Two weeks ago, my wife Barbara and I returned to the singular Relais & Château GourmetFest in Carmel. This was the fifth annual celebration of GourmetFest under the direction and planning of our good friend and host “extraordinaire” David Fink, founder and CEO of Mirabel Hotel & Restaurant Group.
Long before his launch of GourmetFest in 2014, David created and presided over the heralded Masters of Food and Wine at the Highlands Inn in Carmel where he also served as general manager for more than 15 years.
Throughout his successful career in hospitality, wine and food, David has cultivated a wide circle of friends and colleagues from around the world. At GourmetFest, they all step forward to demonstrate and share their talents with a host of enthusiastic fans during multiple themed events including tastings, wine paired meals, cooking demonstrations, a mushroom hunt and more each day. This year, Barbara and I chose to spend our Friday with Rosella and Gary Franscioni at their stunning home nestled amidst their Rosella’s Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands (SLH) overlooking the Salinas valley.
Our visit was highlighted by an extensive tasting of the Franscioni’s ROAR wines poured from 750ml, magnum, 3.0L and 5.0L formats featuring a range of vineyards and vintages from 2009 to 2016. All this vinous majesty was accompanied by a delectable four-course lunch with each dish expertly prepared by a Relais & Château chef.
Franscioni sons Adam (now working on the winemaking/vineyard team) and Nick (lending his skills to the business, tech and farming sides) bring a fourth generation of passion to the family’s farming history, that spans more than 100 years on their very precious property.
Over their four generations, the Franscionis are recognized growers of exceptional avocados, lemons and other crops. Gary’s treasured Pinot Noir vines were first planted in 1996 with the inaugural wine produced in 2001 under the winemaking direction of Adam Lee (of Siduri fame) with the assistance of Gary and current winemaker Scott Shapley.
In addition to Rosella’s Vineyard, Gary also ventured beyond the family farm. In 1997 he, along with Gary Pisoni (the two Garys of the Santa Lucia Highlands), planted Garys’ Vineyard and in 2008, Soberanes Vineyard. In 2007, he planted the high-altitude Sierra Mar Vineyard.
These are all individual sites on varying soils located throughout the Santa Lucia Highlands. Pinot Noir has always been Gary’s focus with Chardonnay in a supporting role. More recently, and with a nod to climate change, Gary has added some Viognier and Syrah to his plantings and varietal mix in the ROAR portfolio.
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Two years ago, Barbara and I attended a similar event with the Franscionis where ROAR wines were paired with those of Pisoni, however, this year’s focus was on ROAR representing the range of vineyards, vintages and varietals.
We started our rainy afternoon in the Franscioni’s private wine cellar (Nick and Adam’s former playroom) enjoying the 2009 Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard from a 5.0L bottle and 2013 Soberanes Pinot from magnum as we listened attentively to the family discussing their history, farming/winemaking philosophy and vision for the future.
Moving inside the Franscioni home, we were greeted with a glass of Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Champagne from magnum accompanied by delectable hors d’oeuvres prepared by Patricia Gomez of Royal Blues Hotel. Our next course was a delicious pheasant pizza from AJ Buchanio of Magee Homestead (a nine-room lodge on 7,500 acres in Wyoming) paired with a delightful duo of 2016 Chardonnays from both Soberanes and Rosella’s Vineyards.
The Rosella’s was an elegant display (Meursault-style) of pear and tropical fruits with hints of citrus while the Soberanes showed a bit more richness on the palate with a touch of spiced apple and power on the finish. A true “sense of place” expression as the two vineyards are planted to different clones and just two miles apart.
Following this course, we were delighted with 2010 (5.0L) and 2016 Pinots from Rosella’s Vineyard paired to an extraordinary roasted duck breast (what can be better than Pinot and duck?) from Chef Gomez. The 2016 exhibited a youthful expression of what’s to come with bright red fruit on the nose and palate and a finish not yet fully integrated. The 2010 has gained depth and complexity with time in the bottle where elegance is paired with power while red and black fruits add interest and character. Great examples of youth vs. maturity with bright futures ahead for both.
The next course was something to behold both in presentation and flavor. Chef Buchanio crafted an intriguing dark-chocolate tart with hazelnut brittle, cherry and cocoa nib. We revisited the 2010 and 2016 vintages with two Pinots from Garys’ Vineyard. The 2016 displayed its youth but with a shade more integration showing red cherry with hints of spice and strawberry leading to a bright long finish. The 2010 (3.0L) was lush with richness and balance showing more black cherry, a touch of plum and opulent power. This course saw the pairing of two great Pinots from the same vineyard at different stages of their lives.
The Franscioni’s final surprise offering was a taste of both their beautiful 2015 Syrah from Rosella’s Vineyard and a luscious “Condrieu-styled” 2016 Viognier (about 50-case production and Rosella’s favorite). A change-of-pace treat to seal the memory of a beautiful afternoon.
Over the years, I’ve observed a tremendous evolution in the wines of ROAR that has been both rewarding and complex. It is reflective not only of the maturing vineyards, but, more importantly, the Franscioni’s increasing knowledge of what they are capable of producing and how to best demonstrate their individual character from vine to glass.