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Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec Merlot Petite Sirah Pinot Noir Pinotage Sauvignon Blanc Sauvignon Gris Syrah Uncategorized Viognier Zinfandel

Stags, Stag’s, Stags’ or Stagg?

While Your West Coast Oenophile still strives to maintain a 1:1 ratio of Resveratrol-to-Hemoglobin in my bloodstream, I also partake in a wide range of other alcoholic beverages from time-to-time, particularly at bars where the $16 Wine-by-the-Glass selection goes for $9.99 a bottle at BevMo and has been sitting, unpreserved, on the shelf since last Tuesday—know that none of this will ever happen at Sostevinobile! My tastes run from vodka and bourbon to tequila and scotch, with a refined mezcal or cognac or grappa doing the trick when I feel like being warmed up from the inside out. I am inordinately fond of single malts like Talisker or Oban and occasionally indulge in a dry martini, stirred not shaken (of late, the house variation at The Progress, with a touch of smoked Castelvetrano olive juice and rosemary oil, has been an especial favorite).

Of course, anyone who knows me will be aware that I am not content simply to indulge in others’ creations. Longtime readers of this blog will remember the Tai Da (太大) cocktail I concocted several years ago and introduced to a handful of bars in San Francisco. And for those with extremely long-term memories, there was the Fook Yu cocktail I created as a bartender at the legendary dim sum house on Clement Street. These days, I am pursuing the ultimate version of the venerable dark liquor equivalent of a martini, an atomic strength version I have dubbed The Manhattan Project. My quest still hinges on selecting the perfect handmade bitters to complement this recipe, along with exquisitely marinated cherries as a garnish. Without question, my vermouth of choice will be Quadys VYA Sweet Vermouth, and the base liquor will naturally be the highest proof I can find. If I were a strict traditionalist, I would have to go with a rye—the Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye Whiskey being the strongest commercially-produced bottling I know, clocking in at 129.2°. But I have to defer to parent company Buffalo Trace ’s remarkable 144.1° bourbon, the George T. Stagg.

Speaking of cervids, the taxonomical family that encompasses moose, elk, antelope and deer, I had the pleasure of attending the first San Francisco trade tasting for the Stags Leap District. Of course, the feud between Warren Winiarski’s Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Carl Doumani’s Stags’ Leap Winery is the stuff of legend, and while neither retains ownership of the winery they founded, the trade association has chosen, collectively, to be grammatically apostate and eschew any employment of the apostrophe. A most politic decision.

But when wines of this caliber are being poured, remaining neutral is hardly possible. 18 of the most prominent producers from the District poured at Jardinière in San Francisco’s Civic Center, and despite several having been subsumed by the leading wine conglomerates over the years, nearly all the wines maintained a uniform excellence. As is my wont, I began my session with the one winery I had not previously encountered on Sostevinobile’s watch. Ilsley Vineyards has been furnishing a number of highly prestigious wine labels with grapes since 1962, but only started producing their own label this century. Lacking winemaking facilities or a tasting room, it is a property I have driven by on Silverado Trail numerous times but completely bypassed. Not to be overlooked at this event, however, was their approachable 2015 JK Sauvignon Blanc. Even more striking, the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District was an impressive introduction to their red line, but the true standout this afternoon was the 2013 Seis Primas, a Malbec-focused Meritage, with 33% Cabernet Sauvignon and 13% Merlot blended in.

Lindstrom Wines is a label I had only recently discovered; nor, before this tasting, had I met Carol Lindstrom, only her distributor. Still, reacquainting myself with these wines proved propitious. The 2013 Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch seemed, frankly, rather anomalous for this event, but easily held its own with the numerous other bottlings from this Sonoma mainstay I have tasted throughout the year. Clearly Lindstrom’s forte came from its own Cabernet plantings and the capable hands of winemaker Celia Welch.. The 2010 Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon displayed a strong expression of the grape, nicely acting its age six years later, but the current release, the 2012 Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon truly showed a more seasoned vinification.

I was quite pleased to find Steltzner pouring here. Formerly a landmark among the Silverado Trail, they had sold their winery to Gavin Newsom’s Plump Jack empire, which drastically remodeled the facility and transformed it into Odette, a label that was curiously absent on this afternoon. Often, when such a takeover transpires, the original winery, despite claiming it would continue producing, soon closes down altogether, as when Roshambo sold its Russian River Valley premises to Twomey, at least for now, all seems to be business as usual for the Napa Valley’s only Pinotage producer. I, of course, would have been thrilled if they had poured their Sangiovese here, but more than happily settled for their Bordeaux variant., starting with a noteworthy 2013 Malbec Stags Leap District. The 2013 Martini Clone Cabernet Sauvignon, proved an excellent wine, redolent of the intensity and character expected with a Stag Leap Cab, but the 2013 Pool Block Cabernet Sauvignon most certainly was one of the afternoon’s true standouts. As a bonus, Steltzner also poured the inaugural release from their Bench Vineyards, the 2014 Circa 64, a deft blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with Petit Verdot and Malbec from the select family vineyard block planted 52 years ago.

A significant portion of Stags Leap has been acquired by a number of the megabrands in the wine industry, though with little or no diminution the wine’s historic quality. Crimson Wine Group has long held Pine Ridge, the Napa jewel in their tri-state conglomerate. Always consistent, their wines here this day furthered a sense that this workhorse may well be underappreciated. Their portion of the event started of amiably with the 2014 Dijon Clones Chardonnay, then segued to their 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District. I found myself rather partial to the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, but clearly favored the peak aging of their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District, a library selection.

I tend to think of Terlato primarily as a distributor for imported wines, as well as the holding company for such brands as Alderbrook and Sanford. I was only vaguely familiar with their eponymous label, produced in Stags Leap at their Rutherford Hill facility. Given my preconceptions, I was pleasantly surprised to find their 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District more than approachable; more intriguing, the 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap from their library selection demonstrated a well-qualified lineage for this particular label. I was, however, less sanguine about their cross-pollinated project poured here—the 2014 Galaxy White and the 2013 Galaxy Red . The former ineptly blends of Santa Rita Hills Viognier with Russian River Valley Chardonnay, then adds a dash of Sauvignon Blanc from the Napa Valley to putatively give this wine a regional balance; the latter melange of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot similarly attempts to fuse varietals harvested from different AVAs, albeit with greater focus.

Terlato also owns Chimney Rock, a striking landmark alongside Silverado Trail. Under these more recognizable auspices, the winery contrasted its 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District with the single-vineyard designate, their 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Tomahawk Vineyard. Most noteworthy here, however, was the 2014 Élévage Blanc, a distinctive blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris, of which Chimney Rock uniquely (in Napa) offers a single varietal bottling, as well.

The holdings of Clos du Val’s parent company may be less profuse than the Terlato empire, but it spans the globe, from California to Languedoc to Australia. Still, this Stags Leap winery owes its greatest acclaim to its inclusion in 1976’s legendary Judgment of Paris, as well as the French Culinary Institute Tasting of 1986, where it bested all the Cabernets from the previous tasting after aging 10 years. The wineries of Goelet Wine Estates are marked by their crossover varietals, and Clos du Val proved no exception, opening here with their accessible 2015 Chardonnay Carneros and then the vineyard-designate 2014 Pinot Noir Block 73. Still, forty years later, their standout was the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Hirondelle Vineyard, a true Stags Leap selection.

Of course, the AVA’s other representative in 1976 was the eventual winner, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. Owner Warren Winiarski sold his crown jewel a number of years ago to Château Ste. Michelle, Washington’s leading producer and conglomerate, which now operates the winery in partnership with Marchesi Antonori, the Italian producer famed for Solaia, Tignanello, and creation of the SuperTuscan designation. But no tinkering has been needed here, as the winery remains consistently excellent, as evidenced first by the 2014 Karia Chardonnay. Classical allusion befit their second label, represented admirably here with the 2014 Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, but clearly outshone by the highly nuanced, structured 2013 S. L. V. Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine that upheld its legend.

The rivalry between Stag’s Leap and Stags’ Leap seems to have quelled with Carl Doumani sale of his property to Treasury Wine Estates. Though his label seemed overshadowed by accolades accorded his justly-heralded neighbor, much as CK Mondavi was long subsumed by the Robert Mondavi label, Carl rightfully deserve recognition for spearheading Napa’s interest in Petite Sirah, now its second most popular red varietal planting. After showcasing their 2015 Viognier Napa Valley, the winery poured their justly reputed 2013 Ne Cede Malis, their flagship Stags Leap District Petite. Next up, the 2013 The Leap Estate Cabernet Sauvignon was remarkable drinkable for a wine so relatively young; in contrast, the 2009 The Leap Estate Cabernet Sauvignon showed a wine that had gloriously matured, yet with plenty of ageability to come.

After selling Stags’ Leap Winery, Carl opened the utterly eclectic Quixote along a shared driveway with Shafer. Here, of course, Petite Sirah reigned supreme without compromising Cabernet, as evidenced by the well-balanced 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District poured here. But Quixote’s œnological mastery came through with its 2011 Petite Syrah Stags Leap District and overwhelmed with the exquisite 2012 Petite Syrah Stags Leap District, a true star of this event.

Carl sold this winery to investors from China not too long ago but continues with a yet-to-be released project from his personal vineyard. Meanwhile, Shafer remains in family hands and continues to outdo themselves on a yearly basis. I had hoped Doug Shafer would be on hand this afternoon and sneak in some samples of his new Eighty Four Wines (the Albariño is phenomenal), but I had to “settle” for such splendid offerings as the 2014 Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay and an exquisite 2014 Merlot Napa Valley. Shafer’s coup de grâce, though, was easily its 2013 One Point Five Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine that begs to be laid down for at least 10 more years.

I cannot recall whether I’ve tried the wines from Silverado Vineyards since the untimely passing of proprietor Diane Disney Miller, but as this has never been a Mickey Mouse operation, the quality has remained consistent.I cottoned to their 2013 GEO Cabernet Sauvignon Coombsville (an AVA I wish would revive their trade tasting), and positively reveled in the 2013 SOLO Cabernet Sauvignon Stag Leap District.

I always seems to drop in on Baldacci Family Vineyards minutes after they close for tastings, so it was quite fortuitous to find them pouring here. Baldacci’s inornate, decidedly rustic setting seems a far cry from the showcase wineries that dot the Silverado Trail, yet belies the sophistication of their viticulture. I tend to think of this winery first for its white wines, and the superb 2014 Sorelle Chardonnay poured here did nothing to disappoint. So too did the 2013 Fraternity prove exemplary—normally blended with Syrah, this vintage was a straightforward mélange of Cabernet Sauvignon from their two estate properties (as well as a touch of Oakville fruit) with their estate Merlot. Meanwhile, their pure Stags Leap District selection, the 2013 Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon, proved their masterpiece.

Cavus Vineyards is a boutique winery that sources it fruit from less than two acres,, but enlists Jim Barbour as its Vineyard Manager and David Phinney as its consulting winemaker. The result is a stellar 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District, along with a Prisoner-like blend, its 2013 The Crane Assembly, an eclectic marriage of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. Another boutique operation, Malk Family Vineyards prides themselves as “the smallest producers of premium 100% hand-crafted Cabernet Sauvignon wine from the famous Stags Leap District.” Outside of their estate, however, they source Oak Knoll fruit for an exceptional 2015 Sauvignon Blanc; further out, their 2014 Pinot Noir Fort Ross-Seaview provides a deft expression of the Sonoma Coast. Back in their home AVA, the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District was a delightful wine on the verge of peaking, as was the 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

Sostevinobile can categorically state that there is no correlation between Taylor Family Wines and Taylor, the upstate New York jug wine behemoth that ultimately morphed into Constellation. Still, the overlap in names tends to obfuscate this seventh generation Napa clan’s label, even though their winemaking focus could not be more different. From their perch in Stags Leap, this Taylor produces an impressive array of varietal Cabernets from an array of Napa AVAs, including Stags Leap District, Rutherford, Diamond Mountain, and Atlas Peak. However, this afternoon led off with a striking 2014 Chardonnay, vinted from the Chardonnay Musqué clone, from the same vineyard that supplied Château Montelena’s winning entry in the Judgment of Paris. Contrasting Taylor’s 2013 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District with the 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District showed remarkably distinct wines, fruit-forward vs. restrained, yet both proved equally appealing. Their final offering, a proprietary mélange of Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc, the 2012 V VI VII Red Blend, mislead lead me. I took the name to indicate this was a progressive Solera from the last three vintages; in truth, it constitutes a tribute the 5th, 6th and 7th Napa generation of the Taylor family, all of whom work for the winery!

One of Stags Leap District’s more dominant players, Cliff Lede, owns both a winery estate and a luxury inn at the juncture of Silverado Trail and Yountville Cross Road, along with a second winery, FEL. in the Anderson Valley. At Jardinière this day, they poured a selection across the board from his holdings, starting with the indelible 2015 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley. I found the 2014 FEL Pinot Noir Anderson Valley better than adequate, but truly relished the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District. The artistic flair of the winemaking here shows full force with the vineyard designate Cabernet from the vineyards encompassing Cliff’s Poetry Inn, yearning for greatness in the 2013 Poetry and full achieving it with the library selection 2007 Poetry uncorked for this tasting.

Quietly, a burgeoning mini-empire has been emerging in Napa, with its roots in the Stags Leap District. In Calistoga, the eclectic Tank Garage Winery produces a line of eclectic wines, whimsical both in their labeling and their viticulture. Nearby, T-Vine Winery is a long-standing endeavor that early on open my eyes to a number of Rhône varietals, as well as fruit sourced from the Contra Costa Valley. Just below the Stags Leap District, James Cole Winery is a high-end, small production facility available only by subscription. Anchoring all of these is Regusci Winery, a rustic operation that heralds the old style Italian family wineries of a bygone era. I can still recall my first visit here meeting family patriarch Angelo Regusci, who every day would walk his dogs down to the tasting room and pick up two bottles—one red, one white—for the evening’s dinner fare.

The quaintness of this routine belied the sophistication of Regusci’s craft. Befittingly, their first pour came from the 2012 Patriarch, a refined blend of 58% Cabernet Sauvignon and 42% Merlot, with plenty of ageability ahead. On its own merits, the 2012 Merlot Stags Leap District proved even more impressive, while the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District could best be described as splendiferous. All these wines, however, paled in comparison to Regusci’s flagship, the gracefully aged 2001 Angelo’s Cabernet Sauvignon, perhaps the best wine overall for the afternoon. If he were alive, I’m sure Angelo would be carting off a bottle home tonight.

As a denizen of the wine trade, I have often bemoaned the decline of trade tastings these past few years. Seeing a new event, especially one consistent in its focus and the quality of its wines gives hope for a resurgence in what has long been a vital component to building the comprehensive wine program Sostevinobile proposes. This past month also saw the launch of a similar event from Napa’s Spring Mountain District, a remarkable maturation at Petaluma Gap’s second annual trade tasting, the naisence a fledgling collective known as New Mission Winemakers,  and the crowning dénouement for In Pursuit of Balance—all of which I hope to cover in subsequent installations.

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Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Carignane Chardonnay Colombard Gewürztraminer Grenache Marsanne Merlot Mourvèdre Muscat Canelli Petit Verdot Petite Sirah Pinot Blanc Pinot Grigio Pinot Gris Pinot Noir Pinotage Port Primitivo Riesling Rosé Roussanne Sangiovese Sémillon Sparkling Wine Syrah Tempranillo Tinta Barroca Tinta Cão Touriga Francesa Touriga Nacional Uncategorized Viognier Zinfandel

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!”

Categories
Alvarelhão Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Chardonnay Marsanne Merlot Petit Verdot Petite Sirah Pinot Noir Pinotage Port Roussanne Sangiovese Sauvignon Blanc Sémillon Sparkling Wine St. Laurent Syrah Tempranillo Torrontés Verdelho Viognier Zinfandel

Welcome 2011!

Hard to believe Your West Coast Oenophile began writing this blog for Sostevinobile two years and 104 entries ago. Now that 2010 has been officially relegated to the scrap heap of time and the second decade of this millennium has dawned upon us, I am cautiously predicting auspicious developments this January. How good a prognosticator I am remains to be seen.

My first winery tour of the year began with a casual swing through Napa this past Wednesday—a string of impromptu stops before attending Cheers! to Taste at Rubicon Estate. First up was lunch and tasting with my pal Matt Rorick and the array of incredible wines he makes under his Forlorn Hope label. We met up at downtown Napa’s Zuzu, an understated Tapas house befitting Matt’s minimal approach to his œnology. In his muted accoutrement and my tailless coiffure, we differed from our previous encounters but happily set about our business.

Now, much as former NBA star Darryl Dawkins liked to give colorful names to his glass-shattering dunks, Matt has created a nomenclature for his wines that belies their varietal base. We started with his 2007 Nacré, a Napa Valley Sémillon emboldened by Australia’s Hunter Valley tradition of imbuing this varietal with robust character. Another white grape that often yields a somewhat tepid wine, Torrontés, danced to life in his 2009 La Gitana. We rounded out the white portion of our session with the 2009 Que Saudade, a Portuguese-style Verdelho that totally invigorated the Ceviche del Dio Matt had ordered.

I am never able to resist Grilled Octopus, which turned out to be an ideal complement to the 2009 Suspiro del Moro, Matt’s exceptional Alvarelhão from Ron Silva’s storied Silvaspoons Vineyard. We moved onto the 2009 Sangiovese, a wine without a descriptive name yet totally in sync with Forlorn Hope’s superlative standards. I had not previously sampled most of Matt’s forays outside of Iberian wines, so it was quite revelatory to try both the 2006 Gascony Cadets (Petit Verdot) and the 2006 Les Deux (Petite Sirah). I had previously tried a wee sip of his 2007 St. Laurent, so reveled in a more indulgent pour of the enticing 2008 Ost-Intrigen before wrapping up our luncheon.

After Matt left for his next meeting, I took a stroll along the newly-completed renovations of Napa’s downtown river front that has transformed this former backwater into a worthy rival of Healdsburg as St. Helena’s counterpart. Strolling past such highly acclaimed culinary destinations as Morimoto and Ubuntu, I found myself in front of the quaint downtown tasting room for Stonehedge and winemaker Jon Alexander-Hills’ organic Koo Loo Loo label. To this mix, Jon has added a biodynamic Mendocino-based line, 39 North, which I eagerly sampled. Regrettably, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon seemed a rather tenuous wine, but I was favorably impressed by the 2006 Petite Sirah.

With several hours to fill before the Coppola event, I pointed my Corolla up Silverado Trail and rolled into the first winery I hadn’t yet encountered for Sostevinobile. Not that I hadn’t heard of Regusci many times over the years, but with the bulk of their wines purchased by their membership, any opportunity for tasting had been quite rare. A sign in front of the winery exhorted visitors not to feed the property’s canines, but judging by the fox terrier that resembled an oversized, four-legged bratwurst, I sensed it has rarely been heeded. A bit more lithe and definitely more appealing, Wine Club Manager Ashley McMullen warmly greeted me as I entered the rustic tasting room.

Regusci lists itself as having been established in 1932, but its current incarnation did not formally open doors until 1998. Originally, however, this property housed the Grigsby-Occidental Winery, built in 1870 by Terrill Grigsby, whose family had played a major role in the Bear Flag Revolt that established the short-lived independent Republic of California (a concept we would be well-advised to reconsider).

History aside, the contemporary operations here contrast with the nostalgic imagery of its antiquated label. Grown in Carneros, the 2009 Chardonnay represents Regusci’s only non-estate bottling, its typicity readily apparent. The exceptional 2007 Estate Zinfandel, on the other hand, constitutes the sole estate-grown Zin in the Stags Leap District AVA. I found the 2007 Estate Merlot a most amiable wine, while their popular 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon proved as appealing.

About this time, nonagenarian Angelo Regusci strolled in with another of his dogs and picked out a couple of bottles for personal consumption. As Ashley noted, this enviable lifestyle came as reward for decades of laboring to develop the winery to what its has become today. Fittingly, Regusci bottles a pair of Heritage Wines in honor of its lineage. A decidedly Left Bank-style Meritage, the wondrous 2007 Patriarch blended 55% Cabernet Sauvignon with 35% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc, all estate grown. The true star of the winery portends to be the 2006 Angelo’s Hillside Cabernet Sauvignon, a striking wine at present, with its true potential 10-15 years away.

I left Regusci and headed north for a mile or so until I stumbled upon Steltzner, another winery whose Pinotage I have long hoped to try. With only a small group of visiting medical students from Annapolis finishing up their guided tour, Tasting Room Manager Travis Westrope was able to accord me individualized attention as he steered me through their varied inventory. We started with the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley, a subdued take on this varietal, then followed with the well-rounded 2008 Pinot Noir Hendricks Vineyard, a striking Sonoma Coast vintage, before moving onto the much-anticipated 2006 Estate Pinotage, a South African varietal that has increasingly gained popularity in California.

As with Regusci, I did immensely enjoy Steltzner’s 2007 Estate Merlot before moving on to the surprising 2006 Estate Sangiovese Riserva, a true bellwether of this varietal’s resurgence on the West Coast. I next found myself entranced by the 2006 Estate Cabernet Franc, as well as by the 2005 Pool Block Cabernet Sauvignon. Still, Steltzner’s best offering had to have been the alluring NV Merlot Port, a fortified wine infused not with brandy but the distilled must from its own grapes. A shame they didn’t make grappa instead, but I appreciated the symmetry nonetheless.

I was surprised, around a month ago or so, to discover that I had never tasted Miner’s wines in my role as Sostevinobile’s Wine Program Director. Determined to rectify this oversight, I continued my northward trek until I espied their familiar perch along the east side of the trail. Lumbering up the steps to the upper-level tasting room, I was heartened to see the posted prohibition against smoking on the terrace—further validation that wine and tobacco simply should not be mixed.

Inside,
as with Steltzner, I encountered only a handful of scholastic
tourists, this time a pair of teachers from, I believe, Ohio (all those states east of the Tehachapis eventually meld into one). Tasting Room Manager Steve Gage first guided us through the standard tasting, starting
with Miner’s welcoming staple, the 2009 Viognier Simpson Vineyard. Few wineries have made this varietal with such consistency over the years, so it seemed a tad surprising that the next selection, the 2007 Chardonnay, employed a highly fickle Wild Yeast fermentation—this time, with superb results.

As with Regusci, I found the 2007 Merlot Stagecoach Vineyard and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Stagecoach Vineyard pretty much on par with each other, while their pinnacle, the 2006 Oracle, a blend of the five principal Bordeaux grapes focused on Cabernet Sauvignon, drank quite smoothly now but portended to show spectacularly in another five years. Before taking off, I backtracked a bit to sample both the 2009 Tempranillo and the 2007 La Diligence, a Syrah collaboration between David Miner and noted Rhône Valley winemaker François Villard. I should have tried another joint effort, the 2007 Miner Benedetto Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon, a true Left Bank-style venture vinted in conjunction with jazz guitar craftsman Robert Benedetto, whose signature instrument adorns the Tasting Room wall, but. alas, my gratification must be delayed.

Impressively, Miner Vineyards operates entirely on an extensive solar grid whose output is tracked on their Website. Just to their north, Mumm Napa sports a slanted roofing that could power the entire Chiles Valley, were it solar equipped (though, to their credit, Mumm Napa is the only winery in Napa Valley to achieve the highly distinguished Triple Certification from the International Organization for Standardization). Regardless of this anomaly, I swung across Silverado Trail and indulged in a quick sampling of their sparkling wines. After all, at a recent France vs. California blind tasting, their 2001 DVX had placed 7th.

Alas, I was only accommodated with the standard tourist tasting—a flight of three of Mumm’s non-vintage bubblies: the Brut Prestige, its corollary Brut Rosé, and the slightly distinguished Cuvée M. I would have like to sample their still wines, as well, but the house runs on a precise schedule and showed no flexibility on their closing time. I did, however, manage to cajole my waitress into serving me a taste of their superb 2003 DVX. This last sparkler made my stop utterly worthwhile.

With an hour left to kill before the Rubicon Estate affair and craving some solid sustenance, I wound my way up to the Pope St. intersection and crossed over to the St. Helena Highway for my obligatory stop at Gott’s Roadside (formerly Taylor’s Automatic Refresher). Violating the strictures of my 2011 diet, I indulged in an order of their legendary garlic fries before crossing the highway on foot to visit with Long Meadow Ranch. Neither Chris nor Ted Hall were on hand at this late hour, but I nonetheless sampled their delectable 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, a moderately grassy interpretation of the varietal and an array of their prized Cabs, starting with the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon and its superb successor, the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. Interestingly, I favored this wine over the 2005 EJ Church Cabernet Sauvignon, despite it listing at double the price (admittedly, this latter bottling seemed structured to peak at a much later date). Of course, I had to indulge in the 2007 Sangiovese Peter’s Vineyard, and with that, I was, at long last, ready to motor down to Rutherford and hobnob at Rubicon Estate with an assemblage of the folks who help make the wine country such a special place to visit.

The promoters of the May-November monthly wine stroll, CHEERS! St. Helena, and the concierge trade association CANVAS, began last year to hold gatherings in Napa and in Sonoma to bring together tasting room and hospitality professionals for an evening of networking, wine education, and socializing. With the survival of many wineries now dependent on direct sales, both through their tasting rooms and their wines clubs, these individuals have become the critical cog in the industry.

Francis Ford Coppola’s restoration of the Inglenook estate has long conveyed a sense of opulence and sheer might, not unlike the Corleone’s Long Beach compound in Godfather I or King’s Beach compound in Godfather II. Still, the grandeur of the setting merely provided a backdrop to the array of local wines being poured, including the “house brand.” Granted, our hosts were not about to break out the Cask 23 for this crowd, but no complaints were heard about the organically-grown 2008 B
lancaneaux
, a Rhône-style blend of 43% Roussanne, 38% Marsanne, and 19% Viognier. Even more impressive, the 2006 Captain’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, another organic endeavor, was rounded out with 8% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot, and 1% Petit Verdot.

Ten other wineries poured a selection of their fare, although, incredibly, Caymus ran out of their wines half an hour into the event! I did, however, manage to sample the rest of the local wines on hand, starting with a trio of Rutherford’s leading female winery proprietors. First up, I greeted my friend HB Peju of Peju Province, who had so graciously entertained me at her home last summer. Several months later, I was still pleased to retry her 2009 Chardonnay Napa Valley alongside the excellent 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. Her pal Gretchen Lieff countered with her wondrous 2007 Auberge Road Cabernet Sauvignon and the even more impressive 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. In contrast Julie Johnson of Tres Sabores showcased her organic 2008 ¿Porqué No?, a deft mélange of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot.

Julie had been instrumental in the founding of Frog’s Leap when she was married to current owner John Williams. A true believer in organic farming, John’s winery poured a trio of their current releases: the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, the 2007 Merlot, and the stellar 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine subtly blended with 10% Cabernet Franc and 2% Merlot.

John, unfortunately, could not be present this evening, but holding court at his winery’s station, Larry Piña more than pleased the crowd with his always wondrous 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon D’Adamo Vineyard. I can’t recall who poured for Corley Family’s Monticello Cellars, but I was suitably impressed with both their 2008 Estate Grown Chardonnay and the 2008 Estate Grown Cabernet Franc (admittedly, the 2008 Estate Grown Pinot Noir did not measure up to these levels). I also immensely enjoyed the 2007 Cabernet Franc from Slaughterhouse, a winery I first encountered at a previous Rutherford tasting at Rubicon Estate, along with their amiable 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.

The folks from Frank Family held true to form with their ever-reliable 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, while the 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Freemark Abbey, the only winery to place both a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon in 1976’s famed Judgment of Paris tasting, proved a most elegant vintage. As an added treat, Freemark reached back not quite as far as 1976 but still wowed the crowd with a library taste of their perfectly-peaked 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Rutherford Estate provided the event with an array of charcuterie and cheese selections. I know I also liberally partook in the tapas catered by both Rutherford Grill and St. Helena’s Panevino, but, unfortunately, neglected to record what they served. Mi dispiace! I’d only been tasting for the past eight hours and, besides, I need to uphold my New Year’s Resolution of bringing these entries on time and in under 2,500 words!
I’ve just barely made it on both counts…

Categories
Alicante Bouschet Bastardo Cabernet Sauvignon Carignane Chardonnay Chasselas Doré Counoise Dornfelder Graciano Grenache Grenache Blanc Marsanne Merlot Mourvèdre Orange Muscat Petit Verdot Petite Sirah Pinot Gris Pinot Noir Pinotage Riesling Roussanne Sauvignon Blanc Syrah Tempranillo Tinta Cão Touriga Nacional Viognier Zinfandel

P(in)otpourri!

Confession: I glossed over a few stops in my last entry. I don’t know why. It just seemed easier to wedge them into here.

I had tried to devote a full day to a swing through Sonoma, but The Fates seem to conspire against me. The ultimate goal of finishing my visit by attending the Mendocino County Grape Growers Showcase in Santa Rosa remained constant, but scheduling visits throughout Sebastopol proved rather elusive, and then the intrusion of a slew of non-wine related matters delayed my departure for nearly two hours. Nonetheless, Your West Coast Oenophile did mange to keep an appointment with tiny Sheldon Wines, a dedicated artisanal winery whose tasting room occupies a remodeled railroad car near the Sebastopol Inn.

Winemaker Dylan Sheldon is a purist, who crafts his small lot wines with extreme fidelity to the origins of the varietal and its historical vinification. Witness (or, in my case, sample) his 2008 Viognier Sonoma Coast, Single Barrel Production. Unfiltered and unrefined, this flavor of the grape shines with little adornment or manipulation, a genuine expression of Viognier. Similar veracity can be found in his 2006 Chardonnay Santa Lucia Vineyard, the 2007 Graciano Super Freak and his 2006 Grenache, Santa Ynez Valley. Sheldon’s most “manipulated” wine was his 2005 Vinolocity, a blend of Grenache and Syrah, while the 2006 Petite Sirah Ripken Vineyard was an intensified, 100% expression of this varietal. All in all, a highly personal tasting I was glad to discover.

I had hoped to make short shrift of the drive to Santa Rosa; allora, it was anything but. My iPhone’s GPS mapped out a direct route from Sebastopol but pinpointed the Fountaingrove Golf Club nearly ½ mile from its actual location, along a rolling parkway that wound through the city without any conspicuous number signs to demarcate the unfamiliar terrain. Finally espying a motorcyclist who knew the precise location of this secluded complex, I encountered a veritable maze trying to decipher the layout of the grounds, which seemed intentionally designed to perplex any first-time visitor. Naturally, by the time located the correct building and parked, the 1½ hours I had allotted for the event had dwindled to a scant 25 minutes.

I might have had a full half-hour to network, but finding the reception room in the club’s main building proved one more challenge. After all that, you would think I’d at least have won the raffle for 5 tons of grapes, though, admittedly, I am far from ready to bottle my first vintage under the Sostevinobile label! Still, there was quite a bit of wine left to sample and several growers to meet among those who had not packed up early and headed back to Ukiah. Lisa Sutton of Bells Echo Vineyards could have easily beguiled me without pouring her wine, but I was nonetheless impressed with both the 2006 Syrah and the 2006 Interlude, their premium Syrah—both inaugural releases.

Nearby, the next wave of biodynamic farming was ably represented by fourth-generation vineyardist Heath Dolan of Dark Horse Ranch. Showcasing wineries that source his meticulously-tended grapes, Heath poured the complex 2007 Truett•Hurst|Dark Horse GPS, a GMS blend with Petite Sirah added to the mix, and the 2007 Mendocino Farms Grenache Dark Horse Ranch, one of Magnanimus Wine Group’s bottlings.

I’ve known members of Heath‘s family for decades (one of his father Paul Dolan’s cousins was slated as Sostevinobile’s original investor), but that connection has no bearing on my appreciation for his viticulture or his wines. Similarly, I’ve enjoyed a lively correspondence with Jim Kimmel over the last several weeks, but approached his brother Gary’s Kimmel Vineyards with the same lack of bias. Their boutique winemaking operations in Potter Valley embarked with 285 cases of the 2007 Chardonnay Mendocino County and a mere 271 cases of their equally fine 2007 Merlot Mendocino County.

Maybe because it was late in the day, maybe because, well, I could, I opted to try only the sweeter selections from Nelson Family Vineyards, a winery that grows just about everything. I was richly rewarded with their 2008 Estate Riesling, an intense 2008 Estate Viognier and their delightful dessert wine, the 2009 Estate Orange Muscat. Meanwhile, another grower whose plantings include a veritable potpourri of varietals, Rossetti Brothers, poured finished wines that included the 2008 Petite Sirah and both their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, along with bulk samples of their Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Carignane.

As the event came to a close, the sponsors of this event from True Mendocino promised that next year’s showcase would be held at a far more accessible site, and while I did treat myself to a leftover bottle of the tour of the 2006 Weibel Family Chardonnay Mendocino County for later delectation and self-guided tour of the Fountaingrove swimming complex, I opted to drive back and take a dip in Corte Madera natatorium where I frequent, before heading across the Golden Gate Bridge.

The next day promised to be quite the challenge, not for the intensity of my schedule but because I had finally decided to risk subjecting the cluttered environs of the home office I maintain for Sostevinobile to an onsite tasting by a local distributor. Housekeeping, as my familiars and family will attest—ce n’est-pas mon forte. Nonetheless, I managed to clear the living room, wash half a dozen goblets Cascade-spotless, and improvise a water pitcher and spill bucket in time to host Kip Martinez. Kip is a longtime San Franciscan who, with his wife, operates a rather quaintly-named wine distribution company called Kip and Nancy; we had met at the recent T.A.P.A.S. tasting, where he had filled in for client winery Bodega Paso Robles and piqued my curiosity with intimations of their Bastardo, which he had opted not to bring with him.

First up, however, was the eponymous label of winemaker Michel Berthoud and his homage to Helvetian winemaking, the 2008 Chasselas Doré Pagani Vineyard. I confess that I had not previous tried this varietal, grown in Switzerland to produce their signature Fendant du Valais; I would not venture to describe its taste, though, on a spectrum, I would be tempted to place it closer to a Chenin Blanc or slightly grassy Sauvignon Blanc than to a Chardonnay.

Michel is well-known as the winemaker for Mayo Family Winery, where he puts on a clinic,œnologically speaking, with his Alicante Bouschet (which sounds like it ought to be a Swiss wine), Italian varietals, and many of the other grapes predominant in Sonoma. Kip treated me to a small selection that included the 2006 Petite Sirah Sodini Ranch Vineyard, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Delaney Vineyard, and the 2006 Libertine, described as “a dollop of Merlot, a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon, a smidgen of Syrah and a dash of Zinfandel, with Petite Sirah and Petite Verdot thrown in for good measure.”

It seems a bit odd that Switzerland’s northern neighbor, Germany, has only one winery in California devoted to its varietals. Numerous wineries here are focusing on Riesling, and in Washington, wines like Lemberger and Riesling have begun to proliferate, but only Lodi’s Mokelumne Glen devotes itself exclusively to this category. Winemaker/owner Bob Koth had apprised me of another winery producing Dornfelder, so I was especially eager to try the Huber Estate wines when I found. As I had hoped, the 2006 Estate Dornfelder was a most compelling wine, and I only wish Kip had carried the 2006 Estate Dornfelder Charlotte’s Reserve for comparison. And until I next make a swing for Sostevinobile through the Santa Rita Hills AVA, the 2008 Hafen, a dessert-style Dornfelder, must remain a creature of my imagination!

One wine, however, no longer remaining within the realm of my imagination is Bastardo, or, as the wonderful censors at ATF would have us call it, Trousseau. Given the Bureau’s prohibition of the use of such provocative nomenclature, Bodega Paso Robles elected to label their offering the 2007 Pimenteiro. It did not bastardize this rustic wine, by any means. Kip also revisited their 2005 Solea (90% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano) and the 2003 Iberia (Tempranillo, Graciano, Tinta Cão, Touriga Nacional), two blends I had highly enjoyed in early June.

We moved onto the remaining wines I had selected from his catalog. Marco di Giulio Wines may have coöpted the URL I would have chosen for my first personal label, but I am perfectly able to let bygones be bygones and laud both their 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain District and its coeval, the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Progeny Vineyard. Similarly, CalStar might have been a desirable alternative to Sostevinobile, but that matters little now. I applaud their 2008 Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard and would be eager to sample the rest of their inventory. Meanwhile, Starr Ranch bears no relation to the aforementioned winery nor to any of Pam Starr’s various viticultural forays; nonetheless, I found this Paso Robles producer quite adept with its 2007 Estate Grenache and its astral 2007 Orion, a Tempranillo-based wine.

Kip’s last offerings came from organically-farmed Lavender Ridge in Murphys. We started white, with their 2009 Côtes du Calaveras Blanc, Sierra Foothills, a blend of Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Grenache Blanc, then proceeded through their sundry single-varietal Rhône reds: the 2006 Grenache Sierra Foothills, the 2007 Mourvèdre Sierra Foothills, the 2005 Syrah Sierra Foothills, and the 2005 Petite Sirah Sierra Foothills before finishing up with the utterly complex 2006 Côtes du Calaveras that blended Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache, Alicante Bouschet, Petite Sirah, and Counoise. A perfect note on which to end the day and ready myself for the major trade event on Friday.


The 6th Annual Pinot Days San Francisco Grand Tasting was slated for Sunday, June 27th in the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason. Unlike at other major tastings, however, the powers that be decided this year to sever the trade portion of the festival from the main event and hold it two days earlier in the Fleet Room, a far less capacious reception area in Building D, two floors below the famed Magic Theatre. In over thirty years of attending events, I had no awareness that this facility even existed and was quite surprised the promoters had selected it.

Of course, I understand that these Grand Tastings constitute a business for the people who organize them, particularly for the Pinot Days folks who do not represent a not-for-profit trade organization like Family Winemakers or ZAP. As well, to a large extent, trade and media tickets are provided as a courtesy, and I am indeed grateful each time I have been provided such. However, the greatest allure of these events for participating wineries are the opportunities they provided both for publicity and for significant sales of their wines. Speaking as Sostevinobile’s trade representative, let me say that I found the new configuration counterproductive in this regard and express my hope that next year’s Pinot Days returns to its previous formula. I know many of Friday’s other attendees feel similarly.

The schedule split and smaller space allowed less than half of Sunday’s wineries to participate. Still, the room was packed and without a printed tasting program, quite difficult to navigate. I managed to scribble my notes onto the back of several product flyers I appropriated from Chamisal Vineyards’ table as I quaffed their eminently drinkable 2007 Estate Pinot Noir. Shifting to my right, I next sampled from a pair of wineries I have known long before I create Sostevinobile but had not visited with in this capacity. Founded in 1857, Buena Vista bills itself as California’s oldest premium winery, though its wines are decidedly far more contemporary than I recall from the 1980s. The 2007 Pinot Noir Ramal Vineyard Estate Vineyard Series Dijon Clones proved an elegant wine, while their 2006 Pinot Noir Ramal Vineyard Estate Vineyard Series Swan Selection drank like a glissade across the tongue. At a nearby table, August Briggs opted to pour a single wine, their 2008 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, more than a fine choice to represent their efforts.

Somewhere around the middle between these two tables, Mendocino’s Baxter Winery, with which I had become acquainted at Golden Glass, poured their jammy albeit curiously titled 2008 Pinot Noir Run Dog Vineyard. From Santa Rita Hills, Carr Vineyards introduced themselves and not only poured a striking 2008 Pinot Noir Turner Vineyard but slipped in a taste of their 2009 Pinot Gris, the first such “extra” of the afternoon. Fort Ross fell within house rules for pouring their always-special 2006 Pinotage, but Johanna Bernstein still managed to slip me a welcome sip of her 2007 Chardonnay Fort Ross Vineyard (or should I call it Pinot Chardonnay, to keep it within bounds?).

There may not be any correlation between these two Russian River Valley vintners, apart from their consecutive appearance in my note, but I was impressed with both the 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Selection from esteemed winemaker Gary Farrell and the 2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from the newly established Thomas George Estates. And from the same notepad, Gundlach Bundschu, another continuum from the mid-19th century, maintained their pedigree with their 2007 Pinot Noir, while Gloria Ferrer, the Sonoma arm of the historic Spanish sparkling wine house Freixenet, impressed with both their 2006 Carneros Pinot Noir and a sparkling 2006 Brut Rosé.

Cima Collina and I have had a long e-mail correspondence for the past several months, so it surprised me that I had not previously sampled their products. Their representatives easily remedied this oversight with a quartet of their vintages: their more generic 2006 Pinot Noir Monterey County and the 2006 Chula Viña Vineyard Pinot Noir, top by their Santa Lucia Highlands vineyard-designate 2007 Tondrē Grapefield Pinot Noir and the superb 2006 Hilltop Ranch Pinot Noir. Another winery making quite the first impression with four distinct interpretation of the grape was Pinot-only Fulcrum Wines, a Napa-produced boutique venture. Their latest vintage comprised an almost dizzying array of choice AVAs: the 2008 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, the 2008 Tina Marie Russian River Pinot Noir, the 2008 ON Point Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, and my personal (as well as Wine Spectator’s) favorite, the lush 2008 Gap’s Crown Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.

That I had not previously visited with Crū, one of Mariposa Wine Company’s trio of labels. Fortunately, their 2007 Montage Central Coast Pinot Noir and the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Sarmento Vineyards cemented this connection. And how I could have overlooked Sebastopol’s DuNah until now astounds me almost as much as did their 2006 Pinot Noir DuNah Estate and their 2006 Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard.

I was a tad surprised there were not more wineries from Oregon on hand this afternoon, given their pivotal role in establishing Pinot Noir on the West Coast (as well as Pinot Noir establishing Oregon as a major viticultural region). One such presence, Le Cadeau, happily displayed four of their most recent bottlings: the 2008 Pinot Noir Équinoxe, the amiable 2008 Pinot Noir Rocheux, the oddly named but excellent 2008 Pinot Noir Côte Est, and their crown jewel, the 2008 Pinot Diversité (shades of liberté, égalité, fraternité, to be sure)! Owner Tom Mortimer partners in another venture, Aubichon Cellars and generously included their inaugural release, the 2007 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley. French nomenclature also claimed the Central Coast’s La Fenêtre, whose Pinot offering ranged from the 2008 Pinot Noir Los Alamos Vineyard and the 2008 Pinot Noir Sierra Madre Vineyard to the more treasured 2008 Pinot Noir Central Coast and their acme, the 2008 Pinot Noir Le Bon Climat. While I greatly enjoyed La Fenêtre’s 2008 Bien Nacido Chardonnay, the winery seems hellbent on compelling me to struggle with composite characters, debuting their second label with the 2008 À Côté Chardonnay. Sans accents, Roots shared their whimsically-titled 2009 Melon de Bourgogne (a Chardonnay, naturally) and their 2008 Riesling before pouring a trio of delightful Pinots, the 2007 Crosshairs Pinot Noir, the 2008 Estate Pinot Noir, and the 2008 Leroy Pinot Noir.

Back in the Anglophile realm, M. Autumn bifurcates their winemaking between California and Oregon to offer their own Pinot trio: the 2006 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, the 2007 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, and newcomer 2008 Johnson Vineyard Pinot Noir from Chehalem. Keeping things somewhat thematic, from Chehalem. Keeping things kinda thematic, R. Merlo’s aspirations for an AVA in Hyampom Valley manifested itself in his 2005 Pinot Noir Trinity County.

Joseph Swan, the last winery I tried that poured four different Pinots, is a place I typically associate with Zinfandel. N’importe! I found myself uniformly enthralled with both the 2006 Pinot Noir Saralee’s Vineyard and the 2008 Pinot Noir Cuvee du Trois, as well as the 2007 Pinot Noir Trenton Estate Vineyard 2006 Pinot Noir Trenton View Vineyard, despite the New Jersey allusion! Pinot-centric Sequana chimed in with three different takes on the varietal, the superb 2008 Sundawg Ridge Pinot Noir from Green Valley, its proximate neighbor, the 2008 Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir, and the distant 2008 Sarmento Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands. Also posting a trifecta was my old friend Gideon Beinstock, with the terroir-driven wines from his Clos Saron in Oregon House. People who follow natural winemaking know this methodology can often be a crap shoot, but I was immensely pleased with his rosé, the 2009 Tickled Pink. Admittedly, I found myself ambivalent about the 2008 Pinot Noir Home Vineyard, but the 2006 Pinot Noir Texas Hill was one of the more outstanding efforts of the afternoon.

Another longtime acquaintance that my Sostevinobile blog readers should readily recognize was Dr. Chris Thorpe and his 100% organically-grown wines from Adastra. Once again, I fell sway to his 2006 Proximus Pinot Noir, a wine that reveals new complexities each time I encounter it. I never did get to meet Fred MacMurray while he was alive, though many hours of my childhood were dissipated watching his 1960s series after the departure of William Frawley. Many readers know of my disparagement of the Gallo wine empire, but, candidly, both the 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and the 2008 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley from MacMurray Ranch were noteworthy expressions of the grape. 

Coming on the heels of the extraordinary 2007 vintage, one which Wine Spectator lauded as Pinot Noir’s “best ever” in California, 2008’s wines faced the kind of daunting challenge Michael Jordan’s kids felt when trying out for the basketball team. A couple of wineries that only pour 2008 left no basis for comparison, but impressed on their own merits. The very fine 2008 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast from Pfendler Vineyards nonetheless risked being overshadowed by the presence of the pulchritudinous Kimberly Pfendler, while Richard Sanford’s 2008 Pinot Noir La Encantada Vineyard Santa Rita Hills (I failed to note whether it was the Clone 666 or the Clone 115 bottling) from his Alma Rosa Winery was flat-out superb. However, among where I could sample the two vintages side-by-side, I found a definite predilection for the 2007 Pinot Noir from Keefer Ranch over its successor. And among the three bottlings spanning 2006-08, Rusack Vineyards2007 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley clearly stood out.

Once again, Weibel had a presence with their 2006 Weibel Family Pinot Noir Mendocino County. Derby Wine Estates demonstrated the exceptional moments this earlier vintage enjoyed with their 2006 Pinot Noir Derbyshire Vineyard. And while the 2006 Pinot Noir from Hanzell, proud stewards of the oldest Pinot vineyard on the West Coast, proved to be a marvelous wine, I fear the 2000 Pinot Noir they poured did not quite withstand the test of time.

The last two wineries I had never before encountered helped wind down the day with some side tastings. Mark Cargasacchi’s Jalama Wines matched their superb 2007 Pinot Noir Cargasacchi-Jalama Vineyard with a refreshing splash of their whimsically-named 2007 Gialla, a Pinot Gris from their Santa Barbara estate. And the veritable last word in Pinot, Zotovich, augmented the excellence of their 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills with the clean flavor of its 2008 Chardonnay and an astoundingly good 2007 Syrah, all vinted by Palmina’s Steve Clifton.

Capping the afternoon, I very much enjoyed the Pinots Hahn Estate Wines bottles as part of their winery-within-a-winery label, Lucienne. Sipping the admirable 2007 Lucienne Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Lone Oak Vineyard segued into tasting the even more flavorful 2007 Lucienne Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Doctor’s Vineyard before I completed my rounds with Riverbench Estate. Here, both the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir and the 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley warranted tremendous accolades, while I was ready to rest on my laurels until my next tasting venture.

Every year, the month leading to Pinot Days has grown incrementally with seminars, winemaker dinners, preview tastings at numerous wine shops in San Francisco, and a dizzying array of other events throughout the Bay Area. Promoters Steve and Lisa Rigisich, partners in Pinot Noir specialist Ketcham Estate, are to be commended for their fanatical devotion to this grape. With this inundation of activities, I just hope they don’t lose sight of the important connection that Grand Tastings afford wineries and the people who promote them, the trade and the press, establish at such gatherings.

I understand the desire to weed out the numerous poseurs who like to attend trade & press events without ever contributing to the industry (apart from conspicuous consumption).Unfortunately, the segregation of this trade tasting meant only 96 wineries, out of 212 subscribed to the Grand Tasting the following Sunday, participated. By the time I realized the professional segment would truncate not just the time I had to spend with the wineries on my “To Meet” list but the roster of participants as well—only 29 of the 84 wineries I had earmarked exhibited on Friday—I had committed to the Mill Valley Wine & Gourmet Food Tasting, where yet another potpourri of wines and wineries would be featured. Allora, I merely hope we will all have a chance to meet at Pinot Days VII.

Categories
Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Carignane Charbono Chardonnay Gewürztraminer Grenache Malbec Marsanne Merlot Mourvèdre Petit Verdot Petite Sirah Pinot Gris Pinot Noir Pinotage Riesling Roussanne Sangiovese Sauvignon Blanc Sparkling Wine Syrah Tempranillo Viognier

Хлестаков возвращается!

Khlestakov returns!
Apart from Aristophanes’ Βάτροχοι (The Frogs), Nikolai Gogol’s Ревизор (The Government Inspector) may be the most uproarious satire ever written (and, no, my my choice to eschew transliteration is not a conceit—Your West Coast Oenophile has read both in the original). His protagonist, Khlestakov, though hardly æsthete, bumbles his way through life and the unwitting indulgence of the local villagers in the play, steered by a gastronomic compass. Indeed, his boundless appetite for the next delectation constitutes the distinguishing thread that delineates him from the malevolent opportunism of a rake like Lothario or Madoff and relegates him to the status of what Nabokov deemed a пошляк, a term that has no true equivalent in English, though various Internet translation tools render it as “platitudinarian” or “vulgarian.”

As I stated in a recent entry, sometimes my quest to sample new and interesting wines for Sostevinobile brings me to events where food purveyors play a major, if not dominant, role; within this milieu, my designated perspective as œnophile gives way to that of a gourmand, making me feel somewhat the grand poseur, like Khlestakov, as I wend from food stand to food stand, delighting at each stop.

Just recently, I managed to sandwich in two such events on a single Saturday, the 2010 Golden Glass at Fort Mason and the 6th Annual Marin County Pinot Tasting at the historic Escalle Winery in Larkspur. Given that I chose to cover this entire loop on bicycle—not so much out of adherence to sustainable principles as a need to counterbalance my caloric intake with a substantial degree of physical exertion, this day would prove quite a marathon.

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This day started out as I donned my helmet and rolled down from Pacific Heights to Fort Mason, a trek on my Trek to which readers of this blog have become quite familiar. Slow Food San Francisco has sponsored this pæan to sustainable food and wine for the past several years, engorging the throng of attendees with delectables from many of the Bay Area’s most revered Italian restaurants and other philosophically concordant establishments. Among my many favorites, È Tutto Qua, Delfina, Frantoio, Serpentine and Ristobar lavished generous portions of their signature dishes on eager attendees. My old friend Alex Ong, who blazed a culinary trail for East/west fusion cuisine at Orocco in the mid-1990s, showed glimpses of his current mastery at Betelnut, with an ætherial slice of Salmon Sashimi topped with its own roe. Heaven’s Dog, the hip Chinese destination from renowned Vietnamese food impresario Charles Pham (Slanted Door) dazzled, as well.

I made several visits to the table for A16, the first restaurant I have encountered in San Francisco that captures the essence of the Neapolitan fare on which I was raised. I could not help but tweak chef Liz Shaw about her table, festooned with a roasted pig’s head and fronds of fennel. “Funny,” I remarked. “This is the first time I’ve seen finocchio in San Francisco.”

“It grows wild all along the roadside,” she replied, oblivious to my subtle double-entendre. But of the subtle nuances of Italian cuisine was lost on her excellent pulled pork topping a moist baguette slice, nor on the obligatory wood-fired pizza from Flour + Water (apparently, each year at Golden Glass, one of San Francisco’s leading pizzaioli takes its turn at firing up the mobile wood oven from Emilio Miti).

Suffice it to say, I sampled enough food to pedal the 22-mile trip to Larkspur and then some, but, of course, my attendance on behalf of Sostevinobile primarily focused (or, I should say, was supposed to be focused) on the wines being poured. I first attended Golden Glass in 2008, the year A16 handled pizza duties. Much to my dismay, only one winery from California was pouring at what supposed to be the premier showcase for local, sustainable food. When I later drew the promoter’s attention to this incongruity, she complained that she could not source reliably good organic wines from nearby. I begged to differ, and while she declined my offer to help with arrangements for the following year, I was pleased to find nearly a dozen California wineries in attendance in 2009 (along with Delfina at the helm of the pizza oven).

Golden Glass 2010 featured more than 30 wineries pouring, with several others not on had winning Golden Glass awards for their vintages. Remarkably, 13 of the 17 prizes awarded at this competition were bestowed to California wineries, a remarkable achievement considering that the overwhelming majority of wineries present came from Italy, along with Spain, France, New Zealand and Argentina. But with my apologies to Lorenzo Scarpone and Franco Minniti of Villa Italia, the driving forces behind Slow Food San Francisco and this event in particular,I restricted my sampling to the local wines that fall within Sostevinobile’s stated parameters.

Quite a number wineries held a cooperative presence through Artisan Growers & Producers, a San Francisco-based collective. Mercury Wines showcased their The 500, a non-vintage Bordeaux-style wine in distinctive 500 ml. jugs. Duende, arriving a week late for T.A.P.A.S., still shone with their 2007 Tempranillo Clement Hills and an appealing 2005 Cabernet Franc. Hawkes, a sister operation, easily matched up with both a 2005 Merlot and a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Tallulah Wines may never be as racy as their namesake, Tallulah Bankhead, but their 2006 Syrah could cause a bit of a stir on its own. A returnee from PINK OUT! SF, Dacalier demonstrated how their Grenache/Mourvèdre blend, the 2009 Première Rosé held its own in a contrasting setting. And despite my having to spend the latter part of the day sipping nothing but Pinot, I still delighted in Wait Cellars2007 Pinot Noir.

Three other Artisan members showcased their Pinots. Both Blagden Wines and Corkscrew Wines poured a 2007 Pinot Noir, while Prophet Wines chose to feature their 2006 Pinot Noir. Along with their 2007 Estate Pinot Noir, Lazy Creek Vineyards excelled with a super-dry 2007 Gewürztraminer and an equally compelling 2008 Riesling. Electing not to pour themselves, Domaine Carneros nonetheless garnered the award for their 2007 Pinot Noir The Famous Gate.

Another award-winning winery that appeared only at the winner’s table was J. Lohr, with their Bordeaux-inspired 2006 Cuvée POM, a Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend, with slight additions of Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. Similarly, Livermore’s Wente Vineyards earned top accolades or their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Southern Hills. And Napa’s Ca’ Momi took home the prize for their 2007 Rosso di California, a Zinfandel/Cabernet Sauvignon blend.

My friend Darek Trowbridge adheres to an extreme fidelity to the health of his vines and the environment in which he tends; his biodynamic techniques shows richly in the wines from his Old World Winery, particularly the 2005 Pinot Noir Nunes Vineyard Cellar Rat and the 2008 Chardonnay Tweek Block. From Fulton, the Vandendriessche Family runs White Rock Vineyards, and I suppose having that extensive a surname precludes labeling with anything overtly complex; nonetheless, in addition to their excellent 2007 Chardonnay, the 2005 Claret (40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 14% Petit Verdot, 11% Cabernet Franc) and the newly-released 2005 Laureate (predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon) were simply outstanding vinifications.

My perverse desire to stage a biodynamic vs. vegan wine debate will happen one day, but for now I was content to sample the latter philosophy in Barra of Mendocino’s rich 2007 Girasole Vineyards Zinfandel (but where was your ever-delightful Sangiovese?), along with contrasting their 2006 Barra of Mendocino Pinot Noir with the 2006 Girasole Vineyards Pinot Noir. I also took a shining to their luscious 2007 Eagle’s Perch Chardonnay and 2008 West Terrace Pinot Noir from Paraiso Vineyards, a stalwart of the Sta. Lucia Highlands. Naturally, my ostensible charm prompted the folks from Santa Maria’s Riverbench Vineyard to open up their unlisted 2008 One Palm Pinot Noir, an utterly superb to their striking 2007 Estate Chardonnay.

I had met John Aver at a couple of previous tastings but am happy to aver that his 2007 Homage Syrah and 2006 Heritage Cabernet Sauvignon were both delightful wines. And Derby Wine Estates in Paso Robles proved that their wines are far more dimensional than simply a vehicle for someone like me to converse with Hospitality Manager Katie Kanphantha, yet another aspirant to the title of California’s lengthiest surname. Their quixotic 2007 Fifteen 10 White Rhône Blend (40% Marsanne, 40% Roussanne, 20% Viognier) firmly established this winery, while the 2006 Implipo, a traditional Bordeaux blend, soared beyond expectations. Occasio’s versatility with winemaking is anything but occasional; major accolades are due both their 2008 Petite Sirah del Arroyo Vineyard and their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc del Arroyo Vineyard

I believe Kunde operates the largest vineyard estate in California (I’m too pressed for time to verify this statistic) and certainly it is the largest property to have been bestowed the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award for sustainable practices and facilities in the wine industry. As validating as a GEELA may be, however, their attendance at Golden Glass stemmed as much from the quality of their 2009 Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc and the 2007 Reserve Century Vines Zinfandel.

Sostevinobile has long been familiar with several of the wineries on hand, starting with the pioneering Paul Dolan Vineyards. Not content to rest merely on their biodynamic credentials, their 2006 Deep Red, a blend of 57% Syrah, 31% Petite Sirah, and 12% Grenache from their Dark Horse Vineyards, won one of the coveted Golden Glasses, a fitting testimony to these practices. Legendary restaurateur Lorenzo Petroni surpassed his showing at last year’s tasting by garnering his own Golden Glass for his Super Tuscan-style 2007 Rosso di Sonoma, while his Petroni Vineyards’ lush 2004 Brunello di Sonoma, crafted from 100% Sangiovese Grosso, proved every bit its equal. And returning a week after his attendance at T.A.P.A.S., Victor Reyes Umaña from Murphys’ Bodega del Sur displayed extraordinary versatility with a crisp, clean 2008 Marsanne to complement his Spanish-style 2007 Carmessi, a blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah.

Golden Glass allotted nearly a full table to the Mendocino WineGrape & Wine Commission, which represented the remainder of wineries I sampled. From this constellation came Esterlina Vineyards, the sister winery of Everett Ridge, poured a 2008 Dry Ranch Riesling Cole Ranch and their 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Anderson Valley, while Pacific Star Winery brought a trio of underserved varietals: their 2007 Charbono, the 2005 Carignane and a more recent 2009 Viognier. Sara Bennett poured an intriguing 2007 Pinot Noir Méthode à l’Ancienne and the justly acclaimed 2008 Estate Bottled Gewürztraminer for her family’s Navarro Vineyards, while the luminous Deborah Schatzlein comported herself quite admirably with her 2009 Randle Hill Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc and the 2005 Hawks Bottle Vineyard Syrah from Bink Wines.

The 2009 Gewürztraminer Anderson Valley ruled the day for Breggo Cellars, along with their equally appealing 2009 Pinot Gris Anderson Valley and a 2008 Pinot Noir from the same AVA. Meanwhile, nothing quite saves the day on a 85° afternoon like a chilled sparkling wine, courtesy of the 2009 Brut Rosé from Handley Cellars, along with their compelling smooth 2007 Syrah Kazmet Vineyard in the Redwood Valley. Magnanimus Wine Group manages a small consortium of “authentic, living wines integrate nature into the bottle and are inspired by simpler times”—an apt description for their 2007 Mendocino Farms Grenache.

Jim Milone’s Terra Sávia is one of Mendocino’s better known organic wineries, and the overall excellence I have come to expect from wines like his 2008 Chardonnay, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2006 Meritage (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot) easily spilled over to his newly-released 2006 Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine. Another organic champion, McNab Ridge, the current venture of my old friend John Parducci, featured a superb 2006 Petite Sirah (though not on hand at Golden Glass, their 2007 Pinotage Napoli Vineyard is a wine not to be missed).

Excellence aboundedat Baxter, the last Mendocino winery I sampled. In short, my first contact with this operation brought me to their 2007 Pinot Noir Toulouse Vineyard and the remarkable 2007 Pinot Noir Oppenlander Vineyard, as well as a vibrant 2006 Carignane Caballo Blanco Vineyard. Still, my most astounding discovery of the afternoon was that Chronicle Wines is actually a label, not the wine club that the San Francisco Chronicle sponsors! I admitted to proprietor Mike Hengehold that I had bypassed their table at several previous event because of this misconception—obviously my loss, since their 2007 Cerise Pinot Noir truly was superb. I will not make the same error at ZAP 2011!

My swill & spit restraint most have been in full force, because I felt more than fine in departing at this point and undertaking the 16-mile bike ride over the Golden Gate Bridge to Larkspur. And, if this 1¾ hour jaunt depleted all the energy I had stored up from the numerous protein-laden food purveyors I had tried, there would be another feast awaiting me.

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Chapter Two in this saga started with a change of shirts outside the horse barn at the historic Escalle Winery. The ride in 2010’s first truly warm day left me staggering for breath and utterly drenched, just as it had last year—though this time, without the Ginkgo Girl looming to retrieve me, I came prepared to freshen up before tackling the affair.

So with Bolan somewhere unknown, celebrating her 41st in solitude, I splashed myself with the remaining water from my road bottle, stuffed my sweat-soaked Polo shirt into my fanny pack, and headed up the hill to the staging area. To be perfectly candid, though, this could just as easily have been the 2009 tasting. Many of the same attendees, including Dean Stephens, who meet me at the entryway and regaled me with tales of his trip to Las Vegas with Bill Clinton, the same grilling team with the same excellent Leg of Venison and Rabbit Sausage, the same worthy benefit for the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT), and pretty much the same roster of wineries in attendance.

Debuting at this event, Skywalker Vineyards unveiled its first vintage, grown exclusively on their estate Skywalker Ranch—now that George Lucas has moved his LucasArts empire to The Presidio, he and Francis Ford Coppola have developed much of his Lucas Valley campus as a vineyard. And with this kind of financial stability, there is little wonder why their inaugural 2008 Pinot Noir and 2008 Chardonnay, which they reserved for trade attendees, tasted so lush. Also appearing as a Marin venture for the first time, Carneros pioneer Acacia, a Diageo acquisition when they had financial stability, translated their considerable pedigree to their 2008 Redding Ranch Pinot Noir.
Before I proceeded to Dan Goldfield’s Orogeny, I had to break for some fresh air and a generous plate of the venison. Deer meat proved the perfect complement to his 2006 Pinot Noir Redding Ranch, a reprise from last year. And maybe with the upcoming Grand Opening for his new tasting room in Sebastopol, Dan will release the 2007 Orogeny (if not the 2008)! After all, his principal venture, Dutton-Goldfield, is already pouring their 2008 Pinot Noir Devil’s Gulch, which showed itself already a superb wine at this tasting.

David Vergari is one of those people who always manages to greet you like a lifelong friend, and so it was the usual pleasure in seeing him again in this setting and comparing his 2007 Pinot Noir Marin County with his 2008 Pinot Noir Marin County (for now, the earlier wine show better, but who knows?). And if he ever deigns to show up at Marin again, Mac McDonald would provide welcome coloratura to the 2007 Pinot Noir from his Vision Cellars.

As they had last year, Thomas Fogarty Winery from San Mateo County featured their Marin-grown 2007 Pinot Noir Corda Family Vineyard. And, in accord with last year’s precedent, assistant winemaker Nathan Kandler offered his own Precedent Wines 2006 Pinot Noir Chileno Valley Vineyard. I followed this wine with the 2006 Marin County Estate Grown Pinot Noir from organic vineyardists Stubbs Vineyard, then headed back to the grill for some rabbit sausage from Devil’s Gulch Ranch

Another organic vineyard—on the cusp of becoming biodynamic, DeLoach is part of Boisset Family’s genial expansion into California. And as this label expands beyond its Russian River Valley home, the 2009 Pinot Noir Marin County stacked up quite nicely with another 2009 Pinot Noir ???—I expect my proposed name will ultimately be selected in the contest they conducted. Stewart Johnson of Kendric Vineyards poured a five-year vertical of his Marin Pinot, but I guess I somehow missed the framing years of 2004 and 2008. Still I greatly enjoyed the superb 2005 Pinot Noir Marin County, followed by the 2007 and the 2006 in my personal preference. Meanwhile, Jonathan Pey of Pey-Marin Vineyards assumed pouring duties this year, serving his ever-notable 2007 Trois Filles Pinot Noir. I think he also slipped a taste of his 2009 The Shell Mound Riesling, but my notes show no mention.
Cowgirl Creamery generously furnished an array of cheeses, from which I liberally partook before heading over to Point Reyes Vineyards and their chilled NV Blanc de Noir; their 2007 Pinot Noir also warranted attention. I then tried a side-by-side comparison of the 2007 Pinot Noir Chileno Valley from Willowbrook Cellars, along their 2008 vintage, only to find both equally appealing. I did, however, display overt enthusiasm for the 2007 Andromedia Devil’s Gulch Ranch over its previous vintage, though both represent superb Pinot Noirs from Sean Thackrey, perhaps the only other man in attendance who has translated Aristophanes.
By now, there was but a scant few medallions of venison left, so I refueled for the ride back to San Francisco, but headed first for the Bay Club Marin for a quick swim and shower. I blundered slightly in ascertaining the best route home from there, but the starlit trek over the Golden Gate Bridge proved a perfect coda to this 10 hour sojourn.

Categories
Chardonnay Pinot Meunier Pinot Noir Pinotage Syrah

Waiting for Pinot (an œnostential comedy)

Two desolate characters, Vigneron and Donatello, lean heavily back-to-back in an empty field. The midday sun blazes overhead. Donatello is sweating profusely and repeated takes out a handkerchief to mop his brow. Though wearing a black bowler, Vigneron seems impervious to the heat.

Vigneron: Have we arrived here again?
Donatello: It would seem so.
Vigneron: As we have done every time.
Donatello: As we will continue to do… 
Vigneron: Shouldn’t we go onto something different…go somewhere else?
Donatello: You know that we can’t.

Vigneron holds his empty wine glass up toward the sun, as if examining a pour. He swirls, examines it for legs, then holds it to his nose as if inhaling its aromas.

Vigneron: What is it that he wants?
Donatello: Who?
Vigneron: Him!
Donatello: What does he want?
Vigneron: Exactly!
Donatello: What does he ever want?
Vigneron: He told us to meet him here.
Donatello: Was it today?
Vigneron: He said to meet him at noon.
Donatello: I am beginning to develop a tremendous thirst.
Vigneron: We must wait.
Donatello: There is a large bead of sweat dangling from the tip of my nose. If I extend my tongue as far as it will go, I might just be able to catch it. (Donatello sticks out his tongue, but is unable to reach his nose.) Drat! I was sure I could reach!
Vigneron: I am sure he will provide.
Donatello: Who?
Vigneron: (adamantly) Pinot! We are waiting for Pinot!!
Donatello: Perhaps I should face West.
Vigneron: All things must face West eventually. It’s inevitable.
Donatello: How do you know?
Vigneron: The azimuth of the sun.
Donatello: It is at its apex now. From here, we cannot tell which way is which.
Vigneron: Pinot will tell us.
Donatello: But when?
Vigneron: When he arrives.

Long pause.

Donatello: Switch places with me. I want him to see the back of my head as he approaches.
Vigneron: I don’t see how that matters.
Donatello: Everything matters, Vini. Everything.

Both men simultaneous try to aright themselves, but keep falling back into their interdependent posture. After four or five attempts, they realize the futility and make a 180° turn, backs pressed against each other, in order to switch places.

Vigneron: Which of us is facing West?
Donatello: Does it matter?
Vigneron: He might be concerned.
Donatello: Who?
Vigneron: He for whom we wait.
Donatello: Who?
Vigneron: Pinot!

A loud commotion is heard offstage. Miljenko, a Croatian field hand pushes a large field crusher, piled to the brim. A radiant child, Agostin, sit atop the clusters, squeezing grapes one by one, in order to shoot the seeds. A small donkey ambles beside them…

to be continued?


Your West Coast Oenophile segued into writing this blog after many years of pursuing fame & fortune as a playwright. Not that I’ve abandoned the vocation, mind you, but it has been a year or more since I’ve open up my Quark Xpress template (no writer worth his or her salt would even consider using the utterly execrable MS-Word) and set to typing.
Most of my plays constitute mordant satires, farces on the human condition as seen through wine-colored glasses, as it were. To be honest, thinly-veiled parody, as illustrated above, doesn’t really lend to expressing a distinctive voice, and, as those who have seen me toil to create Sostevinobile well know, I at all times refuse to be derivative! Still, I suppose I am a long way from putting the final touches on The Straight of Messina and seeing it mounted at The Magic Theater or Mark Taper Forum while the monumental tasks of creating this enterprise preoccupy me.
Admittedly, I derive enormous satisfaction from my forays into the wine world—an artistic pursuit unto itself—and the trip to the Pinot on the River Festival at Rodney Strong Vineyards last weekend was no exception. Like my Beckettian excerpt, the Grand Tasting began just before noon, beneath a blistering sun against which the rows of white tents could only tenuously shield. Along with the intense heat of the setting, my pulchritudinous partner-in-crime inexplicably displayed a most unwarranted petulance that quite had me taken “aback,” but rehashing of such matters are best played out offstage.
What differed this day from the preceding theatrical script was a distinct absence of waiting—Pinot Noir flowed readily and bountifully. With more than 100 wineries in attendance, it would have posed an insurmountable challenge even on a mild afternoon to cover all within the five hours allotted (roughly one visit every three minutes), so I must apologize in advance to all the places I could not cover. Certainly, there will be future opportunities to make amends.
The configuration of the pouring tables immediately thrust us upon Olson Ogden, which certainly was no misfortune. I have cited, if not lauded, their array of Pinot Noir and Syrah several times in this blog, and the 2007 Olson Ogden Pinot Noir Russian River Valley deliciously set the tone for the afternoon. A deft 180° turn brought us face-to-face with the table for Hirsch Vineyards, a grower whose lots were featured by numerous other vintners throughout the afternoon. Tasting their eponymous 2007 Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir was a rare treat, while their 2008 Bohan Dillon Pinot Noir offered a tantalizing glimpse into its future.
Hook & Ladder pays tribute to owner Cecil De Loach’s days as a San Francisco firefighter in the 1970s; at times, the extreme afternoon heat led one to wonder whether he might have to don his red helmet yet again. Nonetheless, his 2007 Pinot Noir Third Alarm Reserve was a marvelous complement to the festivities. Reach back a tad further, owner James Ontiveros’ Native⁹ Wine is a homage to his family’s nine generations in California since 1781! Looking ahead, his estate-grown 2008 Native⁹ Pinot Noir Ontiveros Vineyard was a wine of considerable portent, while both the 2007 Alta Maria Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard and the 2007 Alta Maria Pinot Noir Santa Maria Vineyard proved eminently drinkable now.
There were a few wineries at this festival with whom I had no previous contact. Moshin Vineyards, the first I encountered this afternoon, made a strong initial impression with their much-heralded 2007 Pinot Noir Lot 4 Selection, as well as the 2007 Moshin Vineyards Pinot Noir Russian River. Though I had tried Morgan Winery’s other varietals on prior occasions, I was not aware that they were the only certified organic winery in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Dare I say that their 2007 Double L Vineyard Hat Trick Pinot Noir was quite a mouthful?
Merry Edwards has long been revered as on of the wine world’s pioneering women for her fabled Pinot Noirs. Her 2007 Klopp Ranch Pinot Noir proved excellent; the 2007 Meredith Estate Pinot Noir, spectacular. It seems that at every Pinot tasting I attend, Kosta Browne is always the first to run out of wine. We wound our way to their table before the public tasting crowd filtered in and greedily two tastings each of their superb 2007 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Russian River Valley and the vineyard-designated 2007 Amber Ridge Pinot Noir. Let’s just say that I do not intend ever to be denied again!
We sauntered along the row of artisanal cheesemakers, fortifying ourselves with some much-needed sustenance before reaching the back section of tables and the multi-latitudinal offering of Expression. Like Siduri/Novy (whom I’d wished would be on hand), Expression operates in both California and Oregon; this blurring of boundaries underscores the reason why Sostevinobile elected to embrace the entire West Coast as our locale. The 2007 Expression 39° Annahala, their Anderson Valley Pinot Noir figuratively seemed the more elevated of the two Pinots they had brought, though the 2006 Expression 44° Eola-Amity Hills was certainly a superb wine in its own right. Next up, Sojourn Cellars debuted their 2008 Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyards, one of the most notable wines of the afternoon. At their neighboring table, the aptly-named Small Vines, a boutique Chardonnay and Pinot Noir producer out of Sebastopol, brought their striking 2007 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast MK Vineyard and an appealing 2007 Small Vines Pinot Noir Russian River.
I’ve known Andy Peay (like myself, as well as my vexatious tasting companion, a fellow Dartmouth alum) for quite a number of years; I can always count on him to bring a little something outside of his announced pourings, especially at these single varietal affairs. A sip of his 2007 Peay Vineyards Estate Chardonnay provided a welcome palliative to the mounting heat, and it was a treat to preview his 2007 La Bruma Estate Syrah. And, of course, befitting this event, his 2007 Sea Scallop Estate Pinot Noir did nothing to disappoint. Another longtime acquaintance, journeyman winemaker David Vergari brought a wide selection from his own label, including a couple of side-by-side comparisons. His extraordinary 2007 Pinot Noir Marin County offered an amazing contrast to the previous vintage of the same, while his well-aged 2003 Pinot Noir Van der Kamp Vineyard displayed tantalizing hints of where the 2006 bottling would be headed.

Speaking of tantalizing, San Rafael newcomer Claypool Cellars turned more than a few heads with their uplifting costumes, as well as their inaugural Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, the 2007 Purple Pachyderm. Also debuting at this event was Healdsburg’s Gracianna Vineyards, with an exquisite 2007 Pinot Noir Bagiacalupi Vineyard. Formerly known as Green Truck, the rechristened Road 31 Wine Co. shared a few last bottles of their sold-out 2007 Pinot Noir Napa Valley. The newish Pillow Road, sister winery to Ladera, translated their well-established virtuosity to this Pinot-only venture with a remarkably smooth 2007 Pillow Road Pinot Noir Russian River Valley.

Another recent single-varietal foray, Joelle Wine Company, offered a trio of vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs, including the 2007 Amber Ridge Pinot Noir and an enchanting 2007 La Encantada Pinot Noirgrown organically in the Santa Rita Hills. George Levkoff’s eponymous George Wine Co. has bottled nothing but Pinot since 2003, their array of single-vineyard wines labeled by their respective vintage. 2007 produced the Vintage 5 Pinot Noir Ceremonial Vineyard, quite the pleasing effort from this solo endeavor.

Former Benziger winemaker displayed his most efforts under his twin Ooh and Ahh labels. The 2006 Ahh Brickhill Vineyard had considerable merit, while the 2004 Ooh Bien Nacido clearly stood out as his most significant bottling this afternoon, a wine meant to be enjoyed over candlelight dinner, the means for which were generously furnished by his chandelière wife, Krassimira. Another Benziger offshoot, Signaterra represents their fusion of the forces of Earth, Man, and Nature to create distinctly sustainable wines. Their trio of vineyard-designate wines poured here included the 2007 Pinot Noir Bella Luna, the 2007 Pinot Noir San Remo and their standout, the 2007 Pinot Noir Giusti.
Nearby, Ketcham Estate is closely allied with Kosta Browne, sharing the same winemaker. Here his efforts shone brightly in the 2007 Ketcham Estate Pinot Noir Russian River Valley but utterly glistened with the 2007 Pinot Noir Ketcham Vineyard. Glistening may have been the visual effect the web designers for Cloud Rest hoped to achieve; instead, the bloat of this infuriatingly slow multimedia presentation brought my Safari browser to a crashing halt. However, I have nothing but praise for their winemaking pyrotechnics, both with the 2004 Cloud Rest Pinot Noir and the superb 2005 Cloud Rest Pinot Noir.
I hope that other wine bars will see Sostevinobile as a comrade-in-arms, not a competitor; a number of these have introduced me to wines that were pour at Pinot on the River. I’ve had the occasion to try several of Sea Smoke’s wines at on of the clubby Monday night Meet the Winemaker tastings at California Wine Merchant, but was quite disappointed they had exhausted their supply of 2007 Pinot Noir Southing by the time I made it to their table. Similarly, I’ve tossed back a few glasses of Roessler’s 2006 Pinot Noir La Encantada at San Francisco’s District; both their 2007 Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown and 2007 Pinot Noir Widdoes Vineyard held up with equal aplomb.
I can’t remember a major tasting I’ve recently attended where Santa Cruz’ Sarah’s Vineyard wasn’t a presence; nonetheless, I was more than happy to revisit their 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains and the utterly splendid 2007 Pinot Nor Santa Clara Valley. A few tables over, I made the acquaintance of brothers Aaron and Jesse Inman, nephews of Pinot legend August Briggs and founders of Romililly, a 350 case operation that featured the highly commendable 2008 Romililly Pinot Noir Russian River Valley. Not much further down the row of tables, I followed David Vergari’s suggestion and visited with Pali Wine Co., a Lompoc undertaking. Like Elevation, Pali sources single vineyard fruit from major Pinot Noir AVA from the Central Coast to Oregon. Their 2007 vintage alone included 13 different Pinot bottlings, represented this afternoon solely by the 2007 Pinot Noir Turner Vineyard, a Santa Rita Hills selection. The next vintage was pared down considerably, with two of the four Pinots produced present: the commendable 2008 Pinot Noir Huntington from Santa Barbara and, de rigueur, the 2008 Pinot Noir Bluffs from Russian River Valley. Much to my relief, a chilled 2008 Pali Chardonnay offered a respite from both the heat and the orthodoxy of the Pinot focus.
Don’t get me wrong—I am not disparaging of Pinot Noir; eventually, however, any tasting with but a single varietal makes making distinctions a considerable challenge. Happily, the best counter to this monolithicism was the ever-popular Fort Ross, cooling things down with both their 2006 Chardonnay Fort Ross Vineyard and their 2008 Rosé of Pinot Noir. Their 2006 Pinotage Fort Ross Vineyard easily matched the numerous versions of this varietal I had sampled at a recent South African wine tasting, while their true Pinot, the 2006 Pinot Noir: Symposium easily rated among the top ten wines of the afternoon.
A sparkling wine, like a Blanc de Noir from Rodney Strong’s onetime affiliate, Piper Sonoma, or Marimar Torres’ Gloria Ferrer, would have been both welcome and appropriate at this stage, but, alas, it was not to be. Still, her namesake Marimar Estate managed to keep this temperate with their organically-farmed 2006 Pinot Noir Don Miguel Vineyard and its maternal corollary, the 2006 Pinot Noir Doña Margarita Vineyard. In 1999, sparkling wine producer Domaine Chandon found they had an excess of Pinot Meunier and bottled it as a single varietal; we were so impressed with this bottling, we bought a case just for Thanksgiving dinner. Tasting the 2007 Domaine Chandon Pinot Meunier at this festival proved more than nostalgic.
While on the subject of nostalgia, this afternoon afforded me the chance to taste C. Donatiello, a rebranding of the former Belvedere Winery where I did my first bottling in 1990. The head of Bill Hambrecht’s restructured wine operations, Chris Donatiello held forth at his table with his 2006 C. Donatiello Pinot Noir Russian River Valley and the more distinctive 2007 Pinot Noir Maddie’s Vineyard. Just down the row, Cécile Lemerle-Derbès offered her 2006 Derbès Pinot Noir Russian River, while Sebastopol’s DuNah showcased both the 2006 DuNah Estate Pinot Noir and the 2006 Dunah Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard.
In addition to its lineup of seven different Pinot Noirs, De La Montanya Estate produces a dizzying array of varietals from Primitivo and Zinfandel to Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo. I was content to limit myself to their 2007 Pinot Noir Tina’s Vineyard and the formidable 2007 De La Montanya Pinot Noir reserve. At the other end of the spectrum, I delighted in sampling the 2007 Desmond Estate Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, a single production of only 80 cases.
A couple of Pinot Noir superstars came through like—well, Pinot Noir superstars. Hank Skewis showed off a quartet from his Skewis portfolio, ranging from Anderson Valley’s 2007 Pinot Noir Corby Vineyard and Russian River’s 2007 Pinot Noir Lingenfelder Vineyard to the 2006 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Reserve and the wondrous 2006 Pinot Noir Salzgeber-Chan Vineyard. Likewise, Gary Farrell’s renowned dedication to Russian River fruit was exemplified by his 2006 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Russian River Valley and his 2007 Pinot Noir Hallberg Vineyard.
K & L Wine Merchants are exclusive wine purveyors renowned throughout the Bay Area. Fittingly, I concluded the 2009 Pinot on the River Festival with my own K & L’s. First up was a revisit with Kokomo Wines, a recent acquaintance from the Dry Creek Festival, and their just-released 2007 Pinot Noir Peters Vineyard. Landmark Vineyards followed with their highly-rated 2007 Pinot Noir Grand Detour and the 2007 Pinot Noir Solomon Hills.
Winding down, I felt self-proclaimed vigneron Eric Ladd comported himself nicely with the 2007 Ladd Cellars Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast and his 2007 Pinot Noir Cuvée Abigail, a tribute to his wife. Named in homage to Roman goddess of gaiety, Laetitia Vineyards paired its 2006 Pinot Noir La Colline with its distinctive 2007 Pinot Noir Reserve du Domaine. I sprinted to the finish with four wines from Littorai,: their 2008 Les Larmes Pinot Noir, the 2007 Pinot Noir Mays Canyon, and the 2007 Pinot Noir Cerise Vineyard, along with a final 2007 Chardonnay Charles Heintz Vineyard.
A good time was had by all—but one, apparently. My erstwhile date felt compelled to unleash a torrent of invectives that, if not vituperative, felt quite officious. Importuned to drive back to San Francisco at a speed that could well have earned us an evening’s accommodation in the beneath the Marin Civic Center, I nonetheless managed to maintain both my equanimity and the posted legal limits. Call it the perceived entitlement of a latter generation or a fundamental difference in our personal ambitions; nonetheless, I can fathom no cause for her discontent nor did I receive any semblance of an explanation for such. I am still waiting…