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Total Why? and More

There are times Your West Coast Oenophile finds himself short on wine. Not that my cellar is depleted, but occasionally I may not have the right wine for that evening’s dinner, or anything approximately close, on hand. So when Sostevinobile duties had me traveling down to Los Gatos for the trade tasting with the Santa Cruz Mountain Winegrowers Association, I considered swinging by Total Wine & More in Daly City on my way back on 280. Coincidentally, just before I departed from San Francisco, I received a Flash Sale notice, offering $20 off the purchase of three or more bottles, and , with that, my mind was set.

The Santa Cruz tasting was most pleasant: small crowd; ample catering:a mere eleven wineries, including Cabernet legends Ridge, Mount Eden, and Kathryn Kennedy to taste through. In other words, hardly the kind of onerous event some tastings turn out to be. Of course, the event was not without its dose of theatrics, but once the histrionics had died down, I headed up the Peninsula to meet a college friend for happy hour at the Stanford Faculty Club.

Admittedly, if I could have secured a position at Stanford, I would probably have finished my PhD in Comparative Literature and remained in academia. It’s a fascinating university, a near-idyllic setting amidst the sprawl of Silicon Valley, and, quite importantly, extremely well-endowed. Having top-notch students would have been a critical factor for me—who wants to be burdened with teaching remedial skills that ought to have been learned in high school?—and to have ready access to a world-class metropolis like San Francisco would have sealed the deal. Little wonder Jim has spent his entire career here.

But an academic career would have kept me from my level of involvement in the wine realm, so ultimately I decided to apply my finely-honed research skills to acquiring an encyclopedic knowledge of the West Coast wine industry, so I feel my time in grad school was not spent in vain. The same, however, could not be said for my side trip to Total Wine. The store in Daly City is vast, at least twice the size of any of the local BevMo shops here. And the chain boasts of having the largest selection of California wines, compared to chains like the aforementioned BevMo, Trader Joe’s, Costco, etc. And, yes, their selection is vast, however…

Now I was in search of a white wine to pair with the chicken dish I had on tap for the evening, and, of course, I was only interested in a West Coast bottling. Total Wine offered nearly an entire aisle of Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs, but I was the mood for something else. Off to the side, there was a tiny selection of Other Whites, which turned out to be mostly sweet wines like Moscato, along with a generic Riesling from Kung Fu Girl. But a Rhône White like a Roussanne or Picpoul Blanc? Or an Italian varietal such as Vermentino or Fiano? No Sémillons or Grüner Veltliners. No Chenin Blancs. No Pinot Blancs. Not even a local Pinot Grigio or Ramato! I could find more diversity in a 7-11!

And so, I returned to the mainstream aisle. After a cursory inspection of the Sauvignon Blancs, I reluctantly combed through the 100+ Chardonnays, hoping to find a clean, unoaked interpretation that suited my needs. And there I discovered that the $20 off three bottles only applied to their Winery Direct selections. Sure, there were a number of high-end labels included here, but an $80 bottle is not in my Wednesday evening dinner budget. But low & behold, virtually every one of their reasonably priced Chards were the private label brands they commission and sell exclusively.—ostensibly generic wines, sourced from whatever available bulk is out on the market, and bottled on some assembly line in American Canyon or the Central Valley. The sort of wine just barely above Two Buck Chuck and suitable (perhaps) for lowbrow art gallery openings.

Ultimately, I grabbed a bottle without even inspecting its label and regretted from the moment I uncorked it. But Total Wine does sell the staple of my pandemic survival, VYA Sweet Vermouth, for $5/bottle less than what I pay in San Francisco, so my trip was not a complete waste of gas and time…

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Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Carménère Chardonnay Malbec Merlot Mondeuse Petit Verdot Pinot Noir Port Sangiovese Sparkling Syrah Viognier

Everybody wants to get into the act

Your West Coast Oenophile has been avidly involved in the wine realm for over 40 years now, including more than a dozen running Sostevinobile, but even with this track record, there are still some mainstays in viticulture whose popularity I do not comprehend. Like Valdiguié, formerly known as Napa Gamay, a varietal that flourished as ubiquitously as Chenin Blanc when I started out in 1982. Call it what you will, the varietal still strikes me as clawing. But, perhaps like Lagrein, an Italian grape to which I initially did not cotton, it the right hands, it can prove to be wondrous.

My introduction to Sauvignon Blancs came from the grassy-grapefruity renditions that dominated the 1980s; 40 years later, I still struggle to approach this varietal without trepidation. Granted, I am quite fond of Sauvignon Blanc deftly tempered with Sémillon or a blend heaviluy mixed with a Musqué clone, but when I am searching for a white wine, I will almost always opt for a Falanghina or Albariño or Roussanne or Pinot Blanc or a dozen other non-Chardonnay selections before I consider an SB. Try as I mght, the varietal simply doesn’t resonate with me the way it does with so many other dedicated œnophiles. On the other hand, if someone wants to gift me a bottle of the 2019 Screaming Eagle Sauvignon Blanc…

Just as I cannot comprehend the tremendous enthusiasm so many have for Sauvignon Blanc, I find myself unable to ascribe to the fanaticism many have for Pinot Noir. It’s not just Pinotism, the cult-like devotion to the grape, as Andrew Jeffords recently illustrated; I also revel in the nuances of an amazing Pinot but shy from the lesser expressions of the varietal. My incredulity, however, is more directed at the implied post-Sideways notion that a winery must produce Pinot Noir as the sine qua non in order to be considered credible. In recent weeks, I have attended events like Pinot Paradise at Gravenstein Grill in Sebastopol and the Petaluma Gap’s AVA-focused Wind to Wine Festival; of course, there were a plethora of truly wonderful Pinots poured at each. But my overall impression was “why?” Labels like Scherrer and Radio Coteau have long validated their inclusion in the upper echelons of Pinot producers. Likewise, major vineyard holders like Dutton Goldfield and Three Sticks offer amazing renditions of their own grapes. But how many wineries can make a truly distinctive Pinot Noir from the same vineyard?

I cannot recall a preference for or noteworthy difference among the half-dozen or so Pinots sourced from Sangiacomo Vineyards. Nor those I tasted from Sun Chase. I see the same inundation of labels from other distinguished vineyards in Sonoma, including Carneros, Russian River Valley, and West Sonoma. It becomes even more egregious in renowned Pinot regions such as the Santa Lucia Highlands, where innumerable labels source grapes from a dozen or so mega-vineyards like Garys’ or Rosella’s.

But Pinot Noir isn’t simply limited to  plantings in Sonoma and Monterey Counties. Anderson Valley in Mendocino, Santa Maria Valley and Sta. Rita Hills in Santa Barbara, wide swaths of the various counties in Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, and, of course, Burgundy’s twin Willamette Valley AVA in Oregon all contribute to an amalgam of more Pinot producers than one could possibly enumerate.

And it doesn’t end there. Ridge Vineyards, a winery whose considerable prestige needs no validation, now produces a Corralitos Pinot Noir, simply because legacy owner Ichiro Otsuka wants it made. A similar reason releasing a Pinot was expressed by the financial partner of Tansy, a new label otherwise focused exclusively on Italian varietals. As the late, great Jimmy Durante was fond of saying, “everybody wants to get into the act.”

At its finest, I recognize that Pinot Noir offers greater complexity and variation than almost any other varietal. As my colleague Laura Ness recently illustrated, the grape offers a vast array of clones, each with distinctive character and viticultural properties. On the other hand, most mainstream (aka affordable) Pinots approach being lackluster, which once begs the question “why are so many producers insistent on making this varietal?”


Oenology may represent a cultural apex on par with the fine arts, but it is also has a pragmatic business aspect few producers can afford to eschew. I cannot fathom how so many labels can focus on Pinot Noir and thrive in a competitive market but it is not my position to tell winemakers what they should produce. I will, however, proffer that one can just as readily demonstrate one’s viticultural acuity with any number of other varietals, such as Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, Malbec, and, yes, even Merlot!

It may seem contradictory that, despite my protestation of Pinot fatigue, I am heading to Sonoma next week for the annual Pinot Noir-focused Healdsburg Crush, but I have interspersed these visits with a number of other Grand Tastings from AVAs that focus on a variety of different grapes. Though known as the foremost rival to Napa’s claim to Cabernet supremacy, its western neighbor excels in a number of varietals, including Sangiovese, Barbera, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and a wide range of Rhône-style wines. Labor Day weekend’s poolside Access Alexander Valley featured long-established wineries like Seghesio, Rodney Strong, and renowned Chardonnay specialist Robert Young, alongside showcase châteaux Lancaster and Ferrari-Carano, as well as ambitious starters like ACTA and La Cienega.

A couple of weeks later, I wound my way up to Yountville for the return of Taste of Mount Veeder, a showcase for one of Napa’s most prestigious hillside AVAs. Despite the threat of atypical September rainshowers, this event still proceeded on the lawn of Domaine Chandon; though the terrain proved challenging at times, the muddied field could hardly rival the famed “Pinot in the River” tasting in Healdsburg several years ago. But between intermittent cloudbursts, the afternoon proved a wonder opportunity to revisit with numerous wineries and sample through their current releases.

Of course, like Alexander Valley, Mount Veeder is known primarily for its Cabernet Sauvignon, but the vintners here demonstrated their prowess with a disparate assortment of varietals. with such bottlings as Lagier Meredith’s always-intriguing 2019 Mondeuse and the 2014 Precious Bane, a port-style (fortified) Mount Veeder Syrah. meanwhile, heir apparent Aaron Pott held his own with the 2021 Viognier Pott Art.

My overt fondness for Mary Yates aside, her Yates Family Vineyard’s 2018 Fleur de Veeder Merlot proved most impressive. As did the 2014 Mount Veeder Malbec from Godspeed. And relatively atypical Cabernet blends abounded here, like the sumptuous 2015 Mary Ann Red from Gamble Family, a Cheval Blanc homage consisting of 56% Cabernet Franc, 32% Merlot, and a mere 12% Cabernet Sauvignon. In signature fashion, Paul Woolls’ Progeny rounded out the typical five Bordeaux varietal blend in their 2018 Reserve Cabernet with 2% Carménère from their Mount Veeder estate, while Random Ridge replicated a SuperTuscan, marrying Sangiovese and Cabernet in their 2019 Fortunata.

Still, it goes without saying that Cabernet Sauvignon reigns supreme in this AVA, and it was most heartening to see Newton, an historic winery obliterated in Spring Mountains’ Grass Fire of 2020, rise like the Phoenix from its embers and dazzle here their 2016 Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon. But my guiltiest pleasure from any Mount Veeder Grand Tasting will always be the glorious yet unheralded Mithra Winery, which year in and year out produces one of Napa’s greatest Cabernets, represented here by the 2016 Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon and the near-flawless library offering, the 2009 Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon.

Ha-cha-cha-cha!

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A PRINCELY AFFAIR


Granted, Napa may be the King of Cabernet, but true wine aficionados have long known that Alexander Valley is its Crown Prince. Sostevinobile invites you to start off Labor Day Weekend royally with the annual Access Alexander Valley.

This celebration brings together music, cutting-edge cuisine, and, of course, world-class wines from 20 leading producers. Come dance and dine under starlight at the wine country’s premier oasis, the poolside resort at Geyserville’s Francis Ford Coppola Winery Friday, September 2, from 7-10 pm.

Participating wineries include:

ACTA La Cienega
Alexander Valley Vineyards Lancaster
Carpenter Mercury Wines
Dot Wines Pech Merle
Ferrari-Carano Robert Young
Foley Sonoma Rodney Strong
Francis Ford Coppola Seghesio
Hawkes Silver Oak
Hoot Owl Creek Sutro
J Rickards Trione
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Cabernet Sauvignon Grenache Blanc Merlot Pinot Noir Uncategorized

My college reunion

Long before starting Sostevinobile, Your West Coast Oenophile sloughed his way four years of undergraduate studies at a quaint little college in Hanover, New Hampshire. Admittedly, the Websafe equivalent of its eponymous Pantone color that I selected for our logo is a tip of the proverbial hat to my alma mater, but I cannot muster the same fervent feelings nor sense of nostalgia many of my fellow alumni hold. And so I forwent the latest quintennial gathering and instead attended the North Coast Food & Wine Festival in Santa Rosa last month.

This event, sponsored by the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, has long outshone other newspaper-sponsored wine competitions in the region, awarding a scant 82 Gold Medal winners for an array of wineries from the 5-county region. And while it was easier to wine Best of Solano County than say, Napa or Sonoma, there was nary a wine on hand that did not live up to its heralding.

As happens these days, I encountered only a handful of wineries I had not previously catalogued, such as Serres Ranch, which medaled for their 2018 Buchanan, a distinctive Sonoma Valley Merlot. Unassuming yet splendid, Naidu Wines from Sebastopol delivered both a beautiful 2021 Grenache Blanc Russian River Valley and a Champenois-style Brut Sparkling Wine, produced from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. I was surprised to learn that ROWEN Wine Company was a label from Rodney Strong, but their 2018 Red Blend, a meritage farmed from Strong’s 20,000-acre Cooley Ranch Vineyard, most certainly upheld their storied reputation.

Similarly, Head High Wines extended Three Sticks’ mastery of Pinot with their select 2019 Sonoma County Pinot Noir. But my most serendipitous discovery of the afternoon was the truly marvelous Ehret Winery, a Knights Valley entrant that exemplified why this AVA excels with Bordeaux varietals; to say I was vastly impressed with all three of their Gold Medal selections: the 2018 Bella’s Cabernet Sauvignon, the lush 2018 Hillside Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, and their Meritage—the 2018 Hillside Reserve Red Wine would be an understatement.

My post-COVID efforts to reintegrate with the wine industry and to reorient Sostevinobile with the still-perplexing new landscape has been less about adding new wine produces to the roster of 5,000+ labels I have already catalogued and more about rekindling relationships that I have developed over the past dozen years. And it has been those relationships that drove me to attend this tasting in Sonoma County, rather than trek cross-country to reunite with folks I briefly shared a part of my life that feels quite remote at this stage. I may not bleed green, as many of my classmates still do, and I am indebted for having developed the intellectual tools that have allowed me to prosper in the wine realm, along with my sundry other endeavors. But here among the vintners and growers and industry professionals is where I find my people and have opened my eyes to a wider appreciation of what life can offer than any classroom could.

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Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Carignane Chardonnay Chenin Blanc Cinsault Falanghina Grenache Merlot Picpoul Blanc Pinot Noir Riesling Sangiovese Syrah Uncategorized

Paint It Black

To some a glass is half-empty; others see it as half-full. I tend to regard it as a glass that is twice the size it need be. So now the pandemic (plus a little incursion along the Baltic Sea) has brought us to the point of $6.50/gallon—regrettably, I still drive a conventional vehicle as I save up for a Lucid Air—gasoline. But rather than bemoan the price, I marvel at have rapidly I can now pump $20 worth of Arco Unleaded whenever I fill up!

Earlier this month, Your West Coast Oenophile hit the road again on behalf of Sostevinobile, returning to Sonoma’s Veterans Hall for the revival of Garagiste Festival Norther Exposure. Given the two-year hiatus since its last rendition, I shouldn’t have been surprised that, of the 43 wineries on hand, 17 were either previously untried or utterly new to me, along with several I first encountered only last November at the Paso Robles session.

The only problem with tasting with and evaluating so many new labels is that I forget to take photos while jotting down my notes. And so, I’m afraid my sundry readers must make do here without the benefit of images. But know that i was impressed with this array of newcomers, starting with the potpourri of German, Italian, Portuguese and French varietals Accenti Wines poured. While all proved quite amiable, I was vastly impressed by the 2020 Dry Riesling Fountaingrove District, a wine that belied its reputation for having a sweet tinge. Meanwhile, microproducer Amrita Cellars firmly asserted itself onto the Pinotism bandwagon, with clear progress shown from its 2017 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast to the more vibrant 2018 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley.

It’s highly tempting to call Sandro Tamburin’s Anthesis Wines the antithesis of the wines his father-in-law Ray D’Argenzio produces at their shared Santa Rosa facility. All punning aside, I’d be hard-pressed to select a favorite among the four superb wines Anthesis had on display: a 2018 Chardonnay from Napa Valley, the 2017 Pinot Noir Petaluma Gap, or two orange wines, a 2016 Picpoul Blanc and a 2016 Falanghina, both from Alder Springs Vineyard. Meanwhile, a marvelous discovery from the eastern Carmel Valley, a region from where one might expect a slew of Pinot Noirs, Boëté Winery made its stand a Bordelaise powerhouse. Sourced exclusively from their Saunders Vineyard, their three-varietal blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc), the 2018 Cheval Rouge proved a worthy homage to the Right bank’s legendary Cheval Blanc, while both 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2018 Merlot shone through for their own merits.Even more impressive, B0ëté’s 2017 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon easily rivaled a $250 Napa Cab for a third of its price.

Wesley Box  probably never anticipated the emergence of boxed wines when he began his Box Wine Company. Fortunately, there was no double-entendre among his offerings here, highlighted by the 2020 Black Roses Sangiovese and 2020 Black Roses Pinot Noir, along with a distinctive 2020 Sirras Knights Valley. BSC Wines, short for Brue Skok Cellars, proved a rare find, excelling in both the Burgundian, with a standout 2016 Stony Point Pinot Noir and with their Bordeaux blend, the 2016 Geography Lesson—no mean feat for the same winemaker.

Hailing from Healdsburg, Charlie Gilmore’s vineyard-specific Cormorant Cellars comported themselves amiably, most notably with a 2021 Chardonnay Zabala Vineyard. Meanwhile, Forgotten Union sounds like a perfect wine to help consummate a one-night stand; nonetheless, their 2018 Vidi Vitis Cabernet Sauvignon from Oakvilleproved quite memorable. another Cab I quite cottoned to the Sonoma offering from Guerrero-Fernandez Winery,  the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Knight’s Valley.

No suspense here. Lussier Wine Company will probably not gain many fans among vegan circles, but their 2019 Pinot Noir Golden Fleece Vineyard would certainly complement a plate of prosciutto, while their 2020 Chenin Blanc Green Valley Vineyard shone through on its own. Kevin Lee’s Marchelle Wines may fit the bill as a Garagiste, but winemaker Greg La Follette certainly is no neophyte. Breaking from the confines of Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc/Pinot Noir/Zinfandel that define his craft at Quivira and his eponymous label. And so the true delights here were the 2020 Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard, the 2019 Marchelle Carignan Jessie’s Grove, and a delightful rarity, the 2021 Pinot Meunier—my go-to wine for Thanksgiving, anytime I can source some.

One of the jewels of the Pine Mountain Cloverdale Peak AVA is Nikki Mustard’s Pine Mountain Vineyards, a winery, despite its small production, gives tremendous credence to this up & coming Napa challenger. Standouts from their exceptional lineup included the 2019 Estate Cabernet Franc, a 2018 Estate Red Blend, (a mélange of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc), and perhaps the most impressive wine of the afternoon, the near-flawless 2012 Ampère Cabernet Sauvoignon PMV Estate. Nonetheless, I doubt anyone else could have charmed me more than Ashley Holland, co-owner and vintner at Sonoma’s Read Holland Wines. But her pulchritude belied the excellence of her vinifications, most notably her 2019 Pinot Noir Deep End and her luscious library selection, the 2016 Pinot Noir Deep End.

Arthur O’Connor’s Rondure Wines made a noteworthy debut, also with selections of his Pinots: the 2019 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley  and the vineyard-specific 2019 Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Roberts Road Vineyard, both made with his revival of the Spanish tecnica de capas. Also featuring their first vintage from 2019, Terre et Sang excelled with his Santa Barbara Syrahs, in particular the 2019 The Long Road Syrah Thompson Vineyard and a deft Syrah-Grenache blend, the 2019 Leave It to the Birds Peake Vineyard.

Closing out my new discoveries for the afternoon, Gondak’s offshoot, Little X Little impressed with their 2020 Chenin Blanc Mangels Vineyard from Suisun Valley, while Tiana Sawyer’s aptly-named Wild Rising Wines showed across the board excellence, particularly with thee 2021 Ana Rosé of Pinot Noir, a 2021 Aqua Chardonnay from Petaluma Gap, and the deep-bodied 2019 Igris Cabernt Sauvignon.

Not to give short shrift to the other 26 wineries on hand, all of which I extolled in the past and happily tasted once again. But with so many wineries on hand, is there any wonder why I forgot to snap any photos?

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Whither Natural Wine? or Wither, Natural Wine!

Your West Coast Oenophile has striven these many years to keep Sostevinobile out of the political fray. But I have no tolerance for the truly inane, like Q-Anon. Or Scientology. Or, for that matter, Libertarianism. This vapid construct is fraught with incongruities. Like opposing military conscription and military intervention while, at the same time supporting no limits on firearm possession. Or advocating for social equality yet railing against a progressive tax system that would level the economic disparity that is at the root of societal ills. Little wonder that I deride this “philosophy” as having something for everyone to hate!

Is it just me or do others find Natural Wine’s non-interventionist approach to œnology eerily similar to the laissez-faire economics that drive Libertarianism? It’s not that lack of manipulation necessarily leads to flawed wine—in the hands of a skilled winemaker, it can often result in a wondrous vintage. It’s that dogmatic adherence to these principles results in such pronounced disparity.

Recently, I attended a natural wine tasting in the East Bay. On hand were a few familiar faces on whom I rely for consistently excellent wines, and, once again, they did not disappoint. However, several of the wines here warranted the lowest scores I have ever given at a collective tasting; to think otherwise, to believe that these wines presented some mystical or authentic charm is pure folly.

The absolute nadir of the event were the several fizzy, low-alcohol grape derivatives known as piquette. Back in the days when my hair was still blond and my beard a vibrant red, 20somethings had a similarly approximate gateway beverage, the forebears of today’s hard seltzers: wine coolers. To say that these sweetened concoctions of wine, soda water, and fruit juices are best forgotten—even though I wrote a number of incredibly amusing TV spots for Bartles & Jaymes—would be an understatement.

Maybe I’m showing my stripes (or wrinkles) by admitting my reluctance to regard Brettanomyces as character in a wine or my æsthetic fastidiousness in wanting a wine to have a clarity in its appearance. No, what makes me dismissive of the natural wine craze is the notion that these Millennial consumers dogmatically adhere to this trend out of an evolved concern both for their own personal health as well as for the well-being of the planet. Between the tents that had been set up for this event, I was stunned to see a large patch of grass covered with dozens, if not a couple hundred, cigarette butts! How does littering equate to environmentalism? How does smoking constitute engaging in a salubrious lifestyle? The conclusion here, I think, is fairly obvious: many, if not most, natural wine aficionados are not sophisticated œnophiles or enlightened consumers, but dilettantes hopping onto the trend du jour without in-depth comprehension of the health/environmental precepts which they are nominally espousing.

But I am hardly trying to throw shade on the Millennial consumer with my critique; their allegiance to the natural wine fad is nothing new. My generational jumped on the granola bandwagon, preaching the benefits of a concoction that is laughable in the face of current nutritional understanding and organic standards. Hell, we bought into Earth Shoes as a more natural way of walking! We even fell for Perrier and the subsequent bottled water craze.

I have nothing inherently against the concept of natural wine. Where I draw the line here or with any other philosophical approach to winemaking, like a compulsion to replicate site-specific, French-style terroir or the absurdity of vegan wine, is a dogmatic adherence to its strictures rather than a focus on producing consistently excellent and flavorful bottling. To quote from Randy Caparoso’s recent Op-Ed, “wine lovers would like to choose from an ever-increasing range of wines. They want it all.”

So let’s put natural wine in a proper perspective. It is but one approach to making wine among numerous other schools of œnology. When it is good, it can be very, very good, but when it is bad, it can be awful! In due course, natural wine will takes its place alongside sustainable, organic, biodynamic, regenerative, single varietal, estate bottled, etc., not the monolithic trend that currently seeks to dominate the under-40 landscape. In his essay A hands-off approach, however attractive, is suicide, British journalist James Lawrence assays the need for wineries to take an pro-active approach to sustainability in countering the detriments of climate change. Echoing Al Gore’s groundbreaking documentary, Lawrence admonishes that“a paradigm that advocates keeping human inputs to a minimal is foolhardy and counterproductive, regardless of whether Millennials go weak at the knees.”

It’s an inconvenient truth with which the unmitigated proponents of natural wine will ultimately reckon.

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A Tale of Two Cities*

So Your West Coast Oenophile has returned to the Aeron chair and MacBook Pro in his home office, after nearly a week on the road, tasting wine on behalf of Sostevinobile. I haven’t checked my odometer, but it’s likely that I covered more mileage recently between Napa and Paso Robles than I clocked throughout the entirety of 2021. And though the older I get, the more I loathe driving, it definitely felt great to be commingling among serious wine people once again.

As has been my wont before the pandemic hit, February has long been my busiest month out if the field, jampacked with trade events throughout California. In past years, I’ve headed down to Santa Barbara, then whisked back through San Francisco simply to pick up fresh clothes and restock my 7-day pill tray, before heading up to Napa and Sonoma. However, the vicissitudes of the various COVID-19 surges turned schedules topsy-turvy this year, causing Première Napa to occur before the Southern Exposure Garagiste Festival. And it would not have been impossible to leave St. Helena on Friday and be in Solvang for this tasting. Even though I ventured down to Paso for the revival of the Rhône Rangers Experience the previous weekend, gasoline was still a relative bargain at $4.33/gallon and my recent subscription to AARP a mere, albeit reluctant, formality. But with only a single winery on hand that had not poured at their November session, it seemed a bit superfluous to undertake another 400+ mile road trip.

As I have noted on many occasions, the principal impetus for attending these industry tastings is the chance to discover multiple new wineries in a compressed amount of time. Secondly, such events afford me the opportunity to establish or renew personal relationship with the sundry winemakers and winery owners on hand. and, of course, it allows me to report on and recommend the numerous wines I discover.

In keeping with the latter objective, I took copious notes on all the wines I tasted, but will not be enumerating these at this time. My aim throughout this sojourn was to assess and understand the health of the wine industry, post-COVID, and to determine how I must reshape designs for Sostevinobile amid the new economic reality. My sense is that this will require a far greater fundraise than I had previously projected, which makes the prospect of it generating a regular income that much more elusive. Towards this end, I find myself heavily steeped in coordinating an array of M&A deals—after all, my first “career” in the wine industry was as a Mergers & Acquisitions consultant—mostly overseas, as I have been doing for the past six or seven years. For the foreseeable future, my contributions to the wine industry will likely be reinvigorating Risorgimento, the fledgling trade organization for West Coast Italian varietal producers, and organizing the Grand Tastings I had hoped to launch prior to the pandemic.

Regarding the former, I could not have been more elated at the success of the revitalized Rhône Rangers. Now based in Paso Robles, inarguably the epicenter for these varietals in California, this organization has once again become consolidated, after decentralizing into regional chapters diluted its efficacy to the point it nearly collapsed.

Back in the 1990s, when Rhône Rangers was founded, production of these wines in California seemed esoteric, if not somewhat quirky, with pioneers like Randall Grahm and John Alban championing grapes like Syrah and Grenache, while Ridge produced under-the-radar bottlings intermittently. Soon afterwards, a trend of Viognier as the Next Big Thing arose and just as rapidly fell on its face, as vintners here, lacking a model upon which to draw, haphazardly crafted this wine like an oaked Chardonnay.

Yet, in spite of such missteps, the 22 Rhône varietals not only gained a foothold in California, but gave rise to recognition of hitherto unheralded viticulture regions like Santa Barbara, the Sierra Foothills, and Paso Robles. At its apex, the Rhône Rangers Grand Tasting stood alongside ZAP and Family Winemakers (and later, Consorzio CalItalia) as one of the premier annual wine events at San Francisco’s Fort Mason, with well over 120 wineries pouring 

Flash-forward to 2022: the tasting at the Paso Robles Event Center could not have been more robust. Like the Garagiste Festival that preceded it last November, it was flawlessly orchestrated, spread out throughout the facility with a floor plan that allowed attendees easy access to all of the vendors, extremely comfortable in terms of both noise and temperature, catered, and easily navigated with a printed program that featured not only the wineries but the wines they were pouring. Ticket holders came from as far north as San Francisco and as far south as Los Angeles, a most impressive spread. Prices were moderate—hardly the $150-250 ticket for post-pandemic events in Napa, with enough time allocated to visit most, if not all the wineries on hand.

In short, I could not have been more pleased, or encouraged, by the Rhône Rangers Experience; Kim Murphy-Rodrigues has done a tremendously laudable job at bringing this vital organization back to life. But beyond just the organization, this event underscored the vitality that has subtly arisen in Paso Robles over the past two years. As with my visit for the Garagiste tasting, I was stunned to discover how much the town and region had transformed throughout the pandemic. It hadn’t merely regained its footing far quicker than Napa or Sonoma, but had blossomed into a complete destination, with a vibrant nightlife and other cultural amenities, as COVID refugees from California’s urban centers swelled the local populace.

I would be remiss in not noting that the successful reboot of Rhône Rangers hopefully represents a harbinger of potential for Risorgimento. After all, our predecessor, Consorzio CalItalia, was inextricably linked to its Rhône sibling, sharing several board members during its heyday. I have high hopes that, if we can reestablish ourselves, a cooperative partnership will also be revived, along with shared events and, potentially, a Grand Mediterranean Tasting that could include Iberian varietal trade organization T.A.P.A.S.

Moving onward, I breezed through San Francisco for a brief respite before heading up to Napa for the return Première, the annual winter celebration and auction for the wine trade. The restrictions of COVID has caused last year’s event to be rescheduled for June and revamped into an online/offline combination, a deleterious shift that muted the exuberance of this week-long gathering.

The 2022 session retained much of this hybridization but seemed a marked improvement over its predecessor. Still, many of the hallmark events, like the Atelier Melka and 750 Wines tastings, elected to forego this year’s festivities, while odd pairings, like Women Winemakers and the Coombsville AVA, held a scaled-down joint session. I began my itinerary with a personal favorite, Above the Clouds, the Pritchard Hill tasting at Chappellet. Alas, only six of the storied wineries from what has been dubbed the “Rodeo Drive of Napa” elected to participate this year, altering its atmosphere from a frenzied rush to taste as many $300 wines as one could into a low-key, truncated stroll through the nevertheless superb wines being showcased.

The half-dozen or so other tastings I attended seemed similarly scaled back, both in terms of participating wineries and the number of attendees. Further complicating this notable attrition, COVID protocols and onsite testing made freely moving between events cumbersome, if not limiting. I did not attend the auction on Saturday, opting instead to return to San Francisco for the annual Calistoga AVA tasting; that only $2.1 million was raised this year only underscored diminution of the festivities.

To be clear, this isn’t a criticism of Napa, nor is it a glass half-empty analysis of Première. Businesses and communities throughout California are struggling to regain footing after the pandemic. By far, recovery will not be achieved in one fell swoop—incremental progress, as exemplified here, will likely be the norm for several years to come. AVAs like Napa and Sonoma benefited greatly in the past by their proximity to major urban centers, while regions like Paso Robles, Lodi, or the Foothills were considered outliers; COVID reversed this equation, making it more precarious for these major destinations to return to their norm.

On top of all this, five years of hellish wildfires have taken quite a toll on Northern California’s wine regions. The combination of all these factors means that wineries here, like Sostevinobile, must take a hard look at the new economic landscape and adjust accordingly. The rampant inflation that has affected prices everywhere is no stranger to Napa, either; my cursory assessment is that the benchmark now for an ultrapremium Cabernet Sauvignon hovers around $235 (versus $175 pre-COVID).

How are these steep prices affecting Napa? At the moment, there seems to be enough well-heeled wine enthusiasts to absorb the increase, but we are nearing the point where wine cannot withstand the price differential between itself and other alcoholic beverages. $300 may fly for a midweek wine may fly in Atherton or Beverly Hills, but can a wine bar hold its own with an average price of $25/glass? Will the new $12/glass of wine be any more quaffable than a swig of Two Buck Chuck?

Hard choices, to be sure. I was glad to see Napa starting its rebound, but I left Première still with most questions lingering…

*Actually, it’s two AVAs, but who’s quibbling?

Categories
Albariño Blanc de Pinot Noir Cabernet Sauvignon Chardonnay Grenache Malbec Mourvèdre Petit Verdot Petite Sirah Pinot Noir Riesling Sauvignon Blanc Sauvignon Musqué Sémillon Syrah Tempranillo Uncategorized Vermentino Vermouth Viognier

Slowly winding up

Sostevinobile has been affiliated with the Slow Food movement since our launch, but it was not without a degree of trepidation that Your West Coast Oenophile set out to attend the Slow Wine Tour at Pier 27 earlier this week. Initially, this wine tasting was incorporated as part of Slow Food’s annual extravaganza at Fort Mason that featured virtually every Italian restaurant in San Francisco. The first few years, only Italian wines were featured—not surprising, since Slow Food’s San Francisco founder, Lorenzo Scarpone, runs Villa Italia, a premier wine importer in South San Francisco. Eventually, however, the wines of Mendocino County, which bills itself as America’s Greenest AVA, were also included.

After a few iterations, Mendocino began holding its own San Francisco Grand Tasting—the first, at Fort Mason, included amazing aerial acrobatic performances à la Cirque du Soleil—which ultimately led to Slow Wine holding its own January event, six months after each annual Slow Food extravaganza. And just as Slow Food has expanded beyond its Italy & San Francisco beginnings, the wine tasting has grown to incorporate participants from throughout the West Coast AVAs.

I was quite surprised that The Slow Wine Tour held to its January schedule. ZinEx, Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux, and others decided to postpone their tastings scheduled for this week, due to the Omicron surge. I resolved to give this event a whirl provisionally, determined that if the expansive ground level at Pier 27 felt even slightly congested, I would forego the event until 2023. But with only moderate attendance and ample ventilation through the opened garage doors, I deemed it safe enough for a limited visit.

Rather than trying to undertake the entire lineup of 102 vendors, I held to the parameters established for Sostevinobile and restricted my samplings only to the ample selection of West Coast wineries on hand this afternoon. Conveniently, Slow Wine placed the tables from California, Oregon, and Washington at the end of the numeric roster, so it was easy to migrate sequentially, pace myself accordingly, and take ample notes. And it was a particular pleasure to start my tasting with Angwin’s Adamvs, one of Philippe Melka’s standout projects. Around this time of year, I relish the annual Atelier Melka Tasting at Première Napa, but sadly it will not be taking place in 2022. Here, along the Embarcadero, I could not have been more impressed with the two wines Adamvs poured, both Cabernets: their 2016 Téres, a deft blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, and 4% Cabernet Franc, alongside their flawless 2016 Quintvs, an exquisite pure expression of the varietal.

At the next table, organic wine pioneers Bonterra represented a continuum from Slow Wine’s Mendocino beginnings. Here they ably showcased the versatility of their viticulture with their 2020 The Roost, a biodynamic Chardonnay from their Blue Heron Vineyard, alongside the 2019 The Butler, a Rhône-style blend of Petite Sirah, Syrah and Grenache. Also included, for comparison, the 2016 The Butler, a library selection. Moving on, another storied Howell Mountain winery, Burgess, now part of the burgeoning Demeine Estates empire, featured a trio of wines from their previous incarnation. The 2014 Mountaineer proved an amiable blend of 46% Syrah, 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petit Verdot, and 3% Petite Sirah. A slightly more orthodox blend, the 2016 Contadina Cabernet Sauvignon, absent the more frequently incorporated Merlot and Cabernet Franc, rounded out the varietal with both Petit Verdot and Malbec, while the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Vineyards clearly rose to the top.

Another conspicuous absence from this year’s Première Napa will be the popular Bottle Party at Cliff Lede. From their Mendocino vineyards, the 2019 FEL Chardonnay Anderson Valley exemplified how this AVA has grown into one of California’s premier Burgundian regions, but my preference still leaned toward Cliff’s Napa selections, the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District and the utterly superb 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District Magic Nights. Showcasing another exemplary locale for Burgundy varietals, Carneros, Donum Estate, the former domain of the lustrous Anne Moller-Racke, comported itself admirably with three expressions of Pinot: the 2020 Rosé of Pinot Noir, a superb 2019 Pinot Noir Three Hills Vineyard, and the 2019 Pinot Noir White Barn Single Block Reserve, an Editors’ Top Selection.

From Camino in the Sierra Foothills, Edio, the homegrown label from Delfino Farms, offered a refreshing line up of their 2020 Albariño El Dorado County, the 2019 Grenache El Dorado County, and a delightfully Mourvèdre-focused GSM, the 2019 Frank’s Rhone Blend. From Edio Delfino to Ettore Biraghi—wines just seem to taste better with a strong Italian name behind the label! This eponymous label is a new Mendocino venture from this pioneering vintner, whose Purovino® certification exceeds the non-additive strictures of the Natural Wine Movement. Here, at the Slow Wine Tour, this sulfite-free technique shone through in the 2018 Chardonnay Pure and the striking 2018 Chardonnay Reserve. Underscoring this all-organic lineup: the delightful 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Signature, handpicked from Hopland’s Sanel Valley Vineyards.

Even before COVID struck, my efforts to visit Hamel Family Wines new Valley of the Moon facility were thwarted by an appointment-only policy. Allora, this obstacle will now be surmounted, but, in the interim, I greatly enjoyed the biodynamic wines poured here, starting with their excellent Bordeaux blend, the 2018 Isthmus. Far less of a tongue-twister, yet as appealing on the palate, their two reserve proprietary Cabernets: the 2017 Nuns Canyon Vineyard and the 2017 Hamel Family Ranch. Not long before COVID, I was able to snag a reservation at Saratoga’s prestigious Mount Eden, where I spent a wondrous afternoon sipping and sampling with Proprietor Jeff Patterson. Here, in a more objective milieu, the wines proved even more enticing, starting with a quite respectable 2017 Estate Bottled Pinot Noir. The 2017 Estate Bottled Chardonnay showed even more impeccable, but the 2016 Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon was virtually flawless, a paean to the extraordinary expressions of this grape found within this coveted sector of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA.

I am also an unabashed fan of Mendocino’s Roederer Estate, so was extremely pleased to taste with Domaine Anderson, their still wine adjunct in Mendocino. As you might expect from a sparkling wine producer, their three wines focused on Champagne grapes: the 2018 Estate Chardonnay, the 2018 Estate Pinot Noir,  and the single vineyard 2018 Pinot Noir Dach Vineyard. If only they had bottled a Pinot Meunier, as well! Just below Mendocino, Geyserville’s Sei Querce is a relative newcomer to the winery realm (although they have been growing Bordeaux varietals since 2010). Their 2019 Sauvignon Ranch House made for an auspicious debut, but a pair of Cabernets , made under the tutelage of star winemaker Jesse Katz,  the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Six Oaks and the splendid 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Ranch House, proved exemplary. An added treat: their new First Edition Vermouth, an exceptional aromatic wine blending Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Musqué, Sémillon and Viognier.

Postmodern winemaker Clark Smith, who helped found R. H. Phillips when it was a lonely outpost in Yolo County, brought the eclectic selections of his current label, WineSmith. Though based in Santa Rosa, Smith seems quite peripatetic, sourcing his 2017 Sparkling Grenache Brut Zero from Santa Cruz, a 2019 Tempranillo Tejada Vineyard from Lake County, and an interesting yet lackluster 2014 Meritage Ishi Pishi Vineyard from northern Humboldt County. Reaching out above the Emerald Triangle, Oregon’s Left Coast Estate made the trek to San Francisco to impress with their de rigueur selections: the 2019 Chardonnay Truffle Hill, the 2016 Pinot Noir Truffle Hill, and a superb 2018 Pinot Noir Cali’s Cuvée. Their standout, however, was the painstakingly-produced 2020 Estate White Pinot Noir, an exceptional example of this rare vinification.

Former Rubicon sommelier Larry Stone’s Lingua Franca similarly offered a Burgundian take on Oregon, with its own inimitable flair: a wondrous 2019 Avni Chardonnay, their 2018 Avni Pinot Noir, and the decidedly more complex 2017 Estate Pinot Noir. Likewise, Hillsboro’s Ruby Vineyard poured a pair of Pinots, the 2018 Laurelwood Blend Pinot Noir and the
2017 Flora’s Reserve Pinot Noir, alongside their unadorned 2018 Chardonnay. If pressed to choose, I think that Winderlea stood out in this niche, not just for the their 2018 Chardonnay, but with a trio of noteworthy Pinots: the 2017 Imprint Pinot Noir, the 2017 Legacy Pinot Noir, and the unassuming yet wondrous 2017 Pinot Noir Winderlea Vineyard.

Despite this uniformity, Oregon viticulture is hardly monolithic, as Cornerstone’s former President Craig Camp displayed here with his current project, the biodynamic- and regenerative-certified Troon Vineyard. Their 2019 Estate Syrah Kubli Bench was a most welcome bottling, while the 2020 Estate Vermentino Kubli Bench fit the overall Italian nature of the Slow Wine exquisitely. But their œnological prowess was truly on display with the 2020 Kubli Bench Amber, a most memorable orange (skin-contact) blend of Riesling, Vermentino, and Viognier. In fact so good, I had to take a bottle home!

Not to be downplayed, Washington did have representation here, a rare public tasting of the highly-acclaimed Cayuse Vineyards, with their splendidly-named 2018 God Only Knows Grenache, the 2019 Impulsivo Tempranillo, and an ungodly great 2018 Horsepower Syrah.

In other years,I might have remained at Pier 27 and cherry-picked my way through the various Italian tenute on hand. But even being triply-vaccinated,  was wary about potential exposure to this pernicious Omicron variant. Still, if anything can kill a Covid virus, it would undoubtedly be grappa, and so before leaving, I sampled through the four selections Venetian distillery Andrea Da Ponte poured: the Unica Da Ponte 2011, Vecchia Grappa di Prosecco, their Uve Bianche,
and the Fine Grappa Italiana. So far, nary even a sniffle!

Categories
Aglianico Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Carignane Chardonnay Chenin Blanc Falanghina Friulano Graciano Grenache Malbec Moscato Gialla Mourvèdre Nebbiolo Petite Sirah Picpoul Blanc Pinot Grigio Primitivo Ribolla Gialla Sangiovese Syrah Tempranillo Torrontés Trebbiano Vermentino

Are we back yet?

In forming Sostevinobile, Your West Coast Oenophile dedicated this still-nascent venture not only to creating a singular temple for wines produced along the entire stretch of the North Pacific’s West Coast (Baja California—British Columbia), but committed these efforts to the highest level of sustainability we could attain. My personal dedication to this latter facet of our business is to cycle as much as possible, instead of driving, notably throughout the confines of San Francisco proper, as well as points attainable over the Golden Gate Bridge. At least as long as my increasingly wobbly knees will withstand.

And so, one might assume that I regarded the dramatic reduction of automobile traffic, particularly at the start the damned pandemic, as a boon. But, as it turned out, the remarkably clean air proved quite the annoyance. As soon the sun began settling past the meridian, the blinding glare became overwhelming, making any kind of westerly route unbearable, if not hazardous. Dare I say I actually began to miss the air pollution?

Heading to Paso Robles earlier this month, my route required that I pass through the confines of the tech jungle for the first time since 2019. Much to surprise, in the offing to my left, there hovered the famed San José smog along the Diablo Mountains that bifurcate Santa Clara County. Could this be an omen that the end of COVID-19 was finally within sight? Could foul air mean congested traffic mean a return to normalcy? It’s enough to make a wine guy want to learn how to plot an algorithm!

But nothing that Legoland (my derisive term for Silicon Valley) offered could dissuade me from reaching my destination for the weekend. Various complications had kept me from visiting Paso since 2018, so the opportunity to return for the revived Garagiste Wine Festival proved too compelling to miss. Arriving the day before the Grand Tasting, I spent the afternoon reacquainting myself with the township.

For the past several years, ground zero for cutting-edge winemaking in Paso Robles has been the eclectic collective known as Tin City. But what had been a relatively underground enclave had blossomed into a full-fledged destination, overflowing with wineries and tasting rooms, as well as breweries, cider plants, restaurants and artisan food purveyors. Not to mention teeming with locals and tourists alike. As Dorothy Gale might have said, “I’ve a feeling we’re in Kansas anymore!”

A sign of COVID times, simply dropping in on a Tin City tasting room no longer is an option, a change that severely hampered my modus operandi. Nonetheless, I was able to schedule a special trade appointment with Giornata, Paso Robles leading producer of Italian varietal wines. Brian and Steffi Terrizzi are both fellow members of NEB, so, not surprisingly, their 2018 Nebbiolo Luna Matta—for the uninitiated, Nebbiolo, the grape that constitutes both Barolo and Barbaresco, is known among cognoscenti as the wine for when Pinot Noir drinkers grow up—proved extraordinary, as did the 2018 Aglianico Luna Matta.

Giornata’s Fatto a Mano series of wines might be deemed “natural,” but the term hardly does justice to these painstakingly crafted wines that are aged in amphorae. Standouts among these selections were the proprietary white blend, the 2020 Bianco Estate, a deft mélange of Trebbiano, Friulano, and Ribolla Gialla, and their esoteric red, a co-fermented 2020 Grenache Moscato, produced with Moscato Gialla and an early picked Grenache Rouge.

As much as I enjoyed these two wines, my eyes nonetheless gravitated toward the 2020 Falanghina, my first experience with this varietal as a skin-contact wine. But, of course, I could not overlook the flagship 2020 Ramato, easily the intensely orange Pinot Grigio I have ever experienced. An utterly superb bottling!

Even after two hours, I could have stayed on—and perhaps should have, after learning that the renowned Luna Matta Vineyard, the crown jewel of Italian varietals in Paso Robles, was being replanted with Cabernet Sauvignon—a most egregious development in my book. But the Grand Tasting for Garagiste beckoned, and even without cohesive directions to the Paso Fairgrounds, I reluctantly departed.

COVID-19 has been so devastating, in so many ways. For like myself in the wine sector, its impact on trade tastings has been particularly arduous, not just stifling all aspects of our business practices but depriving us of the camaraderie these gatherings foster. Since California’s putative lifting the pandemic color coding system, there has been a slow reemergence of trade events, though most have been a pallid vestige of their former incarnations, with reduced attendance capacities, substitute pourers, a dearth of trade/media passes, and astronomical ticket prices—particularly in Napa, where some four different AVA events sought ~$175 for a two-hour tasting.

A number of imported wine events have resurfaced these past six months, including St. Emilion, Portugal, Georgia, and the annual Simply Great Italian Wines, though almost all were represented by their American distributors. While these events help as a point of comparison and often attune my palate to varietals like Saperavi or Alvarelhão that have scant plantings here in California, they offer little in the way of reigniting Sostevinobile’s core mission.

Since June, I’ve been happy to attend the inaugurals of both the Chardonnay Classic and the Cabernet Classic at Vista Collina, as well as Healdsburg Crush, the revamped rendition of Pinot on the River, all of which still were generous enough to accommodate select media and trade. And I was most please to be once again selected as a judge for USA Wine Ratings. But it wasn’t until Garagiste that I felt a true sense of return to normalcy.

The true beauty of these tastings is the opportunity to discover an array of small producers whom I might not have otherwise encountered. This time, after a 2-year hiatus, the list of newcomers was bountiful, with 23 wineries to add to the Sostevinobile database. Layout of the Paso Event Center lent itself to an easy alphabetical navigation, which I followed in reverse order. Just because…

Here’s a brief synopsis of the wineries I discovered:

  • Zanoli Wines, a local, 350 cases project focused on Rhône varietals. Standout selections included their 2019 Mourvèdre Glenrose Vineyard and the 2018 Red, a Syrah-dominated GSM blend
  • The Wine Boss, a winery & custom-crush facility in Paso Robles, offered an amiable 2018 Fortunate Youth Cabernet Franc
  • Executive Director for Rhône Rangers, Kim Murphy-Rodrigues, poured both a 2020 Picpoul Blanc and a 2018 Grenache Morro View Vineyard that may have been the afternoon’s best selection, for her family-owned Vigo Cellars
  • Thibido Winery, a new Paso Robles producer, showcased their 2020 First Date Grenache Blanc and the superb 2020 Just Because Carbonic Syrah—just because…
  • Another new endeavor, St. Eva Hill, seemed a decidedly mixed bag, but I did cotton to their 2019 Estate Petite Sirah, as well as the 2019 Estate Rosé
  • Bakersfield’s San Rucci, a truly boutique effort, impressed with their 60 case bottling of the 2019 Cabernet Franc
  • RF Fine Wines delighted with their 2015 Riserva Primitivo, but their forte was in a trio of Paso Robles Cabernets, most notably the 2018 Legacy Cabernet Sauvignon
  • From Turley’s vineyard manager, Brennan Stovall, the intriguingly-named Quench & Temper is uniquely focused on blending Graciano with Rhône varietal grapes, exemplified by the 2019 Chapter IV (+ Grenache) and the 2019 La Cantera (+ Syrah)
  • I was vastly impressed with Nenow Family Wines, another Paso-based Rhône producer, with excellent selections across the board, particularly their GSM blend, the 2018 Elevens and an astounding 2018 Syrah Kimsey Vineyard
  • In Atascadero, south of Paso Robles, John Merrick’s Mea Wine presented a cross-section of Italian, French, And Spanish varietals, and while I am wont to favor his 2019 Estate Vermentino, the 2018 Revelation, a Syrah-Tempranillo blend, proved equally compelling
  • In recent years, Paso has been home to California’s renewed interest in Mourvèdre, the proverbial Holy Ghost of the GSM Trinity. Here, Loma Seca best exemplified the stunning versatility of this varietal with their 2019 Estate Mourvèdre
  • Mourvèdre can also be known as Mataro or Monastrell. Like Grenache, aka Garnacha, it is popular as both a Rhône grape and a Spanish varietal, too. Still. it is uncommon for both grapes to be blended with a pair of more distinct Spanish plantings, Tempranillo and Graciano, but this quartet comprised a most distinctive wine, the 2019 La Macha. from Paso Robles’ Hayseed and Housdon
  • The familiar refrain, Don’t Call It Frisco, doesn’t apply if that happens to be your surname. Nor is it an apostasy for Frisco Cellars to produce their 2018 Blanc du Rouge, a painstakingly handcrafted white Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Because I can speak Italian, I was able to deduce the meaning of Familia Hicks, as it varies only slightly from our term famiglia. But were it not for this Paso Robles micro-boutique, I would not have known that their 2019 Kazoku, a Templeton Gap Syrah, also means family (in Japanese)
  • This name only seems like a typo. Etnyre Wines heralds from Pismo Beach and produces 200 cases of coastal reds, displayed here with both the 2016 Pinot Noir Quin’s Vineyard and the striking 2016 Syrah Quin’s Vineyard
  • Orion Stang partnered withColorado winemaker Richard Crockett to create Emercy , a Paso Robles winery on eclectic blends, like their 2019 Grenache/Cabernet Sauvignon/Petite Sirah, whose unimaginative name belies it’s extraordinary complexity
  • I vaguely recall Dracaena from their incubation at San Francisco’s former Crushpad facility, but now they have grown to a full-fledged Paso Robles operation, producing a noteworthy 2019 Classic Cabernet Franc, alongside their Rosé and Chenin Blanc offerings
  • Of course, even if your name really is Demeter, your wine should be biodynamic, but their 2015 Sangiovese Javadi Vineyards muted any criticism I might have had
  • On the other hand, I can’t saying specifically what a winery named Crush Vineyard ought to produce, but their 2017 Inception, a GSM blended with Tannat, proved most intriguing
  • I had met Paige Wilson at Concur’s Tin City facilities on the previous day, but, despite her libertarian proselytizing, promised to taste with her husband Patrick at Garagiste. Happy to report that there was nothing laissez-faire about the 2018 Tank, a Mourvèdre-focused GSM blend
  • I suspect I would have found Bushong’s wine selections as compelling even if it weren’t for their intriguing label designs. Certainly, both their superb 2019 Tannnat Vineyard 1010 and the 2019 Same Deep Water, a Spanish varietal blend of Cariñena, Tempranillo, and Garnacha proved complex wines that could overshadow even the blandest packaging
  • Similarly, Karin Langer’s Bolt To Wines matched the sheer excellence of her 2019 Chardonnay Sta. Rita Hills and 2018 Syrah Ballard Canyon withcevocative renditions of Central Coast flora and fauna
  • Given its resurgence in Paso Robles, I would have expected to find quite a number of Malbecs being poured this afternoon. Nonetheless, the 2018 Malbec Paicines AVA (San Benito County) from Arianna Wines was enough to suffice, while her 2020 Torrontés Alta Mesa was a perfectly refreshing white with which to wrap up this hot afternoon

I wish I could have remained in Paso Robles for several more days, but I had committed to the revival of the West of West tasting being held in San Francisco. Held amid the hyper-elegant confines of The Battery, this intimate gathering assembled all the hallmarks of a well-appointed professional tasting, compact yet easily navigated, hampered only by its lack of a printed program. To be honest, there was little revelatory to this event; given the narrow focus (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with a splash of Syrah) of the West Sonoma AVA, I have long been familiar with the selections each winery has to offer. My attendance here was primarily to show my support and to reconnect with the winemakers on hand after the arduous 20 months of pandemic separation.

Granted, these two events were not 100% back to pre-COVID status, but things finally felt close enough to declare “we’re back!” But then Taste Washington announced they were compelled to cancel for 2022, South Australian Shiraz: Iconic and Ageworthy postponed until January (or later) due to shipping difficulties, and up pops the Omicron variant. Sempre lo stesso…

 

Categories
Aligoté Chardonnay Pinot Noir

Without wine, Western civilization would not exist

Your West Coast Oenophile is inordinately fond of the truism “senza la cultura italian, la civiltà occidentale non esisterebbe.” The ethnic pride we extol throughout Italian Heritage Month every October underscores how the foundation of Western civilization is derived from Italian achievements in science, literature, music, painting, sculpture. couture, the culinary arts, engineering, agriculture, and more from Roman times to the present. The Italian people may not be able to claim having developed viticulture, but we are responsible for making wine an integral part of our culture, our daily lives, and the fabric of our society.

Which is why the return of Healdsburg Crush this past weekend proved such a joyous gathering. Like its predecessor, Pinot on the River, this revived annual gathering focused on Pinot Noir, along with its Burgundian alter ego, Chardonnay, with some 60 wineries on hand, not only from the Russian River Valley AVA but as far away the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County. But what drew Sostevinobile to this event wasn’t so much the prospect of  sampling through an array of ultrapremium wines as it was to partake in the throes of a (soon to be) post-COVID revival. 

The pandemic has not estranged me from enjoying great wines—if anything, it has only increased my indulgence. But the pleasure of wine is not merely the act of imbibing, but sharing the experience with old friends, new friends, and business colleagues. Now twelve years into my second wine career, I find new insights and revelations a bit of a rarity, having catalogued nearly 5,000 labels here on the West Coast. Grand Tastings now serve primarily as a fundamental social gathering, uniting the people who make great wine with the people whose enjoyment of such make it possible for wineries to thrive. And in this regard, Healdsburg Crush did not disappoint.

Ticketholders, of course, partook in the craft of renowned winemakers rarely featured at events of this scope—producers like Bob Cabral, Ernest, George Wine Co., Merry Edwards, Roederer Estate, Rochioli, and Williams Selyem, to name but a few. Still, the abundance of great vintages proved merely a backdrop to the sheer pleasure of renewed camaraderie that even the pending onset of rain showers could not dampen. For me, as well as for the 700+ attendees, this wine gathering proved a much-needed respite from the lingering woes of the pandemic and the semblance of a return to normalcy after 20 months’ miasma. The kind of civilized encounter that only wine can bestow.