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Albariño Alicante Bouschet Alvarelhão Barbera Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Carignane Colombard Dolcetto Dornfelder Gewürztraminer Graciano Grenache Kerner Malbec Merlot Montepulciano Moscato Mourvèdre Nero d’Avola Petit Verdot Petite Sirah Pinot Grigio Rosé Sangiovese Sauvignon Blanc Souzão Syrah Tempranillo Tinta Cão Touriga Valdiguié Verdelho Vermentino Viognier Zinfandel Zweigelt

KA-BOOM!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Categories
Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Carménère Chardonnay Colombard Grenache Loureiro Malbec Merlot Mourvèdre Petit Verdot Rosé Sangiovese Sauvignon Blanc St. Laurent Syrah Viognier Zinfandel Zweigelt

2+2+2

Whew! With this entry, Your West Coast Oenophile can finally put September to rest. Not that I’m complaining, but sampling some 600-700 wines, attending nine major tastings—not to mention sustainable business & networking affairs like West Coast Green and SOCAPand then chronicling the entire panoply of events could render a man follicly challenged (if he weren’t already follicly challenged). Ironically, though, two of the most intriguing wines I had the pleasure of sampling this past month I encountered outside these tastings.

First was the 2009 Loureiro John Whitman from Old Creek Ranch sent me. The principal grape in Portugal’s Vinho Verde, it had an unexpected tartness that strained my ability to construe an apt food pairing. Online suggestions include tomato salads with vinaigrette or a roast Cornish game hen, but I suspect Fillet of Sole or grilled Tilapia might fit even better. In any case, a splendid bottling from one of California’s most diverse winemakers.

My other surprise came from Forlorn Hope, a winery upon which Sostevinobile has heaped oodles of praise. Winemaker Matt Rorick excels as few others have with Spanish varietals grown here in California, so it was quite revelatory to discover his 2007 Ost-Intrigen, a wine made from the Austrian varietal, St. Laurent (apparently only 97 vines are planted in the entire state)! Like the Loureiro, this wine defies categorization, though comparisons to Mokelumne Glen’s Zweigelt, which is a cross between St. Laurent and Lemberger, seem inevitable.

I encountered Matt’s wine purely by happenstance, in the midst of my investigation of , a new San Francisco eatery that dares to believe fidelity to locavore principles should extend to the wine list as well. Although it’s primarily a burger house, this relatively small establishment carries over 40 wines by the glass, all from California. Interestingly, rather that focus on a breadth of varietals, they try to offer a full range of offering from a few particular wineries—I think there were seven different wines from Forlorn Hope, for instance. Also following suit is Radius, a nearby fledgling operations in the former Julie’s Supper Club space, a restaurant and cafe that bills itself as “locally sourced, French inspired, California cuisine.” Here the modest local wine list includes wine by the glass, bottle service and vino alla spica—wines on tap from the small but growing number of wineries that provide this option. To both, Sostevinobile says “welcome to the club,” while in the same breath, we bid a sad farewell to Wayfare Tavern, which has capitulated and now feels compelled to carry a growing number of French vintages among its California-predominant wine list.

A final bit of news that readers outside the Bay Area may have missed is that summer finally arrived here—only days after the autumnal equinox! The heat wave of late September almost felt like it was compacting in as many degree-days over a long weekend as a full season usually accounts for, and this has had myriad implications—some good, some very bad—for the 2010 harvest. But at least the warmth allowed me finally to take a hike and swim to Bass Lake in Bolinas, a secluded treasure that has proven my haven in
times of stress dozens of times over the decades. A more pristine spot you could not find, and, fortunately, most people can’t find it!

I had hoped to drop by and visit Thackrey while I was in town, but too many obligations on either side of my Sunday hike limited my escape from diurnal duties. The day before, I drove in 100+ degree weather up to Hess Collection for the 11th Annual Mt. Veeder Appellation Wine Tasting. Twenty-one of Napa’s finest wineries poured their select vintages from grapes grown within the appellation in the sculpture garden that fronts Hess’ Visitors Center. With a moderate crowd on hand, the afternoon proved both manageable and thoroughly enjoyable.

Of course, being greeted by ever-ebullient Mary Yates at the check-in desk set the tone for the event, and so it just seemed appropriate to start off at her family’s table. Yates Family Vineyard produces less than 1000 cases of their own wine, including 100 cases of their 2009 Viognier, which readily soothed me after the hot drive from San Francisco. Their next wine, the 2007 Fleur de Mount Veeder, proved a paramount example that Merlot, made properly, can be a superlative wine, and while I felt this particular bottling stood out among their wines today, the 2007 Cheval, a Cabernet Franc, came not far behind. 2006 has generally proven a weaker vintage than its successor, and, while impressed, I felt the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon was not quite the equal of its Bordeaux brethren at the table. Nonetheless, the 2006 Alden Perry Reserve, a Pomérol-style blend of 50% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 8% Cabernet Franc proved a luscious wine.

Because of the Mt. Veeder-grown restriction, several of the wineries could only represent themselves with a single wine. Nonetheless, I found ample incentive for further exploration of Mount Veeder Winery, based on their 2005 Reserve (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec) and Renteria, with their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Tambor Vineyard, softened with 3% Syrah by winemaker Karen Culler. Brian & Lori Nuss’ Vinoce featured their self-referential 2006 Vinoce Mount Veeder Estate. O’Shaughnessy Estate  showcased their pure 2007 Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon, a stark contrast from their 2007 Howell Mountian Cabernet Sauvignon I have previously reviewed. And, if they produced more than one wine besides 100 cases of their superb 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, I would keenly pursue the other bottlings of Paratus.

For the most part, Mount Veeder focuses on Cabernet and other Bordelaise varietals, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, a bit of Sauvignon Blanc, and a smattering of Rhône Grapes. Today’s one exception to this orthodoxy was Random Ridge, with its 2007 Fortunata, a Super Tuscan that is 90% Sangiovese; I also found the separate components of this bottling, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2004 Cabernet Franc, highly appealing. Otherwise, even the iconoclasts at Y. Rousseau, which continues to excel with their 2009 Colombard Old Vines from the Russian River Valley, stayed within bounds with their very fine 2008 Chardonnay and the 2008 Le Roi, a Cabernet Sauvignon.

It was good to see several familiar faces here from a number of different tastings I had attended in the past year. I’d met Dominique Scaggs at last year’s CCOF Organic Beer, Wine & Spirit Tasting and had raved about her 2008 Vineyard Rosé. Call it the heat—this time, the blush Grenache seemed quite good but not as stratospheric as I had recalled. Nonetheless, her 2007 Mount Veeder Montage, a Mourvèdre-dominated GMS blend gradually opened up to reveal a superlative wine. Marketta Formeaux was a familiar face from the discontinued Napa Valley with Altitude tasting and continued to impress with her Hand Made label; an undeclared “natural wine” producer, she poured a hig
hly approachable 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, an admirable 2006 Mt. Veeder Blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot), and her standout, the 2005 Mt. Veeder Chardonnay. And for the third time this month, I sampled Lagier Meredith, this time pouring a 2009 Rosé of Syrah, a likable 2006 Syrah, and the preferable 2007 Syrah.

I hadn’t previously heard of Jake-Ryan Cellars, but was please to try their 2006 Syrah Napa Valley, as well as a standout 2007 Zinfandel Bald Mountain Vineyard. It turns out to be my first encounter, too, with Lokoya Winery, an enterprise that has received enormous accolades for its vineyard-designate Cabernets from each of Napa’s mountain AVAs (Spring Mountain, Diamond Mountain, Howell Mountain, and, of course Mt. Veeder). While none of their Cabs were on hand for this tasting, I found their 2007 Cardinale Merlot and the 2007 Malbec both excellent.

Another multi-mountain specialist, Robert Craig, needs no introduction, yet I found the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder an intense, complex wine. Presaging how this wine portends to develop, he also pour his 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine close to its peak of excellence. Godspeed Vineyards dug back even further, showcasing their striking 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon, from a vintage that had originally been deemed inferior, as well as a noteworthy 2001 and 2003 bottling. Lest they seem mired in the past, they also pour the 2008 Chardonnay.

1997 was thought to be the vintage of the decade, yet the 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon Mayacamas Vineyards poured paled in comparison to their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. Likewise, I greatly preferred the 2007 Chardonnay to the 2000 Chardonnay, though I admired how well it had held up for 10 years. Meanwhile, both the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc and the 2006 Merlot proved more than pleasant. Rubissow poured a substantial selection of their current wines, all of even consistency: the 2006 Merlot, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2005 Trompette, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Their standout, however, was the 2005 Sargent Reserve, an exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon.

I count on LaTour for consistent performance, and found nothing to dissuade me in either the 2007 Chardonnay or the 2006 Syrah they poured. Syrah specialists Spotted Owl proved their mettle as well, with the 2006 Lev’s Cuvée and the 2007 Alexandria’s Cuvée, as well as with their 2007 Mountain Cuvée, a Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon blend.

I confess I found both the 2009 Chardonnay and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Fontanella somewhat lackluster. So, too, were the basic 2008 Chardonnay and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from host Hess Collection. From their Small Block series, however, the 2007 Block 19 Cuvée proved an extraordinary wine, a deft blend of 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Malbec, 4% Syrah, 4% Merlot, and 1% Petit Verdot every bit as profound as the art collection for which this winery is famed.

I did linger a bit, once the event had wrapped up, to explore the collection a bit and sample a few of Hess’ other wines, but, by now, time was truly of the essence, as I had fallen behind in chronicling my seven previous September tastings and still had another to cover. And, besides, I had a long-overdue date with Ba
ss Lake the next morning.


September culminated in the Première Coombsville Trade & Media Tasting at the posh Napa Valley Country Club. This soon-to-be certified sub-AVA encompasses 11,000 acres from the eastern bank of the Napa River to the western edge of the Vaca Range. Some had preferred this region be called Tulocay, but the Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau denied their petition. With this controversy laid to rest, 21 Coombsville wineries eagerly participated in this afternoon’s gathering.

Now if only every other tasting provided such a thorough event program detailing not only the participating wineries but also each of the wines they were featuring—with ample space for taking notes—it’s possible (though not highly probable) that I might wind my way through this blog in a quasi-timely fashion! Of course, in the not-so-distant future, an electronic guide one could navigate and annotate on an iPad would serve just as well—if not better, considering I can barely read my own handwriting these days!

Flipping through this booklet, I randomly selected Inherit the Sheep for my first stop. It’s a quirky name, with an equally quirky label, and while I truly wonder whether I could order a bottle of this wine in a restaurant while managing to keep a straight face, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon proved itself a serious wine, albeit a bit tight (no sheep pun intended). Owner Tersilla Gregory also previewed her 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, another 200 case production that displayed incredible promise while, at the same time, being eminently drinkable now.

Many of the wineries here this day fell within the sub-1000 case level, if not significantly smaller. Black Cat, with just over 500 cases, typified this category, handcrafting their three stellar wines, the 2007 Estate Syrah, a notable 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2006 Cuvée, a deft blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Syrah. Another such boutique, organic winemaker Tournesol featured their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2006 Proprietor’s Blend, a mix of predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, with Merlot and minor portions of Petit Verdot and Malbec. Weighing in at 600 cases, Sciandri poured their sole effort, the 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, and its burgeoning successor, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Other Cab only ventures include the 250 case production of Le Chanceux; their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Belles Filles Vineyard has developed into an exceptional wine, while the 2007 vintage portends even further greatness. Marita’s Vineyard showcased their twin small-production wines, the 2005 Marita’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and the equally-appealing 2005 Soma Cabernet Sauvignon.

In 2005, with his wife Lisa, Jarvis winemaker Ted Henry launched Prime Cellars, believing Coombsville to offer a prime location for their winery. Certainly, their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Midoriya Hills Vineyard has validated this assumption, while their 2007 District 4 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2008 District 4 Chardonnay did much to underscore it. Another Coombsville pioneer, Daviana, showed a strong 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2007 Red Wine, a (roughly) 3:2 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc; their standout, however, was the 2007 Cabernache,
which is not Neapolitan slang but a fusion of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache
.

Among Coombsville’s better-known wineries lies Palmaz Vineyards, in the foothills of Mt. George. This gravity-flow facility (no mechanical pumps) boasts the world’s largest underground reinforced structure in its fermentation dome. But such interesting factoids need be subordinate to the actual appreciation for the wine, which proved quite remarkable in both the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Cedar Knoll Vineyards and the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Palmaz Vineyards. Coombsville’s Ancien Wines seemed almost Carneros-like on this afternoon, dazzling with its 2008 Pinot Noir Mink Vineyard, backed by their 2007 Pinot Noir Haynes Vineyard and the 2007 Napa Chardonnay.And while Silverado Vineyards is actually a Stags Leap District winery, its properties in Coombsville bore the fruit that comprised the 2006 Mount George Merlot and its successive vintage.

Interestingly, two of the wineries here produce wine as a philanthropic venture. My friend Lauren Ackerman’s winery has produced a single annual Cabernet since 2003 and donated the net proceeds to the Napa Valley Community Foundation. Here they poured a vertical of their past three vintages, with a decided nod toward the middle selection, the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon; the recently added 2007 Alavigna Tosca is a superb blend Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon I was eager to resample, as well. Dickhaus Valley Vineyards is primarily a grapegrower but bottles an annual Meritage that they donate to charitable events; while I felt the need to be charitable toward their 2007 vintage, the 2006 Coombsville Hillside Bordeaux Estate Blend was a delightful wine. Dickhaus also poured a couple of wines other vintners had produced from their grapes, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Coombsville from Hesperian and the very approachable 2007 Right Bank Blend, a Cheval Blanc homage of 75% Cabernet Franc & 25% Merlot, from Sullivan Vineyards.

Speaking of Merlot, I found Blue Oak Vineyards lone pour, the 2007 Estate Merlot, downright excellent. And I suppose I would have liked the delightful 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from Burly simply based on its name (despite this afternoon’s decidedly ectomorphic server). And based on the delights of his 2007 Rocket Science, a proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot, and Carménère, I am eager to sample the varietal bottlings of the six principal Bordeaux reds and Tannat that owner John Caldwell described so floridly.

Normally, I would not associate Merlot with salmon, but Coho Wines is a different case. Of course, it seems almost obligatory that they produce a Russian River Pinot Noir, which I have yet to try, but I delighted in their Coombsville offerings, including both the 2006 Merlot Michael Black Vineyard and its softer successor, the 2007 Merlot Michael Black Vineyard. While not officially being released until November, their 2008 Headwaters, a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and around 30% Merlot, with Petit Verdot added for roundness, proved a wine of tremendous promise. Also with a pre-release of a fauna-inspired label, Porter Family Vineyards masterfully blended Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to make their 2007 Sandpiper Red. Their 2009 Sandpiper Rosé (of Syrah) hedged a bit on the fruity side, but I found both their 2007 Syrah and the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon (blended with 12% Syrah and 3% Merlot) compelling, handsome wines.

Winemaker Dawnine Dyer’s skilled touch evidenced itself in both wines Sodaro Estate produces: the 2006 Felicity Cabernet Sauvignon, which contains 8% Merlot, 7% Malbec and 7%
Petit Verdot, and the striking 2006 Estate Blend, a wine that more evenly marries the same four varietals. Kirk Venge crafts wines for Frazier Winery also focused on the principal Bordelaise varietals, and while I found both the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Cabernet Franc rather insubstantial, I did relish the 2007 Merlot and particularly liked the 2007 Memento Cabernet Sauvignon.

My last sampling of the afternoon featured another seasoned industry veteran, Tom Farella, with his esteemed Farella-Park label. His wines ranged from the very good—the 2009 La Luce Sauvignon Blanc—to the flat-out excellent 2006 Coombsville Divide Merlot. In between, both the 2006 Road Lock Syrah and the 2006 West Face Cabernet Sauvignon presented superb œnology. Bottled separately under the Farella label, the 2006 Alta, a proprietary blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot, stood equal to these other reds.

As with the Mt. Veeder tasting, the Coombsville Première immensely pleased me for orchestrating a well-planned event that posed little difficulty in navigating, while restricting itself to few enough wineries to allow me to sample each and spend quality time interfacing with their principals. Plus, it proved highly productive to discover so many wineries that had yet to be included in Sostevinobile’s ever-expanding roster. And with that, my arduous slate of nine full-scale September tastings came to a close.

I hadn’t brought my golf clubs along (but probably would have been daunted by the 108°F temperature if I had); I did have a bathing suit on hand, and seriously contemplated hopping in the pool before leaving. Instead, I thought better and decided to wait until I reached Bay Club Marin, where I could swim legitimately. Later that evening, I needed to confront a pair of interlopers intent on turning Sostevinobile’s preferred location into a pool hall, but that is a drama that will likely unfold in a future instillation here.