Emerging canopy early in the 2016 season at French Camp Vineyard in the Paso Robles Highlands District. J. Wilkes makes 250 cases annually of PRHD AVA Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. Yes! Who knew that *I* would be a Paso winemaker one day!

First, I would like to congratulate Bruce Leiserowitz who was the winner of the first J Wilkes Blog Trivia question contest.

Each blog contains a trivia question and the first correct answer, or the answer considered most correct to me, will be regarded as the winner and we will provide a non-alcohol (stupid post-Volstead laws) prize to that wine scholar.  Bruce can have his choice of a branded hat, corkscrew or a logo glass at the new J. Wilkes tasting room in Los Olivos, with a soft opening date of Father’s Day, 2016!

Back to the Blog and all the new and exciting things happening at J. Wilkes.  As you will see I’ve been BUSY!

The 2016 Vintage:  We are seeing full canopy in the vineyards as of May, 2016, and flowering in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay has about completed.  We had some strong winds and even a half inch (or less) of rain during flowering, which has a tendency to lower yields a bit.  Cluster counts are still looking decent for a reasonable harvest, but with the drought conditions prevailing over central and Southern California–the vines will continue to struggle with salts at root level, so we can expect smaller clusters and another vintage showing great verve and intensity.  On the down side, the vines may still be tired and salty, and may not be hale enough to produce an extended hang time into late September and October.  They are going to want to shut down a bit early, so ripening curves may be slightly truncated.  My best guess for quality in 2016 will be yields at or within +15% of last year in Burgundian varietals in Santa Barbara County, harvests dictated by heat spikes in August and excellent quality and intensity from lowered yields, smaller berries and higher skin-to-juice ratios.  If I had to guess i would think harvest will start 10-18 days later than last year, but still a few days to weeks earlier than historic norms.

Where in the World is Wes Hagen?

Since my last post I have seen much of the country!  Here’s some highlights of my travel!

  • Kansas City, Missouri.  Man are these people into their Royals!  We were met with a sea of blue, arriving just in time for a season opening win against the Minnesota Twins.  Dinner at Jack’s Stacks (an amazing BBQ restaurant, see pic below) was filled with Royals revelers.  We left cases of J. Wilkes Wines all over Kansas City and also showed as many BBQ lovers as would listen what an amazing match Pinot Blanc is with proper smokey KC style BBQ!  The dry aromatic whites love pork and salt, and the smoke is in the meat, so you don’t need any oak in the wine.  Think of 2014 J Wilkes Pinot Blanc as a wet-nap for the mouth.  Cleanses the palate in a delicious manner so you can taste those Burnt Ends or ribs in every bite!  Folks in KC were amazingly nice and we hit a streak of perfect Spring weather.

  • St. Louis, Missouri:  Continuing with our trip through Missouri we spent a day in Springfield selling J. Wilkes with wine legend Dave Gibson and having a fantastic lunch at Hotel Vandivort, and then of to St Louis, which is also the hometown of Curtis Reis, our Midwest Sales Manager and the guy that sets up all of our work (and meals!) in these markets.  I made the most of my father Don’s relationship with the St Louis Cardinals in the early 1960’s and we were able to continue our strong sales streak in leaving cases of J Wilkes Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir throughout this great city.  Buyer’s lunch at Salt and Smoke, likely the best BBQ I’ve ever had, was a highlight.  I’ve posted a few pics below!

  • Las Vegas, Nevada:  Just last week I was in Las Vegas for two days, stocking the cellars of some of the best restaurants in Sin City.  I got to work with some awesome reps from Vin Sauvage, including Ron Mumford, a Master Sommelier.  Quiz question:  in human history have more people been into space or passed the Master Sommelier exam?  Show your work–the more specific the better!  Over a three hour dinner at Marche Bacchus, Ron broke down the secrets to selling wine (and cars) and we had a great meal at Marche, which turned into a sale and discussions of an October seminar and wine dinner!  Working with the lovely ladies at Vin Sauvage was another huge boon…Amanda and Tatum (along with Paul and Jeff) helped us place J. Wilkes in amazing spots–including the Barrymore, Emeril’s Table 10, wine and cheese shops, and my favorite Thai restaurant:  Lotus of Siam, where we also ate like Vikings and sipped Pinot Blanc and Riesling.

Here’s some pics from Lotus of Siam.  Go and eat the garlic prawns.  No seriously!

  • Judging Sunset International Wine Competition, Sonoma CA:  I love the focus and intensity of judging wine.  It’s an exhausting exercise.  It may sound like giggly fun to judge 100 wines in a day, but to do it preoperly requires a level of concentration and mental clarity where every wine gets a fair shake.  I like to imagine every wine is mine, and I want to find all of its positive attributes, but of course we want to crown only the most balanced and delicious wines with a Gold Medal.  Interestingly, medal counts for wines in competitions have doubled or even trebled in the last 22 years I’ve been judging, and it’s not because the judges are getting easier on the wines.  I will go out on a limb to say that there has never been a period in human history where wine production (dated archaeologically back to the Caucuses almost 9000 years ago) has improved so swiftly and categorically.  The 2008 recession forced many wineries that were struggling to close or sell, and flawed wines have almost disappeared from competitions and the shelves/lists of the world.  After two days of judging and some wonderful meals with the illuminati of the wine world, I was happy to return to Orcutt and reset my domestic life.  Oh, and i should mention we were hosted by Jean-Charles Boisset at Buena Vista for a five hour marathon tour, tasting and dinner.  What a wonderful and historic setting.  Do visit soon!

  • Washington, DC for the Nordic Leader’s Summit Luncheon:   This is some very exciting stuff!  After an earlier trip to VA/DC/MD to launch J. Wilkes with our new Distributor: Country Vintner, I ended up having a long and passionate conversation about food and wine with a chef at a trade tasting.  It turns out he was Chef Jason Larkin who runs the food and wine programs for the entire State Department.  You meet a lot of awesome buyers at these events, and we always hope we make a lasting impression, and mainly due to the persistence and professionalism of Michael Phillips, our East Coast Sales Manager, we were able to sell and pour our wine (2012 J Wilkes Chardonnay) at a State luncheon for Caribbean Leader Economic Summit with John Kerry and Joe Biden in attendance.  Pics and an article from the event can be seen below.   http://gabesaglie.blogspot.com/2016/05/j-wilkes-goes-to-washington-state.html

But here’s the kicker;  The wines went over very well and were chosen to be poured again this Friday at the Nordic Leader’s Summit which will includde Kings, Quens, Prime Ministers and Presidents from Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway.  And Chef Jason invited Michael Phillips and I.  the Miller family was kind and generous enough to approve my travel budget and I am off tomorrow to Washington DC to attend a diplomatic function unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  Brand Ambassador takes on a whole new meaning.

So, of course, watch this blog for a full breakdown of my experience in DC.  Not sure if I will be able to take pictures, but I will sure try, and I’ve promised my friend Tim Vandergrift I would try to get a shot with the stunning Queen Maxima of Denmark.

The wines:  Our current releases are really shining right now–all silver or gold medal award winners and we even received an ‘extraordinary’ rating and 91 points for our 2013 Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley.  Check out the Wine Store on the new website for availability and also look forward to these wines that will be bottled and sold only in the Los Olivos Tasting Room that will be open this Summer!

Paso Robles Highlands District Cabernet Sauvignon

Paso Robles Highlands District Zinfandel

Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir

Big things afoot and in the future for J. Wilkes.  Thanks for taking the ride with us!

In bacchus’ shadow:

Wes Hagen

Brand Ambassador, Winemaker:  J. Wilkes Wines