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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
Albariño Alicante Bouschet Barbera Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Carignane Chardonnay Dolcetto Grenache Grenache Gris Kerner Merlot Montepulciano Mourvèdre Müller-Thurgau Muscat Petit Bouschet Petite Sirah Pinot Grigio Port Riesling Roussanne Sangiovese Sauvignon Blanc Sylvaner Symphony Syrah Tempranillo Verdelho Vermentino Viognier Zinfandel

Make Wine, not War—the Sequel

I haven’t written about the Punahou Kid since he took office. Of course, if he had actually accomplished anything beyond soaring rhetoric over the past nine months, I might have felt compelled to comment. Still, I find it alarmingly incongruent that a person perpetuating one war and escalating another can be accorded the world’s most revered award for the promulgation of pacifistic ideals. Failure to see the inherent contradiction here fundamentally correlates to an unabashed appreciation of the Blue Angels as a precision flight formation performing purely for entertainment value, while myopically ignoring the militaristic propaganda underlying such displays.

Far better to see military facilities turned to civilian use. Once again, Your West Coast Oenophile had the pleasure of visiting one such converted base, this time on the man-made Treasure Island, a four hundred acre development attached to the natural formation of Yerba Buena Island at the middle juncture of the Bay Bridge. This past Sunday, the first annual Treasure Island Wine Fest hosted Lodi on the Water, a celebration of more than 40 wineries from this surprisingly diverse AVA can no longer be considered the backwater of the California wine industry.

 

A chance to see old friends, a chance to meet new ones. Before I started developing Sostevinobile, the Ginkgo Girl and I ventured out to the delta for Lodi Zinfest on a day where the temperature rose above 100° F. Not exactly the most conducive way to pour or to taste wine. This weekend, however, a fog so heavy the Blue Angels had to cancel their Saturday performance hovered well into the afternoon before dissipating.
Not that the wines still weren’t in danger of overheating. An overwhelming crowd had already inundated the tent Treasure Island had recently erected to host large gatherings even before I arrived—and this was only the preview reception for media and trade. Dreading the arrival of the public attendees, I beelined over to the table for Mokelumne Glen, a winery I believe is the only producer in California devoted exclusively to German varietals. With such scant basis for comparison, I concede I feel somewhat hesitant to assess these wines, though the 2008 Late Harvest Kerner certainly ranked as one of the standouts; also quite pleasing, the 2008 Bacchus blended Müller-Thurgau with a Riesling/Sylvaner hybrid.

Another hybrid varietal grown with greater proliferation in Lodi is Symphony, a cross UC-Davis developed from Grenache Gris and Muscat of Alexandria. Abundance marries Symphony with Sauvignon Blanc to create their 2007 Bountiful Blanc, a most distinctive blend. I used to drink their 1999 Viognier almost religiously and had hoped to sample their current vintage, Nonetheless, their 2005 Abundantly Rich Red, a Carignane/Zinfandel mélange, provided more than satisfactory consolation. Murphys stalwart Ironstone Vineyards offered an undiluted interpretation of Symphony with their 2008 Obsession, but true kudos belonged to their 2006 Cabernet Franc.
Ironstone’s Kautz family also produces Christine Andrews as a more sophisticated line of wines. Certainly their 2007 Malbec, though still young, portended a promising evolution, but I found myself wishing they’d brought their 2005 Tempranillo as a benchmark.

Not that the afternoon was lacking for Spanish varietals. Assuredly, Lodi’s leader in this category has long been Bokisch Vineyards, which also spearheads Lodi Rules, the rigorous standard for sustainability throughout this AVA. Markus could not attend this event, owing to harvest duties, but, much to everyone’s delight, this wife was on hand to promote the winery. Liz is the kind of girl who could pour Two Buck Chuck and make it taste good, but her own wines required no embellishment. I found myself liking the 2008 Albariño better than its previous vintage, while the 2007 Garnacha outpaced the other reds she offered.
Standing just behind her, Harney Lane’s interpretation of Albariño seemed somewhat fruitier, but both their 2007 Zinfandel and their 2006 Petite Sirah were monumental expressions of their particular varietal. Housed in Elk Grove, McConnell Estates also produced a noteworthy 2006 Tempranillo, as well as a forthright 2006 Petite Sirah, while Acampo’s St. Jorge Winery accompanied its stellar 2007 Tempranillo with a refreshing take on the standard Portuguese white varietal with their 2008 Verdelho. With a motto of “No Boring Wines,” Ripken Vineyards certainly produces strikingly colorful labels, but I felt neither the 2005 Vintage Port nor the 2006 El Matador Tempranillo had quite the same con gusto zest that their packaging conveyed. Still, I was quite enamored of their immensely flavorful 2006 Late Harvest Viognier.
What? No Pinot? In addition to German and Iberian grapes, Lodi offers a wide range of Italian, Bordeaux and Rhône varietals, not to mention a ubiquitous supply of Zinfandel (interestingly, no one with whom I spoke ventured to mention Tokay or the other filler grapes that made up the bulk of Lodi’s growing 25 years ago). I typically think of Peltier Station for their Petite Sirah, and was pleased to discover their new Hybrid label, a line of sustainable wines that included a new 2007 Hybrid Petite Sirah, as well as a nicely drinkable 2008 Hydrid Pinot Grigio. Watts Winery is a small operation with a big heart—they produce a special On Wings of Hope line to benefit Burkitt’s lymphoma research. I wish they would have taken their 2005 Montepulciano to the tasting, but their 2005 Dolcetto Los Robles Vineyard Clements Hills was more than delightful in its own right. Time constrains caused me to overlook the 2007 Pinot Grigio from Van Ruiten Family Winery, though I did manage a taster’s sip of their splendid 2006 Cab-Shiraz.
Several years ago, I introduce Macchia to Consorzio Cal-Italia; this tasting offered a chance to reconnect and sample their 2007 Amorous Sangiovese and their 2007 Delicious Barbera (one of several versions of this varietal that they produce). Still, it was their library offering of the debut 2001 Barbera that really sent me back. St. Amant Winery also brought a pair of strong Barbera vintages, contrasting their 2007 Barbera with a just-released 2008 Barbera, Another old acquaintance, l’Uvaggio di Giacomo has simplified its name for non-Italian speakers (something Sostevinobile will never do!), but the new Uvaggio label is undiminished with an outstanding 2005 Barbera and a 2008 Vermentino that makes for an easy apéritif.
The Woodbridge Winery not only compelled the gargantuan industrial wineries in California to start making wines with an eye toward quality, it also catalyzed recognition for the potential of Lodi as a varietal-driven AVA. Although this facility’s repute has dwindled since Robert Mondavi stepped back from personal control, and portends to devolve into an indistinguishable jug factory under the current regime, they still managed to produce a respectable 2008 Vermentino for this event. I can’t say that Constellation’s other holding, Talus Winery, struck much of a positive chord with any of their offerings, while Gallo’s Barefoot Cellars seemed outright pedestrian compared to their heyday as part of Davis Bynum. Once again, I could not bring myself to warm up to any of the lackluster Campus Oaks wines that Gnekow Family mass-produces. Central Valley conglomerate Delicato Vineyards ponied up to the table with four disparate labels, and managed to make a slightly positive impression with their 2007 181 Merlot.

 

Back to accentuating the positive. One thing for certain, Lodi has know lack of inventiveness in coming up with offbeat names for their wines.Witness Michael~David Winery,which seemingly tries to squeeze more life out of a pun than juice can be extracted from a ton of grapes. From their collection of collection of 7 Deadly Zins, I immensely enjoyed the 2006 Gluttony Zinfandel and luxuriated in the 2005 Rapture Cabernet Sauvignon; also noteworthy but obvious, their 2007 Petite Petit, a Petit Verdot/Petite Sirah blend. Grands Amis also offered a young but promising 2007 Petit Verdot and a similarly evolving 2007 Première Passion, a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Along with their noteworthy, 2007 Estate Petite Sirah, Vino Con Brio! shared their 2008 Estate Brillante, a deft mix of Viognier, Roussanne, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc and the 2008 Passione Rosé, a blushing Sangiovese. Stama Winery made their pitch with the 2005 Curvaceous Cabernet and 2007 Zany Zin, but I cottoned more to their 2005 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc.In and of itself, Klinker Brick is a great name, so they can be excused if their 2007 Farrah Syrah is a tribute to owner Farrah Felten and not the late Charlie’s Angel. Besides, their 2007 Old Ghost Zin was enough to make one downright jiggly!

A pun on the name of owner Dave Dart led to the development of d’Art Wines, a highly stylized line of wines that feature the artwork of spouse Helen Rommel Dart on the labels. With lush red coloring on the inside of the bottles, as well, they painted a bold swath with both their 2007 Tempranillo and the 2007 Zinfandel. m2 Wines featured their 2007 Artist Series’ Zinfandel, a perennial commissioned showcase, along with their appealing Syrah/Petite Sirah mix, the 2006 Duality and the 2007 Trio, which blends the same varietal with a predominant Cabernet Sauvignon. The artwork of painter Chris Spencer adorns the very Van Gogh-like label for Barsetti Vineyards. Though it may seem heretical these days, their oaky 2006 Chardonnay outshone their steel-barreled version from the following vintage.; their 2006 Zinfandel showed quite nicely, too.
Several Lodi wineries stay close to the basics and produce quite admirable wines. The Lucas Winery offered a 2006 Chardonnay, as well as a panoply of different Zinfandel bottlings, featuring their 2005 Zinstar. I remain surprised that Maley Brothers still lacks a website, but their trio of 2004 Merlot, 2006 Petite Sirah and 2005 Zinfandel remained as true as when I’d previously sampled them. Lodi mainstay Berghold Vineyards, a long-standing acquaintance, brought out a truly elegant 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, along with the debut of their 2006 Footstomp Zinfandel, both estate bottlings. And it was no onus to sample the 2007 Chardonnay and 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from Onus Vineyards.
Readers know I am never hesitant to tweak the wineries, whenever I see an opening. I told Trinitas Cellars their 2006 Ratzinger Zinfandel tasted rather “papal;” I was also quite fond of their 2005 Old Vine Petite Sirah. I also thought Oak Ridge Winery needed a wine called Elvira, but they handled themselves quite ably with their 2007 3 Girls Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2005 Moss Roxx Zinfandel.
Call it an Italian thing—I’ll refrain from the obvious puns on Borra Winery, tempting though they may be. Their designated 45.7° series may seem eclectic to some, but their Fusion wines, particularly the 2008 Fusion–Red, a blend with 60% Syrah and 30% Petite Sirah (with other varietals comprising the remaining 10%) set the standard for this winery. I hold a similar respect for LangeTwins, a winery that has been cited for its implementation of sustainable technology and long-standing dedication to environmental preservation. Their 2007 Petit Verdot shows that their fidelity to the Lodi Rules only enhances the flavor of the wine; the 2005 Midnight Reserve is a finely-tuned Bordeaux blend, with Cabernet Sauvignon predominant.
Zinfandel being a hallmark of Lodi, it was not surprising to find some wineries exclusively featuring this varietal, like the Paul Simeon Collection, whose only pour was their 2007 St. Sophia Zinfandel. Benson Ferry staged a Zinfandel trifecta, with their 2006 95240 Zinfandel zipping by and winning by a nose. Jessie’s Grove Winery also featured a number of their Zinfandels, including the cleverly-named 2006 Earth, Zin & Fire and a deep 2006 Westwind Zinfandel; My true fondness, however, was reserved for their 2008 Chardonnay and the 2008 Jessence Blanc, a Roussanne/Viognier blend.
I concede that my fondness for Harmony Wynelands may have precipitated from the charms of event coordinator Kitty Wong, who was on hand to pour their esoteric 2006 GMA, a marriage of Mourvèdre, Grenache and Alicante Bouschet. This latter varietal, a cross between Grenache and Petit Bouschet, a hybrid vitis vinifera created from Aramon and Teinturier du Cher, which gives Alicante Bouschet the rarity of having red flesh; such a complex pedigree is cause for Harmony Wynelands to give its bottling the lofty appellation of 2005 Alicante Bouschet Premier Crush. On the less exotic side, I also found their 2006 Riesling quite approachable, as well. 
In contrast, Heritage Oak Winery may have seemed to venture into the slightly exotic with their quite satisfying 2007 Vino Tinto, but its Spanish appellation belied a distinctly California combination of Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Sirah. Their 2007 Block 14 Zinfandel was equally appealing. Namesake Carl Mettler of Mettler Family Wines provided a well-received 2007 Epicenter Old Vine Zinfandel, along with the 2005 Petite Sirah and a somewhat early 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon that offered indications of future promise. Further down the row of tables, Vicarmont Vineyards’ Vic Mettler chose to stake his claim in the Right Bank’s dominating varietal, with a 2007 Vicarmont Merlot and the palindromic 2006 vMv Merlot.

My general sense is that the Lodi AVA, which had but eight working wineries in 1991, has made sizable strides in its viticultural evolution, especially since my last visit in 2007. Even though I would rate the inaugural Treasure Island Wine Fest as one of my more manageable tastings this year, with 43 wineries attending, there clearly was a enormous amount of information (and wine) to absorb. Certainly, a more capacious guide than a two-sided 8.5″ x 11″ print would have helped make the event more manageable, but I managed, most ironically, to visit with each of the presenters, thanks to the Blue Angels! Had they not put on their display somewhere near the midpoint of this marathon, the bulk of the crowd would have remained inside the tent, and my mounting sense of claustrophobia would have never permitted me to finish. Go figure!
I managed to attend a number of other tastings this past week, including Napa Valley Vintners’ Battle of the Palates that kicked off Harvest Week in San Francisco on Monday and Wednesday’s sumptuous Wine & Spirits Magazine Top 100 Tasting at The Galleria. The Punahou Kid came to town Thursday, yet inexplicably neglected to invite me to either of his soirées. I could have stood outside the St. Francis and joined the protests over the predictably lackluster results of his stewardship or the feckless selection of the Nobel Prize committee; instead, I opted to spend the evening uncharacteristically uncorking unimaginative imported wines at the Officer’s Club at Fort Mason. The first military base ever converted to civilian usage!