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I’D RATHER FIGHT THAN SWITCH

Name two billionaire megalomaniacs with a 5-letter surname beginning with G-A. Most of my professional associates know that Your West Coast Oenophile is referring to Ernest GALLO and Bill GATES. Enormous similarities in their business practices abound, but, at their core, both thrived by inundating the market with inferior product, then ruthlessly destroying their competitors cheap, dirty tactics.*

Ever since I started Sostevinobile, I have used the Workday mail client provided with my Web account. A couple of weeks ago, GoDaddy announced they were phasing out this application and switching their customers to Microsoft 365. To me, this was a declaration of war.

I am considered fairly savvy with software and computers, reluctantly serving as the go-to guy for Apple support with all too many friends and family. Although educated as a Creative Writer, I trained myself to be a graphic designer, as well, and have been quite versatile in programs like Quark Xpress, Illustrator, Photoshop, Acrobat, Keynote, etc. for more than 30 years.

In 1989, I properly concluded that MS-Word was the most execrable, unfathomable piece of software ever published and have since declared that there will be no Microsoft products on any of my or my company’s devices (business-wise, this has not handicapped me in the least). Nonetheless, over the course of the past three decades, I have been intermittently exposed to the current version of their Office suite, and each time I have found it to have become more bloated and obtuse.

And so, my mild-mannered façade took a back seat and I ripped into GoDaddy’s designated Migration Team, letting them know, in a number of expletive-filled tirades that there is no way I would allow them to foist their Microsoft garbage upon me. Over and over, they gave me the same song & dance: Workday was being discontinued, but they were providing two free months of Microsoft 365 before I would have to pay for this subscription. And, of course, they were happy to help me transition my Sostevinobile email over to this vile substitute.

“No,” I informed them. “I want you to provide an alternative platform that will preserve all of my domain plus legacy emails and help me migrate over to that.” Each time their response was like a broken record. Finally, faced with the possibility I might have to derail my business of the past twelve years, I resorted to the demand one should always make immediately when confronted with the faceless apparatchiks that man these help lines: “Let me speak to your supervisor.”

Of course, the migration assistant insisted her manager would only tell me exactly what she had already said, but I persisted. After the usual fifteen minutes of waiting on hold, the manager finally came on line and asked what my problem was. “Well,” he told me. “You can switch to Microsoft or you can simply port your email over to the built-in email that comes with your C-panel account.” BINGO!

He not only walked me through this transition, but helped me link up Apple’s Mail on my computers, iPad, and iPhone with the new settings. Sostevinobile remains intact, with nothing lost, and most importantly, I remain Microsoft-free.

Rest assured I did not celebrate my victory with a Big Mac, washed down with a glass of Hearty Burgundy.

*RIP California Cooler. RIP Netscape. The list goes on…

I have good news and I have bad news

If years could be encapsulated as a wine, 2020 would unarguably be a bottle of Hearty Burgundy (now six months beyond its expiration date). And so it was with the same exultation as when one, at last, moves onto a more quaffable bottling that Your West Coast Oenophile finally reengaged Sostevinobile with the wine realm at the recent 2021 Chardonnay Classic.

This three-day conference at Napa’s Meritage Resort, home to Trinitas Cellars and tasting room collective Vista Collina, included an afternoon Grand Tasting to which the trade was invited. The wine being poured, however, played an almost ancillary role to the liberating atmosphere of the event. Outdoors! Self-serve charcuterie and hors d’œuvres! No masks! No social distancing! Physical contact with other human beings!!

Not that the 14 wineries that shared their current releases by any means slackards. Juxtaposed against the warm afternoon sunshine and the wafts of fresh spring blooms, these Chardonnays were redolent of the lush characteristics that can make this varietal the perfect complement to an outdoor meal or a delicate seafood entrée. Standout included the 2016 Pellet Estate Chardonnay Sunchase Vineyard (with its distinctive heraldic label), Artesa’s Estate Vineyard 2018 Selection 92 Chardonnay, an ever-reliable 2018 Signature Chardonnay from Darioush, and Oregon contribution to the event, the 2017 Elsie’s Chardonnay from Stoller.

I would be remiss in not citing the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon that host Trinitas Cellars added to the mix. An exceptional wine that belied its modest (for Napa) $60 price tag. And with his 2019 Cépages d’Or, a deft blend of Marsanne, Roussanne, Picpoul Blanc and Viognier from his Terminim joint venture, as well as the 2018 La Rivière Chardonnay from his new Maritana label, Donald Patz showed he has not missed a beat from his Patz & Hall tenure. But perhaps the most surprising revelation of the afternoon came from renowned Judgment of Paris winner Château Montelena, their 2010 Chardonnay. Poured from its magnum bottle, this wine put to rest any notion that a Chard cannot be cellared and aged.

As a wone professional, I am eager yet daunted to confront the new realities of the post-pandemic wine realm. Having trade tastings revived is not only good news but gives hope that I will be able to resuscitate my visions for Sostevinobile. But if the price tag Chardonnay Classic sought for its conference is harbinger for the industry, my optimism may prove unfounded. Public tickets for an industry tasting, like ZAP or Family Winemakers geneally have run in the $75-95 range. And those events typically feature over 120 wineries. Tickets for this Grand Tasting were $250!!

Granted, Chardonnay Classic is an incipient venture, and higher prices abound everywhere in the wake of the 15-month economic setback we all have endured. Still—and I speak as someone who produces major tastings—I would expect such a premium price to feature not only an enormous selection of Chardonnay wineries but a strong presence of its premier producers. Where was Kistler? Where was Peter Michael? Aubert? Arista? Kongsgaard?

Alas, if pricing like this is the new norm, I fear the rebound for the wine industry will be long in the making…

The new NAPV

Your West Coast Oenophile has never pretended to be a prognosticator. But I can’t even begin to guess what the post-pandemic future holds, not just for Sostevinobile, but for society at large, particularly here in San Francisco. Granted, I am veering toward the side that believes we are finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel, but even if we return to normalcy, the economic realities of the post-pandemic era could be sobering (all puns intended).

Before the quarantine began, I was on the verge not only of committing to a deal finally to develop the long-awaited brick & mortar operations for Sostevinobile, but also to launch a specialized wine bar & caffè to be known as Piccola Liguria, which would focus exclusively on Italian varietal wines produced on the West Coast. Both projects could still be resurrected, in roughly the same pre-pandemic format, but I am not at all certain that they would be viable in this new environment. The latter establishment had been designed to operate as a cornerstone for reviving San Francisco’s historic North Beach, which had already dwindled to a vestige of its former self when it had been the most visited and dynamic destination in the City. In the aftermath of COVID-19,  I need to ask “is such a Herculean task even feasible?”

As for opening Sostevinobile, I have not come this far to abandon the dream, but I am contemplating a radical revision of its focus, something I will detail in a subsequent post if it does move forward. What will not change, however, is our exclusive focus on sustainably-produced wines from the West Coast. But times have changed since I first launched this ambitious endeavor, and with new technological developments, as well as the overall growth of viticulture in our region these past 12 years, I am broadening the scope of what will constitutes our wine program.

One of the tenets of sustainability has long been the effort to reduce one’s carbon footprint by restricting the range of delivery for both outgoing shipments and incoming resources. For Sostevinobile, this has meant staying within a 750 mile radius of San Francisco for the wines we consider. But with the advent of zero-emission transports like the Tesla Semi, we can, in good faith, expand our scope.

This does not mean, however, that we will now feature “American wines.” This may sound parochial, but, with isolated exceptions, I have found viticulture east of the Sierras overwhelmingly to be wanting. More germane, our focus on wines of the West Coast has always been predicated on ecological, not a political boundaries. In this regard, the entire expanse of the northeastern Pacific is its own niche, an ecological continuum spanning from Baja California to Alaska.

Transcending national boundaries, the North American Pacific Viticultural (NAPV) area comprises not merely the California-Oregon-Washington axis, but the emerging regions of British Columbia and  Baja Norte, like the Okanagan and Guadalupe Valleys, where exceptional wines are starting to be produced. As climate change impacts the entire planet with increased alacrity, this entire expanse is bound together by the conditions of our environmental unity and the solutions we must achieve together. Thus, Sostevinobile’s definition of sustainable wines from the West Coast should and will reflect this reality.

The Weight

Take a load off Fanny
Take a load for free
Take a load off Fanny
And (and) (and) you put the load right on me

Some twelve years ago, Your West Coast Oenophile coined the name Sostevinobile, a portmanteau from the Italian terms for sustainable + noble + wine. Among its myriad deleterious effects, the wondrous COVID-19 pandemic has reduced my opportunities for discovering and reviewing new wines to a paucity. As such, let me veer the focus of this blog toward the less-frequently cited cornerstone of my ongoing effort, our dedication to sustainability.

As I will note in my next post, certain criteria for sustainability have evolved over the past dozen years, while the urgency of reducing our carbon footprint has only become more acute. Which should lead producers to explore all avenues for limiting the environmental impact of their viticultural practices. Certain practices, like monitoring power consumption, reclaiming water, or eschewing non-biodegradable materials like Styrofoam should be no-brainers that pose any compromise to the potential quality of their wine. Others may have minimal æsthetic impact but offer significant savings, both monetary and environmental.

As with screwcaps, there is a perception that lighter bottles = a cheaper product. In 2021, there is no longer any basios for the presumption that a heavy glass bottle is the mark of a superior wine. As a judge for last year’s US Wine Ratings competition, I was startled by the sheer weight of one of the bottles I had to sample and evaluate, so I put together a random lineup and propped each onto my kitchen scale.

The weights of these seven bottles varied widely, with a range of 22.54 oz (1.41 lbs):

La Honda = 21.20 oz
Coventina = 31.11 oz
Erostasia = 24.80 oz
19 Crimes = 19.93 oz
Imperio = 42.47 oz
Yuniko = 29.07 oz
J = 31.08 oz

Granted, I found the lightweight glass of 19 Crimes almost flimsy, but the next lowest bottle, the La Honda seemed standard and still weighed less than half of the Imperio. Now, if I hadn’t had to forsake my gym and upper body routine during this dreary pandemic, I might not have felt so strained in pouring this ponderous Primitivo, but still its bottle seemed far more substantive than need be. But brachial strength does not address its impact on sustainability.

A 750 ml bottle of wine contains ~28 oz of wine by weight. The glass in several of these bottles surpassed that. Wine is typically shipped by the pallet, a tightly-wrapped stack of 56 cases, or 672 bottles. The liquid weight of this shipment is 1176 lbs., or more than half a ton. The variation in bottle weight means, however, that the heavier bottles add 947 lbs. to the overall weight of the pallet, a significant increase in their impact on the carbon footprint, as well as shipping costs.

Is the price of such vanity worth it?

 

Remains of the day

Your West Coast Oenophile was thrilled to be chosen as one of the judges for this year’s USA Wine Ratings competition. Coupled with being named a Top 100 Food & Beverage Leader by the 2021 Global Summit on All-Things Food, it feels like Sostevinobile is finally receiving major professional recognition.

It’s no revelation that little, if anything, has been normal in 2020, and wine judging has been no exception. Rather than gathering at a central hall or facility and having wines pour for us, judges had to handle all their designated wines individually and remotely. Though enjoyable, these new (and hopefully temporary) parameters proved rather laborious, and the lack of camaraderie did somewhat dampen the process. Nonetheless, I diligently made my way through the entire process, as verified by the volume of my spill bucket after judging 72 wines this past weekend. 

And no, I am not about to try chugging it. Admittedly, there are superficial similarities: balding, bearded, Ivy educated, underappreciated writer, oenophile. But I do NOT look like Paul Giamatti—though many have insisted.

A few years ago, I finally made it to Hitching Post, the renowned Buellton restaurant prominently featured in Sideways. As I walked into the bar, I announced “if anyone calls me Miles, they’re getting punched out!”

Just to be sure, I ordered a Merlot.

 

The Robert Oppenheimer of mixology

Although Sostevinobile has been exclusively focused on wine, Your West Coast Oenophile began dabbling with other libations long before my embarking on my current pursuit. In fact, even before I attempted to launch Thousand Points of Light Wines and the would-be predecessor to Ca’ del Solo, Château Lompoc, I had crafted the renowned Fook Yu (福于) at the dim sum restaurant where I bartended during my starving artist phase. A variation on the classic Slow Comfortable Screw Against the Wall, this potent concoction never failed to exact peals of laughter from my waitstaff any time someone would order one.

I’ve dabbled with other cocktails over the years, at home or with restaurants, including the Tai Da (太大) I have chronicled here previously. But my Holy Grail remains The Manhattan Project, or, as I fondly describe it, an atomic-strength Manhattan. The recipe is somewhat simple: Sweet Vermouth, bitters, and a Rye (or bourbon) in the 140° range. Commercially, I’ve had a fondness for Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye, which has come in as high as 132. or its fellow Buffalo Trace Antique Collection bourbon, George T. Stagg, which topped out at 144.1° in 2016.  Since my plan, however, is to release this blend as a pre-mixed cocktail in a fitting countertop dispenser, I am prone, however, to contract a local craft distillery for an unlabeled, proprietary cask-strength whiskey.

Throughout the time I have been nurturing this concept, I have been hung up on finding (or creating) the perfect bitters to go into this cocktail. My choice for Vermouth, however, as never wavered: Quady’s VYA Sweet Vermouth. Andy Quady may have shifted his personal focus to his Oregon facility, Quady North, where he produces still wine, but his Madera (not to be confused with Madeira) facility still produces the finest selection of  artisanal apéritifs in California.

During this damned COVID-19 lockdown, I began experimenting with different blends for my eventual release, including alternative vermouths from California. To be honest, Gallo’s Lo-Fi Sweet Vermouth left me looking somewhat askance, and while their and Steven Grasse’s restrained approach has merit, it would definitely require a strongly-flavored bitters to give this cocktail any semblance of distinction beyond its hotness. To my surprise, however, the complexity of Andy’s blend obviated the need for bitters at all—in fact, when I added bitter in some trials, they marred the flavor of the drink.

So now my path forward is clear. Select a craft distiller and find a 3-D model maker to design a polished version of my Fat Man dispenser. If onluy the pandemic would hurry up and end and let bars reopen…

 

 

 

 

GSM or FSG?

Your West Coast Oenophile is still struggling to figure out how Sostevinobile can emerge once this seemingly inexorable pandemic comes to an end and the unbearable restrictions of the New Normal have subsided. Current conditions have made visiting wineries untenable for me—I normally drop by without onerous reservations and engage the owner or winemaker for extended discussions, not formal tastings.

And so I am currently reduced to serendipitous discoveries through diurnal culinary exploits—my lockdown “hobby”—from my haphazard search for undiscovered wines at San Francisco’s sundry liquor purveyors. Know that long before I started Sostevinobile, I have been an impassioned champion of Mourvèdre. My first serious exposure to this varietal came from one of the sporadic offerings of Mataro from Ridge, further cementing my belief that their bottlings of various Rhône varietals and other deviations from their Monte Bello and their renowned Zinfandel program really constitute the hallmarks of this winery.

Whether a wine is labelled Mourvèdre or Monastrell or Mataro, the grape is still relatively rare to find as a single varietal here in California, though there has been a notable recent resurgence, particularly in Paso Robles and with specialists like Hardy Wallace’s Dirty & Rowdy. Most people will probably recognize Mourvèdre as a component in GSM blends here and in Château-Neuf  du  Pape or Côtes du Rhône. But nearly all of these wines are Syrah or Grenache focused, with Mourvèdre relegated to relative obscurity. In other words, the Holy Ghost of the GSM Trinity.

I tend to think of Mourvèdre as a wine meant to be enjoyed on its own, like Lagrein or Charbono, not primarily as a complement to food. But with more time on my hands than I often know what to do with, I find myself tinkering with even my tried & true recipes. An abundance of ripe Heirloom Tomatoes at Golden Gate Farmers Market in the Outer Richmond allowed me to substitute for Roma Tomatoes in my regular marinara sauce, with extraordinary result. This easily proved to be the most sublimely balanced sauce I can recall ever making.

But the true revelation came with the bottle of Mourvèdre I casually selected for my pasta that evening. On its own, Cline’s 2018 Ancient Vines Mourvèdre stands as a perfectly amiable wine, sourced from the Contra Costa AVA that produces a number of distinctive Rhône bottlings (though the region does not feature an abundance of wineries, its grapes are highly prized and sourced throughout the North Coast). I easily could have put up my feet and polished off a bottle while watching Netflix, but the food pairing proved utterly transformative. Not in the way one normally thinks of an astounding food-wine blend, the way many Italian wines are made to produce. Rather than balancing the wine, the pasta seemingly changed its character, from the smooth, slightly fruity uniformity I seek in a Mourvèdre to the rich complexity of a Cabernet Sauvignon. Had I not known what was in my glass, I might even had guessed it was a Meritage.

I made Pizza Napoletana a couple of night later, using the same sauce. True to form, the pizza exceeded all my previous endeavors, but the wine merely held to its varietal character, however. Guess I should have picked up a second bottle of the Cline.

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.