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Halleck Blog

Ross Halleck
October 23, 2015 | Ross Halleck

Getting Gold

It's been a whirlwind 6-months. From weeks of travel from event to event, it's all I could do to maintain my girlish figure and stay out of de-tox:-) I'm fortunate to comfortably maintain balance between indulgence, exercise, and meditation. 

At the end of the day, the internal metrics drive me. The "high-life" holds little weight against the feeling of peace. This path of making, selling, and sharing wine leads in both directions. It's easy to get swept into the excitement of working with incredible chefs, dining in the best restaurants, and traveling to destinations where friends are always waiting. These benefits are most enjoyed when the "home-fires" are burning within.

So it's been interesting to achieve so many accolades in the past months, a showering of attention. 

Not only have we won 8 Gold Medals in four national and international competitions, but the wine press has also taken notice. Dan Berger, probably the journalist I respect most, just rated ALL our current vintages EXCEPTIONAL, his highest. 

Further, I've been invited to host vintner events at the prestigious and historic Union League Club and Tennis and Raquet Club in NYC in February. Joined by the recent dinner hosted at the SF Olympic Club, we have over 450 years of collective history honoring our wines from these three august establishments alone. 

This has caused me pause; I'm a child of a mentor, Greg Lafollette. I couldn't be more grateful to Greg for all he shared with us: his sensitivity to the grape, discerning palate, and keen skills were the cornerstone for our brand. It was Greg's winemaking acumen that earned us our first achievement as the #1 Pinot Noir in the United States in the 2002 Pinot Noir Summit. And it is Greg's colleague and friend, Rick Davis, who has hung with us since Day-One, guiding and crafting, carrying on the tradition of making extraordinary wine.

But Greg's influence also guided us away from the competitive arena. He's been opposed to wine competitions of any kind. His observations are obvious: wine tastes differently to different people at different times in different places. So how can there be a reasonable way to judge, let alone score, any given wine. This argument away from the wine press and judging held strong weight to Jennifer and I. And we were selling all our wines. 

In 2014 we hit a wall. We simply couldn't afford to continue. This precipitated rethinking our mission, the search for counsel and funding. Both were readily available and with them came broader wisdom.

We were coached that to continue in this business required participation across all areas: organizations, competitions, and the press. So for the first time in a decade, early this year we began sending our wine to other people to evaluate. 

The results have been overwhelming. Every wine has won a Gold Medal, some more than one.

What's been the most surprising has been the response from you. I send newsletters almost weekly and post my blog at least every month. I receive kind words occasionally, but I don't write for them. I simply enjoy sharing and it supports our community through wine, shared interests, experiences and relationship.

But something shifted when we started announcing our wins these past months. Right away, I received replies to my missives: tons of "attaboys", "great work", "well deserved", and "keep it up". I felt engagement and encouragement. Sales picked up and everyone I meet smiles and congratulates me. And it feels great!

So I've shifted, too. It's not that my inner world is less important. It's not that these "outer metrics" of recognition mean any more. 

I've simply come to understand that we're all seeking connection. 

Often tragedy is the catalyst that propels us together in times of need. But celebration is an equally powerful driver. It brings us together in times of joy.

I'm honored and bouyed by people rallying to support our success.

Thank you.


Time Posted: Oct 23, 2015 at 7:49 AM
Ross Halleck
September 21, 2015 | Ross Halleck

The Pick, 2015 :(

Harvest is over! Yea!!!

Well... not "SO- Yea". It was a harsh year crop-wise. 

Last night at 8:00 pm, following a day of unprecedented heat, a crew of 7 men arrived after darkness descended on Halleck Vineyard. The intent was to pick the grapes chilled in the fog. 

But the fog never arrived, so the grapes were warm. It was a scorching day in Sebastopol; it reached 106 degrees. It's hard to believe. Especially when the low was 48 degrees!! Almost 60 degrees in variation in a single day.

By 8:00 it was probably in the 80s. Quite warm to be picking in the night. It was surreal being in a warm vineyard with head lamps bobbing in the quiet of darkness. No one spoke. The mood was somber.

Earlier in the afternoon, I went out to walk Franki at 5:00, still scorching, but waning. To my utter surprise, before we could leave the property, Franki sprinted full blast into the vineyard. He pierced under the bird nets, darting below the 10,000 volt electrical wires installed around every row to ward off the raccoons. Franki knows about those wires. He was a dog on a mission.

In a split second, over a hundred quail were swarming within the nets, capped from above and surrounded all around. And Franki was chasing every bird. I thought it would be a blood bath. I had no idea how they got in, as the vineyard is totally tented to protect from starlings, turkeys and quail. But they were in, and struggling to avoid the intrepid efforts of Franki, our VERY fast Basenji.

But then they were gone. It was like a magic trick. Franki had not caught a single bird. And the vineyard was empty. And I looked at the center of the vineyard and saw every cluster plucked to the skeleton.

So I walked around the perimeter to figure it out. The day prior, the vineyard manager and his colleague had been there to inspect the crop prior to pick. They had walked up and down the rows and inadvertently failed to seal the vineyard at several spots of entrance and egress. Further, some of the netting over the top of the vineyard had been breached. Perhaps it was the frantic birds tearing through; perhaps it was oversight. But the damage was done and the sources obvious. We lost a significant percentage of the crop just hours before the pick. 

When the crew arrived, I walked around the vineyard with our manager and pointed the points of avian entry. He just shook his head. 

Men worked and worked and worked. It was almost midnight when I got a knock on the door that they were finished. Given the time, I'd hoped against hope that it meant that grapes were discovered in parts I hadn't seen. But when the crop is lean, it takes longer to select and cut the clusters than when the crop is full. After over 3 hours of work, we were left with less than one bin full. 

I had dinner prepared for the crew on the back deck: a selection of personally made sandwiches, water, cut melon, and a variety of hot sauces. We sat quietly, discussing what we can do next year to avoid this year's misfortune. By midnight, they were off to grab a few hours sleep before their next job at 4:00 am. 

This morning, I was driving an almost empty 16-foot truck to the winery. I had 3 empty bins and one almost-full. The weight told it all. In a half ton bin, I was holding 630 pounds of grapes. They were delicious, to be sure. But I had an ill feeling all morning. To top it off, I took pictures and videos during the night to include in this blog and all were black.

Our decision whether to make the small harvest into wine or blend it into our Three Sons or Hillside Cuvees concerned me. The grapes will only fill a half barrel with wine; but we've decided to do so. The fruit is luscious. It will be a tiny 2015 release. The story will be retold during every bottle shared.

That's the reason for a vintage; it's oral history.

Time Posted: Sep 21, 2015 at 7:56 PM
Ross Halleck
September 15, 2015 | Ross Halleck

Shatter!! 2015

After three stunning vintages, back-to-back, 2015 has been challenging.  Though many immediately jump to the conclusion, "it must be the draught", in west Sonoma County, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it's just the opposite.

Halleck Vineyard has experienced "shatter". Grape shatter (or coulure in French) occurs when grape clusters do not develop completely during infancy. Either the grapevine's flowers weren't pollinated and never developed into berries, or the tiny berries fell off soon after they formed. This is referred to as "poor fruit set."

Shatter happens during the spring, triggered by rain, wind, rough handling, or extremes in temperature during bloom. Shatter can happen to any grape, but some varieties of grapes are more at risk, such as Pinot.

Flowers can be male, female or perfect. Nearly all Vitis vinifera grape varieties have hermaphroditic (perfect) flowers, containing functional male and female parts.  Each of the five stamens (male pollen-bearing organs of the flower), consists of a pollen-producing anther and a filament or stalk. The female pistil consists of a stigma, a style, and an ovary. The stigma serves as the receiver of pollen. 

Cool, wet or even overcast weather can reduce fruit set. At each stage (floral initiation, development, bloom and fruit set) the weather can cause damage. Cold and overcast weather prior to bloom leads to problems with floral development. Cold weather during bloom can cause a delay in the blooms development and lead to reduced set.  

Rain during bloom is the ultimate fear of any grape grower and occurred in early March of this year, 2015.  Rain physically inhibits pollination and fertilization. Hence, we have a spotty crop of less than 30% of the previous three vintages of 2012, 2013, and 2014. So here we are, suffering from a draught with a fraction of the annual expected rainfall; then we get two days of rain in June, during the 36 hour window of pollination.

Shatter is the perfect term for this condition; the hopes and dreams of a bountiful harvest are shattered!.  In truth, there's always some amount of shatter.  It's not feasible that every flower forms into a berry. The vine wouldn't be able to provide nutrition to all of the fruit and ultimately die. As with everything in life, there are varying degrees of shatter.  Some are expected and acceptable. While others are devastating. 

With our harvest days away and our Harvest Party just a couple of weeks, this is an anxious time. 

2015 is one of those difficult years.

Time Posted: Sep 15, 2015 at 7:59 PM
Ross Halleck
May 11, 2015 | Ross Halleck

I Love This Job!!! The making of Vintage 2014

I have attended, paneled and spoke at wine events for a long time. When I began, I was an enthusiast: tracking wines, winemakers, countries, regions, varietals, and styles. 

Now I am a vintner.

I have forgotten most of what I knew about the world of wine; I've become myopic in my new career and old age. I share a profession with practitioners of varied backgrounds and there is a broad swath of activities that "vintner" covers. Rarely does one person do them all. These include:

  • Viticulture (farming of the grapes and collaborating with other viticulturists)
  • Monitoring the maturity of grapes to ensure their quality and to determine the correct time for harvest
  • Crushing and pressing grapes
  • Monitoring the settling of juice and the fermentation of grape material
  • Filtering the wine to remove remaining solids
  • Testing the quality of wine by tasting
  • Blending the wines from different lots to determine final bottling.
  • Placing filtered wine in barrels or tanks for maturation
  • Preparing plans for bottling wine once it has matured
  • Selecting, purchasing, designing and producing all the components of bottling (glass, labels, capsules, corks, shippers)
  • Making sure that quality is maintained when the wine is bottled.

There are many things not included, but fall into my job description. These ALL have to do with the "business" of winemaking. I'm more involved in some aspects than others, but I touch them all. This is also true of Rick Davis, our winemaker. And of Jennifer Halleck, my business partner and ex-wife.

We operate in close communication and collaboration throughout the year. Much we can do by phone and email, each of us acting independently to get the necessary parts done.

But at this time of year, we circle the wagons. This is my favorite!  It's in the spring that all the vineyards picked from the previous vintage have become wine-in-barrel. They've been contained for 6-8 months. Each is expressing characteristics of vineyard, vintage, and cask. 

This year, we had 50 full barrels of wine to work with. The barrels hold about 60 gallons, give or take. This represents approximately 25 cases. The wine from each vineyard has been contained in a unique collection of French casks, representing different coopers (barrel makers), forest sources, toasting regimens (fire applied inside the finished barrel during manufacture), and age. It is truly amazing how impactful a barrel is to the flavor of the wine. And even more amazing how many barrel variables impact the wine, even down to individual barrel makers, everything else being equal.

So it is our work to make sense of this amalgam of liquid and determine all the wines that will be made from the lot. We decide which wines will be single vineyard designated (wines from a single vineyard), blends, the names, and the composition of each. 

One would think it easy to take a single vineyard, The Farm Vineyard, let's say, and call it a wine, combining the barrels together. But this is not how to make the very best wine from that vineyard. As I mentioned, each barrel imparts significant components of flavor. So it is our job to taste each of the barrels, say nine in this case, and see which combination make a wine that expresses itself the best. And we do not need to use full barrels. We can employ partials. Oh, and we have the liberty, per law, to use as much as 5% from other vineyard sources, just in case we can elevate that wine with the infusion of more magical elixir. And let's not forget that we also must be concerned about how much wine we can sell and the price. 

That is for the single vineyard designated wines; by appearances, the most straight forward. For the blended wines, we have more latitude, choices and complexity. There are laws that dictate how much wine from specific sources need to be included to maintain the AVA (American Viticultural Area) designation of either the Russian River Valley or Sonoma Coast. 

This year, we threw in a monkey wrench with Pat Kuleto's vineyard from Napa. This gave us more juice, but from a place far from our home turf and AVAs. So it required care to determine what to do with this wine: do we have more than needed, or do the barrels combined add up to a complete wine, or would the wine benefit from wine from our area to elevate that vineyard, and what do we do with any extra so as not to compromise the designations of our other wines?

We ended up with six wines for 2014 as a result of approximately two days of work. This is how we did it.

Prior to the work-day, Jennifer and I review the previous year of sales, our wine club memberships, and the growth year-over-year. We then look at the vineyards and our wines by SKU (shelf keeping unit or the names of the wine, i.e. Three Sons Cuvee, Clone 828, Estate Grown, etc.). We project what we can sell the next years by channel and SKU: through tastings, wine club memberships, internet sales, and restaurant sales. To a great extent, this is divination. Every business has to do it. They are called "projections" and it is always surprising how close you can come just by setting the intention. In this case, we are projecting five years out, as our wines for any given year generally do not hit the market for two years, sometimes more. 

We provide numbers to Rick for the current vintage. He must apply the wine in barrel, in gallons, to a rough mix that aligns with our projected sales/desires. He understands the wine in the barrels from working with us since our start in 2001. We generally bring in new vineyards, like Kuleto. But we have maintained the cornerstones of The Estate, The Farm Vineyard and a few others for many years, given understanding of our program and flavor profiles. He makes calculations and proposes blends on paper.

Day 1

On the first day, Rick collects individual samples from all of our single vineyards into bottles. Every bottle has an equal portion from each barrel holding the vineyard wine. This gives us a fair and representative sample of our vineyards. We have eight vineyards for 2014. These samples await in screw cap laboratory bottles when we arrive in a conference room at the winery. Also on the table are a dozen wine glasses, graduated cylinders, a long pipette, masking tape, flasks, pens and notepads. 

The first thing we do is taste through the vineyard samples and comment. We do not swallow a drop. We have flasks for spitting and it isn't pretty. We take personal notes. A casual conversation ensues full of chuckles, side comments, critique, aha's, and general observations. We are formulating opinions about the vintage and vineyards. There are generalizations across the board, indicating vintage character. Then there are specifics to the vineyards we've noted in the past. 

Once we have a sense of the vineyards, Rick presents his suggestions from the Rubik's Cube of possibilities for the percentages to make up our desired wines. These are only on paper. After review and discussion, we go to work constructing them, using the graduated cylinder for measuring into wine glasses. 

We taste through these in similar fashion: casual comments, critiques, observations. We all have our opinions and they often do not agree. So we try variations. The pipette is used, as small amounts can make HUGE differences in flavor. These small amounts translate into big gallons in the overall schema. This conference room is our lab for concocting the perfect blends. 

This goes on for hours until we have all agreed with the flavors in the glasses, their names, the amounts of each from our vineyard sources, and the proper percentages to maintain AVAs and vineyard designations. When it's over, however, it is less than success. We still have another FULL DAY of tasting work.

Day 2

After a week, we convene again on the winery floor. All 50 barrels are laid out in a grid, end to end, side by side, with space to walk along the rows. The barrels are all labeled: HL (for Halleck), cooper, toast level, forest source (in some cases), age of barrel, and vineyard. They are grouped into general clusters by vineyard for ease of navigation.

On our clipboards are the results of tasting the previous week, including percentages. The amount of wine in the barrels by vineyard are divided amongst the individual wines to be bottled. Now it is time to use the barrels to create new samples in glasses. Every vineyard is in a complement of oak barrels by age: new, 1 year old, 2 year old, neutral. They also are made by different coopers, or barrel makers. These alone have different flavors. 

We start by vineyard. We pull the bung, or plug, from the top of the barrel. Using a wine thief, we draw wine from a single barrel into a glass. We smell it, take notes, and pour it back. We do this through the entire line of barrels for that vineyard. This gives us an idea of the character of each barrel. Then we discuss the barrels. If we are blending for The Farm Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir, for example, we start with the best barrels for that particular wine. They are ALL good, mind you. But some sing and some SCREAM!!! As I said, this is an AWESOME job :-) We eliminate the singing barrels, but also look for individual character that may not be screaming on its own, but we sense will add something special to the overall blend. Then we taste and spit through our top selections. 

When we have a sense of the vineyard and our top selections, we look at our proposed formula. The Farm Vineyard blend may include a skosh of the Estate, or a dash of the Marshall, or a dribble of the Hass Vineyards. To be a vineyard designate, it cannot contain more than 5% of anything else. And that "anything else" has to be the same AVA. 

We go through those vineyards and smell through, taking notes. By elimination, we choose the best. We may only need a few gallons. We taste. We very roughly pull from each barrel the percentages we deem correct to create the final blend into a glass. This is nothing less than alchemy. 

We have a VERY different wine than we tasted in the conference room the week prior. Those conclusions were just the starting point. Rather than equal parts of every barrel, we have specific barrels represented by character. The flavors are amazing and we keep going, trying different barrels with the formulas to detect nuance. 

We worked almost the entire day on the barrel floor. As you can surmise, by the end we have a mix of everything left not in our vineyard designated wines. This goes into one of our blends, depending on the sources of the fruit: Russian River Valley fruit goes into our Three Sons Cuvee and Sonoma Coast fruit goes into our Hillside Cuvee. We taste through the results and we can move wines back and forth to achieve greatness in both. 

This is not science. Science contributes an important lens to monitor and guide some decisions: brix (sugar), acidity (pH), volatile acidity (VA), tannins, alcohol level, protein precipitation, bitartrate precipitation, malolactic fermentation, press cuts and many more.

But winemaking is a greater part art and mysticism. Magic is what happens. 


Time Posted: May 11, 2015 at 12:23 PM
Ross Halleck
April 15, 2015 | Ross Halleck

Kvelling: Three Sons

Kvelling is a Yiddish term that essentially means “feeling pride”.  But there is something more and less that makes it significant. It is more from the heart and less from the ego.  Coming from the Jewish tradition, I love how Yiddish can be so expressive and nuanced. I am kvelling about my three sons!

You probably think that I am referring to our recent Halleck Vineyard 2013 Three Sons Cuvee, Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir. I am not.

I want to kvell about my boys, Connor, Adam and Quinn Halleck. 

Pride is a loaded term that I am cautious about: I rarely use it and I make great effort not to feel it. Why, you ask? 

The answer is that I find little to be proud about. For the most part, I have been awarded gifts of time, place, background, intelligence, and health that I had little to do with; but all contribute greatly to feeling “well pleased”. A more appropriate and fulfilling response is simply gratitude. Gratitude feels great; pride has a bit of sullying mixed-in that leaves me uneasy. 

Yet with my sons, I take full permission to feel the utmost pride! Though, again, much of their current blissful balance and accomplishment is entirely out of my control. I am taking liberties;)

My sons are all in Sonoma County right now. This is wondrous and I know will be short-lived. It means that Connor, my oldest at 22, has graduated from NYU Tisch School of Film and Television a semester early. And with honors. 

We are all planning our trip to NYC to enjoy his commencements. This includes his brothers, my parents, Shelly and Lee, Jennifer, and me. Friends and Wine Club members will also join us for the week of celebration. Everyone is healthy and excited to see our first son walk down the aisle wearing a different color tassel to signify his status as an honor student. I am so proud of him. And grateful, too. He saved his family an extra semester of tuition ;-)

Connor is staying with me and Jennifer, borrowing our cars, and self employed with projects that he and his brother, Quinn, conjure up. Last summer, they worked on a film being produced in Sebastopol with James Franco that will soon continue. They are producing videos for local businesses, creating a YouTube channel for The Barlow. 

Connor is interning at a feature-film visual effects company with its roots in Industrial Light and Magic. Surprisingly, it is just down the road in Santa Rosa. He goes in daily, learning the software to make him employable. All the interns that he met when he began now have jobs. Connor is projecting his potential income as an animator to cover his student loans. What a mensch!

Adam, at 20, is clear-headed and stable, living an enviable life as a young adult. He is enjoying the benefits of a wonderful loving relationship with Audrey, his sweetheart of two years. She is delightful and one of the family, joining us on vacations and for holidays. They share a sweet three-bedroom home in Santa Rosa that Audrey’s father bought for them to live in. They pay no rent, but manage the rentals of the other two bedrooms to their friends. The house is modern, well furnished, clean, comfortable, in a nice neighborhood with lots of space. Nothing like how I was living at 20.

Though skateboarding is his primary passion, Adam continues at school, shifting his focus from graphic design to viticulture. We continue to benefit from his design skills, but he has decided that the family business is simply too good an opportunity to let slip. Since Jennifer and I anticipated needing another employee later this year, we are feathering Adam in. He attends our weekly business meetings, completes orders, goes on restaurant tastings with me, and cooks or pours at our Halleck Vineyard parties. He is a consummate professional with people.

As Halleck Vineyard is only part time, he also busses tables at one of the top restaurants in town, K&L Bistro. He is posturing for a wait-staff position. It is a pleasure to see him quietly through the window when I am downtown in the evenings. Last week I headed to his house to enjoy “Game of Thrones” on their TV with he and his household. It is an odd feeling being hosted by my son in his domain, but I love it.

Adam and I go to dinner together. Or I have the sons at my house. Our relationship is maturing, as are the topics we discuss. He is working on his moves and I am grateful to be consulted. He is a responsible young man and most independent.  

Finally we come to Quinn. Quinn is graduating from high school with close to a 4.0 GPA. Given that he held the lead roles in two huge high school plays this year, is always producing short videos for contest submissions or work, and is an ideal candidate for “senioritis”, this amazes me. 

Quinn has been level-headed, despite two rounds of "hell-week" when he went to school first thing in the morning and did not return until midnight in final preparation for his theatrical performances. 

He was stellar as Ernest in “The Importance of Being Ernest”, and Fagan, in “Oliver”. For “Ernest”, he delivered over 240 lines with the wit and charm intended by Oscar Wilde, and in an English accent. We laughed until we cried. And our friends from San Francisco expressed that the acting and production rivaled any at ACT (American Conservatory Theater, in SF).

Quinn’s interpretation of Fagan was uniquely his, blending the flambouyance of Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean” and the guilelessness of Topol as Tevya in “Fiddler on the Roof”. No one believed he was a high school student with his long grey beard, amazing gypsy costume and alto vocals. He crooned such familiar songs as, “Pick a Pocket or Two” and “Reviewing the Situation”. When the show was over, he held court on stage with the 50 cast members and 30 support personnel that contributed to the performance. He led the cast in expressing their gratitude and commanded the audience not as Fagan, but Quinn.

To top it off, Quinn will receive almost a full scholarship to Chapman University, Dodge Film School in Orange, CA. Chapman is considered one of the top film schools in the world, and eclipses all with its facilities. We have yet to hear his housing allowance, but he is guaranteed four years of support based on merit. Jennifer took Connor and Quinn to SoCal for Spring Break. With his admission fees paid, he picked up his first Chapman University T-shirt. His entire family could not be more proud.

We are kvelling.


Time Posted: Apr 15, 2015 at 5:15 PM
Ross Halleck
March 24, 2015 | Ross Halleck

The South, a Vintners Journey: Part 2


It was a rainy seven hours of driving to arrive in Charles City. Charles City County lies north of the James River between Richmond and Williamsburg along Route 5, a National Scenic Byway, part of which was once known as The Great Road. The eastern end of it follows part of an ancient Algonquin Trail that began near Jamestown. It is considered the earliest developed English thoroughfare in Virginia. The road was an important route used to transport goods and forward communications between settlements in the earliest days of inhabitancy. 

I arrived at Upper Weyanoke, the family vacation home of Freddie and Lawrence Gray, poised above the James River. Upper Weyanoke is part of the larger family plantation of over 2000 acres where Lawrence grew up spending summers. Charles City is comprised of large agricultural tracts. The James River at that point is a mile wide, appearing as a lake, leading into the Chesapeake Bay and then into the Atlantic. 

I was met by a warm hug from Freddie and shown into the house. We were immediately graced with the swoop of a bald eagle in front of the window overlooking the water. We both regarded this as a good omen.

I was led to an entire floor and wing with 3 bedrooms, kitchen and laundry room in my area of this palatial home. They call it, "The Farm". Freddie fell in love with Halleck Vineyard, "The Farm Vineyard" Pinot Noir, on a visit to an old friend in Sebastopol last year. She bought a case for Lawrence's birthday and it is now their "house wine".

Dramatically situated on the banks of the James, the center core of Upper Weyanoke is believed to have been erected in the 17th century as a stronghold against Indian assault following the massacres of 1622 (347 colonists were killed, including five on the Weyanoke property). Although no one knows how many garrison houses may have been built after the massacres, Upper Weyanoke is the only one that remains. It is believed to be one of the oldest houses on the James River. There are still original floors, fireplaces and doors in this section of the home. This land is where the first slaves landed in the New World and was an active port for some time. In the 40s, an addition was constructed to accommodate a family. Five years ago, Lawrence and Freddie began the three year project to bring the home to its current grandeur. It stands as a showcase of good living. There is an astounding chef's kitchen, guest rooms, guest houses, a "scary house" from the 1800s that will be a future project, gorgeous gardens, two boat houses, docks, a stunning pool house, barns and plenty of spots to enjoy a cocktail. It is a place to PARTY!!!

And you could not ask for a nicer or more gracious couple of people to party with. 

After a long shower and shave, Freddie and I had our first cocktail. Then we headed to chef Annie Chalkley's home for our staging dinner. Freddie and Annie invited a dozen friends to preview the dinner planned for the following night at Upper Weyanoke. The event was auctioned to benefit the World Pediatric Project, an amazing organization that travels into the Caribbean to assist children with medical care. More on that later.

I did not realize it, but this was also my "coming out" party for the Charles City community of Annie, Freddie and Lawrence's friends. Annie and I had collaborated on the menu via correspondence. Freddie did not want to waste the effort on just one dinner, so they planned two: one for their friends and the other for the winners of the auction lot. 

The dinner was wonderful and the wines were perfect matches. Annie and I made some minor tweaks, but we were good to go. And I had a whole new circle of friends.

The following day, Freddie and Lawrence took me on the rounds. First thing, we attended the last fox hunt of the season. It was held on the Tyler estate, called Sherwood Forest, original home of President John Tyler (1841-1845) and still one of the homes of the current generation of Tylers. We were served port, sherry, bloody mary's and some special little sandwiches of Virginia ham. The dogs were out and all the riders were decked in full regalia. Grooms were polishing the boots of the riders and the horses' manes and tails were braided. We were met by all the friends of the previous evening. Jeanine and Susie were riders, but the rest of us watched in the morning chill. They looked gorgeous on their gussied-up steeds in their gussied-up outfits.

When the horses were off, we made quick exit to meet Andrea Erdas at her family plantation, Westover Plantation. This august home is steeped in history and continues the glow of its noble past. Westover is considered one of the most perfect examples of Georgian architecture in America. Its elegant yet simple form and proportions, combined with a commanding setting overlooking the James River, convey the essence of 18th century artistic ideals adapted to a wealthy planter's style of living in Colonial Virginia. It is a living museum, converted into a thriving business to support the extravagant expenses required to maintain it. It is regularly a site in films, there are tours of the home and grounds, and it serves as a venue for weddings and celebrations. Andrea and Rob have taken over the family business from her mother and father who live in another beautiful home on the grounds. 

From Westover, we headed to Tayloe and Susie's plantation, Upper Shirley. Again, a gorgeous period dwelling, with a history of modernizations to bring it to a state for fine living. But Tayloe has a more interesting story that prompted my visit; he has planted 35 acres of vines, is building an ambitious 15,000 foot tasting facility and venue, and is devoted to making great wine in Virginia. He has planted Petit Verdot, Viognier, Merlot and Tannat. This is a "growing" movement in Virginia, I was informed, with restaurants focused entirely on featuring Virginia wines. Tayloe was enthralled with the Halleck Vineyard wines he tasted at Annie's home, so was excited for me to visit. As soon as we got to the vineyard, we left everyone in the dust, so to speak. His trellising and pruning techniques were interesting. The soil could not be more different than in California. It is rated the most productive soil in the world. There is plenty of water and plenty of everything else. How does one stress a vine in such conditions? This is his challenge and we could have talked for hours. And we certainly will, but time was not our friend, so we headed out to another estate. 

Joining us at Upper Shirley was John Hinson. His wife, Jeanine, was one of the fox hunt riders. He drove up in his fully restored, 1962 Austin Healy. It was truly a work of art. He offered me a ride back to tour his place, Evelynton Plantation, so I hopped in. He placed his cute dog on my lap and we were off like a speeding bullet. I almost soiled his car I was so frightened. We were on a narrow country road, unimproved, which exited the Upper Shirley estate, going 80mph! I tried to enjoy it for about 15 seconds until I realized I was not. My youthful days were behind me with the scenery and I was fear-struck. It only took a word and we were cruising at a pace in harmony with our bucolic surroundings.

Evelynton, a Georgian Revival manor house, was built in 1937 on the site of a previous structure which burned in 1862. Evelynton was the site of fierce Civil War skirmishes in 1862 at the end of General George McClellan's Peninsula Campaign. J.E.B.Stuart led the Southern offensive in the Battle of Evelynton Heights. The original house was burned during that conflict. John and Jeanine bought the property in 2008 and fully restored it to all its glory. 

From Evelynton, Lawrence, Freddie and I took a short stop for lunch at the historic Cul's Courthouse Grill, built in 1872. This was the site of another historic event, Lawrence's 50th birthday. This special occasion, he took his spot with the band and relived his wayward youth as a rockstar. Crooning songs and hammering away on his axe, he entertained guests as they danced in celebration of entering his sixth decade. 

With the morning gone and dinner approaching, we headed back to Upper Weyanoke for a waking tour of the extended family's 2000 acres. Childhood stories were shared of cannon blasts, swimming parties, sleep-overs in the caboose, and bombing around the property in go-carts. We toured the family manor and chatted about the other family members. Some much needed exercise was gotten.

After our walk we settled in for a nap and dinner preparations. This would be the Main Event: the dinner for 12 that auctioned to benefit World Pediatric. This organization does extraordinary work to relieve the suffering of children through medical treatment of entirely treatable maladies. More importantly, the money donated achieves a 4x multiplier: this means that for every dollar received, $4 worth of care is delivered. This is because ALL the docs and nurses donate their time. The money goes only for medication, supplies, transportation, and a modest amount to sustain a staff to organize all the services delivered. So the funds we generated during my visit translated into approximately $40,000 in benefits for these unfortunate children. It makes one feel good to do good. And even better to do great.

Freddie, Lawrence, and I welcomed our guests as the sun was setting over the James River. Annie and Rhonda held the fort in the kitchen. The dinner was won by Janie Armfield and her husband, Billy. They were joined by their son and daughter, their spouses and a few friends. They arrived in a shuttle, arranged by Freddie, to save anyone from driving. Cocktails, bubbly and beer was enjoyed to warm the cockles and loosen the tongues. It was a gorgeous evening with temps in the high 60s. 

We served as kitchen and wait staff for our guests. I LOVE that! It was a pleasure to be server and sommelier, retreating to the back with "the help", to discuss the event and our next tasks. The five of us worked like a well-oiled machine, smiles and joy throughout the meal. 

Since I was not dining, I needed to be "the talent" between courses; so I took stance at the corner of the table and improvised, telling stories, describing the wine, teaching how to taste, and answering questions. The time filled easily and our guests barely realized the transitions.

It was a marvelous evening that turned into night. Everyone was well-pleased. Before leaving, a few members asked to join our Wine Club, and Janie committed to outbidding the event for next year. So our benefit to World Pediatric was doubled again. And our community expanded.

The following day I had one more event to host to cap my southern trek. This time it was in Richmond, VA. Again, on behalf of World Pediatric, I was asked to conduct a tasting at Diane and Murray Wright's French chateau-style home. This was won by Blair and Darcie Nelson, who hosted 20 friends for Halleck Vineyard wines. This added to our contribution, lifting the benefit to children for my time in Virginia. We also gained another three Wine Club members.

I left the Wrights to find my way to Freddie and Lawrence's Richmond home, just a couple miles away.Freddie and their spunky 14 yr. old daughter, Arlo, met me at the door. Arlo was decked in lacrosse attire, sporting a couple of "sticks". Freddie showed me to my lofty suite above their four story home to change and get ready for a driving tour of Richmond with she and Lawrence. We enjoyed dinner at a favorite Italian haunt, got home early, and I crashed into a 9 hour sleep. This was the most I had slept my entire trip. I awoke refreshed; after packing, Freddie and I walked a few miles around the neighborhood and the University of Richmond. Very fond farewells were bid and I headed home.

"Building Community Through Wine" is more than a tagline. It is impossible to express how grateful I am to be doing this work. I am privileged to apply myself to what I love, share it with people around the country and the world, make a living, build a legacy for my children, and contribute to making the world a better place. 








Time Posted: Mar 24, 2015 at 12:39 PM
Ross Halleck
March 24, 2015 | Ross Halleck

The South, a Vintners Journey: Part 1

It is impossible to characterize a region from a single journey. One collects experiences and attempts to connect the dots to create a complete picture. We do this throughout our lives and even with our lives. But the magic is in the moments rather than the lines that we construct. 

My trip carried me from Atlanta, to the Great Smokey Mountains in Tennessee, into the Appalachian hill country of North Carolina, to the great plantations of eastern Virginia, and on into the historic urban enclave of Richmond. I am grateful for the time shared with friends, old and brand spankin' new. Much good was enjoyed and done.

Starting in Atlanta was fitting, as I have missed it. Since 2008, when the economy took its tailspin, I haven't visited. But prior, I was there several times a year. Halleck Vineyard wines were served in the finest restaurants across the region. I attended tastings, hosted dinners, participated in the High Museum Wine Auction, one of the most prestigious in the country, and built a community of friends. So I was excited to return to Atlanta.

It started in a shoe store of all places. But this is a story for another blog, sparked at the Ahwahnee Hotel last November in Yosemite National Park. I left Foot Solutions in Sandy Springs with new friends and several pairs of shoes. If you go there, talk to Brian or Marcia :-)

We have a wonderful Wine Club crew in Atlanta with almost 40 members. It was fitting that we convene at Restaurant Eugene. Linton Hopkins won the James Beard Foundation Award in 2012 for the best chef in the Southeast. If you consider that New Orleans is part of the Southeast, not to speak of all the other states, cities and towns, this is a very big deal. He and his wife, Gina, have hosted me numerous times for dinner during my visits. They can seat only 16 for private dining, but they squeezed in 20 of us and took care of our every need. And no one felt crowded. 

The meal was organized by another Gina (pronounced Jenna) and Angelle. I could not have been bookended by two more gorgeous women, inside and out. I met new friends over the joy of sharing delicious food, every course expertly paired with each of our wines. It was my pleasure to work closely with Juan Cortes, Eugene's sommelier, in dialing-in the menu. But it was the artistic command of the kitchen that delivered on our efforts. Kudos to the chefs!

A portion of the proceeds will benefit the High Art Museum, a cultural icon of Atlanta and the entire Southeast. It was a privilege to return on a mission to enjoy and give back.

My stay in Atlanta was short. The next morning I headed northwest, through Georgia, hopping across a short span of North Carolina, into the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. I was bound for Gatlinburg, Tennessee, a tourist town on the rim of the Park, to visit a dear friend and Baptist minister, Bill Black. 

Bill and I met on the ski slopes of Colorado during the Beaver Creek Food and Wine Festival. We started chatting on a chairlift and became instant friends, skiing and tracking with each other during my work at the Festival. Bill is the first Baptist minister I've met. We connected on a spiritual level that could never be constrained by his Christian orientation or my Jewish roots. He has been out to California a couple of times since our meeting, so it was my turn to visit his turf.

Driving through the Great Smokeys was eye-opening. I didn't even know it was a National Park! It is 30 miles wide and 70 miles long with very few roads. It is the most visited National Park in the US. To describe it as gorgeous, diminishes. Upon entering, I was welcomed by a herd of lounging Elk. They were reintroduced into the park about 10 years ago and have been thriving. From the top, at the borders of North Carolina and Tennessee, there is an overlook where you can peer across the unbroken landscape at the "blue smoke" rising off the hills, the source of its name. This mist is a function of water evaporation from the forests and it is nothing less than mystical to witness.

It did not prepare me for Gatlinburg, however. Gatlinburg is a cross between Disneyland and Las Vegas, situated on the edge of the Park. I arrived on a Monday. It was jam packed with people, large (mostly) and small, on the streets and sidewalks shopping, carrying ice cream cones, cotton candy, and popping in and out of the tourist attractions, bars and eateries. It is no more than 20 blocks long and there are 6 pancake houses. The throngs of tourists must really like their breakfasts.

Bill met me in town and immediately introduced me to "inner Gatlinburg". We had a Parton's Deli sandwich made by Dennis, who took over the sandwich shop from his father. Dennis was my age and had not traveled more than one trip to Texas his whole life. He made a mean sandwich, steamed in a contraption out of the '50s. 

After a brief pitstop in Bill's picturesque quaint mountain home just outside town, he drove me back into the Park along swollen Little Creek to the historic site of Cade's Cove. I was expecting water, but Cades is a cove defined by the circle of mountains surrounding an ancient settlement. It was first inhabited by native Americans, then by generations of settling families. They were cut off from anything that they could not supply for themselves by days of travel, so this fecund paradise fulfilled their every need through agriculture and hunting. 

As the afternoon waned into the evening, we toured some of the early homes, barns and church that remain. We walked the cemetery, noting the names of the families and the generations represented since the early 1800s. We parked ourselves on a knoll, surrounded by the Cove, drank wild moonshine and talked. Because talking is where our friendship began and stands as the basis of its flourishing. 

I spent a couple days touring the area with Bill. We took a steep hike off-trail up a creek to a remote waterfall he had not visited for 20 years. I bought a hand-made broom by one of the artisan families, the Ogles, that have continued to ply their trade for generations. 

And then we made plans for Bill to join me with friends for my upcoming vintner dinner in another part of Appalachia in North Carolina, near Asheville. I left the following morning.

I headed out to visit my friend and amazing chef, Susi Gott Seguret, at her family homestead outside of Marshall, North Carolina.

Susi met me in Asheville to take care of some last minute shopping for the meal. After a short stop at the farmers market, we headed to the Grove Park Inn, made famous by its early resident, F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote several books there while battling alcoholism and depression.

This hotel is in the grand style of lodges, reminding me of the Ahwahnee in Yosemite National Park. Perched high above town, it sports huge fireplaces blazing with split tree trunks, ringed by rocking chairs. It is elegant and monumental in scale. We enjoyed a delicious meal of fresh trout on the veranda overlooking all of Asheville. 

After lunch we toured some galleries, for which Asheville is famous. I had been told it was the Bohemian mecca of the south and it had all the charm that implies. 

At afternoon's end, Susi and I caravanned to her family homestead almost an hour away into the hills. She is an amazing woman, having resettled on her family's 200 acre homestead after living in France for 20 years.

She accommodated me in the "luxury suite", an old cabin without running water and no mobile connection. But it did have electricity, so was the only building on the property that had an electric heater. All the others were heated by wood stoves. My cabin was 100 years old, and one of a dozen buildings of its vintage on the farm. Susi's 50 year old main house had a chef's kitchen, centered around a wood stove that is still used. 

The family meal that night could have been enjoyed in a chateau in Provence, but it was punctuated by the banjo playing of "Daddy", who is suffering from dementia, and a bottle of Halleck Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc. Our wines, in fact, share good company on the rack with French Burgundies and Bordeaux in the kitchen. 

The performance was spectacular. It was an extraordinary and unique cultural experience. 

The following day, we headed to Three Graces Dairy, down the road a piece, to pick up cheeses for the evening's meal at Laughing Frog Estate. Diane tasted us on some of her selections, then we headed back to the homestead for an extended tour of the property. 

We visited Susi's parents compound where she was raised. Susi is almost 10 years younger than me. Until a teenager, the family shared a large room. Much of the inspiration for the compound came from Cade's Cove in Tennessee, from where I had just come. They had no running water, electricity, and obviously no television. Susi was bussed to school an hour each way daily. Her teenage son still follows this regimen, leaving home just after 6:00 am to catch the bus.

The compound has grown since then, adding a few rooms, plumbing (forced by the county) and electricity. But her parents still heat and cook with the wood stove, cutting the wood at over 80 years old. Susi's daddy cannot do nearly as much due to his illness, so the extended family pitches in to care for him and keep the place up. We headed up to another cabin, much newer but in traditional style, that Susi's brother built by hand to serve as an art studio for Susi's mom. She uses it as a daily retreat for her water colors. 

After the tour, Susi completed the prep for the meal. We headed out to Laughing Frog for our vintner dinner. 

I was completely taken aback by the Laughing Frog Estate, home to Kelley and Stephen Wilkinson. The pictures I had seen display a large rustic lodge peeking out of a wooded background. The web site also appeared somewhat rustic, given my background as a marketing guy and coming from Silicon Valley. These, coupled with my introduction to Appalachia from Susi's family home, set my expectations. 

The home was absolutely elegant, modern, gorgeous, of impeccable taste and unexpected. The main part of the house is a log home, built in classic planed timber style of the region. It is enormous, surrounding a large brick pass-through fireplace and rimmed by windows. Susi's father laid the first rounds of the foundation and taught a class in log-home building on the site when the house was first under construction 18 years ago. Then, the Wilkinsons appointed the home with an extravagant chef's kitchen, marble floors, gorgeous furnishings and completed an addition in classic European style. This section of the house has a great room that towers 35 feet, large stained glass windows, balconies overlooking the room, wainscoting throughout, coffered ceilings, and stunning art everywhere. There are outdoor decks and terraces with views that take your breath away.

When I got over my shock and a quick tour, Susi and I got to work to prepare for dinner. We set the table and got the meal on the stoves and into the ovens. 

The musicians arrived. Al Petteway and Amy White, married for 20 years, were Grammy Award winners. Their music graces the background of the Ken Burns film, "Civil War". For our meal, they composed and performed pieces to go with each course based on the menu and description of the wine. Playing guitars, a banjo and a harp, the styles ranged from locally inspired string picking to rock to folk. 

My friend, Bill arrived with his guests, Clair, Debby and George, to fill the table. We dined for 6 hours serenaded by Al and Amy. We enjoyed blessed conversations reserved for those who can spend the time, are lubricated by wine, and have all their needs being met. 

When the dinner was complete, we retired to the Great Room for a finale concert. 

There were dishes and a kitchen to clean, so Susi and I stumbled out at 1:30am, tired and well-pleased for our effort. 

By 10 am, I was heading to Virginia. I stopped at my first gas station to use the bathroom.



Time Posted: Mar 24, 2015 at 12:39 PM
Ross Halleck
March 10, 2015 | Ross Halleck

Southern Charm

With time to cool my heels, I am gearing up for two big weeks of travel ahead. I write as I look out at the fog billowing in from the coast. I was hoping for an afternoon cycle, but visibility precludes.

I just returned from six days in Utah where I enjoyed the most epic skiing of recent years. I began the trip near Provo, at the home of my dear friends Leesa and  Gary Lee Price. Adriana picked me up at the airport for the drive south. We scoured the countryside for cigars before arriving at Leesa and Gary's. Gary is a sculptor working on the biggest monument to be on this coast, the Statue of Responsibility. It will the national bookend and same size as the Statue of Liberty. I had the opportunity to tour Gary's studio, full of varying models of the over 300 ft. statue. 

I met Leesa late last year at CEOSpace and we became instant friends. Gary and Leesa joined me at Halleck Vineyard for lunch soon after to discuss their project with Potenza, who has been working on her "Hearts of the World" for over 20 years. Bonds were established and I am excited to witness one of the greatest artistic endeavors of our time. We hope to have Potenza's Heart flags encircling the island which will host the Statue of Responsibility on the San Diego coast. 

The next morning, I headed to Salt Lake City to meet my friends, Bob and Jean Jacques, for our ski adventure. We were housed in a 50 year old cabin on the mountainside ski resort of Alta. Friends of 40 years, I met Bob and Jean Jacques as young men in Kenya in the mid-1970s. We were joined by an old friend of Bob's, John (now a Halleck Vineyard Wine Club member :-). Our food was snow-catted up prior to arrival. We had to take two lifts up the mountain in a white-out blizzard, wearing backpacks with our gear;  then we skied down the mountain, off-piste (not on the ski runs, through the trees) to find our cabin. Bob has owned the cabin for over 30 years, so it is well maintained and he guided us without getting lost. I would NEVER have found it on my own!

The five days of skiing were the best. Classic Utah Champagne Powder. We barbecued ribeyes and burgers, roasted a turkey, enjoyed pasta and ham for dinners. Lunches were sandwiches of the same. Someone's wines graced the table, punctuating the communion. And those cigars were also enjoyed. Four old guys camping in luxury. Snow whirled around for two days, then we had 3 bluebird days. Wed and Thursday offered fresh powder fields under sunshine, but required some serious ski-hiking and traverses up. Kicked my sea-level ass! And I was the youngest among-us! It was awesome!

I headed home on Saturday for a charity dinner at Halleck Vineyard for "Rooms That Rock", an organization that decorates hospital rooms for children with cancer to soften their institutional experience. I was partnered with chef Charlie Ayers, owner of Calfia in Palo Alto. Charlie was the head chef for Google, one of their first employees.  Calfia is one of the most popular amongst the "tech-set" in Silicon Valley. He was joined by his colleague, chef Frank Otte, who has travelled the world on private jets serving the business and political elite for most of his career. He now oversees all of Calfia's bustling catering business. They did an amazing job, comparable to any of the best meals I have had at Restaurant Picco, Gramercy Tavern, or even Per Se.

The three of us worked seamlessly, though having never met. It was a love-fest. Every desire of or philanthropic guests was catered to. I look forward to hosting a Halleck Vineyard event in Palo Alto in the not-distant future.

My next stop was intended to be Houston for the Grand Opening of Peli Peli in the Galleria. Unfortunately, due to an administrative snafu, permits were delayed. So the events are postponed and I have a few unexpected days to myself. 

On Saturday before dawn, I head to Atlanta. Dinner is on Sunday at Restaurant Eugene to benefit the High Art Museum. Atlanta is a favorite town. Before the market shift, Atlanta's top restaurants served Halleck Vineyard wines. I made lots of friends and Wine Club members. This will be a wonderful home-coming for me. Chef Linton Hopkins received the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef in the Southeast in 2012. Get the picture?! This is primarily a farm-to-table dining experience. I have had the privilege of joining Chef Linton and his lovely wife, Gina, many times during Atlanta stays. The dinner has been sold out for weeks. I am excited!

Then I begin a road trip through the South. I head north with my great ski buddy, soul brother, and Baptist Minister friend, Bill Black. He lives in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and has plans to show me around. He introduced me to real Moonshine. We met years ago on a ski lift in Beaver Creek Colorado during a wine event. This has been followed up by over a hundred oysters at Nick's Cove, skiing in Tahoe, and a night of Moonshine out of a Ball jar.

We will head to Asheville, North Carolina, to meet up with my friend, Susi Gott Seguret, Executive Director and Chef of the Seasonal Culinary Institute. Susi has created a one-of-a-kind experience. I have never had the pleasure of dining at this level. We will be in a remote location, the Laughing Frog Estate. Susi, VERY French trained, has created a menu to pair with each of my wines. You can click to view the menu. Then she has engaged a Grammy Award-winning ensemble to correlate musical arrangements with each dish. How is that for pairing. 

The following day, Friday, March 20, I head up to Charles City, Virginia to the home of Annie Chalkley, chef extraordinaire. Our friends and Wine Club Members, Freddie and her husband, Lawrence, own a family estate called, The Farm. I met Freddie in Sebastopol at a "girls party" where I served my wines and, of course, she fell in love with Halleck Vineyard, The Farm Vineyard, Pinot Noir. She bought a case for Lawrence's upcoming birthday. She and Lawrence have sponsored three events, two for charity, while I am in the neighborhood. Annie is the chef. So I continue with Annie, Freddie and Lawrence on Saturday and Sunday at an event each day with Halleck Vineyard wines to meet new friends and grow our community.

Freddie has promised a wonderful tour of southern culture, hospitality and comfort. Hopefully the weather will be warm enough to enjoy it. I have not been through the South since I was a child. To be carried along on the hearts of so many generous and caring people promises for a meaningful trip. 



Time Posted: Mar 10, 2015 at 2:44 PM
Ross Halleck
February 25, 2015 | Ross Halleck

Tasting 14 Vintages!!!


To describe making wine on the Sonoma Coast and in Russian River Valley as a privilege would be a gross understatement. Further, it would be vastly minimizing if I merely said I was grateful.

It is challenging to describe one’s inner journey. Being a traveler, both outwardly and inwardly, I have found the poems of Jalaluddin Rumi, the Persian Sufi mystic of the 13th century, to be the closest I have come to approximating life experience in words.

I have been honored to work with Coleman Barks, one of the worlds great poets, and the man primarily responsible for translating the works of Rumi for the Western World into close to a dozen volumes. A Rumi poem that we worked on translating together, published in his recent book, Soul Fury, begins to unwrap the essence:

“There is a time in the making of wine

when the must rises off and goes out across town

with a fragrance that wakes the heart.

That scent comes from the great soul-source

and returns to that, within each individual heart.”

Last week, my family, our Wine Club members, and friends, had the opportunity to taste through a yet unfinished life’s work of making wine. It was a party. Or two, really. We began with a single bottle of our 2001 Tandem Winery, Halleck Vineyard, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir at our intimate dinner at Restaurant Picco in Larkspur.

Two days later, at the release party of our 2012 Halleck Vineyard Estate Grown, Pinot Noir, we opened over 21 more wines. Leading with our 2002 Estate Grown, we continued through a selection of library Pinots from Halleck Vineyard up to and including our 2014 Saralee’s Vineyard Dry Gewurztraminer.

Music was provided by Matt Silva and the Silvatones. Oysters were served by our neighbors from the Bodega Bay Oyster Company in Bloomfield, just down the road. Gourmet Chicken Tikka Masala Tacos and Steak Tacos were developed, prepared and served by my son Adam, and his friend, Cooper. Both also work at K&L Bistro in Sebastopol.  

Certainly the Pinot Noirs, up to 2012, stole the show. But I include our 2013 Sauvignon Blanc and 2014 Dry Gewurztraminer to describe the breadth of what a short era as a winemaker can contribute. 14 vintages, 25 representative wines. I may be approaching my half-life as a vintner. 


When we spread the bottles across two cloth laden tables, it was impressive. We had done this before at our Harvest Party, held at Pat Kuleto’s home, in November. But our planning and timing did not allow me to take notes on the individual wines prior to the party ensuing, so it was an opportunity lost. This time, we did not allow people to begin partaking until I completed tasting all the wines and taking note. There were guests awaiting, chomping at the bit. 

What follows are my notes, taken on my back deck, overlooking a picture-perfect panorama of Sonoma County to the northeast, with Mt. St. Helena of Napa towering in the distance. It was 73 sunny degrees on a mid-February afternoon.  I was in a t-shirt.


2001 Tandem Winery, Halleck Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, Pinot Noir

Color: Bright garnet, translucent without a hint of ambering at the edges

Nose: Shades of red fruit, earth, and the gentle aroma of “wet sex” giving hint to Burgundy

Flavors: Red fruits, strawberry, tart raspberry, pomegranate and still bright acids, declaring youth and vitality. These were balanced by very fine tannins, still crisp but refined, deep earthy tones of forest floor, mushroom, and a long finish of fruit complemented by white pepper. Breath-taking to drink our first wine. Even more so that it is expressing beautifully with years ahead. Gorgeous!!


2002 Halleck Vineyard, Estate Grown, Sonoma Coast, Pinot Noir

Color: Rich ruby with a lightening toward the edges, perhaps hinting at moves to amber.

Nose: Red raspberry with earthen tones

Flavors: Bright red raspberry and strawberry leading. Crisp acidity with balancing earthy notes of forest floor. Fine tannins mid-palate with a long lingering finish of fruit and white pepper.


2003 Halleck Vineyard, Three Sons Cuvee, Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir

Color: Beautiful ruby red with gentle lightening at edges to a translucent pink.

Nose: Red cherry with earthy undertones, suggesting a perfect balance of fruit and earth, leaning toward earth

Flavors: Earth and dark fruit, fresh. Minerality mid-palate with clove and earthtones with a long fine pepper finish


2004 Halleck Vineyard, Estate Grown, Sonoma Coast, Pinot Noir

Color: Slightly cloudy, deep garnet

Nose: Earthy with gorgeous complement of seasoned fruit; not at all stewed

Flavors: Bright acids with great red fruits and fine tannins. Long finish of white pepper and lingering crisp fruit notes.


2004 Halleck Vineyard, Three Sons Cuvee, Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir

Color: Bright ruby-garnet, translucent with hinting at amber toward edges, but not quite there yet.

Nose: Super bright fruit of red cherries and tones of spice

Flavors: Bright fruit and red cherry, crisp acids and minerality mid-palate. Structure of mellowing tannins, hints of cinnamon and gentle forest floor. Long lingering finish. 


2005 Halleck Vineyard, Three Sons Cuvee, Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir

Color: Bright red luminescent, slightly ambering toward edges.

Nose: Touch of fruit, caramel and vanilla with earth undertones

Flavors: Bright acids, dark fruit and earth leaning toward Burgundy. Finely grained tannin structure with mid-palate minerality. Long finish of fruit and tartness.


2005 Halleck Vineyard, Hallberg Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir

Color: Bright red luminescent, gemlike, lightening to pink edges

Nose: Bright cherry with touch of earth

Flavors: Stunning! Crisp acidity and minerality with perfect balance of fruit and earth notes. Long finish of earthy spices.


2005 Halleck Vineyard, The Farm Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir

Color: Translucent shimmer of garnet color

Nose: Spicy with red fruit and earthy hints

Flavors: Bright red cherries, acidity, and smooth silky tannins. Soft earth undertones with gentle spice notes. Long finish with balance of earth spices and red fruit. 


2006 Halleck Vineyard, Three Sons Cuvee, Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir

Color: Bright gem-like ruby to garnet; no ambering

Nose: Hints of carmel and cherry

Flavors: Explodes with bright cherry fruit and crisp acidity. So youthful! Silky tannins with hints of earth, but definitely fruit-driven. Long lingering finish of fruit and spice.


2006 Halleck Vineyard, Hallberg Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir

Color: Deep garnet, slightly ambering toward edges.

Nose: Hints of cherry and deep earthiness

Flavors: Rich mouthfeel of cherry and dark fruits with great acids and refined tannins. Long finish of earth, spice and fruit.


2006 Halleck Vineyard, The Farm Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir

Color: Brilliant opalescent, leaning from garnet to purple. Clean to edge.

Nose: Dark cherry to earth-tones

Flavors: Cherry lead, but mid-palate of forest and minerality, complemented by earthy spice tones. Long finish and rich mouth feel. 


2006 Halleck Vineyard, Estate Grown, Sonoma Coast, Pinot Noir

Color: Pure red to ruby gem

Nose: Bright pomegranate to cranberry with earthiness of wet-sex

Flavors: Stunning!! Red fruit with bright and crisp minerality mid-palate. Deep complement of earthiness and fine tannins for profound complexity. Long spicy finish of white pepper, fruit and earth combined


2007 Halleck Vineyard, Three Sons Cuvee, Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir

Color: Deep red to purple, bright and shimmering

Nose: Cherry and earth

Flavors: Perfect balance between earth and cherry notes. The fruit is fully present, as the scent of forest floor and gentle mushroom give way to flavors of clove and pepper on the palate. Neither leading. Long lingering finish.


2007 Halleck Vineyard, Hallberg Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir

Color: Deep luminescent purple and garnet.

Nose: Hints of cherry and deep earthiness

Flavors: Rich mouthfeel of cherry and dark fruits with great acids and refined tannins. Long finish of earth, spice and fruit.


2007 Halleck Vineyard, The Farm Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir

Color: Ruby to purple. Clean to edge.

Nose: Earthy and fruit nose hinting of wet sex

Flavors: Cherry lead, great mid-palate of acid and minerality, complemented by earthy spice tones. Long finish and rich crisp mouth feel. 


2007 Halleck Vineyard, Estate Grown, Sonoma Coast, Pinot Noir

Color: Pure red to ruby translucent

Nose: Bright pomegranate to cranberry with earthiness of wet-sex

Flavors: Brilliant!! Red fruit of fresh cranberry, raspberry and pomegranate with crisp minerality mid-palate. Deep complement of earthiness and fine tannins for deep complexity. Long spicy finish of white pepper, fruit and earth combined


2008 Halleck Vineyard, Three Sons Cuvee, Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir

Color: Deep garnet to purple, bright 

Nose: Cherry and earth

Flavors: Perfect balance between earth and cherry notes. Crisp with bright acids. Deliciousness across the palate, front-to-back. Long lingering finish of black pepper.


2008 Halleck Vineyard, Hillside Cuvee, Sonoma Coast, Pinot Noir

Color: Deep garnet/ruby, bright 

Nose: Red fruit and earthtones

Flavors: Perfect balance between earth and red fruits: fresh cranberry and raspberries. Crisp with bright acids. Brightness and luscious across the palate, front-to-back. Long lingering finish of white pepper.


2008 Halleck Vineyard, The Farm Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir

Color: Bright deep reds. Clean to edge.

Nose: Carmel and vanilla with gentle cherry nose 

Flavors: Cherry lead, mid-palate softening fruit, complemented by earthy spice tones. Long finish and rich feel.


2008 Halleck Vineyard, Estate Grown, Sonoma Coast, Pinot Noir

Color: Pure red to ruby translucent

Nose: Bright pomegranate to cranberry with earthiness of wet-sex

Flavors: Gorgeous!! Red fruit of fresh cranberry, raspberry, strawberry and pomegranate with crisp minerality mid-palate. Deep complement of earthiness and fine tannins for Wow! complexity. Long spicy finish of white pepper, fruit and earth delicately balanced, but a powerhouse of a wine.


2009 Halleck Vineyard, The Farm Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir

Color: Deep, dark, purple almost opaque, but revealing light when held up

Nose: Black cherry nose mixed with spice, elements of white pepper, vanilla, clove

Flavors: It has balanced acidity with brightly polished high notes of dark cherry, yielding to fine-grained tannins, superb structure,  crisp acids and subtle forest floor in the mid palate. The acidity carries into the finish combining sweet fruit with earth and white pepper to give a long, luxurious finish.


2011 Halleck Vineyard, Hillside Cuvee, Sonoma Coast, Pinot Noir

Color: Translucent ruby to garnet.

Nose: Bright fresh cranberry, red raspberry and strawberry mixed with spice notes of white pepper and earthen floor

Flavors: The brightness carries through to the palate, filled with flavors of pomegranate mixed with a panoply of red fruits, spices, white pepper with a subtle rich minerality. The mouth-feel integrates earthiness with the fresh fruit and fine tannins in the mid palate.  The finish is long and rich, revealing silky tannins combined with emerging cherry, gentle minerality, lustrous acidity and white pepper.


2012 Halleck Vineyard, Three Sons Cuvee, Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir

Color: Bright gem-like ruby to garnet, translucent

Nose: Deep cherry with complement of earth-tones

Flavors: Probably our finest Three Sons Cuvee to date. Well structured, a perfect blend of earth and fruit flavors.  Bright cherry notes lead with brilliant acids that peak your palate, and decked-out with complementary oak. Mid palate expresses with cinnamon and cloves with fine tannins and hints of forest floor. It ends with black pepper spice and a long silky lingering finish that will last minutes if one can wait that long between sips.


2013 Halleck Vineyard, Little Sister, Russian River Valley, Sauvignon Blanc

Color: Light hay, luminescent with brightness and clarity

Nose: Neutral citrus, floral with hints of fresh sea breezes over a beach

Flavors: Bright acidity, neutral and broad citrus notes, offering a mid-palate of flinty minerality, a hint of  tart pineapple, passion fruit and tender salinity on the back palate. The finish is crisp, long and lingering, for which Halleck Vineyard wines are noted.


2014 Halleck Vineyard, Saralee’s Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Dry Gewurztraminer 

Color: Luminescent blond with brightness and clarity

Nose: Lychee, rose petals and a hint of vanilla

Flavors: Gentle acids that blend with minerality on the mid-plalate, offering flavors of lychee, rose petals, and a touch of floral, vanilla and ginger with a lingering cleansing finish of fine spice.

Time Posted: Feb 25, 2015 at 8:15 AM
Ross Halleck
February 3, 2015 | Ross Halleck

Preparing for War

With the warm weather lingering and the ground still moist, we are in preparation for bud break. We like to do this when the ground is soft because, as the rain abates (which appears to be early again this year), the earth becomes like cement. Any work that requires digging is tripled in difficulty and time. At this time we are pruning, doing trellis maintenance, irrigation inspection and repair, and critter control.

Many do not realize, but critters are the bane of all farmers, not the least of which are we vintners. Our pesky intruders include starlings, wild turkeys, gophers, yellow-jackets, and worst of all put together: RACCOONS.

Each intruder requires its own adaptation to keep our babies safe from harm.

For starlings, we net the vineyard. For many, this simply means draping every row with plastic bird netting, knitting them together with clothes pins and plastic eating utensils woven between the nets to hold them, and pinning them to the ground.

Because of the turkeys, however, our approach must be more drastic. Since turkeys can walk at waist height through the vines, they can easily peck through the bird netting, walking down individual rows and grabbing grapes with little impedence. This requires, instead of just draping the rows, tenting the entire vineyard in netting, pinning the nets to the ground to block every row. If we did not have to get into the vineyard throughout the growing season, this would not be such a big deal. But because we do work in the vineyard weekly for one thing or another, the effort at lifting and climbing under the nets to access every of over 50 rows is more than a nuisance. Further, the nets are just below standing height. So work is always semi crouched. It is expensive and uncomfortable. 

Yellow jackets were a conundrum for a decade. These aggressive insects, known as wasps in the midwest, pierce the fruit and suck out the innerds. They leave hollow grapes in their wake. Some years they are negligible in impact; others, they can take 20-30% of a crop. We used to buy disposable traps over the internet and hang them throughout the vineyard at relatively close intervals, perhaps 2-3 per row. They are not cheap, but when purchased in bulk, a reasonable cost for the crop that they save.

A few years ago, however, we were entirely out-gunned. We were swarmed with these creatures and could only watch powerlessly as they filled our traps and wasted our crop. 

Fortunately, in Sonoma County, there are resources for befuddled farmers. We were directed to a private service, licensed by the county to serve farmers with weekly trapping services for yellow-jackets. They start early in March with specific traps baited with pheromones to attract the queens. The theory is that if you catch a bunch of queens, the nests will not produce the workers that invade the vineyards. But it is impossible to catch them all. So by June, other traps are distributed to catch the workers. This is DEFINITELY not cheap. But they have been effective at diminishing crop damage to single digits. 

But our greatest nemesis has been the raccoon. Our vineyard, nestled in the woods adjacent to a riparian environment, has become a major attractant in our neighborhood. Raccoons have come, multiplied and set up permanent homes all around our vineyard and even under our decks. They are intrusive, fearless, vicious, intrepid, and voracious vermin. They carry spores that are dropped in their scat that can kill house pets just by sniffing. And they deposit everywhere, seemingly for spite. We literally wake up every morning with droppings at our doors, on our outdoor dining tables, on the seats, and on the tops of our garbage cans. 

If we leave a door open, they are not shy about coming in the house. They invade the garage in search of animal food. They tip over and spill our garbage cans foraging if they are not locked tight.

But worst of all is the damage they have done to our vineyard. We lost the entire crops of 2010 and 2011 to raccoons. We trapped and relocated them, spread mountain lion and coyote scat (predators), layed lion urine-soaked hay all around the vineyard, and shot them. But we were so out-numbered that our efforts were fruitless. Even ones we drove to distant locations of almost an hour's drive returned. And I became scarred by all the death I perpetrated. What had previously been adorable creatures who I felt privileged to share the earth with became monsters I wanted dead. It was war.

Finally, in 2012, I called the County. I had not heard stories of crops being annihalated by raccoons, so I did not expect any answers. And I really did not get any, except to learn that some of my tactics were illegal. Though it is encouraged to trap raccoons, you cannot let them go. Especially somewhere distant. If they carry disease, you infect healthy populations. You are supposed to kill them. But the only legal way is thru euthanasia by the County. And it costs plenty per animal. Imagine loading a cage with an angry vicious animal in the back of your truck and driving 30 minutes each way to a county location to have the animal killed. I sometimes caught two a day. It seemed ridiculous.

So I was referred to an outfit called Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue, headed by a kind and soulful woman named Doris Duncan. She adopts, nurses and releases orphaned and injured animals of all ilks, including bats, foxes, skunks, mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats, badgers, rabbits, weasels, owls, hawks, vultures, and, yes, even raccoons. You can imagine how she must have felt when I shared my story of trapping and shooting raccoons enmasse. But, compassionate as she is, she didn't hint of her sentiments other than care for me.

She sent out a young man, Michael McGuire, to assess the situation. Michael was a precocious 19 years old. We talked; then he walked the property, inspected my basement, under my decks and all around the vineyard. The following day he arrived with bags of coyote and mountain lion scat, spread them around the vineyard, and shared an idea. He suggested that I install wiring around every row, attached to chargers, to deliver low amperage shocks to any vineyard intruder. His idea seemed to have merit and I believed it came from authority. So I asked for an estimate.

He provided an estimate the following week and we were off. I did not realize at the time that Michael had never done this, nor had it been done anywhere before. Further, Doris, his boss, knew nothing about it.

After several weeks of tried and failed attempts, and a heartful come-to-Jesus meeting between Michael, Doris and myself when she discovered how much time and money he was spending without her knowledge, Michael's idea saved Halleck Vineyard. It was a true odyssey with a happy ending.

We now employ Michael annually, supporting the great works of Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue, to keep our vineyard free of raccoon infestation. He is responsibile for our waging passive war: inspecting the lines, freeing them of shorts and impedence, maintaining the chargers, and rewiring when necessary.

This year we are entirely retooling, now that we have a solution, and replacing all the wooden stakes that hold the wires with metal ones. I should have known this would be a problem, but Michael was SO confident :-)



Time Posted: Feb 3, 2015 at 8:39 PM