for Dashe in 2013. My first vintage as Winemaker for Dashe was in 2018. When I was in Napa, I wanted to work with the best people in Napa. When I moved my career to Oakland, that’s what I applied myself to do, I wanted to find the best people to work for. By the time that this position with Dashe Cellars opened, I had already been trying to make myself the most qualified person for the job. I knew about Mike and his connection to Ridge, and I knew that if there would ever be a position working with him that I needed to be prepared for it. I don’t just want to make good wine, I want to make the best wine.
For me it’s never been about the romance of the industry, it’s about the labor of it. I LOVE wine, I really enjoy it. And drinking lots it of course, but that came after my love of making it.
As Winemaker, you are given more freedom to be able to influence the final wines. How would you best describe your styles of winemaking?
First, I would like to talk about the difference between being an Assistant Winemaker versus being a Winemaker. As the Assistant, you are learning the techniques through the Winemaker, through listening about what they are looking to produce and how the achieve it. You work on the given project throughout the year and you follow the instructions. Once you learn enough, your own experience leads you to knowing how to get to the end result. As Winemaker, I have the experience to be able to do that, and this comes with responsibility and the trust that you gain working directly with the Winemaker. I’m still learning, you never stop learning and every vintage is different.
With regards to my style of winemaking, I would say that I make clean wines. To me, clean means no defects, sparkle, bright colors that you are only able to get with a lot of labor. Prior to Dashe, I came from more industrial winemaking, so working in the cellar with Mike and Anne and learning their process of non-intervention winemaking was eye opening. What you do in the cellar is very important to the final result. The fruit gives you the aromas, and the process in the cellar gives you the bouquet. Everything from the fermentation, the barrel selection, to the rackings and more. The aromas that natural fermentation brings with the yeast from the vineyard work really well without manipulation. I enjoy bringing together my knowledge from both sides of the industry, the industrial side and the non-interventionist side, in order to make the best wine possible.
With Dashe, I’ve been able to work with the different vineyards and showcase these places that all create wines that taste very different. When you can taste the difference between one vineyard and another, that is the sense of place, the terroir. That is what the vineyard gives and with Dashe I’ve been able to work on this more, on how to respect the place. You can't learn about this stuff unless you work closely under a Winemaker for a couple of years.
What wines stand out in your memory as the most influential to your work?
I love California wines. I like to study California wines because I work to make sure that I have the tools to be able to improve what we have access to here. I like Monterey Pinot; I like Napa Cab; I love Merlot: it’s one of my favorite grapes. Working in Napa, I was able to taste some of the best Merlots. The best wine that I’ve ever had was 2003 Shafer Merlot. I was at Stags Leap at the time and since we were neighbors, I traded bottles with them and was able to taste it right off the line.
I always look forward to seeing what delicious things that you’ve brought for lunch, it seems like you have an eclectic palate. Is there a cuisine or a style of cooking that you are especially passionate about?
I like eating a lot. If I was to pick a specific type of restaurant, I would have to give it some thought. I like sauces as well as super spicy food with crunch. Szechuan and obviously Mexican food, especially when it comes to meats. One of the things that I enjoy so much about Szechuan cuisine is that it’s so alien to me. I didn’t grow up cooking it or with any of the spices around. Every time that I taste it, there is something different and I like the experience of it learning about these flavors. I am always adding something new to the flavor library that I am building in my head. When it comes to the wine, there is always a wine to pair with Szechuan as well. For something that is really spicy, I would probably pair it with a wine that is jammier, something with high pH. I like to pair overwhelming flavors in food with big flavors in wine, something spicy with a chewy wine. Every new Szechwan dish I taste is amazing. Mexican food is similar in that aspect, each region has a different style. But in all truth, I eat whatever is in front of me.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about different experiences of taste such as umami and spicy. When I say spicy, I mean the type of spice that you get in Mexican chilies. A secret of mine is that growing up, and even sometimes as an adult, I could drink an entire bottle of Valentina hot sauce. There is something about the acidity and spiciness of it, I will eat chips just to eat that salsa. I’m addicted to the sensation of it. It’s very similar to Szechuan mala, the scalding sensation that causes you to not be able to feel your mouth. I’m fascinated with the whole idea. The wasabi, mala, and chilis. These are all different forms of the experience of spice. It’s not about the aromatics or flavor, it’s about the physicality of taste. That’s what I really love about Petite Sirah, it’s the physicality of drinking. With this varietal and with other big wines, you really must tongue the wine, you have to slush your mouth around. I wish there were a wine that was really that profound in its aromatic profile, but for me it's all about the texture.
Do you have any advice for those that are looking to get into the production side of the industry?
Production is tough. There is a place for everybody in production, but make sure that you can work for 12 hours in a row. You’ll be wet, cold, and shoveling tanks out, but if you enjoy the idea of it then go for it. Production is not fun, but it is very satisfying. I like what I do a lot because it is very physical, it’s not romantic work but it is very rewarding work. To someone looking to get into wine production, I would tell them not to become enamored with the romance of it, instead look at what is actually means to work in the cellar. You have to really like the physicality of it, that’s what I really enjoy about the cellar. (interviewers note: I’m starting to realize why Rene has denied me a harvest internship for the past 3 vintages.) For someone starting out, I would recommend to work one harvest and if you enjoy it then stick with it.
What do you do when you aren’t working?
A lot! I enjoy reading comics and I spend a lot of time listening to audiobooks while I’m working. I go through probably 10 audiobooks between January and May, simply because it’s quieter in the cellar during that time. I like stories and hearing what people have to say, specifically fiction and high fantasy. Right now, I’m listening to Frankenstein, next I’ll move on the newest short stories by Stephen King. I spend a lot of my time in the music scene too, I go to a lot of heavy rock and roll shows. The funny thing about me? I like eating, I don’t cook. I love comics, I don’t draw. I love music, I don’t play. But I enjoy things for what they are, I like the creation. That’s why I’m so passionate about the winemaking, because I want to make sure that I can provide that kind of experience to the people who like to drink wine.
If you were to choose one superpower, what would it be?
Oh, I know this one, I’ve known it for a while. I would like the power of telekinesis. I would grab stuff from far away. Beer, come! Wine, come! Remote control, come! TV, on! Volume, down! I would get so much more done if I had this power.
It’s that time of year when we dive headfirst into all things Thanksgiving – bring it on! Last year I hosted 25 people at our Thanksgiving table. This isn’t the year for relatives to travel, so with everyone celebrating the holidays with smaller groups and mostly immediate family this year, there will be smaller portions which means less leftovers! One thing that will not change is the effort put into the meal.
In my humble opinion, the ultimate Thanksgiving meal is about so much more than just the turkey and sides. If ever there were a wine lover's holiday, Thanksgiving would be it. And one of the pleasures of my Thanksgiving is that every family member has a role in the big meal. My role is a peach. I'm the wine gal. It's a fine job for a number of reasons with my favorite being the many tastings I conduct leading up to the final wine choice. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it. I usually receive family advice along the way; don't bring anything wildly expensive and don't bring anything too weird. To fit the bill, the wine needs to be a crowd-pleaser and match the weight of the menu. No problem. This year, with a cellar full of artisan wines from Dashe, I think I've got it covered.
I’ve got a few tips that I’ve learned over the years regarding planning the wine for this delicious yet tricky wine-pairing meal.
How Do You Choose the Right Wine?
Here's an easy answer: No single wine will work perfectly with your entire meal so serve a few. Regardless of which wine you choose the style to look for is medium-bodied, fruity, and without a lot of oak which might overpower the food.
How Much Wine Should You Buy?
A bottle is about five glasses, so I go with a bottle for every two people. If you are serving wine before dinner, add a glass more per person to the equation.
Which is it, Red or White?
Either! Hands down my most favorite part of Thanksgiving is the stuffing. No questions asked. Using the stuffing as a wine guide: if you serve a basic bread-and-celery version, try a white such as Dashe Les Enfants Terribles “Concrete Cuvée” Chenin Blanc or a dry Riesling such as Dashe McFadden Farm Potter Valley Riesling. Add hearty mushrooms or sausage to that basic stuffing recipe then one of Dashe’s signature reds such as the bio-dynamically grown Heart Arrow Ranch Zinfandel would be the choice. But the best rule is to let guests drink what they like; be it red or white so plan to have both on hand.
With all that is going on in the world, Thanksgiving is a good time for us to count our blessings. Whether you are cooking at home for your family or taking advantage of the amazing take-out options available, I hope this special meal provides some comfort during these challenging times.
Family Stuffing Recipe
By Monica Chappell
As I said earlier, stuffing and I are BFF’s. It is hands down my favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal and as a result, I’m sharing my family’s super-savory recipe so look no further. Trust me, this stuffing with lots of gravy drizzled on top, Heaven! So, without further ado here it is.
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 1 cup celery chopped
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter plus 2 tablespoons cubed
- 1/4 cup dry white wine – something you would drink!
- 1 pound sweet Italian sausage meat removed from casing
- 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
- 1/2 pound day old Ciabatta bread cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- Pinch red pepper flakes
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- In a medium sauté pan add the onion, celery, 1 tablespoon oil and butter cook over a medium low heat for 10 minutes to soften. Add the wine and season with salt and pepper, simmer for about 5 minutes. Take off the heat and allow the mixture to cool.
- In a large sauté pan over medium high heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and Italian sausage meat and break up with a wooden spoon and cook until browned and cooked through, approximately 8 to 10 minutes.
- In a medium bowl toss together the celery and onion mixture, the chopped parsley, sausage, the Ciabatta bread and red pepper flakes. Combine all the ingredients.
- Whisk the eggs and add to the chicken stock, and 3/4 cup of the Parmesan. Gently place into an 8 1/2 by 8 1/2- inch glass Pyrex baking dish and top with the remaining Parmesan. Dot with butter. Place in middle rack and bake until top is golden brown, 45 minutes to 1 hour.