Category Archives: Uncategorized

I wanna take you higher?

Contrary to what many may have believed back in the day, marijuana was never the vice of choice for Your West Coast Oenophile. Not that I didn’t occasionally indulge during my boarding school and college days; it’s just that it always made me tired and, frankly, was quite harsh on the lungs. In edible form, the experience was far more pleasant, though it didn’t exactly enhance the flavor of brownies. Or caramel. Recently, however, I inadvertently tried a cannabis gummy with 10 mg. THC. Tasty, yes, but as for the effects…

I don’t know whether my friend mentioned it was infused when she offered me a “candy” or if  I wasn’t paying attention. Shortly thereafter, we took off on a shopping expedition, in search of the shrimp and oysters I needed for my Cajun pasta specialty. We combed the seafood and produce markets throughout the Inner Richmond portion of Clement Street, arguably the best food shopping district in San Francisco (even if their prices for Dungeness crab remain extraordinarily inflated this season). As per usual, New May Wah Supermarket amply met our needs and then some, filling our bags with an assortment of Korean pears, star apples, and other exotic fruits.

From there we ventured to the in-store pharmacy at the nearby Lucky’s, where I get my prescription for “rejuvenating pills” filled. Normally, this would be a two-minute stop, but a glitch with my new insurance turned it into an excruciatingly long excursion. As I waited for the druggist to resolve the computer issues, it seemed like things were getting blurry, while mu head started throbbing the way it typically does when I stand for any prolonged period under fluorescent lighting. Only the lighting here wasn’t fluorescent.

I tried to shrug it off and figured I would feel OK once I left the store—my usual remedy in these situations. But the fogginess only grew stronger. The drive back to my flat seemed interminable. I knew where I was heading and had little issue with operating my vehicle, but the 10-block route back to Lower Pacific Heights seemed to go on for miles. Inside, I struggled to see clearly—why couldn’t the dimmer switch turn up full? Becoming exceedingly irritable, I came close to shouting at my companion for crowding me, or so it seemed, in the kitchen as prepped the sauce and cranked out the angel hair noodles on my Atlas pasta maker.

How I completed this undertaking remains a mystery to me still. I coated the pan with olive oil, instead of butter, compelling me to start the sauce from scratch once again. Next I managed to sauté the garlic and onions far too long, browning the slivers beyond the point of palatability. I overcooked the shrimp and nearly forgot to stir  in the spices I had meticulously blended beforehand. Worst of all, my pasta dough refused to congeal easily; I landed up with mounds of fragmented 3″ strands, instead of elegant, attenuated noodles that I anticipated rolling out.

The meal would never have passed muster in a fine dining establishment, but my guest seemed indifferent to its flaws, perhaps on account of over  2½ bottles of wine that we polished off throughout the dinner. Whatever got us through the meal, we eventually had our fill and toddled off to bed.

In the morning, I felt no worse for the wear and even managed to brew an artful pot of coffee while fixing a couple bowls of instant oatmeal. Over the course of breakfast, I mentioned how weird I had felt that evening and apologized for having been so testy. “It was probably the cannabis gummy I gave you,” she proffered. And thus, it all came into focus—in a manner of speaking.

But here’s the takeaway from this episode. Even if I had knowingly ingested this dose of THC, I would not have enjoyed the experience. The effects were not relaxing. I was disoriented at a level I experience when greatly overindulging with wine or with cocktails, not the pleasant yet coherent mood alteration a glass or two may bring. And the effect was not gradual or immediate; rather, it crept up on me unexpectedly after considerable delay (the packaging, which I subsequently read, advises that the THC may not take effect until two hours after it is consumed), then hit me full-force

In other words, cannabis does not portend to displace the consumption of wine. The conviviality of imbibing, the relaxation of one’s mood, and the sheer magic of wine’s interaction with food is not replicated with this alternative intoxicant. Neo-Prohibitionists, vegan chauvinists, health pseudoscientists, and Juul-puffing Millennial poseurs foreshadowing the demise of alcohol be damned—the grape is here to stay! And Sostevinobile vows to remain resolute in our original vision of the most comprehensive venue for sustainable wines from the West Coast.

Entering a new decade. Reflecting on an old millennium.

Happily, Your West Coast Oenophile is still in business, having surmounted the series of setbacks that nearly sent Sostevinobile to the dustbin of history last fall. I am starting off 2020 with renewed optimism, having (potentially) revived not only the NOPA site for our long-delayed brick & mortar operations but the overseas financial deal on which our funding depends. Also, I am looking forward to reinvigorating Risorgimento, the Italian varietal trade organization we launched last year. And I have put in motion two new wine projects I hope to discuss here later.

But first let me start off this new decade with a reflection on my top wine from 2019. If only Valley of the Moon’s 1999 Sangiovese were still available, I’d be tempted buy out the entire stock. But when the current ownership, which operates Quails’ Gate Winery in Kelowna, British Columbia took possession of the Madrone Estate facility in Glen Ellen, they relinquished rights to any of the wines formerly produced under the original Valley of the Moon Label that predated Madrone. As such, my sampling was a one-time-only treat.

Still, my one-ounce pour easily rated a Too Good to Sip & Spit—and a slow, deliberate sip at that. The wine proved remarkable for a number of reasons. Normally, I wouldn’t consider Sangiovese a wine that would be ageable beyond a decade, especially if it hasn’t been blended as a SuperTuscan, but, here, 20 years later, this bottling was still hitting its stride, with nary of a hint of having peaked. Moreover, Sangiovese in California was still struggling to find its expression in the 1990s; I can’t recall a memorable vintage before Piero Antinori’s 2000 Reserve Sangiovese  from his original plantings at Atlas Peak.

Back in the 1990s I would have looked to Imagery or Viansa for Italian varietals in this corner of Sonoma County. To have found a Sangiovese this complex then from Valley of the Moon would have been serendipitous; twenty years later, this wine proved a revelation.

See You Next Tuesday

What goes with plaid? Your West Coast Oenophile would be inclined to suggest Scotch Whisky, haggis, and that manliest of sports, caber tossing. But fine wine would not have made this list, until Sostevinobile attended the recent Pinots and Plaid tasting at the newly-remodeled Hibernia Bank lobby in San Francisco’s up & coming Tenderloin district.

Admittedly, this pairing did not start off auspiciously. My trade pass clearly denoted a start time of 2pm, which included entry to the VIP lounge and a more intimate early hour with the wineries on hand. When I did arrive at the check-in table, however, I was informed that I was only included in for General Admission, and would have to wait until 3pm. I twice attempted to introduce myself and address this matter with event promoter Emily Martin, but she was focused on the extreme demands of posing for an interminable string of Pinterest photos.

But capitulating to solipsism was hardly in order for the afternoon, nor would the lack of a basic tasting program deter my appreciation of the many excellent wines on hand. I hadn’t tried using the newest version Pages with the latest update of my iPhone; the new iOS 13 makes for a clumsy interfaces when using this application for creating text files. I fumbled my way through tasting the wide array of Pinots from Anne Moller-Racke’s Blue Farm, highlighted by the 2016 Pinot Noir Anne Katherina, her eponymous estate vineyard, before switching to Notes, an .rtf application that enabled me to catalog each of the wines I sampled.

Another ludicrous aspect of this event was Martin’s insistence that the wineries hold back their Chardonnays until 45 minutes from closing (having produced numerous events myself, I recognize the advantage of enabling attendees to keep their palates balanced throughout the afternoon, lest they fatigue from a single varietal). Fortunately, many saw fit not to follow this guideline. The 2017 Peugh Vineyard Chardonnay from David Low’s Anthill Farms proved a fortuitous deviation from this edict, a rich, splendid expression of the grape.

Due to the Sonoma fires and evacuation orders, a number of wineries understandably could not participate. I had been greatly looking forward to Noah Dorrance’s selections from Reeve and was eager to try Adam Lee’s Clarice, his personal successor to Siduri. And, of course, if I had been granted access to the VIP Lounge, Roederer Estate has long been a personal favorite sparkling producer. Still, stalwarts like Peay and Three Sticks proved as consistently excellent as I have come to expect, the former with both the 2017 Scallop Shelf Estate Pinot Noir and the 2017 Pomarium Estate Pinot Noir, while Ryan Prichard, successor to acclaimed winemaker Don Van Staaveren, continued his legacy with two standout bottlings, the 2017 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and its contrasting 2017 Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir.

I go to great lengths to ensure that winemakers at Sostevinobile events allocate enough inventory so all attendees can have the opportunity to experience what they are pouring. How frustrating to find a winery has depleted its stock on hand and already departed before reaching their table (though invariably the shortfall does not reflect the producer’s calculus). As such, it had been quite a while since I last sampled Michael Browne’s Cirq and was looking forward to revisiting their wines, but I ponied  up to their table just as they finished packing. And as a former wine club member at Williams Selyem, I was eager to rediscover on what I had been missing out lately; when I moseyed over to their table, however, all that remained was their 2017 Pinot Noir Lewis MacGregor Estate.

I fared better with the remaining vintners, starting with Works & Days, the Burgundian sister of Coursey Graves; these wines proved an interesting discovery, with the 2016 Pinot Noir Hill Justice Vineyard the standout among the trio poured here. After decades of furnishing the preponderance of Carneros’ premium Pinot and Chardonnay grapes, Sangiacomo showcased its own label here, admirably comporting themselves with their 2017 Roberts Road Pinot Noir and the equally-splendid 2017 Green Acres Chardonnay.

I would be equally hard-pressed to choose a favorite from the 2018 Sonoma Mountain Chardonnay, the 2017 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, or the 2016 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Yountville’s Stewart Cellars featured. Of course, had they been a bit bolder, they might have brought along their 2017 Tartan, a Bordeaux-style Meritage that nonetheless offered thematic consistency. But it does betray my varietal prejudice when I note that my favorite wine of this event was the 2016 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon that Sojourn surreptitiously poured alongside its vineyard-designate Pinots. In close contention, however, were a pair of Carneros wines from Hyde Estate: the 2016 Chardonnay and their wondrous library selection, 2012 Carneros Pinot Noir. Jackson Family Wines highlighted their focused ultrapremium label program with the 2016 Jolie Pinot Noir from Maggy Hawk, their Anderson Valley operations.

Also blending from Mendocino vineyards, Erich Bradley’s Texture excelled with their 2014 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley. Given the proliferation of Pinot regions throughout Northern California, it seemed a more perspicacious event producer would have featured a wide variety of AVAs outside of the Sonoma appellations, like the Santa Cruz Mountains or Santa Lucia Highlands (how Pinots & Plaid did not include Talbott is beyond me). Beyond the latter two aforementioned wines, the sole exception to this myopic focus was the 2016 Pinot Noir Star Mooring, a Willamette Valley selection Ellie Phipps Price’s Dunstan added to her line of acclaimed Durrell Vineyard vintages.

Still, the paltry gaggle of plaided patrons in attendance this afternoon probably paid little heed to this oversight and reveled in the opportunity to experience such iconic producers as Gary Farrell, with his members-only bottling of the 2016 Pinot Noir Rochioli Vineyard. For many, I am sure Sebastopol’s Red Car also proved a rare treat, showcasing both their 2016 Estate Pinot Noir Fort Ross-Seaview and a superbly matured library selection, the 2012 Pinot Noir Zephyr Farms. Kosta Browne alum Sam Lando featured a duo of  his limited-production wines, the 2017 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and a compelling 2017 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. Another highly acclaimed vigneron, John Bucher, also brought a pair of his current releases, the 2017 Pommard Clone Pinot Noir and  the 2017 Russian River Valley Estate Pinot Noir.

Lacking a tasting room, my San Francisco neighbor, Kutch is a rare treat for the public; here,  they did not disappoint, with three routinely excellent Sonoma Coast vineyard designates: their 2017 Bohan Chardonnay, the 2017 Falstaff Pinot Noir, and the 2017 McDougall Pinot Noir. The rest of the tasting featured widely familiar labels, including peripatetic winemaker Ross Cobb’s own brand, highlighted by the 2016 Pinot Noir Diane Cobb from his family’s vineyard. Wells  Guthrie’s Copain may now be part of the Jackson Family portfolio, but remains distinctively subtle, as evidenced by both their 2017 Chardonnay and the 2016 Les Voisins Pinot Noir.

It is always a pleasure to visit with Ken & Akiko Freeman and to taste through their sundry wines. As it is named, the 2017 Ryo-Fu Chardonnay was indeed a “cool breeze” with which to wind down, while the 2016 Yu-Ki Pinot Noir sparkled. I concluded my tastings with my friend Valerie Wathen, ambassador extraordinaire for Dutton-Goldfield, with both the 2016 Rued Vineyard Chardonnay and their new 2017 Azaya Ranch Pinot Noir serving as an excellent coda to the afternoon.

There are numerous Pinot Noir events throughout the year, of course, including dueling versions of Pinot on the River in Sonoma, this month’s upcoming PinotFest, West of West, and World of Pinot Noir. Granted, the largest of these, Pinot Days, has fallen by the wayside, but is there really a need to add yet another? Certainly, a different angle on such an event is necessary to keep it from being redundant, but pairing it to a dilettantish vision for an unrelated fashion display  hardly meets this criterion.

I say this as not only an accomplished œnophile but someone known for his sartorial splendor. If somehow there is a Pinots & Plaid II, they may wish to take my picture so you can see for yourself.

Makes me want to holler

This is the closest Your West Coast Oenophile has come to considering abandoning his plans for Sostevinobile. Since late 2017, I have been operating with the assurance that this magnificent facility at 1213 Fell Street had been secured for me by my backer, purportedly the lead investor for a consortium of family offices operating in the Bay Area. Admittedly, our negotiations for taking possession of this building and subscribing members to Club SVN the private wine lounge and club designated for the already built-out second floor, had been going excruciatingly slow, due mostly to meetings he repeatedly postponed with little notice and scant apology. This dilatory behavior did little to reassure me, but given our long-standing business relationship, the belief I had a secure premise for our brick & mortar operations allowed me to focus my efforts on raising capital overseas, while bolstering Sostevinobile’s burgeoning influence in the West Coast wine realm.

But patience has its limits, and I finally decided to phone Rockwell Properties, whose For Rent sign idly been posted in front of the building for well over a year. My backer had told had been told posting was merely a placeholder,  but the brothers who ran this fly-by-night agency  scheduled an appointment for me revisit the space a couple of days later. And so it was much to my chagrin that I was told, moments before I head over to the NOPA location that the building’s owner had canceled the viewing. A minor inconvenience compared to my also discovering that this building had never changed hands two years ago!

This “oversight,” however, may only be temporary, as a forced bankruptcy sale of the premises may be imminent. So where does this leave Sostevinobile? Will I be able to scrape enough cash to qualify for the auction? Will I find myself in a bidding war against more well-financed competition? It makes me want to holler…


So I broke down the other evening and purchased a 16 oz. can of White Claw, the sparkling seltzer phenomenon that apparently is all the rage with the Millennials. Should the wine world feel threatened by this soda pop-flavored beverage that masks its (albeit moderate) alcohol content? Let me use this rare opportunity to draw upon my twelve years of Latin instruction: nihil novi sub sole!

Nuclear proliferation

Sostevinobile has not always been as diligent as we could be in visiting some of the outlying wine regions that we will be featuring, and so Your West Coast Oenophile recently ventured out to the Livermore Valley for the first time in a few years. Apart from its renowned gargantuan wine operations: Wente, the first significant Chardonnay producer  in California, and Concannon, which inaugurated Petite Sirah on the West Coast, far too many other members of the Livermore Valley AVA are relegated to relative obscurity outside the Bay Area (in no small part because these two aforementioned wineries were permitted to remain open during Prohibition).

To rectify matters, I took recently advantage of an invite to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremonies for Wente’s Table & Tasting Lounge to reacquaint myself with some of the AVA’s cutting-edge producers. Readers who know me know I have long been a vocal advocate of Steven Kent, a producer whose Cabernets deliver more bang for the buck—$125 for a bottle that would easily fetch $500+ if the label read Napa—than perhaps any other winery on the West Coast, along with Daou and Quilceda Creek. Less publicized is that his family’s former winery, Mirrasou, had committed 250,000 cases of their White Zinfandel to my debut bottling, George Herbert Walker Blush, before the bureaucrats at BATF denied us label approval.

Thirty years later, Steven’s wines are a far cry from what I experienced in the snow-covered (!) vineyards in San Martin. Our tasting began with a sneak taste of their just-bottled 2018 Ragbag Albariño, a crisp, deft expression of the grape form Lodi’s acclaimed Bokisch Vineyards. Similarly, the 2018 Lola was a predominantly Sauvignon Blanc blend, mellowed out with a substantial 32% Sémillon. Mid-range BDX single-varietal bottlings of the classic, pre-climate change Bordeaux reds from their Ghielmetti Estate Vineyard, was strikingly represented by the non-vintage BDX Collection Malbec, while the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon exquisitely blended their Ghielmetti Cabernet with 4.5% Petit Verdot and 4.5% Merlot from nearby vineyards.

Though young, the 2016 SVS Cabernet Sauvignon, produced entirely from the Clone 7 plantings at Steven Kent’s Home Ranch Vineyard, totally exemplified why this unassuming operation deserves to be ranked among the elite producers from California’s more heralded regions. A beautiful wine with the promise of attaining its full potential in another 10 years.

From there, I moseyed on to Darcie Kent, no relation to Steven but certainly a kindred spirit in raising the bar for Livermore viticulture. Their quaint, cottage-style winery stands in welcome contrast to the industrial feel of the nearby Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the soulless abodes of its nuclear physicists. Darcie and her husband David greeted me with a special hand selected tasting that began with their 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, a self-described spicy interpretation of the ever-so-delicate Musqué clone. Next up was their spectacular 2018 Rava Blackjack Grüner Veltliner, a signature wine that predated the Kent’s’ move into their own facility. I was similarly impress with the upcoming release of the 2018 Pistachio Lane Chardonnay, while the library selection of the 2014 DeMayo Chardonnay aged beautifully.

Darcie Kent’s Petite Sirah bottling, the 2009 Madden Big Petite amply showed why this varietal remains a mainstay in Livermore. We concluded the tasting with their 2015 Firepit Red, a deft mélange of the premium fruit from their Crown Block Estate Vineyard: Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, and Zinfandel. Afterwards, I stayed on as a guest for their barbecue and concert by The Novelists, a Reno-based quartet that adeptly covers hits from Bruce Springsteen and Queen to Toto and Pink Floyd. It was a splendid coda to a splendid visit.

My only regret of the afternoon was not allotting sufficient time to visit with the many other wineries here. Since my last visit to Livermore, there has been a notable proliferation of vineyards, tasting rooms, and producers, along with a collaborative effort to upgrade facilities here from the rather mundane sterility of a light industrial complex to more inviting and encompassing tasting experiences, as renovation of S. Vasco Road’s The Block 37 attests. I intend to make up for this lapse quite soon.

Eschew obfuscation

I probably don’t write about sustainability enough in this column, but Your West Coast Oenophile has designed Sostevinobile to incorporate sustainable principles and practices in every aspect of our business model, including the production of all the West Coast wines that will be part of our program. After all, I did coin the name from a portmanteau of sostenere (to sustain) + vino & nobile. So I was initially quite pleased to read the installment Rise of ethical consumerism causing an increase in awareness of the alternative wine category in yesterday’s WineBusiness.com, having been admonished by numerous potential investors that such considerations, while admirable, would have no bearing on the potential success of my business model.

Previously, I had not been familiar with Wine Intelligence, the British-based analysts whose report entitled Global SOLA formed the basis of this article. So far, so good, until I discovered that this acronym stood for Sustainable, Organic & Lower Alcohol wine. At the risk of apostasy, how does that equate? What are the environmental benefits of lower alcohol wine?

I am not against producing more moderate wines—in a quest for improved flavor or greater pairing with food. This is a stylistic or æsthetic consideration on the winemaker’s part. Outside of that, however, the impetus toward lower alcohol wine is a thinly-veiled banner for the neo-Prohibitionists who are eroding the marketplace for wine worldwide. As it becomes more apparent that recent studies alleging that there are no benefits to alcohol consumption are skewed, if not outright biased, it behooves these denizens to align themselves with ethical advocacies and movements that are popular with the mainstream, like environmentalism and climate control. But this affiliation is wholly misplaced.

On a parallel note, I have long advocated the separation of alcohol from the regulatory authority governing the other so-called “sin taxes.” The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF), now known as TTB, is an anomaly. No one can rationally argue that there are health benefits that mitigate the dangers of smoking, and even an organization as nefarious as the NRA would not try to portray as salubrious. Wine, with its resveratrol, is the diametric opposite of these other two “vices,” and should never have been lumped in the same category.

For years, I have been lobbying against any affiliation, implied or direct, between alcohol and tobacco, particularly labels and events that seek to marry the alleged pleasures of cigar smoking to a fine port or brandy or scotch. And don’t even get me started about Altria’s proprietorship of Château Ste. Michelle!

But know this isn’t some idle slacktivist rant. Sostevinobile will be utterly inflexible in its complete prohibition of tobacco. We will not employ smokers—not merely because of the added health insurance burden but to ensure our customers enjoy their visit without having to endure even a hint of tobacco stench; nonetheless, we will gladly fund tobacco cessation programs should otherwise qualified personnel wish to join our team. Our projected 8,300 sq. ft. rooftop deck will be completely smoke-free, which includes banning the use of the insidious Juul and other vaping devices. Similarly, our private Club SVN lounge will neither permit any form of tobacco nor will its concierge accommodate cigar orders or similar requests from our members. This policy is, of course, primarily our own æsthetic consideration, yet, unlike SOLA, our standards seek to recognize what truly aligns with the ethics of environmentalism.


The wine industry has long been recognized as being in the forefront of environmental policy and innovation, but this is not its only vanguard. Last week, I attended a wonderful tasting organized by One Market Wine Director Tonya Pitts. Women in Wine was a benefit for La Cocina, a not-for-profit incubator in San Francisco for women seeking to create their own culinary startup. The event featured a roster of over 25 distinguished California wineries quarterbacked by women winemakers, and while it would be somewhat of a hyperbole to describe this lineup as a veritable Who’s Who of female œnologists here, it definitely compared to an NFC ProBowl lineup: Merry Edwards, Bouchaine, St. Helena Winery, Donkey and Goat, Ernest, Trombetta, Far Niente/Nickel & Nickel, Martha Stoumen, Theopolis, Zaca Mesa, Artesa, Shared Note/Cattleya, Conduit, Tessier, Bucher, Notre Vin/Alienor, La Sirena, McBride Sisters, Wait-Mast, Neely, Côte West, Stonestreet, Duckhorn/Golden Eye, Ghost Block, and Mojave.

At this time, I am refraining from my observations on the individual wines I tasted, in part because lacking a printed program compelled me to transcribe my comments on Notepad on my iPhone, a laborious process that kept me from covering everyone who participated in this event. But I will make the observation that none of these wines semed notably feminine in character—or masculine, for that matter. They were simply strong, routinely excellent vintages, wines that compelled you to focus on their structure and balance and flavor, the expression of the varietal and the distinction of the terroir.

And that is testimony to yet another facet of the wine industry that puts it in the forefront: women here have attained a level of parity with men that makes their craft indistinguishable by gender. Full equality may not be there yet in terms of numbers or wages, but in this regard, the industry has arrived ahead of the rest.

The lost art of serendipity

It has been an unusual month or so for Your West Coast Oenophile. My dedication to focusing the wine program at Sostevinobile exclusively on sustainably-produced wines from the West Coast has not altered, but I continue to be exposed to wines from the other 47, most recently Colorado and Hawaiʻi. Spending over 24 hours on various flights over a 10-day period left me plenty of time for idle thoughts, and so I enumerated all the states whose wines I have sampled over the years. Apart from California, Oregon, and Washington, as well as the other two aforementioned states, there have been vintages from Arizona, New Mexico, Idaho, Texas, Missouri, Michigan, Vermont, New York, Delaware, Virginia, and North Carolina. I vaguely recall trying a blueberry wine from Maine, but won’t include that in my tally, and I did polish off a bottle 17° Zinfandel my former fiancée’s Uncle Carlo produced in his Rhode Island basement, which would bring me up to 17 states. Just because.

From there, I reckoned that I had tried wines from each of the six inhabited continents, which encompassed 26 different countries. Besides the US, there have been North American wines from both Canada and Mexico. South America has Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Brazil. Of course, Australia and New Zealand. South Africa was another given, while Morocco was a unique experience shared with Francis Ford Coppola’s brother Augustus. From Asia, there has been Georgia, Lebanon, India, and China, while Europe included Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, England, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Croatia,  and Slovenia. I may have tried wines from Moldova and Bulgaria, as well, but the memory is a bit fuzzy on these two counts.

The embarrassing part of all this is how few of these places I’ve actually visited. But while I await a whirlwind world tour once Sostevinobile’s doors are opened, I managed to slip away for a few days last week and finally make the trek to Maui, courtesy of a complimentary ticket I won from Southwest Airlines. With barely a couple days to plan my excursion, I left my fortunes in the hands of the resort’s concierge. It would be an unfair comparison to equate her choices, like the Lū‘au Te Au Moana at the Wailea Beach Resort, to experiencing Italian food at Olive Garden, but it wasn’t far from the mark. And it did get me lei’d! The Zipline tour seemed a bit perfunctory, as well, but standing above the Haleakalā Crater did feel like I was on top of the world and could just make out Japan on the horizon.

Following this sojourn, I rolled down the volcano and wound through the most circuitous route I could map out to the island’s northeast shores, bypassing the chance to tour Ulupalakua Vineyards, Maui’s viticultural foothold, while glimpsing the vast span of haole intrusions, from cattle farms to polo fields, before finally traversing intimations of the lush rainforests of the Wai’anapanapa State Park that lay further along the Hana Highway. Emerging near the town of Pe’ahi, I meandered west until coming upon the storied “hippie enclave” of Pa’ia.

This rustic town seems quite akin to Bolinas in West Marin, though the locals here do keep the road signs posted. As such, downtown Pa’ia offers a greater variety of shopping, drinking, and dining options, along with plentiful strains of the local bud,—should one choose to partake. I opted instead for glass of the sugar cane-based Ocean Organic Vodka at Charley’s Restaurant and Saloon, then surveyed my dining options before choosing my pentultimate Hawai‘ian meal at the understated Pa’ia Fishmarket.

My slection could not have been more fortuitous. The popularity of this quaint shack, with its multiple communal dining benches, bespoke the quality of its exceptionally well-prepared fare. I opted for one of the Specials of the Day, the fresh Opah, grilled to perfection, along with a bountiful helping of rice and potatoes. The obligatory glass of wine, Tuck Beckstoffer’s 2018 Hogwash Rosé (sorry, Ulupalakua), proved a worthy accompaniment to this ample repast, while the anything-but-touristy tab could easily be afforded two or three times a week.

In a word, serendipitous. Which brings me to the point of this post. I currently have 4,363 West Coast wine producers logged into the Sostevinobile database, with another 500-600 on my to-do list. I had thought I could expedite my goal of cataloguing every sustainably-focused winery in California, Washington, and Oregon through the 2019 Wines and Vines Buyer’s Guide, but, to my surprise, this industry staple only lists 5,996 wineries throughout this region, a mere fraction of the 12,000+ labels I estimate are currently in production. Without a centralized source for all this data, my methodology ultimately compels me to stumble upon the unlisted and yet-to-be listed, like Stagiaire. There are, of course, trade tastings, wine bars and wine shops, forums like Seven% Solution and Bâtonnage, regional trade associations, varietal advocacies, etc., but I have been most successful in discovering new wines and wineries simply by getting lost on my visits to different wine regions and invariably coming across a label that has received little-to-no fanfare in wine circles at-large.

Which is why my latest excursion to Napa proved such a dud. Not that the wineries I visited weren’t routinely excellent. The problem was that every place I came across was sealed off with an electric gate and a large, ominous sign limiting visits to “By Appointment Only.” Up until this year, it was relatively easy to flaunt this requirement, but TTB has started vigorously enforcing license restrictions and is clamping down hard.

Domaggio!This may be fine for keeping tourism at a manageable level and curtailing the general public, but for my purposes, the loss of serendipity, of being able to discover the hitherto unknown winery, meet with its principals , and sample through their wines, is truly a monumental shame.

Da Capo

Admittedly, it is not easy for Your West Coast Oenophile to taste through an array of barrel samples and report on them in any insightful way for Sostevinobile. It was an auspicious start to May to attend the preview tastings for the 5th Annual Sonoma County Barrel Auction, an innovative industry event bringing together unique futures and cooperative bottlings from a wide array of vintners throughout the county. Certainly one of the high points of the Thursday events was the Sonoma County Innovators & Icons Celebration, a tribute tasting to David Duncan & Family, from sustainability pioneers Silver Oak Cellars, philanthropist Ron Rubin of his eponymous winery, Margo Van Staaveren, who revived the fortunes of Château St. Jean and Rod Berglund from Joseph Swan Vineyards.

Still, my greatest revelation came from the understated auction lot Gallo star winemaker Aaron Piotter crafted for their Bear Flag label from their Monte Rosso Vineyard in the Moon Mountain AVA. Labeled as a varietal expression of Zinfandel, this one-time only lot blends in 5% Dakapo, a varietal only found in California on this site and unknown to virtually everyone in attendance, including yours truly. Having taken pot shots at Chambourcin in my last post, I of course had to stumble upon yet another grower-manipulated teinturier, this one a Swiss-created blend of Blauer Portugieser and Deckrot (don’t ask) first made available in 1999.

Perhaps more interesting than its lineage, however, is the etymology of its name, which is apparently a corruption of Da Capo, an expression well-known to the musically accomplished. And for those who know the true identity of Your West Coast Oenophile, this takes on a delightful double-entendre.

Where do bad wines go to die?

Even when Your West Coast Oenophile isn’t trying, it seems everything somehow lands up relating to Sostevinobile. My recent trek to Corte Madera for the Preview Gala for Marin Open Studios landed up having little to do with the artwork hung along the walls of Suite 325 in the Town Center and even less to do with the eclectic collection of attendees than it did with the inscrutable potpourri of wines that accompanied this elegantly catered affair. Apart from a couple of Three Wishes/Quail Oak or similar bottom-shelf selections ($3.50 Pinot?), my initial choices were a pair of Texas wines I similarly did not bother to record or try. And so the volunteer bartender produced a bottle of something from somewhere in Missouri.

Now I am more than happy to cede the title of Earthquake Central to the Show Me State, but no matter how venerable their viticultural endeavors may be, I have little interest in switching my West Coast allegiance. But with choices so suspect, I capitulated and asked for a glass of Petit Verdot, heralding from an outpost in Virginia. The wine wasn’t too bad, nor was it too good—“serviceable” is the most frequent term other wine writers might charitably apply to such a vintage. Of course, it didn’t take much to bring out the cynic in me after that.

“I don’t suppose you have anything from Delaware?” I inquired, my sardonic side taking over. But much to my surprise—or chagrin—they did! The 2016 Laurel’s Red from Nassau Valley Vineyards of Lewes, DE is described as an unoaked “semi-dry red table wine” made from 100% Chambourcin, a varietal with which I had no previous familiarity. This French-American hybrid was first commercialized in the 1960s and apparently is popular in the renowned viticultures of New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. None of the literature I’ve sourced lists Chambourcin’s parentage, but, curiously, the grape is a teinturier, like Alicante Bouschet, Saperavi, and Colorino, meaning it produces a red juice when crushed, even without skin contact. Any parallel to the flavors of these other noble grapes is an entirely different matter.

I couldn’t help but wonder why, with a couple of dozen wineries now in Marin, not to mention its obvious proximity to the Petaluma Gap and Sonoma Coast AVAs, both of which cross over to the northern part of the county, the event organizers needed to resort to such farfetched selections. As it turned out, these wines had all been part of the recent San Francisco International Wine Competition, donated through the extreme generosity of one of the judges, who was probably averse, as I would have been, to taking these leftovers home to foist onto those near and dear—especially if these had been one of the 13 or so wines, out of 4,127 submissions that did NOT win a medal!

Coda: a few days later, I found myself at a poolside soirée, confronting a bottle of the 2016 Malbec Reserve from Becker Vineyards, a Texas winery that has garnered 11 SF International Medals for such wines as Muscat Chenin and Prairie Cuvée. As I reluctantly quaffed this feeble rendition, I could hear echoes of Maude Findlay admonishing her milquetoast husband, “God’ll get you for that!”

April is the cruelest month

Attention, Millennials! Sostevinobile is counting on your business. And so Your West Coast Oenophile is issuing this challenge: find your T. S. Eliot! Seriously, if your generation could come up with a poet whose Weltanschauung was as bleak as that of The Wasteland, all this talk of neo-abstinence would dissipate in a flash! And remember, the published poem you may have read in college is the redacted version, after Ezra Pound excised three out of every four lines Eliot originally wrote. If you ever want something that will drive you to drink, try reading the original.

Speaking of redacted texts…not going there. Not to be derisive, but this blog eschews politics almost as much as it eschews the prevalent notion among San Francisco sommeliers that a wine must be imported from outside California accorded any degree of gravitas. But I have no inhibition against debunking the recent spate of pseudoscientific studies on the deleterious effects of alcohol nor the corollary reports on how the up & coming Juul-puffing generation is eschewing alcohol for a healthier lifestyle. Here’s the cold, sober fact: the legalization of cannabis will not be the death knell of wine, an elixir that has been at the core of human civilization for over 8,000 years.

For starters, rivalry between alcohol and marijuana is nothing new. Back in the day when it was considered preferable, if not honorable, to dodge military service, young people were generally divided between the hip and the square, the former eschewing alcohol as the domain of their martini-guzzling elders in favor of the occasional (or omnipresent) joint. To no one’s surprise, over time, this element came to embrace alcohol, not out of a need for a different intoxicant or social lubricant as much as a mature understanding of alcohol developed hand-in-hand with the evolution of their taste in food, their appreciation for the more subtle values of stewardship of the environment, the convivial nature of a  meal with wine, and the generally positive social aspect of sharing a bottle. Millennials who indulge in alcohol primarily for its intoxicating effects may now delineate wine vs. cannabis through the dichotomy of its aftereffects; over time, today’s 20-somethings will acquire an appreciation for the nuances of flavor, aroma, texture, culinary enhancement—and.yes, health benefits—that wine uniquely imparts. No matter how much you extract THC or manipulate marijuana via potable or edible derivatives, it can never replicate the æsthetic pleasure that a glass of wine imparts.

And therein lies the rub. As Domaine Drouhin’s David Millman noted at last week’s North Bay Business Journal Wine Industry Conference (which I atypically missed), despite the financial constraints young people are facing today “In time, they will come around.” As did we all. Whether the relative impecuniosity (and concomitant lack of sophistication) of our post-collegiate years meant Boone’s Farm and Ripple or Bartles & Jaymes or White Zinfandel or pre-Sideways Merlot, just look to where our wine palates have evolved now!