Holly’s Hill Vineyards: The Road to El Dorado

We were sure that we would look back on Miraflores Winery as the high point of our day. We were positive no other winery could come close to touching what Miraflores did.

We were so, so very wrong.

We headed up a long, winding road, driving past horse farms and people walking enormous dogs that looked like they could be used as steeds if anyone saddled them. (Side note: why hasn’t anyone ever bred dogs up to be a riding animal? Is it the tendency toward hip displaysia, or the tendency toward face-licking that isn’t shared by horses?) Pavement turned to gravel, the fresh air filled with the scent of trees, and Mike looked around and said, “What is this, Wine Tasting State Park?”

The Wine Tasting State Park picnic area. Ants optional (we left ours at home).Â

Folks who we thought were tasting room staff were chatting outside the door. (Later, we figured out they were Holly’s Hill fans, complete with logowear.) We raved over the view, and one said, “If you think that’s good, come out back!”

Holly's Hill Vineyard
If it were any more picturesque, they'd make a jigsaw puzzle out of it.

Breathtaking setting: check.

We eventually sidled up to the tasting room bar next to an incredibly friendly Holly’s Hill fan named Gayle Brown. There’s a lot of choices on the Holly’s Hill tasting menu. Mike dubbed Gayle our “wine sherpa” as she led us through all her favorites. It didn’t trim down the choices by much; if Holly’s Hill makes a wine that is less than excellent we sure didn’t experience it.

Holly's Hill Vineyard
Mike, winemaker Josh Bendick, awesome tasting room associate Dick Tipton, and me

This is not to say that we didn’t also receive guidance from the tasting room associate. Dick Tipton was friendly, knowledgeable and very willing to share his opinions. He was laid back and unintimidating, exactly the kind of tasting associate I like.

Photobombing Holly's Hill Vineyard
They don't charge extra for the photobombing.

Dick wasn’t the only one willing to share an opinion. This wasn’t one of those tasting rooms where everyone keeps to themselves. We mentioned we were going to Napa and the entire room chimed in with their recommendations, both for the best tasting rooms and the most pretentious. We told Dick and Gayle the name of the winery we were planning to visit in Fair Play and I thought they and a few of the other patrons were going to throw themselves bodily in our paths in order to get us to change our minds. Their recommendations put us on the right path.

But, you may ask, how were the wines?

The Wines

2010 Viognier (El Dorado): This smelled like delicious buckwheat honey poured over tangerines. On the tongue, it burst into effervescent, crisp peach flavors. Yum!

2009 Patriarche (El Dorado): Winemakers Carrie and Josh Bendick created this blend with 60% Mourvedre, 23% Syrah, 14% Grenache Noir and 3% Counoise. (I really want to know how they figure out the percentages to that degree, and despite the fact that Josh Benedick was standing three feet from me I never did ask. Dang it!) It had a scent of woodsmoke barbecue and a delicate woodsmoke and unsweetened chocolate flavor. “This is unreasonably good,” I said on my second sip.

2009 Petite Patriarche (El Dorado): This changes the proportions used in the Patriarche and uses just a taste of Petite Sirah to round out the flavors. At first sniff, it smelled musky and meaty, but every time I inhaled, the scents changed, sometimes fruity, sometimes smoky. On the palate, it was very fruit forward with just a hint of oak.

2009 Mourvedre Classique (El Dorado): It had a fruity plummy scent and just the right soft kind of tannins on the palate. “It’s like a cozy fruity fleece blanket around my tongue,” I wrote. It’s the kind of wine that’s made for cold winter nights snuggled up at a snow lodge in Tahoe. Clearly, Mike and I will have to get it the next time he goes skiing. It can keep me company in the lodge.

2009 Estate Mourvedre (El Dorado): This was also fruit forward but I tasted more alcohol. (That doesn’t mean there was more alcohol, but I did notice it more.) It’s a really good wine, but the Mourvedre Classique still holds the number one place in my imaginary Tahoe ski lodge.

2010 Estate Counoise: It’s a good thing that Mike and I both took notes; I was so busy ecstatically writing about this one that I didn’t get the name down! It smelled like deep caramel and unsweetened chocolate and tasted like caramelized A-1 sauce and steak (yes, you carnivores, I still remember what that tastes like). “So very good!” I wrote in my notes, with a triple underline.

2009 Late Harvest Roussane (El Dorado): The nose was caramelized saffron. The flavor was sweet and light, simple without being boring, and it had a rich viscosity that left it clinging to the palate.

Mourvedre-Syrah: This was a beautiful port-style dessert wine. It had a hint of saffron on the nose and a stewed plum flavor that was sweet without being too sweet.

At the end of our tasting, Gayle gave us a bottle of the Mourvedre Classique I’d swooned over! We had to commemorate the moment. We collared the photobomber and made him take a shot of all of us.

Holly's Hill Vineyard
Mike, Gayle and myself. Thanks, Gayle!


5 Replies to “Holly’s Hill Vineyards: The Road to El Dorado”

  1. I love Viogniers as a general rule so I’ll have to plop that on my list.

    My bigger question is about that same Mourvedre. It is apparently IMPOSSIBLE to find a 100% Mourvedre (I don’t know anything about wine so I don’t know if this is really true) that’s any good; apparently Cass, up in Paso, used to make an insane one but they don’t anymore. I have a bottle of 80 Mourvedre/20 something else, I don’t remember what, that I’m saving, but I have a friend who was NUTS about the Mourvedre and was quite disappointed when Cass stopped doing it. If I bought her a half case of this one for Christmas, do you think she’d like it? I don’t know a lot about wine but I do know that the Mourvedre grape is her favorite.

  2. That Mourvedre Classique was mad good! I am so glad Gayle gave us a bottle of it and I’m torn between opening it immediately and saving it for a special occasion. It was one of my favorite wines this year, seriously.

    So, the short version of that answer…yes, I think she’d like it.

    If you ever get a chance to take a vacation (ha ha) I strongly recommend heading up to that area. It’s a very relaxed place!

  3. Wow. What a nice review. I especially like the way you describe the wines. I think we need more wines that remind people of “fleece blankets.” You can stop by anytime.

    Josh Bendick, Co-winemaker

  4. Karly in Amador County near Plymouth also makes a real Mourvedre called “El Alacran” that is remarkably good. It has more to it than the Holly’s Hill offerings, more booze and more bite, but it must to stand out among the excellent Zins that Karly also pours.

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