This week I’d like to introduce you to the oldest new winery you’ve never heard of: Round Pond Estate. Founded by Bob and Jan MacDonnell in the 1980’s this family-owned and operated estate consists of over 400 acres in Napa’s acclaimed Rutherford region. Historically the family had always sold their grapes to such well-known wineries as Franciscan, Duckhorn and Schramsberg but in 2002 they decided to produce their own estate wines. In 2007, after five years of exploration and experimentation, the family opened Round Pond to the public and while they still sell the majority of their grapes, they are committed to their portfolio of critically acclaimed, limited-production estate wines.
Today, the second generation of the family who grew up roaming the estate vineyards is at the helm, including brother and sister team Miles and Ryan MacDonnell who serve as CEO and COO respectively. In addition to their estate vineyards, Round Pond also includes biodynamic gardens and olive orchards from which artisan olive oils, red wine vinegars and citrus syrups are produced, reflecting the family’s ongoing passion for and dedication to sustainable farming.
I recently had the opportunity to attend a press lunch with Round Pond Estate Global Sales Director, Diane Cline, at La Nouvelle Maison, a newly debuted downtown Boca Raton eatery. On that scorching Summer day in July we were greeted with a refreshingly chilled, salmon-hued glass of the 2013 Round Pond Estate Rosato di Nebbiolo ($22). A mere 300 cases of this wine are produced from a scant three rows of Nebbiolo, a grape typically found in Italy’s Piedmont region. This rosy gem which received its color from a mere thirty minutes of grape skin and juice contact, offers mouth-filling flavors of strawberry, raspberry, and a hint of lavender accompanied a delightful minerality and a refreshingly dry finish – truly lovely!
The four-course tasting menu highlighted the talents of Chef Gregory who created a beautiful menu to pair with the Round Pond wines. Our first course paired the Rosato with a Colossal Crab Martini with Avocado and Yuzu Foam. The dish was beautifully executed featured glistening white chunks of chilled jumbo lump crab meat dressed with the delicate yuzu foam. This pairing served as a delicious introduction to Chef’s cuisine and the wine’s citrus notes and acidity complemented the flavors of the dish very nicely.
The 2013 Round Pond Estate Sauvignon Blanc was next and while our first bottle was noticeably “off” (hey, it happens!) the next bottle proved well worth the wait! This delightfully lemon-yellow incarnation of the Sauvignon Blanc grape had body and presence. Diane explained this wine was de-acidified naturally; 10% of the grapes were harvested when the acid levels were high; 80% were harvested when sugar, acid and pH were all “in the zone”; and the additional 10% were allowed to hang for two additional days contributing to the wine’s viscous mouthfeel. Cline explained, “this method gives three different snapshots of the vineyard,” resulting in a generous expression of this grape with notes of guava, lemon zest, peach and plenty of zip. Chef paired this wine with a duo of dishes which really showcased its range and versatility: with House Cured & Smoked Loche Duart Salmon with Salmon Roe and Dill Creme Fraiche the Sauvignon Blanc really made the dill “pop” and accentuated the lovely texture and oiliness of the salmon while cleansing the palate after each bite; with Saffron Risotto of Florida Rock Shrimp the wine’s body stood up beautifully to the savory flavors while its lemony, food-friendly acidity balanced the richness nicely.
Our first red wine of the day was the 2012 Round Pond Estate “Kith and Kin” Cabernet Sauvignon. The “Kith and Kin” wines are so named after the Old English expression for “Friends and Family” and originated in 1992 when the MacDonnell family made its very first barrel of wine from their Napa Valley vineyards intended exclusively for friends and family. These wines also sparked the family’s passion for making wine and ultimately became the inspiration for Round Pond Estate! Today, Round Pond’s “Kith and Kin” wines are intended to reflect the Napa Valley appellation and to be consumed in their youth. After a challenging 2010 and 2011, 2012 was a nearly perfect growing season and winemaker Muiris Griffin selected some of his favorite Rutherford estate lots, as well as a careful selection of grapes from neighboring appellations for this cuvee. The wine was aged in second year French oak barrels and after 15 months the result is a Cabernet Sauvignon with fragrant aromas of ripe red currant, blackberry and plum. The velvety mouthfeel is further enhanced by silky tannins which add weight but not astringency making this wine very approachable. Chef prepared a delicious Roasted “Jurgielewicz Farms” Duckling with Red Cabbage Gel, Braised Black Barley and Valencia Orange Glaze which was a home run with this wine, creating a beautiful harmony of flavor and texture.
Our final wine of the tasting was the 2011 Round Pond Estate Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon. 2005 was the inaugural vintage of Round Pond’s estate wines which, as you might expect, are crafted from the estate’s finest lots. The goal is to create a wine which reflects its historic Rutherford “terroir” with as little intervention as possible. In the fashion of Bordeaux this Meritage blend (for definition and pronunciation of this term, please click here) is comprised of 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec and 2% Merlot fermented in small lots and then spends twenty months in 70% new French oak. The result? A wine with a delightfully inky purple hue and fragrant aromas of black fruit and spice which beckons from the glass. On the palate black cherry, plum, spice and a hint of chocolate are accompanied by firm tannins and a long, lingering finish. This wine was definitely built to go the distance while still maintaining excellent balance and made a wonderful accompaniment to Chef’s Herb Roasted “Miyazaki” Wagyu Flatiron Steak with Ratatouille and Red Wine Reduction, cutting through the fat of the lean meat like a vinous laser.
The wines of Round Pond Estate are currently available at The Wine Atelier. These special, limited production wines offer a great opportunity to explore California’s Rutherford region and its unique terroir.
“Oh, I can’t drink red wine because of the sulfites, they give me a headache.”
I often hear this statement at wine tastings and it represents one of the most commonly held misconceptions about “Red Wine Headache,” a malady that affects many wine lovers. If you suffer from this affliction, there’s some potentially surprising science behind the cause of these headaches as well as strategies you can employ to keep it from happening again in the future.
First, a little on sulfites: sulfur dioxide, or SO2, is the form of sulfur that’s most relevant to winemaking. This chemical is actually more important for the preservation of white wine which has lower levels of natural preservatives than red wine. The primary function of sulfur dioxide is as a preservative and disinfectant yet it also inhibits bacteria and yeast as well. Sulfur dioxide preserves wine by reacting with oxygen, a well-known enemy of wine, to prevent oxidation which can adversely affect a wine’s color and flavor. For this reason, it is also used, at much higher amounts than are found in wine, in many fruit juices and dried fruits to keep them from spoiling and turning brown.
Tannins are chemical compounds which have important preservative properties which are derived primarily from grape skins and to a lesser extent from oak barrels. Red wine spends more time in contact with the grape skins and oak than white wine so it inherently contains more of these compounds. In the absence of tannins, higher levels of sulfites must be added to white wines to prevent spoilage. While it may come as a surprise that white wine contains more sulfites than red, sweet white wines generally contain even more sulfites than dry white wine! Higher levels of sulfites are needed in the sweeter wines to prevent any strains of wild yeast from inducing another fermentation because of the higher sugar content. So to sum it up, wines which contain the most sulfites in order of most to least are:
1. Sweet White Wines (Sauternes, Juracon, etc)
2. Dry White Wines (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, etc)
3. Dry Red Wines (Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, etc)
The bottom line is, if you’re experiencing headaches after consuming only red wine, sulfites are most likely not the culprit. Additionally, the most common reactions to sulfites are breathing-related problems (especially in asthmatics); sulfites are generally not known to cause headaches.
So if it’s not sulfites causing “Red Wine Headache” then what is it, you ask? Well the jury’s still out on that one and, to date, there’s no research that definitively answers that question. There are so many compounds in red wine (more than in white), it is difficult to pin the blame on just one. Some prime suspects, however, are the tyramines and histamines produced during malolactic fermentation which are present at much higher levels in red wine. These compounds are not unique to wine and are also present in food products that have been aged or fermented including cured meats, aged cheeses and soy.
There are a few hypotheses as to why these chemicals can trigger these terrible headaches. One relates to the increase in serotonin levels caused by tyramines to which some individuals can be very sensitive. Just the mere fluctuation of these levels is enough to bring on a headache. Another explanation involves tyramines’ ability to cause dilation and contraction of blood vessels which can also trigger a migraine. One researcher concluded that tyramines can actually induce headaches in up to 40% of migraine sufferers. Of course with all wine, white or red, there’s the complicating factors of quantity of consumption and alcohol content which seem to exacerbate any existing sensitivity to the aforementioned chemical compounds making it even more difficult to identify the source.
While there’s no definitive answer as to the cause of “Red Wine Headache,” there are some strategies you can employ to hopefully decrease your chance of experiencing it in the future. If you find yourself experiencing headaches after drinking red wine only it’s probably best to stick to reds with lower levels of tannin and alcohol such as Pinot Noir and Gamay. Or, you might even embrace white wine more frequently which may reduce the incidence as well. Since we all have or own unique body chemistry it’s best to learn through trial and error and let your body be your guide. Hopefully you can find a way to still enjoy the red wine you love while not having to suffer for it!