Category Archives: Sémillon

How you gonna keep him down on the Pharm?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quō vasisti, vēritās?

Let me state from the outset, Your West Coast Oenophile is not trying to cast any aspersions. Sostevinobile may be a passion—even an intellectual pursuit as I strive to develop an encyclopædic knowledge of the wines grown and produced along the northeast rim of the Pacific. But I initially trained as a Classics scholar, a pursuit with little practical relevance outside of academia or a post at the Vatican, and so I resort to any pretext I can find for dusting off twelve years of Latin studies (what does irrumabo mean, Sister Frances?) as a language and corpus of literature.

At another point, I may regale readers with some of the more piquant tales of my academic pursuits, particularly those relating to the tutelage of renowned Plautine and Euripidean scholar, the late Erich Segal. Suffice it to say that my response to his intellectual pretense became encapsulated in a full-length drama I wrote to fulfill the requirements for my other academic major in Creative Writing: (The Love Story of Big Daddy’s) Пошлость. OK, so I needed a pretext to dust off my knowledge of the русский язык, as well.

But before I go off on yet another endless digression, let me redirect focus to a trio of intimate wine tastings I attended to kick off the opening round of wine releases for 2014. All of these events, of course, are familiar to frequent visitors here, but the prospect of sampling numerous bottlings from the highly-anticipated 2012 vintage portended to promise “never having to say you’re sorry.”

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I) Every January, the collective known as In Vino Unitas holds its annual trade tasting in several venues around the Bay Area, including San Francisco. In many ways, it’s exactly what a trade tasting should be: intimate setting (Press Club), a moderate crowd delimited by staging in multiple alcoves, a leisurely pace that allowed ample time to interact with each of the winemakers or representatives from the wineries, and a discrete selection of wines neither overwhelming in its scope nor predominated by the more familiar selections each winery typically featured at other events.

I, of course, have sampled and cited each of the 14 wineries pouring here numerous times now; as such, let me simply highlight the most noteworthy selections from each, starting with a surprising 2010 Malbec Napa Valley, a three vineyard assemblage from Buoncristiani. This opulent rendering was accompanied by the four Buoncristiani brothers’ signature 2009 O.P.C. (Ol’ Pa’s Cuvée), a proprietary blend of four varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Malbec. And as exquisite were the 2012 Chardonnay Napa Valley, blended with grapes from both Hyde Vineyard and Pahlmeyer Waters Ranch, and the limited production 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, combining fruit sourced from the Howell Mountain, Coombsville, and Atlas Peak appellations.

Like Coombsville, Atlas Peak is a sleeper sub-AVA in the Napa Valley that is finally starting to get the recognition it deserves. Although Antinori has replaced the extensive Sangiovese plantings that gave this region its early renown, the current roster of Atlas Peak vineyards is achieving prominence for all five of the primary Bordeaux varietals, Syrah, the resultant Meritages and blends, plus a number of Rhône and other varietals. Perhaps the most prominent tract from Atlas Peak, Stagecoach Vineyard is the centerpiece of Krupp Brothers viticultural expanse. While myriad labels source their grapes from Stagecoach, here Krupp’s own eclectic labels showcased a number of exceptional selections, including their 2009 Black Bart Syrah and 2011 Chardonnay. Krupp’s true stars of the afternoon came from their (slightly) waggishly-named 2008 Veraison Red Wine, a claret-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Syrah, and the superb 2008 Veraison Cabernet Sauvignon Stagecoach Vineyard, a pinnacle of Atlas Peak œnology.

The name Stagecoach may be a conceit for Krupp but certainly holds validity for Fisher, a winery whose forebears revolutionized carriage production. With a viticultural craft as meticulous as their branded Body by Fisher, their immensely appealing 2011 Mountain Estate Chardonnay poured here served as bold prelude to the phenomenal 2010 Coach Insignia Cabernet Sauvignon, a blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon and 14% Merlot from their Calistoga estate.

A couple of more understated Napa Valley estates focused on their 2011 releases. Organically farmed Ehlers Estate, a trust holding of the Leducq Foundation (Ehlers was deeded by late founder Jean Leducq), showcased their 2011 120/80 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2011 1886 Cabernet Sauvignon. Michael Marks’ Gemstone highlighted an exceptional 2011 Estate Red Wine, a Meritage focused on 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, with 23% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc. 

It seems to early to formulate a consensus on the 2011 Cabernet vintage; so far, after four consecutive excellent, if not monumental, years, the 2011 Pinot Noir vintage has tested the mettle of winemakers across the state and in Oregon. Donum Estate in Carneros, now owned by a Danish partnership but still overseen by Anne Moller-Racke displayed their forte with both the 2011 Anderson Valley Estate Grown Pinot Noir Angel Camp Vineyard and the less ponderously labeled 2011 Russian River Valley Estate Grown Pinot Noir. Also excelling with this vintage, Soledad’s Manzoni Estate Vineyard, impressing with their 2011 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Home Vineyard and startling with the luxuriant 2011 Pinot Noir Estate Reserve Santa Lucia Highlands Home Vineyard.

Jericho Canyon in Calistoga should not be confused with the Sanel Valley’s Jeriko Estate, two wineries as much dedicated to sustaining the integrity of the environment as much as their devotion to their viticulture. Jericho Canyon’s meticulous focus on Bordeaux varietals most evidenced itself in both their 2012 Sauvignon Blanc and a striking 2010 Jericho Creek Cabernet Sauvignon. And, of course, I would never compare Meyer Family Cellars to Löwenbräu, Munich’s 631 year old brewery, despite the overt similarity of their leonine logos. Heralding from Yorkville, near Mendocino’s Hopland (as opposed to Bavaria, Germany’s “Hopsland”), their iconoclastic bottlings prominently featured the 2009 Reserve Syrah High Ground and a voluptuous 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Bonny’s Vineyard 10-Year Anniversary Release.

Little question whether redheads like Christina Hendricks embody the very definition of voluptuous. Nearly as luscious—Los Gatos’ titian tribute, Testarossa, a winery whose name clamors for Italian varietals but nonetheless flourishes with a striking portfolio of Burgundian bottlings. From its hillside perch along the Santa Cruz Highway where Novitiate used to make sacramental wines, Rob and Diana Jensen produce consistently elegant vintages, evidenced here by both their 2012 Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay and the 2011 Doctor’s Vineyard Pinot Noir.
67th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Arrivals

Streaks of red highlighted the asymmetric coiffure Remi Barrett sported for this event, but there was little, if any, bottleshock detectable in the stellar lineup from La Sirena that she poured here. Winemaker Heidi Barrett, Remi’s mother, while renown for her Cabernets, here excelled with a pair of Syrahs: the 2010 Le Barrettage Napa Valley and the 2007 Syrah Barrett Vineyard. Nevertheless, the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley proved every bit the equal of both these bottlings, but the true standout here undoubtedly came from the 2010 Barrett and Barrett Cabernet Sauvignon, a sumptuous collaboration between Heidi and husband Bo, winemaker for Château Montelena.

I wish Heidi’s considerable repute would carry over to her winemaking at Kenzo. It’s not that the wines aren’t good, but neither the 2012 Astasuyu, an estate-bottled Sauvignon Blanc, nor the 2010 Rindo, Kenzo’s traditional Meritage, astounded—something I expect from a $200 million winery that lavished on every aspect of its production.

Back when I started out in the wine industry, I was acquainted with Heidi’s father Richard Peterson, as well as the Mirassou brothers in San Martin, who had offered to provide the juice for my George Herbert Walker Blush. While Mirassou is now firmly in the clutches of Gallo, Steven Kent Mirassou, the family’s sixth generation winemaker, is serving notice that the Livermore Valley is a force with which to be reckoned (beyond its nuclear capabilities). Certainly the Russian River Valley 2012 Pinot Meunier Saralee’s Vineyard his La Rochelle label produces deserves a nod, but both the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Livermore Valley from this Steven Kent Winery and the extraordinary 2010 Lineage, a proprietary bottling of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, and 1% Malbec, also from Livermore, could easily hold their own against higher priced Napa bottlings..

As wonderfully unpredictable as a Livermore venture of such exceptional caliber may seem, a mediocre bottling from the fabled Far Niente, along with sister labels Nickel & Nickel, En Route and Dolce, would be equally surprising. Yet the opulence of the Far Niente label hardly belies the richness of its viticulture. Its 2012 Chardonnay Napa Valley Estate proved utterly splendid, as did its 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Estate. Equally enchanting: the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Branding Iron Vineyard from Nickel & Nickel. As the baby sister of the family, En Route still needs time to equal these peaks, but the 2007 Late Harvest Wine from Dolce, a botrytis-laden blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc, most definitely warranted its “Liquid Gold from Napa Valley” moniker.


II) My extensive Latin studies coincided with 12 years of pedantic exercises regurgitating les précis de grammaire française. Add to the mix six years of ancient Greek and several terms of Russian along the way. If memory serves, there was actually a master plan behind all this, though precisely what eludes me at this stage.

It wasn’t until I completed my various courses of study that I decided to tackle a language with practical implications. Others in my position might well have opted to learn Spanish, but for myriad reasons I may elucidate in another post, non voglio parlare spagnolo

My choice finally to learn the tongue my grandparents grew up speaking continues to open doors for me in San Francisco and throughout the wine realm, but at times my predilection for Italian puts me at odds with the realities of a state that had formerly been part of Mexico. And so I must catch myself from the pronouncing ci as ch (instead of the Spanish si) when speaking of the Santa Lucia Highlands.

But, of course, Sostevinobile concerns itself with the pleasures of wine, not the minutia of morphology, and once again, the annual trade tasting for the Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans abundantly demonstrated why this AVA is so prized. And perhaps more than any other AVA in California, its renown predominantly relies on select, highly-revered vineyards even more than its acclaimed labels, notably Soberanes, Pisoni, Garys’, Rosella’s and Sierra Mar Vineyards, farmed collectively or individually by the Pisoni and Franscioni families, well as Tondrē Grapefield and the Hahn Family’s Doctor’s Vineyard.

The youngest tract in this cluster, Soberanes, found ample representation within this tightly-bonded alliance, as evidenced by newcomer Cattelya, with their introductory 2012 Syrah Soberanes Vineyard (at $70/bottle, a surprisingly high price for a first release, were it not crafted by a winemaker with Bibiana González Rave’s pedigree). Also sourcing from this plot, my friend Rebecca Green Birdsall’s Black Kite, a winery that, until now, had sourced its Pinot strictly from Mendocino. Here the 2011 Pinot Noir Soberanes Vineyard paired nicely with their first white offering, the 2012 Chardonnay Soberanes Vineyard.

One of my central tenets in developing the wine program for Sostevinobile has been my belief that the boundaries between the West Coast states have now blurred in terms of the quality and prominence of their viticulture—an admission I would certainly never have made when I began
my wine career in 1982. Perhaps no other artisanal endeavor transcends the artifice of these territorial delineations more than Hawks View Cellars, an Oregon-based winery specializing in distinctive varietals from all three states. Here they showcased their California selections, a 2011 Pinot Noir Soberanes Vineyard along with an equally luscious 2011 Syrah Garys’ Vineyard. Their apex, however, was the 2011 Syrah Cellar Series—Garys’ Vineyard, a masterful expression of the grape.

Like many of today’s wine writers, I maintain a scoring system, not for purposes of publication, per se, but rather to maintain a hierarchy for my own notes. I haven’t scrutinized the methodologies 100-point scoring systems Wine Spectator and Robert Parker employ, but I would be hard pressed to make such fine distinctions between say a 96 vs. 97 in their ratings; rather, mine roughly correlates to the 4.0 scale academies use in their grading. As such, so many of the wines here warranted scores substantially greater than the proverbial A-, I am going to restrict inclusion only to those in the top tier for the day, like the aforementioned Cellar Series Syrah.

All six of the wines Lompoc’s Loring Wine Company poured showed extraordinary complexity, but even among this collection, the 2012 Chardonnay Sierra Mar Vineyard outshone. McIntyre, which only sources estate fruit for its Pinots and Chardonnays, radiated with its “old vine” selection, the 2012 Estate Pinot Noir 25th Anniversary Santa Lucia Highlands. Similarly, Dan Morgan Lee, who produces the quasi-eponymous Morgan label, flourished with a pair of bottlings from his proprietary vineyard blocks: the 2012 Pinot Noir Twelve Clones and the equally spectacular 2012 Pinot Noir Double L Vineyard, where he also grows Syrah, Chardonnay and, atypically, Riesling.

Another winery that notably veers from the orthodoxy of the SLH trifecta: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah, Chris Weidemann’s Pelerin, which I last encountered at Wines of Danger, hit their apex here with their 2010 Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard. Manzoni made a reappearance at this tasting, with the same lineup as they had poured at In Vino Unitas, while La Rochelle showcased their SLH selections, highlighted by a spectacular 2010 Pinot Noir Sleepy Hollow Vineyard and their version of 2011 Pinot Noir Soberanes Vineyard.

Both of the Garys excelled in their own right at this tasting. Gary Franscioni highlighting the 2012 Pinot Noir under his Roar label, Gary Pisoni with the 2012 Chardonnay Soberanes Vineyard from his Lucia line. And Tondrē Alarid more than proved his mettle with his 2010 Pinot Noir Tondrē Grapefield from his eponymous Tondrē Wines.


III) Shifting focus, my next foray took me to the Oakland outpost of Campovida, the Hopland retreat center that produces a line of organic wines under its various Mendocino labels. The tasting here served as one of the several regional preludes Rhône Rangers has been hosting prior to its revamped Grand Tasting in Richmond, with select wineries from its North Coast chapter.

As with the SLH Artisans, exceptional wines were largely rule of the day, starting with the 2006 Syrah Saralee’s Vineyard from Arrowood, a winery that, along with Byron and Freemark Abbey, was bounced around in an acquisition juggernaut following Constellation’s purchase of Robert Mondavi, before finally settling in the Jackson Family Wines portfolio. Although Richard Arrowood has moved onto Amapola Creek, this splendid wine still bore his imprimatur. Charlie Dollbaum’s Carica Wines has also seen a changing of the guard, as well as the vineyards it had originally sourced, and so his superb 2009 Syrah Kick Ranch will not have a successive vintage. Nonetheless, his 2010 Siren, a Sonoma County Syrah-focused GSM blend proved even more compelling.

I tend to regard Craig Camp’s Cornerstone as a Cabernet-focused house, but here they abundantly demonstrated their versatility with Syrah. starting with their 2009 Stepping Stone Syrah, blended with 10% Grenache, followed by their showcasing of the subsequent 2010 Stepping Stone Syrah, atypically rounded out with 5% Merlot. Another Rhône iconoclast from Napa, Miner Family Winery, excelled with a bone-dry yet subtle 2011 La Diligence, their 100% Marsanne. Equally appealing—the 2011 Marsanne from JC Cellars. Complementing this white delight, winemaker Jeff Cohn reached back to his Rosenblum roots to craft an elegant 2010 Syrah Rockpile Vineyard and a stunning mélange of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Petite Sirah he modestly labeled the 2011 Misc Stuff.

Another JC’s compatriots from the East Bay Vintners Alliance, Bob Rawson’s Urbano Cellars, vastly impressed with both their 2009 Grenache Lodi and the 2010 Côte du Clements, a blend of 50% Syrah, 25% Grenache, and 25% Mourvèdre. Urbano’s frequent tablemate at these tastings, Oakland’s Urban Legend, similarly is a label I tend to associate more with Italian varietals; here, they flourished with their Rhône offerings: the 2010 Grenache Shenandoah Valley, the 2011 Syrah Cooper Ranch, and the 2020 Cuvée Lola, a distinctive blend of 45% Mourvèdre, 42% Grenache, 10% Syrah and 3% Petite Sirah.

I have striven, throughout the years I have been building the wine program for Sostevinobile, to maintain an utter objectivity about the wines we will select. Granted, I may display a small degree of partiality toward a number of wineries and winemakers who abetted my previous tenure in winery Mergers & Acquisitions (eventually, I will recount here how a series of coincidences involving Frog’s Leap and a comedy sketch by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore led me to the wine field) while the collapse of Katselis Wines has rendered my vow never to serve Αστέρι Μου a moot point; still, I ought to have a predisposition towards Kent Humphrey’s Eric Kent Wines based on our mutual renunciation of the kakocracy known as advertising to pursue the collegiality of the œnological realm. No bias needed on this day, however, to luxuriate in both his 2011 Kalen’s Big Boy Blend (100% Syrah) and the 2011 Barrel Climber Grenache—both for the wine inside the bottles and the amazing commissioned art gracing the individual labels.

If I had one, albeit slight, complaint about this tasting, it was that most of the wineries poured conservatively, not veering from the GMS mainstays on the red side, along with Petite Sirah, and the Roussanne-Marsanne-Viognier triumvirate for their whites. Christian Stark, however, showcased his 2012 Carignane Trimble Vineyard alongside impressive bottlings of the 2011 Petite Sirah Damiano Vineyard and the 2011 Syrah Eaglepoint Ranch. And William Allen, one of the prime movers on the current Rhône Rangers Board of Directors, featured Two Shepherds’ signature 2012 Grenache Blanc Saarloos Vineyard, complemented by the 2011 Syrah|Mourvèdre.

It took a bit of prodding to get host Campovida to pour their rendition of the 2012 Carignane Mendocino County from behind the bar, but it proved well worth the effort. Among their official selections for the afternoon, the standouts were the 2012 Grenache Mendocino County and a proprietary blend, the 2012 Campo di Rossa, a sublime marriage of 67% Grenache, 18% Syrah, 16% Carignane and 4% Petite Sirah.

I concluded the afternoon with Melinda Doty’s Stage Left Cellars, an Oakland winery given to some wondrously unorthodox blends, like Grenache/Cabernet Sauvignon/Mourvèdre, but here electing to prove their forte with unadorned yet excellent single varietals: the 2009 Syrah Alder Springs Vineyard from Mendocino, their 2010 The Escape Artist, a Santa Lucia Highlands Syrah, and a 2009 Petite Sirah, blended from the Yorkville Highlands’ Theopolis Vineyard and HoppeKelly Vineyards in the Russian River Valley.

Whither the truth in all these forays? Will my ceaseless efforts to catalogue the entire panoply of sustainable West Coast wines finally bear fruition in 2014 or merely serve as another intellectual pursuit? Rest assured, there was method to my madness back during my academic tenure that adapted to the rigors of my current pursuit, will carry my vision for Sostevinobile to fruition.

Quod erit demonstrandum.

Burns, baby, Burns!

An elliptical way for Your West Coast Oenophile to toast to Auld Lang Syne, usher in the New Year, wish all of our Sostevinobile readers the best in 2014, etc. If only Scotland’s greatest poet, Robert Burns, had written a tribute to wine, although his homage to Scotch may inspire me to switch to a wee dram of Talisker or Oban for these festivities.

My favorite aspect of the New Year celebrations isn’t the day itself or the night before, but the Monday following, which I have christened The Parade of the NYRs. This is a phenomenon that I’m sure occurs at every health club: the annual rush of newly-resolved fitness devotees, adorned in spanking new aerobic outfits they gifted themselves for Christmas, sworn to exercise fervently, shed 15 pounds and embark on a newer, richer—perhaps even amorous—lifestyle. Of course, 90% of these zealots will concede defeat and vanish by Valentine’s Day, reverting to a familiar and comfortable lethargy until next January 2; still, though they may create a cue to ride the elliptical trainer and clog the garage over the ensuing six weeks, for 10½ months afterwards, their MIA status subsidizes my membership!
In any case, trite as it may seem, I’m going to share a number of my own resolutions for 2014:

  1. First and foremost, I am not going to be run over by another truck as I navigate the streets of San Francisco on my new carbon frame bicycle.
  2. Should anyone should even try to steal this bicycle, I will renounce my lifelong commitment to pacifism and deal with them accordingly.
  3. I did add nearly 25 pounds after my accident and still need further physical therapy before I m restored to my optimal condition and weight. This will happen.
  4. I have ⁶⁄₇ of Sostevinobile’s funding completed. Now all I need is the digit in front of the two triple-aughts. This, too, will happen.
  5. I will keep these Sostevinobile blog entries succinct. (keep laughing)
  6. I will post these Sostevinobile blog entries in a timely fashion. (keep laughing)
  7. At long last, I will open Sostevinobile as the most dramatic wine bar in the Bay Area.
In several previous posts, I’ve alluded that big changes are afoot on the trade tasting circuit, precipitated by diminishing attendance and participation, exorbitant rental fees, and the pending renovation of the Fort Mason Center. Small tastings that can be accommodated by The Golden Gate Room, where I first attended ZAP 24 years ago, will continue, as the upcoming Santa Lucia Highlands Trade & Press Tasting affirms, but the larger mainstays have fled for newer turf and revamped formats. ZAP, for instance, has bifurcated, holding a trade tasting mid-week at Rock Wall in Alameda, then presenting a dizzying, multi-venue public session in The Presidio the ensuing weekend.
I have a number of fond associations with Fort Mason. My play Stillborn House saw its first public script-in-hand performance there. I commenced learning Italian at Museo ItaloAmericano in Building C. For several years I took Jim Cranna’s Improv Comedy Class there on Saturdays, discovering my unparalleled talent for l’esprit de l’escalier—invariably, on Sunday, I had the wittiest repartée of the group! And I concede that I attended more than a few tastings before I acquired legitimate trade & press credentials in the wine industry.
So, in return, let me highlight the last two major events I attended in 2013, starting with Family Winemakers of California’s swan song at Fort Mason. Originally I had been informed that the 2014 event would take place in Point Richmond, at the New Craneway Pavilion, to where Rhône Rangers will be relocating their 2014 Grand Tasting; now, the plan is apparently to hold this event at a yet-undesignated site in San Mateo. While Family Winemakers enthusiastically touts the benefits of a new locale, they seem less sanguine
about conceding the attrition in winery participation over the last
several years.
Of the 218 wineries on hand in 2013, Sostevinobile had established contact with all but a mere fifteen since 2009. From the top, including a number of labels I had previously sampled but inadvertently omitted from these posts, I delved into Windsor’s Balverne, a revival of the label John Kongsgaard and Doug Nalle popularized in the 1980s, reemerged with a 2012 Russian River Chardonnay, as well as a noteworthy 2012 Russian River Sauvignon Blanc and 2010 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, all crafted under Doug’s tutelage. Like Stone the Crows, Arroyo Grande’s Center of Effort had me predisposed toward their wines merely by virtue of their name, while the lineup poured here only solidified this bias. Particularly superb wines included their 2009 Chardonnay Effort and the cuvée, the 2010 Chardonnay Center of Effort;, Similarly, the 2010 Pinot Noir Effort and their red cuvée, the 2010 Pinot Noir Center of Effort excelled, while both the 2012 Chardonnay Fossil Point and the 2012 Pinot Noir Effort portended to come into their own at some later point.

Cenyth represented yet another of Barbara Banke’s single-wine projects, debuting here with its inaugural 2009 Red Blend, a Bordeaux style wine consisting of 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot and 7% Malbec from select estate vineyards in Alexander Valley, Bennett Valley and Chalk Hill. A bit more diversified, Santa Maria’s Double Bond Winery, offered distinctive renditions of a 2009 Pinot Noir Wolff Vineyard, their 2009 Syrah Larner Vineyards, and a 2011 Chardonnay Edna Ranch Vineyards.
With Julien Fayard at the winemaking helm, Napa’s EDICT poured a wide range of varietals and blends, ranging from their 2011 Oakville Sauvignon Blanc and 2010 Napa Valley Chardonnay to a 2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir and an utterly superb 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2011 Napa Valley Proprietary White blended Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Chardonnay and Viognier, while the 2010 Napa Valley Proprietary Red married Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec in unspecified proportions.
Without trying to be elliptical, I had judged most of the wines Healdsburg’s Ellipsis poured here at Taste TV’s New Release Wines Taste-Off but had not been introduced to winery principals Chris Sevilla and Jonathan Neisingh, and so was pleased to sample their pleasant 2011 Rosé of Sangiovese here. A similarly clever segue to introduce Eonian eludes me, yet their inaugural 2010 Eonian, an Australian-style blend of 80% Syrah with Cabernet Sauvignon, boldly eschewed the dominant paradigm for St. Helena.
In contrast, Oakville’s Galerie, yet another Barbara Banke discrete varietal venture, holds firm to Napa’s fealty to Bordeaux strictures, pouring its first selection, the 2012 Naissance Sauvignon Blanc (to be followed with release of its Cabernet selection later this year). Also from the Napa Valley, Herb Lamb may sound more like an entré that goes with Cabernet Sauvignon, not its producer, yet I was vastly impressed with both their 2010 HL Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon and from the cooler blocks of this tract, the 2010 Two Old Dogs Cabernet Sauvignon, along with their tangy new 2010 Two Old Dogs Cabernet Sauvignon.
I took a brief pause before venturing onto Hiatus Cellars, a winery that lists its address in Carlsbad but sources the grapes (I shudder to imagine, were the converse to be true!) for its 2011 Idle Hour Simpson Vineyard Barrel Select Viognier from prominent vineyards in Sonoma and Napa; their results ranged from quite appealing interpretations of a 2011 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir Griffin’s Lair Vineyard and a 2012 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc to their 2007 Red Wine Julianna’s Vineyard, a blend of 39% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Franc, 22% Petit Sirah, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Zinfandel, and the apex of their efforts, the 2010 Apex, an exquisite Cabernet Sauvignon softened with 7% Merlot and 2% Malbec. Next I idled my time with Idle Hour, an Oakhurst label featuring wines from the Clarksburg, Madera, and Santa Lucia Highlands AVAs. From its perch overlooking the Fresno River, owners Anna Marie dos Remedios and Deb Payne shone with their Rhône selections, the 2011 Idle
Hour Simpson Vineyard Barrel Select Viognier
and 2010 Syrah Love Ranch Vineyard. Along with their 2010 Tempranillo Heringer Estate Vineyard, even more impressive standouts included the 2011 Cabernet Franc Heringer Estate Vineyard and the 2009 Cuvée Rouge Love Ranch Vineyard, a deft blend of 53% Mourvèdre with 47% Syrah.
I’m trying quite hard to resist any pithy observations about a wine label called Law Estate, especially in face of their splendid interpretations of several Rhône-style blends. This Paso Robles winery offered compelling nomenclature for their four wines here, not to mention the wines themselves: the 2010 Sagacious, a GMS comprised of 44% Grenache, 42% Syrah, and 14% Mourvèdre; a straight Syrah, the 2010 Intrepid; the 2010 Beguiling, a Grenache tempered with 6% Syrah; and their most esoteric 2010 Audacious, a proprietary blend of 44% Grenache, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah, and 10% Petit Sirah.
Also known for his audacious blends, esteemed winemaker David Phinney debuted his Locations label, a project highlighting the viticultural fortes of five distinct winemaking nations, here pouring his understated selection from Republic of California (“California is a country unto itself, and fittingly, an appropriate addition to the Locations family”), the non-vintage CA-2, a masterful blend of Tempranillo, Barbera, Petit Sirah, Syrah, and Grenache. Lost Canyon, the Burgundian-focused sister to Cloverdale’s Fritz Winery, showcased their 2011 Ruxton Vineyard Chardonnay and a pair of vineyard-designate Pinots: the 2010 Morelli Lane Vineyard Pinot Noir and an excellent 2010 Goff-Whitton Vineyard Pinot Noir.

O’Connell Family Wines, a Napa winery founded in 1988, certainly seems the kind of prolific producer Sostevinobile ought to have encountered long before this past summer. Happily, Family Winemakers gave remedy to this oversight and enabled me to sample through a wide swath of the numerous wines they produce under four interdependent labels. Under CE Cellars, they produced a lighthearted Sauvignon Blanc, the 2010 Levity, as well as an economical Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2010 Bash. Their Pietro label also featured a 2012 Pietro Sauvignon Blanc and a Cab, the 2010 Pietro Napa Valley, plus their 2010 Pietro Chardonnay. Other Cabernets included the ultrapremium O’Connell Family Estate bottlings and the Gabrielle Collection, here featuring both the 2010 Equilateral Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2008 Vertex Red Cuvée Blend 615.
Not to be outdone in the quest for elliptical nomenclature, Templeton’s ONX featured a sextet of esoteric blends, beginning with their 2012 Field Day, a mélange of 59% Sauvignon Blanc and 41% Viognier. The appropriately-named 2011 Brash comprised 62% Zinfandel 62%, 21% Petite Sirah and 17% Tempranillo, while the 2011 Crux added 7% Cabernet Sauvignon to a 51/16/26 GMS. The 2011 Mad Crush substituted Tempranillo for Syrah in what would have been a 65/14/21 GMS blend; the 2011 Reckoning combined 64% Syrah, 20% Petite Sirah, 8% Zinfandel, 4% Tempranillo, and 4% Grenache; most beguilingly, the 2011 Prætorian consisted of 64% Tempranillo with equal parts Grenache, Mourvèdre and Malbec rounding it out.
Simplifying matters, Pegasus Estate offered a single bottling from their Santa Ynez Valley perch, the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon., while Calistoga’s Picayune Cellars poured both their 2012 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley and the 2011 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast. Simplicity may also mark the style of beloved Papa Francesco, but a modesty reflected in Pope Valley Winery, where an unostentatious profile belies a complexity in its viticulture, with a diverse inventory of wines, including a sparkling 2010 Blanc de Blancs, their 2012 Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford, and the 2012 Chenin Blanc Meyercamp Vineyard. Red selections ranged from the 2010 Merlot Eakle Ranch and 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Eakle Ranch to the 2010 Tre Uve, a SuperTuscan blend of 55% Sangiovese, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Merlot and the remarkable 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Reserve.
Powell Mountain should not be confused with Calistoga’s Howell Mountain; true to form for its Paso Robles base, it straddles an affinity for both Rhône and Bordeaux grapes, with a Primitivo identified as their 2010 Zinfandel for good measure. Varietal bottlings include the 2010 Viognier, the 2010 S
yrah, a 2011 Grenache
, an outstanding 2010 Mourvèdre, and their pure Paso 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. Proprietary blends the 2010 Summit, a mélange of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Syrah, a GMS, the 2010 Ascent, and their Meritage, the 2010 Pinnacle, with 20% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc, 6.5% Malbec, and 6.5% Petit Verdot rounding out the Cabernet Sauvignon.
With wines from both Paso Robles and the Santa Maria Valley, Rob Murray Vineyards divvies up its wines into four disparate collections. Here they featured the 2010 Amor Fati Grenache Murmur Vineyard and its spectacular kin, the 2010 Amor Fati Syrah Murmur Vineyard. Quite pleasing was the 2010 Chardonnay Murmur Vineyard, produced as part of the Stasis collection, and the 2012 Force of Nature Pinot Gris, also from Murmur Vineyard.
Sonoma’s Saxon Brown is a seasoned Sonoma operation offering a striking range of vineyard-specific bottlings. My sampling bean with the 2011 Sémillon Cricket Creek, then segued to a contrasting pair of Chards: the exceptional 2009 Chardonnay Durrell Vineyard and the atypical 2010 Être Chardonnay Sonoma Coast, a blend with 5% each of Roussanne, Marsanne and Vermentino from Prenda Vineyards. Their two Pinots consisted of a striking 2009 Pinot Noir Parmalee-Hill and the 2009 Pinot Noir Durrell Hayfield. Several Saxon Brown wines focused on designated blocks within a parcel, as exemplified by the wondrous 2007 Syrah Parmelee-Hill Camp Block, while the 2009 Zinfandel Parmelee-Hill Stonewall contrasted favorably with their 2009 Zinfandel Fighting Brothers. And the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley proved more than a worthy coda to their diverse capabilities.
A new participant, Silver Trident, described its inaugural releases here as “our maiden voyage,” an auspicious debut, to be sure, for both their 2010 Benevolent Dictator, a Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and the 2010 Twenty Seven Fathoms, a Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the Napa Valley. Another initiate, St. Helena’s Taplin Cellars, offered their first two Julien Fayard-crafted vintages, a well-rounded 2008 Terra 9 Cabernet Sauvignon and the young 2009 Terra 9 Cabernet Sauvignon.
My last stop over the two-day stretch was The Wine Foundry, a collective from Sonoma’s East 8th Street. Representing this group at Family Winemakers was Egyptian-themed Ankh, showcasing both their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley and a relatively improved 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley; Ankh’s wines may not have yet achieved noteworthy distinction, but the sheer bombast of their grandiose membership program—Inundation: The Path to Eternal Allocation—certainly deserves plaudits. 
Another Wine Foundry co-tenant, Platinum Crush, also offered a modest 2007 Ink Grade Cabernet Sauvignon from Howell Mountain. Additionally, 5 Bridges paired their 2007 Tempranillo with a three year vertical of their proprietary Bordeaux (Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon): the 2005 Red, along with the 2007 and 2008 vintages.


The Wine Foundry was prominently represented at what may very well turn out to be the last major tasting at Fort Mason, this fall’s Vintners Market. Along with Ankh, 5 Bridges. and Platinum Crush, their colleagues Antonio Patric, Kaye Wines, Mulvane, and RockRoom poured inside the Reserve Room.
Antonio Patric, another Kian Tavakoli project, entitles their wine club Vignoble—not quite as lyrical as Ankh’s Inundation, but surely akin to Sostevinobile. Here I developed a definite affinity for both their 2009 La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Noir and their 2009 Coombsville Cabernet Sauvignon, inexplicably listed as part of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA on their product sheet! Their tablemates, Mulvane, Rocco Califano’s boutique Sonoma label demarcated by its clever rebus, notably featured their 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Neal 3 Vineyard and the 2011 Syrah White Hawk Vineyard.
I found myself rather enthralled the Pinot-focused Sonoma label from owner/winemaker Ed Thralls, whose day gig consists of directing social media at < a href="http://www.flowerswinery.com" target="_blank" class="">Flowers. Under his eponymous label, he distinguished himself with both his 2012 Pinot Noir Bucher Vineyard and 2012 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, along with an elegant 2008 Syrah Alder Springs Vineyard. Readers know that I have been an avid proponent of NVMAVA from its outset; here, I had hoped to introduce Honrama Cellars’ owners Juan José and Miriam Puentes to this association, only to learn they had become acquainted before I could discover them! And while their 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon seemed a bit early in its evolution, it did portend of intriguing releases with future vintages.

Though the name Honrama derives from a contraction meant to pay tribute to Miriam’s father, Honorio Ramírez-Mata, my linguistic propensity initially led me to suspect it was a Japanese surname. Similarly, I anticipated that Mastro Scheidt
might have produced Italian varietals, or, more aptly, wines in the
tradition of Alto Adige, aka Südtirol, the autonomous Northern Italian
region that straddles both Italian and Austro-Germanic cultures. The
truth could not have been farther away, yet I was hardly disappointed in
their 2010 Cabernet Harris Kratka Vineyard or the 2011 Generations, a blend of 91% Cabernet Sauvignon from Dry Creek Valley and 9% Merlot from Alexander Valley, and I especially cottoned to their 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Dry Creek Valley. Similarly, my presuppositions about Enoteca 5
were quickly dispelled by their emulation of St. Émilion, with a decidedly
non-Italian focus that eschewing the five principal Bordelaise varietals for but three: the Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Merlot that
predominate on the Right Bank of the Gironde River.
The winery poured two contrasting releases: the 2011 Cabernet Franc Silvaspoons Vineyard from Lodi and the 2011 Cabernet Franc Alegría Vineyard from Acorn’s highly prized Russian River Valley vineyard, then previewed their forthcoming 2012 Petit Verdot Ripken Vineyards.

I did manage to appease my Italian cravings, somewhat ironically, with St. Barthélemy Cellars, a contrarian Napa operation producing seven varietal-focused fortified wines, of which I sampled the 2003 Barbera Port before delving into the 2003 Syrah Port and the 2003 Petite Sirah Port (the Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot and Pinot Noir version will have to wait until our next encounter). And I might have had another fix, had Lucca decided to bring their 2011 Sangiovese or even their Bordeaux-Barbera blend, the 2011 Grande, but I was hardly disappointed by their 2011 Old Vine Carignane nor their astounding 2011 Old Vine Mourvèdre.

Other most impressive discoveries were the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon from TwentyFour, the label produced by storied Oakland Raider Charles Woodson and, seemingly, a graphic homage to Edward Gorey, the superb 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Cameron Woodbridge’s Stormy Weather. À propos, Stephanie Cook Sedmak’s Wonderment Wines indeed proved a wonderment, starting with her delightful 2012 Dr. Stan’s Pinot Noir and utterly remarkable 2012 Campbell’s Vineyard Pinot Noir. Similarly, her wondrous 2011 Bastioni Zinfandel was nonetheless exceeded by the sheer complexity of her 2011 Burton Ranch Zinfandel.
Napa’s Holman Cellars eschewed convention to produce a most unorthodox 2010 Uncharted Vineyard Blend, an esoteric mélange of Syrah and Tempranillo, with 12% Viognier added for balance. Their 2010 Uncharted Red Wine married Cabernet Sauvignon with 28% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc, while the 2010 Fate Red offered a well-rounded Bordelaise blend with an additional 8% Petit Verdot.
I was less sanguine about OFFbeat Brands2012 Zin-Phomaniac, an Old Vine Zinfandel sourced from Lodi that was long on the pun and less so on the delivery (I could not bring myself to sample their saccharine Jellybean Wines). And I hoped for more complex wines than Jamieson Ranch’s bargain brand 2012 Light Horse Pinot Noir and 2012 Light Horse Chardonnay proved. But my final discovery, Solvang’s Larner Vineyard and Winery, redeemed these disappointments with a quartet of exceptional Rhône-style wines: the 2009 Grenache, a Grenache-focused GSM dubbed the 2009 Elemental, an even more delectable 2009 Syrah, and the coup de grâce, their 2009 Reserve Syrah, an utterly spectacular wine.


Vintners Market has announced its intentions to return to Fort Mason for its Spring 2014 rendition, though I will not be surprised to see them abruptly announce a change of venue. Then again, perhaps the mass defection of the other major events will give pause to the Board of Trustees and precipitate a more favorable revision of their rental policies and pricing.
Regardless of what transpires this year, the overarching issue—from a personal standpoint—is the ongoing viability of major trade events. For some time now, I have been discussing the resurrection of an Italian varietal trade association, and have recently taken a number of steps towards realizing this vision. From the wineries’ standpoint, such an organization makes tremendous sense; as of December 2013, I had cataloged 311 West Coast wineries producing varietals and blends with Italian grapes, with 42 Italian varietals grown here (admittedly, I haven’t found anyone bottling Schioppettino yet). But the steady decline in winery participation and public attendance at each of the major trade events, coupled with the schizophrenic demands of suitable venues calls into question the wisdom of trying to found a new trade association and concomitant perennial event on par with Rhônes Rangers and T.A.P.A.S.
So let me sign off with a vetching question: should my Resolution #8 be to launch Risorgimento?

Duck die nasty

This past November marked a bit of a bittersweet milestone for Sostevinobile—one which Your West Coast Oenophile seems a tad reluctant to concede at this stage—as has been the situation with the preponderance of 2013 (in no small part from having been struck by an industrial truck while cycling back in March). So for now, let me just say it is both a
triumph and a disappointment. Fortunately, I have a phenomenal bottle
of 2009 Barbera from Mora Estate with which to console myself
.

Mora Estate is perhaps the most recent of my wine discoveries, a boutique operation in Sonoma County that focuses on esoteric Italian varietals. I’ve also had the chance to sample their soon-to-be released 2012 Rosato, a wine made predominantly from Corvina Veronese. Winemaker Fabiano Ramaci’s greatest viticultural triumph to date, however, has to be his 2009 Valpo, California’s first authentic Amarone, produced from Corvina, Molinara, Rondinella, and Negara grapes he has sourced from Alexander Valley. And to think, I thought I had a bead on almost everything being grown out here!

Much has been made lately about Lou Reed since his recent passing, and the seminal influence of his music. Debates will long rage on as to which was his signature album, but I tend to favor The Velvet Underground and Nico. The late German female vocalist who collaborated with Reed on this opus bears no relation to Sonoma’s Nico Wines, a boutique label specializing in Italian varietals, to which I was formally introduced at Mystery Wine Night, Underground Cellars launch party. I had already had the good fortune to have been wowed by Nico’s superb 2009 Dolcetto a few weeks prior, after Debbie Zachareas of Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant had casually donated it to a poolside gathering at The Gateway, and so had prearranged to meet with owner/winemaker Kevin Rogers at this ensuing tasting. Nico’s other selections included a 2012 Fiano, along with my first sampling of a California Greco di Tufo, the 2012 Il Greco, both harvested from Tanya’s Vineyard in the Russian River Valley.

My exposure to Grignolino grown on the West Coast has pretty much been limited to Heitz’ renowned Grignolino, their Grignolino Rosé, and a Guglielmo Grignolino I have yet to try. Add Nico to that list, with its 2012 Rosé, vinted from 55% Lagrein and 45% Grignolino. Kevin’s lineup also included a 2012 Barbera and a notable 2012 Moscato (95% Moscato Giallo, 5% Fiano). My other initiation at this event came from Santa Rosa’s Woodenhead, a winery that had long eluded encountering me. Here they featured an intriguing pair of their current releases: 2010 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley and the 2008 Zinfandel Martinelli Road Vineyard Old Vine.
Sostevinobile is usually quite happy to extoll the efforts of fellow entrepreneurs venturing into the wine realm, particularly those that portend to abet what we are striving to accomplish (and vice versa). This sort of mutual cooperation has truly been a hallmark throughout all facets of the wine industry, a stark contrast to the ruthless competitiveness and unwritten code of “mediocrity promoting mediocrity” that demarcate the advertising/marketing sector (the ignoble profession I forsook to found this venture). Still, I am perplexed by a number of recent launches like Underground Cellar or Wine Savage, online forays from acquaintances on the wine circuit, that seem rather jejune, if not emulative of the ὕβρις that befell the now-defunct Wine Luxury.
In contrast, one venture that can Sostevinobile enthusiastically endorse is SoFi, a social finance initiative that provides a creative platform for investors to help mitigate the burden of student loans for higher education. As their mission statement proclaims, “SoFi connects investors and borrowers via school-specific lending funds. Investors receive a compelling return and borrowers reduce the cost of their student loans.”
SoFi sponsors a number of events in the Bay Area and in other key cities across the US to bring together members and potential investors, along with students who have subscribed to their programs, in a convivial atmosphere. I was graciously invited to attend their most recent wine gathering at San Francisco’s opulent Millennium Tower, in the private dining room above RN74. The demure allure of Thuy Vu quite swayed me from my task at hand, but I somehow managed to extricate myself from the sway of her pulchritude and focus on the quartet of wine labels being featured at this intimate soirée.
I, of course, had long ago been captivated by Realm Cellars, a winery producing three distinctive Cabernets showcasing three separate Napa AVAs: the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Farella Vineyard from Coombsville, the Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer Dr. Crane Vineyard from St. Helena, and the Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard from Oakville. Similarly, I have succumbed on numerous occasions to the twins charms of Kristine Ashe and Entre Nous, and so gladly engaged General Manager Joe Filippini, here showcasing the 2010 Entre Nous Cabernet Sauvignon from their Oakville vineyards along Highway 29. The new discoveries at this event came from the inaugural bottling of Adriel Lares2010 Memento Mori, a poignant tribute to his late father cultivated from a selection of prized Cabernet Sauvignon plantings, predominantly from Beckstoffer’s George III and Las Piedras Vineyards; wine industry veteran Lee Nordlund, with whom I ought to have crossed paths at some previous point since 1982, introduced his Punch label’s 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, alongside his 2012 Proof Chardonnay.
I had the chance to taste through the full Punch/Proof lineup a month after this event, at a private release party for their fetching 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon. Other wines from Lee’s impressive lineup included Punch’s 2011 Bracero Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley and the 2012 Proof Pinot Noir Anderson Valley.
I arrived at the Nordlund home that afternoon, having attended the nearby 14th Annual Mt. Veeder Appellation Tasting, an event that had been dampened—literally—by an unanticipated summer shower. As
with many attendees, I had delayed setting out from San Francisco in the hope the weather
would clear; consequently, I was still able to enjoy the last hour or so of this event with only slight impediment from the lingering drizzle. While the muddied grounds may have caused my hand-stitched Lucchese 2000s to slip a few times, this muck was definitely no revival of Pinot in the River
My first reward for persevering was an introduction to Anthem, a collaboration between industry veterans Jeff Ames (Rudius) and John Anthony Truchard (John Anthony), here showcasing their inaugural bottling, the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder. Other epiphanies here included Mithra, a œnological homage to the Zoroastrian divinity coöpted by latter-day Roman mysticism, dazzling with their gorgeous 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, and VGS Château Potelle, a reconfiguration of Château Potelle by inveterate Francophile Jean-Noël Fourmeaux du Sartel, which contrasted a selection of Bordelaise varietal bottlings: the obligatory yet nonetheless noteworthy 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, alongside remarkable renditions of a 2010 Cabernet Franc and a 2010 Merlot.
Despite my usually meticulous notes, I somehow had not recorded previous tastings with Foyt and with Lampyridae; the former comported itself ably with Foyt Family Wines #77, a 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, while Lampyridae’s wines, developed, in part, to raise funds for children with severe communication needs, excelled with both their 2010 Mount Veeder Communication Block Cabernet Sauvignon and their Syrah, the 2010 Lampyridae Vineyards Mount Veeder Communication Block Red Wine, as well as the 2009 Lampyridae Vineyards Mount Veeder Communication Block Red Wine, a blend of 66% Syrah and 34% Cabernet Sauvignon.
My previous omissions also included Progeny, who is, to the best of my knowledge, only the second winery (the other being O’Shaughnessy) growing St. Macaire in Napa, here featured their as-yet unblended standard, the 2007 Special Selection Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, while Ron Fenolio’s Veedercrest contrasted their amiable 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon with the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine that was definitely hitting its stride now.
Further north of Mt. Veeder, I had earlier traversed the Valley to attend another summer tradition, Rutherford’s Day in the Dust, an event that had yet again been transposed, this time from the signature grandiose staging of Jean-Charles Boisset to a more subdued venue at BV’s production facility. Many familiar faces pouring here, with 2010 Cabs and 2012 Sauvignon Blancs predominant among the offerings. Caspar Estate, a boutique project from Cultivar’s Jody Harris and Julien Fayard, underscored the tightness of this young vintage (as opposed to the immediate approachability I found in most 2009s) with their 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford. Nonetheless, I cottoned to the 2010 Scarlett Cabernet Sauvignon McGah Family Cellars poured alongside a notable 2011 1070 Green Sauvignon Blanc.
I had always liked Sawyer Cellars, in part because of its Anglicized version of my mother’s family’s name, so was apprehensive to see it reincarnated as Foley Johnson after its acquisition by Foley Family Wines, but the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford they poured displayed a most reassuring continuity. Previous renditions of this event had proven rather homogenous in its varietal range, apart from Tres Sabores2010 Zinfandel Rutherford Estate and a sporadic selection of Petite Sirahs, so it was most welcome to find a break in this monotony from newcomer Talahalusi, Rene and Maria Haug’s iconoclastic Rhône venture. I was quite satisfied with the 2011 Roussanne Rutherford but a bit more tepid towards the 2011 Picpoul. Alors, nous verrons
Recently, it was announced that Petite Sirah had supplanted Zinfandel as Napa’s second most prolific red grape, a particularly notable feat, given the relative obscurity of the varietal only a few years ago. Efforts to rebrand the grape as Durif—a disambiguation from Syrah—have largely failed to gain any traction, and the debate on whether it should be classified as a true Rhône varietal rages on, yet amidst all this clamor, this spicy varietal has gained considerable popularity.
Yet despite its upsurgence in Napa, Petite Sirah is still very much rooted in the Livermore Valley, a distinction borne out annually by the Petite Sirah Symposium—a rare instance of this term being employed in the original Platonic nuance. Though notably smaller in scope and attendance from last ye
ar’s tribute to Jim Concannon, this year’s gathering included a number of new participants Sostevinobile had yet to have encountered. Leading alphabetically, Aaron Wines, a panelist for the symposium in addition to pouring here for the first time, impressed with their 2010 Petite Sirah-Paso Robles. Napa-based Aratas Wine, here also for the first time, offered contrasting bottlings from 2009, the 2009 Shake Ridge Ranch Petite Sirah (Amador County) and their estate grown 2009 Napa Valley Petite Sirah, along with a young 2010 version of the latter.
Many here know that I started out in the wine business helping to orchestrate Mergers & Acquisitions. Over the past year, in an effort to bolster my subsistence while negotiating Sostevinobile’s funding—contrary to appearances, I couldn’t possibly survive solely on the generosity of catered wine events I attend—I have found myself reluctantly drawn back into this practice, offering to parlay the strength of my winery knowledge for discreet investors. These endeavors led me to discover Mike Kooyman’s Old Sugar Mill in Clarksburg several months ago, but I had not previously its in-house label, Clarksburg Wine Co., prior to this rendition of P.S. I Love You. Though apparently concentrating more on their white varietals, particularly the once-ubiquitous Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg comported themselves admirably with their locally-sourced 2010 Petite Sirah.
Other Sostevinobile revelations pouring here included Michael James’ Hidden Oak with a notably low alcohol (12.87%) 2009 Petite Sirah, and PaZa, a portmanteau of owners Pamela and Zane Dobson’s names, with their 2011 Petite Sirah from Placer County. I admit I am decidedly ambivalent about the name Red Soles—at least, it’s not another sappy canine label or Jack Welch tribute—but have no reservations about their 2011 Estate Petite Sirah from Paso Robles. And I am indebted to Healdsburg’s Handal-Denier, not only for their exquisite 2010 Alexander Valley Petite Sirah but for introducing me to the above-mentioned pioneers at Nico and Mora Estate.
I hadn’t encountered boutique producer Burt Street Cellars before Rosé by the Bay afforded the opportunity to sample their 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir Rosé and a sneak sip of their 2012 Chardonnay Carneros-Sonoma. I also encountered Ten Acre Winery for what would be the first of many times, as they poured their striking 2012 Rosé of Pinot Noir here.
I suppose it was only fitting that both serendipities from this year’s West of West Wine Festival derived their nomenclature from the tropospheric intensity that characterizes this coastal AVA. Appropriately named 32 Winds Wine provided a veritable tour de force with their quartet of superb wines, starting with their 2011 Lucky Well U. V. Chardonnay and its sister 2011 Lucky Well U. V. Pinot Noir. As striking was their 2010 Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir, while the 2010 Maestro Pinot Noir blew the rest of this lineup away. Gros Ventre Cellars (which—oops!— I mistranslated as “big wind”) did wind up making a similarly impressive debut with three distinct bottlings, a 2011 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, the 2011 First Born Pinot Noir, and a superb 2011 Campbell Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir.
Amid all the revisits to events the past few months, a truly outstanding debut took place at the Press Club: Wines of Danger. This intimate gathering brought together twenty relatively boutique-scale producers, the majority of which had been hitherto unknown to Sostevinobile. Some were outstanding, others admittedly lackluster, yet all were laudable in their efforts to produce wines of distinctive character. Ed Ulshafer’ and Brian Carlson’s self-referential Brian Edward poured quite amiable renditions of a 2011 Carneros Chardonnay and 2009 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, blended with 2% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc, while Michael Simons’ Monterey-based Comanche Cellars dazzled with a wide array of varietals, including their 2010 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, blended from the Hahn, Paraiso and Sarmento Vineyards, plus a striking 2010 San Antonio Valley Tempranillo Pierce Ranch Vineyard, and superb bottlings of both the 2009 San Antonio Valley Cabernet Franc Jolon Vineyard and 2009 Arroyo Seco Syrah Mission Ranch Vineyard.
Eclecticism was the rule of thumb for Eric Laumann, whose Cambiata label derives its name from the polyphonic idiom rendering an “added tonal dimension that occurs when two chords momentarily share
properties, so that the transition has greater depth and mellifluence”
; hence, the contrast of his 2012 Cambiata Albariño and 2009 Cambiata Tannat.
This theory of musical counterpoint, first cited in the musical treatise Gradus ad Parnassum by Johann Joseph Fux, highly influenced Beethoven, to which Laumann alludes in his tributary label, Ludwig and its 2009 Hammerklavier, a unique blend of Pinot Noir and Dornfelder. And not to appear harmonious in his nomenclature, Laumann’s third label draws its inspiration from the surfing technique known as Rail 2 Rail, an apt metaphor for his unbridled 2011 Rail 2 Rail Zinfandel, a bottling of Old Vine Zinfandel grown in Lodi, the legendary riparian outpost for longboard enthusiasts!
Taking matters to a literal level, Michael and Wendy Trotta’s Eclectic Wines showcased their inaugural vintage with a sublime 2012 Viognier Dry Creek Valley, a charming 2012 Vermentino Dunnigan Hills, and their 2011 Tempranillo Sierra Foothills. In a similar vein, while there may be nothing allusive in the name Lars Björkman and Molly Hill designated for their Mt. Veeder boutique, Grow Wines did impress with their estate grown 2011 Ruhl Vineyard Chardonnay.
While
we are in stealth mode, I am not at liberty to disclose details on an inchoate venture—not wine-related, but
potentially capable of funding Sostevinobile—but I can concede that I was quite astonished that the URL for the name we chose remained available, despite deriving our moniker from a frequently-invoked, albeit semi-scatological, term from the vernacular. So, too, does it surprise me that Cuvée Wine Cellars had not been trademarked generations before Paul Rogerville founded his San Mateo County cooperative
. Though I would have preferred a greater adherence to the level of selectivity this name implies, I nonetheless enjoyed all five wines in their lineup, starting with the 2012 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc. From the previous vintage, Paul poured a 2011 Russian River Valley Chardonnay and a 2011 Pinot Noir Saralee’s Vineyard, while dipping back two previous cycles and outside Sonoma for his 2009 El Dorado Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.
Too many possibilities come to mind if I try to conjure the origins for the name Farm Life & Massa. Organically grown by Patrick Ridder, these wines contrasted widely, from a tepid 2012 Massa Sauvignon Blanc to a more energized 2009 Farm Life Red Wine, a Syrah/Petite Sirah blend. On the other hand, Maboroshi is clearly derived from 幻の光, a term meaning “trick of light;” nothing phantasmic, however, about the exceptional wines Tom and Rebecca Kisaichi produce here, including the 2012 Maboroshi Los Carneros Chardonnay and an equally compelling 2008 Maboroshi Russian River Pinot Noir. Under their Rebecca K label, the Kisaichis excelled with a NV Rebecca K North Coast Méthode Champenoise Brut and a superb 2008 Rebecca K Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.
With only one label but two states of origin, Molly Williams and Ryan Hodgins of M Autumn contrasted their Californian 2008 Napa Valley Merlot with their Oregonian 2009 Johnson Vineyard Pinot Noir. No such peregrinations demarcated Jillian Johnston’s Onesta, a Lodi—focused startup that debuted here with a splendid 2012 Grenache Blanc, a strikingly-focused 2012 Cinsault Rosé Bechthold Vineyard, and her outstanding 2011 Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard.
As more and more wineries are now releasing their 2011 Pinots, I am beginning to view this vintage as a true test of a winemaker’s craft. Some have proven quite iffy; others, like the 2011 Pinot Noir Tudor House Vineyards and the 2011 Pinot Noir Dolinsek Vineyards, both Russian Rivers Valley selections from Patrick Murray’s Paro, proved utterly wonderful. Murray also added a 2010 Pinot Noir Sunnyside Vineyard from Sonoma Mountain and a well-balanced 2010 Rosé to his lineup here.

PALE FIRE
(A Poem in Four Cantos)

     CANTO 1

     I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
     By the false azure in the windowpane
     I was the smudge of ashen fluff–and I
     Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky,
     And from the inside, too, I’d duplicate
     Myself, my lamp, an apple on a plate:
     Uncurtaining the night, I’d let dark glass
     Hang all the furniture above the grass,
     And how delightful when a fall of snow
     Covered my glimpse of lawn and reached up so
     As to make chair and bed exactly stand
     Upon that snow, out in that crystal land!

Over the years, this blog has frequently contained Gogolian allusions, not to mention the occasional Nabokovian echo, and so it was most delightful to meet Waxwing Wine Cellars, an ornithological œnological endeavor. Shades of John Shade? Alas, my citation of Pale Fire fell flat with winemaker Scott Sisemore whose forte lies with red grapes that favor the windswept chill of coastside Sonoma. A very strong 2011 Pinot Noir Spring Hill Vineyard was complemented by both the 2011 Syrah Sonoma Coast and an exceptional 2012 Pinot Noir Rosé Spring Hill Vine
yard
. On the other hand, I couldn’t place either reference from City Cellars, here pouring their 2008 Lopa, a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon & 40% Tempranillo​ and the 2009 Gianna, a Malbec/Petit Verdot medley.

Sometimes, an transparent allusion creates an impression different from what it hopes to convey, as with Calistoga’s People’s Wine Revolution, a boutique producer that sounds as if it ought to be nestled among Berkeley’s urban wineries. And while their labels tend more towards whimsy, one could certainly taste a proletariat edge to their quartet of vintages poured here, starting with the 2012 The People’s Viognier Salem Ranch from Dry Creek Valley and their Lodi-grown 2012 The People’s Grenache. Meanwhile, their unadorned 2011 Syrah Massa Ranch noticeably contrasted with the 2008 Bea’s Knees Petite Sirah, their vanguard bottling.
No pretense could be attributed to Sabrine Rodems’ Scratch, a Monterey project sourcing its fruit from both Arroyo Seco and the Santa Lucia Highlands. Certainly, both her 2011 Riesling Arroyo Seco and 2011 Grenache Arroyo Seco proved competent wines, but the 2011 Scratch Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands showcased her viticultural prowess. Further north, it took quite a bit of Internet sleuthing to uncover the Russian Ridge that gives rise to Russian Ridge Winery. Not far from the San Carlos cooperative where these wines are bottled, one can find the picturesque preserve that graces their label, an underdeveloped 3,137acre expanse that comprises a major asset of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. In keeping with the pristine beauty of this locale, their wines express a straightforward portrait of their individual terroirs, from the elegant 2012 Pinot Grigio Chiles Valley and 2011 Chardonnay Napa to the striking 2011 Petite Sirah Paso Robles and the 2011 Syrah Santa Cruz Mountains. 

In contrast, Site derives its name from a place as generic as it is obvious, much like the delightfully understated road sign puns from acclaimed muralist Rigo 23 adorning numerous San Francisco landmarks. Maverick Adelaida winemaker Jeremy Weintraub showcased five of Site bottlings from an assortment of Central Coast vineyards, starting with his superb 2012 Roussanne Stolpman Vineyard and his 2012 Viognier Larner Vineyard.

Jeremy also crafted a 2012 Grenache Larner Vineyard and an equally-appealing 2012 Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard, but his signature effort had to have been the lush, compelling 2012 Syrah Larner Vineyard.

I truly wish there had been more events that offered such a range new discoveries for Sostevinobile. As enjoyable as I have always found the Russian River Valley’s Single Vineyard Night, since La Follette’s assistant winemaker and effervescent new mother Simone Sequeira guided me through their inaugural event at the then-C. Donatiello Winery a few years back, the sole revelation this year came from Via Giusti Wines, a single-selection wine project debuting their 2011 Russian River Pinot Noir. Formerly partnered with Paso Robles’ Grand Tasting Tour, the annual Lamb Jam Tour did offer me the chance finally to meet Grace Patriot, a Sierra Foothills winery with Dartmouth roots, here featuring their 2012 Riesling alongside a striking blend of Tempranillo and Graciano, bearing the portmanteau of 2009 Tempriano and a Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah mélange whimsically labeled the 2007 Aboriginal. No
t from Oregon, Napa Valley’s Corvalle poured their 2011 Framework, a Cabernet Sauvignon tempered with both Merlot and Syrah.

Canoe Ridge is a Horse Heaven Hills holding from Precept Wine, one of the largest wine holding companies on the West Coast, but a relative anomaly with its focus on Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Like Leslie Rudd’s Vintage Wine Estates and Foley Family Wines, its rivals in the current Mergers & Acquisition market, Precept gives wide latitude to its subsidiaries; this autonomy manifested itself admirably in four wines Canoe Ridge offered in complement to the featured lamb entrées: the 2012 Expedition Pinot Gris, a superb 2011 Expedition Chardonnay and 2011 Expedition Merlot, and the 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Cayucos Cellars, an independent winery from the Paso Robles AVA, offered three remarkably well-aged selections: a 2007 Chardonnay, their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2007 Syrah, matched alongside their 2005 Devils Gate Zinfandel and two curiously-named multivintage blends of Grenache and Petit Sirah, the Devils Gate x/ix and its fraternal twin, the Devils Gate ix/x.
A trip to Shone Farm, the producing winery and farm that serves as outdoor laboratory for œnology studies at Santa Rosa Junior College for the for the premier of The Press Democrat’s North Coast Wine Challenge offered quite a number of familiar faces, albeit with introductions to a handful of wineries . I had tried on numerous occasions to visit Amista as I wandered along Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg, and so was more than happy to begin this event with Mike & Vicky Farrow’s sparkling wine, the NV Blanc de Blanc Morningsong Vineyard. Here they also poured an impressive 2010 Chardonnay Morningsong Vineyard and their 2008 Syrah Morningsong Vineyard, with promises to share their full lineup when I finally do visit them. Also from Healdsburg, Estate 1856, a family-held vineyard that antedates me by a full century, impressed with their 2010 Malbec and 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, alongside their signature 2010 Bordeaux Blend, a Cabernet Sauvignon rounded out with 10% Petit Verdot and 14% Malbec.
I had only recent encountered cardiac surgeon Ramzi Derek’s Grapeheart at a WineLuv tasting, but was pleased to resample their 2010 The Beat, a proprietary blend of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Syrah and 17% Cabernet Franc. Also not new, but oddly missing from these pages: Trombetta, which I had met at the 2012 West of West Festival, revisited here with their 2010 Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard, an outstanding wine that managed to be overshadowed by their exquisite 2011 Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard.
Rob + Kat McDonald’s Art + Farm Wines produces a number of quirky labels that belie a solid viticultural heritage. Here they poured their 2011 The Girls in the Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc,and the 2011 The Girls in the Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, both single vineyard expressions, as well as the 2011 Circadia Chardonnay. Another seemingly unprepossessing venture, Thirty Seven Winery, situated at the Gateway to Carneros, provides yet another showcase for winemakers May-Britt and Denis Malbec, here featuring both their 2009 Pinot Noir and 2010 Chardonnay. And to my infinite surprise, they are finally making a Malbec here, as well!
An intimate return to Fort Mason from the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance brought both Lindley, with its 2011 Pinot Noir La Lomita Vineyard and Chardonnay specialists Liquid Farm into the Sostevinobile fold. Along with a 2012 Rosé Vogelzang Vineyard, Liquid Farm produced a trifecta of Chards: the 2011 White Hill Chardonnay, the 2011 Golden Slope Chardonnay, and their showstopper, the 2011 FOUR Chardonnay, a combination from Bent Rock, Radian, Huber, and Clos Pepe vineyards. If only Huber Cellars had attended, as was billed, I might have finally sampled their signature Dornfelder!
Later on, Fort Mason hosted the Anderson Valley Trade Tasting, an attenuated version of Taste of Mendocino that still managed to yield a handful of surprises. Philo’s Angel Camp Vineyard made a spectacular, if not stunning debut, with its tricolore—red, white, rosé—of estate-grown Pinot Noirs: the 2011 Pinot Noir, the rare, excruciating-to-produce 2012 Pinot Noir Blanc, and a dry 2012 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir. Had winemaker Jon Keyes the bandwidth, they could have added an orange version, as well, as exemplified by the 2011 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir Foursight poured here: a wine with limited skin contact that visually resembled the true orange color of Pinot Gris. Though I have tasted with Foursight on numerous occasions, I’d be remiss in not noting the wonderful 2011 Sémillon and the intriguing 2010 Zero New Oak Pinot Noir they also poured here.
Jackson Family Wines has also been a major player in Mergers & Acquisitions in the wine industry, with an aggressive program to acquire established vineyards like Saralee’s in Windsor, as well as Zena Crown and Gran Moraine in Oregon, since the death of founder Jess Jackson in 2011. In addition to the 14 new properties (2,800 acres) Barabara Banke has added to her late husband’s portfolio, she has continued to launch single-vineyard projects like Cardinale throughout the West Coast, represented this day by three different properties. Champs de Rêves featured their 2011 Pinot Noir Boone Ridge Vineyard, while its thematic equestrian kin, WindRacer, poured both its 2010 Anderson Valley Chardonnay and 2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. Named in tribute to the progeny of Banke’s prized thoroughbred Maggy Hawk, the 2010 Jolie comes from a Pinot Noir Clone 115, while the 2010 Unforgettable features Clone 667.
It seems that I have forgotten to include Knez Winery in previous posts, but found both the 2010 Demuth Chardonnay and the 2011 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir poured here more than memorable. Not that I intend any short shrift to their 2011 Cerise Pinot Noir, either! And though I’ve often cited Scharffenberger Cellars for their sparkling wines, this tasting provided my introduction to their still wines: the 2011 Carpe Diem Pinot Noir and the 2012 Carpe Diem Chardonnay.
The most innovative winery here had to have been Lichen Estate, an organic seven-acre planting in Boonville. Their 2012 Pinot Noir proved straightforward, but their unconventional 2012 Les Pinots Noir & Gris, a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Pinot Gris, truly struck my fancy. Adding to the intrigue, their NV Solera Pinot Noir, here a preliminary blend of the 2011 and 2012 vintages, but portending to become more and more striking as subsequent years are added to the mix.
Sostevinobile wrapped up formal tasting season for 2013 with a repeat of last November’s Third Friday marathon. If only Elon Musk had already launched his Hyperloop! Imagine attending a Pinot tasting in San Francisco, staying until its conclusion, taking a leisurely shower and changing, hopping into a Hyperloop pod and arriving in Napa Valley 11 minutes later to attend a four-hour Taste & Sip extravaganza at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA), then hopping back into the pod and returning to the City before midnight (all the while thumbing y
our nose at the St. Helena cop who parks outside the Greystone driveway every day)
. Oh well! Perhaps in 2113!
Nonetheless, the third annual Flavor! Napa Valley again featured the Appellation Trail, a bit pared down from its inaugural rendition, with fewer of the most prominent wineries and restaurants participating and scant sightings of the Valley’s notables in attendance. And while there were still a handful of wine labels to uncover, the more compelling aspect of this event was the chance to sample from a number of storied Napa restaurants and food purveyors. Like Redd Wood. And Morimoto Napa. Auberge du Soleil. And Morimoto Napa. Press St. Helena. And Morimoto Napa. Oenotri. And Morimoto Napa. Silverado Resort & Spa. And Morimoto Napa. Bistro Jeanty And Morimoto Napa.
So perhaps I overdid it at the Morimoto station; nevertheless, my primary focus remained on the wine discoveries. Jason Valenti, with the help of Philippe Melka, showcased his Adamvs label, a biodynamic Howell Mountain project focused solely on Cabernet Sauvignon. I found myself equally captivated by their 2010 Téres, a blend of Estate Cabernet with other Napa Valley fruit, and the to-be-released 2010 Quintvs, a blend of five distinct estate vineyard blocks. Nearby, John Skupny’s Lang & Reed joined the growing ranks of vintners producing extraordinary Cab Francs with his 2011 Two-Fourteen Cabernet Franc Napa Valley.
Montes is a Chilean conglomerate producing wines much in the same mode as Cupcake or Paul Hobbs, not restricting themselves to the confines of national boundaries but sourcing varietals from the terroirs and appellations they see befitting their wine program. Their new Napa Angel label debuted here with their easy-to drink 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, a combination of Yountville, Oak Knoll, and Coombsville fruit, and the 2008 Aurelio’s Selection, a Cabernet focused on Oak Knoll and Yountville. With the changing of the guard after the death of Marie Nichelini-Irwin, I felt Nichelini had essentially become a new label; however, their signature 2012 Old Vine Muscadelle de Boredelais, formerly (and preferably) known as Sauvignon Vert, remained, if memory serves me, true to form.
Under the tutelage of acclaimed winemaker Marco DiGiulio, Adam Braustein crafted a delightful, multiclone expression of the 2010 JBV Cabernet Sauvignon, an estate grown bottling for Jack Brooks Vineyard. And I was quite pleased to meet former Opus One winemaker Kian Takavoli and partake of the austerely named 2010 Red Wine Napa Valley he crafted for Patel Winery on Silverado Trail, a Merlot-dominant Right Bank homage tempered with Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. And I most assuredly would have loved the offerings from Stone the Crows solely for their dispassionate nomenclature, but cottoned to both the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Three Twins Vineyard (no relation to Terra Linda’s much-heralded organic Three Twins Ice Cream label) and its evolving successor, the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Three Twins Vineyard.
The Appellation Trail Tasting is always a welcome challenge to navigate and complete, but the true test of the day was making a safe and relatively unfettered drive to Greystone after the annual Pinotfest tasting at Farallon. Many have heard me complain of late of Pinot fatigue—not surprising with 12% of California’s vineyards, plus nearly 40% of Oregon’s acreage, planted to Pinot Noir, and a veritable overload of Pinot tastings throughout the latter half of the year. Still this is always a must-attend event, and will remain so, even if it continues to fall on the same day as Flavor! Napa Valley.
One of the hallmarks of this tasting is the wide selections of Oregon wineries on hand, posing a
far easier commute across San Francisco than the 10 hour trek to the Willamette Valley. And while this event afforded me the opportunity to catch up with Tendril, Domaine Serene, Soter, and Domaine Drouhin, etc., as well as mingle numerous friends from Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands, and the myriad Sonoma appellations, the standout of the afternoon was the worst—and best—Pinot producer in Napa’s Rutherford AVA, El Molino, pouring an exceptional 2010
Rutherford Pinot Noir and its counterpoint, the 2011 Rutherford Chardonnay.
Lamentably, however, this event featured only a single newcomer, Paul Lato Wines, which nonetheless dazzled with two selections from a stable (several of his labels allude to horse racing) of nine distinct Pinots: the 2011 Pinot Noir C’est La Vie Wenzlau Vineyard (Sta. Rita Hills) and the superb 2011 Pinot Noir Suerte Solomon Hills Vineyard (Santa Maria Valley). This paucity of discoveries, however, wasn’t necessarily a disappointment as, I confess, had primarily hied my way over to Farallon for the delectable Seared Duck-Gizzard Confit and, particularly, the transcendant Duck-Gizzard Meatballs that always highlight this tasting
Does the duck die nasty to render these delicacies? I’ve never asked, though I am sure the process of procurement is nothing as heinous as the caged breeding and disemboweling involved in making Paté Fois Gras. And while we’re on the topic, let me close out the year with a premature resolution to once again let the grizzling on my grizzled visage return to its more luxuriant style—not the Methuselaic proportions of reinstated Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson, but more a quasi-revival of last decade’s efforts to transmogrify myself into a latter day Da Vinci, adopting an appearance to complement my numerous forays, inventive and intellectual, and impending successes (to be detailed in subsequent entries here, as they coalesce) that served to redeem a most challenging 2013.

A tale of two Napas

Usually when Your West Coast Oenophile sits down to compose these installments for Sostevinobile, I have a vague outline of the post mapped out in my mind. I had originally planned to wrap up the chronicle on my summer peregrinations throughout various regions of the wine country here (any pretense I could cover my trips in a single article fell by the wayside when I hit the 4,500 word mark), but I’ve had to shelve Part II temporarily in favor a series of contrasting events I’ve attended in Napa.
The good folks at North Bay Business Journal were kind enough to issue me a media pass for their annual Impact Napa conference. I, in turn, made every effort possible to arrive at the Napa Valley Marriott bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to hear economist Chris Thornberg deliver the keynote address. But somehow my alarm failed to ring, and I found myself strolling in for the last 90 seconds of his speech. I suppose I might justify my tardiness with claims I have yet to hear a presentation by an economist that hasn’t been inexorably soporific, but I’ll demur for now and focus instead on the panel discussion that I did attend.
The Business Journal assembled a veritable marquée lineup from the Valley, with proprietors from revered wineries Araujo and Pahlmeyer, premier Merger & Acquisition specialist Mario Zepponi, and seminal vineyardist Andy Beckstoffer. Now, lest readers think I’ve taken to fawning over viticultural superstars at this juncture, be not alarmed: I am merely essaying to accentuate the tenor of this discourse, which focused largely on the rarefied niche held by Napa’s ultrapremium wineries.
Each of these panelist expounded a personal perspective on how the past few years have impacted their sector of the wine industry, and while the economic downturn may briefly have had a deleterious effect on the pace and volume of high-end sales, the wines and grapes in this echelon quickly rebounded to as robust a level as had previously been experienced.
Unlike Reaganomics, however, the economics of the wine industry have not adhered to the dictates of the dubious Laffer curve, and while the fortunes of Napa’s premier cru wineries
may have contravened the otherwise downward spiral of the general
economy, there has not been a proportionate trickle-down of prosperity to
the scores of other wineries, even in the Napa Valley, that occupy the
secondary or tertiary tiers of the industry. Yet I will readily agree
with Bart Araujo that the success and prestige of Napa’s so-called cult
wines ultimately creates a brand whose recognition and appeal
extends throughout the entire AVA and raises the value and perception of
all wines produced here.

Nonetheless, I am loath to equate these wines with the kind of vanity that defines such brands as Cartier, Prada, Hermès,
Gucci, Ferragamo, Armani, Brioni, Rolex, etc., for the mere notion of a
status symbol inherently diminishes the perception that such prominence
stems from the informed appreciation of genuine cognoscenti, not the shallowness of dilettantes buying into superficial allure. This
pretentiousness, of course, is what creates the all-too-prevalent
barriers to entry into China and other export markets where nouveau riche consumers are
driven by status consciousness. More importantly, focusing on the
prestige of a label quite often belies the true quality and complexity
of these wines—the very factors that ought to be propelling them into
the forefront
.

Admittedly, I can also be susceptible to this allure. Each year, I relish the opportunity to attend Taste of Oakville and luxuriate in a brief interlude with an amazing array of wines, each of which would easily set me back a month’s rent, if not more. And I am as likely as the label-driven neophyte to have my perception influenced by a winery’s cachet, though I would think only to a degree.

My tasting notes from this year’s event unabashedly gave the Sostevinobile equivalent of a perfect score to numerous of the cult wines poured at the Robert Mondavi facility: the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon from Dalla Valle, as well as its incredibly balanced and sustained library version, the 1993 Cabernet Sauvignon; the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from Ren Harris’ Paradigm and from his erstwhile real estate partner’s monument, the 2009 Screaming Eagle; host Robert Mondavi’s autonomous joint venture, the 2008 Opus One; Bond’s 2001 Vecina and quite possibly the greatest wine I have tasted since launching this phase of my wine career, their 2007 St. Eden.
Riding the cusp of this apex, Harlan Estate’s (Bond’s parent label) scintillating 2008 The Maiden; the immensely popular Rudd’s 2008 Oakville Estate; Nickel & Nickel’s elegant 2009 John C. Sullenger Cabernet Sauvignon; host Robert Mondavi’s pre-Constellation 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve; the 2009 Materium from Maybach (of the legendary automotive designers) and, again from Paradigm, the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Even at the next tier, a level at which I still accord superlatives, I could fill the roster with the veritable Rolls Royces and Bentleys (or, if you prefer, the Pétruses and La Tâches) of the Napa Valley. By no means am I demeaning these wines for their vaunted reputation—each and every one of these wines would easily garner my loftiest accolades in a blind tasting. But for every Rolex and Philippe Patek (Quintarelli and Ornellaia?) one found here, there were also as many stunning revelations from wineries that may not share the same iconic status or command a $350+ bottle price.
Both the 2009 Beckstoffer To Kalon Clone 6 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2005 Beckstoffer To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon from Tor Kenward, as well as the 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon from Tierra Roja, proved every bit as astounding and complex as the Dalla Valle or Bond selections. Tierra Rioja’s 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon led a vastly impressive array of near-perfect wines, which included both the 2004 Merlot from Kelham Vineyards and the 2008 Oakville Merlot Barrel Select from Saddleback Cellars, an exquisite 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon from Oakville Ranch, the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon from Vine Cliff, Vine Hill Ranchs 2008 VHR Cabernet Sauvignon, and a striking 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Vitus.
In any other milieu, I might have considered the next level the relative zenith; here, it became almost commonplace, with wines from both the more venerable labels and those less renown amply represented. My list of these exceptional wines ranged from Dalla Valle’s 2009 Collina to Flora Springs2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Holy Smoke Vineyard to the exacting 2009 Block 1 the Trail Cabernet Sauvignon from Harbison Estate. The 1993 Harlan Estate, their eponymous Meritage, dazzled, while Sangiovese virtuoso Gargiulo harmonized with both their 2009 OVX Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Money Road Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon.
Calling one’s vineyard Brix may be somewhat akin to naming the family pet Dog or Parrot, but literal nomenclature did nothing to diminish my friend Valerie Herzog’s 2005 Brix Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from her Kelleher Family Vineyards. This same vintage marked incredible bottlings for Nickel & Nickel, with their 2005 John C. Sullenger Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as for Ramey, whose 2005 Pedregral Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon rivaled its 2009 version. Similarly, Oakville East impressed with both their 2005 Exposure Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Core Stone, a true Meritage (Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc), while Oakville Ranch stood parallel with their 2007 Robert’s Blend, a varietal bottling of Cabernet Franc.
It seemed that almost every vintage in Oakville produced standouts, be it the 2006 Bonny’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Meyer Cellars or Robert Mondavi’s post-Constellation 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. Kelham pushed the proverbial envelope with a stunningly balanced 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon, while the eclectic Nils Venge poured an eclectic (for Napa) 2010 Oakville Estate Pinot Blanc from his Saddleback Cellars, in tandem with his 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.
A final detour from the Cab-dominance of this tasting came from Vitus’ 2008 Reserve Merlot; not to veer entirely from Oakville’s orthodoxy, they also flourished with the 2009 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon at the terminus of their three year vertical. last but by no means least: both the 2009 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon from Vine Cliff and the 2009 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon from Stanton Vineyards.
I could continue to list numerous wines that easily would have astounded outside the context of this tasting, but I would hope it is evident that the superb quality of the wines poured here cuts a broad swath, from the cult labels perceived as status symbols to the meticulously-crafted bottlings that garner but a portion of the allure (and the price) these highly-regarded bottlings command. Despite these superficial disparities, the consistent excellence of so many wines bespeaks the need for Napa to promote itself informatively and resist the ephemeral whims of a cult following.
Even so, I recognize that a substantial range of wines throughout the entire Napa Valley, whether a $150 Casa Piena or a $750 Scarecrow, lie well beyond the means of most consumers; in effect, all these wines serve as the vanguard of the Napa Valley brand, justly admired but usually attainable as an indulgence or special purchase. No less a part of the fabric of this storied appellation derives from those unheralded endeavors unprepossessed by fanfare and more oriented toward crafting wines with the simplicity and earnestness of that bygone era in Napa that preceded the Judgment of Paris. This is the side of Napa that has risen from the trenches (or wine cellars) but nonetheless constitutes an equally important and compelling portion of the landscape, one that has formed the backbone of the wine industry for here for numerous generations, and in no small way has given it such special character.
Perhaps nowhere is such endeavor more extolled that in the emerging wineries that comprise the Napa Sonoma Mexican American Vintners Association (NSMAVA). Now in its second year, this nascent trade alliance descent has embraced a number of Sonoma wineries, along with its original Napa members, and will soon extend its reach throughout California. But at its core lies the perseverance of self-determined individuals whose industry and fortitude empowered their rise from the relative obscurity of laboring as a bracero to the founding of labels and winery operations under their own auspices. It is an ascendancy that only a place as beholden to its agriculture—more narrowly, its wine industry—as California could engender.
Prominent among NSMAVA’s founders, Ceja Vineyards, host for this year’s Alianzas celebration, exemplifies this aspiration. Pedro and Amelia Ceja have built an estate and label in Carneros as distinguished for its varietals, blends, dessert, and sparkling wines as they are for the unbridled exuberance they bring to all their undertakings. As with many of the pioneering families in this group, their transformation evolve over 50 years and three generations, culminating in such wines as their delectable 2009 Carneros Pinot Noir.
In a similar vein, Ignacio Delgadillo Sr. & Jr. launched their eponymous label as a culmination of over three decades tending vineyards. Much to the envy of other wineries throughout the West Coast, Delgadillo is able to hold back its vintages until they reach a ripened maturity, as witnessed by their current release, the 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, a wine aged 20 months in the barrel and 5 (!) years in bottle. Arriving in California in 1991, Alex Sotelo rose from vineyard labor under the tutelage of Robert Pecota and launched his own label a decade later. Like Delgadillo, Sotelo holds his wines back far longer than is typical, resulting in well-rounded bottlings readily drinkable upon release. To wit, near-uniform excellence marked his wines six years after harvest: the 2006 Zinfandel, the 2006 Syrah, a striking 2006 Merlot, and the aptly named 2006 Big A Cabernet Sauvignon.
Nearly 50 years have passed since Salvador Renteria began picking grapes at Sterling, then methodically working his way up through foreman to establishing his highly-esteemed vineyard management company. His son Oscar furthered this ascendancy, founding winemaking ventures comprised of Salva Terra, the ultrapremium Tres Perlas, and the family’s principal label, Renteria Wines. Like many other NSMAVA wineries, Renteria excels with Napa’s white staple, a 2009 Chardonnay Carneros. Nearly as compelling: both the 2008 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley and the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. A similar evolution—in this case, father-daughter—marks the launch of Encanto Vineyards, an intimate, boutique operation Rosauro Segura founded in tribute to her father, Don Enrique Segura, one of Napa’s first Mexican vineyard managers. Her initial offering, the 2008 Pinot Noir Carneros, a 146 case effort, has been followed by a 2009 vintage, as well as the addition of Sauvignon Blanc to her repertoire.
Rolando Herrera labored in a number of positions only tangentially related to viticulture prior to his “promotion” to the wine cellars at Stag’s Leap. Under the tutelage of Warren Winiarski, he honed his skills and eventually launched his own label in 1997. Today, Mi Sueño produces nearly 10,000 cases and offers a limited production select label, Herrera. Continuing their original varietal, the winery clearly excels with the 2008 Chardonnay Los Carneros, matched in intensity by their 2008 El Llano, a proprietary blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Other noteworthy offerings include their 2008 Pinot Noir Los Carneros and a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Coombsville.
Its physical facility is actually on the Sonoma side of Carneros, but Robledo owns vineyards in Lake County and Napa, as well. Honored as “the first
winery established by a former Mexican migrant worker” in California, its portfolio of wines includes an exceptional 2009 Pinot Noir Los Carneros from their Rancho Rincon (Napa) and a most striking 2010 Tempranillo Napa Valley. These wines are complemented by the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley–Eighth Collector’s Series, and, like Mi Sueño, a 2008 Chardonnay Los Carneros and their 2006 Los Braceros, a proprietary blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah dedicated to the contributions of the Mexican men and women recruited to work the agricultural fields here during World War II.
Having emigrated from Mexico in 1984 and working in the cellar at Robert Mondavi, Fernando Candelario launched Voces in 2001. His boutique label produces a notable 2007 Petite Sirah Napa Valley and a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, along with a more recent bottling, the 2009 Zinfandel. The age-worthiness of his wines was commendably manifest in the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, an elegantly rounded wine.
Spanning the geographical extremes of Napa, Coombsville’s Marita’s Vineyard marks the 50+ year culmination of Oaxacan-born brothers Manuel and Bulmaro Montes; their 2006 SOMA Limited Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is a testament to their vision and labor. At the northern end of the valley, Calistoga’s Maldonado Vineyards is home booth to one of Napa’s most dramatic wine caves and a highly-prized Chardonnay. Here, the 2010 Los Olivos Chardonnay proved nothing short of spectacular, on par with this varietal’s most storied producers in California. Maldonado’s versatility with white grapes extends to the 2008 Late Harvest White, a Sémillon-Sauvignon Blanc blend, while both the 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Proprietary Red Wine (like Robledo’s Los Braceros, a Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah blend) solidifies their stature.
Even a decade or two ago, it would have been unfathomable that the Napa Valley would be crafting wines more costly than a family’s weekly food budget, but I have little quarrel with the notion that many of the vintages produced here warrant inclusion with the viticultural world’s most opulent offerings. My only caveat is that these wineries should endeavor to be recognized for the superb quality of their vinification and not the patina of a status symbol.
Certainly the prestige of the so-called cult labels lends a luster to all wines in the Napa Valley, much in the same way the name Harvard or Stanford gives intellectual gravitas to all their divisions, even their business schools. And while there may be a whole separate realm within this AVA that does not yearn for the kind of limelight these leading wines command, the incongruity should not constitute a basis for undue stratification. Excellence needn’t bear correlation to price point, as many of the wines cited here have amply demonstrated.
I have no illusions that there will long remain two Napas, one that graces the glossy covers of lifestyle magazines and auction catalogs, the other that modestly dimensionalizes a family meals or intimate gathering. But for all these ostensible differences, the two remain interdependent and will continue to fortify each other, as long as each remains true to their core mission of crafting elegant wines that stand second to none. Which is why an organization like NSMAVA stands as a paragon not only for the aspirations of the itinerant laborer, but for the entire industry in the Napa Valley.

Housekeeping

Arrivederci, 2011! It’s not that Your West Coast Oenophile doesn’t harbor any warm recollections from the year just past—certainly my creation of ResCue™ bodes well, in and of itself, for this quasi-altruistic endeavor, but augurs perhaps to consolidate the long-overdue launch sustainable wine bar & retail shop to which this blog is intended to serve merely as an adjunct (my readers do want to taste the wines I have been highlighting, don’t you?). Yet my continued struggles to give substance to my sundry concepts (not to mention keep updating these posts in a relatively timely fashion) over the course of the past year proved quite draining, physically, emotionally, financially, and

Basta! Enough indulging in dour lamentation! Moving forward, I forecast that 2012 will turn out to be a gem, if not a Gemma, of a year, not only for my assorted wine ventures—Sostevinobile, COMUNALE, and Risorgimento, but on a personal level as well.* Beyond that, I offer no speculation for this Leap Year, neither for the Giants returning to the World Series, the Punahou Kid re-upping for another four-year stretch, nor the possible future of the world after December 21.
Allora! Let me FINALLY put 2011 in the rear-view mirror by giving long overdue acknowledgment to the numerous events I attended but have neglected to chronicle, starting with the Taste of Mendocino that supplanted Slow Food San Francisco’s Golden Glass. A truly spectacular tasting, this event filled the cavernous Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason with 63 wine producers from three regional groupings, numerous food vendors, solar living displays, art promoters, music—even acrobats! This potpourri of diversions made the oft-formidable challenge of covering so many wineries far from onerous (not that tasting great wine ever is).
Newcomers to the Sostevinobile roster this afternoon started with Campovida, more of an umbrella for art, music, gardening, and the full panoply of gastronomy, an agricultural preserve that leases its viticultural operations to house the four labels under which Magnanimus produces their organic and biodynamic wines, most notably the 2005 Mendocino Farms Syrah Fairborn Ranch poured here. Also heralding from the Hopland/Ukiah Haven sector, Orsianna similarly impressed with its 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino.
From Fort Bragg, Sally Ottoson’s Pacific Star Winery staked its claim with their 2005 Merlot, though I had a great fondness for their 2007 Charbono, as well (I can’t think of any other North Coast winery that makes both Charbono and Carignane). And though Hopland’s Rack & Riddle may be a custom crush facility, they release a small selection of wines under their own label, here best exemplified by their non-vintage sparkling wines, the Rack & Riddle Brut, a blend from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and the Rack & Riddle Rosé, composition unspecified.
Before moving onto the next designated “district,” I sampled a pair of organically-grown wines from Ukiah’s Simaine Cellars, the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and the delectable 2007 Syrah Venturi Vineyard. First up from Anderson Valley/Yorkville Haven, Jeff Hansen’s debut of his Lula Cellars equally impressed with both their 2009 Mendocino Coast Pinot Noir and the 2009 Mendocino Zinfandel. Also based in Philo, Toulouse Vineyards offered a cross-section of their Pinot portfolio, of which the 2008 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir left me feeling the “goosiest.”
The third sector, Redwood/Potter Valley Haven, featured a number of Carignane producers, spearheaded by Tahto Wines with their 2009 Carignane Potter Valley, as well as a compelling 2008 Petite Sirah Potter Valley and 2009 Syrah. In a different vein, Testa Vineyards offered a dry 2010 Rosé of Carignane alongside a most compelling 2007 Black, a blend of 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Carignane, and 3% Petite Sirah from their organic vines in Calpella. Lastly, Yeilding Wines featured a number of wines as distinctive as its atypical orthography, particularly the 2008 Syrah Mendocino; as impressive were the 2008 Bell Springs Cuvée (30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Petit Verdot, 30% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot) and the 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino.


That Taste of Mendocino will now host an annual event in its own right made this year’s session even more pivotal, And I look forward to an abundance of new participants, as well as the many established wineries, in 2012. Moving forward to my next outstanding obligation, I returned to downtown Livermore for the Ninth Annual Petite Sirah Symposium. This year’s event fêted the 80th birthday of host Jim Concannon, whose namesake winery bottled California’s first varietal Petite Sirah in 1961.
Nearly all of the 43 wineries scheduled to pour this year, having appeared at previous incarnations of this single-focused event, have been covered here extensively. Newcomers included Livermore’s Las Positas, which comported themselves admirably with their 2007 Casa de Viñas Covarrubias Vineyard Petite Sirah. Tapping into the same fruit, McGrail Vineyards showcased their splendid 2009 Casa de Viñas Petite Sirah, also from the Covarrubias Vineyard.
San Francisco’s Shoe Shine Wine, initially founded as a purely Petite Sirah venture, debuted their 2006 Petite Sirah Solano County from the highly coveted Tenbrink Vineyard. A true standout for the afternoon came from the 2007 Petite Sirah Winemaker’s Reserve from Calistoga’s Vincent Arroyo, while Clarksburg’s Wilson Vineyards offered a most approachable 2008 Petite Sirah from their sustainably-farmed Yolo County estate.


Back when I toiled as a denizen of the Fourth Estate, the cardinal rule was always to lead in directly with the article’s main topic, not to obfuscate the subject with a mash of peripheral issues or questions. And so I will refrain from bemoaning, yet again, the conspicuous dearth of Porta-Potties at the latest Monterey Winemakers’ Celebration and focus instead on the delectable wines and sumptuous cuisine purveyed to the resilient attendees who braved the narrow confines of The Barnyard in Carmel, the newest staging for this annual event, with nary a recourse to relieve the effects of their overconsumption.
Discoveries here began with Carmel Hills Winery, a boutique operations that excelled with both their 2007 Unfiltered Chardonnay and a spectacular 2009 Syrah. Tiny Figge Cellars provided a chiasmus with their 2009 La Reina Chardonnay and 2007 Sycamore Flat Syrah. Holman Ranch also offered a delectable 2010 Chardonnay, complemented by their 2009 Pinot Noir.
Hard to believe that a winery in this millennium could even countenance the concept of a White Zinfandel, but Saint’s Valley, a winery based in Temecula that sources Monterey grapes, made a gambit with their own bottling in 2010. Fortunately, they obviated this miscue with both their 2009 Zinfandel Vista Del Lago Estate Vineyards and an intriguing white Rhône blend, the 2009 GVR (Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne). And while this last stop concluded the discovery portion of my tasting, the rest of the event was more than flush with many excellent wineries I had sampled at last year’s event or other tastings. And if next year’s Winemakers’ Celebration provides more facilities to flush, I am sure I will find the fortitude to cover them all!


Sometime in the not-so-distant future, the resorts around Clear Lake will likely attain the cachet of major destination—a magnet like Tahoe or Palm Springs. Not that I want to despoil this relative isolation of this underappreciated sector of Northern California nor overrun its lacustrine jewel with throngs of tourists—it just seems inevitable that such a spectacular natural resource gain a popularity on par with its majesty. When I
started out in the wine industry, one would have been hard pressed to identify another Lake County winery apart from Guenoc; today, this North Coast quadrant contains five distinct AVAs and is dotted with dozens of progressive producers.
To showcase just how diverse this region has developed viticulturally, the Lake County Winery Association put on its first urban group showcase, Big Wines from the High Elevations of Lake County, at Winery SF on Treasure Island. Of the 23 wineries participating, fourteen were debuting labels which Sostevinobile had not previously encountered, with a range of varietals easily matching Sonoma or Paso Robles.
Of course, I was temperamentally predisposed to like a winery that calls itself Bullion Creek. Their striking vertical of Cabernets from 2005-07 was preceded by an even more outstanding library selection, the 2003 Bullion Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Kelseyville’s Bell Hill Vineyards showed itself equally adept with Bordeaux varietals, their forte being the 2005 Merlot, which slightly edged their 2004 vintage, as well as their more recent foray with the noteworthy 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon.
In sharp contrast, another Kelseyville winery, Chacewater, showcased a complex variety of varietals, starting with a modest 2010 Riesling.Their 2010 Chardonnay proved nominally better, the 2009 Malbec even more so. Their indisputable skill at vinification shone best in their 2009 Syrah and particularly in their 2009 Petite Sirah. From Lower Lake, biodynamic growers Hawk and Horse produced an enticing 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, matched by their distinctive 2006 Latigo—a Cabernet Sauvignon dessert wine.
No, they are not dyslexic. Lavender Blue impressed their self-described 2010 Sweet Suave Blanc, a Sauvignon Blanc desert wine with 2% residual sugar. Still I preferred their dry 2010 Sauvignon Blanc and found their 2010 Nebbiolo Rosé, an interesting, if not compelling, wine. Continuing with my vigilant exploration, I next sampled the numerous offerings of Vigilance, a sustainably-famed winery based in Lower Lake. While their 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, and particularly the 2010 Chardonnay were pleasing, their star turned out to be the luscious 2009 Viognier. On the red side, I found the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (blended with 9% Petite Sirah) young but quite delectable, while the 2009 Petite Sirah stood out on its own merits.
Vigilance’s sister operation, Shannon Ridge, provided a veritable marathon to taste through, with 10 wines to negotiate—about as an eclectic a mix as any winery offers. The 2008 Single Vineyard Roussanne clearly stood out among the white selections, while the 2008 Single Vineyard Barbera and the 2009 Single Vineyard Zinfandel highlighted their red lineup. Inarguably their most notable bottling was the 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, while the 2008 Wrangler from their Ranch Collection, a proprietary blend of 37% Zinfandel, 35% Syrah, 18% Petite Sirah, 5% Barbera, 3% Mourvèdre and 2% Tempranillo demarcated the considerable breadth of their viticulture.
On a much smaller scale, both the 2007 Petite Sirah and the 2007 Petit Verdot from Dusinberre Cellars made striking first impressions. Robinson Lake, primarily a bulk and varietal supplier, still showcased its deft blend, 2009 Glamazon Sauvignon Blanc-Sémillon, and an amiable Glamazon Chardonnay. Again from Kelseyville, Lajour Estate completed an impressive trifecta with their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 Zinfandel, and a superb 2009 Barbera. And Wildhurst featured both an impressive 2010 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc and 2008 Reserve Zinfandel, alongside their 2010 Muscat Canelli and stupendous 2010 Reserve Chardonnay.
Rounding out Sostevinobile’s list of discoveries came the delightful Shed Horn Cellars from Middleton. I found myself quite impressed with both their 2009 Lake County Sauvignon Blanc and the 2010 Lake County Chardonnay, but relished their 2009 Lake County Zinfandel even more. Even so, their 2007 Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon may well have been the most serendipitous find of the afternoon.
Had I time and space, I would detail the many other excellent wines I sampled from familiar stalwarts like Beaver Creek, Ceāgo, Diamond Ridge, Gregory Graham, Langtry, Six Sigma, Steele, Nils Venge’s Cougar’s Leap, host Sol Rouge, and Italian varietal virtuoso Rosa d’Oro, But as all the participating wineries in Big Wines from the High Elevations richly demonstrated, Lake County has blossomed into a distinct and diverse appellation in its own right, one that will certainly command a prominent role in the Sostevinobile wine program.


The next two days belonged to the grandest of the Grand Tastings, the 21st Annual Family Winemakers of California. Even though I have attended this event ever since it served as a coda to the fall harvest, I still found numerous wineries making their first appearance here (or that I had perhaps inadvertently overlooked in previous years).Also from St. Helena, Andesite, named for the ancient volcanic deposits found atop Spring Mountain, showcased its Right Bank-style 2007 Mervignon, a rich blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, rounded with a small percentage of Cabernet Franc. Across the way in Santa Rosa, Château Adoré debuted with a discrete selection of their offerings, including a striking 2009 Chardonnay, a generically-labeled Vintage White, and an impressive 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.



This
tasting took on special meaning for many of the wineries and attendees,
as it served as tribute to the late Jess Jackson, one of Family
Winemakers’ founders and a driving force behind its impetus to give
voice to the small family endeavors that serve as backbone to the wine
industry. Fittingly, one of the first wineries I sampled on this day, Analog,
prototyped the kind of venture Jess had championed, a humble, two-person operation producing a mere 600 cases of a
proprietary wine. Their mélange of Merlot and Sangiovese, the 2005 Analog, replete with their nostalgic logo (the once ubiquitous triskelion adapter used to play 45s), tasted redolent of their craft and commitment.

Healdsburg’s Field Stone Winery featured an impressive array of wines, starting with their 2010 Vineyard Select Sauvignon Blanc. Switching quickly to reds, their proprietary 2007 Convivio blended the Merlot, Cabernet, Sangiovese, and Petite Sirah found in their Vineyard Select varietals. While the Sangiovese was not available here, I found both the 2007 Vineyard Select Merlot and the 2007 Vineyard Select Cabernet Sauvignon standouts among their selections, with the 2007 Staten Family Reserve Petite Sirah and the 2007 Staten Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon nearly as approachable.
Field Recordings Wines holds no connect to Field Stone (nor, for that matter, the aforementioned vinyl-themed Analog); its esoteric blends bear little resemblance to others’ wines as well. After sampling their 2009 Chenin Blanc Jurassic Park Vineyard, I delved into the 2010 Fiction White, a proprietary mélange of Albariño, Grenache Blanc, Malvasia Bianca, and Marsanne. No less complex was the 2010 Fiction Red, this a blend of 28% Zinfandel, 26% Tempranillo, 18% Grenache, 18% Malbec, 5% Touriga Nacional, 3% Mourvèdre, and 2% Syrah. While the 2009 Petite Sirah Red Cedar Vineyard offered a straightforward interpretation, the 2009 Chorus Effect Koligian Vineyard presented a Paso Robles-style marriage of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Tannat.
Also heralding from Paso, Barr Estate Winery started out strongly with their 2010 Albariño, a delicate expression of the grape. From there, their wines focused on Bordeaux varietals and blends, including a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon balanced with 20% Petit Verdot. Their 2007 Jubilado highlighted Petit Verdot, with Cabernet Sauvignon coming in at 40%. Distinctively, the 2007 Malbec added 10% Petit Verdot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, to meld a most striking mélange, while their Port-style dessert wine, befittingly titled The Last Act, married five parts Syrah with two parts Souzão and a single part Touriga.
Further to the south, the town of Los Alamos, CA should not be confused with its New Mexican counterpart; even with Vandenberg Air Force Base nearby, it’s highly probable this Santa Barbara enclave has never developed—nor even housed—a nuclear weapon. And while not as recognized as other nearby cities for its œnology, it serves home to the beguilingly named Martian Ranch Vineyard & Winery. I initially surmised theis moniker was meant to parody Michael Mondavi (much in the same manner Randall Grahm’s Le Cigare Volant tweaks the esoteric regulations of Châteauneuf-du-Pape), but owner Nan Helgeland assured me she derived it as a portmanteau of the names for her sons. Martin and Ian. Regardless, the winery’s 2009 Viognier and spectrum of Grenaches: 2009 Grenache Blanc, 2009 Grenache Rose, and the 2009 Grenache displayed a most assuredly earthy familiarity and appeal. Over in neighboring Ventura County, Oxnard may seems even less likely a domain for viticulture, but from its base here, Montage sources grapes from as far north as Oregon and as far south as Los Angeles! I enjoyed both the 2009 Chardonnay Russian River Valley and the 2010 Viognier Malibu, while their 2008 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast and 2008 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley proved twin wonders.
Out in Brentwood (the Northern California city, not the Los Angeles district), Hannah Nicole has been petitioning to establish a separate AVA for eastern Contra Costa County, a designation that would grant them a level of exclusivity on par with Esterlina’s Cole Ranch AVA in Mendocino. Putting this debate aside for now, I did enjoy their 2010 Viognier, along with their aptly-named 2010 Mélange Rosé, a blend of Grenache with 10% Mourvèdre. Single varietal reds included the 2009 Petite Sirah Reserve, a notable 2009 Cabernet Franc, and the equally-appealing 2009 Petit Verdot Reserve.
On the other hand, Napa Angel does indeed herald from LA County. This domestic project from wine importers Montes USA impressed with their 2007 Star Angel Syrah from Paso Robles, while making a commendable debut with both their Napa-grown 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The same ownership offered an eponymous label, Guarachi Family Wines, also from Woodland Hills; with the guidance of consulting winemaker Paul Hobbs, they produced a trio of exceptional wines: the 2009 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, the 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and a spectacular 2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. Paralleling this effort, Paul Hobbes’ new CrossBarn label presented its 2009 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, a compelling 2009 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, and their elegantly structured 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
Havens Winery represents a bit of a phoenix, a peripatetic label that has moved, closed, then been revived by Stonehedge. Here at Family Winemakers, its first bottlings under its new incarnation included the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, a 2009 Meritage Red, and the 2009 Red Blend, a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Employing a bit of legerdemain, St. Helena’s Houdini Wines magically debuted with their 2009 Talaria Chardonnay, alongside a striking 2007 Oakville Merlot and 2007 St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon.
Cru, a label from Highway 29, bears no relation to Crū from Madera, and neither winery holds any connect to Cru Vine Dogs, a Denver-based wine project sourcing from vineyards in Sonoma and Napa. Despite the mawkishness of its canine-themed labels, I found both the 2008 Blue Heeler Shiraz-Grenache-Mourvèdre and the 2006 Lucky Cabernet-Merlot moderately appealing. Also blend-focused, Napa’s Jules Mélange showcased three generically-labeled wines, the 2009 Vin Blanc, the 2009 Vin Rosé, and their distinctive 2009 Vin Rouge.
Healdsburg’s Kachina, a name derived from the emblematic Hopi carved dolls that adorn their label, posed no ambiguity with its varietals: a mellow 2009 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, the 2007 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (blended with 5% Syrah), and their signature 2009 Charbono. Further south in Sonoma, Cotati’s Katarina, the wine-producing adjunct of Field Vineyards, displayed a competent 2009 Chardonnay Sonoma County alongside their new 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley, an evolution of the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County and 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County, which they poured for contrast.
Coastview winemaker Ian Brand’s own brand, Le P’tit Paysan, impressed more than a little with his 2010 Le P’tit Pape Monterey County, a Rhône-style blend consisting of 42% Mourvèdre, 42% Grenache, and 16% Syrah, and the 2007 Meritage, an atypical blend with equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Not atypical but still a rare pleasure from Napa was the 2010 Tocai Friulano that Macauley Vineyard poured as white complement to its 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, a distinctive 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel and 2008 Petite Sirah, and their forte, the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon.
Not surprisingly, Napa was well-represented during this two-day marathon. One of their new entrants here, Craig Handly’s Terroir Napa Valley, lived up to the audacity of its name with a scintillating 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, a promising 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Carpenter Ranch, and their 2009 Chardonnay P&J Vineyard. From their second label, the 2010 Pool Boy Sauvignon Blanc and the 2009 Pool Boy Chardonnay also proved quite enjoyable. Another Napa venture with a touch of whimsy, Toolbox comported themselves handily with their 2010 Clarksburg Pinot Grigio, alongside a respectable 2007 Oak Knoll District Napa Valley Chardonnay and the 2008 Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc. Their red offering included the curiously-named 2007 Napa Valley Merlot (Mi-anti) and former San Francisco Giant J. T. Show’s 2008 THIRST, a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (the 2009 Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon tasted far too young to assess fairly).

Moving laterally over to Trancas Street, Lateral has evolved from its origins at Kathryn Kennedy’s Saratoga winery to a Napa-based endeavor, sourcing from several local vineyards to create the St. Émilion-style 2008 Lateral, a blend focused on Cabernet Franc and Merlot. As cherished as this vintage has been, the 2010 Lateral portends to reach even greater heights. Moving lower to Solano County, Vezér Family Vineyard of Suisun Valley opened with a delightful 2008 Verdelho. Both their 2007 Zinfandel and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon matched the intensity of this Iberian white, while the 2007 Petite Sirah and the 2007 La Sallette, a blend of Petite Sirah and Zinfandel, approached it. Vezér’s zenith, however had to have been the 2007 Franci, an indelibly sweet Black Muscat dessert wine.


Oracle World Headquarters

Under the stern gaze of Larry Ellison’s self-aggrandizing erection, Von Holt Wines, in nearby Belmont, crafts sources grapes from prized vineyards in Sonoma to craft such wines as its excellent 2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and the 2009 Suacci Vineyard Pinot Noir. Von Holt’s forte, however, came from its two Syrahs, their 2008 Hoppe-Kelly Vineyard Syrah and the compelling 2008 Old Lakeville Vineyard Syrah. Lastly, veering a final time down south, Santa Barbara’s first urban winery, Oreana, closed up Sostevinobile’s discovery list with two utterly compelling whites, their 2009 Verdelho and the 2009 Chardonnay Santa Barbara County. Though I was slightly less impressed with their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, their red portfolio more than mitigated with a sublime 2008 Pinot Noir Central Coast, the 2008 Zinfandel and 2008 Syrah Santa Barbara County, and most distinctly, the 2009 Malbec Margarita Vineyard. If only they had poured their intriguing 2008 Refosco, as well!

The two day marathon at Family Winemakers did allow me to visit with quite a few established friends, while probably 150 other wineries eluded my reach. As 2012 proceeds, I can only strive to do better, both in reaching out to new discoveries and in fulfilling the many, many promises Sostevinobile has made. Please stay tuned…

*Lest anyone surmise that, in the aftermath of my relationship with the oft-cited Ginkgo Girl, I’ve intended to maintain a perpetual “lock heart.”

77 bottles of wine on the wall, 77 bottles of wine…

In a previous posting for Sostevinobile, Your West Coast Oenophile assayed the attendance factor at a number of industry events in San Francisco, including the most recent incarnation of the San Francisco Vintners Market. This is an admirable undertaking by promoters Cornelius Geary and Bridget Raymond, and, of course, it is up to them to determine the efficacy of this formula, but I would be remiss in not noting the many splendid labels I did encounter for the first time here.

77) There is something that borders on hazardous these days when you select a name that Google insists is a misspelling. Eric Hall’s Loopking Wines defies even the simplest Internet search, yet there was something more than compelling about the trio of Cabernets he poured. Nonetheless, the sole Merlot in his inventory of Bordelaise varietals, his 2007 Reserve Merlot Lake Cynthia Vineyard, stood out for its sumptuousness.

76) Up from Malibu, Ray Schofield seemed to enjoy adopting the role of eleutherarch for the conspiracy he billed as Cloak & Dagger Wines. Indeed, I found his 2008 Assassin, a Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from Howell Mountain’s Ink Grade Vineyard a clandestine pleasure, and look forward to the wines he neglected to stash sub rosa, especially his Sangiovese (aka the 2009 Illuminatus).

75) Tomarí Cellars is a boutique producer from Napa. Owner Tom Alfaz has enlisted an impressive roster of winemakers to consult with his winemaking and an equally impressive list of vineyards he has contract for both his Cabernet Sauvignon and his Pinot. His 2008 Pinot Noir La Encantada Vineyard proved a prodigious first effort, even for this can-do-no-wrong grape field.

74) I spent too many years in the advertising world not to recognize the computer-generated, quasi-Latin Lorem Ipsum gibberish that populates the web pages for Bracey Vineyards as a placeholder. But twelve years of formal Latin education does allow me readily to translate their motto Arduis Saepe, Metū Nunquam as “often through difficulty, never by fear.” And while their site may be underdeveloped, their wines showed a distinct maturity, as exemplified by the 2007 Howell Mountain Beatty Ranch Old Vine Zinfandel (as an aside, I’d be willing to wager that Bracey is the only winery that lists their owner’s Harvard alumni e-mail as their point of contact).

73) Peter Hartman’s SoMa Cellars heralds from San Francisco, where he bottled his first vintage at Crushpad, when their custom crush facility was located in the South of Market District (before they relocated to Premier Pacific’s facilities in Napa (before they relocated to Sonoma’s underutilized Sebastiani plant)). Despite this ongoing conundrum, SoMa has managed to release a highly impressive debut wine, and one can only hope that when SoMa does manage to find a less peripatetic home, it will continue to produce wine as elegant as the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.

72) Another discovery was de Tomas Wines from St. Helena. Despite its Napa location, its 2007 Red Wine blended Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah from Sonoma County. Here, coincidentally, was a wine where Sostevinobile whole-heartedly concurred with my friend Alyssa Rapp of Bottlenotes in our approval.

71) In that category of wineries with which I would have sworn I had previously sampled, Maldonado’s presence here reprieved me for all the time I may have bypassed their table. With a wide portfolio of wines to sample, I found their signature Chardonnays most intriguing, but particularly cottoned to their 2008 Late Harvest White, a well-balanced Sémillon-Sauvignon Blanc blend.

70) Idle Cellars is a maverick endeavor by three veterans of Deerfield Ranch. With four notable varietals under their belt, the standout, for me, from this Glen Ellen project was a textured 2008 Sangiovese.
69) Even among those wineries devoted exclusively to Iberian varietals, it is rare to find multiple bottlings of the same varietal; Metate Hill out of Murphys contrasted a pair of beautifully-crafted Albariños, with my overt favoritism going to the barrel-aged 2008 Albariño Barrica over its stainless steel sibling.

68) Also impressing with a Spanish-style wine, James & Janis Judd offered an exquisite 2008 Tempranillo from J&J Cellars, another of their several San Francisco-based labels.

67) Crosby Roamann is an ultra-boutique specialist, handcrafting lots of under 100 cases of whatever they see fit each year. I needn’t go out on a limb to praise their 2009 Out on a Limb, a truly compelling rendition of Sauvignon Blanc.

And in keeping with my efforts at small production, I am putting this entry to rest with one of the leanest word counts the Sostevinobile blog has ever produced! But there were too many striking discoveries at this event, and so my review will spill over into my next installment.

Quattro…cinque…sei…sette…otto…

4) Spring Mountain

I don’t mean to give short shrift to the early morning reception at Clos du Val, but Your West Coast Oenophile had reviewed the same wines served here back at their Vindependence function in July, and with my well-documented aversion to eggs, I could only try the wonderful baguettes along with the 2009 Ariadne (Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon), Pinot Noirs, and library Cabernets on hand. But I did manage to persuade Hospitality and Wine Education Associate Jim Wilkinson to open a bottle of the limited-release 2007 Primitivo that I enjoyed immensely.

Excruciatingly missing from Clos du Val’s fête was my essential AM Java jolt (I had anticipated getting my fix here and so had eschewed the hotel’s diluted styrofoam-clad version before driving up to Stags Leap). Miraculously, I managed to cruise on autopilot over to Yountville and locate the quaint Coffee Caboose I had espied the day before at the Napa Valley Railway Inn. Sufficiently caffeinated, I coherently would my way up St. Helena Highway to join in the festivities at Spring Mountain Vineyard.

Constrictions of time and space here preclude me from recounting numerous tales of this storied winery, which I had not visited since 1984. Suffice it to say, the facilities had changed dramatically over the past quarter century, as had the personnel. Still, I found it most welcoming to be greeted by Sostevinobile’s Facebook fan Valli Ferrell before descending into the bowels of the candlelit caves that had been excavated since my last tour.

To be frank, long-term, subterranean occupancy may well be suitable for bats, but it is hardly conducive to Homo sapiens, and while being capable of flying might mitigate reincarnation as one of the Chiroptera species in the next life, for now, negotiating a two-hour tasting in this dimly-lit environment utterly strained my endurance. That said, the wines, of course, proved more than delectable, and, despite the constraints of the setting, I managed to negotiate all 17 wineries pouring here.

First up, I stopped by Cain to chat with Associate Winemaker François Bugué and sample through his eclectic mix. We started with his non-vintage Cain Cuvée, a Merlot-dominant blend from both the 2006 and 2007 vintages, rounded out with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, as well as 7% Petit Verdot. With 20% Merlot and just 2% Cabernet Franc, the 2006 Cain Concept could have been labeled varietal Cabernet Sauvignon, while the flagship 2006 Cain 5 married the five Bordeaux grapes in differing percentages, with none dominating. Most intriguing, however, was Cain’s auction selection, the 2009 François’ Pick, an atypical blend of 67% Malbec and 33% Petit Verdot. By contrast, Frias Family chose simply to pour their excellent 2007 Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, while Sherwin Family’s lone entry, the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, softened with 12% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc.

I’d missed the table for Vineyard 7 & 8 at the Next Generation tasting, so was pleased to atone for my oversight here with their trio of Cabernets. I preferred the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon to the(slightly) more modest 2007 7 Cabernet Sauvignon, while the 2001 7 Cabernet Sauvignon proved an unexpected pleasure. And although I had tried both wines only a few hours before, I was happy to resample the 2009 Albion and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Marston Family again poured.

Another all-Cab effort, Peacock contrasted their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District with winemaker Craig Becker’s East Napa venture, Somerston, from along Sage Canyon Road, and its 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Estate Grown; like Vineyard 7 & 8, Peacock also treated attendees to a taste to a retrospective of their 2001 vintage.

The Spring Mountain District AVA was established in 1983, so I am at a los to explain of the significance of the 2001 vintage or why nearly every winery here brought a sample. Although they produce a number of varietals, Terra Valentine showcased a pure Cabernet play, starting with their 2001 Wurtele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. I was just as pleased with the 2007 Wurtele, while the 2007 Yverdon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Spring Mountain District Cabernet both proved highly amiable wines. By contrast, the 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Barnett Vineyards poured outshone their current 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District, while the 2008 Merlot Spring Mountain District provided a refreshing contrast to this uniformity.

Juslyn Vineyards may not be Justin Vineyards (now incongruously part of the Fiji Water empire), but their wines created no ambiguity, with a superb 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, complemented by their proprietary 2006 Perry’s Blend, a Merlot-based Meritage tempered with 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot. Behrens Family Winery, producers of Erna Schein, featured their Behrens & Hitchcock label, bulking up with their 2006 Petite Sirah Spring Mountain District and the evocatively illustrated 2007 The Heavyweight, an equal Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot mix, tempered with 20% Petit Verdot.

Keenan Winery virtually wrote the book on blending Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Their flagship 2001 Mernet combined 50% Merlot with equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Just as impressive was the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District, while the 2008 Chardonnay Spring Mountain District brought a most welcome white wine into the mix. Similarly, Fantesca showcased not only their impressive 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon but what they claim is winemaker Heidi Barrett’s first foray into white Burgundy, her 2008 Chardonnay.

Schweiger first poured their 2008 Estate Chardonnay, then followed with the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and an utterly compelling Meritage, the 2006 Dedication, a wine easily 5-10 years before its peak. Their best effort, however, was assuredly their ten year old 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon, an omen for these later vintages. Newton’s iconic 2007 Unfiltered Chardonnay definitely stood up to its considerable legend, but their coup here came from two near-perfect wines, the superbly aged 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon and their 2007 The Puzzle, a marriage of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, and 3% Cabernet Franc.

Before coming to this event, I cruised to the top of Spring Mountain and inadvertently found myself driving through Pride Mountain’s vineyards. Here I intentionally navigated my way through their superlative 2009 Chardonnay, then onto the 2008 Merlot and 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, before settling into their luxurious 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon. Last up, our hosts, Spring Mountain Vineyards gallantly provided the final pours of this tasting, starting with a most refreshing 2009 Estate Sauvignon Blanc. The 2007 Syrah proved a welcome alternative to the near monotony of Bordeaux reds, while their own 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon held its own in this crowded field. Finally, the 2006 Elivette, a Cabernet Sauvignon with touches of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, led into their crowning achievement, the 2001 Elevette.

And with this final wine, I re-emerged from the bowels of darkness into a bath of welcome sunlight. Gradually regaining my bearings, I quickly thanked Valli (“Farewell, Ferrell”) for her hospitality and proceeded to “de-elevate” from the mountain slope to the floor of the Valley for my second round of the afternoon.

5) St. Helena

Even before I arrived at the Charles Krug Winery, it had become apparent that I would never be able to taste every wine and visit with every winery, with barely an hour to devote to each of the events remaining on my itinerary, Highway 29 traffic notwithstanding. I headed down Spring Mountain Road, turned north, and followed Main Street almost the juncture where the St. Helena Highway resumes.

I’ve attended enough events at Krug now that I instinctively knew to head for the restored 1881 Carriage House behind the main winery facilities. My head was still throbbing from spelunking at Spring Mountain, but Whitehall Lane’s Do
uglas Logan-Kuhs heroically managed to round up some aspirin. Revitalized, I proceeded to ply my way through the various wineries I had not yet contacted for Sostevinobile, and then some.

Commencing with Bressler, I found their superb 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon to be everything one should expect from a Mia Klein/David Abreu collaboration. Another boutique producer, this time with Chris Dearden consulting as winemaker, V Madrone poured a noteworthy 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon V Madrone Vineyard, along with its even more fetching predecessor from 2006.

I suspect the generic name of Peter Story’s St. Helena Winery may have caused me to overlooked this unassuming venture over the years, so finally being able to sample their 2006 Scandale and superb 2006 Sympa, both Estate Cabernet Sauvignons, proved truly serendipitous. Another discovery, Casa Nuestra, seems delightfully bent on going against the St. Helena grain, beginning with the once commonly planted 2010 Estate Dry Chenin Blanc. What they label the 2007 Tinto St. Helena is a field blend not of Portuguese but of traditional Napa varietals including Refosco, Petite Sirah, Carignane, and Zinfandel; their special bottling for Première, the 2009 Ellis blended these same grapes, along with Mondeuse and Valdiguié, from their Oakville vineyard where they produce their self-described Tinto Classico.

Van Ballentine didn’t pour his acclaimed Chenin Blanc but did offer a sample of the newly-released 2009 Malvasia Bianca Betty’s Vineyard, followed by his 2006 Merlot St. Helena. And certainly there was nothing small about either 2006 Petit Verdot and 2008 Petite Sirah, two wines I greatly enjoyed. Stellar quality seemed to be the rule of thumb at this event, but, after Ballentine, few of the wineries I tried showed little daring to venture outside of Bordelaise orthodoxy. Jaffe Estate, which had so impressed me at November’s St. Helena tasting, revalidated my laudation of their wines with the 2007 Transformation, a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot. Boeschen Vineyards complemented their fine 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon with their 2008 Carrera Estate Blend, a Meritage of unspecified proportions.

A familiar name with which I first became acquainted in 1982, Freemark Abbey’s 2007 Josephine could almost have qualified as a blend, but with only 12.6% Merlot, 7.9% Malbec, and 4% Cabernet Franc, its 75.5% Cabernet Sauvignon met the varietal threshold. I tried to convince Joann Ross of Shibumi Knoll to incorporate the Rolling Stones’ Shattered (okay, so maybe Jagger is actually singing “shadoobie”) before delving into their inarguably wondrous 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.

I’ve ceased being surprised at all the AVA tastings where I find Steve Lohr pouring; his family’s Silicon Valley-based J. Lohr Vineyards may very well source grapes from every single one! From St. Helena, his 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Carol’s Vineyard proved surprisingly appealing, as did the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Tomasson Vineyard from Midsummer Cellars.

Just a notch higher, I found the 2006 Bisou Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Bisou Cabernet Sauvignon, James Johnson’s sole endeavor, equally excellent. On par here was the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Sabina Vineyards, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Forman Vineyards, and the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from Revana.

Although I’ve sampled his wines on a number of occasions, this tasting marked my first meeting namesake Dr. Madaiah Revana, who graciously invited me to one of his storied house parties the next evening (alas, I was already committed to a tasting back in San Francisco). I also met Austin Gallion of Vineyard 29 after numerous e-mail exchanges over the past several months while tasting my way through their phenomenal 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and their Première bottling, a 2009 Cabernet culled from their several Napa vineyards.

By now, I was approaching the time I had allotted St. Helena, but did take a final taste of the 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2006 Estate Petite Sirah from Varozza. I had hoped to see my friends Marc and Janice Mondavi before I left, but they were not in the Carriage House. H
owever, my friend Douglas Logan-Kuhs pulled off yet another coup, introducing me to 96-year-old Peter Mondavi Sr., and poured us both a taste of a 1960 Zinfandel (I believe it was bottled under the CK Mondavi line—the label was too faded to read!), a wine that had withstood the tests of time almost as well as the winery’s patriarch.

6) Rutherford

In retrospect, maybe I ought to have attended the Phillipe Melka party at David Stevens’ 750 Wines instead of the Rutherford event, or skipped both and taken in the Oakville tasting from the beginning. Not that the wines poured upstairs at Peju weren’t wondrous—it was just that I’d had the opportunity to sample all of them several times previously.

Several of the staff recalled me from my sorry-I-can’t do-eggs luncheon visit this past summer. In turn, however, I was pleasantly surprised to find my longtime associate Dan Gaffey, with whom I’d worked at Real Beer.com, now part of the Peju team. (The irony here is that I wrote the content for nearly 30 craft beer brewers’ websites throughout the latter part of the 1990s, yet probably consumed the equivalent of one 6-pack a year—or less)!

Running into Dan probably set the tone for this gathering, which ultimately proved more of a klatch than a tasting. Doyen Huerta Peju may not have been in attendance, but Rutherford’s sonsiest winemaker, Bridget Raymond warmly greeted me at the top of the stairs. As we caught up with each other and discussed her upcoming San Francisco Vintners Market, I sampled her latest effort, the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon she bottles under her Courtesan label, as well as the Meritage from her secondary line, the 2006 Brigitte.

Over in the main room, Greg Martin stood out in a corduroy jacket that understated his encyclopædic command of antique weaponry and other artifacts of medieval societies. I see Greg quite often at our health club and have sampled his wines almost as frequently, so after retasting Martin Estate’s 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, I deferred to my friend, aspirant œnophile Lisa Mroz, while I roamed about the other stations. I didn’t see my former neighbor Michael Honig, who used to run his family operations from their home in Pacific Heights when the winery solely focused on Sauvignon Blanc. Now firmly ensconced in Rutherford, their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc displayed redolence of the mastery that gave this winery such acclaim, but the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Campbell Vineyard showed even stronger, as did the 2008 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc.

Nearby, Alpha Omega also showcased their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and their special Première bottling, the 2009 Red (52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 13 Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot). I sampled Cakebread’s anomalous 2009 Red, a blend of 75% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, and 10% Syrah, before I meandered to the back room and ran into Julie Johnson.

At Julie’s insistence, I worked my way through her range of Tres Sabores wines, starting with a luscious 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. As we traded recollections of Spring Mountain Winery from the 1980s, I sampled her organic 2008 Estate Zinfandel and 2008 ¿Por Qué No?, an unusual blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Petit Verdot, before trying her best effort, the compelling 2007 Petite Sirah. As a couple out-of- town buyers commandeered Julie’s attention, I turned to introduce myself to Sharon Crull of The Terraces. As we chatted, I revisited her 2009 Chardonnay and the intensely aromatic 2009 Riesling, an uncommon Rutherford varietal. As usual, I found the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon thoroughly enjoyable, while the 2008 Zinfandel and 2008 Petite Sirah were clearly superior wines.

Napa Smith Brewery also manned a table here, a first time (in my experience) that a Napa wine tasting also featured a beer maker. By now, however, I was clearly past the hour I had slated to arrive at Oakville’s Opening Party for Première, and, besides, there was no way my stomach could tolerate mixing beer with wine at this point. Instead, Amanda Horn sent me off with 22 oz. bottles of their Organic IPA and the Amber Ale to explore at home for the local, sustainable beer program Sostevinobile will feature. I liked these beers, to be sure, but I realize my palate is far too unrefined to be assaying the beers we will serve. Still, the unfamiliar sight of me cradling a pair of ales definitely put a smile on Dan Gaffey’s face as I left.

7) Oakville

I’ll know better for Première 2012. I should have paid closer attention to the times on my invite. I should have scheduled my other visits more precisely. I should have consulted the GPS Map on my iPhone and realized Nickel & Nickel’s facilities and the Far Niente estate, where the Oakville tasting was being held, weren’t situated all that close to each other. And ever since the time we drove to Oxbow Market’s special reception for successful Auction Napa Valley bidders on the wrong day, I should have known not to rely on Karen Mancuso’s inside scoops.

Despite the glaring typo on its program cover, Première Napa Valley Begins in Oakville was the focal event of the day, but I only caught the last half hour or so. Once I managed to find a space in the makeshift parking lot, I elected to walk up to the caves rather than wait for a shuttle, which dissipated another vital 15 minutes I might have spent interacting with the participating wineries. Once I did arrive, the labyrinthine caves felt more like a maze; finding in which corridor the individual wineries had set up might even have confounded Dædalus!

I did connect with quite a few, nonetheless, while others that I missed, like Detert, Ghost Block, Gargiulo, Swanson, and Gamble, have been covered here quite a few times (not that I would have had any reluctance to taste them again)! First up, I managed to catch up with Groth’s genial winemaker, Michael Weis, while sampling his 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville along with the Duck Rillettes on Crouton from Groth’s chef Peter Hall. Deeper into the cave, Brix chef Anne Gingrass offered up a glimpse of her culinary wizardry with her Fennel & Mushroom Risotto Fritters, fittingly juxtaposed between Kelleher, with their 2005 Cabernet Brix Vineyard, and the always delightful Kristine Ashe, who poured her superb 2008 Entre Nous Cabernet Sauvignon.

Facing this alcove, what turned out to be the central nexus of the caves housed a dizzying array of endeavors, all bearing the Oakville name: Oakville Cuvée, Oakville East, Oakville Ranch, Oakville Terraces, and Oakville Winery. I’m still not sure which represented bonded wineries and which were cooperative bottling projects, but I did manage to sample the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Gary Raugh’s Oakville Terraces and both the 2008 Estate Zinfandel and 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Oakville Winery.

From there, following the map became far too confusing, and in my efforts to locate Opus One, I stumbled upon my friend Phil Schlein, whose protégé at Stanford Business School co-wrote the business plan for Sostevinobile with me. Phil produces three distinct lines of organic wines at his estate, including Emilio’s Terrace and the whimsically named MoonSchlein, but here I only sampled the 2007 Sophie’s Rows, a Cabernet Sauvignon with 10% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc. Unfortunately, I missed out on both Robert Mondavi’s Cabernet selections and the Braised Lamb Bouchée from their chef Jeff Mosher, who had been sharing this station, but the overpowering aromas of Mu Shu Pork served up by Mustard’s Grill chef Cindy Pawlcyn lured me to the deepest recesses of the cave, where I found the tables for Rudd and for Bond/Harlan Estate. Regrettably, Rudd had already packed up and Bond could not even muster a drop from its last bottle of 2006 Vecina, but I did manage to garner the final pour of the 2004 Harlan Estate, a Meritage best described as “mind-blowingly great.” I completely savored every drop.

Just before I left, I did catch my old friend Ren Harris pouring his Paradigm. His Heidi Barrett-crafted 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon deftly blended 7% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot. I knew both Ren and Jeannie Phillips when they shared a real estate office in the Napa Valley, prior to launc
hing their individual labels. I suppose if Screaming Eagle had been on hand for this event, I might never have made it through the front door!

8) Stags Leap

By now, I was fairly exhausted, but I had promised Clos du Val’s Tracey Mason I would make it to the 2011 Stags Leap District Bar and Lounge at Pine Ridge. Here the veneer of valet parking and ornate name tags belied the reality of yet another plunge into the depths of a cave, albeit without even the perfunctory guidance of a map or event program.

Despite the hazy lighting of the disco-like atmosphere, I did manage to stumble upon most of the wineries that had been scheduled to participate and hastily scribbled notes on whatever paper I could muster. Cliff Lede poured his ever-reliable 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District, a wine he rounded out with 12% Merlot, 7% Malbec, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. Foster’s Group’s Stags’ Leap Winery offered its 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon—the wine tasted just as wonderful here as it had when I had tried at the estate last summer.

I was surprised at how much I liked the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Terlato Family Vineyards while the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from their Chimney Rock Winery seemed almost as approachable. Next to their table, Baldacci poured their 2007 Brenda’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon alongside a striking barrel sample of their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon being offered at Saturday’s auction.

On my first Napa swing of 2011, I had stopped at Regusci and lauded their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon as much then as I did this evening. From there, I had meandered down Silverado Trail and tasted with Steltzner, similarly enjoying their 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon as much then as this evening. On a different trip, I had visited with host Pine Ridge, but most assuredly had not been poured the well-rounded 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon they featured here.
Pine Ridge’s nook here also featured the Bar and Lounge’s DJ, and while I enjoyed most of the selections he played, the music only complicated my efforts to sample and evaluate the wines on hand. Barely legible notes list my favorite wine here as the 2007 Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, but I cannot make out my shorthand for the winery. Silverado? Shafer? I am completely lost.
No matter what I had written, it was apparent that I had reach my saturation point. I stopped by Clos du Val’s table to try their contribution to the auction, the 2009 Cabernet Franc, and to thank the two blonde Traceys for inviting me. And with that, I headed back to the less frenetic pace of The City.
Eight tastings and then some in less than 36 hours. I don’t know how many wineries I covered and won’t even try to guess how many wines I had sampled. On my way back to San Francisco, I vowed I would abstain from touching another drop—for at least 18 more hours, when I was due to attend the Affairs of the Vine’s 9th Annual Pinot Noir Summit

Uno…due…tre…

Eight tastings in the space of 32 hours. And that’s not including wine breakfast at Clos du Val! Is there any wonder why Your West Coast Oenophile is just now filing my review of Première Napa? So, in the interest of posting this review out before Tax Day and trying to do justice to all the wineries with which Sostevinobile connected, let me take a stab at something totally uncharacteristic of this blog—brevity!

To say that Première Napa is the premier trade event of the winter isn’t a tautology; major wine buyers from around the country descend upon the Valley for the entire week preceding this highly anticipated auction. Various trade groups and other associations host dozens of tastings and private parties throughout the entire region, showcasing their barrel samples as well as many of the bottlings they typically reserve only for select customers. With each district seemingly trying to outdo each others, this friendly rivalry makes for quite lavish entertainment for attendees.

It’s hard to countenance, but Sostevinobile is not (yet) on Première’s A-list. I understand the priorities given to auction bidders and the people who already actively purchase wine. Once we are up & running and amassing inventory, though, we will be a force with which to reckon! Last year, I wasn’t even aware that I was in the midst of these events the same day I was conducting a business swing through the Valley; I thought I was meeting Chris Dearden of Costa Del Sol Consulting at the Vintage 1870 Barrel Room simply to try his wines—only to find myself catching the tail end of First Taste Yountville. Being able to sample a small modicum of the wineries on hand, I resolved to redeem myself by starting off my Première marathon here.

1) Yountville

First Taste 2011 included 26 of this sub-appellation’s most distinctive wineries, too many to fit on a single-sheet program but just enough to be able to engage with everyone in a reasonable amount of time. I started off with Tor Kenward, whose Cabernets from Howell Mountain draw inordinate attention at that AVA’s summer gathering; here the 2008 Cabernet Mast Vineyard proved every bit their equal. His tablemate, Tom Scott Vineyard, which really ought to feature a saxophone on their label, held court with a preview of their sole endeavor, the prodigious 2008 Barn Burner Cabernet Sauvignon.

Not too frequently, I land up overlooking a label in the mistaken belief I have previously sampled their wines. I could have sworn I had tasted Tamber Bey on several occasions, but here was glad to be introduced to their two thoroughbreds: the 2008 Deux Chevaux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2008 Deux Chevaux Vineyard Rabicano, a Meritage of predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Their tablemates, the redoubtable Rocca Family, upheld their repute with the 2007 Grigsby Cabernet Sauvignon and the lone representative of a 2007 Syrah here this afternoon.

No question that I’d previously tried Bell Wine Cellars, which staked their claim with today’s only 2007 Petit Sirah Massa Ranch. Blankiet Estate, on the other hand, came as a completely fresh revelation, first with their 60%/40% Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot mélange, the 2007 Proprietary Red Wine Paradise Hills Vineyard, then followed by the more intriguing 2008 Prince of Hearts Red Wine, a Bordeaux blend of unspecified proportions. Similarly, at the next table over, Ted Astorian’s boutique Clos Valmi has flown under the radar without even a Website to promote it, though his delightful 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and atypical (for Yountville) 2008 Pinot Noir certainly spoke for themselves. Sharing a common nook here, Charles Krug continues in its evolution into a formidable 21st century winery with its Yountville bottlings, the 2008 Vintage Selection Cabernet Sauvignon and their limited release 2008 X Clones, the pinnacle of their Cabernet Sauvignon production.

Five other tables fell into this same pattern of matching a long-standing acquaintance with a fresh face. Like Blankiet, Joe Grupalo’s Groppallo offered an unvariegated Bordelaise blend, their 2009 Bliss alongside a distinctive 2009 Estate Merlot. Their “neighbor” Gemstone p
erformed its customary bedazzlement with the cult-like status of their 2008 Facets of Gemstone, paired with a special release, the 2006 10th Anniversary Cabernet as well as the 2009 Parma Clone Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

Lest anyone think Yountville only produces red wines, newcomer Dillon contrasted two Chardonnays grown from the same estate vineyard, the 2009 Chardonnay Oak Fermented vs. the 2009 Chardonnay Oak Fermented (I found both equally pleasing). Not accidentally, this winery shared its spot with familiar faces from 5th generation Gustav Niebaum descendants Lail Vineyards, who juxtaposed their renowned Philippe Melka-crafted 2008 Georgia Sauvignon Blanc with their new 2008 Henry Sauvignon Blanc, grown on their remnant of the former Inglenook estate. For good measure, they also poured their flagship 2006 J. Daniel Cabernet Sauvignon, an unblended interpretation of the varietal. I also had no previous experience with Joseph George and their very fine 2009 Sauvignon Blanc but had previously tried an earlier vintage of the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc from Gamble Family Vineyards.

A second Pinot, the 2009 Pinot Noir came from Elizabeth Rose’s certified organic vineyards. Winemaker Kristi Koford’s fresh effort naturally demanded she produce a 2010 Rosé, blending Syrah with Grenache and Cinsault. The formidable Ghost Block, also produced at Bonded Winery No. 9, poured alongside this boutique label, staking its claim with their extraordinary 2007 Yountville Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and an assimilable 2009 MorgaenLee Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc. Finally, I caught up with Chris Dearden pouring both the 2008 Sangiovese and the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from his main project Chanticleer (not to be confused with Chaucer or the men’s choral ensemble). Next to him, my new friend Carmen Policy put an impressive seven points on the scoreboard with the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from his Casa Piena, then quickly chipped in three more with his backup label, the 2008 Our Gang Cabernet Sauvignon.

If wineries truly correlated to football franchises, Christian Moueix’ Château Pétrus would undoubtedly stand as France’s version of the Dallas Cowboys. Here in Yountville, his Napa affiliate Dominus Estate consistently vies for the lead in Bordelaise-style wines, with his single bottling, the 2007 Dominus, a blend ironically devoid of Merlot but consisting of 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot. Next to his station, Corley Family showcased their sole Yountville endeavor, the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon State Lane Vineyard.

By contrast, Hopper Creek inundated attendees with seven of their vintages, beginning with a three year vertical from the 2007 Estate Merlot to its 2009 counterpart. Though appreciably young, their 2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon impressed even more than the matured 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Valerga Vineyard. And while I particularly cottoned to the 2005 Petit Verdot Massa Ranch, the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Massa Ranch left me somewhat indifferent. I would have anticipated a Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay from table partner Grgich Hills, but happily settled for their superb 2009 Petit Verdot and the 2006 Yountville Selection Cabernet Sauvignon.

Though Kapcsandy may also challenge the strictures of English orthography, I have nothing but the greatest admiration for their œnology, as evidenced here by both the 2008 Family Estate Cuvée, a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated Meritage and their proprietary blend, the 2008 Endre. I defied convention by next sampling their exotic 2009 Rosé (49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot) before elbowing over to try the 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Keever Vineyards.

Granted, I mistook John Piña for his brother Larry, but had no confusion with their outstanding 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Wolff Vineyard from their Piña Napa Valley. Not that it bore any significance, but finishing up with the 2007 The Philanthropist, a limited production estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Markham Vineyards, allowed me to move onto the next stage of my excursion on a most pleasant high note.

2) Oak Knoll

Oak Knoll is a road I frequently take to bypass downtown Na
pa and cross from Highway 29 to Silverado Trail relatively unimpeded. While I’ve long recognized Oak Knoll as a district within the City of Napa, I only recently realized it constituted its own sub-AVA. Though dominated by the vast acreage of the Trefethen family, several other highly-acclaimed wineries like Laird and Darioush also dot this terrain. And so the prospect of sampling premium wines with a complementing bounty of appetizers lured me to Bistro Don Giovanni, a familiar sight along St. Helena Highway, where the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley held its gathering.

This afternoon, eleven Oak Knoll wineries participated in this intimate tasting. For the second time today, Corley Family garnered a table and poured an array of wines from their Monticello Estate. While the 2008 Corley Reserve Estate Grown Chardonnay and the 2008 Monticello Vineyards Estate Grown Cabernet Franc showed their greatest strength, there was much to appreciate in both the 2007 Monticello Vineyards Estate Grown Merlot and the 2006 Corley Proprietary Red Wine, an opulent blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.

Focused solely on its proprietary blend, Matthiasson impressed not only with their Right Bank-style 2006 Red Wine (51% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec) but also with their inimitable 2009 White Wine, a fusion of Sauvignon Blanc, Ribolla Gialla, Tocai Friulano, and Sémillon. Anchor winery Trefethen presented their own 2009 Double T Red Blend of the same Bordeaux varietals, along with the 2008 Harmony Chardonnay.

Lewis Cellars offered a typical Napa red & white selection with anything but typical results: both the 2009 Chardonnay Napa Valley and 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley proved exquisite wines. Veteran vineyardist Robert Biale produced similar across-the-board excellence with his four reds: his delightful 2008 Sangiovese, the 2008 Petite Sirah Napa Valley, and a pair of Zins—the 2009 Zinfandel Aldo’s Vineyard and the 2009 Black Chicken Zinfandel. Michael Polenske’s Blackbird showcased their interpretation of a Pomerol Merlot with the 2007 Illustration and a more balanced blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon in the 2008 Arise.

A few years back, the Ginkgo Girl had given me a subscription to Black Stallion when they opened. Regrettably, their acquisition by Diageo has diminished their viticultural output in my estimation, as the roughly passable 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon demonstrated. No such qualms about the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Erna Schein, whose hand-designed labels reminded me of the fluid style of Thomas Hart Benton. From primitivism to simplicity, the unadorned labels of Boyd belied the complexity of their 2006 Merlot and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.

O’Brien Estate sports the golden calligraphy of an “O” on their label, symbolizing the lofty standards their wines meet. Following their superb 2009 Chardonnay, I moved onto an even more impressive 2008 Merlot and the complex 2007 Seduction that blended Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. The sheer apex of the afternoon came from O’Brien’s remarkable 2008 Unrestrained Reserve, a flawless wine derived from 49% Cabernet Franc, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 7% Merlot.

I finished off this event (along with the pizza and the crab cakes) with John Anthony, sampling his well-crafted 2009 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc and 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ve often cited Carneros vintners Tony and Joanne Truchard of Carneros in this blog, but hadn’t correlated John Anthony Truchard as their son prior to speaking with him this afternoon. As my next event was the annual Next Generation tasting at Ted Hall’s Farmstead, this revelation provided a perfect segue before I headed up to St. Helena.
3) NG: The Next Generation In Wine

OK, so technically this gathering didn’t encompass a specific AVA, but it was an invitation I couldn’t pass up. A number of trade associations focus on the promise burgeoning wine aficionados hold for the wine industry, like New Generation Growers and Vintners and my friend Bridget Raymond’s Next Generation Winemakers™. The 4th Annual gathering of The Next Generation showcased the efforts of the progeny of 18 of Napa’s leading wineries, including host Chris Hall of Long Meadow Ranch.

I suppose more seasoned industry veterans would have recognized the advantage of providing attendees with a program detailing who was in attendance, so without a printed guide, I may have overlooked some of the stations. But those with which I did visit portended great promise for the next decade or two, as the ensuing generation of these well-established wine estates move into more prominent roles.

With no prior awareness of Broman Cellars, I was happy to let daughter Lisa Broman Augustine guide me through their three current releases: the 2009 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc and the equally appealing 2005 Napa Valley Syrah and 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Certainly, I had heard of Spelletich and their new generation Spell Wines (not to be confused with Shane Finley’s superb Spell Estate), but had not met the mother-daughter team of Barbara & Kristin Spelletich before this event. I found myself particularly impressed with the 2006 Spelletich Reserve Merlot and the stout 2005 Spellport, while the splashy gradients radiating from Spell Wine’s labels hardly belied the youthful, fruit-forward approach of the 2006 Spell Wine Syrah and the 2006 Spellonu Red, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with 41% Merlot.

Over at Ray Signorello Jr.’s table, Marketing Director Ryan Shenk previewed a barrel sample of their 2009 Collaboration, a Cabernet crafted in unison by the Estate’s two winemakers, Pierre Birebent and Luc Morlet, then wowed with the bottled 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet stalwart Marston Family expanded their operations to enable their son John and daughter Elizabeth Marston Leahy to launch their own autonomous label, ElizabethJohn; here they poured their own 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, as well as the 2007 Marston Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and a new release, the 2009 Marston Family Vineyard Albion, a Sauvignon Blanc with 4% Sémillon.

One of the most established wineries here, Burgess Cellars, featured scion Steve’s contributions to their exceptional line of reds: the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, the unblended 2007 Estate Merlot, and the 2007 Syrah (10% Grenache). And continuing their family’s organic practices, Brandon and Jill deLeuze poured ZD Wine’s 2009 Pinot Noir Carneros, the 2009 Chardonnay, and a surprisingly ripe 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Brette Bartolucci, representing her family’s organic Carneros winery, Madonna Estate, instinctively poured this Italian lad a fetching 2008 Dolcetto, then followed with an equally appealing 2007 Estate Pinot Noir. I also relished her 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Riesling. Cleo Pahlmeyer poured both the 2009 Jayson Chardonnay and the 2007 Jayson Pinot Noir from her father’s second label, before impressing with the 2006 Proprietary Red, and its successive vintage, which focused even more (85% vs. 81%) on Cabernet Sauvignon.

This event provided my introduction to Rutherford’s Stewart Cellars, a serendipitous discovery as daughter Caroline escorted me through the 2008 Chardonnay Farina Vineyards, the exquisite 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley before pouring their special 2007 Nomad, their reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Another Pinot that rated a “Whoa!” in my hastily scribbled notes was the 2007 Stewart Ranch Pinot Noir from Hill Family Estate, Son Ryan Hill also treated me to the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc and their noteworthy 2008 Clarke Vineyard Syrah.

I’d met Robert Fisher a few years ago, but hadn’t tired his wines in a while; the current releases of both the 2008 Syrah Hidden Terrace Vineyard and the 2007 Coach Insignia, their signature Cabernet Sauvignon, proved just as delightful as I had recalled. I ran into Janet Viader only a couple of weeks before, but was pleased to be regaled by her brother Alan as he poured their sumptuous 2007 Viader, a Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc Blend. Meanwhile, there seems always to be someone from the Ceja clan at every Napa event I’ve recently attended, but it was still fun to have Dalia pour me her
2007 Carneros Pinot Noir.

Of course, no New Generation wine event in Napa could be complete with Mt. Veeder’s Yates Family, with both Whitney and Mary holding down the fort here this evening. And even though I am always charmed and smitten, I nonetheless remain thoroughly objective in my praise for their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2007 Fleur de Veeder (Merlot), and the 2007 Cheval, a stellar Cabernet Franc. I nearly lost my barely legible tasting notes after this visit, so I decided it was time that I head back to my hotel room in downtown Napa (not before stopping once again for my dose of Onion Rings across the street at Taylor’s Refresher) and ready myself to arrive on time for my 9 AM wine breakfast the following day.
(to be continued)

Vous devez me croire!

C’est vrai—était une ruse toujours! Les vins de la France sont très supérieurs. Votre Oenophile de la Côte Ouest préfère ces vins mieux! Sostevinobile ni n’achètera ni servira les vins de la Californie ou Oregon ou Washington!

The sun has shone brightly the past few days in San Francisco. Afternoon temperatures have hovered near 70°F. Yours truly has been cycling about town in shorts and reveling in the glories of spring at last! Merde! It’s barely February! Months before I can launch my April Fool’s Joke!

And so, my loyal readers, future patrons and the 2,300+ West Coast wineries Sostevinobile has attracted to our dedicated wine program can breathe a sigh of relief—dissuading us from our viticultural predilection is as likely to succeed as Scientology’s attempts to deprogram its homosexual adherents. Nonetheless, I was willing to put my palate to the test this past Friday.

The good folks at Balzac Communications periodically find reason to include me in their wide-ranging wine tastings, regardless of my adamant exclusion of imported wines, and so I was happy to join them for the 2008 Vintage Tasting from the Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB). This French-based trade organization represents “the finest vignerons of the Châteaux of Bordeaux, a claim that first requires a bit of explication.

The wines on hand this afternoon were not of the echelon Nicolas Sarkozy might break out for a state dinner with the Punahou Kid. No Premiers Crus, no Chåteau Pétrus nor Le Pin nor Cheval Blanc. And certainly not Château d’Yquem! Instead, UGCB presented around half of Bordeaux’s Deuxièmes Crus houses, along with a broad selection of Third, Fourth and Fifth Growth wines, as well as (I assume) an indeterminate number of unclassified vineyards. In baseball terms, this was more like watching the Milwaukee Brewers battle the Kansas City Royals than a marquée matchup between the Yankees and Red Sox.

Secondly, I understand that 2008 seems to have been one of Bordeaux’s weaker vintages (while 2009 has already been crowned the vintage of the century). But even with these caveats, I would have expected to find an array of decent, if not impressive, wines among the 88 Châteaux (plus ten Sauternes producers) on hand. I came with an open mind; I left disillusioned.

Being a virtual neophyte in this arena, I endeavored to sample at least two wineries from each of the 12 Appellations d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) represented here. Graves and its sub-appellation Pessac-Léognan both featured a white Bordeaux (Sauvignon Blanc) and a Cabernet Sauvignon-focused red; those wines I sampled seemed passable, if not comparable to a mid-range Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Both Château Haut-Bergey and Château Larriver-Haut-Brion, a property of Premier Cru icon Château Haut-Brion, mildly impressed with their understated reds.

Like most Californiaphiles, I generally to prefer Cabs to Merlot, but, in Bordeaux, the bane of Miles Raymond proves the superior varietal more often than not. Saint-Émilion and its neighbor, Pomerol, command astronomic prices for Merlot-dominant blends like Château Ausone; appropriately, the se
cond tier wines I sampled from both these appellations like Château La Gaffelière and Château Larmande (St. Émilion), along with Château La Conseillante and Château Gazin (Pomerol), served up highly amiable wines for the most part. Still, many of the other Châteaux struck me as quite lackluster.

Now I’m as likely to be able to distinguish Listrac-Médoc from Moulis-in-Médoc from Haut-Médoc from Médoc itself as I can tell a North Ossetian dialect from South Ossetian. Nonetheless, the wines of these quaternary Left Bank stepchildren proved perfunctory, at best. Admittedly, I did like the Château Greysac, but the rest seemed watery spins on Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine pumped after 60 days in barrel and diluted with just enough Tokay to retain its varietal labeling (and I say that wanting to like a winery called Château Chasse-Spleen)!

Even a neophyte who could pass Bordeaux 101 would have a reasonable appreciation for Margaux, yet despite having three Deuxième
Cru
houses on hand, these Cabernet Sauvignons proved extraordinarily tenuous. Château Dauzac and Château Durfort Vivens may have been moderately impressive, but the others I sampled seemed eminently forgettable.

At every tasting I attend, there is a coterie of regularssome poseurs, others true professionals. In the latter category, I am usually happy to exchange tasting notes with folks like Walter Vornbrock, a fellow wine veteran from the early 1980s, Susan Darwin, and Rock Wall investor Dave Roberts and his wife Barb. Among this circle, there seemed to be a consensus favoring the Saint-Julien AOC, yet I found these wines almost devoid of flavor, even the much-heralded Langoa-Barton and
Léoville-Barton. Equally unimpressive were the houses from Pauillac, a tongue-twister of a name that illustrates the errant orthography of the French tongue (as oppose to the truer fidelity to the root Latin Italian offers). My notes describe Château
Langoa Barton as “underwhelming,” while I pithily called Château
Branaire-Ducru “Twelve Buck Chuck.”

A final Left Bank AOC, Saint-Estèphe, proved decidely mixed, ranging from Château Lafon-Rochet, which my notes list as rien,” to the intriguing Cabernet Sauvignon of Château Phélan-Ségur. Still, nothing disparaging could be said of the twin dessert appellations, Sauternes and Barsac. These ultrasweet, botrytis-laden wines proved every bit as wondrous as their advance billings, particularly the Sauternes-Barsac Premier Cru Château Coutet and Sauternes Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey (try saying that after four hours of sampling).

At the end of the day, however, nothing convinced me that I was shortchanging my future clientele with Sostevinobile’s West Coast-only wine program. Despite considerable accolades from Château Potelle’s Jean-Noel Fourmeaux du Sartel, whose subjectivity here may be understandable, these wines seemed quite pedestrian overall. The excuse of 2008 being a mediocre vintage strikes me as derelict—even the worst vintages from the broad regions along the north Pacific consistently manage to produce exceptions, wines from growers and vintners who still deploy enough craft and légerdemain to create a special bottling.

The best wines I tasted this afternoon reminded me of wineries like Clos du Val or L’Aventure, California ventures that emulate the restraint of French vinification and focus on terroir yet still maintain a fidelity to the particularities of both the climate and preferences of our region. Far too many of this tasting’s wines, however, seemed drearily monodimensional, if not flavorless.

This is not a scurrilous claim on my part. As with abstract art or minimalist music, I am highly attuned to the conventions of the genre; even within the context of Bordeaux œnology, these wines fell short. In turn, this gives rise to Sostevinobile’s contention sheer lassitude and a reliance on customers’ lack of familiarity mark the restaurants and sommeliers who contend that local wines fail to stand up to pairing with local cuisine. Diligent efforts to explore the bounty of wines and varietals produced within the three West Coast states will almost assuredly yield an array of wines that can complement the intricacies of our cuisine and yet still manage to impart enough flavor to be enjoyed on their own merits.

Few wine critics would quarrel with my assertion that the vast majority of Italian wines, apart
from the recent Super Tuscan blends, function properly without food pairing. Not that these wines lack style or character—they’re simply too astringent to be quaffed alone. On the other hand, these Bordelaise bottlings aren’t crafted to enhance the virtues of an entrée. Rather, their pallid composition and lack of distinguishing flavor belies a more incendiary indictment—that without the complement of food, these wines simply cannot stand on their own.