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.


Favorite California Producers
News That Rocked The Bordelaise
Summer of Riesling
The Somm Set Home
 

This week from Liz Dowty Mitchell:

Corison

Few women are as revered as Cathy Corison in the winemaking world. As one of the first female winemakers in Napa who worked for Chappellet for over ten years and then produced the 1st vintage of Staglin Family Cabernet Sauvignon before starting her own label in 1987 is highly regarded for being one of the tried-and-true classic winemakers in the Valley. The wines that she produces have consistently been more "old-school" in style and not bending to the "Parker Pendulum" or trends. Her 8-acre Kronos Vineyard is situated on the Valley floor, and prior to her winery, the fruit was used in Mondavi's Reserve wines. Kronos' low-yielding, old vines are widely spaced, dry-farmed, organically farmed, and grafted onto St. George rootstock. It also doesn't hurt that she is one of the most sincerely nice people in the industry and is a huge champion of the sommelier community. 

Merry Edwards

I guess you could say that Merry Edwards always had a knack for the more scientific side of winemaking. She began her career in food chemistry and fermentation before getting her master's degree in food science with a focus in enology from UC Davis. Right off the bat, it became clear that Pinot Noir was her specialty. Her first winemaking stint was at the legendary Mount Eden Vineyards in Santa Cruz Mountains for three vintages. She developed the UCD clone 37 from Pinot Noir cuttings she selected in 1975, known as the "Merry Edwards" clone, and is widely planted in the Russian River Valley. She then became the founding winemaker of Matazanas Creek in Santa Rosa in 1977 before founding her own eponymous winery, Merry Edwards, in 1997. Winemaking at Merry Edwards draws its inspiration from the Old World. Pinot Noir is fermented in open-top, temperature-controlled tanks, and punch-downs are pneumatic. The wines spend up to 18 months in a maximum of 20% new French oak before an additional six or more months in bottle before release. Her wines undoubtedly helped solidify the Russian River Valley as a world-class wine region for Pinot Noir. They drew a lot of attraction for the Pinots coming from here, so much so that in 2019, Louis Roederer (of Champagne) purchased the winery. 

Pro tip: Don't sleep on the Sauvignon Blanc as it's one of my favorite examples from California!

Crocker + Starr

Pam Starr is a co-owner, along with Charlie Crocker and the winemaker and manager of Crocker + Starr since its inception in 1997, although Pam's wine career starts long before that. Similar to the start of Merry Edwards' career, Pam was one of the rare women graduates from UC Davis in 1984 with a degree in Fermentation Science. After her first harvest internship at Sonoma Cutrer, she knew that winemaking was her future, so she applied and secured a job at Carmenet Winery in Sonoma as the enologist and assistant winemaker, which she did for six years. It was there that she learned the skills and know-how to run a successful winery. However, in 1991, she received her big break to be the winemaker for Spottswoode Vineyard and Winery in Napa, where she was able to hone her winemaking techniques and establish herself as one of the top winemakers in the region, especially for Bordeaux-style blends. It didn't take long for her name to get out, and Charlie Crocker offered her the opportunity of a lifetime to have her own winery, so after six years at Spottswoode, she took the offer she couldn't refuse. Charlie purchased the 100-year-old property in 1971 that included the vineyards from the historic Dowdell property in St. Helena from the 1870s with the intention of revitalizing it, so bringing on Pam was the final step to complete the resurrection of the estate.

I recently had the pleasure of tasting through the Crocker + Starr lineup, and I was blown away. The wines are very well-made and complex, and the fruit profile is indicative of Napa Valley but without being over the top.

Spottswoode

Which fittingly leads me to my final winery to feature one of the original "cult" Napa wines that I was exposed to at the beginning of my career. I remember tasting these wines and feeling in my bones how special and different they were from anything else I had tasted up until that point. The history of the property is quite lengthy, going back to when the family of Albert Spotts purchased a St. Helena grape-growing estate in 1910 that was initially planted to vine in 1882 and renamed it in his honor. The vines survived Prohibition by selling grapes to Christian Bros. for sacramental winemaking during that era and to the St. Helena Wine Cooperative for decades afterward. In 1972, Dr. Jack and Mary Novak purchased the historic estate, but tragically, Dr. Jack passed away five years later, leaving Mary and her children to figure out the path forward. I love that Mary kept pursuing their dream despite her immense loss, and I find it very inspiring considering the challenges she must have faced with such a large property and five children. She sold the fruit in the first couple of years, but in 1982, she established the modern winery and produced the first Estate Cabernet Sauvignon with Tony Soter as the winemaker. One of my other favorite qualities about this winery is that they have been practicing organic viticulture since 1985 before it was even a thing and have been certified since 1992. Through the years, this all-female team led today by Mary's daughters, Beth Novak Milliken and Lindy Novak, have successfully operated the winery and produced exceptional wines with a roster of incredible winemakers through the years.


Check out all the wines mentioned below!


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Crocker & Starr
2013
1 In Stock
750ml
CT91
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2015
1 In Stock
750ml
CT93
V+92
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Merry Edwards
2006
1 In Stock
750ml
CT92
W&S91
WE91
CG91
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2006
1 In Stock
750ml
WS91
CT91
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2005
1 In Stock
750ml
CT90
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2006
5 In Stock
750ml
CG92
W&S90
CT90
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Spottswoode
1996
5 In Stock
750ml
V93
CT91
WA90
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2003
1 In Stock
750ml
JD98
WA95
WSM94
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2004
6 In Stock
750ml
WA96
JD96
TWI96
WS95
CG95
V94
CT94
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2007
1 In Stock
750ml
WA100
JD100
TWI100
WS95
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2007
5 Pre-Arrival
750ml
WA100
JD100
TWI100
WS95

Wines due to arrive June 2024.

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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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