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March 24, 2021

Dreaming About Grapes: Two New Wines, Upshot White & Red

Upshot is an iconoclastic new brand that was recently introduced by Rodney Strong Vineyards.  In creating both the red and white Upshot wines Justin Seidenfeld, the estate’s winemaker, followed his passion for blending different grape varieties.  A native Californian, Seidenfeld has a long history of working with some of the state’s best grapes, first as an intern at Iron Horse followed by a stretch at the Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley.  Stints at Estancia, Clos du Bois and Simi further deepened his appreciation for California’s fruit as well as his curiosity about the true blending potential of different grapes.

Seidenfeld sources the fruit for his wines from some of his favorite California vineyards.  The various grapes are fermented individually and then blended together.  Summing up an overall description of both the red and white wine, Seidenfeld said, “They are succulent and wonderfully fruity.  These are not overly subtle wines, they are just enjoyable.”  

I wholeheartedly agree with Sidenfeld’s description.  The blends will vary every year, but the current white and red vintages are both enticingly fragrant and quaffable.  The White Blend, for example, is dominated by barrel fermented Grenache Blanc which contributes an overall creaminess to the wine.  Generous amounts of Zinfandel and Merlot in the Red Blend add further zest to the wine’s rich berry flavors and enduring finish.

Both Upshot wines have uniquely attractive, interesting and award-winning labels that offer more than just a pretty picture. Siedenfeld, a self-described “science geek", played a role in their design.  The labels are dominated by a graphical “calendar” in the form of a circular chart that offers details of the harvest and production of the wines including harvest dates and production details.

As I imagined the details of dozens of grape varieties swirling around in the winemaker’s head all day, I asked Seidenfeld if he sometimes dreams about grapes.  Turns out he does: “Whenever my wife and I have a fight I find myself afterwards dreaming about grapes,” he said with a grin.  

Upshot White (California) White Blend 2019 ($19):  Upshot White blends together Grenache Blanc (53%), “white” Pinot Noir--i.e. no skin contact (18%), Gewurztraminer (16%), Viognier (8%), and a “splash” of Sauvignon Blanc (5%).  This bright and lively white wine offers generous stone fruit aromas and flavors balanced by crisp acidity and a satisfying finish.   Fruit sources:  Paso Robles (53%), Mendocino County (16%), Lake County (14%), Monterey County (8%), Sonoma County (9%).

Upshot Red (Sonoma County, California) 2018 ($19):  This wine blends together Zinfandel (37%), Merlot (34%), Malbec (20%), Petit Verdot (5%) and Riesling (4%). With ripe and juicy red fruits plus subtle hints of floral in the background, this generously textured and flavorful wine is well balanced and food friendly.
Posted by Marguerite Thomas at 3:21 PM

March 3, 2021

An Interview with Jason and Flora Chang of Family Owned and Operated Nine Suns and Plinth

The Chang family purchased a one-of-a-kind property atop famed Pritchard Hill in Napa in 2010.  They redeveloped the vineyard and built a winery with architectural design elements informed by the land's topography.  Each section of the winery has a distinct design of its own, and each is as visually striking as the next.  The winery exhibits the perfect marriage of creative design and functional utility. 

Visitors to Nine Suns are treated to spectacular views and in the tasting room engage in a casual, down-to-earth experience with wines that merit serious attention.  Hospitality is the focus here.  You will not experience a host rattling off statistics about oak percentages and discussing pump-overs while pouring wine for ten other visitors.  Instead, you will be privately toured by either Jason or Flora, who oversee the winery.  Their focus on personal interaction and relationship development has allowed Nine Suns to thrive in an area Colgin, Bryant Family, Chappellet, Continuum, David Arthur, and Ovid call home.

Jason and Flora recognize that wine is not just about quality and craft but about people and their experience with the wine, which, in part, inspired their new passion project – Plinth.

I recently spoke with Jason and Flora about their unconventional path to wine, passion for eno-hospitality, and their new undertaking:

Can you tell me a little bit about your upbringing and how you both got into the wine industry?

Jason and Flora candidly admit they had little to no experience in the wine industry prior to 2010.  The project started as a family land purchase investment to produce grapes to sell to other producers.  However, once the Chang family realized the potential for developing the land into more, they elected to create the winery and bottle a small amount of wine under their own label.  Jason and Flora’s entrepreneurial spirit driven by their business acumen and love of hospitality led to their interest and passion for wine.  Jason holds an MBA from the University of Michigan and is a former Pricewaterhouse Coopers management consultant, and Flora is a registered pharmacist and recent Wharton MBA graduate. Jason and Flora themselves lead all aspects of day-to-day operations at the winery while also serving as proud parents to Hudson.

Can you explain the Nine Suns concept and what sets you apart from other Pritchard Hill wineries?

Jason and Flora admit they have no desire to compete with neighboring wineries with famed labels – some of which established themselves in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  They recognize their neighbors' remarkable success, but they know emulation of their approach -- rooted in a different time and era -- is not a winning strategy.  Instead, they noted that they have to have the confidence to do something different.  They gush as they discuss how Nine Suns is anchored on experience.  As they are now celebrating their tenth anniversary, they share with pride that they have customers who have been coming to them since they were a construction pile.  They continue to return not only because of the wine's caliber but because of their relationship with Jason and Flora. 

When was the Plinth brand created, and how did it come about?

The inaugural 2017 vintage features a Sauvignon Blanc and a Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Cabernet was released last month, and the release of the Sauvignon Blanc is imminent.  Plinth is an architectural term representing a foundation.  Plinth's focus is on the fruit and the wine, for which the foundation is Pritchard Hill coupled with finds from the Napa Valley floor.  The wanderlust character adorned on the Sauvignon Blanc illustrates a collection of experiences one garners during travel. Jason and Flora’s vision (pre-COVID) was to share an experience outside of Napa, a sort of virtual winery where they could take Plinth on the road and allow it to serve as an “accouterment to experience.”  While COVID-19 has disrupted that roadshow, for now, they continue to have great success as their first allocation of the Cabernet immediately sold out.

Do you use similar winemaking philosophies with Plinth and Nine Suns, or are they treated differently?

Jason and Flora note that the Plinth Sauvignon Blanc spends time in oak, providing a more concentrated taste juxtaposed to the Nine Suns Sauvignon Blanc that features a bit more crispness of fruit.  The Nine Suns Proprietary Red is a Bordeaux style blend that is lavishly layered and focuses on advancing a balanced structure.  In contrast, the Plinth is a 100 percent Cabernet incorporating Pritchard Hill fruit with the Napa Valley floor.  The Plinth wine also comes in at a slightly more accessible price point than the Nine Suns wines. All the wines are irresistible.  While different vintages, below is a quick write-up to illustrate the variety across the spectrum of offerings.

The Nine Suns 2012 Proprietary Red ($250) is a blend of 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, and 11% Petit Verdot and the rest Malbec and Cabernet Franc.  Arguably one of the best vintages for this wine, it is utterly mesmerizing and beautifully illustrates the concentration and depth of Pritchard Hill fruit.  The nose presents itself with a pleasing degree of complexity, showcasing a bouquet of lilac and violet, with a hint of currant and cedar box.  On the palate, a generous core of blackberry, blueberry, and cassis complements the fine-grain tannins and smooth finish.  It is approachable now but has ample cellaring potential.  99 Points

Plinth 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon ($185) is a perfect expression of the Pritchard Hill meets Napa Valley floor style.  Lively aromatics sit atop a beautiful structure with firm but well-integrated tannins and generous acidity.  The palate bursts with notes of vibrant black cherries, blackberries, blueberries with hints of dry herb and crushed stone which emerge as the wine evolves in the glass.  It ends with a bone-dry finish. You can enjoy it now with a good decant or put it away for long-term aging.  95

Plinth 2017 Sauvignon Blanc ($75) is a beautiful balancing act between the bright citrus flavors of the Sauvignon Blanc with the barrel fermentation's rich elements.  The wine has an incredibly rich texture and mouthfeel that is balanced with bright acidity.  Notes of preserved lemon, citrus, and melon hit every part of the mouth, and the finish only leaves you wanting more.  Enjoy over the next 4-5 years.  94

How do you distribute your wine? Where can people buy it?

Both Nine Suns and Plinth are almost exclusively direct-to-consumer.  For more information, visit www.NineSuns.com and www.PlinthWine.com.  

Posted by Miranda Franco at 11:06 AM