Smooth Wines and Easy Golf Swings: A Late Summer’s Evening at a North Shore Mansion

By Don Holton
Contributing Writer

Terlato Wines International claims to distribute more than one in eight bottles of wine over $14 sold in America. So when I was invited for a tasting at its headquarters, I expected a stiff corporate experience, designed to pump a few new labels and move us on our way.

Photo courtesy of Don Holton

The Armour Mansion - photo courtesy of Don Holton

But this was no typical office park. In 1995, Anthony Terlato acquired the historic mansion of Philip D. Armour (the meat packing heir) in Chicago’s north suburb of Lake Bluff, and through a careful restoration, brought the 61-room home back to its original 1932 Tudor Gothic splendor. Called Tangely Oaks, a name now used on some Terlato wines from California, it now serves as the company’s home office, and with 26,000 square feet, there’s room to grow.

Headlining the event were pro golfers Ernie Els and Luke Donald, both in town for the BMW Championship, and in Lake Bluff to promote the wines they produce under their respective names.

The evening was “smooth” on all fronts – the character of the wines, the Terlato hospitality (food stations in various rooms with paired wines; loved the veal meatballs), and a measured tone for the evening, set by the easy-going personalities of Els and Donald. I also came away energized with a golf tip that Els assures will help me hit the golf ball farther.

Inside the mansion - photo courtesy of Don Holton

Inside the mansion - photo courtesy of Don Holton

Donald is a native of England who was a star golfer at Northwestern University. He is now a top international player, with victories at the World Cup, Target Challenge, and a 5-5-1 record in the Ryder Cup. Els is a two-time US Open champion and winner of the British Open. Several years ago, before Tiger Woods dominated the game, he was the world’s top-ranked player. Both Donald and Els are known for their cool heads in competition and their rhythmic, flowing golf swings. Els nickname fits; he’s called “The Big Easy.”

As with many pro athletes, both players are seeking to extend their professional branding – in this case, to the world of fine wines. We sampled three reds – yes, all very smooth – that Els produces in collaboration with Jean Englebrecht in Stellenbosch (Cape Province), South Africa. The flagship Ernie Els wine is a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec. It is aged in French oak barrels for 20 months, bottle-matured for another 18 months, and the result is an elegant softness with hints of red currant and plum. The pourer said it retails for about $90. Even in this economy, I dare to say, this wine may be worth it.

Ernie Els Magnum - photo courtesy of Terlato Wine Group

Ernie Els Magnum - photo courtesy of Terlato Wine Group

Another was Englebrecht Els, also a Bordeaux style made with Shiraz that delivers stronger, more earthly hints of berries, mushroom, and spice ($35 retail). This wine is well layered; it keeps rolling at you in ever more pleasant ways.

Finally, Cirrus, produced with Silver Oak’s Ray Duncan under the Cirrus corporate name, is a Rhone style ruby/red Syrah/Viognier blend that’s supple, light on its feet, very drinkable, but may be overpriced at $55. It feels like the marketing team is trying too hard to plug a pricing gap between $90 and $35.

Beneath the grand staircase at Tangley Oaks, Els posed for photos with event guests, and he meets each one with a quiet sincerity. He actually looks at you and seems interested, especially when we exchanged comments on several golf courses I’ve played in South Africa. Like Royal Cape and Sun City. “Heh,” I asked, “how about the par three 13th hole at the Lost City course with the 38 crocodiles in that deep greenside bunker?” Els smiles; he knows it well. Seriously, don’t get too close to the edge. If you fall in, it’s a two-stroke penalty.

Els’ wife Liezl was on his arm. Together, they’re one of the golf world’s most admired couples, not only for their friendliness, but also for their international work on behalf of child autism. Their 6-year-old son Ben was diagnosed with autism a few years ago, and the Elses raise awareness through the Autism Speaks organization.

Ernie Els, photo courtesy of Don Holton

Ernie Els, photo courtesy of Don Holton

Els wines were impressive, but what I really needed was a golf lesson. I’ve been hitting some nasty hooks lately and found a moment to ask how Els maintains his characteristic swing tempo, especially in the heat of play. The key, he said, is to grip the club a little lighter, making sure you feel the weight of the club head. We tend to tighten up and squeeze too hard. “Soft hands,” he said, “make your hands feel soft. You’ll hit it a lot straighter and farther.”

I told Els that I was a member at a nearby golf club, designed in 1913 by legendary architect Donald Ross. His face brightened. He said he likes Ross courses, with their large sloping greens and Scottish style. He seemed to be angling for an invitation, but with my schedule, it will have to be next season.

By the way, Els struggled at the BMW Championship, finishing tied for 38th place, far back from winner Tiger Woods.

To learn more:

Monday: Luke Donald wines and branding wines with pro athletes.

Chimney Rock Winery – The Video Post

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

I should list that as sometimes film maker as well as Editor.

This is my overview of the Chimney Rock Winery. The wind was blowing strongly enough for me to ditch the audio and go with this silent movie type treatment… Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

The Wines of Rutherford Hill

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

The tour of Rutherford Hill was wonderful, but it is the wine that was amazing.

Rutherford Hill MerlotRutherford Hill Cabernet SauvignonI am ashamed to say that I can not remember the unique attributes of each of the wines that I sipped on my tour. I was taken with all the sights and sounds going on around me. They were excellent (I hate not having enough hands to do everything that I want to at the same time).

The wines that I drank along the route were the 2005 Merlot and the 2004 Merlot Reserve and the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon which were wonderful.

When we got back to the tasting room, I got to taste some of the more wonderful wines.

My VinturiThe 2006 Malbec smelled and tasted of blueberries and cherries. The 2006 Petit Verdot smelled of coffee and tasted of black cherries and chocolate. I got a special treat with the winemakers blend getting to taste it both poured regularly and decanted via a Vinturi.  Now in all fairness, the wine smelled and tasted good before I got to taste the version poured through the Vinturi.  But after it was?  WOW!  That is all I can say.  The aroma was fuller and more dramatic.  The taste?  With more body and soul. WOW!  I was so impressed with the Vinturi’s job, I bought one to take home.  It even has the Terlato logo on it.  So I will always remember my trip to Rutherford Hill (as if I could forget).

Angel's PeakCardinal's PeakFrom there we moved on to the to some of the Terlato Family Vineyard wines.  After reading Anthony Terlato’s book, Taste: A Life in Wine (I love my iPhone Kindle reader…  you take your reading with you literally everywhere.)  The Terlato wines are produced at the Rutherford estate vineyard, but in the vineyard within the vineyard.  The idea was to raise the quality of the Rutherford wines which represents the chief goal of the family.  Personally, I believe that the wines achieve this goal in spades!

EpisodePortThe Angels Peak’s is lush with a plum taste and tobacco-y.  The Cardinal’s Peak was more wood and leather with jam overtones.  My favorite of the three was the Devil’s Peak with its smooth and complex flavors.  The “Peak” series are Tony Terlato’s homage to the wines of Bordeaux, France.  These wines are blends of the best of the vineyard and made to express the best elements of the grapes.  The Episode wine, on the other hand, seem to be an expression of place – Napa.  The wine was intense and lingering on the palate.  I brought a bottle home as a thank you to my folks for helping me with my trip.  Dad, naturally is saving it.  I hope he allows us to open it for Christmas!

The last wine that I tasted at Rutherford Hill was the 2004 Zinfandel Port.  I have to admit that I am something of a Port snob in that I rarely find one that I like from America.  This one was made in the style that an authentic Port would be made but used Zinfandel instead of the traditional grapes.  The result is an American expression of Portuguese tradition.

I was sad to be leaving Rutherford Hill but as I lugged my box of wine (I can’t resist buying a few bottles) but was looking forward to the second part of my Terlato family adventure – my trip to Chimney Rock!