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The Most Underrated White Wine, a Wine Picked During a War and Great Wine Books — This Hospitality Guru Shares Her Best Tips

We're Talking Grapes With DuMOL's Jill Davis

BY // 08.22.22

I like to talk about wine with people who share my passion for it. We open bottles, we trade stories about travel and soil types, terroir and residual sugar, and we talk of taste and food and restaurants. We recommend wines to one another, we drink and we learn a lot.

In Wine Talk, I introduce you to friends, acquaintances, and people I meet as I make my way around the world, individuals who love wine as much as I do, who live to taste, who farm and make wine. You’ll appreciate their insight, and I hope you’ll learn something from them as well. 

In the past several months I’ve sampled a number of bottles from a producer whose wines I’ve respected for a long time. The tastings involved pinot noir and chardonnay, and they were exacting representations of their terrier. DuMOL is the name of that producer.

Among the selections from DuMOL I opened was the 2019 Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir. The fruit comes from DuMOL’s Coffee Lane Vineyard, which is graced with Goldridge soil, a geological wonder. Vines are densely planted in the vineyard, resulting in small, concentrated clusters. I’ve walked around that area, and this wine took me there.

It was lively, focused and supple, and possessed a confident level of acidity. If you appreciate food-friendly wines, any vintage of this pinot noir will please. Aromas of cassis and loamy forest soil dominate, but there’s a lot more there, all commingling in a complex bouquet that had me smiling. A first taste gave me cherry, dark cherry, along with undertones of pristine, perfectly formed raspberries.

I would set aside an evening to prepare a meal of duck breast and pair it with this wine. The 2020 vintage of the DuMOL estate Pinot can be found for around $100.

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Next came the 2019 Highland Divide Pinot Noir. Look to pay $75 for it. It’s well worth the outlay. Tannins impress, approachable and welcoming. Clones: Calera, Swan and 943. Fruit here comes from Coffee Lane Vineyard, O’Connell Estate Vineyard, and MacIntyre Estate Vineyard. This poured pleasurably from the first.

Want something to go equally well with lamb burgers or a rack of lamb? Try this bottle, any vintage.

The Estate Chardonnay was also part of the session, the 2020 vintage. Fruit hails from the Kearney Estate Vineyard, another Green Valley parcel of land, this one marked by Altamont soils (get an Altamont primer here). Low yields, high acidity, 16-year-old vines, and a luscious, sensual mouthfeel. Clones are Mount Eden and Hyde Wente, and you can find this for around $75.

All of these bottles will age suitably, which brings me to the winemaking at DuMOL. Andy Smith is the viticulturist and winemaker at DuMOL, and his experience and feel for the work can be tasted in the bottle. I’ll have more to say about him in future articles, but for this edition of Wine Talk I turned to a colleague of his, Jill Davis, the hospitality and events manager at DuMOL.

Before coming back to California, and landing at DuMOL, Davis had a successful tenure at Four Seasons properties. She’s also worked several harvests for Failla Wines, and considers herself a lifelong learner about everything related to viticulture. Anyone who’s spent some time at wineries that feature a hospitality program knows how vital the planning and execution of lunches, dinners, tastings and tours are to a brand. Davis is all about that.

Let’s see what she has to say in this latest edition of Wine Talk:

James Brock: How has COVID-19 changed your work and life?

Jill Davis: Wow, how hasn’t it changed my life? I was living in Philadelphia and working as the beverage director at the Four Seasons at the time. After a year of the roller coaster of COVID, I decided to move back to California.

Luckily, I landed at DuMOL. I am so happy with the decision to move back. I lived here from 2016 to 2018 and knew DuMOL well. The company is so supportive, and the wines are produced with the utmost integrity. Plus, I get to rock climb and mountain bike all the time.

JB: Tell us about three wines you think are drinking well at the moment. What makes them worthwhile? How about a food pairing for each one? 

JD: I am really excited by the chardonnays that John Raytek at Ceritas produces, the 2019 Trout Gulch in particular. The wine is vibrant, salty and mineral-driven, so far from what most people expect from California chardonnay. I would recommend drinking this wine with oysters or sushi. You can get it by signing up on their list.

John Lockwood from Enfield produces superb wines. His Pretty Horses red blend is always a go-to for me. It’s bright with a perfect balance of savory to fruit and just so happy. I think it sold out last year, but I believe it is part of his upcoming fall release. Honestly, I would have a cheese and charcuterie board alongside this wine.

Craig Haarmeyer is one of the biggest proponents of Chenin Blanc in California, especially Clarksburg Chenin, and started the #hellachenin trend. I had his 2021 St. Rey ‘SRV’ recently. It was super fresh and so classically Chenin, with chamomile and lemon notes. You can buy the wine directly on his website. Drink with all the fresh summer veggies and goat cheese.

Serge Hochar, glass in hand.
Serge Hochar, glass in hand.

JB: If cost was no consideration, tell us the one bottle you would add to your personal collection, and why? 

JD: 1984 Château Musar. The wine was picked during a war in Lebanon. They couldn’t get to the vineyard to pick the grapes on time, yet picked them late and fermented them anyway.

My father’s family comes from Syria and moved to the U.S. I’ve always been excited about the Middle East’s wine production. Serge Hochar is a legend within the region, and around the world. Though he is no longer alive, his reputation is incredible. It would be an honor to taste this wine someday.

JB: What is your favorite grape variety, and why?

JD: Chenin blanc Historically, it was widely planted across California, then got ripped out in favor of  chardonnay when that became popular. There are still quite a few old-vine selections across the state. I was lucky enough to get Jurassic grapes and produced my own chenin last year. It’s such a versatile grape, both in the vineyard, in the cellar and in the bottle.

JB: How about one bottle that our readers should buy now to cellar for 10 years, to celebrate a birth, anniversary, or other red-letter day? Can be one of your wines, but need not be. 

JD: I would recommend 2020 DuMOL Estate Chardonnay. It is genuinely one of the best chardonnays that we have ever produced. It has a natural richness and density coupled with bright acidity, which are so interesting when you taste them together. This is a wine that can age for a while.

JB: Where is your go-to place when you want to have a glass or bottle (outside of your home and workplace)?

JD: I tend to drink wine and beer at home or at friends’ homes mostly. I love Cadet Wine & Beer Bar in Napa, Fern Bar in Sebastopol and The Charter Oak in St. Helena if I do get out and about. They all have amazing and approachable beverage programs.

Ultimately, I have always believed wine should be fun, and the places you hang out should be equally unpretentious for that reason.

JB: If there was one thing you wish everyone would keep in mind when buying and drinking wine, what is it?

JD: At the end of the day, wine is meant to be enjoyable. Drink what you like. Share what you like with friends and family. Connect with people over good bottles of wine. Don’t overcomplicate it.

JB: What is your “wine eureka moment,” the incident/taste/encounter that put you and wine on an intimate plane forever?

JD: I went to graduate school for international affairs and had to write a research methods paper in my first semester. I chose to write about the Chilean versus Argentine wine industries. I found myself so intrigued by the subject that I approached a local wine director and asked if I could work for him — for free. He “hired” me and the rest is history.

JB: Your favorite wine reference in a work of literature?

JD: I love books so much. Wine and War by Don and Petie Kladstrup is definitely at the top of the list. I love Hugh Johnson’s Modern Encyclopedia of Wine and Peter Liem’s book on  champagne is an absolute work of art. Masnaghetti’s maps are pure genius. I really could go on forever.

For more wine, travel and other stories from James Brock, check out his Mise en Place website.

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