#293 – June 1, 2015 (Evolution of a Giant / Tales of Brobdingnag)
It was nearly five years ago when I first wrote a brief newsletter about Jonathan Hajdu and his first two wines, getting the word out on his incredible new winery – then known as Brobdingnagian. The talent was apparent with the first two releases – a Grenache and Syrah, both from the 2007 vintage and he has continued to improve and impress with almost every wine and subsequent vintage. During the five years since that time I have become friendly with Jonathan, tasted every wine he has made and enjoyed nearly every one of them as well. After recently taking delivery of his latest releases, I decided that five years was long enough and the Hajdu wines deserved some prime real estate on these pages, so enjoy. Given that this is the first full-blown article about such a terrific winery, the newsletter is [much] longer than usual as I have attempted to provide a comprehensive picture of the winery and included tasting notes for nearly every wine Hajdu he ever made. As a teaser, and because the newsletter was way too long anyways, I left out my notes for the2013 Eaglepoint Grenache, 2012 Proprietary Red and the monumental but not [yet] repeated 2010 Oak Knoll Petit Verdot.
Jonathan Hajdu is the owner, founder and winemaker of Hajdu Wines, formerly known as Brobdingnagian (which is commonly misspelled as Brobdignagian) who also has a full-time day job as the associate winemaker at Covenant Winery, where he assists Jeff Morgan in creating some of Napa Valley’s finest kosher wines. Originally from New York’s Long Island, Jonathan came into the wonderful world of wine via the cosmopolitan oasis of Albany where he studied archeology at the University of Albany. As could be expected, studying long lost relics was far less interesting than the fermented nectar of grapes; and while the area is not known for its terroir or replete with vineyards, it did have its fair share of wine bars. After some serious time spent exploring the oenophilic delights on offer, the young student decided that a life of dusty bones and buildings wasn’t going to cut it for him. The wine bars were just the push needed to start him down the path all of us kosher oenophiles are exceedingly grateful he took.
After a year in Israel spent at the Or Samaech yeshiva, Jonathan headed [far] south to Australia, where he spent a year studying viticulture at Melbourne’s Swinburne University followed with six months of practical viticulture as a vineyard worker at Yering Station Vineyards, located in the acclaimed Yarra Valley. After six months under the Yarra Valley sun, Jonathan packed up his bags once again and headed stateside looking to continue working in wine, an area he loved and had come to understand he was destined for. He spent some time interning for Punchdown Cellars (then known as Copain Custom Crush), a crush facility that provided winemaking services to boutique wineries and independent winemakers without facilities they could call their own, before landing at Herzog Wine cellars and having his first encounter with the production of kosher wine.
Similar to Carmel Winery for Israeli winemaking talent, Herzog has been the launching pad for many kosher winemaking endeavors and Jonathan not only continued his training at Herzog, gaining valuable experience, he also met some of the folks who would come to play important roles in the molding of this young man’s career. The cast of characters included the Gabriel and Shimon Weiss (the “Weiss Brothers” of Shirah Winery) and most importantly Jeff Morgan for whom Jonathan ultimately ended up working with at Covenant Winery. Before ending up in their current and spanking new Berkley facility, Jeff made his first five vintages of Covenant at Herzog (2003-2007) followed by two that were “custom crushed” at Raymond Winery in St. Helena (2008-2009) and four more (2010-2013) leasing space from Falcor Wines in Napa Valley. Even before joining Covenant full time in 2008, fate ensure that Jonathan was involved, one-way or another, in every Covenant vintage since the winery’s inception.
It was also during those three fateful years working at Herzog that Jonathan met his future California garagiste brethren – Gabe and Shimon Weiss, with whom (together with Yonni Freedman) he made his first barrel of wine. Harvesting half a ton of Syrah grapes from the Alamo Creek Vineyard in San Luis Obispo County which was offered to them for free (as long as they would do the picking), they fermented a barrel in their garage and created what was apparently a delicious wine. The resulting 2005 Syrah is considered the first wine of Shirah Winery (although the first official launch wine of Shirah was the acclaimed 2009 Power to the People, there were three prior wines, including this one) and was certainly the motivation and muse for launching the winemaking entrepreneurship that yielded both the Hajdu and Shirah wineries. As a total aside, this wine is also the only commercially distributed wine any of the three has made (that I know of) which I wasn’t privileged to taste.
After three years at Herzog, Jonathan went back to Israel for six months (this time for wine) which he spent working at – you guessed it – Carmel Winery (where it sometimes seems that every single winemaker is Israel got their start, in one way or another). Working under head winemaker Lior Lacser (the only winemaker of a substantial Israeli winery I haven’t met), he gained additional kosher winemaking experience that was destined to serve him well in the coming years. After returning to California (by way of New York), Jonathan finally found his calling and made his first two official wines under the now cult Brobdingnagian label – a varietal Syrah and Grenache. Named for the giants discovered by Lemuel Gulliver during his mythical travels though the world of Jonathan Swift, these initial wines were the epitome of blockbusters – rich, bold and scrumptious, easily living up to their colossal namesakes. They also clocked in at an insane 16.3% AbV while showcasing what would come to be one of Jonathan’s winemaking characteristics – great structured, impeccable balance and aging ability, all despite the highly extracted fruit and elevated alcohol levels. Sourced from the Santa Barbera area, the wines were reviewed in newsletter #148 and recent tastings of both wines show they are still alive and kicking but should probably be enjoyed within the next 12 months (see detailed notes below).
While California’s three larger kosher wineries (along with the fan favorite Four Gates) focus on the classic Bordeaux varietals (i.e. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay), Hajdu (along with Shirah) has placed his fate with the Rhone, considering (along with the Rhone Rangers) its varietals to be better suited to California’s terroir. With a focus on some of the more prominent Rhone grapes like Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah and Carignan (for the sticklers out there, Petite Sirah isn’t really a Rhone grape but is was adopted by Rhone Rangers the as one of their own due to its extensive planting alongside many Rhone varietals in California), he has created a plethora of incredible wines for anyone doubting what California Wines can look like outside of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Obviously this is a generalization as the first group of wineries does amazing things with Syrah and Roussanne and Jonathan utilizes plenty of non-Rhone grapes like Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. That said – the pattern is pretty clear and provides the kosher wine oenophile with a mélange of terrific options from an ever-growing number of top tier winemaking talent up and down the western coast of the United States.
Following up on his inaugural success, the 2008 vintage yielded another new and exciting wine and the first “second” label for Brobdingnagian – Besomim. Named for the aromatic spices used to fortify the body as the special “extra soul” departs at the end of Sabbath, this was an incredible field blend of Zinfandel, Grenache, Syrah and Petite Syrah that Jonathan made together with Napa’s Chabad Rabbi Tenenbaum (who spearheads the Cuvee Chabad wine project with assistance from both Jonathan and Jeff). 2008 was also the year that Jonathan signed on as associate winemaker at Covenant while continuing to make Brobdingnagian. The 2009 vintage yielded only two wines – another Besomim field blend and a varietal Syrah but the 2010 vintage was where Jonathan really kicked it up a notch and took Brobdingnagian to a whole new level, both qualitatively and quantitatively. For 2010 there were five wines in the portfolio including another Besomim blend, and four Brobdingnagian wines – a repeat of the inaugural 2007 Grenache and Syrah wines along with a worthy addition to the “Brob” Club – a gigantic Petite Sirah and an amazing but not repeated Petit Verdot. 2011 brought with it a new label “Makom” under which a varietal Carignan was produced (but not repeated, instead housing a Pinot Noir and Grenache Blanc in future years) and renaming the winery “Hajdu” while relegating “Brobdingnagian” to a label/series. Coinciding with Jonathan’s nearly imperceptible shift away from the gigantic wines to slightly more elegance and power, Brobdingnagian was also dropped as a label/series (although Brob fans should stay tuned for a new delightful wine that will “resurrect” the Brobdingnagian label). Other changes included creating the multitude of animal labels for the different wines (instead of the cycling elephant that graced all the 2010 and earlier wines), all designed by his talented wife with many showing whimsical renditions of various animals in different poses (most appropriately, a humongous elephant riding a tiny bicycle represents the huge yet balanced Petite Sirah). In addition to the cycling elephant, the portfolio includes an impossibly cool turtle, a yo-yoing ostrich, the tap dancing whale (all representing the massive wines with the impeccable balance and finesse) and others. 2011 was also the first deviation from the Rhone with the introduction of a Bordeaux-bend “Proprietary Red” (whose current release is the 2012 vintage). 2012 saw additional new wines introduced which included a Grenache Blanc and Pinot Noir, both housed in under the Makom label and a varietal Cabernet Franc under the “Hajdu” label. 2013 heralded the release of a terrific Rosé as well. With new and additional surprises coming, Jonathan promises to continue to innovate and excite for years to come. He also does private barrels for an extremely limited and highly curated group of private clients who something extra beyond what is available to the general public.
Staring with 900 bottles for the 2007 vintage before dropping to 300 bottles in 2008 and 600 in 2009, Hajdu has been slowly growing his production since 2010 when he released 3,000 bottles. Production levels for 2011 was approximately 5,000 bottles (plus a select number of private barrels) and he doubled his production for the 2012 vintage (little under 10,000 bottles) and maintained those levels through 2013 and 2014 (in addition to continuing to service the limited number of private barrels). Making some sense of the names and labels took some time, but they currently comprise the Proprietary Red (his flagship), Hajdu (f/k/a “Brobdingnagian”) (which includes Grenache, Syrah and Petite Sirah, Rosé and the previously produced Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot), Makom (Grenache Blanc and Pinot Noir and the previously produced Carignan), and the Besomim blend. Now fully established as a winemaker in his own right with an eponymously named winery, Jonathan continues to fulfill his day job as Covenant’s associate winemaker while continuing to develop the Hajdu wines. Presumably he doesn’t sleep much since he also juggles a very full home life with two little children. As I have mentioned on these pages numerous times, I consider him to be highly talented, an all-around great guy and the producer of many terrific wines, most of which have been reviewed here over the years.
In addition to his newest releases, the notes below include many of his prior wines that I recently had the opportunity to enjoy. Unfortunately his wines are only available in the US and only directly from the winery but I highly recommend that my Israeli-based readers do what they can to lay their hands on some of his wines – you will be thanking me for years to come. The wines are available directly from Jonathan (jonathan [at] hajduwines [dot] com) and while his response time can sometimes leave much to be desired, it will be time well spent to persevere until a shipment of your own Hajdu wines is on its way to you.
Hajdu, Makom, Grenache Blanc, 2014: After firmly establishing himself at the marquee (and only) producer of kosher Grenache Blanc, Jonathan once again provides us with the essential summer quaffer that come packing substantially more punch than your typical Rosé or crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Fermented in the barrel, once again the wine provides a huge boost of rich tropical fruit, deep and layered minerals and mouthwatering citrus. A medium bodied palate is loaded with great acid, mouth-watering citrus and plenty of slightly viscous and lively fruit that provides a delicious way to spend any summer afternoon. Load up, then buy more and enjoy over the next six months.
Hajdu, Makom, Grenache Blanc, 2013: Following on the prior year’s success while sourcing the wines from a new vineyard, the wine managed to live up to expectations, and then some. With plenty of acidity combining with ripe and luscious fruit, this wine provides that rare combination that is immensely pleasing and highly compatible with a tremendous array of foods. The wine opens with a rich nose of tart apple, cantaloupe, papaya, white peaches, pineapple, and minerals and citrus rounding out the package. The medium bodied palate is loaded with much of the same fruit and plenty of mouthwatering citrus keeping things lively and fresh. While still drinking beautifully, it’s time to drink up and order the 2014 version of this wine.
Hajdu, Makom, Grenache Blanc, 2012: The 2012 vintage was the inaugural vintage and showcased to anyone willing to listen why Jonathan needs to be on anyone’s shortlist for one of the top winemakers in the kosher wine world. A delightful treat from an uncommon grape varietal, I went through my stash of this wine so quickly I barely knew what hit me. With plenty of acidity combining with ripe and luscious fruit and aromatic floral notes, this wine provides that rare combination that is immensely pleasing and highly compatible with a tremendous array of foods. With a delightful nose of tropical fruits including melons, papaya and a hint of pineapple combined with delightful notes of citrus, slate mineral notes and the medium bodied palate is loaded with terrific acidity that keeps the fruit from overwhelming and creates a really substantial wine that manages to be fun as well and doesn’t really require much thought to enjoy. The palate has more tropical fruit accompanied by a slightly herbal note, plenty of refreshing citrus notes and a creamy lusciousness that tantalizes until the slightly bitter finish reminds you that this is a wine with substance. While the more than 14% AbV was probably too much for some, my response was bah humbug – drink and enjoy! At this point, the wine has lost much of its freshness and uniqueness and should be consumed now, before moving onto Jonathan’s newest release from the 2014 vintage.
Hajdu, Hajdu, Rosé, Grenache, 2014: In a change from the very impressive 2013 version, this year’s Rosé utilized 100% Grenache from Clements Hills (instead of last year’s Pinot Gris) but Jonathan managed to maintain the unique (and pleasurable) characteristic of underlying salinity along with rich fruit, minerals, plenty of ripe summer fruits and orange citrus notes along with a tantalizing note of the foaming sea. With gobs of acidity keeping the minerals and fruit honest, this is a refreshing wine that goes far beyond your typical summer quaffer to provide a substantial boost to anyone’s summer drinking to whole new level. While the wine will not fulfill everyone’s expectations of a summer quaffing Rosé, it will certainly make any self-respecting oenophile stand up and take notice. Go for it!
Hajdu, Hajdu, Rosé, Pinot Gris, 2013: As would be expected from the mastermind behind Brobdingnagian, this wine is big, special, interesting and certainly different from most Rosés you have experienced. Made from 100% Pinot Gris sourced from the Carneros AVA and harvested specially to make this wine (i.e. not Saignée), the wine is a tremendous match to many different foods. I enjoyed this wine with two heavily creative fish dishes to which it was near-perfectly matched despite its relatively heavy 14.5% AbV. Give this wine a few minutes in your glass or decanter and the slightly sweet red summer fruit dissipates leaving behind a wondrous salinity and balancing acidic bite that is amazing with a nose of minerals, citrus, warm spices and sweet and freshly picked strawberries which continues on the medium to full-bodied palate where the salinity continues to support luscious summer fruit on an acid-packed palate loaded with spice, tart red fruit and with tons of character. As with nearly everything Jonathan produces, this wine is to be reckoned with and still has 12-18 months of enjoyable drinking ahead of it.
Hajdu, Makom, Pinot Noir, 2013: The second California Pinot Noir Jonathan produced and somehow I found myself yearning for the inaugural 2012 release reviewed below. It wasn’t so much as anything was particularly lacking with the 2013 release, but rather there doesn’t seem to be anything special about it – “special” being that succinctly described characteristic I am not expecting form every single wine released by Hajdu. A medium bodied wine with a nose redolent of slightly tart red fruit and hints of rich chocolate and cedar, the wine lacked the bright fruitiness and underlying sexiness I was looking for. Very well made with great balance between the fruit, acid and subtle oak, the wine is well made and doesn’t have anything wrong going for it – it simply wasn’t for me but others will likely find it as enjoyable as everything else labeled by the House of Hajdu. Drink now or over the next 18 months or so.
Hajdu, Makom, Pinot Noir, 2012: A new addition to the Makom label and generally speaking, a new (non-Rhone) varietal, the wine is 100% Sonoma Pinot Noir. A classic California Pinot Noir (if there really is such a thing), with a lovely nose of ever-so-slightly-sweet cherries, currants, a hint of summer, freshly turned earth and notes of slate minerals that keep things interesting well into the medium bodied palate that is replete with plenty more rich fruit, great minerals and earthy overtones accompanied by warm spices and a California hint of dark chocolate, toffee brittle and a touch of smoky oak. Drink now or over the next 12 months.
Hajdu, Makom, Carignan, 2011: For now, the 2011 was the only Carignan that Jonathan produced and while a very enjoyable wine, I didn’t find it up to his usually standards. The wine is the result of [what ended up being a one-time] collaboration between Hajdu and the acclaimed chef of Epic Bites – Yitzchak Bernstein (now resident at New York’s Pomegranate and the genius behind the 25-course dinner to benefit Leket Israel). A nice nose of black fruit, tart cranberry and raspberry, bramble and a delightful earthiness (reminiscent of wet forest floor), subtle feminine floral notes, a hint of smoke and anise along with some toasty oak. A medium bodied palate has plenty of tannin and crushed berries, cassis, more pleasing dirt and minerals, accompanied by burnt espresso notes, some baker’s chocolate and spicy wood. The wine is drinking nicely right now and should be opened and enjoyed over the next 12 months or so.
Hajdu, Besomim, 2012: Maintaining the characteristic aromatics we have come to expect from Hajdu’s “Besomim” blend, this year’s blend of Eaglepoint Grenache and Syrah is fleshed out with some Lake County Syrah and a touch of Petite Sirah which gives the wine some necessary backbone to carry the aromatics through to the medium-bodied palate. As is Hajdu’s wont, the wine present with a highly aromatic nose redolent of spices and accompanied by gobs of rich and primarily black forest fruits with a tinge of tart red fruit as well. Near sweet on both the nose and palate, the mélange of warm spices includes slightly spicy cloves, nutmeg and hints of other warm spices, along with anise, a hint of blueberries, dark baker’s chocolate and a slightly bitter green-tinged herbaceousness that runs through the wine with a bitter streak that makes you sit up and notice while also providing good contra to the fruit. Drink now through 2017, maybe longer.
Hajdu, Besomim, n.v: In lieu of a 2011 vintage for Besomim, Jonathan served up a blend of different wines from his 2011 and 2012 vintages that ended up working very nicely together. More or less evenly between 2011 Lodi Zinfandel and 2012 Eaglepoint Grenache with some 2012 Eaglepoint Syrah thrown in for good measure. With plenty of warm spices leading the charge on the nose, closely followed by plenty of rich and ripe red fruit tinged with blue notes, smoky oak, blooming fields of summer flowers, and some white pepper. I found myself smelling this in the glass for nearly 20 minutes before taking a sip with trepidation fearing a let-down after the aromatics. While the nose was heavenly and the medium-bodied palate had sufficient character to follow through on the nose, I thought that a bit more tannin would have gone a long way to taming the very ripe fruit and filling out a slightly less than fulfilling mid-palate. With plenty if plush red fruit on the palate being joined with more than its fair share of boysenberry and blueberry, rich chocolate, cigar-box tobacco notes and plenty of warm brown spices envelope your palate with sweet sense of wellbeing. A medium finish rounds out the wine that should be consumed over the next 18-24 months.
Hajdu, Besomim, 2010: 2010 brought with it two changes to Hajdu’s Besomim blend. Having “lost” the original vineyard from which the 2008 and 2009 vintages were sourced, 2010 is the first Besomim that wasn’t a field blend but rather a blend of three of the four varietals he sourced from Eaglepoint Ranch and which were also bottled separately as single varietal wines; namely Syrah, Grenache and Petite Sirah. Landing squarely within Hajdu’s comfort zone of taking near sweet fruit almost to the edge while wrapped in a cloak of respectable balance and impeccable structure, the highly expressive nose is redolent of ripe and mostly red fruit that threatens to turn jammy at any moment but never actually loses control. The rich fruit is accompanied on the nose with earthy minerals, the warm spices we have learned are the mainstay behind the Besomim wines, some roasted herbal notes, some baking vanilla and a hint of fig. The medium bodied palate wants to have a serious relationship with you and offers up rich and dark notes of more ripe fruit, slightly bitter green olive notes which temper the fruit ever-so-slightly, cigar-box cedar, roasted espresso, a hint of blue and plenty of good dark chocolate notes all of which lead into a lingering finish that pleases with more chocolate and spice.
Hajdu, Besomim, Cuvee Chabad, 2009: The second (and last) year in which this unique field blend was used for Besomim, once again comprised of Zinfandel, Grenache, Syrah and Petite Sirah which were all harvested and co-fermented together, yielding an intensely aromatic wine with a mélange of warm spices dominating the nose. With plenty of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves on both the nose and palate, the rich dark fruit includes plums, cherries and cassis which are overlaid with a tinge of minty dark chocolate, roasted coffee, tobacco leaf and more spices. A lingering finish leaves you with a sense of Besomim that is reminiscent of your Saturday night goodbye to Shabbat – most likely the feeling Jonathan was going for when he bestowed the Besomim moniker on this wine.
Hajdu, Besomim, Cuvee Chabad, 2008: Named after the aromatic spices used to fortify us for the coming work week as we wish Shabbat farewell, the “concept behind this wine is to provide highly aromatic wines that heavenly leans towards spices. Similar to the 2009 vintage, this is a co-fermented field blend of Zinfandel, Grenache, Syrah and Petite Syrah which was harvested from a small, half-acre plot in Napa along with Napa Valley’s Chabad shaliach – Rabbi Elchonan Tenenbaum and was a collaborative effort between the Rabbi and Jonathan. Rabbi Tenenbaum now produces his own Cuvee Chabad from Lodi Zinfandel and is assisted by Jeff and Jonathan with the proceeds going to support the Chabad programs he runs in Napa Valley. This wine lived up to its name and served up an incredible nose stuffed with blackberries, cassis, cherries, lavender with hints of minty dark chocolate and loads of warm spices including cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. The full-bodied palate contained much of the same with a robust tannic structure, supported by the black fruit, cedar wood, freshly cracked black pepper, eucalyptus, some roasted crushed herbs and tobacco leaf. A long, lingering and spice-infused finish with more minty chocolate rounded out this delightful wine. The wine is literally on its last legs with the last few bottles I have tasted showing some severe bottle variation. I highly recommend finishing up any remaining bottles you may have.
Hajdu, Hajdu, Cabernet Franc, 2012: Given my historical love for the varietal (which has waned in recent years as the high-end options have dwindled), I was pretty excited when Jonathan decided to add a Cabernet Franc to his repertoire and included it on the menu for my 25-course dinner benefitting Leket Israel. While not quite an Israeli Cabernet Franc, it certainly isn’t what one would expect from the Loire Valley either but rather sets the stage for “California Cabernet Franc” (which, like the Pinot Noir reviewed above, it pretty much a made up concept). Sourced from a vineyard located in the Carneros AVA, the wine has near-sweet bell pepper on the nose along with wet forest floor and more vegetative notes that please; the nose and palate are both loaded with rich black fruit that is tinged with hints of tart red fruit, rose hips, some nice spiciness, slightly smoky oak, steeped black tea, freshly-cured tobacco leaf, strong espresso, some nice chocolaty notes and cedar. With a lingering finish that pleases while offering up a hint of green-tinted bitterness, this was a delightful fine.
Hajdu, Hajdu, Grenache, Eaglepoint Ranch, 2013: Confirming what was evidenced by the 2012 Grenache (see the note below); Jonathan has left the Brobdingnagian-styled Grenache of 2007 behind (at least for now) and it allowing his Grenache to. Similar to the La Flor from Capcanes, this is a beautiful wine that allows the true feminine of the Grenache to shine through. Rich and layered, the wine slowly reveals itself in the glass, providing a sensual and charming journey through layers of deep red fruit, rich earth, minerals, spicy oak and warm spices. The full bodied palate is replete with ripe cherries, plums, a hint of blueberries, lavender, plenty more warm spices, subtle toasty oak, freshly cracked black pepper, more earthy mineral notes and a hint of asphalt; all backed up by gripping tannins that are still integrating and an underlying sensuality that is delightful. I’d give the wine six months to relax a bit (or at least some decanting time) before opening and enjoying its continuing development through 2019, maybe longer.
Hajdu, Hajdu, Grenache, Eaglepoint Ranch, 2012: Anyone who opened this bottle and expected the wine to resemble our earlier encounters with Jonathan’s winemaking skills (namely the massive 16.3% and 14.5% Brobdingnagian Grenache wines from 2007 and 2010, both reviewed below) was going to be disappointed. Not because the wine isn’t a lovely expression of the Grenache grape, but rather because the only resemblance this wine has to that initial beast is the name of the varietal, the winemaker and the awesome label gracing the bottle. The wine shows plenty of mostly red fruit on both the nose and palate including cherries, plums, crushed berries and a hint of dried cranberries, along with earthy minerals, hints of boysenberries, slightly spicy oak, cloves and nutmeg. Different from many of Hajdu’s wines, in this year’s version the fruit is slightly less than dominant, allowing more complexity and mineral and spice flavors to carry much of the flavor palate, yielding a delicious and intriguing wine whose development I am eager to follow.
Hajdu, Hajdu, Grenache, Eaglepoint Ranch, 2011: No longer the massive representation of Grenache as his prior two wines, the 2011 vintage provides a bridge to the feminine manifestation of the 2012 vintage while standing on its own two feet (albeit I found this wine to be the weakest of the bunch and 2011 in general to be Jonathan’s worst vintage, while still being happy to drink the vast majority of his production). With plenty of black fruit on the nose and palate, the rich cherry notes dominate in front of the cassis, plums, summer flowers, earthy minerals and hints of blueberries. The medium to full-bodied palate has plenty more rich fruit with tart raspberries and dried cranberries dominating the cherry, plum and cassis alongside plenty flinty minerals, slightly smoky oak and rich chocolate, all back up by nicely integrating tannins that hold everything together nicely and will continue to evolve nicely over the next few years. Drinking nicely now, I’d try to enjoy your bottles over the next two years or so.
Hajdu, Brobdignagian, Grenache, Eaglepoint Ranch, 2010: Following on the massive success of his initial varietal Grenache from three years prior, Jonathan serves up another Brobdingnagian wine (albeit at “only” 14.5% alcohol) sourced from a different vineyard which would come to be one of his primary sources of quality fruit from this vintage onwards – Eaglepoint Ranch in Mendocino county. Similarly to the Petite Sirah reviewed below, the wine initially needed a significant amount of aerating before it yielded much in the way of complexity or character (although not nearly as much as the Petite Sirah required (and still requires)). Showcasing plenty of warm spices on the nose to accompany the abundant black fruit, the wine slowly yielded more roasted herbs, smoked meat, earthy mineral and anise than one would have initially thought. Wrapped in a core of smoky oak and enhanced by cracked black pepper, the nose leads into a full-bodied palate with plenty of gripping tannins that are now pretty well integrated, with ripe black cherries and other black fruit is overlaid with the spiciness and some toasty oak. An underlying tone of minty dark chocolate and more herbal notes continues throughout the entire palate culminating in a lingering finish that made it hard to stop pouring this wine. Drinking very nicely right now, the wine will continue to develop through 2019.
Hajdu, Brobdingnagian, Grenache, Santa Barbara County, 2007: Making the giants of Brobdingnag proud, this is a gigantic and full-bodied wine with over 16% alcohol and plenty of wood, tannins and robust fruit. The hide-and-seek gambit of a giant rarely works and it is no different with this monster wine. No longer needing the hours of air to express itself, the wine was drinkable immediately on first pour and was open, ready and willing to anyone who came to partake in its not insubstantial charms. The expressive nose is packed with rich and ripe blackberries, tangy raspberries, some green notes, plenty of rich milk chocolate, some vanilla, spices and smoky wood that is finely integrated with the rich fruit (and no longer provides the substantial backing to the ripe fruit it used to). The full bodied palate still packs a punch with super rich, near sweet red fruit tinged with blueberries, along with cedar wood, more toasty oak, rich and wet earthy forest floor and more warm spices. The super long finish is still there but now carries with it more roasted herbs, sweet red fruit and spices than in prior years. After giving years of pleasure, the wine is at the end of its life and should be consumed within the next six months (be prepared for some bottle variation at this point based on storage conditions). As I predicted years ago, the life of this wine was shorter than one would have thought based on its initial release, something that the 16.3% AbV certainly contributed to.
Hajdu, Hajdu, Syrah, Eaglepoint Ranch, 2012: With the 2011 vintage only now coming online and being [just] ready to party, it shouldn’t surprise you that the 2012 is still slumbering and you awaken the giant at your own risk. A wine that would easily be labeled under the Brobdingnagian label due to its massive scale and in your face fruit, Jonathan’s control is highly noticeable with this wine, more so than in any other of his Syrah wines (other than perhaps the near-mythical 2007). With rich red forest fruit and hints of boysenberries, blueberries and rich cassis, the slightly toasty oak and searing tannins are in great balance with the gobs of rich and highly extracted fruit. With plenty of spicy notes, rich dark chocolate, some earthy minerals, tar and roasted meat this is one for the ages and one to cellar and enjoy as it continues to develop and reveal its coming layers of charm and complexity over the next few years. Don’t open for a year and then enjoy through 2022.
Hajdu, Hajdu, Syrah, Eaglepoint Ranch, 2011: Despite dropping the Brobdingnagian name, the wine continues to showcase the slightly tamed power and richness of prior vintages with the more typical Syrah notes feeling more present than in prior years. A deep, dark, dense and brooding wine backed by Hajdu’s characteristic taming hand while allowing the monstrosity of the wine to present itself in all of its monumental glory. With tons of red extracted fruit on both the nose and palate, the wine showcases plenty of roasted meat, smoky oak, rich tar, and tinged with black licorice, warm spices, saddle leather and freshly cracked black pepper. A long and lingering finish with smoky oak, more dense black fruit and a lovely spiciness rounds out this delicious treat.
Hajdu, Brobdignagian, Syrah, Eaglepoint Ranch, 2010: Living up to its Brobdingnagian name, the wine has been a blockbuster for many years and is only now starting to show signs of being willing to settle down into anything resembling approachability while still needing some aerating time to showcase its substantial charms, power, grace and finesse (yes, these all coexist in this wine). With loads of rich, dark and ripe red fruit, blueberries, tinges of near-sweet orange citrus notes, tart cranberries, roasted meat, lead shavings and freshly paved earth, this is a delicious and powerful Syrah (with a “normal” AbV of 14.5%) that is “wrapped” in robust tannins and gobs of acidity that together will continue to help this wine develop through 2017 (but it is über-enjoyable right now with no real reason to wait any longer).
Hajdu, Brobdignagian, Syrah, Rodgers Creek, 2009: This wine was somewhat of an anomaly as, besides the Besomim, this was the only wine Jonathan made in 2009. While many factors were likely at play here, one of them surely involved the lack of free time as Jonathan adjusted to his new(ish) position at Covenant (where he had recently assumed assistant winemaking duties) and Covenant (and his) new working space in Napa Valley where they had recently moved, leaving the shtetal of the Herzog Winery far behind in Oxnard and settling in Napa Valley. Lighter in both heft and style than the 2007 version, overall the wine presented very differently from both the monster Brob that came before it and the ones that followed despite maintaining the near-impossible balanced 16% AbV, the wine has candied cherries, ripe fig, red plums and a bit of blue fruit on both the nose and palate with grilled meat, spicy oak, anise, cedar and still robust tannins wrapping the wine in an envelope of structure that bodes well for the wines continued growth over the next 12-18 months.
Hajdu, Brobdingnagian, Syrah, Santa Barbera, 2007: On release, the concept of the “Hajdu Winery” didn’t exist and the winery was named “Brobdingnagian”. For clarity purposes, I have labeled the wine Hajdu under a Brobdingnagian label. As with its inaugural sibling recently tasted and reviewed below, the wine has reached the end of the road and it is time to polish off any bottles you may have left. We enjoyed this bottle last November at an RCC and I recently opened one of my last bottles in order to provide an updated picture of where the wine currently stands. While the previously robust tannins still provide some coverage to the rich, mostly red fruit, the burden has now gotten to be slightly more than the body can handle and there is a distinct softening on both the nose and palate, likely driven to some extent by the massive 16% alcohol and gobs of rich fruit that made this wine so delectable on release. Made at Oreana Winery in downtown Santa Barbera (before Jonathan moved north for his full-time position at Covenant) with grapes sourced from Paredon Vineyards. Jonathan’s careful hand provided great balance and created a structure where everything worked, but it is now time for this giant to be laid to rest. With rich and sweet red fruit on both the gargantuan nose and palate accompanied by toasty wood that is completely integrated at this point, there are notes of well-worn saddle leather and cloves, hints of freshly paved asphalt and slate minerals providing a sophisticated complexity to this wine. Hints of blue notes are abundant throughout, along with some freshly-cured tobacco leaf and high-quality dark chocolate that both linger on the long and extracted palate. Still a massive wine but one that has started to settle down in preparation for retirement. Drink now or over the next six months.
Hajdu, Hajdu, Petite Sirah, Eaglepoint Ranch, 2013: Ever since my initial taste of the inaugural 2010 vintage, his Petite Sirah has long been among my favorite Hajdu wines, with the relatively new Proprietary Red and Grenache Blanc also being on that list (alongside the delightfully saline Rosé), and the 2013 doesn’t give me any reason to change that. Showcasing the characteristic power and elegance we have come to expect from Jonathan’s “Taming of the Blue”, the wine is rich and bold with layers of ripe black and blue fruit and toasty (and slightly smoky) oak that is in good balance along with lovely floral notes, slightly bitter minerals, bramble, cedar, black pepper and some leather; all wrapped in searing tannins that need plenty of time to integrate and lean to play nicely with the rest of the components. The wine is not yet ready to drink and needs 9-12 months before it should be opened (even at which point it will still need plenty of air before it can be convinced to yield anything of interest) after which it should cellar comfortably through 2022, maybe longer.
Hajdu, Hajdu, Petite Sirah, Eaglepoint Ranch, 2012: While many of Jonathan’s wines have settled in and reflect a higher degree of subtlety and elegance than in the past, this is one wine that brings to mind the Brobdingnagian wines of 2007 – huge, powerful and a force to be reckoned with . The wine somehow manages to maintain Hajdu’s characteristic balance and structure together with a hard to discern but definitely present elegance. This wine represents all that is varietaly true and characteristically expected of petite Sirah – big, black and blue, in your face and sublimely delicious while presenting as highly extracted and loaded with tannic structure that bodes well for the longevity and future development of the wine. Rich notes of blackberry, black cherries, ripe blueberries, slightly smoky oak, bramble and plenty of spiciness are all present on this deep and richly extracted wine. Along with the fruit and word, the wine opens up to reveal layers of tobacco, near-sweet and slightly toasted oak, spicy cedar, well-worn saddle leather and near-sweet tannins. An extended finish that lingers rounds out this beauty. Run to Jonathan and beg for some – it will be worth your while. Give it the respect it deserves and don’t open it for 12-18 months, after which is can and should be enjoyed through 2022.
Hajdu, Brobdignagian, Petite Sirah, Eaglepoint Ranch, 2010: Likely my favorite of the great crop of 2010 wines under the Brobdingnagian label (2010 was the last year the “winery” was named Brobdingnagian); this is a true giant of a wine and one that needs near-obscene levels of decanting before it shows it truly beautiful inner-self. An explosive nose of black fruit with some blueberry nuances accompanying the rich blackberries and currants also shows plenty of smoky oak, a rich spiciness, smoked meat and a hint of herbaceousness. An extremely full bodied and heavily extracted palate with robust tannins that are finally starting (but really just starting) to settle down, is loaded with black fruits driven by opulent black cherries, , kirsch, plenty of spicy wood and hints of chocolate leading into a huge finish that lingers with more fruit, chocolate and some herbaceousness. Drinking amazingly well now (especially after 8(!) hours of decanting), the wine should continue to develop through 2018 and likely longer (Petite Sirah is a tricky animal, especially at these alcohol and extraction levels which makes it harder than usual to predict drinking windows).
Hajdu, Hajdu, Proprietary Red Wine, 2011: Giving the wine an air of mystery to go along with its utter deliciousness, the varietals and percentages are not officially disclosed with the only information being the Howell Mountain source for the grapes. While I still consider the Petite Sirah to be Jonathan’s flagship wine, the Proprietary Red is positioned as such, including by way of its higher price tag. Despite capitulating to market demand and producing a Bordeaux blend (instead of sticking to his beloved Rhone varietals), the wine easily maintains his characteristic style of rich, dense and near-sweet fruit with searing tannins and oak influence all of which are kept in check with tight control and finesse, exhibiting grace and balance of the epic components he put together. Only now coming together more than a year from release, the wine is ripe and dense with highly extracted black forest fruits including blackberries, cassis, black currents, loads of ripe black cherries and tart raspberries together with earthy minerals, rich chocolate, freshly rolled cigars, sweet cedar, plenty of black pepper, hints of grilled meat with robust tannins that have only now begun to slightly recede while still providing sufficient coverage to the extracted fruit and toasty oak. Still early to be opening this wine, if you do I’d give it an hour or so to open or better yet, six more months in the bottle before opening and enjoying through 2022 and quite likely, longer.