Category Archives: Pinot Grigio

How you gonna keep him down on the Pharm?

2016-07-30 15.16.40It was high time Your West Coast Oenophile venture outside my frequent stomping grounds and undertake some serious exploration of the joints—I mean, wineries—that I have vetted for Sostevinobile primarily through trade tastings in San Francisco and on Treasure Island. And so I threw caution to the wind and risked upping my per-mile bracket with Metromile and headed north beyond the confines of Sonoma and Napa for the other regions that constitute the vast North Coast AVA: Lake and Mendocino counties.

After several years’ worth of invites, I finally capitulated and agreed to attend the annual picnic and members meeting for the Redwood Forest Foundation (RFFI) in Ukiah. This foundation represents a laudable effort to preserve not only much of the old growth redwoods throughout California but to protect the wildlife that inhabit these preserves. Naturally, the focus of their efforts aligns synergistically with the sustainable aims of Sostevinobile, but I am not entirely sanguine about the use of cap & trade carbon credits to offset their budget deficit. Global warming has now reached the point where merely maintaining current level of carbon emissions—which, in effect, is what carbon credits facilitates—rather than radically reducing them, is not sufficient to offset the pending catastrophic impact from our profligate industrial consumption.

In spite of such conundrums, Mendocino still can lay valid claim to its self-professed accolade as “The Greenest AVA in America.” Many may claim this is a double-entendre, and yet my only encounter with any semblance of cannabis culture was a sign at the gateway to Hopland. There was no indication, however, that they operated a tasting room.

No dearth of visible tasting rooms existed for the numerous wineries that have sprung up in county since I first visited with Mendocino’s first varietal producer, the late John Parducci. Before locating the Redwood Forest picnic, I fittingly managed to squeeze a visit with Rich Parducci’s McNab Ridge, a winery I had featured a few years ago at a tasting I designed for NAAAP-SF. As eclectic in his tastes as his grandfather, Rich bottles an extraordinary array of organically grown selections that span from a strikingly appealing 2014 French Colombard to his admirable rendition of the 2013 Pinotage. I was quite taken with McNab Ridge’s exemplary 2013 Primitivo, but still managed to spare enough room to sample their 2013 John Parducci Signature Series Port, an opulent blend of Touriga Nacional (55%), Tinta Roriz (16%), Touriga Francesca (10%), Tinta Barroca (10%), and Tinta Cão (9%).

Time constraints dictated that I cut short my visit with McNab Ridge and depart Hopland’s quaint confines for the aforementioned luncheon, aptly situated amid a redwood grove at Nelson Family Vineyards. As these wines are not commonly distributed beyond subscribers and visitors to the tasting room, I took the opportunity to sample through their roster after the RFFI conclave. Starting with their NV Brut, one of Mendocino’s signature expressions, I segued to a delightfully light 2014 Pinot Grigio. Nelson’s deft touch truly manifested itself next in their 2013 Viognier, a well-balanced expression of the grape that proved neither austere nor cloying.

Creative minds most certainly lurked behind their 2015 Barn Blend, a unique blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Zinfandel and Viognier. More traditional, the 2013 Top Row Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, an intensified wine crafted from a prized block on their estate vineyard. Finally, Nelson revealed its true virtuosity in their exceptional 2013 Zinfandel, a dense, jammy wine that long lingered on the palate.

I next veered southward back to Hopland, where I spent a most enjoyable hour visiting with César Toxqui at the tasting room he maintains alongside Bruotocao’s. His affable 2013 Muscat Canelli prefaced 2014 Rosé of Zinfandel, a wine most definitely not to be confused with the much-maligned White Zin concoction that ruled the 1980s. I found his 2012 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley appealing, his 2010 Grenache decidely more so. Here again, the 2007 Immigrant Zinfandel reigned supreme, closely followed by a 2013 Zinfandel Dry Creek, sourced from across the county line.

César also poured a noteworthy single vineyard Cabernet, his 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Bloom Vineyards. His trademark, however, stems from his non-vintage blends, the Ruthless Red, a mélange of 80% Zinfandel, 10% Syrah, and 10% Merlot , dedicated to his wife, and the Heirloom Cinco, a solera now in its fifth cuvée, produced from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, and Viognier.

Following an a raucous evening indulging in all two of downtown Ukiah’s hot spots, I rose early the next day, squeezed in a few laps across the motel pool, and headed out to the foot of Anderson Valley for their annual Barrel Tasting Weekend. Before I reached the festival, I popped into Simaine, an bootstrap winery/tasting room housed in a light industrial complex where my GPS steered me in my quest to locate Germain-Robin. Owner Vic Símon graciously received me just as he prepared to open for the day and opened a selection of his current offerings, starting with his personal favorite, the 2012 Sangiovese. Other wine, designated as Reserve, included the 2010 Petite Sirah and a 2010 Carignane, both of which proved balanced and approachable. His final selection, a Bordeaux blend with the rather elusive name, the 2011 Virisda.

After departing Simaine, the scenic 17-mile expanse of Hwy. 253 wound across the county to Boonville, where I collected my credentials at Philo Ridge’s tasting room. I had hoped to surprise Fred Buonanno with my long-delayed visit but was informed he was still nursing the after-effects of his 60th birthday celebration the night before. Nonetheless, I managed to soldier on and taste through a number of his selections. Having recently sampled several of their Pinot Noir selections at June’s Taste of Mendocino, I opted to taste through an array of white varietals, starting with a lean 2014 Chardonnay Haiku Ranch.Seventeen syllables later, I moved onto the 2014 Pinot Gris Nelson Vineyard, a fresh, tank-fermented rendition of the grape. Also, tank-fermented: the floral yet delicate 2014 Viognier Nelson Ranch, a perfect white for what would prove a scorchingly hot afternoon.

Several Mendocino growers have collaborated over the past several years on a bottling a regional proprietary wine they call Coro. In keeping with this Zinfandel-focused blend, Philo Ridge bottles an intriguing mélange they call Vino di Mendocino. Currently in its fourth release, this wine marries Zinfandel with Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Carignane. The wine was delightful but the burden of becoming a sexagenarian had evidently taken its toll, so I abandoned the notion of waiting for Fred to appear and moseyed onto the next stop.

It was rather surprising to find a town as quaint and remote as Boonville dotted with so many satellite tasting rooms; I would have thought such a laid-back rural setting more conducive to onsite estate visits. Nonetheless, it proved rather convenient to meander between premises and sampling their offerings. Having tried Seebass Family Wines at numerous tastings over the years, I correlated their wines with the impressive Bavarian coat of arms that highlights their label. The tasting room proved to be anything but ponderous, manned by Brigitte Seebass’ daughter Michelle Myrenne Willoughby. Michelle ably navigated five different parties that had bellied up to her bar, yet still found time to attend to my personal discretion. We started with her 2015 Family Chardonnay, a bold wine, like all of Seebass’ selections, sourced from estate-grown, hand-harvested, hand-pruned, sustainably farmed fruit. Quelling my thirst from the 95° F heat, the delightfully chilled 2015 Fantasie proved a compelling Rosé of Grenache.

Varietal bottlings constitute a distinct strength at Seebass, starting with the 2012 Grand Reserve Merlot and punctuated by the exceptionally well-rounded 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel, honed from 100+ year old vines. Nonetheless, I also greatly enjoyed their 2012 Romantik, a blend of Syrah and Grenache, along with their NV Mysteriös, a proprietary mix from their 2011 & 2012 harvests, combining Grenache, Syrah, Merlot and Zinfandel.

Though certainly a pleasant wine, admittedly the most striking aspect of the Mysteriös was the artistic design of it label, a reproduction of one of Michelle’s late father’s paintings, a geometric design that echoed the prints of op art’s grandfather, renowned Hungarian-French master Victor Vasarely. Coincidentally, I bounced over next to Boonville’s John Hanes Fine Art, a modern gallery that shares space with Harmonique. I would like to think the hermaphroditic statuary that adorned the entrance to this facility dissuaded me from partaking of the various Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs for which Harmonique is prized, but, in truth, Harmonique’s absence from the roster of the Anderson Valley Barrel Tasting precluded my visiting.

And so I ambled across the street to the Boonville Hotel, the onetime home of the legendary New Boonville Hotel, a restaurant that had turned this area into a culinary mecca. In the courtyard, I found Paul and Valerie Gordon of Halcón Vineyards, an intrepid couple who sojourn weekly from their Silicon Valley home to produce Mendocino wine. Their al fresco tasting in the hotel’s garden court included a slew of exemplary wines, starting with their 2013 Prado, a classic Rhône blend of Roussanne and Marsanne. From there, we progressed to the 2014 Rosé, a deft melding of Grenache and Syrah, then segued onto the 2014 Alturas Estate Syrah, classically cofermented with a scintilla of Viognier. Opting for a pure expression of the varietal, Paul poured his 2014 Tierra Petite Sirah, a wine quite reflective of its Yorkville Highlands pedigree. His coup de grâce most certainly, however,was the 2014 Wentzel Vineyard Pinot Noir, an exceptionally well-balanced wine, neither light nor ponderous, a blend with 35% whole cluster that clung to the palate ever so delightfully.

Following this stop, I backpedaled from the center of downtown Boonville to visit with Joe Webb at Foursight. This boutique operation has long stood as one of Mendocino’s premier Pinot Noir labels, but first I had to try the refreshingly chilled 2013 Charles Vineyard Sémillon, a most pleasant, understated wine. Though it may be a noble experiment, I confess that I did not cotton to the 2013 Unoaked Pinot Noir, a simplified expression of the grape that struck me as overly sour. In contrast, Joe’s signature wine, the 2014 Paraboll Pinot Noir presented a geometric leap over the Unoaked, a truly exquisite wine that attested to Anderson Valley’s rightful place in California’s Pinot hierarchy.

Onward, returned to my car and headed north to Elke, the first onsite tasting room on the trail. The dirt road, clapboard barn, unpretentious landscaping embodied just the kind of ramshackle setting I had envisioned before I’d arrived, and while owner Mary Elke was not on hand this afternoon, I still enjoyed a most pleasant session, sipping through a welcomely-chilled NV Sparkling Brut crafted from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I found myself equally pleased—and refreshed—by both the 2014 Chardonnay Anderson Valley and a candy-like 2014 Rosé of Pinot Noir Anderson Valley. For balance, I finished with their 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Lake County, a heterodoxical selection for the afternoon.

Creeping back onto the highway, I next dropped in on Witching Stick, another understated operation that belied the sophistication of its œnology. Owner Van Williamson began my tasting with a straightforward yet excellent 2014 Durrell Vineyard Chardonnay, then moved to the delightful albeit atypical 2014 Carignano Rosato. After these chilled wines, I delighted in an enticing 2012 Valenti Vineyard Syrah before delving into Van’s Pinot lineup. The 2013 Gianoli Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2013 Perli Vineyard Pinot Noir proved equally compelling, but both were clearly outshone by the lushness of the 2012 Gianoli Vineyard Pinot Noir. But the pinnacle at this stop turned out to be the 2013 Fashauer Vineyard Zinfandel, a deep, complex , jammy wine.

Across the street, Phil T. G. Baxter welcomed me like an old friend to the intimate confines of his eponymous tasting room. As with Witching Stick, the tasting centered on his lineup of Pinot Noir, starting with an acutely focused 2013 Weir Vineyard Pinot Noir. I found both the 2013 Valenti Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2013 Langley Vineyard Pinot Noir on par with the 2013s from across the street, while the 2012 Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir once again underscored the superior quality of this vintage. Phil concluded our visit with a sample of his 2013 Valenti Vineyard Syrah, a perfectly amiable wine that complement a perfectly amiable setting.

I have often expressed my personal qualms about engaging in Mergers & Acquisitions, my original role in the wine industry and a practice I’ve recently resumed on behalf of Sostevinobile. One of my favorite Mendocino labels has long been Greenwood Ridge, and I had hoped to visit with Allan Green in Philo, but the winery had been acquired back in March by Diane and Ken Wilson and folded into the mini-empire they have quietly cobbled together in Sonoma and Mendocino. Though Allan will be sorely missed, the new regime has nonetheless stayed the course, including the winery’s focus on organic farming and winemaking; the wines I sampled here, however, were produced under the former ownership, so assaying the perpetuation of these practices remains undetermined. Nevertheless, I cottoned immensely to all three wines I tasted, starting with the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, the first wine to open my eyes to the full potential organic winemaking. Complementing this indubitable bottling, the 2015 Riesling retained just enough sweetness to taste refined, not cloying. Rounding out my visit, the whimsically-labelled 2013 Hundred Point Pinot Noir, named for a promontory along the Mendocino Coast where 100 ships have wrecked, bore fitting testament to Allan’s legacy.

Not quite Helen of Troy (was this the face that launched a thousand ships?), but close. My combined 18 years’ inculcation in Greek & Latin literature begs for allusion as often as I can cite it. As such, I need confess the allure of Lula Cellars stemmed not merely from the beauty of its wines but the striking pulchritude of their delightful hostess. Kacy managed, despite my overt distraction, to steer me through Lula’s lineup with considerable aplomb, commencing her tasting session with an exceptional 2014 Dry Gewürztraminer, a varietal that for many years characterized Mendocino for me. The 2015 Rosato displayed a delight derivation of a Pinot Noir, while the 2013 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir simply resounded. Rounding out this visit, the 2014 Mariah Vineyard Zinfandel provided a rich dénouement to a most productive afternoon.

Only my tasting day was far from over. Resolved to head back to San Francisco along the leisurely coastal route, I continued up toward along Route 128 toward the town of Albion, below which it interests with Highway 1. To my great surprise, nearly all the wineries along this road remained open until 7pm, a far cry from Napa and Sonoma, where 4:30pm seems the general rule of thumb. And so I abruptly veered into the parking lot for Domaine Anderson, the new branch of Roederer Estate dedicated to still wines. I had first encountered these wines at San Francisco’s Pinot Days, where Wine Club Manager Jennie Dallery had apparently drawn the short straw and was relegated to the antechamber at Bespoke, along with a handful of other wineries forced to compete against subway-level acoustics. I had promised her I would visit soon and discuss these wines in an audible setting, but was chagrined to learn she had left the premises a mere five minutes before my arrival. Nonetheless, I made the best of my visit and sampled both the 2014 Estate Chardonnay and the notably lemony 2013 Dach Chardonnay, both complements to the designate Pinot Noirs I had tried in San Francisco, before continuing my trek to an old familiar, Handley Cellars.

I’ve lost count how many times I’ve sampled (and enjoyed) these wines at tastings throughout the year since 2008 and have even attended a luncheon where seven selections of their Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays were paired to each course. So here I was more than happy to taste through their non-standard selections, starting with the exquisitely floral 2014 Pinot Blanc Mendocino County. Complementing this wine, the 2015 Pinot Gris Anderson Valley seemed a bit more subdued but approachable, while the 2015 Riesling Anderson Valley gave considerable credence to Mendocino’s claim as California’s prime AVA for Alsatian varietals.

I bypassed Handley’s all-too-familiar lineup of Pinots for a selection of their other reds, including the unlisted 2013 Vittorio Petite Sirah. I found the 2013 Zinfandel Russian River Valley equally pleasurable, yet both combine, along with a healthy share of Carignane to make a true standout, the 2013 Vittorio Red Table Wine. Meanwhile, standing out on its own merits: the 2013 Syrah Kazmet Vineyard.

Truth be told: I had two primary destinations in mind when I embarked on this journey. Although I finally did manage to determine the actual location for Germain-Robin, I learned that weekend appointments would not have been available anyway. My other Holy Grail, of course, was sparkling wine virtuoso Roederer Estate, which was just about to close its doors as I arrived. I almost convinced the tasting room staff I had won a case of L’Ermitage, but settled for the final tasting of the day as reward for my ruse. Their base offering, the Brut MV, artfully combined a blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir. Roederer serves this wine from different size bottles, and clearly the Brut MV Magnum outshone the confines of the standard 750ml bottling. I could not have asked more of the Brut Rosé MV, a Pinot-dominant blend, while their Tête du Cuvée, my cherished 2009 L’Ermitage reaffirmed itself as my perennial favorite sparkling.

2016-07-24-16-33-40While my return to Mendocino proved both fruitful and enlightening, I confess I was surprised that I never once stumbled across the mood-altering botanical for which it is primarily known. Perhaps because it has been a few decades since I cultivated an affinity for the weed that its whereabouts eluded me. Perhaps it was because I have had little to praise for the few bottlings of marijuana-infused wine that I’ve tried. Or could it be that this reputation is simply an elaborate hoax, a convoluted pharmaceutical paronomasia?


I passed through Mendocino a week later, en route to a wine tasting in neighboring Lake County, another AVA I have been remiss in visiting. But with so many fires having recently ravaged this pristine preserve, it seemed almost obligatory that I journey north as a gesture of solidarity with the fourteen wineries on hand for The People’s Choice Wine Tasting.2016-07-30 15.44.28Admittedly, I could have made better timing in getting to the Kelseyville destination, but I decided to follow the scenic mountain route over from Hopland.As I began my descent down Highway 175, the vista from atop Cobb Mountain provided a breathtaking panoramic of Clear Lake, a natural phenomenon often unfairly depicted as a poor man’s Lake Tahoe. The vast expanse of this waterway was an unanticipated revelation, tinged with regret that I have not taken advantage of the resorts that dot its shore, especially when San Francisco summers have taken an Arctic turn.

My other epiphany came as I wound down from Middleton to the back stretches of Bottle Rock Road: seemingly every other vineyard I passed was tagged with a Beckstoffer sign. Behind this ubiquity lies a concerted effort to bolster the quality and reputation of Lake County’s wines, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon hailing from the Red Hills AVA, where they farm nearly 1,300 acres of vineyard. This past winter, owner Andy Beckstoffer announced a program wherein he would provide one acres’ worth of Cabernet for free to ten select vintners in the county to draw help catalyze this ambitious project. Despite being seen by some merely as theatricality, the chosen vintners with whom I spoke wear their selection as a badge of honor.

I arrived at host Moore Family Winery amid their own theatricality, a blind tasting of thirteen Lake County Sauvignon Blancs. As with the Anderson Valley Barrel Tasting, I quickly drifted from the staged event inside the Tasting Room and focused my visit on the wineries pouring their Gold Medal selections. Host Steve Moore offered a distinctive lineup, starting with his 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, a wine that had not taken part in the shootout. I clearly favored his 2015 Chardonnay, however, but did cotton to the 2009 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, a most deserving dessert wine.

In a similar vein, Kelseyville’s Chacewater showcased their 2014 Chardonnay, a wine I would have liked to contrast with their Organic Certified 2015 Chardonnay. Complementing this vintage, however, was the 2015 Muscat Canelli, a sweet yet appealing wine, to be sure. Former Kendall-Jackson winemaker Jed Steele had his various labels out in force, impressing with the Sweepstake Red Winner, the 2012 Steele-Stymie Merlot and, in a nod to poetic justice,the 2015 Writer’s Block Roussanne.

Forsooth, Fults Family Vineyards, a winery I had not previously encountered, countered with a pair of their amiable whites, the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc and the 2015 Chardonnay. Contrasting quite nicely, the stainless steel 2015 Endeavor, a limited release Chardonnay from Wildhurst, which showcased its 2013 Petite Sirah alongside. And in keeping with the caliber of his worldwide wine portfolio,a standout 2013 Petite Sirah came from Langtry, new NHL team owner Bill Foley’s Lake County acquisition.

While Foley has ponied up $500,000,000 for the construction of T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, the more anticlimactic redevelopment of San Francisco’s Treasure Island has begun displacing the cottage wine industry there, starting with the myriad labels produced at The Winery SF. Nonetheless, owner Bryan Kane remains committed to the Lake County fruit he sources for his personal Sol Rouge label, resulting in an ever-reliable 2013 Petite Sirah and a most compelling bottling of his 2012 Cabernet Franc. Another multilabel enterprise, Shannon Ridge showed atypical restraint, pouring a mere four selections from their seemingly inexhaustible lineup. Both the 2013 Wrangler Red, a blend of 44% Zinfandel, 43% Syrah, 11% Petite Sirah, and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2012 Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon seemed tepid, particularly when juxtaposed with their 2015 High Elevation Sauvignon Blanc and the superb 2013 High Elevation Chardonnay. Another winery that featured a blend was Fore Family Vineyards, also previously unfamiliar to Sostevinobile, with their delightful Grenache-based 2013 GSM; deftly displaying the potential of the Red Hills volcanic soil, their 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon proved sheer elegant.

From Clearlake Oaks, Cache Creek Vineyards shares only a name with the more familiar casino, but a kindred spirit with its Lake County brethren. Their 2014 Rosé of Cabernet attested to their acuity of their vinification, while the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon constituted yet another testament to the potential of this AVA. Admittedly, I found myself wondering if Jack Welch would deem that Six Sigma’s somewhat tepid 2014 Sauvignon Blanc held to continuous efforts to achieve stable and predictable process results, but I was especially pleased to taste their 2013 Diamond Mine Cuvée, a black belt mélange of Tempranillo with lesser parts Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

Also veering from the predominant French focus of the afternoon, Nick Buttitta made an impromptu appearance on behalf of his Rosa d’Oro label, sharing his intense 2013 Aglianico, a dense, intense interpretation of this varietal. Still, I concede that the standout wine of the afternoon was the opulent 2014 Viognier from Gregory Graham, one of the most acclaimed winemakers in Lake County.

Andy Beckstoffer contends Lake County’s “Red Hills is the most promising Cabernet Sauvignon site outside of Europe.” At the heart of this AVA sits Tricycle Wine Partners’ Obsidian Ridge, whose wines compare favorably at 2-3 times the price from their southerly neighbors in Napa. Underscoring this point today, they wowed the crowd with considerable aplomb, pouring a robust 2013 Estate Syrah, their 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, co-winner of the Sweepstake Red award, and a distinctive Meritage, the 2012 Half Mile Proprietary Red, a wondrous blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.

I wish I had allotted more time to this visit, as many intriguing Lake County ventures that participated in this competition could not be present. I find myself now filled with trepidation that I may never have the opportunity to visit with several of these; as most people know, a series of wildfires have struck since my visit, threatening to undermine the emergence of Lake County as a world-class AVA. Fortunately, the arsonist responsible for many of these conflagrations has been apprehended. Moving forward, absent of natural catastrophe, perhaps Lake County can look toward their westerly neighbor for definition of the expression “up in smoke!”

An austere wine, with an alluring bucket

Long before developing Sostevinobile, even prior to my original career in the wine industry, Your West Coast Oenophile pursued a much loftier vocation. Hubristic though it may sound, I truly believed I could elected the next pope.

Driving up the coast from Pacifica on a warm September evening in 1978, I heard the news that Pope Paul VI had just died. The broadcast further stated that the next Pope would assuredly be “younger, male, Italian, and allied with neither the liberal nor the conservative wing of the Catholic Church.” In other words, me.

With little time to mount an extensive worldwide campaign, I resorted to a decidedly grassroots effort, greeting people everywhere I went and exhorting them to write their favorite cardinal to support my candidacy. Hard to tell exactly how well I placed, as the balloting remains secret, but I finished a healthy runner-up to Venetian Cardinal Albino Luciani.

Ioannes Paulus PP. I proved a genial, albeit inferior, choice, as attested by his untimely death a mere 33 days after his installation. Seizing this renewed opportunity, I immediately took to the streets with a more aggressive campaign, this time pledging, with utter fidelity, “I won’t die in office!” Of course, I realized I didn’t need to worry about facing any consequences if I did break my promise. And if somehow I had managed to keep it, well…
Giampaolo

As I’m sure everyone knows, I wound up losing that election to Karol Wojtyla and his 27-year interregnum as Ioannes Paulus PP. II. Thereafter, the abrupt resignation of his successor, Benedictus XVI, dispelled any hope I could run once more on my immortality platform, though my apostasy still contends that, the Universe being merely a figment of my imagination, I cannot be allowed to die. Nonetheless, owning to reality, I am resolved to live at least as long to hear some hotblooded twentysomething admonish his friend “Dude, c’mon! That chick is too old! She’s got tattoos!!

Moreover, after recent Facebook rumors had reported my likely demise—compounded, I suspect, by three months’ absence in attending to this blog—I composed a bucket list of wineries I still craved to try. While my selections may lean heavily towards several of the renowned “cult Cabernets,” they also reflect, by omission, the vast number of these wines I have already had the pleasure of sampling.

Scarecrow Without trying to seem boastful, I have delighted over the years in such legendary producers as Harlan, Maybach, Dalla Valle, Bond, Opus One, Scarecrow, Shafer, David Arthur, Ovid, Kapcsándy, and the obligatory Screaming Eagle. Aetherial Chardonnays from Peter Michael and Kongsgaard have crossed my lips. Château Pétrus’ alter ego, Dominus, has been a perennial favorite, along with classic bottlings like Joseph Phelps’ Insignia and Ridge’s Montebello.

I’ve enjoyed deep velvet Zinfandels from Turley and Martinelli’s Jackass Hill. astounding blends from Paso Robles’ L’Aventure and Daou that depart from orthodoxies of Bordeaux and the Rhône, and luminescent Pinot Noirs from the Sta. Rita Hills’ Sea Smoke and Oregon’s Domaine Serène. But partaking of the latter’s storied Monogram remains the first of many elusive quests. After that, my bucket list most certainly includes the Santa Cruz Mountains’ clandestine Pinot Noir producer, Rhys, and Vérité, whose three wines have all repeatedly garnered perfect 100s from Robert Parker.

My must-taste list includes a slew of a stratospherically-priced Cabernets, including Colgin, Bryant Family, Grace Family, Dana Estates, Futo, and Harbison Estate, wines for which one must apply to receive an allocation. Legendary labels include Araujo (now owned by Château Latour) and Abreu, Napa’s premier vineyardist, as well as Chardonnay virtuoso Marcassin. True viticultural connoisseurs will certainly recognize Todd Anderson’s ultra-elite Ghost Horse from St. Helena and the coveted Sine Qua Non, the cult Rhône producer from Ventura County. Lurking in the wings, Grace Family’s winemaker, Helen Keplinger produces a line of Rhône blends under her own eponymous label that seem destined for legend.

Some may find Cougar an anomaly amid such vaunted company, but I have included it for their pioneering efforts to transform Temecula into the leading destination for Italian varietals in California —who else here is growing Falanghina, Ciliegiolo, or Piedirosso? I intend to visit this burgeoning AVA on my next swing down to San Diego and explore how it is being transformed after an infestation of the glassy-winged sharpshooter nearly eradicated all of the region’s vineyard plantings in 2001.

Last month, just after compiling this list, I did manage to venture fairly far south to visit a number of Central Coast AVAs Sostevinobile has inadvertently neglected; this trip, in turn, led to a two-week sojourn of non-stop wine tastings, during which I surprisingly managed to encounter six wineries from this roster.

I will cover my swing through Paso Robles, Temecula, Lompoc, Santa Barbara, Solvang, Buellton, Santa Ynez and Arroyo Grande more thoroughly in a subsequent post. Having the advantage of a holiday weekend that coincided with the Garagiste Fest Santa Ynez Valley, I arranged to veer southward to the Wine Collection of El Paseo, a cooperative tasting room in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara, where I met with Doug Margerum, winemaker for Cent’Anni, a Santa Ynez Valley winery I had discovered after Mick Unti had challenged me to find Canaiolo grown in California. I landed up accruing four sources: the aforementioned Cougar, Sierra Ridge in Sutter Creek, Vino Noceto in Plymouth, and this wondrous endeavor. With the same fidelity Tablas Creek strives to attain with its Rhône selections or the authentic approach to Bordelaise blends one finds with Luc Morlet’s eponymous label or Bernard Portet’s wines from Clos du Val, Jamie and Julie Kellner have brought to their quest to make Tuscan-style Sangiovese in California. Toward this exacting vision, they have planted five distinct Sangiovese clones, along with Canaiolo and, as claimed, the only Colorino vines on the West Coast.

Cent’Anni also grows a small amount of Pinot Grigio and sources Tocai Friulano, Pinot Bianco, as well as some additional Sangiovese for their second-tier offerings. I began my tasting with the 2012 Buoni Anni Bianco, a deft blend of their Estate Pinot Grigio with 38% Honea Vineyard Tocai Friulano and 28% Bien Nacido Pinot Bianco. Complementing it was the 2010 Buoni Anni Sangiovese, a pure varietal expression in the style of a Rosso di Montalcino.

These two wines prefaced the object of my sojourn, the 2010 Cent’Anni Riserva. Here was a wine truly at the apex of Italian vinification in the New World, a indelible marriage of 16% Sangiovese Montepulciano clone, 16% Clone 3, 16% Clone 6, 16% Clone 23 & 34% Sangiovese Rodino, topped off with 1% each of Canaiolo and Colorino. Without question, I found a wine well on its way to greatness, dense, rich, flavorful, and almost impossible to put down. My 35-mile detour from Solvang had certainly not been taken in vain.

Under his personal Margerum label, Doug also produces California’s first Amaro, a fortified red blend infused with “herbs (sage, thyme, marjoram, parsley, lemon verbena, rosemary, and mint), barks, roots, dried orange peels, and caramelized simple syrup” and a very floral white Vermouth produced from Late Harvest Viognier. Alas, The Wine Collection’s license does not permit pouring or tasting hard alcohol, so I could only gaze upon the bottle of grappa Doug also distills from his Viognier pomace. At least I could console myself that he had named it appropriately: Marc.

After attending both sessions of the Garagiste Festival, I moseyed onto another Italian-focused endeavor, the legendary Mosby in Buellton, where I was hosted by Chris Burroughs, famed for his portrayal of Sanford’s Tasting Room Manager in Sideways. Our tasting began with crisp, clean 2013 Cortese, the predominant grape in Gavi di Gavi, and reputedly Italy’s first white varietal. We followed this superb wine with a notable rendition of a 2013 Pinot Grigio and an amiable 2013 Rosato di Cannonau (aka Grenache).

Mosby’s red repertoire included their 2009 Sangiovese and a most striking 2009 Primitivo. I was duly impressed with their Estate-grown 2009 Sagrantino and the 2008 La Seduzione, one of the better domestic Lagreins I have had the pleasure of sampling. Along with Palmina, which I also visited this trip, Mosby has pioneered the planting and vinification of Italian varietals on the Central Coast. I only wish I had been able to try their other homegrown varietals, particularly, their Traminer, Dolcetto, and Teroldego. Portents of a return visit, I am sure.

Miles
CAENCONTESTa-C-29MAR02-MT-KK Herb Caen writing contest finalist D. Marc Capobianco CHRONICLE PHOTO BY KIM KOMENICH

I may be a balding and bearded writer, an Italian inculcated at Ivy institutes, and an unregenerate œnophile, but in no way do I resemble Paul Giamatti. Still, I could not leave Buellton without the obligatory pilgrimage to Hitching Post II, Frank Otsini’s restaurant adjunct to his popular wine label and setting for numerous scenes in the movie. Having recently had to fend off the rather forward queries of a quasi-inebriated party of divorcées at a Sonoma winery (“no, but I understand he drops my name quite frequently”), I announced as I approached the bar, “If anyone calls me Miles, they’re getting punched out!”

I managed to escape unscathed and make it on time the next morning to cover another entry from my bucket list, Paso Robles’ eclectic Linne Calodo. Truly a connoisseur’s winery, its elusive nomenclature belies a line of superb Rhône blends, along with a few proprietary mélange or two combining Zinfandel. I was quite taken with the 2013 Rising Tides, a well-balanced marriage of 40% Syrah, 32% Grenache, 18% Mourvèdre, and 10% Cinsault. The predominantly Zinfandel offering this day, their 2014 Problem Child (20% Syrah, 8% Mourvèdre) could have borne a bit more aging, but the 2014 Sticks and Stones (71% Grenache, 12% Syrah, 9% Cinsault, and 8% Mourvèdre) radiated with well-ripened flavors.

As with Mosby, I wish my visit could have encompassed all of Linne Calodo’s portfolio, particularly its sundry variations on GSM blends. Secreted amid the Willow Creek flatlands below the towering perches of Adelaida, this elusive yet dramatic winery—which, ironically, resembles a mountain top ski chalet—beckons further visits upon my anticipated return to Paso Robles later this year.

I barely had time to settle back into San Francisco before heading up to the Napa Valley for the annual tasting marathon known as Première Napa. As always, this event tests the mettle of professional œnophiles like myself—just how many tastings can one person squeeze into 48 hours?—but it continues to prove an invaluable resource, both for bolstering Sostevinobile’s wine program and for my ongoing quest for funding. An unexpected benefit this year, however, was an introduction to the wines of Sloan Estate, yet another bucket list candidate, and its rather ebullient proprietor, Jenny Pan.
Jenny Pan

About a year or so ago, a casual acquaintance related that he had recently sat beside former owner Stuart Sloan on a flight to San Francisco and queried whether I was familiar with the winery he had founded. Much to my interlocutor’s incredulity, I conceded I had no awareness of this label—not that I should be held accountable or derelict for such an omission. According to Wines & Vines, there are 5,461 bonded wineries among the three Pacific states (4,054 California, 718 Washington, 689 Oregon) or 58% of the 9,436 premises throughout North America (USA, Canada, Mexico). Conservatively, I would estimate that there are more than 6,000 additional labels produced at West Coast facilities, meaning that I have barely cataloged ⅓ of the producers Sostevinobile’s wine program is targeting. I took great umbrage at his disparagement, yet resolved to familiarize myself with such a highly prestigious brand.

Before I had a chance to set up a visit with Sloan, I stumbled upon their table at Première’s Women Winemakers Winetasting, an annual benefit at Bardessono. I had intended to make haste with this event, an unscheduled stop between First Taste Yountville and the Appellation St. Helena trade tasting at Raymond, but amid an exchange of light-hearted banter with Pam Starr (Crocker & Starr), I espied Jenny and her winemaker Martha McClellan obscurely manning a mere sliver of a pouring station across the room. With only two wines in production annually, Sloan could have presented their entire lineup here, but unfortunately their namesake Meritage, the current vintage of the SLOAN Proprietary Red, was awaiting bottling. Nonetheless, their second selection, the ASTERISK Proprietary Red, an indelible blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, proved more than compensatory. And with a proffered private tour of the estate now in the offing, I was duly appeased.

Less than two weeks later, I attended what may well prove to be the most impressive tasting of 2016: The State of Washington Wine at The Metreon. Having not visited San Francisco for over 15 years, this trade collective pulled out all the stops, featuring over 75 wineries and a fresh seafood bar best described as beyond indulgent. But the ultimate lure here was the presence of two of the Evergreen State’s two most acclaimed denizens, Leonetti Cellar and Quilceda Creek. Like Sloan Estate. As with most Napa’s cult labels, these bucket list wineries normally make their production available only to Mailing List members—with a four-year wait just to enroll! Having this opportunity to sample both wineries at the same time proved the pinnacle of this afternoon.

Leonetti poured somewhat secretively as Figgins Family Wine Estates, their parent label. Once I had deciphered this conundrum, I was rewarded with my introduction to a selection of their mid-range wines, the 2014 Merlot and the justly acclaimed 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. A complete surprise was 2012 Figgins Estate Red Wine, a massive Meritage marrying Cabernet Sauvignon with Petit Verdot and Merlot; as impressive as this wine proved, though, it left me yearning for Leonetti’s much-heralded Reserve Bordeaux blend, along with their Estate Sangiovese.

No similar sense of want from Snohomish’s storied Quilceda Creek, however, which started with the 2013 CVR Red Blend, a deft mélange of 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot and 3% Malbec. As impressive as this wine proved, their top-of-the-line 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley, a pure varietal culled from their Champoux, Palengat and Wallula Vineyards, flat-out wowed (as a wine that lists for triple the Red Blend’s price tag should). These wines completely validated Sostevinobile’s tenet that the three West Coast states should rightly be considered a viticultural continuum.

Of course, it would be highly tempting to eliminate the six wineries cited here from my bucket list, but there still looms so much more to discover about each. And why rush? The longer I keep sourcing and drinking such great wines, the greater my chances of attaining immortality surely becomes.

The wine was terrific. The food was offal.

Readers here realize that Sostevinobile will offer a vastly different wine æsthetic than RN74, and given the subordinate role local wines play at this establishment, it’s a bit surprising to see them host trade association events in their vast antechamber. But a growing number of wineries, particularly Syrah and Pinot Noir producers, are falling within sommelier Rajat Parr’s strictures, and so, recently, this pioneering viticultural shrine has conducted a pair of truly excellent tastings that Your West Coast Oenophile has attended.

A few weeks back, San Francisco saw its first gathering of the Santa Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance. While this diverse collection of wineries has banded together for the past ten years, this tasting represented, to the best of my knowledge, their first collective foray outside their region. Among the 19 wineries on hand, several new faces were interspersed alongside a handful of familiars, but given the utterly manageable scope of the event, I was able to allot equal attention to all.

Sta. Rita Hills, of course, is Sideways territory, and so it made sense to commence with Hitching Post, where owner Gray Hartley poured a selection of—what else?—his Pinots. We started off with the 2006 Pinot Noir Fiddlestix Vineyard before settling into the more selective 2007 Pinot Noir Perfect Set, a barrel selection from their Fiddlestix fruit. The literally named 2007 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita’s Earth preceded his best selection, the lyrical 2006 Pinot Noir Cargasacchi Vineyard

Of course, it was no surprise to find Peter Cargasacchi among this group. Under his eponymous label, he contrasted the rounded 2007 Pinot Noir Cargasacchi Vineyard with the developing 2009 Pinot Noir Cargasacchi Vineyard (I forget why he bypassed the 2008). From his Point Concepción label, he poured a striking interpretation of Pinot Grigio, the 2009 Celestina, a wine vinified by destemming the clusters and allowing them to cold soak on their own reddish-pink skins to extract greater flavor, as well as its pink/orange hue. Following this unconventional bottling, he capped his appearance with Cargasacchi’s compelling 2009 Late Harvest Pinot Grigio.
Demetria also presented an anomalous lineup that eschewed the 2008 vintage. Starting with their 2007 Eighteen Chardonnay Santa Rita Hills, this extraordinary bottling edged out its 2009 version. I preferred the 2007 Pinot Noir Cuvée Sandra to the 2007 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills, while finding both the 2009 Pinot Noir Cuvée Sandra to the 2009 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills, while finding both the quite exceptional. Conversely, Kessler-Haak poured only from their 2008 vintage, offering a likable 2008 Syrah Turner Vineyard, their estate 2008 Pinot Noir Kessler-Haak Vineyard, and the impressive 2008 Chardonnay Kessler-Haak Vineyard.

I would have expected less orthodoxy within this AVA, but, at least this afternoon, few other producers showed much outside the Chardonnay-Pinot Noir-Syrah triumvirate that predominates throughout the Central Coast. Fiddlehead Cellars did pour a 2010 Rosé of Pinot Noir before serving up their trio of traditional Pinots from their Fiddlestix Vineyard, starting with the 2007 Lollapalooza Pinot Noir. From the same vintage, the 2007 Seven Twenty Eight Pinot Noir proved notably superior, as did the 2005 Lollapalooza Pinot Noir.

Fiddlehead is one of the growing number of wineries that bifurcate their operations between California and Oregon. Siduri, similarly, produces wines in both states, but leaves its more experimental winemaking to their Novy label.
At RN74, no disappointment could be found with
2009 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills nor the 2009 Pinot Noir Clos Pepe Vineyard, yet both were eclipsed by the sensational 2009 Pinot Noir Cargasacchi Vineyard. Just as enticing, the 2009 Pinot Noir Cargasacchi Vineyard from Pali Wine Company proved their best effort here, overshadowing their versions of both the 2009 Pinot Noir Fiddlestix Vineyard and its preceding vintage. Still, their 2009 Pinot Noir Huntington showed true individuality.

I’ve tried Dragonette at a number of different Pinot events, so was pleased to be able explore the diversity of their lineup here, starting with their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Santa Ynez Valley, one of three they produce from the Happy Canyon sub-sub-AVA. Moving on, their 2010 Rosé of Pinot Noir provided a superb transition to their red bottlings, including the 2009 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills and their distinctive 2009 Pinot Noir Hilliard Bruce Vineyard. To my taste, however, Dragonette showed most strongly with their Rhône vintages, the 2008 Syrah and the 2008 MJM, a profound Syrah blended with Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Viognier.

I am always fond of a good Viognier, and so it was extraordinary to discover Cold Heaven, a wine venture devoted to this oft-times fickle grape. Supremely complemented by the allure of winemaker Morgan Clendenen’s golden tresses, this lineup began with her 2009 Viognier Au Bon Climat, then followed by the 2009 Viognier Sanford & Benedict Vineyard. Of course, I had to admire a wine coyly called the 2009 Pinot Noir Never Tell, but Morgan’s forte proved to be the 2009 Late Harvest Viognier, an exceptional dessert wine.

D’Alfonso-Curran didn’t try to match Cold Heaven, but they comport themselves more than admirably with their 2009 Di Bruno Pinot Grigio from the same, acclaimed Sanford & Benedict Vineyard. Holding back their wines longer than most, they then presented a quartet of Pinots, starting with the 2006 Pinot Noir Sanford & Benedict Vineyard. I felt a bit tepid about the 2006 Pinot Noir Rancho Las Hermanas Vineyard, but truly cottoned to the 2006 Pinot Noir Rancho La Viña Vineyard. And it was wonderful to learn from Marketing Director Lisa Christensen that their euphonic 2006 BADGE Pinot Noir did indeed derive its name form the Cream classic.

It was good to meet noted vineyardist Wes Hagen and plow my way through the seven Clos Pepe wines he poured. First, he contrasted the austere 2009 Estate Chardonnay “Hommage to Chablis” with the luscious 2009 Estate Chardonnay Barrel Fermented. Demonstrating the longevity of his wines, he next poured the 2000 Estate Chardonnay, a wine showing remarkably well after 11 years. Wes’ Pinot selections showcased a disjointed vertical, with a young 2009 Estate Pinot Noir to start. I found the 2007 and 2006 vintages equivalent yet better, while being happily surprised to see the 2000 Estate Pinot Noir had aged so elegantly.

Seven wines in one stop meant I needed a dose of sustenance before moving on. Fortunately, RN74 put out a generous spread of salumi, including an addictive finocchiona (dry fennel sausage). What I mistook for a variant on head cheese turned out to be paté de compagne, a ground blend of pork and bacon. Very good, if not offal.

Back at the tasting stations, I brought myself next to Foley Family Wines’ table, where this burgeoning conglomerate served up a selection from a pair of its labels
. From
Lincourt, the 2009 Chardonnay Steel was delightful, the 2008 Pinot Noir Rancho Santa Rosa Vineyard even more so. Their home brand, Foley Estate, compared favorably with their own 2008 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills. With his Byron and Io labels now part of Jackson Family Wines, Santa Barbara pioneer Ken Brown showcased his eponymous line, starting with a 2009 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir. The 2008 Rancho La Viña Vineyard Pinot Noir proved an even more noteworthy expression, as did both the 2007 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir and the 2007 Clos Pepe Vineyard Pinot Noir.

A couple wineries that Sostevinobile had yet to cover proved fortuitous finds. At 18,000 cases, Gainey Vineyards qualifies as more than a boutique operations, yet both their 2009 Chardonnay and 2008 Limited Selection Pinot Noir showed handcrafted elegance. The tiny production of Gypsy Canyon (<200 cases) belies a sophistication both with their 2009 Pinot Noir and the non-vintage Ancient Vine Angelica Dona Marcelina’s Vineyard, a seductive dessert wine vinted from the historic Mission grapes originally planted in the AVA.

Longoria Wines offers quite a diverse portfolio of varietals and blends, so it seemed surprising that they only poured a selection of their Pinots here. Nonetheless, there was much to admire in their 2008 Pinot Noir Lovely Rita and the 2007 Pinot Noir Fe Ciega Vineyard, as well as the approachable 2008 Pinot Noir Rancho Santa Rosa. Others, like Zotovich, which grows Dolcetto and Barbera for Italian varietal specialists Palmina, showcased compelling bottlings of both their 2007 Estate Pinot Noir and 2008 Estate Syrah.

Sweeney Canyon is an understated, dry-farmed vineyard producing wines from its own fruit. Their 2008 Chardonnay Sweeney Canyon Vineyard preceded an even more extraordinary 2006 Chardonnay Sweeney Canyon Vineyard, while the 2007 Pinot Noir Sweeney Canyon Vineyard proved slightly preferable to the 2008 Pinot Noir Sweeney Canyon Vineyard. Completing this tasting, Kenneth-Crawford Wines scored across-the-board excellence with 2007 Pinot Noir Turner Vineyard and the 2006 Syrah Lafond Vineyard, then ratcheted things up a notch with both the 2008 Pinot Noir Babcock Vineyard and the 2006 Syrah Turner Vineyard.

I must tip my hat to RN74 for this splendid gathering. Great wine, delicious house-cured meats, and a cozy, manageable setting. Just the kind of industry tasting Sostevinobile will strive to host in the near future.


A couple of weeks later, Rajat & Co. managed to outdo themselves with their own conference and tasting: California Pinot Noir: In Pursuit of Balance. Here 23 diverse Pinot Noir producers who fit within RN74’s dictum against wines exceeding 14% alcohol levels. In many ways, a bouquet to the select California producers among this wine emporium’s vast roster, this gathering felt like a veritable Who’s Who of the leading winemakers who emphasize restraint above all in their vinification practices.

And in keeping with the spirit of the event, I am going to try to record my summaries of the various wines equally restrained—or at least as succinct as I can ever be! I did not attend the seminar which preceded this tasting, but I did know that Vanessa Wong was one of the panelists, so starting with Peay seemed as logical a choice as any. A rare event where Andy Peay was not representing the winery; in his stead, Vanessa’s husband (and Andy’s brother) Nick poured a trio of their wines, starting with the more general 2009 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, then moving on to the 2009 Pinot Noir Ama Estate, and, finally, to the superb 2009 Pinot Noir Pomarium Estate. I can always count on Peay to have something outside a tasting’s parameters hidden under the table, and thus was ecstatic to sample their utterly marvelous estate Syrah, the 2008 Les Titans

Given the affinity many of these wineries share for also producing Syrah, I would have expected there to have been a strong overlap here from the previous day’s Rhône Rangers tasting, but only found Pax Mahle, whom I just met for the first time. I would not have minded trying his Wind Gap wines every day that week, with a caveat. Wind Gap epitomizes the precepts of In Pursuit of Balance, and in its relentless fidelity to the production of wines that suppress the level of alcohol in order to promote greater expression
of terroir, they fall prey to the same pitfalls that bedevils many of the French wines I have sampled of late. There is little question that these wines handsomely complement food, yet I find the way they are structured makes them dependent on food to succeed. This nuance holds significant ramifications for the wine program Sostevinobile is establishing.

Nonetheless, within this context, I did like the 2008 Pinot Noir Woodruff Vineyard that Wind Gap produced from the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. I found the 2009 vintage preferable, however, on par with their 2009 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast. Another winery often mentioned in the context, Josh Jensen’s Calera holds the enviable position of occupying its own AVA, Mt. Harlan in San Benito County. One of California’s only producers of Aligoté, Calera represented themselves this afternoon with a trio of Pinot, the broadly focused 2009 Pinot Noir Central Coast and two from their exclusive enclave, the 2007 Pinot Noir Jensen Vineyard Mt. Harlan and the 2007 Pinot Noir Ryan Vineyard Mt. Harlan.

I hadn’t had a chance to try Flowers wines since Keiko Niccolini left to start her own company. Not that she had made the wine. Somehow, she just made it taste better. Still, I was extremely pleased with both their 2007 Pinot Noir Sea View Ridge Estate and the 2007 Pinot Noir Thompson Ridge Estate Estate Director Christopher Barefoot poured here. Failla came through with their usual aplomb, impressing with the 2009 Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard and the 2009 Pinot Noir Pearlessence Vineyard; I did feel the 2009 Pinot Noir Keefer Ranch was a tad too young for release.

Speaking of Hirsch Vineyards, Jasmine Hirsch, who orchestrated this tasting, and her father David poured a trio of their famed Pinots, starting with the 2009 Pinot Noir Bohan Dillon. This fine bottling preceded the exceptional 2007 Pinot Noir San Andreas, followed by a preliminary tasting of their 2009 Estate Pinot Noir (barrel sample). On the same level, Jim Clendenen’s Au Bon Climat is revered in these wine circles, and, indeed, his 2008 Isabelle Pinot Noir was close to perfect. keeping pace was his 2009 Le Bon Climat —K&U Pinot Noir and the superb, organically-grown 2007 Clendenen Family Vineyards Pinot Noir.

My command of French may not match up with Jim’s but I will hold my Latin skills up to anyone’s. Of course, it rarely offers any practical use, though I did manage to compel RN74 to correct the En Vino Veritas they had misprinted on their receipts last year. Similarly, I take issue with fellow Brunonian Ted Lemon’s choice of orthography for his Littorai (should be litora), but I cannot quarrel with his selection as the 2010 Winemaker of the Year by SFGate. Both his 2009 Pinot Noir The Pivot Vineyard and the 2009 Pinot Noir Savoy Vineyard struck me as equally fine wines, exceeded by the splendid 2007 Pinot Noir Savoy Vineyard.

Another fixture in these circles, Copain, contrasted four of their Anderson Valley bottlings, starting with the 2009 Les Voisons Pinot Noir and the single vineyard 2009 Wentzel Pinot Noir. tied for Copain’s acme were the 2009 Monument Tree Pinot Noir and the tongue-twister, 2009 Kiser En Haute Pinot Noir. Though I liked their wines, admittedly, the vertical selection of Freestone’s Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, starting with the 2007 and 2008 bottlings, along with a tank sample of the 2009, paled in comparison.

Santa Cruz’ Mount Eden always stood as the odd duck amid the Napa and Sonoma wineries that had bought into The Press Club. The success of this cooperative tasting room’s metamorphosis into a wine lounge remains to be seen, but Mount Eden has emerged no worse for the wear and tear, boasting an exceptional odd-year vertical, the 2009 Estate Pinot Noir, their benchmark 2007 Estate Pinot Noir, and a remarkably well-aged 2005 Pinot Noir. Another familiar venture I was pleased to see here was Native⁹ pouring a mini-vertical of their 2009 Pinot Noir Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard and its superior predecessor, the 2008 Pinot Noir Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard.

I hadn’t previously tried James Ontiveros’ other label, Alta Maria, a collaboration with Paul Wilkins of Autonom. Here the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley proved slightly preferable to the otherwise wondrous 2009 vintage. I had not heard of Chanin Wine Company before this event, but developed a great fondness for their 2008 Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard and the preferable 2008 Pinot Noir Le Bon Climat Vineyard. Similarly, I discovered Kutch Wines here and sampled my way through their 2009 Pinot Noir McDougall Ranch and 2009 Pinot Noir Falstaff, both Sonoma Coast, as well as their 2009 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley.

Before delving into the several other wineries I had not tried before, I needed to recharge my system with the delectable Prosciutto, as well as the same salumi and offal-looking paté RN74 had provided at the previous event. Revitalized, I moved onto Solíste, the winery here that offered the most contrast to the Pinot uniformity. Starting with a crisp 2010 Lune et Soleil Sauvignon Blanc, we segued into the red selections first with the 2009 Soleil Rouge, a rosé of Pinot Noir. The fruity 2008 Pinot Noir L’Esperance preceded a more subdued 2007 vintage, while both contrasted with the younger 2009 Pinot Noir Sonatera Vineyards. Solíste’s forte, however, proved to be their 2008 Syrah Out of the Shadows, a wine that made one wish others had brought along a Syrah as well.

Rajat’s own label, Sandhi, did not pour their Syrah but did assert their viticultural prowess with the 2009 ELV Tempest Pinot Noir; for contrast, the 2009 Sanford & Benedict Chardonnay showed itself to be a worthy balance to its Burgundian counterpart. One of Sandhi’s winemakers, Sashi Moorman, is partnered with former Rubicon General Manager Lawrence Stone in Evening Land Vineyards, a far-flung venture making wines from Sonoma, Santa Rita Hills, the Willamette Valley, and even Burgundy. At In Pursuit of Balance, they sampled both their 2009 Pinot Noir Tempest Bloom’s Field from the SRH appellation and the exceptional 2009 Pinot Noir Occidental Vineyards along the Sonoma Coast.

Also from the Sonoma Coast, Cobb Wines offered an assimilable threesome: the 2007 Pinot No
ir Emmaline Vineyard
, the uxorial 2008 Pinot Noir Diane Cobb: Coastlands Vineyard, and their standout, the 2008 Pinot Noir Coastlands Vineyard. This appellation also featured John Raytek’s Ceritas, with their 2008 Pinot Noir Escarpa Vineyard and its successive vintage; with Sanglier’s Glenn Alexander, he also produced the 2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir under the Cartha label, a venture that has been widely praised for its Sonoma Coast Chardonnay.

I had had disparate experiences with the final three wineries. Lioco, a stalwart of the Natural Wine movement, balanced their offerings here between the 2009 Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard and their outstanding 2009 Pinot Noir Michaud Vineyard from the Chalone appellation. Miura, which I had cajoled into donating wine to The Asia Society’s Annual Dinner but never tasted myself, featured their emblematic 2008 Pinot Noir Silacci Vineyard–Matador, along with the 2008 Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard and their standout, the 2008 Pinot Noir Pisoni Vineyard. Rounding out the afternoon, understated Tyler, a winery I had not heard of before, scored with an impressive lineup of Pinots from Santa Barbara: the 2009 Pinot Noir Bien Nacido N Block–Old Vines, a beautiful 2008 Pinot Noir Clos Pepe, and the 2008 Pinot Noir Presidio.

All in all, In Pursuit of Balance turned out to be a splendid event, so much so that I remained for the first hour of the public tasting to resample several of the wines and nosh on some more offal. In doing so, I made one final discovery for the day: our host Rajat Parr plays squash at the same racquets club where I belong. A match will soon be arranged, Sostevinobile vs. RN74. Don’t let on about my court strategy—I intend to subdue by my display of restraint!

Maybe I need to take out palate insurance

November turned out to be another one of those months for Your West Coast Oenophile, which is why I landed up starting this entry in December. Sometimes my duties for Sostevinobile make me wonder how sustainable I am. But I get to drink some pretty special wine quite often. At least I usually think I do…
My first jaunt was to a special Friday night reception at Stags’ Leap Winery for the relaunch of their Artist in Residence program. With the good folks at Treasury Wine Estates providing shuttle service from San Francisco’s Ferry Building, this offer seemed too good to pass up—I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Napa with a designated driver in well over 10 years!

The trip up to the winery proved more than comfortable, given I can only remember 10-15 minute segments at either end, wrapped around a much-needed, hour-long nap. Oddly, though, I seemed to be the only rider connected to the wine industry. Everyone else on the bus either worked as a travel writer or belonged to the Luxury Marketing Council, an association with which I had no previous familiarity. While this anomaly didn’t quite make me feel like a nun on an Esalen retreat—after all, the wine world is supposedly my milieu; still, finding common ground among my fellow passengers certainly seemed a stretch. Nevertheless, I did collect some business cards, just in case I’m ever in the market for a new yacht.

In spite of the Friday night commute traffic, we arrived in front of the turret gracing the winery’s famed Manor House in under 90 minutes. Movie fans may well recognize this 120-year-old landmark as the home of my earliest childhood crush, Hayley Mills, in Pollyanna, or perhaps from This Earth is Mine, but my attention was quickly drawn to the crisp 2008 Viognier we were served upon entering.

Details from Portrait of a Community

Inside this converted residence, attendees were fêted with canapés and other appetizers exquisitely paired to the 2008 Reserve Chardonnay and Stags’ Leap’s signature Petite Sirah, the 2006 Ne Cede Malis. Throughout the Manor House, portraits of several wine country luminaries adorned the walls, a remounting of Napa Valley: Portrait of a Community, the series 1998’s Artist in Residence Patrick McFarlin had composed during his tenure.

Outside
on the porch, guests assembled for a brief history of Stags’ Leap,
accompanied by a recitation by poet Theresa Whitehill, and the debut of
the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, an impressive vintage from a
somewhat mercurial year. Oddly, the chronicle of the winery offered rich
insights into the winery’s stewardship by the Chase family, followed by
the Granges (several of whom were in attendance), yet elided
over the period when Carl Doumani brought the winery into prominence and
pioneered its focus on Petite Sirah. Nonetheless, with the current
corporate ownership systematically enhancing the winery’s focus and
upgrading its facilities, we were introduced to new winemaker
Christopher Paubert and treated to an overview of his œnological
philosophy.


Christopher led us on a tour of the new wine caves, where current Artist in Residence, New York photographer Jefferson Hayman hung a selection of his photos detailing the varying aspects of Stags’ Leap. We enjoyed a barrel sampling from of the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Christopher’s first, then collected gift bags that generously include a bottle of the aforementioned 2006 vintage. Needless to say, the ride back to San Francisco became a lot more festive than on the way up!


Alas, I did not have the luxury of being chauffeured the next day as I again crossed the Bay Bridge to attend the 2010 Harvest Rocks at Rock Wall, a winery that has frequently appeared here. What can I say? They put on a good party, they have a convenient location with an incredible vista on fog-free days, and they consistently make excellent and intriguing wines. This afternoon’s gathering lacked their more esoteric endeavors, like the 2007 Tannat Contra Costa County, the utterly compelling 2008 Montepulciano, or their 2009 Sparkling Grenache Rosé (although winemaker Shauna Rosenblum did put on an entertaining demonstration of dégorgement—the freezing and ejection of the sediment cap that forms during riddling—one of the more animated stages of méthode champenoise). The more mainstream varietals that they did pour demonstrated an overall consistent quality, both with their red and their white selections, and easily could stand with wines at twice their suggested price.

I found myself particularly fond of the 2009 Viognier Monterey County,
a bottling that further exemplified how California wineries are at last getting
hold of how to structure this wine—a well-balanced, superb
expression of the grape.
Similarly, the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Lake County displayed admirable restraint, neither too grassy nor too citrus. And with three Chards to taste side-by-side, the 2008 Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay clearly stood above the two 2009 bottlings.

Despite its lineage, Rock Wall isn’t striving to be the reincarnation of Rosenblum Cellars (no matter how much Diageo succeeds in eviscerating the pioneering Alameda facility). Still, it would be nigh impossible for them not to produce a lineup with numerous Zins, headlined this afternoon by a simply spectacular 2007 Zinfandel Reserve Sonoma County. While the successive Sonoma bottling in 2008 did not shine quite as brightly, I did also greatly enjoy the 2008 Jesse’s Vineyard Zinfandel from Contra Costa County.

Given Rock Wall’s versatility, I would have expected a bit more from their Cabs. The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley seemed a tad lackluster, however, while the extremely approachable 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley still lagged behind the numerous exceptional wines this vintage has produced. On the other hand, their 2008 Petite Sirah Mendocino County, the varietal that introduced me to this venture two years ago, showed every bit as solid as my initial exposure had been.

Before closing out with the dessert selections, I did partake in a plate of the tangy barbecue whipped up by Big Ray “the Armadillo” Green. With sightlines across the Bay to downtown San Francisco and AT&T Park, it took considerable restraint not to tweak this native of Euliss, Texas, a town only 7 miles from Rangers Ballpark, about the just-concluded World Series, but great ribs have been known to inspire discretion. Fittingly, the post-prandial wines, the 2007 Late Harvest Riesling and the 2008 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc proved as fitting a cap to the event as an Edgar Renteria home run, and with that I retreated to the comforts of my championship home turf.


Rock Wall has been a mainstay of the Urban Wineries that comprise the East Bay Vintners Alliance. Another member that is garnering considerable attention of late has been Urban Legend, which hosted a Release Party to celebrate the inaugural in-house harvest at their recently completed facility. While I’ve been able to taste one or two of their wines at collective tastings before, I hadn’t really had the opportunity to explore the wide range of varietals they produce, nor focus on their wines exclusively. All of which made trekking to West Oakland’s warehouse district rather compelling (though perhaps more wisely attempted during daylight hours).

Wineries that operate in converted storage sheds or light industrial parks tend to be quite utilitarian—not exactly the pastoral setting one finds in Paso Robles or the Shenandoah Valley. But the lack of surrounding vineyards or imposing architecture did nothing to detract from the quality of the wine, as Marilee and Steve Shaffer readily demonstrated. A polished tasting bar greeted their guests in the antechamber of their facility—a singular welcoming gesture, to be sure—while stacked tiers of barrels holding the just-completed 2010 crush filled the main area. Eager tasting room assistants served up the organically grown 2009 Lake County Sauvignon Blanc, the sole white pour this evening, 

Moving onto the reds, the 2008 Ironworks blended Nebbiolo with 20% Sangiovese for a soft, approachable wine; I held similar fondness for the 2009 Lake County Mourvèdre. A more robust Rhône expression came from the 2009 Lolapalooza, their take on Grenache. The strongest expression of the GMS elements, however, was the 2009 Amador County Syrah, a wine that craved chocolate pairing.

Urban Legend covers a lot of ground, viticulturally speaking. Their sole foray with Iberian varietals (discounting interpreting their Mourvèdre as Monastrell or the Grenache as Garnacha) was a delightful, peppery 2009 Tempranillo from Clarksburg. Bordelaise vintages included an amiable 2009 Petit Verdot from Mendocino and the Right Bank-style 2009 Uptown, blending 60% Merlot with 40% Cabernet Sauvignon.

I had been seduced earlier this summer by the 2008 Teroldego and hoped this or the subsequent vintage would be poured at the event, but I will have to wait for a subsequent visit. Nonetheless, Italian varietals flowed in force this afternoon; released from the dominant Nebbiolo of the Ironworks, their straight 2008 Lake County Sangiovese proved delightful in its own right. The 2008 Barbera from Clarksburg seemed a bit sweet for my taste, but the 2009 Dolcetto from El Dorado County was a masterful bottling (as well as the strongest candidate I could find for an ideal Turkey Day pairin
g)
.

Steve and Marilee put out a smorgasbord of appetizers to complement their wines—fitting, indeed, for the inevitable smorgasbord of attendees one finds at East Bay wine tastings (Sostevinobile finds such multicultural interest in wine most telling to our core mission of promoting wines for their universal appeal). And so its seemed only right to conclude the evening with their Grapefiti, a non-vintage blend of just about everything Urban Legend puts in a barrel—not quite a field blend but definitely not a haphazard assemblage, either. A most enjoyable wine from a most enjoyable venture.


My readers know I made no bones about my disappointment in this year’s Pinot on the River. For weeks, I assuaged myself with the anticipation of Farallon’s annual PinotFest, held just before Thanksgiving in the safe and dry confines of the Kensington Park Hotel. Now, most wine critics, myself included, do find single varietal tastings somewhat challenging—we all reach a point where it becomes extremely difficult to distinguish among the various labels on hand. This tasting, however, completely flummoxed me—none of the wines stood out!

I started to think that I might have been permanently affected by the October debacle—perhaps I would never be able to appreciate Pinot unless my feet were sunk 6″ deep in mud! Then, I realized something almost as horrific was afoot—my palate had gone on strike! I recognized many of these wines; I had tasted them before and delighted in their nuances. This day, I could barely distinguish a thing beyond an initial recognition of the varietal. Fortunately, this setback turned out to be ephemeral, but any hope of finding an amazing new discovery this day was shot.

And so I can only offer an amalgamation of what I did sample, with apologies all around. First up, I wound my way over to the table for Bonaccorsi, a Santa Barbara winery specializing in Viognier, Syrah, and, of course, Pinot. Principal Michael Bonaccorsi cut his teeth as the director of Spago’s wine program in Los Angeles; today, his venture debuted at PinotFest with their 2007 Cargasacchi Vineyard Pinot Noir, a wine even my debilitated palate could not fail to appreciate, alongside the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills and the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara. Also from the Central Coast, Drake poured a striking duo: the 2008 Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard H Block and the superb 2008 Les Galets Pinot Noir from Arroyo Grande Valley.

Just up the coast, Fiddlehead Cellars offered a pair of wines from its Fiddlestix Vineyard in Santa Rita Hills: the 2007 Seven Twenty Eight Pinot Noir (the name derives from the mile marker on Santa Rosa Road) and the 2007 Lollapalooza (not to be confused with the Lolapalooza from Urban Legend). Fiddlehead is a bit of an anomaly, in that it produces only Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc and that it manages vineyards in both California and in Oregon, the latter which was not showcased here. Siduri Wines did contrast the two parts of its bifurcated operations, pouring their 2009 Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands alongside the 2007 Willamette Blanc de Pinot Noir, a truly special handcrafted effort.

I began to realize my palate was rather askew this afternoon when I visited with Skewis at the next table over. I had sampled these Pinots with considerable pleasure quite recently in Geyserville; today, I felt almost indifferent towards them. I have long known I can rely on Skewis as a benchmark for excellence in Pinot Noir, and while I was willing to allow that one wine could seem off from my previous evaluation, how could I sip my way through such wines as the 2000 Montgomery Vineyard Pinot Noir or the 2008 Anderson Valley Reserve Pinot Noir and not experience a tinge of elation? I began fearing my libido would be the next to go.

Nonetheless, I soldiered on, hoping my taste buds might somehow recover before the afternoon concluded. Newcomer Beaux Frères from Oregon offered a nice array of their wines, starting with 2008 The Beaux Frères Vineyard Pinot Noir. This Pinot-only operation from Newberg, Oregon also poured their 2007 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and a new release, the 2009 Les Cousins Pinot Noir. From nearby McMinnville, former Stags’ Leap winemaker Robert Brittan paired the 2007 Basalt Block Pinot Noir and 2007 Gestalt Block Pinot Noir produced at his eponymous Syrah- & Pinot-focused winery. Meanwhile, one of Oregon’s tried & true wine pioneers, Adelsheim, showcased both their 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and the coveted 2008 Elizabeth’s Reserve Pinot Noir.

Quite a number of wineries from our northern neighbor make the annual trek to this event. Among those I enjoy with regularity were Domaine Drouhin, with its 2007 Cuvée Laurène, one of their twin Estate Pinots, and the 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. The ever-revered Domaine Serene sampled a pair of its wines, the 2006 Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir and the equally-acclaimed 2007 Mark Bradford Vineyard Pinot Noir. Soter Vineyards made a return appearance to feature their latest, the 2008 North Valley Pinot Noir and the 2008 Mineral Springs Ranch Pinot Noir.

Tony Soter’s former venture, Étude, continued his legacy with their Carneros bottlings, including the 2008 Estate Pinot Noir. Just north of Carneros, Hendry represents a rare winery within the Napa Valley AVA producing a 2007 Estate Pinot Noir. Back in Carneros, Gloria Ferrer tends to be better known for their sparkling wines, but comported themselves admirably here with both their 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir and the 2006 José S. Ferrer Pinot Noir.

I’ve long relished the sparkling wines Sonoma’s Iron Horse produces, so was more than happy to sample their 2005 Brut Rosé alongside their 2008 Estate Pinot Noir (a wine I feel sure I would have appreciated with an intact palate). I do know, from the CCOF tasting in October, that I highly appreciated the selection of Pinots from Alma Rosa, Richard Sanford’s followup to his eponymous winery; certainly, there was no disappointment either with the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills or the top-rated 2007 Pinot Noir La Encantade Vineyard. And I almost would have been willing to defer any assessment of the wines Au Bon Climat poured to previous accolades from other sources, but I nonetheless managed to sample the 2006 Barham Mendelsohn Russian River Pinot Noir, the 2007 Bien Nacido Historical Vineyard Pinot Noir, the filial 2007 Pinot Noir-Isabelle, and, with a name almost as convoluted as Sostevinobile, the 2007 La Bauge Au-Dessus Estate Pinot Noir.

Another acclaimed Pinot producer, Merry Edwards, offered a tantalizing glimpse into her portfolio with the 2008 Olivet Lane Pinot Noir and her 2008 Klopp Ranch Pinot Noir. I managed to sample but one of Robert Sinskey’s fabled organic Pinots, the 2007 Pinot Noir Three Amigos Vineyards, and only the 2008 La Neblina from Radio-Coteau, a winery I first encountered at last year’s tasting. I relish Greenwood Ridge for their biodynamic Sauvignon Blanc, but subsequently discovered their Pinot at last year’s PinotFest; my recollections made me eager to try their 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino Ridge this time round.

I opted for the 2008 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir Occidental Ridge Vineyard from Failla’s two selections, while choosing the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County from Costa de Oro. I hadn’t had the chance to catch up with Byron since their whirlwind of ownership changes a couple of years back, so I lingered long enough to sample both the 2008 Monument Pinot Noir and the 2008 Nielsen Vineyard Pinot Noir while discussing the evolution of their winemaking under the stewardship of Jackson Family Wines.

Down in Lompoc, Melville operates a highly concentrated endeavor that limits itself to (and excels in) Chardonnay, Syrah, and, of course, Pinot Noir. For PinotFest, they poured three of their more noteworthy efforts: the 2009 Estate Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills and both the 2009 Estate Pinot Noir Carrie’s and the 2009 Estate Pinot Noir Terrace’s, which are scheduled for release next spring. Melville’s winemaker Greg Brewer has also heads up a Burgundian-focused project with Italian varietal specialist Steve Clifton (from Palmina), fittingly named Brewer-Clifton. I enjoyed both the 2009 Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills and the 2009 Pinot Noir Mount Carmel, though even my palsied palate could sense that these wines were still quite young.

Certainly, if time had permitted, I would have brought myself to sample the numerous other wineries who have made this event so splendid year after year. After all, it wasn’t that I hadn’t found nearly all the wines I tried this afternoon commendable—rather, it was an inability to discern the distinguishing characteristics of the various vintages that left me in such a quandary. I recall how my good friend Carlo Middione had to close Vivande, his temple to Southern Italian cuisine, earlier this year, after an automobile accident rendered his sense of smell and taste permanently impaired; even though my own dilemma turned out fortunately to be a fleeting (albeit excruciating) moment, I can well empathize with his frustration. After all, it has been the exquisite subtlety of my palate that has carried on the vision for Sostevinobile for nearly two years.


Fortunately, my taste buds revived with a vengeance in time to take in the second installment of San Francisco Vintners Market, my final marathon for the month of November. Instead, the debacle of my palatal paralysis gave way to the perplexity of perambulating the aisles of a trade show that did not even provide attendees with a booth guide or tasting map. As is my wont, I had deciphered the list of attending wineries from the promoters’ website and highlighted those I hoped to acquaint with Sostevinobile’s wine program; even with this targeted agenda, the task of finding their tables inside the enormous Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason became a game of sleuthing.

Working blindly, I first stumbled upon Rua, a small, single bottling venture from the consultancy at Wines West. The 2008 Rua Napa Valley is a Right Bank-style Bordelaise wine derived from a co-fermentation of Cabernet Franc and Merlot grown on the right side of the Carneros AVA. Cultivar, a winery out of Rutherford, offered a most impressive 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (especially considering its $25 price point).

Sometimes a label can seem so evocative, one wonders whether the wine can match the impression it gives. Despite the allure of David Pizzimenti’s Mendoza, TAJ Cellars managed to exceed expectations with the 2008 Zinfandel and an exceptional 2007 Syrah. Similarly, the classical allusion of a goddess bearing two οἰνοχόαι (wine jugs) adorning the bottles of Mercy Vineyards’ artisan wines heralded a much-pleasing 2008 Syrah Zabala Vineyard from Arroyo Seco. And the appeal of its Papyrus Condensed lettering superimposed on a swath of broad-stroked sunset colors hardly belied the delights of the striking Italian varietals from Plymouth’s Bella Grace: their 2008 Vermentino, the 2008 Pinot Grigio, and the 2009 Primitivo, as well as its cousin, the 2006 Old Vine Zinfandel.

As with April’s Vintners Market, one of the true pleasures of the event was discovering a number of microproducers like Evidence Wines, whose 250 case production consists solely of its 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, a meaty selection from Knights Valley with 10% Malbec, 8% Petit Verdot, and 7% Petite Sirah. Hamel Family Wines topped out 290 cases of the 2006 Pamelita, an estate Cabernet Sauvignon from their sustainably farmed, one acre vineyard in Sonoma Valley. Along with 49 cases of Sauvignon Blanc, Heibel Ranch Vineyards bottled a whopping 188 cases of its proprietary 2007 Lappa’s, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah.

All told, Flying Horse has produced an inventory of nearly 2,000 cases among its three vintages from 2005-07. With Denis Malbec consulting, the 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006 Napa Valley Petite Sirah, and 2007 Sauvignon Blanc all proved to be well-structured, memorable wines. J&J Cellars is the premium line from A Cellar Full of Noise’s James Judd; I found their 2009 Tempranillo Rosé more than refreshing while being pleasantly surprised by the complexity of their NV Autumn Flight Barbera.

Vintners Market featured a VIP section with many of the same premium wineries that also poured in April. I was pleased to meet Vito Bialla and taste his 2008 Cabernet, a Craig MacLean vinification tempered with 14% Merlot. Nearby, an extraordinary discovery was the 2007 Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon from Rugg Family, blending grapes from Stag’s Leap, Oak Knoll and Yountville. Downtown Napa’s leading wine bar, Bounty Hunter, poured their own 2008 Jurisprudence, a Cabernet Sauvignon blended with 12% Cabernet Franc and 1% Merlot.

Another special blend in the VIP section was the 2007 Enjoie RTW, a Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot mélange from VinRoc, whose Atlas Peak 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon proved truly outstanding. I was happy to visit with Sciandri and resample their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon I had first encountered at the inaugural Coombsville tasting. Demuth Kemos featured their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mountain Terraces but truly excelled with their 2008 Syrah Bei Ranch.

Back with the οἱ πολλοί, I worked my way through the latest and greatest from Baker Lane: the 2009 Rosé of Syrah, the 2008 Ramondo Pinot Noir, and both the 2008 Estate Syrah and the 2008 Sonoma Coast Cuvée Syrah. I also revisited with Tom Keith’s Athair in order to try his elegant 2007 Russian River Pinot Noir and the 2009 Russian River Pinot Noir Rosé. On the more raucous side, Red Zeppelin struck a resounding note with both their 2009 White Zeppelin Chardonnay and the 2009 Black Zeppelin Petite Sirah.

I had hoped to retry John Chiarito’s Italian varietals, but opted instead for his exquisite 2007 Petite Sir
ah
. With Kelseyville’s Rosa d’Oro on hand, I did get my fix with their 2007 Barbera, the 2007 Dolcetto, and an imposing 2008 Sangiovese. And if that weren’t enough, Treasure Island’s Fat Grape Winery poured its 2008 Sangiovese alongside a 2008 Cabernet Franc, an appealing 2008 Zinfandel, a 2008 Mourvèdre, and a 2008 Petit Verdot.

Page Wine Cellars bottles its Bordeaux-style blends under its own name and designates its Revolver label for the rest. This afternoon they poured the 2007 The Stash, a Cabernet Sauvignon softened with 5% Cabernet Franc, while showcasing Revolver’s 2007 The Fury (Cabernet Franc) and the 2007 Perdition (Petite Sirah). Also from Napa, Longfellow Wines elected to feature their 2007 Dry Creek Valley Syrah Unti Vineyard and the 2008 Pinot Noir Griffin’s Lair Vineyard. The unassumingly named Napa Station from former Merryvale CEO Peter Huwiler quietly made its splash here with a quartet of well-executed wines: the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, the delectable 2007 Chardonnay, a balanced 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Merlot.


In Mendocino, the city of Point Arena has its own lighthouse, as well as an official Poet Laureate—and Mariah Vineyards; their meticulously hand-picked wines included the 2007 Zinfandel and the 2006 Syrah, both strikingly well-crafted vintages. Meanwhile, Bennett Valley near Santa Rosa boasts Bennett Valley Cellars, with its appealing Bin 6410 Pinot Noir. And nearby in Santa Rosa, Kivelstadt Family Vineyard offered its 2009 Dog Daze Rosé (Syrah/Grenache) and the 2008 Pavo Syrah. An utterly superb Grenache came from Santa Rosa’s Grey Stack, the 2007 Dry Stack Grenache, while their 2007 Marie’s Block Syrah came half a sip to being as good.

Like Mariah, Fogline Vineyards handcrafts their wines, with impressive results for both the 2009 Pinot Noir Windsor Oaks Vineyard and the 2009 Zinfandel. Equal parts Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon constitute the aptly-named and immensely appealing 2006 Mixto from Solovino.

I oughtn’t be critical of Greater Purpose, a wine venture with charitable aspirations, but with their added purpose, all-too-hip design, and state-of-the-art Web site, they seem to have overlooked attention to detail in their wine blending. Their two wines, the NV White Label and the NV Black Label, both marry Cabernet Sauvignon with Zinfandel, the latter adding 10% Syrah. Neither had that “you’ve got to try this” cachet, but I respect their effort. I will, however, stand unrestrained in my disapprobation of wineries and wine events that affiliate themselves with or incorporate tobacco; certainly, I hope the appearance of CigarRV—the Mobile Mancave will prove a one-time aberration for Vintners Market. (Readers here should know that Sostevinobile’s
commitment to a sustainable environment means that we will not
accommodate smoking on any portion of our premises, including the
projected outdoor seating area atop our living roof
).

In reading other wine blogs, I sense I may have missed perhaps 50% of the possible new wineries that attended Vintners Market. As always, I am grateful to Bridget and Cornelius for inviting me to their splendid event, but let me exhort them print out a program next time!! It will expedite matters for everyone: the media trying to cover the event, wineries taking the time to make the event happen, and attendees who come to enjoy and purchase the wine on hand. In return, yours truly will continue striving to sample and evaluate as many West Coast wineries that meet Sostevinobile’s criteria as I can—provided my palate doesn’t go south again! 

KA-BOOM!!

It gets harder and harder these days to recall how Healdsburg looked in the early 1980s. None of the sleek, modernistic structures nor the trappings of luxury had taken root back when Your West Coast Oenophile first started out in the wine industry, and the town felt more like a rustic outpost than an upscale destination.

Indeed, all the sleepy little wine villages in northern Sonoma felt utterly remote from the urbanization that had taken hold in Santa Rosa and was slowly transforming this one-time agricultural capital into a mini-metropolis in its own right, led, by among other factors, an Italian emigration from San Francisco’s Marina district. Flash-forward to this most curious decade to find Healdsburg completely unrecognizable from its former self merely a quarter-century ago. But, as I discovered this past Columbus Day weekend, a venture just a few miles north finds Geyserville relatively unchanged amid its bucolic trappings, its quaint downtown a timeless preserve that could easily serve as scenic backdrop for a 19th century Western or Gold Rush epic.

The Sonoma County chapter of Slow Food invited Sostevinobile to cover their Artisano Festival at the Geyserville Inn, a decidedly unpretentious (souvenir pen upon checkout!) motor lodge just north of the village square. Not trusting the accuracy of my GPS, which had mapped out a route that took me past my destination, then backtracked for two miles, I exited Highway 101 at the first Geyserville offramp and wound my way up Geyserville Avenue through the downtown area. Certainly, several of the names had changed, and there was arguably more neon than I had recalled, but essentially the quaint little hitching post stop seemed exactly how I had recalled, a memento not only of its own past but of the kind of town Healdsburg once had been, too.

As I type this installment, the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco is deliberating a ban on Happy Meals, those coercive gimmicks that include the latest must-have toys that virtually compel parents to bring their youngsters to McDonald’s. While I support this measure wholeheartedly, I feel the supervisors are missing the essential point here. The insidious aspect of Happy Meals isn’t so much that they ply kids with fat-laden, 1,500-calorie engorgements, along with their cute action figures; worse is that they instill in these highly impressionable minds the notion that McDonald’s is an inextricable part of American culture, an icon on par with the Statue of Liberty or an institution like baseball, rather than a self-aggrandizing, crass, commercial enterprise. Just as with nicotine in cigarettes, it’s deliberately design to hook kids early and hook them for life.

Of course, if it weren’t for McDonald’s delusion of global hegemony, there probably would never have been a Slow Food Society and the impetus for splendid events like Artisano. A celebration of both local wine and culinary fare, it would be hard to imagine a better way to spend a warm Saturday afternoon. As I drove down Geyserville Avenue, I passed by a tasting room featuring the unassumingly nomenclature of Route 128, the highway that crisscrosses Solano, Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties; finding their table at the entrance to the festival, it seemed only fitting to start out sampling their wines. Despite their lack of pretentiousness, this highly-skilled venture produced an enviable 2008 Viognier Opatz Family Vineyard, along with a superb Rhône red, the 2007 Syrah. In turn, these wines were paired to a Crispy Butternut Squash Ravioli topped with Pulled Pork that had been prepared by Hoffman House, Geyserville Inn’s on-premise restaurant. 

Route 128’s showcase wine, however, was their 2007 Hi-Five, an unspecified blend of the five principal Bordeaux varietals; though I have scant background information on this particular wine, it was nonetheless a superb bottling. I moved next to visit Saini, a winery I had inadvertently overlooked at Grape to Glass. With only 180 cases of Sauvignon Blanc and 98 cases of Zinfandel produced, this boutique operation nonetheless showed itself to be a formidable presence, with a sharp 2008 Zinfandel Olive Block and an even more promising 2009 vintage soon to be bottled. I followed this sampling with some housemade salumi and a succulent medallion of Roasted Porchetta from Diavola, a downtown Geyserville restaurant I had passed on my way to the event.

The tasting filled two separate lawns at the Inn, so I meandered over to the other section and visited once again with Betsy Nachbaur of Acorn, in the futile hope she might have finally brought a sample of her Dolcetto to a tasting. Despite my palpable dismay, I did mange to enjoy her 2009 Rosato once again (see my entry on Taste of Sonoma for a breakdown on its eight varietals), as well as the 2007 Zinfandel Alegría Vineyard. Just to her right, Mendocino’s Chiarito poured their wondrous 2007 Nero d’Avola, a rare and extraordinary expression of this varietal in California. I hadn’t previous sampled their 2007 Petite Sirah, which proved every bit the Nero’s equal; this same Petite Sirah constituted 18% of Chiarito’s 2005 Estate Zinfandel and only 8% of the 2006 Estate Zinfandel. The 2007 Estate Zinfandel, a pure varietal, proved itself my favorite from this vertical.

I had to try a second pour of the Petite Sirah to complement the Wild Game Chili Bear Republic served at the next table over. Ironically, there was nothing ursine to this recipe; this popular Healdsburg brewpub blended in venison, antelope, and wild boar to create a savory contrast to the spicy wine. Inches away and 180° apart, Kim Fanucchi, the cheese stylists at Oz Family Farms, juxtaposed her Rose Petal Terrine with the 2009 Late Harvest Durif from Pendleton Wines, an Alexander Valley boutique. Though this dessert wine struck me as Pendleton’s best effort, I was favorably impressed by their 2007 Zinfandel Ponzo’s Vineyard as well. On the other hand, the 2006 Reserve Zinfandel, along with the 2007 Petite Sirah and the 2009 Petite Rosé, seemed rather commonplace, while the 2008 Celebration managed to blend Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Carignane with 43% Alvarelhão and Touriga from Lodi, a veritable California medley.

I hadn’t seen Arnot-Roberts since sampling their Ribolla Galla during Natural Wine Week in August. This day, they simply poured the 2009 Chardonnay Green Island Vineyard and their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Bugay Vineyard. And I might have bypassed his table if Hank Skewis hadn’t told me they were bypassing this year’s Pinot on the River (a prescient decision, as I will attest in my subsequent entry). This Pinot-only virtuoso featured a quartet from his 2007 vintage, first the 2007 Pinot Noir Montgomery Vineyard and the 2007 Pinot Noir Salzberger-Chan Vineyard, followed by the 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Reserve and the 2007 Pinot Noir Peters Vineyard; while all four were excellent wines, the latter two proved truly astounding.
The sun may have been hot enough to melt wax this afternoon, but that did not daunt me from sampling a flight of Icaria’s wines. The lofty 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley fused the varietal with 15% Merlot, 2% Petite Sirah, 2% Petit Verdot, and 3% Malbec, while the 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (20% Merlot) utterly soared.
And I found their unfettered 2006 Petite Sirah a heightened expression of the varietal.

From her family’s eponymous, Domenica Catelli served up an Oz Family Farm Rabbit Crostini with Polenta, the perfect complement to the 2009 Pinot Noir Miroslav Tcholakov poured. Before this afternoon, I had only tried the Petite Sirahs his Miro Cellars produces, so it was an unexpected pleasure to sample both this varietal and his superb 2008 Zinfandel. Not that the 2008 Petite Sirah nor the 2008 Petite Sirah Rockpile were by any means laggards!

I’m always thrilled to discover little-known producers with limited distribution at events like this, such as Musetta, a winery specializing in Sauvignon Blanc, like the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc from Mt. Konocti they poured here, and a Zinfandel I will have to try at another time. Similarly, Verge focuses their efforts almost exclusively on their 2007 Syrah Dry Creek Valley, with an ancillary production of their Viognier. At the other end of the spectrum, Reynoso featured six wine selections this afternoon, a repertoire that included both their 2008 Sauvignon Blanc and equally appealing 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, strong showing for the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2004 Syrah, plus a first appreciation of both their 2009 Long Gamma (60% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Viognier, 15% Gewürztraminer) and the 2007 Long Gamma Red (75% Zinfandel, 20% Syrah, and 5% Petite Sirah), both from Alexander Valley.

Garden Creek may not be the most evocative name for a winery, but I very much liked the name for (and the wine that constituted their red blend), the 2004 Tesserae, meaning the tiles that form a mosaic, in this case, figuratively, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. On the other hand, Foursight is quite the clever pun, given the quartet of partners who produced their 2007 Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard and the appealing, semi-dry 2009 Gewürztraminer. And given my penchant for pentasyllabic Italian surnames, it was a given I would cotton to Domenichelli, who poured two excellent wines, their 2007 Petite Sirah and the 2007 Zinfandel, which combined for a 150-case production.

Montemaggiore also falls into this exclusive category, but their early departure this afternoon meant I missed the opportunity to resample their wines. Wineries I did not miss included Munselle—no relation to the colatura soprano Patrice Munsel—which still hit all their high notes with the 2007 Shadrach Chardonnay and the 2006 Coyote Crest Cabernet Sauvignon, a most operatic endeavor. Kelley & Young is related to the late Robert Young—the renowned vineyardist, not Marcus Welby—and carries on the family legacy quite fittingly with a respectable 2008 Sauvignon Blanc and two truly impressive bottlings, the blush-style Bordelaise blend 2009 Kathleen Rosé and the 2008 Zinfandel. And despite boastinging Denis and May-Britt Malbec as its winemakers, the superb 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Respite is an undiluted expression of this single varietal.

Terroirs Artisan Wines serves as an umbrella for a number of wine labels produced in and about the Geyserville area; it seemed only fitting that they pour a number of their collective’s fare at the Artisano Festival. Godwin produced an excellent 2007 Floral Clone Chardonnay, while Peña Ridge held forth with their 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Dry Creek Valley. Terroirs Director Kerry Damskey also poured the 2004 Stagecoach Cabernet/Syrah, a handcrafted blend from his own Palmeri label.

Many publications, including Sostevinobile, have chronicled the story of the Valdez Family Winery, so I need only let the wines speak for themselves here. All five of the vintages they poured this afternoon proved stunning, starting with the 2008 Silver Eagle Chardonnay. Equally enchanting were the 2007 Zinfandel Russian River Valley, the inky 2007 Petite Sirah, and their 2008 Pinot Noir Lancel Creek, but the standout had to have been the 2007 Zinfandel Rockpile, a wine that could have held its own with Mauritson and Carol Shelton.

Ulises Valdez also serves as Vineyard Manager for Skipstone Ranch from Alexander Valley. Here esteemed winemaker Philippe Melka crafted the outstanding 2007 Oliver’s Blend, a Cabernet Sauvignon with 4% Cabernet Franc. This synergistic, sustainable ranch also produces the 2009 Melina’s Harvest Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which, in turn, marinated the Beef Crostini that paired so precisely with the wine and constituted my last nibble of the afternoon.

In truth, neither 50,000 James Oliver Hubertys nor Slow Food will likely purge the world of McDonald’s, but at least events like the Artisano Festival do their utmost to steer their communities towards a more redeeming diet and a healthier approach to life. This event wasn’t so much a promotion as a celebration of an ethos and a lifestyle devised to benefit both individuals and the planet they inhabit. In other words, the true definition of a Happy Meal!


The following day, just as the Trade/Media tasting was drawing to a close, a thunderous BOOM! literally shook the tent on Treasure Island. The concussive force + the sheer volume of its explosion initially gave the impression that a bomb might have been detonated nearby, but, as this was the weekend for the aerial spectacles of Fleet Week, most soon surmised that one of the naval aviators had passed by precipitously low at supersonic speed. Either that, or the Treasure Island promoters were simply trying new tactics to drive people to drink.

Back when I slaved for a living as an advertising copywriter, personal credo prevented me from engaging certain types of accounts. The 4 Ms, as I referred to them, consisted of McDonald’s (no surprise here); Microsoft (again, my antipathy has been well documented); Marlboro (an alliterative symbol for all tobacco); and the Military. Pacifism aside, I contended that recruitment advertising was deceptive at best and predatory at its worst; regardless of personal politics, it still seems only valid that the Armed Forces be required to maintain the same standards for veracity and full disclosure as any other advertiser must. Without such compliance, I deemed it irresponsible to work on such accounts.

In this light, I feel tremendous ambivalence each year when the Blue Angels perform their acrobatics. Inarguably, their precision formations and death-defying maneuvers are thrilling to observe, and yet these stunts serve as recruitment for an occupation and lifestyle accorded only to extremely few prospects, the odds for attainment as daunting as any lottery. Yet, in a convoluted way, this incongruity symbolized the 2nd Annual Lodi on the Water Tasting, with some wineries deftly soaring to astounding heights, while others remained mired in mundanity.

Compared to last year’s event, there was little variance in the wineries which chose to participate. With so few newcomers, I departed from my usual strategy and attempted to visit with each, making it to 33 out of 43 tables. Still, a microcosm for the entire event could be found in the two “rookie” attendees I did encounter.

McCay Cellars seemed a quintessential Lodi winery: small, brash without being pretentious, highly oriented toward Zinfandel and quite comfortable in its niche. Their 2007 Truluck’s Zinfandel made an indelible first impression, and while both their 2007 Jupiter Zinfandel and 2007 Paisley (a Zinfandel/Petite Sirah blend) scored just below this level, their 2007 Petite Sirah proved every bit as memorable. In contrast, Viaggio pretty much constituted the nadir of what the Lodi AVA has to offer. Situated on the bank of the Mokelumne River, this gargantuan estate has insinuated itself as Acampo’s principal landmark. Garish or opulent, depending one’s viewpoint, Viaggio offers a bit of everything: restaurant, concerts, wedding hall, private residence, except for actual winemaking, which it consigns to a nearby custom crush facility. The resulting wines bordered on the undrinkable. The 2007 Pinot Grigio tasted as pallid as any of the tenuous wines Santa Margherita ever foisted on an unsuspecting public, while neither the 2006 Petite Sirah nor the 2008 Chardonnay even approximated a well-crafted vintage. Granted, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon displayed a modicum of potential, but not enough to mitigate for the egregious flaws of the overall œnology here.

This paradigm continued throughout the afternoon, between contrasting wineries and, often, within individual wineries themselves. On the one hand, Grands Amis proved itself exemplary of the quality of wine Lodi can produce, starting with their excellent 2009 Pinot Grigio. Equally seductive was their 2008 Première Passion, a stellar blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, as well as the 2009 Chardonnay, while the 2008 Barbera maintained the same quality I had recently lauded at The Wine Institute’s Unexpected Grapes from Unexpected Places. On the other hand, Barefoot Wines poured a NV Zinfandel reminiscent of the dreary days when Lodi boasted warehouses filled with 250,000 cases of unsaleable wine (if you ever tried California Coolers or Bartles & Jaymes in the mid-1980s, you know where this wine landed up).

A number of wineries handled their reds quite well but fumbled with their whites. Nomenclature notwithstanding, Dancing Fox produced a remarkably good 2007 Rumplestilt-Zin and 2004 Rip van Cab. And while even their 2008 The Red Prince, a Cabernet Franc, made a notable impression, the 2007 Firedance, a white blend dominated by Colombard, tasted flavorless. Similarly, I found the 2007 Merlot and 2008 Zinfandel from Vicarmont enormously appealing, but completely disdained their 2008 Sauvignon Blanc and the 2009 Eclectic Pink Rosé. McConnell Estate vinted adequate wines with their 2007 6 GenZin Zinfandel, 2006 Syrah,
and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Wackman Ranch, yet would have done well to have left their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc behind. 

Barsetti Vineyards, with their picturesque, Van Gogh-style label, comported themselves ably with both their 2006 Zinfandel and 2008 Zinfandel but found their 2007 Chardonnay quite wanting (for that matter, their 2007 Merlot could have been a white). On the other hand, Stama Winery excelled with their 2006 Merlot but fell short with their 2007 Zany Zin; calling their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon “premature” would be charitable. E2 Family Winery offered a decidedly mixed bag: a strikingly good 2006 Verdelho Elegante and 2008 H. Walter’s Family Zinfandel, mediocre efforts with their 2007 River Isle Merlot and 2008 Farmer’s Table Big White, and a dreary 2009 Zagan’s Fire Pinot Noir.

I admit to being surprised at my dislike for the 2007 Chardonnay from Watts Winery. Their 2005 Zinfandel and 2004 Cabernet Franc were superb wines, while the 2005 Montepulciano proved flat-out excellent. No lapse, however, with Uvaggio, which poured quite the refreshing 2009 Vermentino and a splendid 2007 Barbera; their two other nonetheless excellent wines, the 2009 Moscato-Secco and 2009 Moscato-Dolce, provided a pronounced contrast with each other, the sweet version proving truly remarkable.

As with any tasting I attend for Sostevinobile, I am bound to encounter number of familiar faces, be they friends, fellow wine trade attendees, œnophiles or interlopers, as well as the numerous winery owners and winemakers with whom I have become acquainted over the years. Lodi tastings are always cause for visit the Koth family and the portfolio of German wines they produce at Mokelumne Glen. Since last year’s event, I’ve tried a number of other California interpretations of German & Austrian varietals: Dornfelder; St. Laurent; Grüner Veltliner, but all have been singular efforts. Today, the Koths poured an excellent 2008 Gewürztraminer, their 2007 Dornfelder, and the new 2008 Zweigelt, along with their 2009 Kerner and a spectacular 2004 Late Harvest Kerner, one of the great treats this afternoon. On the Spanish side, Liz Bokisch manned the tent while Markus tended to the harvest, pouring their justly-acclaimed 2009 Albariño and 2007 Tempranillo. Their newly-released 2008 Garnacha returned to the previous heights this version of the Grenache varietal had reached when I first encountered this winery, while the 2007 Graciano once again proved itself my overall favorite of their offerings.

Lani Holdener’s Macchia, a winery I had discovered while exiled to the Central Valley, once again displayed its versatility with Italian varietals, the 2009 Amorous Sangiovese and the 2009 Delicious Barbera, while her 2009 Mischievous Old Vine Zinfandel proved her true forte. During this time, I also reencountered Joe Berghold, whom I had initially met in the early 1990s. I had hoped to see him again this afternoon, but was informed he was off on a six week trip to Europe during the peak of harvest (I egged his stand-in pourer, Leonard Cicerello, to send him an e-mail: “sold the grapes to Fred Franzia. $50/ton”). Nonetheless, I greatly enjoyed revisiting Joe’s array of wines in his stead, starting with the appealing 2008 Viognier. As always, his 2007 Footstomp Zinfandel displayed far more complexity than whimsy, while the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon proved every bit as structured. I greatly enjoyed his 2006 Syrah, and do hope his grapes for the 2010 vintage find their way to his fermentation tanks!

Dino Mencarini is a man who demonstrably doesn’t need to travel to Europe in order to relax. After encountering him as I entered the tent, I strolled by his table for Abundance Vineyards and asked where he had gone. “Out on the lawn, watching the show,” much as he had been when I visited his winery last November. But the energy he puts into his winemaking resulted in a pair of robust wines, the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Elegante Carignane. During my Lodi trip last fall, I had intended to visit Harney Lane, as well, having been duly impressed by their wines at the inaugural Lodi on the Water. This second time around proved just as impressive, starting with their take on a 2009 Albariño. The 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel captivated; the 2007 Petite Sirah proved age-worthy; the 2008 Zinfandel—utterly seductive.

This being Lodi, Zinfandel held center stage at a number of wineries. Tiny St. Sophia poured just one wine but made the most with their 2007 Zinfandel. M2 Wines, which is not Emtu Wines, comported themselves quite admirably with the 2008 Soucie Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel and the 2008 Artist Series Zinfandel. Benson Ferry dazzled with their 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel, which they poured alongside their Lodi-specific 2006 95240 Zinfandel and the ultra-specific 2006 Nine X Nine Zinfandel, named for “the Lodi region’s historic, head-trained Zinfandel vines, which were planted with 9′ x 9′ spacing for easy cultivation and optimal sun exposure.” Their Douro-style NV Port proved an added delight.

Featuring what may truly be the worst Web page of any winery, St. Amant nonetheless excelled with their two Zins: the 2008 Mohr Fry’s Zinfandel and the 2008 Marian’s Zinfandel. I found myself intrigued by their 2009 Barbera Rosé and transfixed by its companion 2009 Barbera. St. Jorge, meanwhile, offered a single 2008 Zinfandel, preceded by their refreshing 2009 Verdelho and followed by an excellent 2007 Tempranillo and the delights of their 2008 Alicante Bouschet. The jovial crew from Harmony Wynelands also poured a rich 2006 Alicante Bouschet, as well as their unique 2007 GMA, a blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Alicante. Their NV Rosé similarly blends an atypical combination of Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Zinfandel (GMZ?), while the understated 2009 Riesling seemed almost contrarian for Lodi.

As he had at The Ultimate Sierra Foothills Wine Tasting Experience, David Roberts bumped into me and insisted I revisit one of his discoveries, Michael~David Winery. I limited myself merely to four from their portfolio of wines on hand: the 2008 Incognito Rouge, their “tango” of Mourvèdre, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Cinsault, Carignane, Tannat, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Grenache; the 2006 Earthquake, a Cabernet Sauvignon rounded out with Petite Sirah and Cabernet Franc; a splendid Zinfandel, the 2008 Lust; plus, the excellent and easy-to-decipher Petite Sirah/Petit Verdot blend, the 2008 Petite Petit. Not so easy to decipher was the identity of Scotto Family Cellars, aka ADS Wines, which had been Regio and last year labeled themselves as Blue Moon Wines. This year’s incarnation pour the 2008 Howling Moon Chardonnay, the 2006 Howling Moon Zinfandel, and the 2009 Howling Moon Pinot Grigio, all of which labored to distinguish themselves.

Meanwhile, the highly inventive Peltier Station (see the label for their 2004 UBS —-) introduced their new second label with a quartet of amiable wines: the 2008 hy brid Pinot Grigio, their 2008 hy brid Chardonnaythe 2008 hy brid Pinot Noir, and a superb 2008 hy brid Syrah. The many faces of DFV Wines here today included Gnarly Head and Brazin, which I failed to reach, and two numerical labels, 337 and 181, named for cultivated clones of Cabernet Sauvignon and of Merlot. By the time I reached this table, they had already poured the last drop of the 2007 337 Cabernet Sauvignon but managed to score significantly with the 2008 181 Merlot.

While the Delicato Family may have had the most labels here this day, it seems that Mettler clan is ubiquitous in Lodi. Vicarmont is a Mettler offshoot. Seemingly everyone at the Michael~David table was named Mettler. Curiously, however, no one at the table for Mettler Family Vineyards was a Mettler! Nonetheless, their 2007 Epicenter Old Vine Zinfandel, the 2005 Petite Sirah and particularly the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon were all displayed true Lodi pedigree. Similarly, no one at the table for Cosentino Winery was named Cosentino, for, I am told, Mitch Cosentino has ceded its ownership. Financial ambiguities aside, these operations, which are split between Napa and Woodbridge, still produce routinely excellent wines, like the 2007 The Temp (Tempranillo); the 2007 The Zin (Zinfandel); and the 2007 The Med (a blend rivaling the 2008 Incognito Rouge’s “tango,” marrying Tempranillo, Dolcetto, Alicante Bouschet, Barbera, Carignane, Tannat, Valdiguié, Mourvèdre, Tinta Cão, and Souzão).

A simpler formula came from Lucas Winery, with their unadorned 2008 Chardonnay and the striking 2005 ZinStar. the 2008 Tempranillo, 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2008 Petite Sirah, the varietals from D’Art Wines also comprised straightforward expressions, while their 2007 Lodi Port blended 50% Tempranillo, 35% Petite Sirah, and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. Their most intriguing wine, the NV Dog Day, marries an unspecified number of D’Art’s wines with 25% Port.

I failed to manage my time adequately enough to reach the tables for Heritage Oak, Ironstone, Jessie’s Grove, LangeTwins, Klinker Brick, Ripken, Talus, Woodbridge, or Van Ruiten, though last year’s tasting showed these wineries to span the spectrum from compelling to marginally passable. I concluded the afternoon at the fittingly terminal Omega Cellars, with their own set of 4 Ms: the elegant 2009 Mosaic, an unoaked Chardonnay; their Bordeaux blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot), the 2007 Mystico; the superb, proprietary Rhône blend (Syrah, Mourvèdre, Petite Sirah), the 2007 Mélange; and a late Harvest Petite Verdot melodically called the 2007 Midnight Serenade

As stated in the outset of this installment, I felt tremendous ambivalence about this tasting. Despite its long history with viticulture, Lodi remains an emerging AVA, a region that as recently as 1991 could claim only eight wineries. Many of the wineries can justifiably lay claim to standing on par with some of the best California has to offer; others, however, have far to go to meet contemporary wine standards. Obviously, any business needs to market itself and sell their product; still, I wish, for the overall reputation of the region, these enterprises would restrict their participation from collective tastings like Lodi on the Water until their wines attain a sufficient quality. Certainly, Sostevinobile would be loathe to include any inferior wines on our roster; conversely, those wines upon which I have heaped accolades will be readily welcome.


Regardless of this critique, I do want to acknowledge Lodi for its commitment to the protection and stewardship of its environment and the healthy quality of their wines. Many other AVAs would do well to implement guidelines for their wineries like Lodi Rules, the certification program for sustainability devised by the Lodi Woodbridge Winegrape Commission. I would offer one caveat, though, to wineries like Berghold (Stogie Club Petite Sirah Port) and Cosentino (CigarZin)—or any winery throughout the West Coast that seeks to tie enjoyment of its wines to smoking: this tactic flies in the face of green principles and poses significant detriment to the wine industry as a whole. Legislators are all too eager to impose “sin taxes” on alcoholic beverages, rationalizing their posture by equating them to the same deleterious health impact as tobacco. Someone other than myself once noted that “while the abuse of alcohol is hazardous, it is the mere use of tobacco that is harmful.” It is a critical distinction that should always be reinforced.

Apennine Wine (in 2,000 words or less)

One of these days I will figure out the art of concision. If anyone can demonstrate that they made it through all 6,321 words of the last installment here, Your West Coast Oenophile will treat you to free drinks for a month at Sostevinobile (once we open our doors). Count on it!

In the meantime, readers can vicariously experience the numerous discoveries I make as I continue to build an all-embracing program of the sustainable wines grown on the West Coast. This interminable pursuit led me to Danville on a warm September Sunday for what was billed as The Ultimate Sierra Foothills Wine Tasting Experience. And to think people tell me pronouncing “Sostevinobile” is a mouthful…!

I’ve attended a number of wine industry tastings at private clubs in recent months, but this event was the first not affiliated in some manner with the wine country. Blackhawk is a gated enclave in Danville, near the base of Mt. Diablo. Conceived as a master planned community in 1979, this secluded development includes the lavish homes of several prominent Bay Area sports figures, two golf courses that annually host the LPGA challenge, a renowned automotive museum, and the exclusive Blackhawk Country Club, where the tasting took place. While ample, luxurious, perhaps even graceful, it seemed an odd choice of venues, given its proximity only unto itself.

Still, once I had waited in line to be checked in by the gate guard and wound my way around serpentine lanes until I came upon the main clubhouse, the event came off with nary a hitch. This cooperative promotion between three different AVAs presented a marked disparity between the El Dorado Winery Association, which had held its own tasting earlier in the year with many of the same participants, Amador Vintners, whose wine trail I had briefly explored on my way to Lake Tahoe, and the Calaveras Winegrape Alliance, most of whose members were completely new to me.

The mountainous terrain of all three appellations lends itself to many similarities, and for œnophiles focused on the orthodoxy of Burgundian or Bordelaise varietals, this tasting offered scant familiarity. Amador, in particular, has long held repute for its Zinfandels, and while El Dorado has been a staple of Rhône Rangers since its inception, the entire region has taken quite a shining to the various Spanish and Portuguese varietals that have now proliferate throughout the state. Still, this three county region collectively produces the greatest concentration of Italian varietals on the West Coast, even discounting the mega-production of Trinchero’s Montevina and Terra d’Oro labels. Up by Lake Shasta, Trinity County may have its own version of the Swiss Alps; wineries here are transforming the Sierra Foothills into the western Apennines.

One of the first wineries I encountered this afternoon was Amador’s Driven Cellars. An intimate operation that produces six varietals in lots of 200-300 cases, they excelled with a 2007 Barbera and a 2007 Primitivo. At the next table, Dillian Wines raised the stakes with an extraordinary 2008 Barbera, juxtaposed with its 2008 Primitivo and its fraternal twin, the 2008 Hangtree Zinfandel.

I stopped by the table for Calaveras’ Hatcher Winery and worked my way through four of their wines, starting with a crisp 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. They, too, comported themselves admirably with a 2007 Barbera and an appealing 2007 Petite Sirah, but made perhaps their strongest statement with the 2007 Zinfandel, a cross-pollination of Amador and Calaveras fruit. Another Calaveras endeavor, Murphys’ Frog’s Tooth, produces a wide selection of white wines, including Viognier, Marsanne, and Torrontés. Today’s offerings included a 2009 Fumé Blanc and a very approachable 2009 Pinot Grigio, as well as the 2008 Barbera and the rich 2008 Grenache from their red portfolio.

In usual fashion, I sought to visit wineries with whom I needed to establish a relationship before revisiting those whom I have documented here previously. I had fully intended to swing by and taste Twisted Oak, but time did not allow me to reach their table on my final swing-though; however, I did want to acknowledge their pivotal role in popularizing Iberian varietals in Calaveras. Flourishing with this genre, Chatom Vineyards brought out an exquisite 2007 Touriga (I am assuming it was Touriga Nacional, not Touriga Franca), along with an appealing 2007 Sémillon and striking vintages of the 2005 Syrah and 2008 Chardonnay. Equally amazing was the 2008 Verdelho from Victor Reyes Umaña’s Bodega del Sur, a striking contrast to his 2008 Marsanne. Solomon Wine Company produced an adequate 2007 Tempranillo, plus a better 2006 Syrah, but I found both their NV Mingle, a Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot blend, as well as their proprietary blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon,Syrah, Petite Verdot, and Barbera, the 2006 Composition, somewhat wanting.

As with Twisted Oak, I initially bypassed many of the El Dorado wineries and found not enough time at closing to take in Auriga, Fitzpatrick’s organic winery, Mt. Aukum, sister ventures Latcham/Granite Springs, Holly’s Hill, the Primitivo and Barbera of Colibri Ridge, Cedarville, Rhône specialist David Girard, and Crystal Basin—all wineries I have previously chronicled and enjoyed. I did, however, work my way through Miraflores Winery’s offerings: the 2008 Chardonnay, the 2007 Zinfandel, their choice 2006 Petite Sirah, and their special focus, the 2005 Syrah. I do wish, however, that Miraflores had brought their 2006 Barbera, the 2007 Pinot Grigio, and the 2007 Muscat Canelli (would have helped validate my premise in this entry), but Perry Creek mitigated for them with a luscious NV Black Muscat.

I finished my El Dorado visits with a sip of the 2009 Viognier from Sierra Vista and a retasting of the 2009 Chardonnay as I chatted with Lava Cap’s Beth Jones and chided her for not yet connecting me with the bottle of 2006 Sangiovese Matagrano she had promised back in the spring. Amador Foothill Winery, too, neglected to bring either their 2006 Sangiovese or the 2004 Sangiovese Grand Reserve, but more than made up for this lapse with an outstanding 2007 Aglianico. Equally impressive was the 2007 Clockspring Zinfandel, while their Grenache/Syrah blend known as the 2006 Kathie’s Côte came in not far behind; I also thoroughly enjoyed their light 2007 Sémillon.

Slightly confusing matters, the next table over featured Amador Cellars, a notable winery in its own right, with a 2007 Syrah, the newly-released 2008 Barbera, and a 2007 Zinfandel I can best describe as jammy. I bypassed familiars C.G. Di Arie and Primitivo star Bray to discover the striking wines of Cooper Vineyards, who impressed me with their 2007 Sangiovese and 2007 Zinfandel, along with a 2008 Barbera and a 2009 Pinot Grigio. I wonder, though, does Cooper make their own barrels?

The story now moves to Story Winery, a place whose URL (Zin.com) pretty much puts the winery in context. Producers of seven different Amador Zins, plus a Zinfandel/Mission blend (as well as, regrettably, a White Zinfandel), they did impress me with both their 2006 Picnic Hill Zinfandel and the 2006 Creekside Zinfandel. However, their strongest expressions came from the 2008 Primitivo and a 2006 Barbera. I did like the 2008 Amador County Zinfandel from Sera Fina Cellars, along with their approachable 2009 Pinot Grigio; unfortunately, neither their 2009 Malvasia Bianca nor the 2006 Elegant Cowboy Syrah met this same level.

I missed out on one of my favorite Italian varietal specialists, Vino Noceto (who else in California makes distinct Sangiovese Grosso and Sangiovese Piccolo?) and Terre Rouge, a house devoted to Rhône varietals while bottling Zinfandel under its Easton Wines label, but did visit with Terra d’Oro, which poured an excellent 2008 Teroldego alongside their 100-year-old vine 2007 Zinfandel Deaver Vineyard. A portmanteau honoring owner Marilyn Hoopes’ mother, Karmère (karma + mère) blended Primitivo and Barbera to create their proprietary 2008 Primabera (a wine and a name far more subtle than Lone Madrone’s Barfandel, which I cited last week); I also found much to like in their 2007 Syrah and 2009 Viognier.

I had just tasted the range of Italian varietals Jeff Runquist produces, so I limited myself to exploring his 2008 R Touriga this afternoon. After that, my friend David Roberts, whom I had met at last month’s Rockpile Tasting insisted I reacquaint myself with Il Gioiello, Morse Wines’ Italian label—as it turned out, an excellent recommendation. I found the 2007 Triumphe, an atypical Super Tuscan (70% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Franc) more than intriguing, while the 2007 Montepulciano continues to fascinate me.

The 2007 Cabernet Franc from Calaveras’ Brice Station stood out as their preferred wine. Less impressive were their 2007 High Country, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and 2007 Port made from the same blend. Also from Murphys, Broll Mountain Vineyards produced a highly impressive 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, with a 2007 Petite Sirah and 2006 Syrah that underscored this winery’s capabilities. I also enjoyed the 2007 Syrah from Milliaire.

The most impressive Syrah of the afternoon was certainly the 2005 Syrah (in a most distinctive bottle) from Vallecito’s Laraine Winery. Their 2008 Zinfandel and 2007 Chardonnay showed almost as much complexity, while their whimsical 2008 Scarlet Harlot, a blend of Syrah, Sangiovese, Merlot, and Petite Sirah, intrigued as much it delighted. I liked the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc from Newsome-Harlow; I liked their 2007 Petite Sirah; their 2008 Zinfandel Calaveras County elated me.

If only I could have been as enthusiastic about Tanner Vineyards. Their 2009 Viognier and 2007 Syrah were pleasant enough, but I had quite the tepid response to the 2009 Vermentino and the 2009 Doux Rosé, a blush Syrah. I was also underwhelmed by the 2007 Petite Syrah and the 2007 Mélange de Mère, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot. Perhaps not the best coda to this very enjoyable event, but sometimes, that’s just how things play out.

Most private clubs I know would never daunt a two-star restaurant in San Francisco, and I realize that’s not the point, anyway. Clubs exist to establish camaraderie and interaction between members, not to vie for one of the slots on The Next Iron Chef. Still, the hors d’œuvres at this afternoon gathering made up in volume what they may have lacked in cutting-edge culinary. I deign to criticize the cuisine only to highlight my feelings that an event of this scope ought to be held in a more prominent and accessible location, like San Francisco or downtown Oakland, if the East Bay seems preferable.

All-in-all, these wines were too good not to merit more prominent exposure, should this event be reprised next year. I suspect quite a number of potential attendees shied away from this location, and it seemed that a number of absent Sierra Foothills wineries, like Villa Toscano, Jodar, and the incredible Lavender Hill might have participated, had a more accessible venue been selected. And the event might have allowed more wineries to participate, had its timing not coincided with the beginning of the harvest, creating a conflict of choices for numerous wineries.

I truly enjoyed this event and the vast majority of wines that I sampled. It was an impressive start for a cooperative tasting among three separate AVAs, all with individual agenda. As I told the promoters, it would have helped the afternoon flow far more smoothly, had the program guide correlated with the order of the designated tables and different rooms assigned to the tasting. A minor point for most attendees, but significant for Sostevinobile and other trade participants; then again, with a well-ordered setting and corresponding tasting guide, I might have found enough time to sample each of the wines from all 40 wineries and far exceeded the succinct 2,000 word target I had imposed on this entry!

 

Innumerable enumeration? Enumerable inumbration?

Once there was an elephant,
Who tried to use the telephant

No! No! I mean an elephone

Who tried to use the telephone

—Laura E. Richards

Try to do the math. 342 wineries ÷ (2 days x 5 hrs/day) = (34 wineries/hr. ÷ 60 min/hr.)− 1 = 1.7543 min/winery. With no bathroom breaks. Forget swill & spit—there’s not even enough time to bring the glass to your lips!

On the plus side, Your West Coast Oenophile is happy to report that Family Winemakers of California seems to have finally settled comfortably into its August slot. But even if they had brought back the Aidells Sausage station and pumped me up with protein, there was no way I could visit even half the wineries in attendance.

My must-see list for Sostevinobile ran to around 98 wineries, which meant just a shade over 6 minutes with every prospect (again, assuming indefatigable bladder control), provided I didn’t spend a moment with any of the folks I’d already befriended over the years. In other words, still a Herculean feat to accomplish. And so, as always, I strove to do the best that I could.

ZAP, Rhône Rangers, Pinot Days, T.A.P.A.S.—by now, I am sure I have exhausted every possible description of a large-scale wine tasting at Fort Mason’s Festival Pavilion. All I can add is an enumeration of the innumerable wineries in attendance that I succeeded in sampling. Or is it an inumbration of the enumerable?

Arriving from Healdsburg Sunday afternoon, I attempted to survey the room and plot my plan of attack. Halfway down the first row, however, a “Hello, Marc!” drew me over to Silkwood’s table owner/winemaker John Monnich, whose Petite Sirahs are a mainstay of P.S. I Love You, treated me to a sample of his NV Red Duet, a Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend primarily from his 2007 vintages. Over at the next table, Santa Barbara’s Silver Wines displayed a deft touch with blending, both with their 2005 Syrah-Mourvèdre Larner Vineyard and a unreleased, non-vintage I Tre Figli, a proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, and 5% Cabernet Franc.And belying the complexity of their wines, the π-adorned Simple Math Cellars derived a winning formula for their first Family Winemakers appearance, with their 2008 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast and a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mayacamas Mountains that portends to age logarithmically.

I only managed to taste their 2005 Barbera Napa Valley, but the eclectic Sunset Cellars still made quite a calculable impression. Similarly, Alexander Valley’s Stuhlmuller Vineyards featured a 2008 Zinfandel (with 23% Petite Sirah) that allowed me to extrapolate on the general quality of all their wines. I did, however, dawdle a bit longer at the Stonehedge table, sampling their sweeter wines, the 2008 Terroir Select Gewürztraminer and the 2009 Muscat Canelli, as well as the 2007 Terroir Select Malbec.

Brentwood’s Tamayo Family Vineyards offered a 2009 Malbec Ryland’s Block and a likable 2009 Viognier Bailey that preceded indulging in their Port-style 2008 J. Jaden Red Dessert Wine, a Syrah derivative named, as are all their Signature Series wines, for one of their algebraic subset of grandchildren. The urge to become fruitful and multiply has also struck Ackerman Family Vineyards, previously a single Cabernet venture, with the release of their 2007 Alavigna Tosca, a Super Tuscan blend of their Cabernet Sauvignon with 40% Sangiovese from Luna Vineyards. And while Ancient Peaks has never positioned itself as a one-wine venture, their own proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, the 2007 Oyster Ridge impressed, as always.

Blue Moon Wines now bills themselves as ADS Wines, though after perusing their website, I’m tempted to refer to them as ADD; nonetheless, their seeming lack of distinguishable focus did not prevent me from appreciating their NV Rare Red, a Valdiguié from the Napa Valley. I had similar trouble getting a handle on the permutations of Azari Winery/Corkscrew, but found their 2007 Corkscrew Syrah more approachable their sweetish 2009 Chardonnay. Fortunately, I was immediately able to recalibrate with the numeric scaling of B Cellars, a Napa label devoted to blends calibrated by the Brix of their grapes.The white 2009 Blend 23 combines Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier; the 2006 Blend 24 mixes Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Sangiovese. The linear progression to the 2006 Blend 25 brings a mélange of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, while the single varietal 2006 Blend 26 marries fruit from Napa’s To Kalon, Dr. Crane & Stagecoach vineyards—superior, I thought, to the undiluted 2006 Dr. Crane Cabernet Sauvignon they also poured.

Despite being recruited to the Math Honors program at Dartmouth, I quit after one semester with the most soporific instructor I had ever encountered and switched to the Classics Department, where my comprehension of ancient Greek and Latin plays into my professional endeavors almost yearly. Of course, I didn’t need to master the Ionic dialect to recognize the literary references in Arger-Martucci’s labels, the highly aromatic 2008 Iliad, a blend of Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, and Muscat, nor the 2005 Odyssey Estate Reserve, a classic Napa Meritage that complements their varietal 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. Italian being the direct evolution of Latin, I suppose August Ridge could have countered by calling their wines Aeneid or the Golden Ass, but the owners refrained from the pretense of allusion and instead elected to bestow simple varietal names on their 2009 Arneis, the 2007 Sangiovese, the very likable 2007 Nebbiolo, and a rustic 2008 Barbera.

How Bennet Lane construes the names for its wines seems anything but formulaic; then again, neither were their stellar Cab-centric vintages: the new 2008 Turn 4 Cabernet Sauvignon, equally impressive bottlings of the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2006 Maximus (a Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Malbec blend), and their standout, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. My observations on Beau Vigne would mirror this, as I didn’t allow the nomenclature to befuddle my appreciation of their 2008 Persuasion (Chardonnay) nor of their overtly labeled 2008 Cult (Cabernet Sauvignon).

Is 35? Sonoma’s B Wise Vineyards displays convincing proof with its 2006 Trios, a proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Merlot, and Petite Verdot, while their 2005 Brion Cabernet Sauvignon offered the singular complexity of a pure varietal expression. Calistoga’s Barlow Vineyards sampled a more orthodox blend of four Bordeaux varietals, the 2006 Barrouge, which straddled the middle ground between their 2006 Merlot and the slightly more impressive 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. And though Carrefour holds no mathematical significance, their range of varietals equated to 2005 Estate Merlot 2006 Estate Cabernet Franc ∪ 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cartograph echoes a distinct discipline with obvious dependency on trigonometry and other branches of mathematics, but for the purposes of Family Winemakers solely refers to the three vertices of this Healdsburg winery’s vinification: the 2008 two Pisces Pinot Noir, the exceptional 2008 Split Rock Pinot Noir, and their somewhat anomalous white counterpoint, the 2009 Floodgate Vineyard Gewürztraminer. A more southerly interpolation of this latter varietal came from the 2009 Monterey County Gewürztraminer that Banyan Wines vinted, along with their new 2009 The Guardian Chardonnay. Meanwhile, their tasting room cohorts. Branham Estate, showcased two intriguing blends, the 2007 Jazz, a mix that subordinates Cabernet Sauvignon, along with Syrah and Petite Sirah, to Zinfandel, and the 2007 Señal, that similarly proportions the same varietals from Branham’s Rockpile vineyard, as well as their 2006 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.

The center of the California Delta does not fall within any recognized AVA, but Bixler Vineyards grows a number of varietals there on its Union Island Farms. Admittedly, I was underwhelmed by their economical 2009 Union Island White and 2009 Union Island Red blends, but their splendid $12 2009 Union Island Pinot Grigio proved (perpetuating the math theme here) an absolute value. Another rather obscure designation, Capay Valley, furnishes the Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Mourvèdre that comprise the 2008 Open Range Proprietary Red Blend from Casey Flat Ranch, based in Tiburon. And while Anderson Valley is no revelation to most wine enthusiasts, headquarters for Pinot specialist Black Kite Cellars turned out to be a mere 1.5 blocks from my front door in Pacific Heights. (I restricted myself to sampling only their superb 2008 Pinot Noir Stony Terrace and the 2008 Pinot Noir Redwoods’ Edge, along with the more generic 2007 Kite’s Rest Pinot Noir, as owner Rebecca Birdsall Green invited me to join her private tasting the next day of every Pinot they had made since 2003!)

As always, my efforts to make new friends at Family Winemakers brings me into contact with numerous old friends who insist I taste their latest and greatest (not that this is any sort of burden), but in my ever-futile attempts to pare these blog entries to a reasonable length, let me list these in as a verbal depiction of a mathematical : Andrew Quady’s NV Deviation, an Orange Muscat infused with damiana and scented geranium; Andrew Geoffrey’s unfailingly amazing 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon; my favorite 2007 Graciano from Bokisch Vineyards; both the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon I’d previously tasted at Joseph Family Vineyards barbecue; Lava Cap’s 2008 Barbera and 2007 Zinfandel; Ty Caton’s superb 2008 Ballfield Syrah: his co-tenant Muscardini’s Super Tuscan, the 2007 Tesoro; the 2006 Sangiovese (where was your Dolcetto?) from Pietra Santa; the new 2009 Gewürztraminer (where was your Blanc de Pinot Noir?) from Siduri; the omnipresent JoAnne and Tony Truchard with their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon; and Steve and Marilee Shaffer of the newly-emboldened Urban Legend with their 2008 Ironworks, a blend of Nebbiolo and Sangiovese.

I might have enumerated Bill Frick among these members of this set, but I lingered at their table long enough to make my way through the 3 C’s of his quintessential Rhône varietals: the 2006 Cinsault Dry Creek Valley, the 2005 Carignane Mendocino County, and the 2007 Estate Counoise Owl Hill Vineyard, as well as his more whimsical 2007 Côtes-du-Dry Creek,a blend of Grenache and Syrah (had I known I’d be adopting a theme for this entry, I’d have opted for his two North Coast red Rhône blends, the C² and the C³)! Bill does not bottle the Rhône “varietal du jour,” but my friends at Rock Wall (which does) steered me to the table for Paso Robles’ Lone Madrone, which treated me to a taste of their 2005 Tannat. Another grape that is demanding attention in California made its Family Winemakers debut with the new release of the 2009 Grüner Veltliner from Dancing Coyote.

My next summation covers wineries that will likely not prove revelations to my Sostevinobile readers, but their renown proved too alluring to bypass along the way to my appointed destinations. Jeff Mathy & Karl Lehmann’s Vellum Wine Craft, a single bottling venture like Andrew Geoffrey, reinforced their considerable repute with their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from the soon-to-be certified Coombsville AVA; another Coombsville denizen, Pahlmeyer, gained considerable fame for its 1991 Chardonnay in the movie Disclosure but flourished this afternoon with a Meritage, the 2006 Napa Valley Proprietary Red; another Chardonnay movie star, Château Montelena (Bottle Shock), staked its claim with the 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon; my personal pedantry aside, Littorai may not garner acclaim for their classical scholarship (Latin for “shore” is litus, litoris), but biodynamically farmed 2007 The Haven Pinot Noir proved exemplary of the many storied Chardonnays and Pinots they produce; Carneros pioneer Kent Rasmussen showed a delightful 2007 Pinot Noir and his 2007 Esoterica Pete Sirah; and also from Carneros, Robert Stemmler poured its acclaimed 2007 Pinot Noir Nugent Vineyard.

Writing this blog is a lot like Fermat’s Last Theorem (an + bn  cn when n>2), an elegant, if not empirical, premise that took over 200 years to prove. I plot out these entries with every intention of being concise, but somehow my fidelity to every possible permutation means I must labor ad infinitum. Onward, onward!

My linear progression takes us next to Calstar Cellars, a name many wineries must feel could be applicable to them, whose œnological agility seemed most pronounced in their 2007 Alta Zinfandel Cardanini Vineyard and its companion 2007 ZaZa Zin grown in El Dorado County. Next up, Charnu Winery derives its name from a French term for “fleshy,” a more than apt description of the small production 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and its stunning predecessor, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, both pure expressions of the varietal from Napa Valley. Likewise, Atlas Peak’s Cobblestone Vineyards dazzled with their 2004 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon.

 A good pun, whether expressed verbally or algebraically, is always a good pun,and in addition to their winemaking prowess, Napa’s Crane Brothers skillfully eschew calling their blends Niles and Frasier, opting instead for the 2007 Brodatious (a mélange of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) and the 2007 Bromance (a Port-style Syrah dessert wine), while also pouring a straightforward 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and their trademark 2006 Syrah. Meanwhile, the rest of Family Winemakers’ C-section included Croze’s 2006 Smith Wooton Cabernet Franc, Corté Riva’s equally-appealing 2006 Cabernet Franc and perfunctory 2006 Petite Sirah, an excellent 2007 Syrah and amiable 2008 Rosé of Syrah from Coastview Vineyard, and the debut of Paul Hobbs’ new CrossBarn label that contrasted the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon with his eponymous 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.

The addition of Dragonette Cellars to the Family Winemakers roster meant an obligatory stop for Sostevinobile, but sampling their 2008 Pinot Noir Fiddlestix Vineyard, along with their 2007 Syrah Santa Ynez Valley and the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Santa Ynez Valley, proved hardly a chore. Healdsburg’s Dogwood Cellars matched up nicely with their own 2007 Dry Creek Syrah and a 2007 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, while truly flourishing with both their 2006 Mendocino Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2006 Mendocino Meritage, a 1:1 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend. And with four distinct points, Donati Family Vineyards of Templeton defined their particular space, highlighted by the 2007 Estate Pinot Blanc Paicines, their Bordelaise-style 2007 Claret, the unblended 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2006 Ezio, their marqué Meritage driven by Merlot.

Decades after I studied (and excelled at) calculus, I am still hard-pressed to explain why e, a mathematical constant roughly equivalent to 2.718218285904523536, forms the base of the natural logarithm, but with no E’s from which to cull for the remaining wineries that I covered, I can refrain from having to contrive a forced segue. Indeed, my tasting notes bypass several letters until I neared the middle of the H section with Hearthstone, another Paso Robles winery that stakes its claim primarily with Rhône varietals, including the 2007 Pearl, a Roussanne/Viognier blend, and a superb 2007 Grenache. And even though I did manage it to taste Ispiri’s 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Maylena, their Alexander Valley Merlot, I will resist any temptation to make a √-1 = ι correlation with the letter I.

Way back when, square roots introduced me (as I’m sure it did most people) to the concept of irrational numbers—those endless sequences that defy any discernable pattern of regularity. And perhaps I should draw inspiration from this phenomenon, randomly selecting any order for the wineries I assay. And yet the next four wineries I plucked from my list share the bond of making their Family Winemakers debut in 2010. Two of these ventures featured well-seasoned winemakers whose craft was well apparent. Glen Ellen’s Korbin Kameron brought on board Bob Pepi to lend his deft touch to their Meritage, the 2007 Estate Blend Cuvée Kristin, while Tandem’s Greg La Follette established his eponymous label with his 2008 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and an extraordinary 2008 Sangiacomo Pinot Noir. The other two endeavors came from unfamiliar winemakers; nonetheless, Olin Wines made a strong debut with their 2006 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon, while Kristian Story showed considerable range with his 2006 Soirée Estate Meritage, the 2006 Rhapsodie Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, and a proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and Petit Verdot he simply calls the 2007 RED Special Vineyard.

Do Parallel Wines ever meet? With all deference to Euclid’s Fifth Postulate, renowned winemaker Philippe Melka proves he warrants the hyperbolic praise for his œnological skills with his 2008 Russian River Chardonnay, an intense 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and the evolving 2006 Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Also doing its part to maintain Napa’s repute was Maroon Wines, with seasoned winemaker Chris Corley excelling with his 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville. And although Riboli Family Wines has been headquartered in Los Angeles since 1917, their premium bottlings now herald from the Napa Valley, spearheaded by their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford. I found their 2006 San Simeon Cabernet Sauvignon just as enticing, while the 2008 Maddelena Pinot Gris and the 2005 San Simeon Petite Sirah also impressed.

Few of my Sostevinobile know that I do assign a quantitative score to each of the wines I commend; one can always track down another published source to obtain wine ratings (should you feel that determines a wine’s quality). I prefer simply to expose my followers to the diverse bounty of wines produced in our midst and allow them to make their own determination—a road map, if you will, not a scorecard. Even my thematic links serve but as a literary conceit; nonetheless I found that both Mitchella and Vihuela Winery shared common bond in their Paso Robles location, consistent quality, and distinctive nomenclature. The former also focused on Rhône derivatives, first with their 2007 Syrah, followed by their unapologetic 2008 Shameless, a GMS blend. Vihuela offered a euphonic 2007 Concierto del Rojo, a blend of Syrah, Merlot and Petit Verdot, their 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (tempered with 20% Petit Verdot), and the Syrah-based 2007 Incendio, a wine that is set to music.

Peter Paul Wines is a serious viticultural endeavor, not the remaining ⅔ of a popular folk group; though far from mellifluous to pronounce, their 2008 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Mill Station Road drank euphoniously. And juxtaposed here purely by coincidence, Mara Winery harmonized its range of vintages with the 2009 Whitegrass (a Sauvignon Blanc), their 2006 Zinfandel Dolinsek, and the proprietary 2008 Syrage, a Syrah rounded with traditional Meritage varietals.

Counting down to my finish, I very much liked the 2006 Dry Creek Syrah from Peña Ridge. Plymouth’s Sobon Estate struck gold, metaphorically, with their 2007 Syrah. Thorne Wines from Buellton successfully staked its reputation with the single wine it produces, the 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills. And Tulip Hill pleased the palate with their Lake County bottling of the 2008 Zinfandel Dorn Vineyard.

A number of variables still remained. I opted for Yorba Wines’ chilled 2009 Touriga Rosé. And a much-needed touch of sweetness came from Voss Vineyards2005 Botrytis Sauvignon Blanc. In contrast, Napa-based Vitus focused on more mainstream bottlings: the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and 2007 Merlot, along with their notable 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. And X Winery (the name represents the letter, not the Roman numeral or multiplication sign) summed up the tasting with its 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, alongside two proprietary blends: the 2006 Amicus (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot) and the 2008 Red X (Syrah, Tempranillo, Grenache, Zinfandel).
In closing, allow me to enumerate once more. Two days. Ten hours. 342 wineries. 1700 professional attendees each day (plus an untabulated head count for Sunday’s public portion). My personal tally: at least 76 wineries visited and over 155 wines sampled.
Don’t get me wrong. Family Winemakers is a wonderful conclave, one I have enjoyed long before I launched Sostevinobile. Now that I am attending in a trade capacity, it poses an invaluable resource for the wine program I am building. And while I would not go as far as labeling the numbers stifling, the event is far too large derive any notion of atmosphere or experience beyond the marathon of tasting as many wines as can be fit into the timeframe. And so, in order to depict the enormity of the experience, my craft as a Creative Writer must defer to the mathematical training I long ago abandoned. Word count: 3315.

Down by the river

“Why here? Why not Oklahoma? There you have a vast, infertile wasteland, in serious need of redecorating, with an overabundance of leather and petroleum-based products.”
—Chandler Fong, The Straight of Messina

People who know Your West Coast Oenophile not as a wine connoisseur but as a playwright will readily recognize my disdain for the Sooner State. Not that I have a lot of experience with this dreary panhandle—in truth, I have been there only once, and that was part of an ill-fortuned cross-country drive. Apart from that, I know that both Leon Russell and Will Rogers hail from parts therein; an array of Native American tribes were, at various times, dispossessed and forced to live in the Oklahoma Territories; they have a perennial football powerhouse disguised as an institute of higher learning; and Holly Hunter portrayed a detective from OKC who singlehandedly (or double-buttocksly) managed to keep nudity alive on cable television in the aftermath of Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction.

My almanac informs me that Oklahoma actually has two of fifty largest cities in the United States (of course, size ceased to be the principal determinant of what constitutes a major city long before San Jose outpaced San Francisco in the population department). Anyway, even though the folks who live in Oklahoma City and Tulsa likely believe there are myriad differences from each other that are both pronounced and manifest, from 1,500+ miles away they are indistinguishable.

The moral of this story, so to speak, is that almost anyone east of the Nevada state line just as likely sees us as a homogeneous blur, as well, one great big flake of a state that can be summed up in a single, pithy paragraph. And most certainly, anyone outside of œnophilic circles sees the wine country as a singular region possessed of few, if any, distinguishing variants. 

The folks from Napa and Sonoma will beg to tell you differently, and so I found myself this past weekend journeying north to Sonoma for the Russian River Valley’s annual Grape to Glass festivities. Basically, this is a three-day, “what makes Sonoma a special destination” extravaganza, focused on, as one might expect, the premium wines of the RRV sub-appellation, as well as the culinary bounty of nearby growers, producers and restaurateurs. Throw in sightseeing, cycling, and recreational activities (swimming, canoeing, topless kayaking) on the Russian River, and festival promoters should know they made a pretty persuasive case for the allure of their special corner of this state.

A Frigid Friday Fiesta

OK, so I didn’t quite leave when I had planned, which may or may not have allowed me to elude the numerous pockets of traffic snarls I encountered along the stretch of Highway 101 from San Francisco to Santa Rosa, where the first formal event of the weekend was being held at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek, the same hotel where the Green Wine Summit has taken place the past two Decembers. Granted, it may take me a few tries to nail down which exit to take and such, but the third time is usually the charm. Just in case, however, the weather gods apparently conspired to make this evening feel like December, just so I wouldn’t mistake my destination.

I managed to arrive at In Concert with the Artisans with about ¾ hour to the wine tasting portion of the evening, barely enough time to engage all the wineries I had targeted to add to my roster for Sostevinobile. And while readers know it is my wont to comment on each of the wines that impress me at the various events I attend, the true focus of this weekend wasn’t to highlight individual expressions of Pinot Noir, Syrah, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay—the mainstays of the Russian River Valley—nor the wide array of Italian, Bordelaise and Rhône varietals that also flourish in pockets throughout the AVA, but to showcase the panoply of the region and the warmth of its denizens.

In this vein, the organizers of Grape to Glass chose not to isolate individual wineries but to cluster individual varietals in tandem with one of their featured chefs, creating little oases of food and wine at key points along the Hyatt’s rear lawn. Chef Christopher Greenwald from Bay Laurel Culinary prepared a Pulled Jerk Chicken Baguette accentuated by a Habañero Pepper Slaw to anchor the wines featured at the Chardonnay Garden. This stop allowed me to reacquaint myself with C. Donatiello and Lynmar while introducing me Duckhorn’s Migration label and the considerable appeal of Jim & Kristina Landy’s eponymous boutique production of their 2008 Estate Chardonnay Russian River Valley.

The Surprising Whites Garden featured an extraordinary Ahi Poke Tuna Salad alongside the bounty of Sonoma’s renowned aquaculture, barbecued Tomales Bay Oysters from Chef Nellie Gamez of Nellie’s Oysters. The spiciness of her Pizole, a Mexican-style pork stew perfectly complemented the 2006 Dry Gewürztraminer Russian River Valley from Zmor Winery, as well as the more austere expressions of 2006 Sauvignon Blanc Shanti Vineyard from Suncé and the 2008 Pinot Gris Russian River Valley from Fred Hansen’s Tremani Wines.

Executive Chef Richard Whipple from the Brasserie at the Hyatt held his home field advantage with a pair of pasta preparations, and a nicely executed Prosciutto Wrapped Melon that accompanied the selections of Pinot Noir Garden I. Longtime familiars like Ketcham Estate, Benovia, and the Bacigalupi family’s John Tyler Wines poured alongside the 2008 Pinot Noir Schneider Vineyard from the very whimsical Thumbprint Cellars and Graton Ridge’s 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley.

I suppose my misspent youth in the Greater New York Area must have exposed me to Puerto Rican cuisine at some point; nonetheless, El Coquí’s Jacqueline Roman’s fare was quite the revelation Pollo al Horno, described as “baked chicken thigh with Puerto Rican-style Spanish Rice, red beans and sweet plantains.” not only proved quite filling but demanded to be washed down with such wines as Mueller’s 2006 Old Vine Zinfandel and the 2006 Zinfandel Rosenberg Vineyard—Porky’s Patch from Sapphire Hill that anchored the table for Zinfandel Garden II.

From there, It didn’t take much effort to lean over and sample the Pulled Pork Sliders from Larry Vito Catering. I bypassed my chance sample his featured Mini Memphis Pork Spare Ribs, which I can safely guess would have just as easily complemented the pours from Syrah Garden, like the 2007 Syrah Russian River Valley from Davis Family Vineyards or the fraternal duo, the 2007 Syrah Rosé and 2005 Syrah, from Lauterbach Cellars.

The pairing of Josh Silver’s Syrah Bistro with Pinot Noir Garden II sounds almost as incongruous as serving their Watermelon Gazpacho during this sub-Arctic summer, but indeed their Liberty Farm Duck & Mushroom Ragoût provided a perfect pairing for the assorted Pinots being sampled here from Russian Hill Estates, TR Elliott, Hook & Ladder, and Twomey Cellars, among others.

My final stop took me to Zinfandel Garden I, where I fortified myself for the remainder of the event by filling a plate with the Shaved Roast Beef with Caramelized Onion & Blue Cheese from Jack and Tony’s of Santa Rosa. Wine choices here included the ever-reliable Joseph Swan Winery with their 2005 Zinfandel Trenton Station Vineyard, Harvest Moon’s 2006 Zinfandel Russian River Valley and the 2006 Zinfandel Francis Vineyard from Matrix, whose owner Diane Wilson knows more than a few things about this varietal.

Also at this table, Old World Winery poured their 2004 Zinfandel Laughlin Vineyard, a wine I happily sampled. My ostensible purpose, however, in saving this stop for last was to connect with winemaker Darek Trowbridge, who had offered me use of his family’s guest house in Healdsburg and arranged my attendance at the numerous Grape to Glass events. I’d like to say his generosity was extraordinary, but the weekend ultimately showed me that such gestures are endemic to the whole region. We joined Darek’s cousin Lee Martinelli of Martinelli Winery at their VIP table, where food and libations continued for throughout the concert portion of the evening.

Tenor Nick Palance, a former star of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, has been heralded as the “American Boccelli.” Despite the frigid air, he performed for nearly two hours from his Angel Heart repertoire, with songs ranging from Verdi arias to show tunes from Andrew Lloyd—Webber to campy classics like That’s Amore. Though vocally compelling, Palance seemed to be articulating more by rote than a comprehension of the Italian lyrics in many of his selections. Stylish vocalist Lindsey Scott delivered her counterpoint to their duets with a nuance and subtlety that tended, at times, to upstage Palance; clearly, her solo arias manifested true operatic flair. Nonetheless, both performers and their superb instrumentalists clearly enthralled their captivated audience (even those of us who regard musical theater as the nadir of the American stage).

I remained for a portion of the reception that followed, engaging both artists and artisan winemaker until I felt safe enough to brave the stretch of 101 up to Healdsburg. The solitude of a cottage (with a cozy garage space for my Corolla), an outlet to recharge my iPhone, and a semi-firm mattress soon had me horizontal and ready for the morning bicycle trek.

So this is what a Saturday morning looks like?

I am not an AM person, most definitely not on weekends, but the prospect of a sunny morning ride through downtown Healdsburg was enough to get me out the door, sans caffeine, before 9. Instead, I was greeted by 60°F and drizzle, not exactly what I had signed on for. I was supposed to meet up with my fellow cyclists at the Healdsburg Farmers Market, a Saturday morning extravaganza that featured Zucchini car races amid an abundance of local produce and a throng of local denizens who seemingly make this excursion a weekly ritual.

Much like downtown Yountville in Napa, Healdsburg has transformed itself over the past couple of decades into a gourmet and travel destination, the culinary heart of Sonoma. I confess that I am still adjusting from my familiarity with the town in the 1980s, when it seemed you were just as likely to find a hitching post for your horse as an available parking slot. These days, the east side of 101 abounds with world class restaurants, specialty shops and spas, and perhaps more offsite tasting rooms than anyplace else in California. It would be hard to imagine a John Deere tractor rolling down Healdsburg Avenue in 2010.

Healdsburg’s temple to the Slow Food Movement, Zazu, garnered national attention just a few days ago, as it was announced that chef/owner Duskie Estes had been selected to compete on TV’s Iron Chef. News of this accolade, as well as our mutual Brunonian background, came only when I had begun my background research for this entry; this morning, Duskie was merely our tour leader, grinding out a loop through the heart of Healdsburg, as she led a dozen or so of my fellow intrepid cyclists on an excursion that was anything but Iron Man-level. 

From the Farmers Market, we headed east for 0.1 miles to Costeaux, a local institution since 1923. The irrepressible Margaret Hansen held court, so breathlessly spinning the history of this award-winning bakery that even a first-time visitor would come away believing in its inextricable role in the very existence of the town. Gathering baguettes for the luncheon we would create at the end of this ride, our caravan proceeded yet another 0.1 miles Center Street’s Cheese Shop for lunch’s cheese serving (I missed the discourse as I waited in line next door at Flying Goat Coffee for my obligatory java jolt).
Testing the mettle of her riders, Duskie next led us for what may have even clocked 0.5 miles on the odometer to Seghesio, the multi-generational winery known for its Zinfandels and Italian varietals. The tour, of course, included a brief wine tasting, as well as a sampling of their housemade salumi. Carryalls and bottles of their 2009 Pinot Grigio were bestowed on each of us before we migrated over to the verdant cornucopia known as Ed’s Garden, the actual focus of our stop.

Exiting the building, we were met by matriarch Rachel Ann Seghesio, with whom I shared stories of Italian upbringing as she led our group to the expansive vegetable garden her brother-in-law Ed Seghesio tends. Amid the tomatoes, melons, and herbs he cultivates, we stumbled upon berry fronds adorning his asparagus plants! Though appearing edible, these berries can be quite noxious—hardly the aim of a culinary tour! Thankfully, neither the berries nor the asparagus itself made our list of ingredients, so after gathering some basil and heirlooms, we wandered back to observe Ed’s storied 100-year-old fig tree, his bellwether for predicting the grape harvest.

A final stop took us out for 0.2 miles to the organic fruit and vegetable stand known as Love Farms, where we harvested grapes and selected melons that would complete the amazing repast Duskie would assemble for us at Relish Culinary Adventures, a cooking lab and school a few yards from where this cycling marathon began. After plying us with hand-blended Bellinis, we were fêted with Melon and Prosciutto Salad, deftly assembled from the numerous ingredients we had collected throughout the morning. An intrepid few of us completed the tour by ambling afterward across the parking lot to sample Pinot Noir and Chocolate at the La Crema Tasting Room, then dispersed for our afternoon seminars.

A river runs through it.
With four different presentations from which to choose, I elected to attend the afternoon session at the Trowbridges’ main house alongside the bank of the Russian River. As before, my hosts could not have been more accommodating. By now, the sun had actually broken through, ambient warmth to accompany an outdoor catered affair, with Russian River wines from Old World Winery, Hop Kiln and Pelligrini. After sipping and socializing, guest sat down to a trio of presentations from Darek, vineyard consultant Marc Greenspan of Advanced Viticulture, and Pelligrini winemaker Kevin Hamel, each assaying how the topography and climate of the Russian River Valley contributes to the special character of the AVA’s wines.

I typically think of modifications to natural structures as depleting their resources, such as the California Aqueduct’s siphoning off of river flow to the San Francisco Bay, increasing the salinity and subsequently impacting the entire ecosystem. It surprised me to learn that, in its unaltered state, the Russian River held far less flow and was deemed unnavigable until construction of the Potter Valley Project to divert water via a tunnel from the Eel River in Mendocino. Of course, this diversion presents its own share of undesirable impact, but largely has enabled the Russian River Valley to establish itself as an agricultural center, as well as sustain a human habitat and major recreational area.

With a billing like that, it became compulsory to amble down to the river. With memories of rolling kayaks in the Connecticut River during undergraduate days, I wisely left my iPhone and Bluetooth behind with my sneaker and shirt before embarking on a two-man kayak run with one of my fellow attendees. The bend in the river actually slowed the current to a meager crawl where we launched, so it was relatively effortless to paddle upstream to take in the stunning scenery. A perfect way to top off the afternoon, to be sure, and ready ourselves for the evening’s banquet.

The Hog in the Fog

The culmination of Grape to Glass has always meant euphoria to carnivores and œnophiles alike. The Hog in the Fog banquet married 56 Russian River Valley wineries to a bounty of food from local growers and restaurateurs. Nestled among the oaks and carved totems (see below) at Richard’s Grove in Saralee’s Vineyard—in many ways, the backbone of the RRV appellation, this self-billed Festival of Plenty could easily have sufficed with the wine tasting and appetizer prelude. With produce and condiments from Kozlowski Farms and Martinelli’s orchards, cheeses from Redwood Hill, and enticing tapas from Healdsburg’s Chef Mateo Granados and nationally acclaimed John Ash (I couldn’t pull myself away from the Roast Duck Medallion canapés), I needed the wine tasting just to fortify myself for the sit-down barbecue that featured tortillas, tomato salad, vegetable salad, multicolored watermelon, pie, roasted chicken, New York steak, and the centerpiece, Gleason Ranch Pork with Seghesio’s Family Rub.

Each of the wineries from Friday’s In Concert with the Artisans returned, along with many other familiars. Almost immediately, I found myself reconnecting with Eva Dehlinger and regaling in her 2008 Pinot Noir Golden Ridge. Acorn Winery did not bring their Dolcetto, much to my chagrin, but both the 2007 Sangiovese Alegrîa Vineyard and their 2007 Zinfandel Alegría Vineyard proved quite pleasing. Eric Hall’s Roadhouse Winery poured an impressive 2008 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, as did the genial folks from Ancient Oak, along with their 2008 Chardonnay Sonoma County.

I enjoyed the 2005 Syrah Russian River Valley from Longboard Vineyards, a winery I had been long longing to try, while Inspiration Vineyards2007 Viognier Russian River Valley proved a welcome diversion to the orthodoxy of most of the white wines on hand. After that, my tasting notes become quite sketchy, though I know I managed to sample a variety of wines from Benovia, Balletto, Williams Selyem, Suacci Carciere, Robert Rue, and Papapietro Perry. And for the numerous other wineries with whom I could not connect, know that it was a matter of satiety, not neglect.

The end of the dinner coincided with a love auction to benefit the Agriculture program at Forestville’s El Molino High School. One lucky attendee won the raffle for Keys to the Cellar, a fully-stocked wine cellar that, unfortunately, did not become mine. After the auction, local rockabilly band Quarter Mile Combo, though not quite as “saxy” as Portland’s Quarterflash, had the crowd on its feet. I managed to traipse a few with Joseph Swan’s Lynn Berglund, who rewarded me with a preview of their unreleased 2008 Tannat, a varietal that is garnering much attention and new plantings. The nighttime chill began to set in, but it felt too soon to call it an evening.

Aftermath

I stayed past the closing to help Lee Hodo, the marketing manger for theRussian River Valley Winegrowers, load dozens of loand Bonzai plants inthe back of her station wagon, only to find myself the last vehicleparked next door at Sonoma-Cutrer. I pulled into downtown Healdsburg and found my way to Spoonbar in the new h2hotel. Before capping the night with a B&B (I needed something besides wine at this point), I ran into developer Merritt Sher, who also built the Hotel Healdsburg, which anchors the downtown renewal. Along with Cyrus and Barndiva, the hotel’s Dry Creek Kitchen has defined modern Healdsburg as a culinary destination; still, judgment on the merits of transforming this formerly bucolic setting into Hamptons-style resort rests with the people who live and work in the Russian River Valley, not me.

I bypassed Sunday’s Bubbles & Pixels brunch at premier sparkling winemaker Iron Horse Vineyards in order to arrive on time for Family Winemakers back in San Francisco. Much to my chagrin, the warm, sunny weather I had hoped to find finally did make an appearance, just as I was loading my Trek bicycle back into the Corolla. Allora!

What Healdsburg may have lacked in radiant heat this weekend was more than mitigated by the personal warmth of everyone I encountered. I could not more appreciative of the generosity I received. 

And what of the Napa/Sonoma dichotomy? Granted, Napa has its Lake Berryessa, Sonoma its river and its coast. Napa has Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet, Sonoma has Pinot and Chard. Everyone has Zinfandel and everyone has an experience to offer that reflects the special character of their place. It isn’t a matter of substance over style, quantity versus quality. At the risk of sounding like an existentialist, it just is—which is OK. As in “okay.” Not Oklahoma.

Incongruity

One of the more memorable scenes from Sideways has Miles, in his uniquely desultory fashion, scarfing down some ungodly fast food meal while pouring his prized 1961 Cheval Blanc (ironically, a blend of Cabernet Franc and—mon dieu!—Merlot) into a styrofoam cup. I’m sure many wine purists found the whole notion utterly incongruous, if not appalling. Like inviting a Scientologist to address the Prometheus Society .

On the other hand, there is the perspective of trying to make wine applicable to any situation, from the most meager meal to the most ornate banquet, from the most celebratory setting to the bleachers at a ball game. Many years ago, when I visited the Franzia plant in Manteca, I was compelled to wear an industrial hardhat throughout the tour,as if I were a blue collar construction manager. As Operations Manager Lou Quaglia bellied up to the tasting bar, looking more like Teamsters than wine connoisseurs, I commented, “you know, the day this image doesn’t seem like an anomaly is the day the California wine industry will have truly arrived.”

And therein lies my dilemma. Your West Coast Oenophile left the cozy confines of T.A.P.A.S. at Fort Mason last Saturday to attend A Single Night, Single Vineyards at C. Donatiello, which first required pedaling back up the hill to Pacific Heights, “recovering,” showering, changing, then driving to Sonoma. I, of course, had lingered far longer than anticipated the first tasting, but with the Healdsburg event scheduled to run until 10 pm, I figured I had plenty of time to mingle with the winemakers pouring there. Or so I thought.

Just slightly overshooting the most expedient exit off US 101 meant I arrived at the winery around 8:30 pm. Instantly, I was taken back twenty years, when this facility was known as Belvedere, where I had contracted my first professional bottling for Spectrum HoloByte Wines, a promotional label I developed for this software gaming legend. Any sense of serenity or nostalgia, however, was quickly dispelled, as the pounding rhythms from the DJ and the amplified, hyperkinetic exhortations of an auctioneer filled the amphitheater with a cacophony more reminiscent of a disco floor than a winery.

Now, I have no problem with an auction, especially if it’s for a worthwhile cause (the El Molino High School Agriculture Department). It’s just that I was ill-prepared for the evening to be on a preset schedule that limited the time the participating vineyards would be pouring. So, as the tasting portion of the evening gave way to the clamor and the gavel, I found I missed on the major impetus of Sostevinobile’s presence at this event—the chance to sample wine and mingle with the new generation of winemakers on hand.

My hostess for the evening could not have been more gracious in understanding my plight. Cailyn McCauley of Creative Furnace, the promotions firm who staged this tasting, set me up with a private tasting of the remaining wines on hand, including my own personal wine docent. Ambassador extraordinaire from Greg La Follette’s Tandem Winery, Simone Sequeira represents the kind of vibrant, young œnophile that Sostevinobile only wishes could constitute the dominant paradigm. Totally immersed in the marvels and details of the local wine industry, she guided me point by point through each of the wines that had been reserved for the wine-by-the-glass portion of the evening.

We commenced lightly, of course, with the inaugural 2009 Estate Pinot Grigio Russian River Valley from D & L Carinalli, truly a refreshing start to a late spring evening far more clement than recent nights in San Francisco had been. From there we moved onto a pair of Chardonnays, first the house brand, the 2009 Healdsburg Cellars Chardonnay (C. Dontiello’s holdover second label from its Belvedere phase) and a remarkable 2008 Chardonnay Russian River Valley from Graton Ridge, lush, heavy wine weighing in at 14.5% alcohol.

Many of my colleagues map out large, multi-winery tastings by color, white to pink to red, followed by dessert wines. Given the constraints of time, I tend to taste winery by winery, but may reevaluate this strategy as Sostevinobile nears the point of actual wine acquisitions. Thus noted, Simone and I moved onto a pair of rosé selections. Windsor Oaks prefers to label their extraction of Pinot Noir the 2008 Vin Gris, whereas Benovia made its presence known with their 2009 Rosé of Pinot Noir, both well-restrained and compelling wines that yearned for food complements (my nonetheless excellent grilled Portabello mushroom sandwich did not pair with these light wines).

Maybe I should have saved my sandwich for the trio of Pinots that followed. Porter Creek bills their fare as “Original Wines of Great Purity,” farming in accord Aurora certified organic practices, with a craft that was obvious from the first sip of their 2007 Estate Pinot Noir. Moshin Vineyards their usual aplomb with their 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, while Santa Rosa’s Ancient Oak Cellars offered their offshoot 2008 47 Friends Pinot Noir.

The west side of Sonoma also excels at Zinfandel, as I have documented numerous times in this blog. Even though I had previously sampled the 2006 Estate Zinfandel from Ottimino at ZAP this past January, it somehow tasted better in this limited forum. And Matrix Winery, part of Diane Wilson’s burgeoning conglomerate, showed nicely with their 2007 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley.
Of course, the tasting did require a couple of atypical wines for the AVA. I regret that I missed out on the 2008 Arneis Russian River Valley that Seghesio poured earlier in the evening, but I was treated to the enormously satisfying 2006 Sangiovese Alegría Vineyards that Acorn Winery produced from a field blend of seven different Sangiovese clones, along with 1% each of Canaiolo and Mammolo. Not to be outmixed, Foppiano, a winery established in 1896, the year my grandfather was born in Avellino, offered its own occasional blend, the Lot 96 Bin 002, a proprietary red wine made from 28% Sangiovese, 19% Petite Sirah, 17% Zinfandel, 14% Carignane, 10% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Cabernet Franc.

As the evening wound down, Cailyn introduced me to one of the up & coming winemakers featured earlier in the evening. Dominic Foppoli and I exchanged a few pleasantries in Italian while we sipped on his 2007 Reserve Chardonnay Russian River Valley, a wine completely devoid of oak and solely expressive of its grape. An exceptional wine, this vinification is clearly a standard for the new generation of Chardonnay in California (though I will unabashedly aver that a well-crafted, oaky Chard like the Graft Ridge I had sampled earlier in the evening, maintains its rightful place, as well).

One day in the next few months, I will attain the distinction of having maintained a beard for twice as long as I’ve “faced” the world with a pre-hirsute visage. This milestone may well have placed me at diametric odds with the majority of the crowd at A Single Night, Single Vineyards. Clearly this evening’s gathering focused on the age bracket pop sociologists term “the Millennials,” the next cadre of wine drinkers who portend to become the mainstay of Sostevinobile’s future clientele, and while there is a universality to wine that transcends generational differences, certain cultural trends and philosophical adherences stand beyond my ability (or willingness) to incorporate into my own lifestyle. “Why have sex when you can have virtual sex?” may be too strident a condemnation of social networking, but most Baby Boomers will catch my drift.

To put this matter another way, let me defer to Katey Bacigalupi of John Tyler Wines, whom I’ve previously cited in this blog. As she told The Press Democrat, “You don’t necessarily have to be a millennial to know a millennial as a human being, but when it comes to more in-depth topics like buying habits, preferences, music choices, et cetera, it definitely helps. I think one of the things that defines our generation much more than any other is technology and how we use it. Information is so much more available and constant than it ever has been before.”

Point well taken, and let me be unequivocal in stating that Sostevinobile will address the particular needs and wants of this demographic—along with the comfort and service of all our customers—as a paramount consideration as we develop our operations, but nonetheless this event posed an interesting paradox.

Succinctly put, the portion of the evening I attended struck me as a bit antithetical, a pulsating, near-deafening dance scene I would normally associate with Margaritas and shots of Jägermeister, more akin to a Saturday afternoon mob along the Esplanade in Capitola than a wine gathering in Sonoma. But wherein lies the resolution? Is it the desire to make the crowd more amenable to the conventional tenor of the wine world or is it to make wine more appealing to a broader range of events and celebrations? Is there a happy medium?

For now, I see no easy answer. An event like A Single Night, Single Vineyards or anything that opens up the world of wine to more people ought to be seen as an asset, and (from the standpoint of enlightened self-interest) certainly a trend Sostevinobile should see fit to embrace. And while the merger of two such disparate elements may not rise to the level of a dialectic, I am ever-mindful that the unequaled largesse that the late Sidney Frank bestowed on my graduate institute derived from his success in mass-marketing frozen shots of the above-mentioned Jäger. 
I know I will still be wrestling with these inherent contradictions for months to come. But still, wine at 120 dB? An utter incongruity.

One I missed. The other I made.

There can be a considerable downside to the simplicity of Copy & Paste. Your West Coast Oenophile is starting to realize that the pressures of trying to handle all the needs of Sostevinobile can sometimes cause me to overlook small but important details when I transfer information to my iCal datebook. Like the word preceding the calendar date—the month.
Perhaps I should blame my oversight on my attendance at Rock Wall’s Spring Fling Open House. The weather was perfect Saturday (something Rock Wall always seems to conjure for their major events); the salsicce spicy and enticing; the bevy of Tibetan nursing students who arrived at the tail end of the event alluringly beautiful; the usual suspects—wineries who regularly participate in these quarterly gatherings—there in force. Carica Wines, Ehrenberg , R&B Cellars all poured essentially the same lineup I had tasted at my most recent visit and reviewed here.
Of the new wines I tasted, John Robert Eppler’s JRE label showed notable progress with their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford. Matt Smith, with whom I had recently participated on one of the Connoisseur’s Guide to California Wine Tasting Panels, poured several releases from his Blacksmith label, including his 2008 Torrontés, a nostalgic 2008 Chenin Blanc and his Syrah, Grenache/Cabernet Sauvignon blend, the 2006 Hephaestus. Good always to see Sasha Verhage with his redesigned labels for his Eno Wines; inside the bottle, the 2007 Mr. Fix-It (Syrah) and 2007 The Change Agent (Grenache) lingered longest on the memory.
Rock Wall also debuted several wines, including the 2008 Cabernet Franc Holbrook Mitchell, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Holbrook Mitchell, a Sonoma County 2008 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, and the 2008 Zinfandel Reserve. The true revelation of the afternoon, however, was the much-anticipated 2008 Montepulciano Contra Costa County. A distinct varietal, not to be confused with the Sangiovese-based Italian wine of the same name, I have enjoyed this wine only twice before from other California wineries. This 88-case bottling sold out in less than a week (I did my part by returning to the tasting table several times) and truly stand as a harbinger of the risorgimento of Italian varietals on the West Coast (more on this phenomenon later).
Following the Spring Fling, I rushed back to San Francisco to order online passes to the Vinify Winery Collective Tasting in Santa Rosa. With my e-confirmation safely logged into my iPhone, I mapped out an itinerary, arranged appointments in Glen Ellen and Kenwood, then headed out from San Francisco before my usual wake-up time on Sundays.When my companion and I arrived at the industrial complex on Coffey Lane where Vinify houses its custom crush operations, the parking lot seemed eerily empty. Sure enough, Vinify’s front door was locked and neither Hillary Lattanzio nor her husband Matt were answering their phones. The sun was sweltering, Dongzhe was impatient, and I was flummoxed.

I had noticed, as we entered, that Carol Shelton operated her tasting room from another one of the complex’s warehouses. Determined that our trip not become a total wash, I pulled up to her window, hoping to fulfill a long-standing promise to visit her operations. Unfortunately, Carol was off pouring at a tasting in Southern California, but her Hospitality Manager Joanne Emery was more than happy to accommodate us. A check of my Webmail account from Joanne’s computer affirmed that our party was in fact scheduled for the last Sunday in May, so we mollified our frustration with a rather comprehensive survey of Carol’s current releases, starting with her 2008 Rendezvous Rosé, a blush expression of 100% Carignane.
I skipped past a couple of her Zinfandels I had sampled recently, settling first for the 2005 Wild Thing Zin, a much-awarded bottling smoothed by 10% Carignane. The 2006 Rocky Reserve Zin, a bold, signature Rockpile showcased Carol’s considerable repute for this varietal, as did her perennial favorite, the 2005 Karma Zin. Rockpile’s special allure figured prominently in the 2007 Petite Sirah Rockpile Reserve, while the 2005 Exhale Syrah Reserve derived from a rare second bottling of a wine that had been left in cask for over four years.
My readers, fans of Sostevinobile, and our future clientele all know how I am constantly seeking out different and obscure varietals to add to our inventory. The lineup at Carol’s tasting room yielded just such a discovery with her 2008 Sweet Caroline, a late harvest wine crafted from Trousseau Gris. We closed our visit with a taste of Dark Chocolate and the 2008 Black Magic, a late harvest Zinfandel, a fitting cap to our impromptu stop.
I have been building the wine program for Sostevinobile for nearly two years, building on an extensive involvement in the California wine industry since 1982. During this development, I have reached out to and sampled wines from 2,000 or so labels along the West Coast; as such, it seems a natural extension of my research to provided consulting services to other ventures on their wine program, particularly in helping them gain more of a focus on the bounty of wines we have available at our own doorstep. In search of assisting a small group of Italian restaurants incorporate a selection of Italian varietals grown here for their wine list, we headed across Sonoma County to the Kenwood tasting room Michael Muscardini had opened.
Michael couldn’t meet us, owing to a charitable obligation, but we were ably guided through the selections by Tasting Room Manager George Delano. We started off with the 2009Rosato di Sangiovese, a bone-dry expression of the grape I look forward to comparing with other Rosé wines at the Pink Out SF tasting next week. Next up were the 2008 Barbera Pauli Ranch from Ukiah and the 2008 Sangiovese Monte Rosso Vineyards, one of several Sangiovesi Muscardini produces. We could not resist contrasting the 2007 Syrah Gracie Creek with the 2007 Syrah Unti Vineyard before moving onto the 2007 Tesoro, a proprietary Super Tuscan with 58% Sangiovese from both Merlo and Favero Vineyards, plus 21% of Unti’s Syrah.
The 21% remaining to this bottling was Cabernet Sauvignon from Ty Caton, which now shares Muscardini’s tasting room. No Italian varietals here, but memories of working our way through a mixed case of these wines with The Ginkgo Girl last year spurred us to try several of his current offerings. Setting our palate fresh was his crisp 2009 Riesling from the Central Coast, followed by his very approachable 2009 Syrah Rosé. With a wide choice of vineyard designate reds to chose, we opted for the 2008 Petite Sirah Caton Vineyard, the 2008 Upper Bench Merlot, and the 2008 The Ridge George’s Malbec.
Of course, we could not leave without a taste of Caton’s crown jewel, the 2008 Tytanium, a well-balanced blend of 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Petite Sirah, 24% Syrah, and 9% Malbec. I had first tried the 2007 vintage of this wine last year at the Open House for Eighth Street Wineries in Sonoma, an industrial warehouse complex that houses the production facilities for Ty Caton and a handful of other boutique wineries like Three Stick, Kamen and Enkidu. I had recently sampled Enkidu’s superb inaugural Sangiovese, the 2008 Rosso Fazekas, at QuestPoint Solar Solutions’ Appreciation and Rejuvenation soirée at Green Zebra, and was happily surprised to discover their new tasting room adjacent to Muscardini. Alas, however, this wine was not on their tasting list, so we departed for a meal in Sonoma Square before returning to San Francisco.


My premature trek to the Vinify tasting made me all the more resolute to enjoy the Taste of Mendocino in the Presidio the following Tuesday.  If only the weather had decided to act as cooperative as it had in Alameda the preceding weekend! Within moments of leaving the Cow Hollow Fedex/Kinko’s, where I had dropped off the sunglasses Dongzhe had left under my car seat, I found myself caught in a downpour as I pedaled furiously over to the Golden Gate Club in the Presidio. I arrived thoroughly drenched, then spent the next 20 minutes seeking out a restroom with hot air hand blower to try drying my shirt!
When I finally did get myself to a point of appearing presentable, I beelined for the tasting room and caught up with Fred Buonanno, who was pouring his Philo Ridge. Though his name, like mine, begs for Italian varietals, Fred vinifies a more mainstream Mendocino varietal selection, with an elegant 2008 Pinot Gris Klindt Vineyard, the AVA signature 2006 CORO Mendocino, and his 2006 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley. Of course, the A-Z (Z-A?) in Mendocino wines decidely must be Fred Zmarzly’s Albertina Wine Cellars; an intimate, small production, single varietal operation, Albertina made an emphatic statement with their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, a 330 case bottling.
Content merely to span the Bs, Brutocao Cellars and Bliss Family Vineyards herald from a single proprietorship, the former being the primary label. The more affordable Bliss brand offered a straightforward lineup, with an approachable 2008 Pinot Noir an easy favorite. Brutocao’s 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley fell squarely in line with the overall excellence of this vintage throughout the West
Coast,while its 2006 Quadriga, a blend of 40% Sangiovese, 38% Primitivo, 18% Barbera, and 4% Dolcetto, provided a tantalizing glimpse of their Italian heritage wines that were not on this afternoon’s roster.
I don’t know of many wineries with the versatility to make an array of Sauvignon Blancs, but Chance Creek Vineyards certainly proved themselves quite adept in this niche. Of the three interpretation they poured, I greatly favored the 2006 95470 Sauvignon Blanc, while being slightly partial to the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc vs. the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc reserve. And, of course. I took quite a shining to their 2006 Sangiovese. The pinnacle of Italian varietals this afternoon, however, most certainty had to have been Chiarito Vineyard. Advance intimations of John Chiarito’s bottlings of several varietals unique to this region had lead a number of e-mail exchanges before the Mendocino event, and I was rewarded with tastings of his 2003 Negroamaro and his striking 2003 Nero d’Avola. To John’s credit, his 2007 Petite Sirah was no slouch, either.
I am always appreciative of a clever wine name, especially when the wine itself warrants attention, like the 2006 Sedulous from Rivino. I suppose the 18 months I have dedicated (so far) to building Sostevinobile’s wine program might qualify me for this moniker, as well, but Jason McConnell’s deft blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, with just a splash of Viognier, deserves the spotlight at this moment, alongside his superb 2007 Sangiovese. Meanwhile, the quaint family operations of Mariah Vineyards seemed to have posted a typo in the tasting guide, lisiting both a 2006 Syrah and a 2006 Syriah, but, indeed, the latter is a proprietary portmanteau (Syrah Mariah) and distinct bottling of but 51 cases, crafted by hand.
Kimmel Vineyards has nothing to do with late night comedy, just the production of a superb 2007 Merlot and an admirable 2007 Chardonnay. One might also suspect Naughty Boy Vineyards as well of having ties to Jimmy K., but is instead the domain of Jim & Emjay Scott and crafts a fine 2007 Dolcetto.
Diametrically opposite but without apparent sanctimony, Mendielle Vertu could easily have derived an esoteric name from owner Bently Luneau or winemaker Kian Tavakoli, but instead chose to honor Mendi, their ranch dog. Though focused on Merlot, with strongest showing from both their 2007 Proprietary Red Merlot and the 2007 Reserve Merlot, they flourished with their new 2008 Chenin Blanc. With as intense focus on Pinot Noir, Phillips Hill held forth with a trio of this varietal, the most definitive being their 2008 Ring of Fire Anderson Valley.
Claudia Springs also excelled with their 2005 Pinot Noir Klindt Vineyard, while also producing a 2009 Viognier Lolonis Vineyard and a 2009 Pinot Gris Klindt Vineyard. Coincidence? Foursight Wines brought along four Pinots, dominated by their 2007 Clone 05 Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard, and a companion 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Charles Vineyard.
Coming from opposite ends of the spectrum, two wineries showcased a single Chardonnay. Independent winery Demuth Kemos produced but a scant 96 cases of their 2008 Chardonnay Anderson Valley, while Constellation’s Mendocino Vineyards bottled 10,000 cases of its foray into organic viticulture, the 2009 Chardonnay. Other boutique proprietors included: Nelson Family Vineyards, notable for both their 2008 Pinot Grigio and 2008 Riesling; Cesar Toxqui, with a sturdy 2006 Zinfandel and a non-vintage Heirloom II, a blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot; and Drew Wines, with under 1,300 cases of their three Pinot Noirs, plus a memorable 2007 Syrah Perli Vineyard.
Dreyer Wine displayed its dual personality, with its Il Cuore line and one name for the thoroughbred who ran with such heart, Seabiscuit Ranch. I warmed to Seabiscuit’s 2006 Superfecta Red, a traditional Meritage, but had my greatest fondness for Il Cuore’s new release, the 2006 Barbera, along with their 2007 Rosso Classico, a blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Carignane. Meritage components starred at Le Vin Winery, which broke out their older 2002 Merlot and 2004 Cabernet Franc for this afternoon’s gathering.
Maple Creek Winery sees itself as a fusion of wine and art, so it should come as no surprise that they poured a 2008 Artezin Symphony, a grape that itself is a hybrid of Muscat and Grenache Gris. Their notable pour, however, was the 2005 Cowboy Red, a blend of Merlot, Zinfandel and Carignane.Its Mendocino compatrio
t, Trinafour Cellars, bottled straight 2009 Muscat Canelli and 2007 Carignane, along with their 2006 Petite Sirah.
Like Fred Zmarzly, Rosati Family is a Cab-only operation, bottling 1,000 cases each year; of the 3-year vertical they poured, the youngest, the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, stood out as the most complex. One of the oldest names in Mendocino winemaking, Weibel Family Winery, demonstrated its small lot varietals, a 200-case 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and a very approachable 2006 Zinfandel, bottled in the same quantity.
Of course, Weibel’s array of champagnes and flavored sparkling wines make it quite the substantial operation. I eschewed their NV Sparkelle for two of the leading méthode champenoise producers on hand, Scharffenberger, which poured its NV Brut Rosé, and the always-marvelous Roederer Estate, which indulged me in its 2002 L’Ermitage.
Following the sale of their family label to Brown-Forman, several of the 11 Fetzer offspring have started their own labels. Present today were both Saracina Vineyards, delighting with its 2006 Atrea Old Soul Red (Zinfandel, Syrah, Malbec, Petite Sirah) as well as its 2007 Petite Sirah, and Jeriko Estate, with its 2006 Pinot Noir and 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. Like their original venture, the Fetzer spinoffs all maintain a great fealty to organic and biodynamic farming, a hallmark of numerous Mendocino wineries, including Patianna, which shone with its organic 2008 Chardonnay, and organic pioneers Frey Vineyards, whose Katrina Frey regaled me with the 2007 Sangiovese, as had her daughter Eliza with the previous vintage just as I was formally embarking on Sostevinobile’s wine program.
As always, I never seem to find the time to taste every winery with whom I set out to connect and often miss out on ones with whom I would love to reconnect. I did manage to squeeze in a taste of Esterlina’s excellent 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley, along with their contrasting 2008 Riesling and 2008 Dry Riesling Cole Ranch. Edmeades offered a quartet of Zins, headlined by the 2007 Ciapusci Zinfandel. In turn, Elke Vineyard made its strongest impression with their pair of 2007 Pinot Noir Donnelly Creek and 2008 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley. I took in a quick tasting 2008 Pinot Gris and 2006 Riesling from McFadden Farm, along with their 2008 Sparkling, but somehow entirely missed both Meyer Family Cellars and Milano Family Winery (I will be sure to make amends at another date).
Had there been time to spare, I would have gladly caught up with old familiars like Lolonis, Navarro, Parducci, Bonterra, Barra, and Jaxon Keys, but, unfortunately, my unforeseen drenching en route to the event whittled away a significant portion of the time I had allotted. Fitting, therefore, that my finally tasting was the 2009 Chenin Blanc of Husch Vineyards. while my dampened attire did not lead to anything quite as dire as pneumonia, I did come down with a nasty bout of congestion and most unwelcome case of laryngitis, which kept me “hushed” for the next several days.