The Somm Set by Benchmark Wine Group

Liz Mitchell

Welcome to our newest series, The Somm Set. Each month we’ll be sitting down with a guest sommelier and uncovering their guilty pleasures, cellar staples, and everything in between! Follow as they hand-select their favorites from our warehouse, giving you the inside scoop on cellar must-haves!

This month on The Somm Set, we’re excited to feature Liz Dowty Mitchell, Advanced Sommelier. Join us as we explore everything from her passion for wine, favorite wine and food pairing, and her newest endeavors.

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This week from Liz Dowty Mitchell:

It's not a secret that I have more of a European wine-inclined palate, so there are only a handful of domestic wines, particularly California wines, that I endorse and recommend to clients. I prefer wines that exude grace, balance, finesse, and reserved new oak usage instead of the bold, fruity, high alcohol, and oaky wines. These producers have always showcased my preferred wine qualities and provide a highly pleasurable drinking experience, in my opinion.


First Up-Arnot Roberts!!

Arnot Roberts tops my California producers list and has held that position since I discovered them ten years ago. What separates them from the rest is their ability to see the potential in previously completely unknown or totally unheralded vineyard sites that span from Mendocino County to the north to the far reaches of the Santa Cruz Mountains to the south, such as Clary Ranch for Syrah, Fellom Ranch for Cabernet, Luschinger for Trousseau, and Trout Gulch for Chardonnay, among many others. Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts are two of the most dynamic, young winemakers in California leading the charge to produce site-specific wines with balance and integrity. They have led the way to help redefine the paradigm of what California wine can be and taste like. Everything is farmed organically, and production methods are firmly planted in the "old world" with generous use of whole clusters, natural fermentations, very limited use of new oak (only in Cabernet), and modest alcohol levels. My favorite wines are the Syrahs and the Cabernet from Clajeux Vineyard planted in 1999 in volcanic soil at 400' elevation in the Chalk Hill AVA above the Russian River Valley. It is fermented 30% whole cluster and basket pressed to French oak barrels (15% new) for 22 months of élévage. Only 8 barrels are produced.



Calera has been my favorite domestic producer of Pinot Noir since I was first introduced to the wines when I was starting out in my wine career in 2008. They immediately jumped out at me as different from the Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs that most critics and consumers were hyping back then as the benchmark examples of California Pinot Noir. The reason is that Calera is uniquely positioned in a tiny Central Coast AVA, Mt. Harlan, that was created entirely for them within the larger San Benito County AVA. This distinction was given because the limestone-rich soils similar to the Cote d'Or in Burgundy are very singular for this area. Josh Jensen, the founder of Calera in 1974, recognized how special this soil was and decided to plant vineyards here despite being the one only to do so. Limestone had been commercially quarried from the Mt. Harlan property a hundred years earlier, and to this day, next to the Viognier vineyard, there stands a magnificently well-preserved 30- foot tall masonry limekiln. The name "Calera" is the Spanish word for "limekiln," which serves as the winery's symbol and appears on every bottle of wine. He was a visionary who crafted his Pinots in a Burgundian style with more of a focus on the terroir rather than pushing the limits of the fruit and alcohol levels as customary for Russian River Valley Pinots. The single-vineyards of Jensen and Reed have already been personal favorites of mine. The 2016 Reed was aged for 17 months in 30% new French oak and is in its drinking window prime time between now and 2028. Only 375 cases are produced from the 5-acre vineyard! A couple of years ago, Josh Jensen retired and sold his winery to Duckhorn, so it remains to be seen how that will affect the wine quality and style going forward. Fingers crossed that there won't be any perceivable differences!


Bedrock Wine Company

If it isn't abundantly clear yet from the two previously featured producers, I think that the key to producing exceptional California wines is the vineyards and prioritizing that vineyard expression or terroir rather than the winemaking. And arguably, no other winemaker had prioritized that more than Morgan Twain-Peterson when he founded Bedrock in 2007. It speaks volumes that Peterson states t0hat, first and foremost, the winery is a mission-driven operation dedicated to preserving and rehabilitating old vineyards around California. These vineyards, planted by California's viticultural pioneers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, are living pieces of history. Many of the vineyards feature pre-phylloxera vines that are sources of some of the purest and incredible fruit produced in California. Though oftentimes Zinfandel, these vineyards are also planted to Mataro (Mourvedre), Carignan, Petite Sirah, Alicanté Bouschet, Grenache, Semillon, Gewurztraminer, Trousseau Gris, and Riesling, along with dozens of others. When speaking about his wines, Peterson always begins with mentioning the vineyard source, and I think that his talent and skill as a winemaker is evidenced by the sheer number of different vineyards and grape varietals with which he works to make an enormous range of styles, be it delicate and perfumed rosé, barrel-fermented whites, or violet and pepper-tinged Syrah. I haven't seen any other winery's website feature such an in-depth amount of information on the farmers and vineyards from which the fruit is sourced. In order to preserve the vineyard expression in the wines, the winemaking style is more minimalistic with uninoculated fermentation, native malolactic fermentation yeast, the use of whole clusters in fermentation, minimal handling, rarely or never fining, avoiding additions of things common in California like water and tartaric acid, and preferring to use no oak rather than cheap oak. The 2019 "Lorenzo's Heritage Wine" is one of my personal favorites from the old vines at the Teldeschi's ranch in the heart of Dry Creek's famed East Bench. This wine is approximately 65% Zinfandel, with the balance being Carignan from a block planted on gravel and some of the oldest Petite Sirah they work with that is also located on the home ranch.

Check out all the wines mentioned below!


Bedrock Wine Company
Calera Wine Company
1 In Stock
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Benchmark Wine Group

445 Devlin Road
Napa, CA 94558

Phone: 707.255.3500
Fax: 707.255.3503
SMS: 707.200.4049


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