Jan 302011

Winemaker Andrew Schweiger and Chef J.D. Brown

Earlier this week we had the opportunity to join winemaker Andrew Schweiger of Schweiger Vineyards for a wonderful winemaker dinner at CRU Wine Bar – Park Meadows in Denver. The restaurant was closed for the event which was attended by at least fifty people. I doubt anyone went home disappointed in the wine, Andrew’s presentation or the food. The menu was very well thought out and showcased the wines beautifully. More on that later…

Schweiger Vineyards is located on Spring Mountain, well above the Napa Valley floor. The majority of the 60 acre property was purchased by Andrew’s grandfather for under $300 an acre in 1960. Andrew’s father, Fred added the balance of the property in 1961. It wasn’t until the late 1970’s that the decision was made to clear the property and plant grapes. During the clearing, hand-split grape stakes were discovered revealing that over a hundred years earlier the property had been farmed as a vineyard. The first Schweiger Vineyards grapes were harvested in 1984 and for ten years the family sold their grapes to notable wineries like Newton, Stags Leap Winery, ZD and Cafaro Cellars.

Schweiger VineyardsSchweiger Vineyards is truly a family operation. Andrew’s father, Fred, vineyard and winery founder, is still active on the vineyard property. His wife Sally runs the office while daughter Diana serves as sales director and son, Andrew is the winemaker.

Andrew received his formal viticulture and fermentation science training at Cal Davis. Prior to becoming Schweiger Vineyard’s full-time winemaker, Andrew honed his skills at Joseph Phelps and Trefethen Vineyards while in school then Chateau St. Jean and Cain Cellars after graduation. The winery started producing in 1994 and stopped selling grapes to other wineries in 1999. It was then Andrew set aside his other winery obligations to focus his considerable talents full-time on the family winery.

Our evening started with Andrew and CRU manger David Goergan greeting guest as we arrived followed by Andrew’s short presentation on the history of this family operation. Andrew is a funny, powerful and engaging speaker who easily mixed with the guests taking questions and telling stories.

The first wine served was the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc ($22), the only wine Schweiger makes from sourced fruit. Andrew explained that he prefers screw caps for aromatic white wines that are not intended to age. This is a crisp barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc that received no malolactic fermentation. The predominant flavor was rich Texas Ruby Red Grapefruit which paired very well with the Seared Diver Scallops in a cilantro grapefruit buerre blanc sauce.

As the second course, Tortellini Founduta, butter poached lobster, white truffle cream and shaved black truffles was being served Andrew explained how he believes that food and wine go together in that order. His wines are intended to be food friendly. To that end, both the Chardonnay served with this course and Sauvignon Blanc have fairly high acidity, for enhanced food pairing. The ’08 Chardonnay ($30), one of only four chardonnay plots planted on Spring Mountain, is also barrel fermented with no malolactic fermentation. Nine months of surlies aging adds some depth and character to the delicate oak and minerality.  The acidity of the chardonnay paired very well with the rich butter sauce where a more traditional California Chardonnay may have fallen flat.

Schweiger Vineyards is best known for their red wines and they no doubt, were the stars of the show. The 2006 Merlot ($43) was daringly paired with Hazelnut Crusted Mahi Mahi with cherry buerre rouge and roasted mini-squash. Normally, I’m no big fan of Merlots, but this one was outstanding. The flavors blueberry and pomegranate along with cocoa and tobacco leaf showed through. Andrew said he strives for more of a blue fruit flavor in his Merlot rather than black fruit. The cherry buerre sauce pulled the wine and beefy fish together.

Next up was my favorite pairing, the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon ($48) and Braised Bison Short Ribs with a fig and cocoa reduction. Wowser, while the bison short ribs and Cabernet were beautiful on their own, the pairing brought out the best in both. Schweiger Cabernet is 100% estate grown and bottled benefiting from extended barrel aging. Andrew explained that the extended barrel aging gives the wine more time to micro-aerate and creates softer tannins. This Cabernet is a full-bodied and well-balanced wine with black fruit flavors, dark chocolate, plum and oak. Andrew refers to his winemaking style as “walking the fine line between art and science.”

With a meal and wine of this quality, a great dessert had to be in the offing. Chef J.D. Brown did not disappoint as he paired a House-Made Dark Chocolate Gelato with a port cherry reduction to Schweiger Vineyards Cabernet Port VIII($50 .375). Again from estate Cabernet grapes, this is a smooth intense port which utilizes a Pinot Noir or Chenin Blanc brandy in the blend of several vintages.

Full and satisfied, our evening came to an end. In addition to Andrew, we made a number of new wine friends (including blogger, D’Vine Girl) whose great conversation added to the enjoyment of the evening. This was not our first wine dinner at Cru and it will not be our last. It was our first time to enjoy Schweiger Vineyards wine and it too, will not be our last.

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