My wife and I do more than our fair share of wine tasting. From time to time I have a wine tasting experience that stands above the rest, and is everything I’m looking for – great wine and commendable service in a relaxed environment. It’s those such experiences that are the focus of this “No Reservations” series. Why “No Reservations”? Because I can honesty say I have “No Reservations” about recommending the winery anyone who is looking for a great wine tasting experience. This is my first post in the series, and it’s a two-for; the La Rochelle and Steven Kent Winery in Livermore, California.
It’s been a couple of years since my wife and I went to one of the other of these co-located wineries. The last time we visited we went to Steven Kent, so we decided to try La Rochelle this time around.
Both wineries are part of the Steven Kent Portfolio owned by Steven Kent Mirassou. He is a member of six generations of “America’s oldest winemaking family”. The Mirassou family has been growing grapes and making wines in California since 1854. That’s when Steven’s great-great-great grandfather Pierre Pellier, who sailed from the Port of La Rochelle, France, arrived in San Jose with wine-grape cuttings from his brother Louis. It was Pellier who introduced Pinot Noir to California. Eventually Pellier’s son-in-law, Pierre Mirassou succeeded him and the name of the family winery became known as Mirassou Vineyards.
The Mirassou winery and brand were sold to Gallo in 2003. Steven Mirassou purchased the La Rochelle brand (named for aforementioned Port from which his progenitor sailed) from his cousins, fifth-generation family members, Daniel and Peter Mirassou in 2005. That leaves Steven as the only family member connected to the family winery who still owns a wine brand.
The Steven Kent Winery was started in 1996 with the mission…
…to make Cabernet…in the Livermore Valley that rivals in quality the greatest red wines made anywhere in the world.
The winery sources fruit from five vineyards in close proximity to the winery, including what many consider to be the Livermore Valley’s best vineyard, the Ghielmetti vineyard.
The La Rochelle winery was started in 2005, with a vision to produce hand-crafted, world-class Pinot Noir from the finest vineyard sites in California and Oregon.
Our mission at La Rochelle is a simple one: to make California’s best, most interesting, most collectable Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
The winemaker is Tom Stutz, who was formerly the winemaker for Mirassou Vineyards.
In addition to the Steven Kent and La Rochelle brands, the Steven Kent portfolio also includes the Lineage brand, its flagship wine made from the five Bordeaux grape varieties sourced from the Ghielmetti vineyard.
On to the wine tasting! We opted for the Reserve Room tasting, which is a sit-down tasting featuring a flight of La Rochelle Wines, and a flight of Steven Kent Winery wines. Greg, our tasting room attendant, was knowledgeable, and friendly.
My tasting notes on the wines follow:
La Rochelle Flight:
- 2010 La Rochelle Chardonnay Morelli Lane Dutton Ranch – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
Golden yellow with sweet fresh bread, tropical,and apple aromas. On the palate, it’s light bodied, well-balanced with surprisingly good acidity and apple, pineapple, vanilla flavors with a bit of mineral undertones. Long finish. (91 pts.)
- 2005 La Rochelle Pinot Noir San Vicente Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Monterey
Ruby color with earthy, spicy, red fruit aromas. On the palate, it light-bodied, and silky smooth with a core of sour cherry,and baking spice flavors. Medium-long finish (90 pts.)
- 2009 La Rochelle Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
Dark ruby color with intriguing, aromatic cherry, raspberry, spice, and a hint of floral aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, and silky smooth with bright acidity and cherry, raspberry, spice, and a hint of mocha flavors. Long finish 100% Pommard clone (92 pts.)
- 2009 La Rochelle Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch Campbell – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
Dark ruby color with ripe black cherry, pencil eraser, and spice aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied and elegant with dark cherry, and spice flavors. Long finish. (91 pts.)
Steven Kent Winery Flight:
- 2009 Steven Kent Petit Verdot Ghielmetti – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
Opaque violet color and lifted violet, mixed berry, spice and a hint of earth aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, focused, with vibrant acidity and blackberry, black cherry, dark chocolate, black currant, and vanilla flavors. Long finish. (93 pts.)
- 2009 Steven Kent Cabernet Sauvignon Home Ranch Vineyard – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
Dark garnet color with reticent aromas of dark fruits, dried herb, and hint of eucalyptus aromas. On the palate, it medium/full-bodied with dusty tannins, and cassis, plum, black cherry and vanilla flavors. Long finish. (91 pts.)
- 2006 Steven Kent Cabernet Sauvignon Smith Ranch – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
Garnet color with slight pale meniscus, and earthy red fruit, cedarwood, and spice aromas. On the palate between light and medium-bodied with black cherry, cassis, and vanilla. Medium-long finish. (90 pts.)
- 2008 Steven Kent Petite Sirah Timeless – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
Opaque violet color with complex black and fruit, smoked meat, earth, and roast coffee aromas. On the palate it’s medium/full-bodied with sweet well-integrated dusty tannins (I’m partial to wines with a bit of grip;-), and blackberry, black raspberry,and vanilla flavors. Outstanding P.S.! (93 pts.)
My wine of the day? That’s a tough one! All things being equal, as the saying goes, it’s a toss up between the Petit Verdot, and the Petite Sirah. But in wine, as (mostly) in life things are seldom really equal are they? The first one to come to mind…the Petit Verdot!
But all the wines were outstanding, and share an impeccable elegance and balance.
The tasting included three cheeses (St. Andre Tripe Creme, Manchego, and Blue Castello),and a delightful Olive and Fig Tapenade. My favorite wine and cheese pairing was the St. Andre and the Chardonnay.
La Rochelle and Steven Kent Winery are a must if you’re tasting wine in the Livermore Valley. In my view, they are the standard bearer for the Livermore Valley.
- Address: 5443 Tesla Road, Livermore Valley, CA 94550
- Phone: 925-243-6442
- Open Hours: The Barrel Room: Daily 12 to 4:30; The Reserve Room: Thursday through Sunday, 12-4:30
- Tasting Fee: $10 for the Barrel Room with a choice of choice of La Rochelle or Steven Kent Winery Flight; $20 Tasting Fee for the Reserve Room (sit-down tasting) – Flight features small-lot or Library selections from La Rochelle Winery and Steven Kent Winery. The winery also offers a Summertime Patio tasting with live music, food and specialty vendors for added enjoyment every Saturday. No schedule posted as of now. Last year it started up around Memorial Day and ran through September.
- Food Available: Yes
- Picnic Area: Yes