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The Freewheel line with a couple of English friends.

It takes a lot of beer to keep the wine business running smoothly. Here in Redwood City, we are very fortunate to have a great English style ale producer right in our backyard: Freewheel Brewing Company. The staff of K&L are fictures at our local pub, and it is a rare moment when one of us isn't there having a pint and a bite of their excellent food. We are also lucky enough to be the first place to offer their bottled beer for sale. If you have never had it, the Freewheel Brewing "FSB" Freewheel Special Bitter, California (500ml) is the benchmark in fresh, balanced, smashable ale. We will do our best to keep some in stock for you, the customer too!

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Entries in Napa Valley (7)


Celebrate Mike Grgich's 90th Birthday with 2 Special Tastings at K&L in April!

Miljenko “Mike” Grgich celebrates 90th birthday this April. A native of Croatia, Mike arrived in Napa 1958 and worked at Souverain, Christian Brothers, Beaulieu Vineyards, Robert Mondavi Winery, and Chateau Montelena, where he crafted the Chardonnay that triumphed in the 1976 Paris Tasting, before founding Grgich Hills in 1977 in Rutherford.

Happy 90th Birthday Mike!

Mike Grgich, winemaker and founder of the famous Grgich Hills Estate, turned 90 years old on April 1st of this year. It was Mike Grgich, then winemaker for Chateau Montelena, who crafted the 1973 Chardonnay that 'beat' the French competition in the historic Paris Tasting of 1976. To celebrate this milestone birthday, K&L is hosting two special Grgich Hills Estate tastings in April in our Northern California stores. We invite you to join the party! Current releases of Grgich Hills' Chardonnay, Fume Blanc, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon among other wines will be featured at both events. Come and raise a glass to one of Napa's great winemaking legends.

Thursday April 18th (5pm-6pm): Special Grgich Hills Tasting at K&L Redwood City ($5) rsvp on facebook 

Friday April 19th (5pm-6pm): Special Grgich Hills Tasting at K&L San Francisco ($5) rsvp on facebook 


For additional information on this event and other upcoming special events and tastings taking place at any of our locations, visit K&L Local Events on

More About Mike, from Grgich Hills Estate

Mike's life sounds like a Hollywood movie, journeying from a peasant upbringing in communist Yugoslavia, to winemaker winning the Paris Tasting, and then becoming a winery owner in the Napa Valley. Mike arrived in the Napa Valley in 1958 after a four year journey from Croatia and worked for some of Napa's iconic wineries: Souverain, Christian Brothers, Beaulieu Vineyards and Robert Mondavi Winery, before becoming winemaker at Chateau Montelena. At Montelena, he crafted the Chardonnay that beat the best white wines in France in the now-famous 1976 Paris Tasting, helping to shatter the myth that only French soil could produce the world’s greatest wines and drawing international attention to Napa Valley wines.

Judges deliberating during the Paris Tasting of 1976. Image courtesy of Grgich Hills Estate.

On Independence Day 1977, Mike and Austin Hills broke ground in Rutherford to build Grgich Hills Cellar. Since starting Grgich Hills, Mike has continued receiving international awards for his wines and has been recognized for being a leader in sustainable vineyard practices.  Mike celebrated his 50th year of making wine in 2008, the same year he was inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame. Today, all of Grgich Hills’ 366 acres are certified organic and the winery has converted to solar power and is completely estate grown.  

Check out the 2009 Grgich Hills "Estate" Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($49.99) and other Grgich Hills Estate wines in stock now at K&L.His influence has been so far-reaching that his famous beret, the suit case he carried to America, and a bottle of the 1973 Chardonnay that won the Paris Tasting are on display in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s first major exhibition on food history—“FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950–2000”.  In addition, a Croatian TV documentary about his life, “Like the Old Vine,” premiered at the Napa Valley Film Festival in November 2012.

Visit www.grgich.comto see all of the winery's events, including a special Gala on April 13th, and the inaugural release of the Paris Tasting Chardonnay, crafted by Mike Grgich in the same style as the Chardonnay that won the 1976 Paris Tasting. Given Mike’s proven track record of creating elegant wines that improve with age, this Chardonnay is sure to become a collectable. The winery will launch a birthday cake decorating contest with the chance to win a trip to Napa Valley and celebrate Mike’s 90 years of accomplishments with the famed winemaker.

Grgich Hills Estate, located in Rutherford, CA, was founded in 1977 by Vintner Hall of Fame inductee Miljenko “Mike” Grgich and Austin Hills after Mike’s Chardonnay outscored the best of France in the now-famous 1976 Paris Tasting.

Today, this iconic winery farms 366 acres naturally, without artificial pesticides or herbicides, and uses its passion and art to handcraft food-friendly, balanced and elegant wines. Mike is assisted by his daughter, Violet Grgich, Vice President of Operations, and his nephew, Ivo Jeramaz, Vice President of Vineyards and Production. For more information, visit



A Quick Mid-Harvest Visit To Some Napa Stalwarts


Heitz Cabernet Grapes looking perfect

By: Ryan Woodhouse | K&L Staff Member

For all that is good and bad about visiting and tasting in Napa these days, there are still many producers worth checking out. My family was recently visiting from England and I thought I would take the opportunity to show them around the valley during harvest--when all the action happens--and visit a few of my perennial favorites. Here are a couple of highlights and shots from the trip.

I kind of blew it right from the beginning in terms of saving the best for last...the first place we visited was the old property at Heitz Cellars. Kaj was kind enough to give us a great look around and popped a bottle of 2005 Martha’s Vineyard, it turned out (unsurprisingly) to be my favorite wine of the trip!

and these beautiful old upright FoudresHeitz wines mature in French oak Barriques

We started with the 2010 Heitz Cellar Sauvignon Blanc, which is really a delicate, restrained style with great drive and freshness with to much fat fruit. This is a wonderfully mineral laden wine with great persistence on the palate. Excellent drinking with oysters.

An old photograph of the Heitz estate and the historic stone winery

Then, as I said, we went right to the top with the 2005 Martha's. Wow - what a wine! So attractive and expressive now but you can just tell it's got another decade(+) in the tank. The quality that struck me most about this wine is that it's 100% Napa Cab, and a wonderful expression of exactly that; it’s not pretending to be Bordeaux. There's the power of the fruit and ripeness of tannin at the forefront. Then the wonderful warm dusty notes, and some minty, herbal edges. Fantastic wine, and very thoughtfully made, as evidenced by such an elongated drinking window. The 2007 Heitz Cellar Martha’s Vineyard Cab has been given the extra special honor of the colored label reserved for only the very best vintages of this stunning wine.

Stunning views from up on Howell Mtn

Next after grabing some picnic supplies we headed up Howell Mountain to Ladera Vineyards. This was my first visit to the property after years of enjoying their wines. The winery is one of the oldest bonded wineries in Napa. The original structure is now just a shell within which the modern winery exists. This beautiful restored stone building set into the rugged terrain of the mountain is spectacular. Again we started with their rare 2010 Ladera Howell Mountain Sauvignon Blanc. Perhaps just a touch more generous than the Heitz, but with a firm bright acidity and tons of rocky minerality under the citrus fruit. A "go-to" domestic SB for sure.

The beautifully restored winery from 1886The modern all gravity winery inside

Next we rolled through their excellent range of estate cabs. Most of the fruit is grown on Howell Mountain but they also have property on the cooler Mount Veeder which interlaces the big burly dark fruit and concentration of Howell Mountain with some touches of tobacco leaf and cedar from the cooler Veeder fruit. These are wines of balance, power, and integrity that make me happy.  They prove that not all Napa Cab has gone over to the big, jammy, soft, manipulated style.

Back now to the valley floor and the Silverado Trail side of St. Helena to Duckhorn Vineyards. I was excited about this visit after a nice stop at Goldeneye in Anderson Valley the previous week. In my opinion, Duckhorn wines are the real deal when it comes to Napa. They make quintessential Napa wines. The world is now so Cab centric and yet their offerings of Merlot are some of the best examples of Bordeaux varietal reds you’ll find anywhere. We toured the facility and saw everything in full swing. The fruit looked great and plentiful!

Winemakers and cellar crews in California have now been working around the clock for months bringing in what many think will be one of the best vintages in years, if not decades. Having left that game myself, I would like to applaud those people surviving the ravages of harvest and 14-16-18 hour days to bring us great wines year after year! Cheers to you all!

The Famous Three Palms Vineyard

Anyway, the barrel rooms at Duckhorn are stacked neatly away, holding their precious treasures. It was great to have a good look around at this top-notch facility. We were treated to a very comprehensive seated tasting of many reserve and single vineyard wines. There was not one bad wine on the table. We started with another beautiful Napa SB,(2011 Duckhorn Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc), this one with some notable barrel character and a dash of Semillion giving it a very Bordeaux Blanc like sensibility. My other favorites included the Cab Franc and the Carneros Merlot. Sadly these do not get into distribution.

Upon tasting the 2009 Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot, I was once again wowed by how good and consistent this Merlot really is. Duckhorn's "workhorse" Merlot, it combines fruit from their many great sites sources and is consistently one of my top Napa wines every vintage. Sure, the 2008 Duckhorn “Discussion” is the premier Bordeaux-style blend and a great wine, and the 2009 Duckhorn “Three Palms Vineyard” Merlot is the flashy, prestigious, sought after release (its concentration, richness, power and purity are also very impressive). However, I can’t help feeling enamored with the regular old Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot. It's an everyman's wine with the pedigree and class to cellar for decades, and delivers on every level at a very reasonable price point. For me, it is benchmark for the varietal and region.

2 miles of caves, 2 million bottles all under Spring Mtn at SchramsbergThe next day after some perusing of the shops in Calistoga and St. Helena, we headed up to Schramsberg on Spring Mountain. I had been told that the Cave tour was not to be missed so I thought this would be a good way to finish off the trip. The history surrounding this property is enthralling as is the atmosphere. You begin by entering the two miles of underground caves, much of which were hand-dug with pick and shovel by Chinese workers in the 1870s, after completing Transcontinental Rail Road. Inside the caves, the walls are lined with millions of hand-stacked bottles ageing on their lees. Schramsberg still riddles their wines by hand. Riddling is an incredibly laborious process of rotating and tilting the bottles over many weeks to move the yeast into the neck of the bottle for disgorgement.

Schramsberg's A-frame riddling racks deep underground in the caves.In the underground caves, everything is covered by a thick dust and mossy webs, a perfect pre-Halloween treat! The tasting deep in the caves was excellent and the wines showed fantastically. The 2009 Schramsberg Brut Blanc de Blanc first was very fresh and zippy with bright acid and vivacious energy on the palate. The Brut Rose, good as always, was showing nice purity and weight in the mouth. If you like domestic sparklers this is the one for Thanksgiving, a very food friendly and versatile wine. The J.Schram (Blanc de Blanc) and Reserve (Pinot Noir) bottlings were a real treat. Both are very big rich wines with a minimum five years on the lees, sleeping deep beneath the Spring Mountain hillside. I sometimes find wines with this amount of lees contact bit much, preferring two to three years on lees over the late-disgorged versions. However, I must say that both of these wines showed excellent balance and brightness of character and I’m sure would be excellent cellaring candidates should you be lucky enough to get your hands on some. We normally get small allocations of both around the holidays so keep a look out or wait-list them if you are interested.

Tasting in the caves at Schramsberg

If you haven’t tried any of the wines we tasted on this trip, I highly recommend you do! This is not the glitzy, glam, “Disney Napa” that some people talk about. These are all wines of history and true substance. Every one of these properties deserves a few spots in the cellar or an outing to the dinner table. Enjoy!




Napa Bootcamp 2012: A Visit to Oakville Ranch 

View of the Napa Valley from Oakville Ranch.

By: Melissa Smith | K&L Wine & Spirits Specialist

The longer I am in the wine industry, the more curious I become about wine. I read book after book on the subject - the history, the major players, the regions - but there is only so much that you can learn through someone else's experiences. The other day I finally got up the gall to ask one of those completely random (And I’m talking random) questions that struck me in the middle of the night. I wondered, “do they wash grapes before they make wine?” (Seriously, who thinks that at three in the morning?) But now, aren’t you wondering too?

None of my references had an answer, so when I was invited to join fifteen other industry professionals for Napa Bootcamp 2012, a day long excursion and educational intensive in the Napa Valley hosted by the Napa Valley Vintners Association, I jumped at the opportunity.

A few days before the trip a box arrived with pair of pruners, gloves, and sunscreen. Score! At sunrise we headed over the Golden Gate, through Sonoma, and arrived in Napa just as the coffee was kicking in. There we met up with our LA counterparts along with a handful of winemakers and winery managers. Tara McDonald of California Wine Merchant and I were "assigned' to the lovely Paula Kornell of Oakville Ranch. Although Oakville Ranch makes their own wine, they are best known for selling three-quarters of their fruit to some of the biggest names in the industry: Harlan, Peter Michael, Vine Cliff, Joseph Phelps, Miner Family, Lewis Cellars...the list goes on. All of their grapes are organic and farmed according to biodynamic principles. Paula trucks us and her two dogs up the private drive well above the valley to an oasis of vines tucked into the hillside. The plantings are heavy with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Petite Verdot, and Zinfandel, having been completely replanted over the last forty years. 

In the vineyard we meet Vineyard Manager Phillip Coturri. Phil has been working in vineyards since he was fourteen; he will be celebrating his 60th birthday this month. Heavily bearded in true Deadhead style (Phil cites longtime friends Bob Weir and Bill Kreutzmann of the Grateful Dead as important sources of inspiration for his work on the winery's website) he may not look like someone responsible for $12,000 per ton grapes, but then again, grapes don't care what you look like. This man knows his stuff and thankfully doesn’t seem annoyed by the string of amateur questions we fire at him like first graders!

We hoist ourselves into the “gater,” a quad set to withstand climbing and descending the rocky hillsides. We are taught how to look at the vineyards with an artist’s eye. Subtle changes in green amongst the rows of vines, varying hues of red and orange in the soil, and even the size of rocks have an influence on the grapes. At one point we arrive at a block of Grenache and I am reminded of a picture I had seen of the 'galets' in the vineyards in Chateauneuf de Pape.

Looking good in 2012!By now it’s ten in the morning and we’ve shed our scarves and unbuttoned our coats. We stop first at a block of Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 169, known for its floral qualities. We can already tell that 2012 is going to be an extraordinary year - the grapes are plump, abundant, and still ripening in the warm September sun. Several bunches lay strewn on the ground, removed in order to concentrate all plant's energy on the remaining drapes. Phil can afford to be picky this year.

The vines are exquisite, trimmed and trained like bonsais. The clusters are firm and broad, showing very even ripening. We pluck a few and taste, careful to chew the skins but avoid the seeds. Phil explains that they are waiting for the grapes to achieve “Sexy Ripe” status, the perfect '10' of sugar and phenolic ripeness. Aromatic ripeness is difficult to achieve below 14% alcohol, but too much sugar produces too much alcohol and results in wines with a lack of nuance. We learn that the grapes can get fully ripe--full of sugar--but it’s the additional hang time that allows them to develop the subtleties in their flavor profiles. It is a continual struggle to manage the canopy, choose which clusters to keep and which to drop, and deciding the exact time to harvest the grapes. While a refractometer is used in the vineyard to measure sugar levels, it is not the tool used to determine when to pick. That decision is guided by a sixth sense, an intuition built over decades of experience. Phil spends the entire year preparing for that moment. When the winemakers tell him to pick, his job is done.

Evaluating samples of grapes in the preparation for harvest.We migrate to different areas of the vineyard, occasionally running into the apprentices who are busy gathering samples, weighing clusters, crushing grapes, measuring sugar levels, examining seeds and the gelatinous matter surrounding them. At this point the seeds are still green and chewy. Phil explains that they are waiting for the seeds to become brown and crunchy, which will minimize the presence of "green" (think bell pepper and green apple) aromas and flavors. The grapes taste delicious to me, but Phil equates the ripeness of a grape to that of a tomato or a fig. They are good when they are ripe and firm, but the flavors really come out the moment that they start to soften from the sugars. We move to different blocks, tasting different clones of the same varietal, different varietals from different sections, and I start to tally up how many hundreds of dollars worth of grapes I’m consuming that could have been turned into wine.    

And with that lingering thought we are whisked away to enjoy their wine over a delicious lunch of roasted lamb sandwiches and a quinoa salad on the terrace overlooking the valley. We absorb the information from the day with a much greater appreciation for what is in the glass!

Oh, and the answer is no, they don’t wash the grapes. Sulphur takes care of any bacteria that may be lingering.



Melissa Lavrinc Smith

Wine and Spirits Consultant

Sake Buyer

K&L Wine Merchants 


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