Confession: I glossed over a few stops in my last entry. I don’t know why. It just seemed easier to wedge them into here.
I had tried to devote a full day to a swing through Sonoma, but The Fates seem to conspire against me. The ultimate goal of finishing my visit by attending the Mendocino County Grape Growers Showcase in Santa Rosa remained constant, but scheduling visits throughout Sebastopol proved rather elusive, and then the intrusion of a slew of non-wine related matters delayed my departure for nearly two hours. Nonetheless, Your West Coast Oenophile did mange to keep an appointment with tiny Sheldon Wines, a dedicated artisanal winery whose tasting room occupies a remodeled railroad car near the Sebastopol Inn.
Winemaker Dylan Sheldon is a purist, who crafts his small lot wines with extreme fidelity to the origins of the varietal and its historical vinification. Witness (or, in my case, sample) his 2008 Viognier Sonoma Coast, Single Barrel Production. Unfiltered and unrefined, this flavor of the grape shines with little adornment or manipulation, a genuine expression of Viognier. Similar veracity can be found in his 2006 Chardonnay Santa Lucia Vineyard, the 2007 Graciano Super Freak and his 2006 Grenache, Santa Ynez Valley. Sheldon’s most “manipulated” wine was his 2005 Vinolocity, a blend of Grenache and Syrah, while the 2006 Petite Sirah Ripken Vineyard was an intensified, 100% expression of this varietal. All in all, a highly personal tasting I was glad to discover.
I had hoped to make short shrift of the drive to Santa Rosa; allora, it was anything but. My iPhone’s GPS mapped out a direct route from Sebastopol but pinpointed the Fountaingrove Golf Club nearly ½ mile from its actual location, along a rolling parkway that wound through the city without any conspicuous number signs to demarcate the unfamiliar terrain. Finally espying a motorcyclist who knew the precise location of this secluded complex, I encountered a veritable maze trying to decipher the layout of the grounds, which seemed intentionally designed to perplex any first-time visitor. Naturally, by the time located the correct building and parked, the 1½ hours I had allotted for the event had dwindled to a scant 25 minutes.
I might have had a full half-hour to network, but finding the reception room in the club’s main building proved one more challenge. After all that, you would think I’d at least have won the raffle for 5 tons of grapes, though, admittedly, I am far from ready to bottle my first vintage under the Sostevinobile label! Still, there was quite a bit of wine left to sample and several growers to meet among those who had not packed up early and headed back to Ukiah. Lisa Sutton of Bells Echo Vineyards could have easily beguiled me without pouring her wine, but I was nonetheless impressed with both the 2006 Syrah and the 2006 Interlude, their premium Syrah—both inaugural releases.
Nearby, the next wave of biodynamic farming was ably represented by fourth-generation vineyardist Heath Dolan of Dark Horse Ranch. Showcasing wineries that source his meticulously-tended grapes, Heath poured the complex 2007 Truett•Hurst|Dark Horse GPS, a GMS blend with Petite Sirah added to the mix, and the 2007 Mendocino Farms Grenache Dark Horse Ranch, one of Magnanimus Wine Group’s bottlings.
I’ve known members of Heath‘s family for decades (one of his father Paul Dolan’s cousins was slated as Sostevinobile’s original investor), but that connection has no bearing on my appreciation for his viticulture or his wines. Similarly, I’ve enjoyed a lively correspondence with Jim Kimmel over the last several weeks, but approached his brother Gary’s Kimmel Vineyards with the same lack of bias. Their boutique winemaking operations in Potter Valley embarked with 285 cases of the 2007 Chardonnay Mendocino County and a mere 271 cases of their equally fine 2007 Merlot Mendocino County.
Maybe because it was late in the day, maybe because, well, I could, I opted to try only the sweeter selectionsfrom Nelson Family Vineyards, a winery that grows just about everything. I was richly rewarded with their 2008 Estate Riesling, an intense 2008 Estate Viognier and their delightful dessert wine, the 2009 Estate Orange Muscat. Meanwhile, another grower whose plantings include a veritable potpourri of varietals, Rossetti Brothers, poured finished wines that included the 2008 Petite Sirah and both their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, along with bulk samples of their Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Carignane.
As the event came to a close, the sponsors of this event from True Mendocino promised that next year’s showcase would be held at a far more accessible site, and while I did treat myself to a leftover bottle of the tour of the 2006 Weibel Family Chardonnay Mendocino County for later delectation and self-guided tour of the Fountaingrove swimming complex, I opted to drive back and take a dip in Corte Madera natatorium where I frequent, before heading across the Golden Gate Bridge.
The next day promised to be quite the challenge, not for the intensity of my schedule but because I had finally decided to risk subjecting the cluttered environs of the home office I maintain for Sostevinobile to an onsite tasting by a local distributor. Housekeeping, as my familiars and family will attest—ce n’est-pas mon forte. Nonetheless, I managed to clear the living room, wash half a dozen goblets Cascade-spotless, and improvise a water pitcher and spill bucket in time to host Kip Martinez. Kip is a longtime San Franciscan who, with his wife, operates a rather quaintly-named wine distribution company called Kip and Nancy; we had met at the recent T.A.P.A.S. tasting, where he had filled in for client winery Bodega Paso Robles and piqued my curiosity with intimations of their Bastardo, which he had opted not to bring with him.
First up, however, was the eponymous label of winemaker Michel Berthoud and his homage to Helvetian winemaking, the 2008 Chasselas Doré Pagani Vineyard. I confess that I had not previous tried this varietal, grown in Switzerland to produce their signature Fendant du Valais; I would not venture to describe its taste, though, on a spectrum, I would be tempted to place it closer to a Chenin Blanc or slightly grassy Sauvignon Blanc than to a Chardonnay.
Michel is well-known as the winemaker for Mayo Family Winery, where he puts on a clinic,œnologically speaking, with his Alicante Bouschet (which sounds like it ought to be a Swiss wine), Italian varietals, and many of the other grapes predominant in Sonoma. Kip treated me to a small selection that included the 2006 Petite Sirah Sodini Ranch Vineyard, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Delaney Vineyard, and the 2006 Libertine, described as “a dollop of Merlot, a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon, a smidgen of Syrah and a dash of Zinfandel, with Petite Sirah and Petite Verdot thrown in for good measure.”
It seems a bit odd that Switzerland’s northern neighbor, Germany, has only one winery in California devoted to its varietals. Numerous wineries here are focusing on Riesling, and in Washington, wines like Lemberger and Riesling have begun to proliferate, but only Lodi’s Mokelumne Glen devotes itself exclusively to this category. Winemaker/owner Bob Koth had apprised me of another winery producing Dornfelder, so I was especially eager to try the Huber Estate wines when I found. As I had hoped, the 2006 Estate Dornfelder was a most compelling wine, and I only wish Kip had carried the 2006 Estate Dornfelder Charlotte’s Reserve for comparison. And until I next make a swing for Sostevinobile through the Santa Rita Hills AVA, the 2008 Hafen, a dessert-style Dornfelder, must remain a creature of my imagination!
One wine, however, no longer remaining within the realm of my imagination is Bastardo, or, as the wonderful censors at ATF would have us call it, Trousseau. Given the Bureau’s prohibition of the use of such provocative nomenclature, Bodega Paso Robles elected to label their offering the 2007 Pimenteiro. It did not bastardize this rustic wine, by any means. Kip also revisited their 2005 Solea (90% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano) and the 2003 Iberia(Tempranillo, Graciano, Tinta Cão, Touriga Nacional), two blends I had highly enjoyed in early June.
We moved onto the remaining wines I had selected from his catalog. Marco di Giulio Wines may have coöpted the URL I would have chosen for my first personal label, but I am perfectly able to let bygones be bygones and laud both their2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain District and its coeval, the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Progeny Vineyard. Similarly, CalStar might have been a desirable alternative to Sostevinobile, but that matters little now. I applaud their 2008 Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard and would be eager to sample the rest of their inventory. Meanwhile, Starr Ranch bears no relation to the aforementioned winery nor to any of Pam Starr’s various viticultural forays; nonetheless, I found this Paso Robles producer quite adept with its 2007 Estate Grenache and its astral 2007 Orion, a Tempranillo-based wine.
Kip’s last offerings came from organically-farmed Lavender Ridge in Murphys. We started white, with their 2009 Côtes du Calaveras Blanc, Sierra Foothills, a blend of Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Grenache Blanc, then proceeded through their sundry single-varietal Rhône reds: the 2006 Grenache Sierra Foothills, the 2007 Mourvèdre Sierra Foothills, the 2005 Syrah Sierra Foothills, and the 2005 Petite Sirah Sierra Foothills before finishing up with the utterly complex 2006 Côtes du Calaveras that blended Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache, Alicante Bouschet, Petite Sirah, and Counoise. A perfect note on which to end the day and ready myself for the major trade event on Friday. The 6th Annual Pinot Days San Francisco Grand Tasting was slated for Sunday, June 27th in the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason. Unlike at other major tastings, however, the powers that be decided this year to sever the trade portion of the festival from the main event and hold it two days earlier in the Fleet Room, a far less capacious reception area in Building D, two floors below the famed Magic Theatre. In over thirty years of attending events, I had no awareness that this facility even existed and was quite surprised the promoters had selected it.
Of course, I understand that these Grand Tastings constitute a business for the people who organize them, particularly for the Pinot Days folks who do not represent a not-for-profit trade organization like Family Winemakers or ZAP. As well, to a large extent, trade and media tickets are provided as a courtesy, and I am indeed grateful each time I have been provided such. However, the greatest allure of these events for participating wineries are the opportunities they provided both for publicity and for significant sales of their wines. Speaking as Sostevinobile’s trade representative, let me say that I found the new configuration counterproductive in this regard and express my hope that next year’s Pinot Days returns to its previous formula. I know many of Friday’s other attendees feel similarly.
The schedule split and smaller space allowed less than half of Sunday’s wineries to participate. Still, the room was packed and without a printed tasting program, quite difficult to navigate. I managed to scribble my notes onto the back of several product flyers I appropriated from Chamisal Vineyards’ table as I quaffed their eminently drinkable 2007 Estate Pinot Noir. Shifting to my right, I next sampled from a pair of wineries I have known long before I create Sostevinobile but had not visited with in this capacity. Founded in 1857, Buena Vista bills itself as California’s oldest premium winery, though its wines are decidedly far more contemporary than I recall from the 1980s. The 2007 Pinot Noir Ramal Vineyard Estate Vineyard Series Dijon Clones proved an elegant wine, while their 2006 Pinot Noir Ramal Vineyard Estate Vineyard Series Swan Selection drank like a glissade across the tongue. At a nearby table, August Briggs opted to pour a single wine, their 2008 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, more than a fine choice to represent their efforts.
Somewhere around the middle between these two tables, Mendocino’s Baxter Winery, with which I had become acquainted at Golden Glass, poured their jammy albeit curiously titled 2008 Pinot Noir Run Dog Vineyard. From Santa Rita Hills, Carr Vineyards introduced themselves and not only poured a striking 2008 Pinot Noir Turner Vineyard but slipped in a taste of their 2009 Pinot Gris, the first such “extra” of the afternoon. Fort Ross fell within house rules for pouring their always-special 2006 Pinotage, but Johanna Bernstein still managed to slip me a welcome sip of her 2007 Chardonnay Fort Ross Vineyard (or should I call it Pinot Chardonnay, to keep it within bounds?).
There may not be any correlation between these two Russian River Valley vintners, apart from their consecutive appearance in my note, but I was impressed with both the 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Selection from esteemed winemaker Gary Farrell and the 2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from the newly established Thomas George Estates. And from the same notepad, Gundlach Bundschu, another continuum from the mid-19th century, maintained their pedigree with their 2007 Pinot Noir, while Gloria Ferrer, the Sonoma arm of the historic Spanish sparkling wine house Freixenet, impressed with both their 2006 Carneros Pinot Noir and a sparkling 2006 Brut Rosé.
Cima Collina and I have had a long e-mail correspondence for the past several months, so it surprised me that I had not previously sampled their products. Their representatives easily remedied this oversight with a quartet of their vintages: their more generic 2006 Pinot Noir Monterey County and the 2006 Chula Viña Vineyard Pinot Noir, top by their Santa Lucia Highlands vineyard-designate 2007 Tondrē Grapefield Pinot Noir and the superb 2006 Hilltop Ranch Pinot Noir. Another winery making quite the first impression with four distinct interpretation of the grape was Pinot-only Fulcrum Wines, a Napa-produced boutique venture. Their latest vintage comprised an almost dizzying array of choice AVAs: the 2008 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, the 2008 Tina Marie Russian River Pinot Noir, the 2008 ON Point Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, and my personal (as well as Wine Spectator’s) favorite, the lush 2008 Gap’s Crown Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.
That I had not previously visited with Crū, one of Mariposa Wine Company’s trio of labels. Fortunately, their 2007 Montage Central Coast Pinot Noir and the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Sarmento Vineyards cemented this connection. And how I could have overlooked Sebastopol’s DuNah until now astounds me almost as much as did their 2006 Pinot Noir DuNah Estate and their 2006 Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard.
I was a tad surprised there were not more wineries from Oregon on hand this afternoon, given their pivotal role in establishing Pinot Noir on the West Coast (as well as Pinot Noir establishing Oregon as a major viticultural region). One such presence, Le Cadeau, happily displayed four of their most recent bottlings: the 2008 Pinot Noir Équinoxe, the amiable 2008 Pinot Noir Rocheux, the oddly named but excellent 2008 Pinot Noir Côte Est, and their crown jewel, the 2008 Pinot Diversité (shades of liberté, égalité, fraternité, to be sure)! Owner Tom Mortimer partners in another venture, Aubichon Cellars and generously included their inaugural release, the 2007 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley. French nomenclature also claimed the Central Coast’s La Fenêtre, whose Pinot offering ranged from the 2008 Pinot Noir Los Alamos Vineyard and the 2008 Pinot Noir Sierra Madre Vineyard to the more treasured 2008 Pinot Noir Central Coast and their acme, the 2008 Pinot Noir Le Bon Climat. While I greatly enjoyed La Fenêtre’s 2008 Bien Nacido Chardonnay, the winery seems hellbent on compelling me to struggle with composite characters, debuting their second label with the 2008 À Côté Chardonnay. Sans accents, Roots shared their whimsically-titled 2009 Melon de Bourgogne (a Chardonnay, naturally) and their 2008 Riesling before pouring a trio of delightful Pinots, the 2007 Crosshairs Pinot Noir, the 2008 Estate Pinot Noir, and the 2008 Leroy Pinot Noir.
Back in the Anglophile realm, M. Autumn bifurcates their winemaking between California and Oregon to offer their own Pinot trio: the 2006 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, the 2007 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, and newcomer 2008 Johnson Vineyard Pinot Noir from Chehalem. Keeping things somewhat thematic, from Chehalem. Keeping things kinda thematic, R. Merlo’s aspirations for an AVA in Hyampom Valley manifested itself in his 2005 Pinot Noir Trinity County.
Joseph Swan, the last winery I tried that poured four different Pinots, is a place I typically associate with Zinfandel. N’importe! I found myself uniformly enthralled with both the 2006 Pinot Noir Saralee’s Vineyard and the 2008 Pinot Noir Cuvee du Trois, as well as the 2007 Pinot Noir Trenton Estate Vineyard 2006 Pinot Noir Trenton View Vineyard, despite the New Jersey allusion! Pinot-centric Sequana chimed in with three different takes on the varietal, the superb 2008 Sundawg Ridge Pinot Noir from Green Valley, its proximate neighbor, the 2008 Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir, and the distant 2008 Sarmento Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands. Also posting a trifecta was my old friend Gideon Beinstock, with the terroir-driven wines from his Clos Saron in Oregon House. People who follow natural winemaking know this methodology can often be a crap shoot, but I was immensely pleased with his rosé, the 2009 Tickled Pink. Admittedly, I found myself ambivalent about the 2008 Pinot Noir Home Vineyard, but the 2006 Pinot Noir Texas Hill was one of the more outstanding efforts of the afternoon.
Another longtime acquaintance that my Sostevinobile blog readers should readily recognize was Dr. Chris Thorpe and his 100% organically-grown wines from Adastra. Once again, I fell sway to his 2006 Proximus Pinot Noir, a wine that reveals new complexities each time I encounter it. I never did get to meet Fred MacMurray while he was alive, though many hours of my childhood were dissipated watching his 1960s series after the departure of William Frawley. Many readers know of my disparagement of the Gallo wine empire, but, candidly, both the 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and the 2008 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley from MacMurray Ranch were noteworthy expressions of the grape.
Coming on the heels of the extraordinary 2007 vintage, one which Wine Spectator lauded as Pinot Noir’s “best ever” in California, 2008’s wines faced the kind of daunting challenge Michael Jordan’s kids felt when trying out for the basketball team. A couple of wineries that only pour 2008 left no basis for comparison, but impressed on their own merits. The very fine 2008 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast from Pfendler Vineyards nonetheless risked being overshadowed by the presence of the pulchritudinous Kimberly Pfendler, while Richard Sanford’s 2008 Pinot Noir La Encantada Vineyard Santa Rita Hills (I failed to note whether it was the Clone 666 or the Clone 115 bottling) from his Alma Rosa Winery was flat-out superb. However, among where I could sample the two vintages side-by-side, I found a definite predilection for the 2007 Pinot Noir from Keefer Ranch over its successor. And among the three bottlings spanning 2006-08, Rusack Vineyards’ 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley clearly stood out.
Once again, Weibel had a presence with their 2006 Weibel Family Pinot Noir Mendocino County. Derby Wine Estates demonstrated the exceptional moments this earlier vintage enjoyed with their 2006 Pinot Noir Derbyshire Vineyard. And while the 2006 Pinot Noir from Hanzell, proud stewards of the oldest Pinot vineyard on the West Coast, proved to be a marvelous wine, I fear the 2000 Pinot Noir they poured did not quite withstand the test of time.
The last two wineries I had never before encountered helped wind down the day with some side tastings. Mark Cargasacchi’s Jalama Wines matched their superb 2007 Pinot Noir Cargasacchi-Jalama Vineyard with a refreshing splash of their whimsically-named 2007 Gialla, a Pinot Gris from their Santa Barbara estate. And the veritable last word in Pinot, Zotovich, augmented the excellence of their 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills with the clean flavor of its 2008 Chardonnay and an astoundingly good 2007 Syrah, all vinted by Palmina’s Steve Clifton.
Capping the afternoon, I very much enjoyed the Pinots Hahn Estate Wines bottles as part of their winery-within-a-winery label, Lucienne. Sipping the admirable 2007 Lucienne Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Lone Oak Vineyard segued into tasting the even more flavorful 2007 Lucienne Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Doctor’s Vineyard before I completed my rounds with Riverbench Estate. Here, both the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir and the 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley warranted tremendous accolades, while I was ready to rest on my laurels until my next tasting venture.
Every year, the month leading to Pinot Days has grown incrementally with seminars, winemaker dinners, preview tastings at numerous wine shops in San Francisco, and a dizzying array of other events throughout the Bay Area. Promoters Steve and Lisa Rigisich, partners in Pinot Noir specialist Ketcham Estate, are to be commended for their fanatical devotion to this grape. With this inundation of activities, I just hope they don’t lose sight of the important connection that Grand Tastings afford wineries and the people who promote them, the trade and the press, establish at such gatherings.
I understand the desire to weed out the numerous poseurs who like to attend trade & press events without ever contributing to the industry (apart from conspicuous consumption).Unfortunately, the segregation of this trade tasting meant only 96 wineries, out of 212 subscribed to the Grand Tasting the following Sunday, participated. By the time I realized the professional segment would truncate not just the time I had to spend with the wineries on my “To Meet” list but the roster of participants as well—only 29 of the 84 wineries I had earmarked exhibited on Friday—I had committed to the Mill Valley Wine & Gourmet Food Tasting, where yet another potpourri of wines and wineries would be featured. Allora, I merely hope we will all have a chance to meet at Pinot Days VII.
Welcome to 2010! Call it hubris (ὕβρις), if you will, but I like to think this will be Sostevinobile’s era. Time, of course, will tell.
2010 marks a number of personal milestones. It now has been 20 years since I’ve touched a Microsoft program, other than to reaffirm what an execrable excuse for software the megalomaniacs in Redmond, WA produce. It also marks 35 years since “food” from McDonald’s (or whatever substitute they serve) has tainted my palate. And it’s now been 10 years since I’ve succumbed exclusively to my well-documented febrile predilection.
Nonetheless, things in 2010 have started out quite well for Your West Coast Oenophile(like most folks, I’d have to say that, after 2009’s debacles, where else could they go but up?). Typically, I gauge my prospects for each new year by how I fare in my inaugural squash match, a particularly telling sign this year since I had been plagued with assorted leg injuries over the past 12-15 months. This diminution of my agility, along with a concomitant rustiness to my game, had allowed numerous opponents whom I could previously dispatch with remarkable ease, to prevail effortlessly against my dizzying array of lobs, boasts, and rails.
And it seemed this streak of unmitigated losses might continue, as my opponent, John H., manhandled me throughout the first two games of our match and mounted a formidable 4-point lead midway through the third. But, as the saying goes, squash is to racquetball what chess is to checkers, and I knew I could muster the psychological fortitude that would prove the ungluing of adversary. I steeled my determination and held on to even the score at 10-10, then won 13-11 in the tiebreaker. The spell now broken, I coated through the fourth game and held ground in the fifth before breaking out with an 11-7 victory and, with it, the match. Decidedly, a true portent for the ensuing twelve months, both on and off the court.
An enlightened detail from Custom
The next day, I managed to prevail against the misdirected zealotry of the San Francisco constabulary and have my most recent traffic offense, a baseless charge of crossing through an intersection without stopping at the blacked-out signal light, dismissed as a gross miscarriage of justice. Actually, the officer on duty merely failed to file his report and appear at the hearing, but I do like to inflate my victories whenever possible.
Later that evening, I had the pleasure of attending the unveiling of Roman Padilla’s new art show entitled We are All Commis, a visual paean to sustainability. Commissioned byHotel Biron, a quaint confrère near San Francisco’s Hayes Valley. This series of directed pastiches includes several fragments from my more whimsical writings—the first time Sostevinobile has been enshrined in art! Needless to say, copious amounts of 2006 Talmage Barbera and 2006 Siani Farms Carignane from Cazadero’s organically-farmed Wild Hog Vineyard were consumed over the course of the evening’s festivities, though not enough to test whether my earlier triumph over the SFPD might be replicated.
A clarion call?
A most heartening development for Sostevinobile in 2010 has been the sudden rash of blogs and discussions challenging the consistency of restaurants and other locavores establishments serving imported wines. The first has been a rather provocative LinkedIn discussion, started by Jon Wollenhaupt of Excel Meetings & Events in San Francisco and chronicled by SFGate bloggers Michael Bauer and Zennie Abraham, posed the question: “Should the ‘Eat Local’ ethic apply to wine as well? Should San Francisco restaurants only serve Napa/Sonoma wines?”
This thread has already reached 162 entries, including my own, and while it has veered off on numerous tangents that hardly seem germane to the origin query (particularly among restaurateurs in states that have limited production of local wines), it has shown that people here and throughout the West Coast do question the rationale behind serving imports when an abundance of excellent wine is available here.
Another wine blogger, Amy Atwood, posed a similar question on her mydailywine column: “Drink Local Wine Debate: A Harbinger of Change?” Much to my surprise, the most aggressive response came from local Australian wine evangelist Chuck Hayward, formerly of San Francisco’s Jug Shop:
“Do you mean to tell me that amongst the almost 3000 wineries spanning over 100 AVAs in California that they all make wines that are “too much?” They found those five wines, I am sure there are plenty of wines out there that meet the stringent criteria that somms want today. Just get to work and find them!!
“The real issue here, however, is hypocrisy. Preaching local and then saying that the wine portion of the dining experience is exempt is just plain elitist and hypocritical.”
I can only wish I had the temerity to make such an indictment, though outside of this forum, Sostevinobile has iterated much of the same. With so many others now echoing our central tenet, I suspect a successful launch and enduring run for our venture lays just beyond.
Still, the most auspicious omen for the upcoming decade assuredly has to have been losing, then amazingly recovering my iPhone Bluetooth earpiece. Seen to the right at nearly 150% its actual size, this teeny device fell, imperceptibly, from my pocket Wednesday evening sometime after I had shopped at San Francisco’s Rainbow Grocery. Several hours and stops later, I discovered that the Bluetooth signal on my phone had disconnected, but it wasn’t until I returned to my flat that I realized the earpiece was no longer on my person. A frantic search throughout my blue Corolla confirmed my worst suspicions—my headset had been lost, and hopes its retrieval, quite slim.
No, this is not a hash pipe!
I placed late night calls to Nihon Lounge and to Heaven’s Dog,the two establishments where I had stopped for cocktails and where I had reached into my front pocket for a pen to sign my receipts. Their searches in the vicinity where I had sat turned up empty, but I was reassured they would call me after the morning cleaning crew had swept through the bar. On the other hand, Rainbow did not reopen until the morning, so I had to wait until then before speaking with their Customer Service team.
The morning calls proved just as futile. Resigned to having to purchase a new device, I headed off to Traffic Court, determined to plead my case as vociferously as needed for my exoneration. I entered the court room at 1:36 PM and by 1:40, I had my dismissal in hand. Having allocated the whole afternoon for this appearance, I decided to take the time I’d been spared and make one final, implausible search to find my lost Bluetooth. After a futile return visit to Heaven’s Dog, I made a meticulous search of the area nearby where my friend and I had parked the night before, hoping that I might find the earpiece squashed on the pavement (whereby I could still claim it under Apple’s warranty). No such luck. I then pedaled over to Rainbow, in search of the same remnant, then figured I might make one last futile attempt to investigate the space where we had parked by Flour + Water.
From fortitude comes fortuity
As I had before, I crouched down and looked beneath the automobile that was now parked in the same space alongside 13th Street. As I ought to have expected, nothing. But just as I prepared to remount my 14-speed Trek, there on the sidewalk, out in plain sight, completely intact, lay my 1½” long Bluetooth earpiece, as if no one had even touched it over the past 18 hours!
I pressed the activation button and it connected to my iPhone with nary a glitch. Phoning my drinking companion from the night before, I queried through the remote microphone, “How do I sound?” “Fortuitous,” he replied. Here was the first crest of a wave of luck I whole-heartedly intend to ride throughout 2010.
And so far, I seem to be (at least until I show up at the 2010 Olympic Club Singles Squash Invitational this coming weekend). I discovered a pair of wines, grape varietals which have enjoyed cursory mention in this blog as components of blends, but not as distinct wines. The 2008 Sylvaner Flood Family Vineyards from Rancho Sisquoc showed faint reminiscences of a Riesling or a Gewürztraminer and married nicely to a Cajun-spiced catfish I prepared. On the other hand, I found the 2007 Chasselas Doré Pagani Ranch that Berthoud Vineyards produced a wine with no easy comparisons and a somewhat incongruous match for the Dungeness crab I steamed over the weekend. It did, however, pose a fairly decent complement to the store-prepared Italian Wedding Soup I consumed the next evening as the start of my avowed weight loss program for 2010.
The next evening, I attended my first party for 2010 at the Tonga Room, a San Francisco landmark purportedly destined for demise later this year. Guests at this kickoff event were asked to create name tags with their New Year’s resolution or other goals for 2010. Never one to turn down the opportunity for a pun, I scribbled in “Here to Get Lei’d,” a line that my friends and Facebook fans know belies my true avowal:
2010 New Year’s Eve, I will be pouring the West Coast’s finest bubbly atSostevinobile!
I am starting to suspect there may be more polyphenols than hemoglobin in my bloodstream. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, as far as Sostevinobile is concerned. Your West Coast Oenophile began last weekend with a fall swing up to Napa, with stops at half a dozen wineries before attending the final Cheers! St. Helena of 2009.
The wineries could not have been more hospitable. I first arrived for the Estate and Wine Cave Tour at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, a winery I had not visited since its sale to Chateau Ste. Michelle some three years prior. Despite its parent company’s recent acquisition by Altria, there seems to be no nicotine taint on this brand, only slight wafts of tobacco aromas in their array of incredibly textured Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlot.
After a few overly generous tastes of their exceptional 2005 S.L.V. Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2005 Cask 23 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, I headed north up Silverado Trail to Quixote Winery, the current organic wine venture of former Stag’s Leap apostrophic rival Carl Doumani. Liberated from his Stags’ Leap Winery, this contrarian vintner has set out on a highly Cervantean quest to bottle the perfect California Petite Sirah. Few, if any, would claim that his luxuriant 2005 Quixote Petite Syrah is tilting at windmills; equally delightful was the 2004 Panza Cabernet Sauvignon, an organically-grown “Rhôneaux” blend inadvertently poured by Quixote’s ever-affable hostess Anne White.
Anne had formerly worked at Diamond Creek, a later stop this warm afternoon. But first, I made a long-delayed swing over to Martin Estate in Rutherford, a boutique gem with 8 acres of organically-farmed Cabernet Sauvignon. Words cannot begin to capture the opulence of this winery, a 19th century edifice that originally had been constructed as a (comparatively speaking) miniature version of Greystone in St. Helena where Georges de Latour first made his wines. The building, converted in the 1940s to a residence, has been restored by current owner Greg Martin to include the current wine operations while housing part of his vast collection of antique arms and other artworks. From the decor of the mansion to the 120′ swimming pool to the Teutonic grandeur of the wine label itself, nothing about Martin Estate could be described as minimalist; befittingly, his wines, too, evoke an unabashed opulence, notably the 2005 Martin Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and his very limited port selections, including Greg’s “answer to Château d’Yquem,” the 2002 Martin Estate Gold, a botrytis-laden Late Harvest Chardonnay.
I swung back to Silverado Trail and wound my way up to Calistoga. There, it was a quick hop over to Highway 29 and over to Diamond Mountain Road, where I returned for a followup visit to Diamond Creek. Oddly, I somehow managed not to taste their array of vineyard-designated Cabernets while chatting with winery President Phil Ross. Phil did, however, provide me with a golf cart that enabled me to take a self-guided tour along the rickety paths that comb Diamond Creek’s three distinct vineyards, each distinguished by a highly differentiated soil composition and a definable microclimate that impacts their growing season. It is a tour best appreciated with one’s faculties fully intact.
Having managed not to flip the golf cart along the steep pitch of the trails, I thanked my host for his hospitality and zipped over to Twomey’s Calistoga facility. This winery, an offshoot of Silver Oak, exclusively produces their estate-grown Merlot (with an occasional touch of Sauvignon Blanc) while its sister facility in Healdsburg, the former Roshambo winery, sources and bottles a quarter of Pinot Noir selections.Of the several wines I tasted, the 2001 Napa Valley Merlot peaked beautifully at this age while the 2005 Napa Valley Merlot longed for more time in the bottle; my choices in Pinot Noir spanned the California Coast from Mendocino on down, with the 2007 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir most pleasing to my palate.
My ailing friend and fellow advertising refugee Ira Zuckerman could not meet with me at Emilio’s Terrace; instead, I was hosted by founder Phil Schlein, an ardent devoté of organically-farmed grapes. A walking tour of his steep hillside vineyard crowned my boots with a fine layer of dust, a veritable badge of honor for this urban dweller. Inside, I partook of Phil’s considerable insight into the financial aspects of business development while sipping his straightforward 2004 Emilio’s Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.
Porting home a bottle of their Cabernet Franc-based 2005 Moonschlein Red Wine, I found myself with enough spare time to attend the Friday afternoon Pulse Tasting at Acme Fine Wines. Up & coming winemaker Mark Polembski was on hand to pour from three of the wineries that employ his talents: Anomaly Vineyards, Charnu Winery, and Zeitgeist, a project he co-owns with his wife, Jennifer Williams of Spottswoode. All three wineries offered a limited-production 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, all quite good, with a slight edge going to Mark’s own label.
Cheers! St. Helena proved to be a veritable potpourri of local vintners, ranging from the large and well-known to the hard-to-find 400 cases operations that many people employed by other wineries put out under their own label. As my habitual readers know, I tend to find these large-scale events a bit of sensory overload and make best with what I can do. With barely enough time to introduce Sostevinobile to these vintners and manage a quick swill of their offerings, my observations on individual wines manage to be tenuous at best. Still, my introduction to Nichelini’s 2008 Sauvignon Vert was a pleasant introduction to a wholly unfamiliar varietal, while Soñador’s 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon was exactly what one might expect from this benchmark vintage. Roxanne Wolf’s trademark painting lend a certain concupiscence to the labels for Eagle Eye, certainly an apt trait for their trademark blend, the 2006 Voluptuous. On the other hand, the 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Lieff let its considerable pedigree stand out front. A most auspicious debut was the 2006 Wallis Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain District, while the 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Peterson Family Vineyard from SwitchBack Ridge heralds from an estate that dates back to 1914.
I wanted to find out that Kapcsándy Family Winery produced a California Tokaji, but their 2006 Estate Cuvée State Lane Vineyard instead combined Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc in a true Pauillac blend that reflected the background of winemaking consultant Denis Malbec. I exchanged pleasantries and thoroughly enjoyed the wines I sampled from other Napa ventures, including Intersection, Varozza Vineyards, Calafia Cellars, Wolf Family, Front Row from Napa’s pioneering Carpy Family, Salvestrin, and Tom Scott Vineyard, while sundry other wineries offered their current Meritage or Cabernet Sauvignon, but, at the end of the day, the standout wine was the 2006 Sangiovese Eaglepoint Ranch from Abiouness, a pure expression of this varietal (as opposed to the mask of a Super Tuscan blend) that I have not experienced at this level in California for quite a number of years. I was ready to call it a day.
I was scheduled to attend the West Coast Green Expo in Fort Mason the next day but inadvertently stumbled on the debut of the Taste of Fillmore festival on my way to Walgreens. I tried to resist—surely my venal-CO₂H capacity had attained its maximum tolerance for the weekend. Alas, my ecological impulses fell by the wayside (though I did manage to attend the after-party at the Academy of Sciences later that evening), and I warily flung myself into the thick of the cordoned-off block between California and Pine. After revisiting Dick Keenan’s Carica Wines and his delightful 2007 Temptation, I sampled the nascent talent of Pacifica’s Barber Cellars, an array of interesting wines from Napa’s Farella Vineyard, and a consensus favorite, the 2005 Proprietary Blend, a mélange of Syrah and Grenache, from Singh Family Cellars.
The very French-focused Beaucanon Estate offered a septet of wines, including a Bordeaux-style 2003 Trifecta and the utterly compelling 2005 Beaucanon Estate Cabernet Franc ‘L Cuvée.’ This afternoon, however, belonged to Italian-style wines, starting with Kelseyville’s Rosa d’Oro, with a discrete selection of their varietals that included the 2007 Primitivo, 2006 Barbera and 2006 Aglianico. Ramazzotti Wines glistened with the 2007 Ramazzotti Frizzante, a Prosecco-style sparkling Chardonnay, and their compelling 2005 Ramazzotti Ricordo, a Zinfandel blended with Petite Sirah, Alicante, Syrah, Carignane and Chasselas Doré. However, as had been at Cheers! St. Helena, the 2002 Ardente Sangiovese Atlas Peak from Ramazzotti’s kindred Ardente Estate Winery defined this day’s tasting.
For Sostevinobile, it is particularly gratifying to see a winery stake their œnological claim with the resurrection of an Italian grape that has lost much of its cachet in California. While local expression of this varietal differed from its classical vinification in both Chianti and Brunello, I felt the 2000 Atlas Peak Sangiovese Reserve had solidified its inclusion among the leading wines produced on the West Coast.
Sadly, however, when Paolo Antinori reacquired the Atlas Peak winery, the Sangiovese vines were uprooted and replanted with Cabernet Sauvignon. This conversion coincided with a general downturn in production of Italian varietals on the West Coast and the collapse of Consorzio Cal-Italia, the trade organization devoted to local production of these wines. Originally, the Consorzio had paralleled Rhône Rangers and sponsored an annual Grand Tasting in Fort Mason. Industry ambivalence toward these varietals and internal financial disarray precipitated the collapse of this event after only three years. Some members tried to maintain the tasting as a larger food and wine festival in North Beach’s Washington Square to coincide with Columbus Day celebrations, but this, too, fizzled, after only one year.
Call it Columbus Day. Call it Italian Heritage Day. Either way, it is a celebration whose importance the Consorzio Cal-Italia tasting helped underscore. To the Italian people here, the incorporation of so many of our cultural institutions and artifacts by the population at large, while at the same time denigrating us in popular media and in social settings, is a source of both pain and bewilderment. The expediency of politicization aside, we take this one day each year to affirm the inextricable role Italians have played in the development of the cultures throughout the Western Hemisphere.
Senza la cultura italiana, la civiltà occidentale non esisterebbe. A translation is not necessary, but, as a popular Italian bumper sticker boasts, immodestly but accurately, “We Found It. We Named It. We Built It.” Each year, we express our pride in what we have contributed on this day. It would truly be wonderful to have a resurgence of Consorzio Cal-Italia, a reinvigoration of Italian varietals among the local wineries, and a return of an annual festival on this holiday weekend rivaling the other Grand Tasting held in San Francisco. These renewed forays into the cultivation and local production of Sangiovese may well be harbingers of greater things to proliferate.