Category Archives: White Zinfandel

How Green Was My Thursday

A most interesting piece in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat on Sunday highlighted how consumers may one day see wine bottles making carbon claims to show consumers these products aren’t contributing to the destruction of the planet. The article quoted Robert Nicholson from Healdsburg wine consulting firm International Wine Associates as predicting that “It’s going to be increasingly important for consumers to know that the wines they choose are participating in the green revolution that our planet is going to have to go through to survive.” 
Your West Coast Oenophile could not agree more. I’d like to believe that Sostevinobile has been quite prescient in insisting that we implement the highest degree of sustainable guidelines from the outset of our development, in the expectation that most, if not all of these practices will soon become mandatory. And it is gratifying to see this article cite that the California wine industry (as well as its counterparts in Washington and Oregon) has been “long at the forefront of the sustainable agriculture movement.”
Throughout much of the West Coast wine region, there is no formal standard for defining “sustainably-grown wine;” it will, of course, be incumbent upon Sostevinobile to establish a set of criteria for what we will ascertain as sustainable in the wines that we select for our wine bar operations. On the other hand, it is just as much our responsibility to encourage all vineyards and wineries within our designate locale to adopt sustainable practices throughout their farming and production. As I grind out this latest blog entry, I am of a mind to focus not solely on those operations that have already adopted strictly defined parameters for sustainability but also to embrace those labels that show a true impetus towards incorporating an identifiable and well-reasoned environmental stewardship into their winemaking and distribution.
Last Thursday, Napa Valley Grapegrowers stage their bi-annual Wine & Grape Expo. It wasn’t merely the lure of a free lunch and superb wine tasting—not to mention a much-needed break from midweek urban realities—that drew me up to Yountville. The day was packed with seminars, trade booths, and some lively demonstrations of cooperage and barrel blasting, nearly all of which focused on advancing sustainable practices throughout the entire wine production cycle.
With my linguistic abilities limited to English, Italian, Russian and French (along with my facility in ancient Greek or Latin, if ever summoned to the Vatican), I spared myself the arduousness of attempting to arrive at 8 AM for the early morning seminars in Spanish, even though topics like Importancia del Cambio Climático Sobre la Fenelogía de la Vid and Introduccíon a la Agricultura Biodinámica have obvious implications for sustainability. I did manage to attend the later morning sessions on developing water wells and the integration of vineyard architecture and soil reservoir as determinants for winegrowing strategy, subjects that play a significant role in the sustainable management of a vineyard.


Lunchtime gave opportunity to visit with a number of the exhibitors, including the solar power advisers from Solarcraft and the ecologically imperative The Compost Store. I suspect (though will willingly stand to be corrected) that the offerings from Dow Agro Sciences and Chevron’s Allied Propane would not meet the litmus for sustainability, but nonetheless I was happy to partake of one of their reusable cloth shopping totes for my intended stopover at Berkeley Bowl West en route back to San Francisco. 
A number of custom crush facilities, including Judd’s Hill & Microcrush and Bin to Bottle, also operated trade booths, but the true crowd pleaser for the afternoon was the barrel-making demonstration from Seguin Moreau Napa Cooperage.Watching such time-honored precision handicraft up close was indeed a marvel to behold. Across the courtyard, the truly modern technique of CO₂ barrel cleaning and sanitization held court. The environment
al implications of Cryo Clean’s Barrel Blasting method, a patent-pending process that propels dry ice pellets at airstream velocity into the fine wood surface of the barrel’s interior include no chemical residue or runoff, dramatically reduced waste residue, no water contamination, and significant increase in a barrel’s longevity.

Still, the most salient presentation of the day came from UC-Davis Steven Sinclair Scott Professor Roger B. Boulton, a leading proponent of sustainability in the wine industry. His comprehensive presentation, entitled Self-Sustaining Vineyards and Wineries, examined the myriad aspects and challenges of developing a self-contained, truly sustainable vineyard and winery operation, not merely in terms of carbon emissions but also mitigating the emission of CH₄ (methane) and N₂O (nitrous oxide), consumption and onsite generation of energy, reclamation and reapplication of winery water, and the use of environmentally-sound cleaning and sterilization solutions—particularly in terms of potential soil contamination.
Boulton’s far-sighted proposals and solutions for future development and implementation in wine industry extended beyond the theoretical. Following his discourse, he unveiled a preview of the Research and Teaching Winery under construction at UC Davis’ Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science. Upon its opening for the 2010 harvest, this working laboratory will constitute “the world’s most sustainable vineyard and winery,” with innovative features that include onsite photovoltaic hydrogen production, passive solar-fuel cell co-generation of hot water, reverse osmosis (RO) and nano-filtration (NF) systems for water purification, an all-electric vehicle fleet with recharging station, hydrogen fuel cell hybrid, and rainwater capture and storage systems, all to be housed in a LEED Platinum Certified facility.
Even preoccupied with all these innovations, I think one can safely assume that Davis’ Department of Enology can also make a fairly decent wine. And, of course, this jaunt up to Yountville had its own perquisite tasting of an impressive selection of local vintages (after all, a trip to Napa without tasting wine is like sunning on a nude beach wearing blindfolds). Following a final seminar on olfactory sensations in wine by one of France’s leading parfumiers, an assortment of Napa Valley wines were scattered about the various exhibition booths. This arrangement made finding particular wines or determining whether I had sampled each of the donations rather haphazard, but my notes covered as much as I could sample during the brief period before the expo concluded.
Many of these wines marked my first tastes of their 2006 vintage. I started out on a high note with the 2006 Corison Cabernet Sauvignon. My enthusiasm did not diminish with Branham Estates’ 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon nor were Cade Winery’s two selection, the 2006 Napa Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon and the superb 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain any bit the letdown.
Rocca Family Vineyards also featured a pair of wines, their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville and their 2006 Merlot Yountville, proving that here the Burgundian Left Bank/Right Bank schism has little corollary. The 2006 Georges de Latour Private Reserve from Beaulieu Vineyards was its usual excellent self, and I found the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon D’Adamo Vineyard from Piña would have made quite the indulgence—if only I weren’t compelled to swill and spit!
Benessere makes a number of Italian varietals I have yet to try, but made quite the impression with their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. As wondrous as this wine was, however, it still placed a distinct second to their 2005 Phenomenon, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese and Syrah, with no need for false modesty. The 2005 vintage from Napa continues to impress me every time I enjoy it; the tastings this afternoon merely elucidated this opinion, with Trefethen’s exceptional 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Oak Knoll, my old friend Ren Harris and his Paradigm’s 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville, and the hitherto unfamiliar Meander with their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon.
For this day, at least, the head of the Class of ’05 had to have been the 2005 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, one of Celia Welch’s most noteworthy efforts. beyond that, my most joyful discovery of the afternoon was the 2006 Opus One, and not just because it was being poured so liberally. As documented in many installments of this blog, I tr
uly dread how the giant conglomerates eviscerate a respected label after they acquire it (cf: Diageo and BV Coastal Estates; Constellation and Solaire by Robert Mondavi; Gallo and Louis M. Martini’s Ghost Pines). With such a dismal history, one ought to be downright euphoric to discover that Opus One has weathered the takeover virtually unscathed, thanks, I am told, to the perseverance of Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, who insisted that this icon label not be tampered with. The result was a glorious 2006 Meritage (the first produced since the sale of Robert Mondavi) that unabashedly maintained its esteemed pedigree.
The one white wine I managed to try was the 2005 D’Argent Chardonnay from Silver Rose, which bills itself as Napa’s only resort winery. I am aware of missing a few other whites, Sauvignon Blancs from both Cakebread Cellars and from Long Meadow Ranch, but did manage to slip in a modest sip of their 2004 LMR Cabernet Sauvignon. Two other labels, Jaffe Estate and Snowden Vineyards were listed as being poured, but I have no recollection of encountering either. Another winery I did taste, but—true confession—I cannot decipher the scribble from my own hand.
The rest of the wines stood out from Cabernet’s inevitable domination. Though quite elusive (at least on the Internet), Blair Estate dazzled with their 2002 Blair Estate Meritage, an enormously pleasing wine. Tofanelli strayed even further with their amiable 2006 Zinfandel. Truly a Napa apostate, B. Kosuge managed to comport himself quite respectably with his 2007 The Shop Pinot Noir. Ever the iconoclast, my friend John Wilkinson poured his 2006 Wilkinson, his esoteric blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah he bottles at Bin to Bottle, his custom crush facility in Napa. And just for fun, I had to try a sip of the 2006 Lagrein from Jacuzzi Vineyards, a very festive wine, to say the least.
I had hoped that this event would have provided the occasion, at long last, to meet brothers Sloane and John Upton, owners of the famed Three Palms Vineyard and fellow survivors of the arcane rectitude of the storied Hotchkiss School. If they did attend, we still managed to miss each other, and while it would have been a special treat to sample the flagship Merlot Duckhorn Vineyards produces from their grapes, the 2005 Duckhorn Vineyards Howell Mountain Napa Valley Red Wine, a blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot proved more than adequate compensation.
The Napa Wine & Grape Expo provided considerable fodder to help validate my espousal of sustainable practices for Sostevinobile; y seeing these tenets so universally embraced by the California wine industry greatly reassures me that our focus on serving only sustainably grown wines will embrace an incredibly wide selection from the preponderance of wineries here and throughout the West Coast. I left the Lincoln Theater amid a slight drizzle and plodded my way down the East Bay corridor to attend the last half-hour of the Green Chamber of Commerce’s 2nd Annual Celebration, entitled Building an Honest Economy. Here, overlooking the Tribune Tower in downtown Oakland, I found an assembly of like-minded ecopreneurs, passionate in their vision, but nonetheless pragmatic. Their unapologetic mantra: “people, planet, and profit.”
The Green Chamber of Commerce (GCOC) comprises a San Francisco-based business network of more than 160 Bay Area businesses from various industry sectors including architecture & design, media, finance, legal, renewable energy, and health. In light of recent developments, GCOC is aggressively seeking to present a viable alternative for major companies like Apple, Nike and PG&E, which have withdrawn from the US Chamber of Commerce in protest over its sheer inanity in refusing to endorse legislation that would counter the precipitants of climate change.
The annual celebration featured a dynamic presentation from Ahmed Rahim, co-founder of Numi Organic Tea and a preview of the Chamber’s new promotional video. Oakland’s Savoy Events highlighted the evening with a rather sumptuous spread of sustainably-farmed, healthy appetizers (although hors d’œuvres of sculpted, purple-dyed potatoes strike me as somewhat counterintuitive), complemented by the 2007 Organic Syrah and 2008 Organic Chardonnay from Mendocino’s pioneering Frey Vineyards, recognized as the first organic winery in North America.
I received a complimentary toothbrush fr
om GCOC member Dr. Nammy Patel as I left. My 23 years as a copywriter makes me question certain connotations of billing her practice as “green dentistry,” albeit her extreme awareness of the environmental impact caused by numerous aspects of basic dental practices. But even the dreadful glass of White Zinfandel I was offered at my final stop of the day, the Bravo Club party in the lobby space of San Francisco’s Automattic, could not diminish the fact that a green time was had by all.

Go East, Young Man!

Is there a substantive difference between Napa and Sonoma or are they merely two faces of the same coin? Your West Coast Oenophile does not engage in the San Francisco vs. Los Angeles dichotomy nor harbor any desire to plunge into this debate. Sostevinobile strives to be inclusive for all the wines that meet a sustainable threshold while exemplifying the highest standards of winemaking. To paraphrase Charlie the Tuna, we seek wines that taste good (and with good taste).
Nonetheless, there is a physical demarcation between these two premier winegrowing counties, so I headed east across the border for the second day of my wine swing. The powers that be were not about to underwrite a stay at Meadowood nor dinner at Bouchon (or even Ad Hoc, for that matter), so I settled for a highly overrated motel and a quick bite at Bounty Hunter. Afterwards, I fell sway to the siren call of Ali Weiss, a gifted solo performer gracing the nearby Downtown Joe’s with a full encore set. A complimentary CD and a couple shots of Balvenie later, I zigzagged back to my pool-less downtown resort, to the strains of a less mellifluous siren and an eventual night’s sleep.
As with my day in Sonoma, I started off tending to the environmental development of our premises. Immediately, I recognized that Bardessono, a premier green resort which had just opened two days before, was by far the preferable place to have stayed. Renowned eco-developer Phil Sherburne and I sat out by one of his pebble-lined reflecting pools and discussed matters of sustainable development and mutual interest. I hope we forged a relationship that will bear considerable fruit as becomes as Sostevinobile a more tangible reality.
From there, the rest of my day was devoted introducing our project to several of the wineries, a circuit that ranged from the quaint basement operations of Charter Oak to the opulence of Staglin and Darioush, a gleaming personal monument along the Silverado Trail. Someday, I would hope I could produce a Cabernet to rival their 2005 Signature Cabernet Sauvignon! In between my stops, I managed a double Joel Gott, first at his obligatory Taylor’s Automatic Refresher, a McDonald’s-be-damned paragon of drive-in burger stops, then for a golf cart-chauffered tour of The Ranch, a humongous custom crush facility in what once housed Sutter Home’s White Zinfandel operations.
An impromptu stop at Conn Creek reintroduced me to their 2005 Anthology, as well as a number of deep, rich Cabernets I had tasted last fall at Taste Napa Valley; this time, the experience was amplified by the charms and graciousness of a hyperenthusiastic young wine pourer named Amy, who confided that she had been “bitten” by the wine bug (a generation ago, I might have been “smitten”). And herein lies a contrast Your West Coast Oenophile is willing to make, between the impersonal harshness of the urbanized realm and the heartfelt accommodation one feels amid the tranquility of the vines.
From the jaded perspective of a city dweller, I am amazed how readily, with little prior introduction, people in Napa and throughout the wine country invite you into their homes and how warmly they receive you. Be it the understated setting of Rob Fanucci’s grandfather’s cottage or Shari Staglin’s commanding Rutherford estate, the civility is unaffected, if not a natural extension of their dedication to the wine that they craft.
Back when I began combing the Napa Valley, I used to stop by the Jim Warren’s St. Helena real estate office, lured, in part, by the cookies his wife Maggie would bake for me. Jim, whose father had been the governor of California and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, was a crewcut, pipe-smoking former Marine who nonetheless took on a decidedly avuncular liking to me. “It’s not just the wine,” he’d pointedly advise me. “It’s the lifestyle.”
Wish I could tell him today how right he turned out to be.