When I think about how I usually enjoy wine, it is almost always with food. Either I’m sipping a glass of wine while preparing a meal, or more commonly, I’m enjoying a glass of wine with my meal. So, from that standpoint it makes perfect sense that a wine tasting be accompanied by food. Experiencing food and wine pairings prepared by a chef at a winery, and a historic winery at that, is even better. How do I know this? I was recently a guest of Murrieta’s Well Estate Vineyard for their new Wine & Food Experience. The wine and food were outstanding and the history of the winery was fascinating.
History & Land
Murrieta’s Well Estate Vineyard sits along gently rolling hills in the Livermore Valley. Dry Creek runs just below the winery. The rustic winery building looks right at home up against the hills. The first thing I noticed as I walked into the winery were the concrete walls of the building; they are rough and show the outline of wooden forms used to hold the sand, gravel and portland cement as it set. I couldn’t resist reaching out to touch the waves of gravel.
I thought about the men who built this winery using locally dug aggregate and what that might say about vineyard soils. This beautiful, gravity-flow winery was built by French immigrant, and winemaker, Louis Mel after he purchased the property in 1884. Mel recognized a similarity between this property and those in Bordeaux — could it have been the gravelly soils?
Mel set about planting a vineyard using cuttings from Château Margaux and Château d’Yquem. He made wine and became part of an early community of Livermore Valley winemakers that included Carl H. Wente and eventually his sons, Ernest and Herman. In 1933 Louis Mel sold the vineyard and winery to his friend Ernest Wente. The winery remains part of the Wente Vineyards family.
In 1990 the Wente family named the winery Murrieta’s Well, to reflect the earlier history of this property. In the 1850s a natural well on the property was used as a watering hole by Joaquin Murrieta, a controversial and colorful character in early-California history.
Vineyards & Winemaking
The winery building is surrounded by estate vineyards. Immediately around the winery, and the original Mel home, is the Louis Mel Vineyard. Behind the winery, reaching into the rolling hills are the Ernest, Hayes and Sachau Vineyards. Across the street the 44-acre Raboli Vineyard stretches toward Tesla Road. In total, just over 475 acres are planted to vines. Soils are comprised of various kinds of gravelly loam. I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise.
Grape varieties include the usual: Bordeaux varieties, Chardonnay and varieties common in the south of France. There are some unexpected varieties planted here as well: Muscat, Tempranillo, Touriga and Souzao. All wines are made exclusively from estate fruit, and all these grape varieties give winemaker, Robbie Meyer, the ability to blend, refine and blend again. He is very hands-on in the vineyard and, of course, in the winery.
Wine & Food
The Wine & Food Experience at Murrieta’s Well begins with a tour of this historic winery and a glass of estate wine to sip along the way. I’m betting you too will reach out to feel the texture of those beautiful winery walls as you walk by them. After the tour, you will be seated in the beautiful barrel room for a pairing of four small plates with four estate wines. The food pairings are created seasonally by the culinary team. Our pairings follow.
2016 Dry Rosé & Gougère filled with triple cream cheese, pancetta, pickled mango and mint. This dry rosé of Grenache and Counoise has bright acidity and complex flavors of melons, berry and citrus zest. It paired beautifully with the richness of the cheese and pancetta. The smokiness of the pancetta blended interestingly with the pickled mango and mint flavors. I could have made a meal of this delicious pairing.
2016 Sauvignon Blanc & Zucchini Linguine with goat cheese, tomato oil and toasted pine nuts. Sauvignon Blanc stands alone in this varietal bottling and is sourced from the Louis Mel Vineyard planted to vines that are descendants of the original Château d’Yquem cuttings Mr. Mel brought from Bordeaux. This wine is mineral-driven with only subtle hints of dried herbs. I was so inspired by this pairing I bought a gadget to make zucchini linguine.
2015 The Whip & Salmon Brandade with smashed cauliflower and pink pepper mayo. The Whip is bright, floral and complex. This delightful white wine is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chardonnay, Viognier and a splash of Muscat Canelli. Where the Sauvignon Blanc is more a reflection of each vintage, The Whip is blended for a more consistent flavor profile. The crunchy salmon fritter and the creamy cauliflower smash was a stellar pairing with The Whip. Once again, brilliant acidity in the wine makes the perfect paring for a rich dish.
2015 Malbec & Wild Mushroom Raviolo with blue cheese, roasted tomatoes and micro basil. This earthy Malbec begins with bright fruit flavors and finishes with a bit of spice. Only 5% of Cabernet Sauvignon is blended with the estate Malbec for this wine. The mushrooms and pungent blue cheese flavors were a match made in heaven for this lovely Malbec.
2015 The Spur & Black Pepper Fillet of Beef Polpettine with gouda mashed potatoes and sauce au poivre. The Spur has notable tannin structure and complex flavors to match. It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. This pairing combined a complex wine with complex food flavors.
A Sweet Surprise – Murrieta’s Well Port, chocolate and blue cheese. As you might guess, this wine is where the Touriga and Souzao varieties are put to good use. This wine is richly flavored and warming. What’s not to love about this combo. Plus, it was totally unexpected!
Our tasting was unhurried. We were encouraged to mix-and-match the food with the wines in each flight and decide which pairings we preferred. Food for thought. Literally.
There is so much more to tell you about each of these wines. Winemaking at Murrieta’s Well includes variety of techniques to add texture and complexity to the wines. You simply must visit the winery to learn all of the interesting details for yourself. And, of course you must try the Wine & Food Experience.
Any time of year is a good time of year to visit Murrieta’s Well. A gift of the Wine & Food Experience at Murrieta’s Well would no doubt be appreciated, and likely unexpected, for the wine lover on your holiday list. Beyond that, think birthdays or just no occasion at all. Your visit to Murrieta’s Well Estate Vineyard will become the event. You will find booking information on the winery website.