Brentwood-based Hannah Nicole Winery has demonstrated that when it comes to wine and food pairing, owners Neil and Glenda Cohn and their talented staff set a whole new standard, impressing even those widely traveled in the gourmet realm. During the first of a series of elegantly orchestrated wine and food pairing dinners, the winery glittered on Thursday, January 27, offering a sensory journey of amazing tastes, flavors and textures.
Upon arrival, guests were presented with an array of Gourmet Artisanal Cheeses and a glass of the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve, a wine with lingering oak and honey aromas and a finish laced with honeydew, apricot and lemon. The beautifully decorated tables and soft lighting created a gracious ambience, reflective of Glenda's artistic sensibilities.
As the meal began, operations manager and food/wine expert Mark Enlow acted as ¡°master of ceremonies¡± to introduce each course and the accompanying wine, highlighting the diverse flavor nuances the carefully selected combinations would offer. Hannah Nicole winemaker John Sotelo and Neil Cohn also offered comments and insights into how the chosen wines were crafted to acquire their characteristics©¤a special treat for wine enthusiasts.
The first course of Fresh Dungeness Crab Cake and Roasted Prawns with Winter Greens was notable in the freshness of the seafood and the delicacy of flavor, with the prawns being especially succulent. The light, golden crab cakes ¡°simply melted in your mouth,¡± as one guest noted. The 2009 Viognier, crisp and rich with tropical notes and hints of toasted peach, apricot, pear and allspice was a sumptuous pairing choice here.
The second course of Wild Mushroom Risotto Cake crowned with Swordfish was another stand out, not only because the generous cut of swordfish was incredably tender and juicy, but also because it was served with one of Hannah Nicole¡¯s most celebrated wines©¤the Gold Medal winning 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Magnum, redolent with pepper and plum with notions of toasted walnuts and leather.
The third course was a sculpture of mouthwatering Habanero Braised Short Ribs poised atop a m¨¦lange of creamy parsnips and Brussels sprouts. The rich, tender meat with a slight spicy kick was dramatically complemented by its partner, the 2007 Petit Verdot Reserve©¤a gloriously penetrating wine with layers of anise, sweet wild berries and smoked meat, finished with aromas of vanilla, oak and leather.
The chefs personally helped introduce the finale©¤a Cracked Earth Chocolate Flourless Torte with Raspberry Puree and Cr¨¨me Anglaise. This decadent treat was paired with barrel samples of the 2009 Zinfandel©¤lusciously satisfying with elements of jam, eucalyptus, pepper and anise and a gloss of vanilla.
Guests were elated to know that these sumptuous wine pairing dinners©¤which merge culinary creativity with the warmth and gracious spirit that has long characterized this innovative winery©¤will be offered monthly, each with unique themes, generously portioned ¡°food art,¡± and wines as only Hannah Nicole can offer. Bravo!
One of our dedicated Hannah Nicole Wine Club Members, Karen Rarey, wrote a very nice article that made the front page of the Contra Costa Times on Friday, September 4, 2009!
Click on the link below to view the article
By Karen Rarey, Correspondent
By Karen Rarey
For the Contra Costa Times
Posted: 09/02/2009 02:41:06 PM PDT
It's been a decade in the making, but the fruits of Neil and Glenda Cohn's labor finally will come to fruition this month when they open Hannah Nicole Vineyard's Winery, Tasting Room and Event Center.
Although there are still a few more hurdles for the Brentwood couple to clear before they have a firm opening date, they are eager to unveil their 18,000-square-foot diamond in the rough to the public.
"I thought that the best wines in the world only came from Napa, and here I'm coming to find that they come from some little place in East Contra Costa County that nobody's heard of that was famous for sweet corn and cherries," said Neil. "People have been coming here (Brentwood) for years to pick fruit. Now they can drink fine wine and they all can say the same thing, which is, 'Wow, this is just like the stuff from the Napa Valley.'"
Set in Contra Costa's 11,000-acre agricultural core in a 56-acre vineyard on Balfour Road, Hannah Nicole Vineyard's will be the first winery to open in East County since Prohibition ended in 1933.
But opening a winery wasn't always in the cards for the Cohns. In 1999 they had purchased a home in Knightsen intending to become apple farmers.
Glenda, a homemaker at heart, said when her 21-year-old daughter, Jenna, was a baby she watched the movie "Baby Boom" and always imagined that was how she'd like to live her life — farming in the country with her kids.
"We were going to plant apple trees,
but we were told that apples were out, grapes are in," said Glenda. "So we planted seven acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, and we had our first harvest the next year — only 200 cases, but our first vintage was in 2001."
Smiling as she reflected on the memories, Glenda chuckled.
"We planned on selling the grapes and making our house payment."
When the time came to sell, however, the Cohns couldn't find a buyer, although they did hook up with a young man who was finishing his oenology and viticulture degree and was interested in making wine for them.
"We said it sounds fun, let's try it. We figured we would spend $20,000 and maybe we would make wine and see how it worked out," said Neil. "We made 10 barrels of wine, maybe nine (that first year).
"I remember we had the same type of wine in three different barrels. We had it in a French oak barrel, an American oak barrel and then a Hungarian oak barrel. I used to take people into the garage and I'd say, 'Here — taste this one,' and then they would try the next one and the next one.
I would say, 'Which one do you like?' " Neil recalled. "Someone would say, 'This is my favorite here,' and another person would say, 'This is my favorite here.' And it was funny, because I would say, 'You just drank the same wine three different times.' "
Neil explained that placing the same wine in different types of oak barrels influences its flavor.
"One of them is spicy and clovey, the other one is chocolaty and vanilla, and the other one is more floral and oakey."
That was it; Neil was bitten by the winemaking bug. He remembers thinking, "This is really fun; the idea of making more wine became very appealing."
That first year the Cohns' wine was a garage wine.
"We did it all by hand. The grandmas watched the kids," Glenda said. "I was out there picking (grapes), all of our friends were out there picking. It processed in the driveway. I did all the punch downs during that first year in the garage, three times a day when the kids were taking naps."
The next year they shipped their wine to Oak Hollow Winery in Madera for processing, where John Sotello took over as HNV's wine maker. He's been creating their wines ever since.
Looking back, Neil said it wasn't until they were on the Balfour Road site and the county changed its zoning ordinances to allow wine production in the county that he even envisioned building a winery.
"It seemed like a nice alternative to insurance," said Neil, who is a principal of Edgewood Partners Insurance Center. "I always say no one ever calls me up and says my insurance is great today, but they say that about my wine all the time."
Winery, event center
The straw color of a viognier, the deep rich color of a cabernet and the dark green of grape leaves warms the walls of Hannah Nicole Vineyard's soon-to-be opened 18,000 square-foot winery, tasting room and event center.
"I wanted it to be warm. I'm all about comfort and warmth and homey, so that's what I wanted to create," Glenda said. "On the inside it's really warm. When you first walk in there is rock (covering the entire wall) behind the tasting bar, distressed black cabinetry with wood showing through "... And there are windows all around, I love windows — you can see the vines through the windows."
HNV's expansive event center was designed to accommodate four events taking place at the facility at one time — all with picturesque views of its surroundings.
"Mount Diablo looks majestic no matter where you sit," said Neil. "It's all designed around the views and the environment." Inside you can have your choice of four areas: the Cabernet room, which is just off the main tasting room separated by two large stained-wooden barn doors; entrance to the Barrel room gives you the illusion that you are entering a cave through arched planked doors; a second exclusive tasting bar area is available off the main floor; and for smaller events a conference room is available.
Outside, the winery is flanked by two lagoons, which enclose three outside entertaining areas — the gazebo on one side of the winery and on the other side, a paved stone patio with redwood stage, plus a much larger stage area Glenda hopes will be used as an outdoor performing arts venue.
As of right now, HNV is setting up appointments for those interested in booking the facility, with wedding openings beginning in spring.
HNV's style of making and producing its award-winning wines is to blend. "That's our winemaker's (Sotello's) style," Neil said.
Neil recalls being at the release of another vintner's cabernet sauvignon. "I asked the wine maker, who was there, 'Is this a blend?' He said, 'No, no, no, no "... this is 100-percent cabernet single vineyard.'"
"What I really wanted to say to him," Neil said, "was why? Because it was a very one-dimensional wine; it wasn't a blah or a yuck, but it was just really OK."
Neil said the purpose of blending is to add character to your wines. By adding even small amounts (2-3 percent) of something else it might soften the tannins a bit, which would make the wine more approachable. It might add a different flavor to it or create a deeper color.
"I guess when we found our winemaker, and he explained his style of blending, I said, 'Wow, I like blends.' " He said that even their sauvignon blanc, which is 100-percent sauvignon blanc, is 89 percent in stainless steel and 11 percent in barrels.
"So we put some of it in barrels, just to add a little dimension to it. It gives it a little more tannin, a little more color like that golden straw color and it gives just hint of oak and a hint of vanilla to go along with the citrus and the lemon and the lime that you get in a sauvignon blanc."
Virtually every wine HNV makes has a blend of something, except for one. Picking up his glass and swirling the chardonnay in it, Neil said, "The chardonnay is all chardonnay — it's barrel-aged and barrel-fermented." HNV grows predominantly two types of grapes — Bordeaux and Rhones. The Bordeaux reds are cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, petit verdot and malbec and the white is sauvignon blanc.
As for the Rhone varietals, HNV reds are petite sirah, mourvedre and Grenache, with a white viognier. And they farm a sirah as well.
"The other grape that we farm is a zinfandel, it's totally off the beaten path for us; it's not a Rhone it's not a Bordeaux. It's an Italian varietal called primitivo, but it's right at home here in the Delta," Neil said. "It's got ancient vines. It's a relatively young zinfandel, but it's a classic zinfandel — blackberry and smoke — it is nice. It's good with anything on the grill."
The grape stomp
The public is invited to sample HNV's award-winning wines at its annual Grape Stomp and Blessing on Sept. 12 at the winery just east of Sellers Avenue.
For the adventurous at heart, those who want to try and crush wine the old fashioned way — this year's wine stomp will feature a new 10-foot barrel for the guests to climb into.
The event will also feature live music, barbecue dinner and a souvenir glass. Wine will be available for purchase by either the glass or by the bottle. To find out when the winery will be open to the public, log onto www.hnvwines.com.
If you go
WHAT: Annual Grape Stomp
WHEN: 6 to 9 p.m. Sept. 12
WHERE: Hannah Nicole Vineyards, Winery, Tasting Room and Event Center, 6700 Balfour Road, Brentwood
COST: $40 general public; $30 HNV Wine Club members
INFO: www.hnvwines.com or 925-513-0769
Are you a Member of the Wine of the Month Club? Click here for a link to the Wine of the Month Club!
A great article about Contra Costa County Farming including discussion on Vineyards
Click on the following link to read the article