Category Archives: Chardonnay

Falling into 2017

An interesting question posed Your West Coast Oenophile is whether Sostevinobile would consider opening a branch outside the parameters of our West Coast focus. Such a venture would, of course, violate the regional and environmental guidelines I have set for our operations, but I have considered, in times of idle speculation, how our model might be adapted to another region. One could create a discreet chain of wine bars localised on the wines produced throughout the Great Lakes region—predominantly Michigan, Ontario, Ohio, and the New York Finger Lakes. Another model might focus on the Eastern seaboard, from Long Island down through Virginia and North Carolina.

Of course, these are just intellectual speculations, with one caveat. Early on, in my development of Sostevinobile, I stipulated that I would not categorically refuse to consider any wine produced from the West Coast and meeting our sustainable criteria, except for the now-defunct Asteri Mou (for reasons I no longer need to elaborate). Similarly, were I to develop these cloned versions of our operations, I would absolutely eschew any wine from Trump Winery—the political implications being quite obvious, I would hope. Besides, how could you trust a wine from someone who has never even tasted his own vintages?

Speaking of wine tasting, this November has been jam-packed with events—far too many for me to have covered all. Impecuniosity and the implausibility of bilocation caused me to miss a handful of annual events, including Califermentation, the Paso Robles session of the Garagiste Festival, SF Vintners Market, and Premier Cruz. Alas, I missed some 30 wineries I might have vetted for Sostevinobile, but, as is my wont, I have catalogued their information and am reaching out to them on my own.

Among the many events I did manage to attend, the most intimate certainly had to have been the ragtag popup organized by Pietro Buttitta. Little else may link the assembled collective that comprised the New Mission Winemakers besides their situation in various industrial facilities scattered throughout San Francisco, but their disparity did not diminish the overall quality of the wines featured at this debut. As he transitions from his former label, Rosa d’Oro, which focused primarily on Italian varietals, to a more nuanced Prima Materia, a deft touch can be seen in such bottlings as his lush 2013 Mourvèdre, along with other Rhône and Bordeaux offerings. And yet this new direction has not diminished his craft from Rosa d’Oro, here displayed in a delightful 2013 Vermentino, a compelling 2012 Refosco and 2012 Montepulciano, and a truly wondrous 2012 Aglianico.

The 2014 Aglianico ruled the day among the 16 or so selections Harrington Wine poured. I equally cottoned to his splendid 2015 Corvina, a light, garnet-colored wine that could almost be mistaken for a rosé. Still, there was nothing mistakable about their 2014 Grenache, the 2015 Zinfandel, nor the 2014 Nebbiolo, a beautiful expression of the Piemonte noble grape. Added to this mix was the first release of the Chinato, an infused digestif based on Nebbiolo.

Between these two Italian varietal specialists stood Betwixt, Tim Telli’s consistently excellent venture from the Minnesota Street facility Sostevinobile my one day call neighbor. Here Tim poured a most impressive 2014 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay, paired nicely alongside his 2014 Pinot Noir Lester Family Vineyard and the aptly named 2013 Pinot Noir Helluva Vineyard. Sharing this Dogpatch urban winery, Flywheel Wines also stood out for their 2013  Brosseau Vineyard  Chardonnay and the 2013 Boer Vineyard Grenache, both from the Chalone AVA.

I had not previously encountered Betwixt’ and Flywheel’s third co-tenant, Cellars 33 (another winery at this facility, Von Holt, did not participate in this tasting). Its standout wine, from the selections poured here, arguably was the superb 2015 Grenache Blanc Lodi, a truly marvelous Rhône white. Blending these same grapes with Viognier produced their whimsical 2015 The Betty White, also from Lodi, while both their appealing 2013 Pinot Noir Gloria Vineyard and 2013 Zinfandel Bacigalupi Vineyard heralded from Russian River Valley plantings.

This popup also afforded me my first tasting of Neighborhood Vineyards, Elly Hartshorn’s vineyard project in San Francisco. With vines planted at numerous locations throughout the City, Neighborhood is poised to become the first urban winery totally ensconced within its confines. While waiting for the vines to reach, Elly sources fruit for her other bottlings, like the 2014 Tide & Travel Pinot Noir from Santa Rita Hills poured here.

One needn’t be a rocket scientist to make great wine, but being a geneticist might help. Tessier’s Kristie Tacey moved to the Bay Area to work on the Human Genome Project, then segued into winemaking. Judging by the wines poured here, her œnological DNA was most dominant in the 2015 El Dorado Grenache and the 2015 Russian River Cabernet Franc, a wine redolent of its Alegría Vineyard parentage. Meanwhile, one might easily believe Ed Kurzman had turned the vinification of Pinot Noir into an exacting science, with across the board excellence in all the offerings he poured from both his Sandler and August West labels. Still, the great pleasure from the latter proved to be his 2014 Sierra Mar Vineyard Chardonnay and the 2012 Rosella’s Vineyard Syrah.

Ed’s Sandler offerings provided me with my first glimpse of the 2015 vintage, a year that had been marked by its low yields throughout the state. Nonetheless, it portends to be great, potentially surpassing both 2012 and 2014. Of the three single vineyard selections he poured, the 2015 Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir stood slightly above both the 2015 Keeler Ranch Pinot Noir and his proprietary 2015 Boer Vineyard Pinot Noir. But eclipsing all these: the utterly marvelous 2013 Boer Vineyard Grenache capped a most delightful afternoon on Minna Street.


 

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!”

An austere wine, with an alluring bucket

Long before developing Sostevinobile, even prior to my original career in the wine industry, Your West Coast Oenophile pursued a much loftier vocation. Hubristic though it may sound, I truly believed I could elected the next pope.

Driving up the coast from Pacifica on a warm September evening in 1978, I heard the news that Pope Paul VI had just died. The broadcast further stated that the next Pope would assuredly be “younger, male, Italian, and allied with neither the liberal nor the conservative wing of the Catholic Church.” In other words, me.

With little time to mount an extensive worldwide campaign, I resorted to a decidedly grassroots effort, greeting people everywhere I went and exhorting them to write their favorite cardinal to support my candidacy. Hard to tell exactly how well I placed, as the balloting remains secret, but I finished a healthy runner-up to Venetian Cardinal Albino Luciani.

Ioannes Paulus PP. I proved a genial, albeit inferior, choice, as attested by his untimely death a mere 33 days after his installation. Seizing this renewed opportunity, I immediately took to the streets with a more aggressive campaign, this time pledging, with utter fidelity, “I won’t die in office!” Of course, I realized I didn’t need to worry about facing any consequences if I did break my promise. And if somehow I had managed to keep it, well…
Giampaolo

As I’m sure everyone knows, I wound up losing that election to Karol Wojtyla and his 27-year interregnum as Ioannes Paulus PP. II. Thereafter, the abrupt resignation of his successor, Benedictus XVI, dispelled any hope I could run once more on my immortality platform, though my apostasy still contends that, the Universe being merely a figment of my imagination, I cannot be allowed to die. Nonetheless, owning to reality, I am resolved to live at least as long to hear some hotblooded twentysomething admonish his friend “Dude, c’mon! That chick is too old! She’s got tattoos!!

Moreover, after recent Facebook rumors had reported my likely demise—compounded, I suspect, by three months’ absence in attending to this blog—I composed a bucket list of wineries I still craved to try. While my selections may lean heavily towards several of the renowned “cult Cabernets,” they also reflect, by omission, the vast number of these wines I have already had the pleasure of sampling.

Scarecrow Without trying to seem boastful, I have delighted over the years in such legendary producers as Harlan, Maybach, Dalla Valle, Bond, Opus One, Scarecrow, Shafer, David Arthur, Ovid, Kapcsándy, and the obligatory Screaming Eagle. Aetherial Chardonnays from Peter Michael and Kongsgaard have crossed my lips. Château Pétrus’ alter ego, Dominus, has been a perennial favorite, along with classic bottlings like Joseph Phelps’ Insignia and Ridge’s Montebello.

I’ve enjoyed deep velvet Zinfandels from Turley and Martinelli’s Jackass Hill. astounding blends from Paso Robles’ L’Aventure and Daou that depart from orthodoxies of Bordeaux and the Rhône, and luminescent Pinot Noirs from the Sta. Rita Hills’ Sea Smoke and Oregon’s Domaine Serène. But partaking of the latter’s storied Monogram remains the first of many elusive quests. After that, my bucket list most certainly includes the Santa Cruz Mountains’ clandestine Pinot Noir producer, Rhys, and Vérité, whose three wines have all repeatedly garnered perfect 100s from Robert Parker.

My must-taste list includes a slew of a stratospherically-priced Cabernets, including Colgin, Bryant Family, Grace Family, Dana Estates, Futo, and Harbison Estate, wines for which one must apply to receive an allocation. Legendary labels include Araujo (now owned by Château Latour) and Abreu, Napa’s premier vineyardist, as well as Chardonnay virtuoso Marcassin. True viticultural connoisseurs will certainly recognize Todd Anderson’s ultra-elite Ghost Horse from St. Helena and the coveted Sine Qua Non, the cult Rhône producer from Ventura County. Lurking in the wings, Grace Family’s winemaker, Helen Keplinger produces a line of Rhône blends under her own eponymous label that seem destined for legend.

Some may find Cougar an anomaly amid such vaunted company, but I have included it for their pioneering efforts to transform Temecula into the leading destination for Italian varietals in California —who else here is growing Falanghina, Ciliegiolo, or Piedirosso? I intend to visit this burgeoning AVA on my next swing down to San Diego and explore how it is being transformed after an infestation of the glassy-winged sharpshooter nearly eradicated all of the region’s vineyard plantings in 2001.

Last month, just after compiling this list, I did manage to venture fairly far south to visit a number of Central Coast AVAs Sostevinobile has inadvertently neglected; this trip, in turn, led to a two-week sojourn of non-stop wine tastings, during which I surprisingly managed to encounter six wineries from this roster.

I will cover my swing through Paso Robles, Temecula, Lompoc, Santa Barbara, Solvang, Buellton, Santa Ynez and Arroyo Grande more thoroughly in a subsequent post. Having the advantage of a holiday weekend that coincided with the Garagiste Fest Santa Ynez Valley, I arranged to veer southward to the Wine Collection of El Paseo, a cooperative tasting room in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara, where I met with Doug Margerum, winemaker for Cent’Anni, a Santa Ynez Valley winery I had discovered after Mick Unti had challenged me to find Canaiolo grown in California. I landed up accruing four sources: the aforementioned Cougar, Sierra Ridge in Sutter Creek, Vino Noceto in Plymouth, and this wondrous endeavor. With the same fidelity Tablas Creek strives to attain with its Rhône selections or the authentic approach to Bordelaise blends one finds with Luc Morlet’s eponymous label or Bernard Portet’s wines from Clos du Val, Jamie and Julie Kellner have brought to their quest to make Tuscan-style Sangiovese in California. Toward this exacting vision, they have planted five distinct Sangiovese clones, along with Canaiolo and, as claimed, the only Colorino vines on the West Coast.

Cent’Anni also grows a small amount of Pinot Grigio and sources Tocai Friulano, Pinot Bianco, as well as some additional Sangiovese for their second-tier offerings. I began my tasting with the 2012 Buoni Anni Bianco, a deft blend of their Estate Pinot Grigio with 38% Honea Vineyard Tocai Friulano and 28% Bien Nacido Pinot Bianco. Complementing it was the 2010 Buoni Anni Sangiovese, a pure varietal expression in the style of a Rosso di Montalcino.

These two wines prefaced the object of my sojourn, the 2010 Cent’Anni Riserva. Here was a wine truly at the apex of Italian vinification in the New World, a indelible marriage of 16% Sangiovese Montepulciano clone, 16% Clone 3, 16% Clone 6, 16% Clone 23 & 34% Sangiovese Rodino, topped off with 1% each of Canaiolo and Colorino. Without question, I found a wine well on its way to greatness, dense, rich, flavorful, and almost impossible to put down. My 35-mile detour from Solvang had certainly not been taken in vain.

Under his personal Margerum label, Doug also produces California’s first Amaro, a fortified red blend infused with “herbs (sage, thyme, marjoram, parsley, lemon verbena, rosemary, and mint), barks, roots, dried orange peels, and caramelized simple syrup” and a very floral white Vermouth produced from Late Harvest Viognier. Alas, The Wine Collection’s license does not permit pouring or tasting hard alcohol, so I could only gaze upon the bottle of grappa Doug also distills from his Viognier pomace. At least I could console myself that he had named it appropriately: Marc.

After attending both sessions of the Garagiste Festival, I moseyed onto another Italian-focused endeavor, the legendary Mosby in Buellton, where I was hosted by Chris Burroughs, famed for his portrayal of Sanford’s Tasting Room Manager in Sideways. Our tasting began with crisp, clean 2013 Cortese, the predominant grape in Gavi di Gavi, and reputedly Italy’s first white varietal. We followed this superb wine with a notable rendition of a 2013 Pinot Grigio and an amiable 2013 Rosato di Cannonau (aka Grenache).

Mosby’s red repertoire included their 2009 Sangiovese and a most striking 2009 Primitivo. I was duly impressed with their Estate-grown 2009 Sagrantino and the 2008 La Seduzione, one of the better domestic Lagreins I have had the pleasure of sampling. Along with Palmina, which I also visited this trip, Mosby has pioneered the planting and vinification of Italian varietals on the Central Coast. I only wish I had been able to try their other homegrown varietals, particularly, their Traminer, Dolcetto, and Teroldego. Portents of a return visit, I am sure.

Miles
CAENCONTESTa-C-29MAR02-MT-KK Herb Caen writing contest finalist D. Marc Capobianco CHRONICLE PHOTO BY KIM KOMENICH

I may be a balding and bearded writer, an Italian inculcated at Ivy institutes, and an unregenerate œnophile, but in no way do I resemble Paul Giamatti. Still, I could not leave Buellton without the obligatory pilgrimage to Hitching Post II, Frank Otsini’s restaurant adjunct to his popular wine label and setting for numerous scenes in the movie. Having recently had to fend off the rather forward queries of a quasi-inebriated party of divorcées at a Sonoma winery (“no, but I understand he drops my name quite frequently”), I announced as I approached the bar, “If anyone calls me Miles, they’re getting punched out!”

I managed to escape unscathed and make it on time the next morning to cover another entry from my bucket list, Paso Robles’ eclectic Linne Calodo. Truly a connoisseur’s winery, its elusive nomenclature belies a line of superb Rhône blends, along with a few proprietary mélange or two combining Zinfandel. I was quite taken with the 2013 Rising Tides, a well-balanced marriage of 40% Syrah, 32% Grenache, 18% Mourvèdre, and 10% Cinsault. The predominantly Zinfandel offering this day, their 2014 Problem Child (20% Syrah, 8% Mourvèdre) could have borne a bit more aging, but the 2014 Sticks and Stones (71% Grenache, 12% Syrah, 9% Cinsault, and 8% Mourvèdre) radiated with well-ripened flavors.

As with Mosby, I wish my visit could have encompassed all of Linne Calodo’s portfolio, particularly its sundry variations on GSM blends. Secreted amid the Willow Creek flatlands below the towering perches of Adelaida, this elusive yet dramatic winery—which, ironically, resembles a mountain top ski chalet—beckons further visits upon my anticipated return to Paso Robles later this year.

I barely had time to settle back into San Francisco before heading up to the Napa Valley for the annual tasting marathon known as Première Napa. As always, this event tests the mettle of professional œnophiles like myself—just how many tastings can one person squeeze into 48 hours?—but it continues to prove an invaluable resource, both for bolstering Sostevinobile’s wine program and for my ongoing quest for funding. An unexpected benefit this year, however, was an introduction to the wines of Sloan Estate, yet another bucket list candidate, and its rather ebullient proprietor, Jenny Pan.
Jenny Pan

About a year or so ago, a casual acquaintance related that he had recently sat beside former owner Stuart Sloan on a flight to San Francisco and queried whether I was familiar with the winery he had founded. Much to my interlocutor’s incredulity, I conceded I had no awareness of this label—not that I should be held accountable or derelict for such an omission. According to Wines & Vines, there are 5,461 bonded wineries among the three Pacific states (4,054 California, 718 Washington, 689 Oregon) or 58% of the 9,436 premises throughout North America (USA, Canada, Mexico). Conservatively, I would estimate that there are more than 6,000 additional labels produced at West Coast facilities, meaning that I have barely cataloged ⅓ of the producers Sostevinobile’s wine program is targeting. I took great umbrage at his disparagement, yet resolved to familiarize myself with such a highly prestigious brand.

Before I had a chance to set up a visit with Sloan, I stumbled upon their table at Première’s Women Winemakers Winetasting, an annual benefit at Bardessono. I had intended to make haste with this event, an unscheduled stop between First Taste Yountville and the Appellation St. Helena trade tasting at Raymond, but amid an exchange of light-hearted banter with Pam Starr (Crocker & Starr), I espied Jenny and her winemaker Martha McClellan obscurely manning a mere sliver of a pouring station across the room. With only two wines in production annually, Sloan could have presented their entire lineup here, but unfortunately their namesake Meritage, the current vintage of the SLOAN Proprietary Red, was awaiting bottling. Nonetheless, their second selection, the ASTERISK Proprietary Red, an indelible blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, proved more than compensatory. And with a proffered private tour of the estate now in the offing, I was duly appeased.

Less than two weeks later, I attended what may well prove to be the most impressive tasting of 2016: The State of Washington Wine at The Metreon. Having not visited San Francisco for over 15 years, this trade collective pulled out all the stops, featuring over 75 wineries and a fresh seafood bar best described as beyond indulgent. But the ultimate lure here was the presence of two of the Evergreen State’s two most acclaimed denizens, Leonetti Cellar and Quilceda Creek. Like Sloan Estate. As with most Napa’s cult labels, these bucket list wineries normally make their production available only to Mailing List members—with a four-year wait just to enroll! Having this opportunity to sample both wineries at the same time proved the pinnacle of this afternoon.

Leonetti poured somewhat secretively as Figgins Family Wine Estates, their parent label. Once I had deciphered this conundrum, I was rewarded with my introduction to a selection of their mid-range wines, the 2014 Merlot and the justly acclaimed 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. A complete surprise was 2012 Figgins Estate Red Wine, a massive Meritage marrying Cabernet Sauvignon with Petit Verdot and Merlot; as impressive as this wine proved, though, it left me yearning for Leonetti’s much-heralded Reserve Bordeaux blend, along with their Estate Sangiovese.

No similar sense of want from Snohomish’s storied Quilceda Creek, however, which started with the 2013 CVR Red Blend, a deft mélange of 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot and 3% Malbec. As impressive as this wine proved, their top-of-the-line 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley, a pure varietal culled from their Champoux, Palengat and Wallula Vineyards, flat-out wowed (as a wine that lists for triple the Red Blend’s price tag should). These wines completely validated Sostevinobile’s tenet that the three West Coast states should rightly be considered a viticultural continuum.

Of course, it would be highly tempting to eliminate the six wineries cited here from my bucket list, but there still looms so much more to discover about each. And why rush? The longer I keep sourcing and drinking such great wines, the greater my chances of attaining immortality surely becomes.

I owe. I owe. So off to work I go.

This Labor Day was doubly supposed to be a holiday for Your West Coast Oenophile. As happens every five or six years, my birthday falls on the first Monday in September, and while this was not a milestone year for me, it did add to the usual significance of the annual rite of passage (for the chronological sleuths out there, my only hint is that the next occurrence of this overlap will echo a sappy Paul McCartney tune). But instead of devoting the three day holiday to an inexorable celebration, I found myself on Sostevinobile duty, headed north for a return, at long last, to Sonoma County’s Wine Country Weekend.

I would be hard-pressed to think of another wine festival that encompasses such an expansive panorama of what its county-wide AVA offers, not just in wine but its complementary cuisine, food offerings, and other agricultural forays. Even Flavor! Napa Valley, a truly comprehensive cross-section of Sonoma’s immediate neighbor, seems somewhat dwarfed by the sheer magnitude of this three-day event.

My invitation included the Grand Tasting at MacMurray Ranch and the Sonoma Starlight dinner the preceding night. I had last visited Francis Ford Coppola Winery in its incarnation as Souverain, back during my years advising Bacardi on winery purchases they never completed. Under the Coppola umbrella, this facility, which produces the bulk of his mid-range and popular selections, has transmogrified into a lavish, if not grandiose, reflection of his directorial style, an estate that is as much resort as it is a producing winery, not unlike Bernardus in Carmel Valley.

Friday night attendees were fêted with an array of buffet food tables, gourmet poolside fair from a selection of local culinary vendors, while the patio was aligned with tables from many of the select wineries scheduled to pour the next day. Here, however, the vastly smaller VIP crowd enjoyed easy access to the wines and the winemakers themselves, along with a handful of reserve pourings that would not be featured at the public event. Even with the undulating strains of Notorious, Sonoma’s answer to Big Bang Beat, permeating the chill of the evening air, intimate conversations with the winemakers seemed effortless, allowing me the opportunity to meet and mingle with most of the participants I had highlighted as must-visits for the weekend.

One of the most intriguing of my new discoveries was Trinité Estate, the Alexander Valley expansion of the Lurton family’s vast portfolio of wineries that include Château Durfort-Vivens, a Deuxième Grand Cru Classé estate in the Margaux region, Château Ferrière, Château Haut-Bâges Libéral, Château La Gurgue, and Château Domeyne. True to form, owners Gonzague and Claire Lurton produce remarkable Bordeaux-style wines from their Healdsburg vineyards, notably their flagship 2012 Acaibo, a blend of 53 percent Merlot and 46 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, with “a sprinkling” of Cabernet Franc. Young but portending to be perhaps even more prodigious, their 2013 Amaino also focused on Merlot from the same trinity of Bordelaise grapes.

I am intrigued by the notion of wines that bear the same names as cheese, but so far, have only found Pecorino, an Italian white grape that is also produced in Temecula. Coming tantalizingly close, the Russian River Valley’s Parmeson Wines more than competently epitomized the contiguity of this AVA and the Sonoma Coast appellation with their inaugural trio of wines: 2013 Chardonnay Josephine Hill Vineyard, 2013 Pinot Noir Wildcat Mountain Vineyard, and their 2013 Zinfandel Alegría Vineyard.

One late-registered participant I hadn’t previously sampled was Merisi, an understated albeit fledgling endeavor that derives its elusive name from Michelangelo Merisi, better known as the Renaissance chiaroscuro master Caravaggio. Nothing about Mandy and Nick Donovan’s wines, however, seemed dimmed or shadowy, as their opulent 2013 Glen Oaks Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon amply displayed.

I confess to being often befuddled by the difference between Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers and Sonoma County Vintners and will not attempt to distinguish these two largely overlapping trade associations, other than to note that the former is the official producer of this event. The latter faced a bit of hasty reorganization earlier this past year with the abrupt resignation of both Director of Marketing Communications Sara Cummings and Executive Director Honore Comfort. Honore, however, hardly extricated herself from the ranks of Sonoma County’s Vintners, with the inclusion of her Brack Mountain Wine Company at this year’s festivities. Under their Bench Wines label, Brack Manager Taylor Osborn poured a noteworthy 2013 Bench Pinot Noir and a truly delightful 2013 Fable Pinot Meunier, a single vineyard designate.

It’s not uncommon for me to taste 4-5,000 wines every year, and even with over 190 varietals produced on the West Coast in Sostevinobile’s database, such a relatively obscure wine is a great pleasure. And herein lies my contention with the Grand Tasting the following day. Don’t get me wrong—it was a wonderful, if not opulent event, and even without having to jockey among 4,000 attendees, one could never possibly have taken in everything it has to offer.

But with over 150 wineries on hand, I would have expected far more to have showcased their non-standard selections—not merely the Sauvignon Blancs, Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, Zinfandels, and Cabernet Sauvignons that predominate in the Valley. I realize there are vastly more labels produced in the county than this event could possibly accommodate; furthermore, for many of the smaller, cutting-edge producers—Ryme, Agharta, Idlewild, Sheldon, Castelli, Scherrer, Stark, Nico, DaVero, Two Shepherds, Porter-Bass, to name but a few—who seemed conspicuously absent, I suspect participation fees may have proved too steep vs. potential return for the time and resources they would have to expend.

Nonetheless, far better that I focus on who was there and what they poured, rather than further expound my wistfulness over what was absent. Stopping off at the Alexander Valley tent, I first sampled a trio of wines from Lake Sonoma Winery, one of Madrone Vineyards Estates’ holdings. As befits the appellation, their standout proved to be the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley, an exceptional expression of both the grape and the AVA. From the other side of 101, both the 2013 Chardonnay Russian River Valley and the 2013 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast proved rather redolent of what I would expect from this vintage.

Curiously, Lake Sonoma did not pour their 2012 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, a wine sourced closest to their namesake destination. Zinfandel’s Italian cousin, however, did make an appearance at deLorimier Winery’s table, a striking 2013 The Station Primitivo. On the other side of the tent, Soda Rock—like deLorimier, one of Diane Wilson’s myriad holdings—featured a more straightforward Zin, their 2012 Zinfandel Alexander Valley, alongside an equally-competent 2011 The General Cabernet Sauvignon.

The burgeoning Wilson empire includes numerous Dry Creek Valley wineries (Pezzi King, Mazzocco, as well as their eponymous label), but within this designation, arguably the crown jewel is the Rockpile AVA, which truly has to be the province of Mauritson Family Winery. Their wines are consistently deep, lush, and intense, a reputation borne out once again here with both the 2012 Rockpile Cabernet Sauvignon Rockpile Ridge Vineyard and the 2013 Rockpile Zinfandel Jack’s Cabin Vineyard. Also pouring a highly impressive Zinfandel—Comstock Wines, with their 2013 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley.

As with Mauritson, I can always count on Lambert Bridge for consistency and excellence in their Bordelaise varietals and blends, a view reinforced here by their 2012 Cabernet Franc Sonoma County. Still, I was saddened to learn that Greg Wilcox, one of my favorite curmudgeons, no longer managed the winery. On a different front, affable owners Jann and Gerry still operate their namesake Forth Vineyards in Healdsburg, excelling in the production of their 2012 Single Vineyard Sangiovese, along with a delightfully spry 2014 Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc.

The broadbased Russian River Valley tent encompassed a number of districts that may soon comprise their own sub-AVA, including Petaluma Gap and Fountaingrove; the representative wineries, however, displayed a greater homogeneity. Endemic of this focus, Christopher Creek Winery, a winery whose acclaim is based on its Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc, nonetheless impressed with its highly nuanced 2013 Pinot Noir Reserve. Burgundian purists Bucher Vineyard featured its 2013 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, while my friends Bill and Betty Nachbaur kept things close to the vest with the 2012 Axiom Single Vineyard Syrah from their Acorn Winery, rather than their more adventurous Dolcetto or Sangiovese.

In contrast, the smaller boutique enterprises from Fountaingrove shared a table that showcased their diversity, starting with the excellent 2009 Petite Sirah from Chuck McCoy’s Volante Vineyards. Equally delightful yet paradoxically named—the 2010 Les Trois Rhône Blend from Margaret Foley’s Petrichor Vineyards, a deft marriage of Syrah with 15% Grenache. Atypically focused solely on Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, the Heller Family’s H•L•R Cellars furnished an appealing 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, while their fellow Fountaingrovians, the wonderfully-named Hostage Wines, offer a superlative 2012 Cabernet Franc.

Could a winery name be more vocative than The Calling? This collaboration between winemaker Peter Deutsch and renowned sportscaster Jim Nantz dazzled with their 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley. Served up by the equally dazzling Summer Jeffus, The Calling also offered their 2011 Our Tribute, a complex yet compelling Meritage of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc, along with the 2013 Chardonnay Jewell Vineyard.

With sharply contrasting (obscurant) nomenclature, Ektimo—either meaning alarm in Esperanto or derived from the Greek term for reckon, εκτιμώ—is a nascent venture from Chinese ownership in the Russian River Valley. New winemaking will handle future vintages; here the selection of their 2014 Single Vineyard Chardonnay, the 2013 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, and the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Russian River Valley seemed, at best, modest efforts.

Over in the all-encompassing Sonoma Valley tent, a more representative expression of the varietal could be found in Laurel Glen’s lush 2012 Counterpoint Cabernet Sauvignon. As compelling and as superlative, both the 2013 Chardonnay Durrell Vineyard and the 2013 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley from Will Price’s fabled Three Sticks Wine. Victor Hill Wines, the reemergence of former Castle Winery owner Vic McWilliams, displayed a Phoenix-like deftness with their 2012 Barrel Select Single Vineyard Pinot Noir Bush Vineyard, a wine as big as its name, coupled with their final 2013 Belle Blanc, a most compelling marriage of Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, and Viognier.

My last stop of the afternoon, Bart Hansen’s Dane Cellars, closed out the day with another superb Rhône blend, their 2013 Valeria, a GMS augmented with 8% Counoise. My to-do list had also included Idell Family Vineyards, which regrettably had closed down their station nearly an hour, and Steven & Walker, which failed to appear at all (though I did manage to insinuate myself into their release party in downtown Healdsburg that evening).

Looking over my notes from Wine Country Weekend, it seems I barely scratched the surface with the wineries on hand for Taste of Sonoma. Part of the reason surely was the sheer volume of the attendance, which made jockeying for a winery’s attention more than a challenge; part may have been that I had sampled nearly 90% of these wineries in the past year or two; and part was, most assuredly, the superb selection of food pairings throughout the four tents! As such, my assessment of the breadth of wines served may be skewed. Still I offer these comments not as criticism but a wish that, collectively, the Sonoma winemakers might be more ambitious next time around and truly showcase the vast panoply of what is claimed to be the most diverse wine region in California.

Erect a fence to protect our border!

Don’t fret. Your West Coast Oenophile hasn’t turned xenophobic. It just seems that Sostevinobile might have to ratchet things up a notch or two to stifle the insidious infiltration of foreign wine into the West Coast. Not the stuff they vint in Italy or France or Spain—or even esoteric bottlings from Moldavia or Bulgaria—but from places like Georgia.

Rkatsiteli

Obscurant linguists aptly think of Georgia as საქართველო, the jewel of the Caucasus, known classically as Colchis, the land from where Jason purloined the Golden Fleece. Centuries later, this former Soviet republic gave the world იოსებ ბესარიონის ძე ჯუღაშვილი (Josef Stalin), while œnophiles recognize it as home to the renowned varietal რქაწითელი (Rkatsiteli), and, reputedly, viticulture itself. However, I am referring to the Georgia-on-My-Mind Peach State, along with the other 44 non-Pacific states seeking to export their viticultural pretenses into our highly esteemed realm.

Granted the notion of running a 1,470 mile fence from the tiny enclave of Andrade, CA through the pristine eastern edge of the Colville National Forest portends to yield some potentially dire consequences, like bisecting Lake Tahoe, but drastic measures may very well be needed if these nether regions persist in efforts to dilute the prestige of the West Coast wine industry by enveloping what we produce under the pervasive label of “American wine.”

There are myriad reasons Sostevinobile precludes wines from beyond the boundaries we have established. As befits our ecological entomology, we have established a defined radius for not only our wines but the entire roster of sustainably grown and locally produced foods we will source. But beyond this arguably political stance is an abiding belief in the quality of the wines and the breadth of selection we have available here, a belief evolved over 32 years of intimate involvement in the wine industry. It took the better part of nearly three decades for me to acknowledge the viticultural strides made in Washington and Oregon as a fluid continuum of the extraordinary evolution the industry has undergone here, but with only occasional exceptions, the other American Vititcultural Areas lag incrementally behind us.

Admittedly, I haven’t had the temerity to try the 2010 Frogtown Cellars Bravado, a US Georgian SuperTuscan Debra Parker Wong and Joe Roberts recently extolled. I have downed a few glasses of New Mexico’s Gruet in my time, heard the praises of Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Finger Lake Rieslings, and have watched as Virginia quietly (White House gatecrashers and Donald Trump’s bombast aside) stakes a claim for viticultural ascendancy (after all, they have most planted acreage of Rkatsiteli in the US). But these scattered pockets of distinction still do not warrant inclusion as peers with the predominant excellence found here on the West Coast.

Earlier this season, I attended a most intriguing tasting, sponsored by Institute of Masters of Wine. This self-poured retrospective of 45 Bordeaux-style reds from the 2010 and 2011 vintages highlighted 20 AVAs from California and 5 AVAs from Washington, along with the anomalous inclusion of wines from Grand Valley, CO; Long Island, NY; and Barboursville, VA. Apart from political expediency, the overarching attempt to brand these wines as American Cabernet proved utterly incongruous, these satellite regions barely approaching what would be considered adequacy here on the West Coast.

N’importa! Others may persist in such misguided attempts at homogeneity. Sostevinobile remains resolute in maintaining its fidelity to the integrity of West Coast viticulture. Many times over, this guiding tenet was validated by the numerous highly impressive wines offered here, starting with an extraordinary 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Daou, one of the pinnacles of Paso Robles’ ascendancy. Rivaling the splendors of this wine, Calistoga’s Maybach dazzled with its uniquely named 2010 Amoenus Cabernet Sauvignon, as luxuriant a bottling as the cars crafted under its eponymous line.

No surprise the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley my friend Naoko Dalle Valle showcased stood on par with these first two wines, while the sometimes fluctuating quality of Beaulieu Vineyards’ flagship label, the 2010 Georges de Latour Private Reserve, returned to its zenith with this outstanding release. I certainly would have expected a wine of this caliber from Cathy Corison, and the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Kronos Vineyard did not disappoint.

Somewhat verging from the rest of the field, Joseph Phelps’ eponymous label elected to feature a retrospective from the previous decade, the 2005 Insignia, his last official bottling. Not surprisingly, most of the wineries shied away from showcasing their 2011 vintage—an erratic vintage at best—and opted for the more consistent 2010. As such, Continuum Estate’s 2011 Continuum Pritchard Hill, a deft blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petit Verdot, 11% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Merlot, proved an out-of worldly (though not quite Martian) wine that consolidated Tim Mondavi’s claim to his father’s mantle. Another Napa legacy, Rosemary Cakebread, similarly proved a worthy heir to her family’s renown with the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley from her proprietary Gallica label.

When I began my wine career in the early 1980s, Chenin Blanc was ubiquitous trhoughout the Napa Valley. It now seems an anomaly that Ballentine Vineyards still produces a rendition, albeit one that attained Top 100 Wine status in Wine Enthusiast. Still, their old school approach led to an unexpected pleasure in discovering their 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve among the highest tier poured this day. Thirty years ago, I had a peripheral role in the first acquisition of Château St. Jean,  then a winery that only produced white wines; here, this Sonoma landmark continued to hold its own with the Napa titans with its storied 2010 Cinq Cépages (its 1996 vintage was proclaimed Wine of the Year by Wine Spectator in 1999).

Cinq Cépages’ first winemaker, Richard Arrowood, went on to found his own eponymous label, before establishing his current venture, Amapola Creek. His touch, however, manifested itself quite distinctively in the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Réserve Spéciale Arrowood Vineyards featured here, a wine that neared the excellence of the St. Jean. Other veteran winemakers who predate my involvement excelling here included Angwin’s Robert Foley, with his spectacular 2010 Cabernet Napa Valley and, of course, the much-heralded Paul Draper from Ridge, whose 1997 Monte Bello validated the endurance of this spectacular vintage.

Also from that year, Heitz Wine Cellars poured its astounding 1997 Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon . In contrast, a relatively recent wine label. Michael Polenske’s Blackbird, impressed with its 2010 Contrarian Proprietary Red Wine a deft blend of 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Cabernet Franc and 20% Merlot. Others random selections garnering equal accolades included the 2009 M5 Cabernet Sauvignon Stagecoach Vineyards from Atlas Peak’s Krupp Brothers, Trefethen’s 2010 Reserve Cabernet Oak Knoll District, and from Beaulieu Vineyards former Director of Winemaking Joel Aiken, a superb 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford.

Several of Napa’s more redoubtable wineries made notable showings, among which were Staglin Family Vineyard, with their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford; Darioush with their 2011 Signature Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot pioneer Keenan, with their 2011 35th Anniversary Cabernet Sauvignon. Agustin Huneeus also featured selections from his designate labels, with its 2011 Faust outpointing the more vaunted 2011 Quintessa, a wine that has steadfastly excelled during more benevolent vintages, while his former protégé Bettina Sichel’s Laurel Glen radiated with its 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Mountain.

Impressively, Jackson Family Wines attained this plateau with four of its varietal-focused labels: the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder from Lokoya, their Cardinale 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Mt. Brave 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder, along with their Anakota 2009 Helena Dakota Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma’s Knights Valley.

Readers here know that I am generally wary of labels that become absorbed by the large conglomerates. Nevertheless, those that are given their autonomy after acquisition often maintain the integrity of their label’s brand. Here, Diageo’s Stags’ Leap Winery, Carl Doumani’s former hallmark dazzled with the still-way-young 2010 The Leap, an amazing expression of the district. The oft-sold Beringer, a proverbial pingpong ball in the ongoing Treasury Wine Estates saga, still managed to maintain its historical stature with a profound, aromatic 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve, the current vintage of its landmark bottling that Wine Spectator named Wine of the Year in 1990. Pine Ridge, the crown jewel in Crimson Wine Group’s small but growing conglomerate, proved its worth with its 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, a pan-AVA blend from its select Stags Leap District, Oakville and Rutherford vineyards.

With a heritage that extends back to 1876, Constellation’s Simi Winery managed to uphold its venerable distinction with its 2009 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley. With prominent holdings in both California (Conn Creek, Villa Mt. Eden, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars) and Oregon (Erath), the Columbia Valley’s Château Ste. Michelle has blossomed into one of the West Coast’s major wine conglomerate (actually, a subsidiary within an even larger international conglomerate) in its own right, yet still manages to distinguish itself under its originating Washington label with its 2011 Cold Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley. Washington’s acclaimed Horse Heaven Hills boasted a superb 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve from Boudreaux Cellars, while the Red Mountain AVA featured DeLille Cellars2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Four Flags.

The Walla Walla Valley was well represented here, starting with the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon from Amavi Cellars. This tasting afforded me my first opportunity to sample the Washington’s esteemed Leonetti Cellar, but I felt their 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, despite hints of excellence, was far from ready at this stage. Fortifying my contention, their next door neighbor, Drew Bledsoe’s Doubleback radiated with its 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley.

My final discovery of the afternoon was a serendipitous tasting of the 2010 Big Papa Old Block Cabernet Sauvignon from EFESTĒ in the Yakima Valley. All in all, this American Cabernet Tasting underscored how Washington’s five AVAs kept stride with the more heralded regions of California (I suspect, if a similar tasting of Merlots were held, our northern neighbor would dominate). The wines from Colorado, Virginia and New York did not even approach this level of quality or complexity.

Other tastings I have attended have amply demonstrated a deepening parity between California and Oregon for Burgundian varietals, particularly Pinot Noir, while both Washington and Oregon have produced a number of exceptional varietals that have not gained a foothold here. Still, little argument can be made that the wines of the other 47 states approach the quality the West Coast produces; attempts to incorporate the viticultural axis on which Sostevinobile continues to focus into the more generic category of American wine can only dilute our reputation.


Speaking of Pinot, a number of contemporary wineries feel my longitudinal demarcation isn’t restrictive enough. Once again, I was happy to make my way to north to participate in this year’s West of West, the annual festival highlighting the close-knit group of West Sonoma winemakers redefining cold climate Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah in California. Returning to The Barlow, Sebastopol’s sprawling, state-of-the-art, sustainable complex dedicated to winemakers, food producers and artisans, this close-knit collective shares not only a camaraderie but a collective passion for more restrained, expressive wines (not coincidentally, many of the labels poured here are also mainstays of In Pursuit of Balance).

Given this overlap, only a few participants had not previously poured at events Sostevinobile regularly attends. Still, I was pleased to discover Jan Holtermann’s Alma Fria, whose wines focus on fruit from his eponymous vineyard in Annapolis. Heralding from three generations of wine importers, Jan’s current venture showed a seasoned sophistication with these inaugural releases, particularly the single vineyard 2012 Doña Margarita Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2012 Holtermann Vineyard Pinot Noir. Quite amiable, though not quite as distinctive, were their broader-ranged 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast and a 2012 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast.

Also debuting their wine: Senses, a new collaboration from Occidental natives and childhood buddies Chris Strieter, Max Thieriot, and Myles Lawrence-Briggs. True to form, winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown blended grapes from both Hillcrest and B. A. Thieriot Vineyards to produce an exceptional 2012 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast, alongside a textbook 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast.

I would be hard pressed to find a wine that I found unremarkable among the ardent, studious collective pouring here, but several of the perennial participants came through with truly exceptional vintages. Two of the most impressive came from my prep school colleague Steve Singer’s Baker Lane: the 2012 Sonoma Coast Cuvée Pinot Noir and his exceptional signature bottling, the 2012 Estate Syrah. Other friends from my East Coast upbringing, Benziger Family Winery, dazzled with their 2012 de Coelo Terra Neuma Pinot Noir, while peripatetic winemaker Ryan Zepaltas proved his mettle with his truly extraordinary 2012 Devoto Terra Neuma Pinot Noir.

Echoing Benziger’s devotion to environmental stewardship, Cerritas showcased an organically farmed 2012 Porter Bass Vineyard Chardonnay.The paradoxically named Small Vines also garnered enormous appeal for its profound 2012 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast.

I typically associate DuMol with Chardonnay, as well, but here their standout proved to be the 2012 Aidan Wild Rose Vineyard Pinot Noir. While simultaneously managing Vinify, the Santa Rosa custom crush facility where many of the West of West vintages are produced, Justin and Hillary Lattanzio produce an understated eponymous label, here with their 2012 Umino Vineyard Pinot Noir redolent of an impressive pedigree honed under Heidi Barrett and Wells Guthrie. Another winemaker esteemed for his Cabernets, David Ramey, displayed his Burgundian forte with the 2012 Platt Vineyard Pinot Noir.

Mirroring Ramey, Sebastopol’s Red Car also excelled with their own rendition of the 2012 Platt Vineyard Pinot Noir. A mainstay at numerous Pinot-focused tastings with both his Oregon or his Sonoma vintages, Siduri’s Adam Lee can always be relied upon for consistently outstanding wine, as evidenced here by his 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast.

Some may find it hubristic to claim parity with one of Burgundy’s most esteemed producers, but Soliste’s self-referential homage to Vosne-Romanée for its marvelous 2011 Fôret Pinot Noir holds a definite degree of validity. The hallmark of this wine comes, however, comes from its triumph over an arguably vexing vintage. Across California, wines from 2012 almost uniformly proved wonderful, a vintage that made itself. But the preceding year required considerable œnological prowess to eke out a memorable wine, and a significant number of wineries chose to bypass bottling from this harvest.

In addition to Soliste, several wineries pouring at West of West rose to the occasion with spectacular results, including 32 Winds, with their 2011 Lucky Well U.V. Pinot Noir. So, too, did Gros Ventre, with their salute to primogeniture, the 2011 First Born Pinot Noir. Katy Wilson augmented her LaRue’s growing reputation with the 2011 Emmaline Anne Vineyard Pinot Noir while one of The Barlow’s anchor wineries, MacPhail, displayed considerable aplomb with their 2011 Platt Vineyard Pinot Noir, a most striking predecessor to the above-mentioned latter vintage.

Marimar Estate operates an offsite tasting room at The Barlow to complement their Sebastopol estate’s acclaimed Doña Margarita Vineyard. True to their renown, their 2011 Mas Cavalls Pinot Noir proved a deft blend of their allocated Pommard (63%), Dijon 115 (32%), and Dijon 667 (5%) clones. As specifically focused and equally lush: the 2011 Bodega Ridge Block Pinot Noir from John & Barbara Drady’s Sonoma Coast Vineyards.

Taming the 2011 vintage was not restricted to Pinot. Ramey featured a rich 2011 Platt Vineyard Chardonnay, while Red Car’s 2011 Estate Vineyard Syrah proved utterly masterful. As I complimented one of the vineyardists here on how the West of West wineries had risen to the challenges of such an ornery year, he confided that, for these growers, 2011 had been anything but, the intense heat spikes that had felled so many other regions hadn’t affected this cold, isolated AVA.

As always, the West of West provided an exceptional, highly informative tasting, one that stood apart from many of the less consistent events I have attended of late. Could argument be made that this region has risen to the point that it stands apart from the rest of the West Coast? Perhaps, but certainly there is no case for erecting a fence—just yet.

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.

And the beat goes on…

Marching forward, Your West Coast Oenophile became mired in circumstances that compelled me to miss out on this year’s celebration of Première Napa Valley. Regrettable, of course, but with the prospect of finally launching Sostevinobile’s physical operations this year, I have vowed to return in 2013 fully credentialed as a prospective buyer.

My lapse this year meant a prolonged break from formal wine tastings until the return of In Pursuit of Balance, the very focused wine colloquium sponsored once again by Rajat Parr and Jasmine Hirsch. Though relocated from Parr’s RN74 to the Julia Morgan Ballroom atop San Francisco’s Merchant Exchange Building—a venue quite a few levels below the Michael Mina-catered cuisine from the inaugural event, the tasting drew very nearly the exact same lineup of wineries pouring, a veritable Who’s Who of restrained œnology in California.
The one newcomer this afternoon, Petaluma’s Soliste, derives its name from the Burgundian practice of reserving a barrel for the vintner’s family and friends; the goal of the winery is to make each vintage they produce seem as individually cared for. Here, the meticulous craftsmanship was readily apparent in each of the three Sonoma Coast Pinots they featured, starting with the 2009 Sonatera Vineyard Pinot Noir. The subsequent vintage introduced two new bottlings with great aplomb, the 2010 Nouveau Monde Pinot Noir and a superb 2010 Forêt Pinot Noir.
I started the tasting with Alta Maria Vineyards, a joint project from Paul Wilkins and James Ontiveros. Its 2009 Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley and 2009 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley could easily have served as benchmarks for the afternoon. James’ primary venture, Native, comported itself quite admirably with the splendid 2009 Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard Pinot Noir.
The trio who produce Anthill Farms impressed this afternoon with a trio of their wines, starting with the 2010 Tina Marie Pinot Noir from Grass Valley; while the 2009 Demuth Pinot Noir was a superb wine, the 2009 Comptche Ridge Pinot Noir proved utterly majestic. Arnot-Roberts may only boast a duo behind their winemaking, but their range should little limitation, with striking productions of their contrasting 2010 Watson Ranch Chardonnay (Napa Valley) and the 2011 Trout Gulch Vineyard Chardonnay (Santa Cruz Mountains), complemented by the surprisingly ripe 2011 Peter Martin Ray Vineyard Pinot Noir, another Santa Cruz bottling.
Many of the wineries in this group eschew restricting their viticulture exploits to a single AVA. Wind Gap’s Pax Mahle sources his fruit from the disparate appellations of both the Sonoma Coast and the Santa Cruz Mountains, and while the nature of In Pursuit of Balance restricted him from pouring some of his most interesting fare, like his Nebbiolo, Trousseau Gris, and esoteric blends, I found his contrasting Chards and Pinots here quite compelling. On the white side, the excellence of his 2009 Gap’s Crown Chardonnay (Sonoma) was nonetheless exceeded by the wondrous 2009 Woodruff Chardonnay (Santa Cruz); with the red selections, both hailing from the subsequent vintage, the 2010 Gap’s Crown Pinot Noir outshone the elegant 2010 Woodruff Pinot Noir. Similarly, Sashi Moorman’s Evening Land Vineyards spans not only Santa Barbara and Sonoma County, but traipses across state lines to the Willamette Valley to source its fruit. Here, a trio of superb wines included the 2010 Occidental Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast, the 2010 Tempest Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Santa Rita Hills, and a truly spectacular 2010 Santa Rita Hills Estate Pinot Noir.
Another In Pursuit of Balance stalwart, Copain, always puts on a commanding presentation of their wines. Wells Guthrie featured three enticing Pinot from Anderson Valley: the 2009 Monument Tree Pinot Noir, his 2009 Kiser En Haut Pinot Noir, and the standout, the 2009 Wentzel Pinot Noir. Outpacing this trio, however, was a luscious 2010 Brousseau Chardonnay from the Chalone AVA that transects Monterey and San Benito counties. Nearby, from Calera’s “private” appellation, the Mt. Harlan AVA, Josh Jensen served up his usual array of compelling Chards and Pinots, starting with his introductory 2010 Chardonnay Central Coast. At the next level, both his 2010 Chardonnay Mt. Harlan and 2009 Ryan Vineyard Pinot Noir struck concordant notes, while the 2009 Selleck Vineyard Pinot Noir outshone even the library selection: the 1998 Reed Vineyard Pinot Noir (all from Mt. Harlan).
Cabernet specialists Silver Oak produces an adjunct Pinot-focused label, Twomey Cellars, which subsumed the former Roshambo facility in Healdsburg. With grapes sourced from four distinct AVAs, their wines ran the gamut, with striking vintages from both the 2009 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast and the 2009 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley. Their single vineyard bottling, the 2009 Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir seemed a tad less refined, while the 2010 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley paled in comparison to the preceding 2009 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley.
Not straying from Sonoma, Red Car nonetheless brought a mix of wines, beginning with an extraordinary 2010 Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay from their Trolley series. Breaking pattern for the afternoon, the 2011 Boxcar Rosé was a flavorful saignée consisting of 62% Syrah and 38% Pinot Noir. A pure Pinot Noir, Red Car’s 2010 The Aphorist, proved more than enjoyable, but the 2010 Heaven & Earth Pinot Noir seemed a bit askew, like the misplaced accent aigu above the first e of “La Bohéme Vineyard” in their tasting notes. 
Neither diacriticals nor Sonoma constituted part of the picture for Sandhi, the joint Santa Rita Hills venture from Sashi Moorman and Rajat Parr. As cohost of In Pursuit of Balance, I suppose it was Rajat’s prerogative to pour six wines, which, fortuitously, did not disappoint in the least. On the white side, the trio of Chardonnays included the 2010 Sanford & Benedict Chardonnay, an impressive 2010 Bent Rock Chardonnay, and the utterly compelling 2010 Rita’s Crown Chardonnay. In tandem with the Chard, the 2010 Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir proved an exceptionally balanced wine, though exceeded by both the unspecified 2010 Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills and the clear favorite, the 2010 Evening Land Tempest Pinot Noir.
While the afternoon’s other host, Hirsch Vineyards, is renowned for its Pinot plantings, here the 2010 Estate Chardonnay outshone its Burgundian confrères. Nonetheless, I found much to extol about their 2010 Bohan Dillon Pinot Noir, along with the equally-appealing 2009 San Andreas Fault Pinot Noir and the 2009 Reserve Estate Pinot Noir. And, of course, I immensely enjoyed the offerings from the Sonoma Coast’s perennially popular Flowers, which showcased its 2009 Camp Meeting Ridge Chardonnay and 2009 Camp Meeting Ridge Pinot Noir, alongside the striking 2009 Sea View Ridge Estate Pinot Noir.
I can’t really say why it resonates, but Failla just sounds (when pronounced properly in Italian) like it ought to be an ultrapremium label, and with wines like their 2010 Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay and their extraordinary rendition of a 2010 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, that supposition was once again validate. Pleasing, if not striking: their 2010 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast and the 2010 Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir. And while wine cognoscenti clash over the pronunciation of Peay, little is disputed over the consistent quality of their Sonoma Coast bottlings, apart from my distinct preference for their 2009 Estate Chardonnay over its subsequent vintage. Peay’s 2010 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast may have tasted a sli
ght notch below Failla’s, but both their 2010 Pomarium Estate Pinot Noir and the 2010 Scallop Shelf Estate Pinot Noir easily rivaled it.
John Raytek’s Ceritas hails from the Sonoma Coast, too, offering a pair of vineyard-designate Chardonnays and Pinots. While the 2010 Escarpa Vineyard Pinot Noir seemed a bit young yet amiable, the 2010 Annabelle Vineyard Pinot Noir proved eminently drinkable at this stage. My preference here, however, belonged to the 2010 Porter-Bass Vineyard Chardonnay and the equally compelling 2010 Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay. I found another Sonoma Coast exhibitor, Cobb Wines, a bit more perfunctory, although its wines here were longer aged. My preference here was for the 2009 Joy Road Vineyard Chardonnay, but I still held a moderate appreciation for the 2008 Emmaline Ann Vineyard Pinot Noir and its coeval, the 2008 Rice-Spivak Vineyard Pinot Noir.
At the proximate table, Chanin offered a quartet of its Santa Barbara vintages on par with Cobb, starting with the 2009 Los Alamos Vineyard Chardonnay. I found the 2009 Bien Nacido Vineyard Chardonnay slightly preferable, as was the 2009 Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir to the 2009 Le Bon Climat Pinot Noir, an organically-grown wine.
Au Bon Climat, of course, is a much-revered enterprise from the Santa Maria Valley that farms both the Bien Nacido and Le Bon Climat vineyards. of course, their wines would have been even more enjoyable had Jim Clendenen been on hand to pour, but nonetheless, I found the 2008 Ici/La-Bas Les Revelles a wonderful expression of an Elke Valley (Mendocino) Pinot Noir. Even more impressive: the 2007 Barham Mendelsohn Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley and the 2009 Pinot Noir Isabelle, a blend from sundry Santa Rita Hills Vineyards, including Bien Nacido, Sanford & Benedict, Talley Rincon, and Mt. Carmel.
Perhaps the most consistently superb winery on hand—at least from the standpoint of their offerings here, Freeman dazzled with a trio of their selections, headed by the 2010 Ryo-fu Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley. Equally compelling: the 2010 Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir from the same AVA, while, not surprisingly, their Sonoma Coast selection, the eponymous 2010 Akiko’s Cuvée Pinot Noir proved near flawless. I could be just as effusive about the 2008 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Freestone poured, but both the 2009 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast and the 2009 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast struck me as more modest in their scope.
Several of the wineries featured at In Pursuit of Balance offer their most compelling wines from outside the Burgundian spectrum or the Syrah selections that seem de rigeur for most of these vignerons. Lioco produces a delectable Pinot Blanc, for instance, as well as an annual proprietary blend of Carignane and Petite Sirah they call Indica. Here, however, there was much to admire in their 2010 Demuth Vineyard Chardonnay and a delicious 2010 Chardonnay Russian River Valley. A similar contrast marked their 2010 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley and the 2010 Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir. Behind the mesmerizing blue eyes of Littorai sometimes lies a most seductive late harvest Gewürztraminer called Lemon’s Folly. Still, in its absence, the five wines poured here proved nothing short of spectacular. All that prevent me from heaping superlatives on the 2010 May Canyon Vineyard Chardonnay was the startling brilliance of the 2009 Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay. And only the luscious texture of the 2009 Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir could eclipse the wonders of both the 2009 Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir and the matching 2009 The Haven Vineyard Pinot Noir.
Not every winery can boast its own private appellation, but Calera has exclusive hold on the Mt. Harlan AVA in San Benito County, a sparsely populated enclave abutting both Santa Cruz and the self-proclaimed Garlic Capital of the World, Gilroy. Here amid the Gabilan Mountains, Josh Jensen forges his revered Burgundian vintages, starting here with his entry-level 2010 Chardonnay Central Coast. Ramping up, his 2010 Chardonnay Mt. Harlan manifested an exceptional expression of the varietal, while a pair of Pinots proved his forte: the 2009 Ryan Vineyard Pinot Noir and the ex
ceptional 2009 Selleck Vineyard Pinot Noir. To validate Calera’s age-worthiness, the 1998 Reed Vineyard Pinot Noir admirably held its own with these later bottlings
Having exclusive claim to represent its AVA here, Mount Eden Vineyards ably showcased the potential of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Here, they poured an abundant selection from both their primary and secondary labels, leading with 2009 Domaine Eden Chardonnay. As is appropriate, Mount Eden Vineyards’ 2007 Estate Chardonnay proved demonstrably superior, while the 2009 Estate Chardonnay tasted utterly glorious. Similarly, the 2009 Domaine Eden Pinot Noir stood as an amiable expression of the grape, while both the 2008 Estate Bottled Pinot Noir and the 2009 Estate Bottled Pinot Noir tasted markedly better.
Ventura County’s lone representative here, The Ojai Vineyard, should never be confused with an Ohio vineyard, where wine-tasting can indeed be a life-imperiling experience. And while their grapes do not derive from their home county, neither do they source such non-vinifera varietals as Niagara, Catawba or Concord from the Lake Erie shore front. What Adam Tolmach’s prolific venture does produce is an exceptional lineup of Burgundian varietals, as exemplified first by the 2008 Chardonnay Santa Barbara County and more so by an exceptional rendition of a 2009 Bien Nacido Chardonnay. The Pinot selections comprised of the 2011 Fe Ciega Pinot Noir, a remarkable wine for so early a release, and the glorious 2008 Presidio Pinot Noir.
In contrast, Miura Vineyards
lacks a specific AVA. Or a identifiable physical facility. Or even a
Website. Still, Emmanuel Kemiji crafts a beautiful array of wines,
focusing on Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and (not on hand for this tasting)
Merlot. Without question, his 2009 Talley Vineyard Chardonnay stood a notch above his compelling trio of equally-impressive Pinots: the 2009 Silacci Ranch Pinot Noir from Monterey, a 2009 Williams Ranch Pinot Noir out of Anderson Valley, and Emmanuel’s personal interpretation of the 2009 Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands).
I wrapped up my session with In Pursuit of Balance with iconic producer Tyler Winery
of Santa Barbara. With grapes sourced from many of the same Santa Rita
Hills and Santa Maria Valley vineyards as many of the other presenters,
these wines began with an assurance of quality and finished with their
own flair. This was particularly evident with both the 2009 Clos Pepe Chardonnay and the 2009 Clos Pepe Pinot Noir, not as dramatic with the 2010 Dierberg Chardonnay and the 2010 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County. Justin Willett’s pinnacle, of course, was the 2010 Bien Nacido-Q Block Pinot Noir, a most superb wine with which to cap the afternoon.
I might continue to
review the other aspects of this tasting, but I suppose to refrain from
further observation would be perfectly in line with the motif of
restraint that characterizes all the wines of In Pursuit of Balance. Besides, there will always be next year, as well the many other recent events that demand Sostevinobile’s scrutiny and words.


The first of two premier annual Howell Mountain showcases takes place at San Francisco’s Bently Reserve. Like many tastings from the Napa Valley, Moving Mountains Above the Fog offered a wonderful excuse to luxuriate in the opulence of great Cabernets and other varietals. Given the myriad times I have reviewed each of the wineries pouring at this session, it behooves me, once again, simply to highlight the upper tiers from
Sostevinobile’s elusive scale for assaying the wines I sample.
Wines that I would deem very good, if not excellent, included such gems as both the 2010 Howell Mountain Estate Sauvignon Blanc and the 2007 Howell Mountain Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Bravante, Piña Napa Valley’s 2007 Buckeye Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2007 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from Red Cap, and the 2009 Risa, a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated Meritage that White Cottage Ranch poured. Two especial treats at this level included the 2002 Howell Mountain Zinfandel Port from Summit Lake and Cornerstone’s library selection, the 1994 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.
At the next elevation up, metaphorically speaking, Black Sears Vineyards led an array of stunning Cabs with their 2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. A bit older, both Blue Hall, with its 2007 Camiana Cabernet Sauvignon and Bravante with its 2007 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, rose to the same heights. Also flourishing with 2007 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon: Highlands Winery and my friend Bob Matousek’s Roberts+Rogers. In contrast—but by no means contrarian—the 2007 Howell Mountain Zinfandel former ZAP president Duane Dappen poured from his D-Cubed Cellars proved equally compelling.
Cornerstone superseded their earlier offering with sequentially impressive bottlings of the 2008 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. Kendall-Jackson’s La Jota matched its 2009 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon with a comparable 2009 Howell Mountain Cabernet FrancBremer Family offered twin delights with their 2005 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and 2005 Howell Mountain Merlot.
Some day, Denis Malbec’s Notre
Vin
will produce a version of their self-referential varietal, but for now little was left wanting with their exceptional 2008 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2008 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from Marc Cohen’s Howell at the Moon commanded similar exuberance, as did the organic 2006 Estate Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from Neal Family.
At the apex of this tasting, Cimarossa arguably tends Howell Mountain’s most prized vineyard, and its extraordinary 2008 Riva di Ponente Cabernet Sauvignon well lived up to this lofty reputation. On par with this exceptional bottling, Bremer showcased their 2005 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon Cimarossa Vineyard. The resurgence of St. Helena’s Charles Krug manifested itself in their 2007 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon Rocky Ridge Vineyard while the venerable Cakebread offered an equally compelling 2008 Dancing Bear Cabernet Sauvignon. Piña’s 2008 Buckeye Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon proved a quantum leap above its previous vintage, while Dunn Vineyards cemented its prestigious reputation with both their 2005 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and a library selection, the 1998 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.
I could wax eloquent on many more of the wines poured here, if the need for relative brevity and another backlog of events did not preclude further exposition. But to dispel any notion that my overt exuberance for the wines of Howell Mountain poured belies a reluctance to discern—or worse, a lack of critical objectivity. Perish the thought! The absence of a roast beef carving station, one of the principal allures of previous tastings, sorely impacted my endurance, even if it left my palate relatively uncompromised and may have even compelled me to consider precluding my attendance at future events—for a brief moment!


Seriously, as much as I loved the Howell Mountain tasting, I probably could not have faced sipping another Cabernet for at least a week. Which made the 15th Annual Rhône Rangers Grand Tasting three days later all the more welcome.
Now I don’t believe I have partaken in all fifteen of these sessions, but I have certainly attended Rhône Rangers from as far back as when Alban Vineyards still participated (I believe it was their 2000 Reserve Viognier that convinced me that California had, at last, achieved mastery of the varietal). But the downside to my frequency here is that it leaves a paucity of new wineries for Sostevinobile to discover.
Petrichor Vineyards is a relatively new boutique operation out of Santa Rosa, producing a scant 140 cases of their Rhône blend, the 2009 Les Trois, an anomalous mix of 86% Syrah (from two distinct clones) and 14% Grenache, an amiable wine that overshadowed the pre-release of its 2010 vintage. A more distinctive and traditional GMS blend, the 2009 Inspiration from Paso Robles’ Pear Valley Vineyard, featured 59% Syrah, 32% Grenache, and 9% Mourvèdre. Their single varietal bottlings, the 2006 Syrah and the 2009 Grenache, seemed more modest, however.
The rather understated Refugio Ranch curiously bestows Spanish epithets, derived from names for extinct languages indigenous to its Los Olivos-area tribes, on its estate Rhône blends, but there is nothing ambiguous about either the 2010 Ineseño (60% Roussanne/40% Viognier) nor the 2009 Barbereño (65% Syrah. 35% Petite Sirah). Out of Fulton (Sonoma County), Sanglier Cellars made a similarly impressive debut with a quartet of wines, starting with the 2011 Rosé du Tusque, a delightful pink rendition of a Grenache/Mourvèdre/Carignane blend. Their new alloy, the 2009 Boar’s Camp, combined 65% Syrah with 21% Grenache and 14% Cinsault, while the exceptional 2009 Rouge du Tusque married 49% Syrah, 33% Petite Sirah, and 18% Grenache. Despite Sanglier’s strong propensity for blending, the 2009 Syrah Kemp Vineyard displayed extraordinary versatility with single varietal bottlings, as well. 
Commanding a wide range of Rhône varietal
s, Santa Rosa’s Two Shepherds initially sounded as if it might be the opening to a bad Brokeback Mountain joke, but a sip of their 2010 MRV Saralee’s Vineyard, a compelling mélange of 47% Marsanne and 47% Roussanne, with 6% Viognier, quickly establishes the deftness of this enterprise. The 2010 Viognier Saralee’s Vineyard approached the same level of likability, while the 2010 Grenache Blanc Saarloos Vineyard sourced the Santa Ynez Valley to craft this wine. While the Grenache-dominant 2010 GSM Russian River Valley presented an approachable red blend, the equally balanced 2010 Syrah|Mourvèdre, also from Russian River Valley grapes, represented a far more formidable endeavor.
My final new discovery of the day came from Wesley Ashley, a relatively new winery heralding from the unpresupposing enclave of Alamo in Contra Costa County. The ironic labels for the red and white blends they call “Intelligent Design” feature an imaginary depiction of would likely constitute the least ergonomic bicycle ever built. No such folly goes into their winemaking, however, with the 2009 Intelligent Design Cuvée Blanc artfully combining 50% Viognier, 30% Roussanne, and 20% Grenache Blanc. The 2007 Intelligent Design Cuvée Rouge offered a Carignane-based blend, with Grenache, Cinsault, Petite Sirah, Mourvèdre, and Pinot Noir (!) added; in contrast the 2009 Intelligent Design Cuvée Rouge comprised 75% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 5% Petite Sirah, a radical departure that nonetheless proved evolutionary.
Having completed my discovery round, I did mange to sample from quite a few old friends and other presenters, starting with an exceptional pair of wines from Paso Robles’ Caliza: their 2009 Syrah and a 2009 Red Cohort, an extraordinary, albeit unorthodox, blend of 55% Syrah, 20% Petite Sirah, 20% Primitivo, and 5% Grenache. Also heralding from Paso Robles, one of last year’s most striking discoveries proved just as compelling the second time around, as Edward Sellers started their presentation with their 2009 Le Passage Estate, a vin blanc composed of 43% Grenache Blanc, 36% Roussanne, and 21% Marsanne. I found both the 2008 Syrah Sélectionée and the 2008 The Thief, a Syrah-based blend with 26% Mourvèdre, 12% Grenache, and 6%
Cinsault equally compelling, while the 2007 Vertigo, a traditional GMS blend, dominated these selections.

I have long been an unabashed fan of Bill Frick’s Rhône wines, but opted here to sample only the single varietals. On the white side, the 2008 Grenache Blanc Owl Hill Vineyard and the 2009 Viognier Gannon Vineyard proved excellent vintages. Even more pleasing—the 2008 Grenache Conley Vineyard. But certainly his forte turned out to be the three C’s—stratospheric bottlings of the 2008 Counoise Owl Hill Vineyard, the 2008 Cinsault Dry Creek Valley and his 2006 Carignan Mendocino County.
Down from Placerville, Holly’s Hill kept pace with their 2010 Counoise and one of the afternoon’s few single varietal bottlings of the 2009 Mourvèdre Classique. From even further north, Oregon’s Folin Cellars poured four Rogue Valley wines, ranging from a tepid 2010 Estate Petite Sirah and a genial GMS blend, the 2009 Misceo, to a distinctive 2011 Estate Viognier and the extraordinary 2008 Estate Syrah, quite possibly the best bottling of this varietal on hand this afternoon.
Quady North, Andrew Quady’s Oregon branch, focuses more on traditional wines than does his original Madera facility, with its Vermouths and fortified vintages. Here they showcased their viticultural versatility with the 2011 Pistoleta, a blend of ⅓ Viognier, ⅓Roussanne, and ⅓ Marsanne. The compellingly dry 2011 Rosé combines 40% Grenache and 60% Syrah, while their signature 2008 4.2-a Syrah proved superb. As an added treat, Quady North sampled their 2010 Bomba, a co-fermented Syrah/Grenache wine exclusively exported to Belgium.
Oregon House is an obscure hamlet 90 miles northeast of Sacramento—not even in proximity to the Oregon border—and home to Renaissance Winery,
an esoteric cultivar that has previously graced these pages.
Contrasting the evening of 35 Cabernets I sampled on my pilgrimage to
their 30th Anniversary celebration, here they featured a varied
selection of both red and white Rhônes, starting with the 2006 Roussanne Vendanges Tardives and its preferable counterpoint, the 2006 Roussanne Vin de Terroir. I found no qualitative separation between the 2005 Estate Syrah and the finely-aged 2002 Estate Syrah. The 2005 Granite Crown, an even Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend again proved on par with the other reds, as did the 2001 Claret Prestige, a blend of indeterminate components, including Syrah, while the 2006 Mediterranean Red, a less-common GMS blend focus on Mourvèdre, constituted their best offering of the afternoon
.
I won’t hazard a guess whether another allegedly cult-like practice (biodynamics) constitutes the distinguishing factor in Quivira’s superb rendition of the 2009 Estate Mourvèdre, but the wine begged for extreme accolades. Almost as distinguished—their 2009 Grenache Dry Creek Valley, while the 2009 Estate Petite Sirah, the not-so-elusive GMS Blend, the 2009 Elusive, and their exquisite 2011 Rosé (51% Mourvèdre, 18% Carignane, 18% Counoise, 7% Grenache, 6% Syrah) all proved more than delightful.
As always, it was good to see the ever-reliable Truchard Vineyards on hand. From their perch on the Napa side of Carneros, Jo Ann and Tony grow a wide variety of grapes ranging from Cabernet to Pinot Noir to Tempranillo, as befits the venerable viticulturists that they are. Here, their Rhône selections comprised of a 2010 Roussanne, their 2009 Syrah, and an indelible 2007 Late Harvest Roussanne, all estate grown. The 2011 Rosé from Napa’s Lagier Meredith showed just as compelling despite its single varietal (Syrah) base. I was even more taken by their 2007 Syrah and enthralled by the 2009 Syrah Mount Veeder. Alors! If only their newly released 2009 Mondeuse constituted a Rhône varietal!
The
Napa Valley proper rarely strays from its Bordelaise orthodoxy beyond
Chardonnay and Zinfandel, one can find the occasional iconoclast, like
Oakville‘s Miner Family, with its scintillating 2009 La Diligence Marsanne and 2008 La Diligence Syrah. On the other hand, Sonoma has a far greater breadth to the varietals it hosts, so it is not surprising to find a premier Italian varietal producer like Unti also purveying a wide selection of Rhônes, a cross-pollination readily apparent in their superb, albeit unorthodox, 2011 Cuvée Blanc, a marriage of Grenache Blanc and Picpoul Blanc, with a healthy share of Vermentino (!) blended in. More traditionally, their 2011 Rosé is a mélange of Grenache and Mourvèdre, while the 2009 Petit Frère offers a Côtes-du-Rhône-style GMS balance. I greatly admired their 2009 Syrah, but favored the more focused 2008 Syrah Benchland, an unfiltered and unfined rendition of the varietal.
I confess being rather constrained to find any redemptive quality in the wines featured by Healdsburg’s MacLaren. Like haggis, I suppose their 2009 Syrah Drouthy Neebors is an acquired taste, while the 2009 Syrah Judge Family Vineyard tasted as if it had been farmed on the slopes of MacLaren Park in San Francisco’s Visitacion Valley. On the other hand, Tobe Sheldon probably could force-feed me haggis and make me beg for more. Nonetheless, I strove to maintain objectivity in my enthusiasm for her four wines, marked by such gems as the 2010 Vinolocity Blanc, 50% Viognier with equal parts Grenache Blanc and Roussanne and the 2008 Vinolocity Vogelzang Vineyard, a Grenache tempered with 18% Syrah. Her twin standouts, however, were the 2007 Petite Sirah Ripken Vineyard and the 2009 Weatherly Cuvée, a red blend from “50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Petite Sirah, co-fermented with Viognier skins.”
Another Sonoma winery, my friend Gerry Baldwin’s eponymous J. Baldwin Wines, previewed their lone yet luscious Rhône entrant, the 2009 Rattlesnake Ridge Petite Sirah. And though best known for Zinfandel and their Cupertino facility (along with a certain Meritage called Monte Bello), Ridge also operates a dramatically architected straw bale winery at their Lytton Springs estate in Healdsburg, from where most of their Rhône offerings originate. Much of my self-taught appreciation for varietals like Grenache, Syrah and Mataro (Mourvèdre) began with these wines, and so I was immensely pleased to visit with their 2010 Carignane Buchignani Ranch and the 2010 Petite Sirah Lytton Estate. though technically a Zinfandel, the 2006 Lytton Springs was structured with 16% Petite Sirah, and 4% Carignane; the 2007 Syrah Lytton Estate was rounded with 12% Viognier. The real treat, however, was the 1999 Syrah Lytton Estate, blending in 7% Grenache, and 1% Viognier—still a masterful wine 13 years later.
Nearly all the remaining wineries I visited base their operations in California’s Rhône Capital, Paso Robles. First, though, a trio of Bay Area vintners showcased their prodigious efforts. San Francisco’s Skylark returned to the Grand Tasting with a quintet of red wines, that included two blends: the 2009 Red Belly North Coast, a mix of 40% Carignane, 40% Grenache and 20% Syrah, and the 2009 Les Aves Mendocino, a non-Hitchcockian rendition of Carignane, rounded out with Cabernet Sauvignon (!), Grenache and Syrah. I found the 2009 Grenache Mendocino and the 2008 Syrah Rodgers Creek exceptionally appealing, while totally cottoning to the 2007 Syrah Unti Vineyard
Across the Bay Bridge, Oakland’s Stage Left led with their 2009 The Go Getter, a balanced blend of 42% Viognier, 29% Grenache Blanc, and 29% Roussanne that contrasted with its previous Viognier-dominant vintage. A traditional GMS, the superb 2009 The Globetrotter consisted of 48% Grenache, 40% Syrah, and 12% Mourvèdre, while the 2009 ExPat switched formula to 50% Syrah, 33% Petite Sirah, and 17% Grenache from its previous incarnation of 51% Mourvèdre/49% Petite Sirah. Their last offering, a debut bottling of the 2009 Syrah Alder Springs Vineyard, constituted an unblended varietal. Rounding out this tercet, Woodside’s Michael Martella comported itself with customary aplomb, overtly pleasing with its current release of both the 2008 Hammer Syrah and the 2010 Grenache Santa Cruz Mountains.
I managed to accommodate seven more wineries this afternoon, and given Sostevinobile’s dedication to the tenets of sustainability—both within our own practices and with the wines we will be selecting—it seemed prudent to inquire how Justin has fared since its acquisition by Stewart Resnick in late 2010. Of course, I and many others strain to countenance one of Paso Robles’ self-proclaimed greenest wineries
laying in the hands of 
Fiji Water, one of Earth’s most profligate circulators of non-biodegradable plastic, and though this may well be the most incomprehensible marriage since Gregg Allman and Cher (or Lyle Lovett and Julia Roberts, for those born after 1970), it does seem that the winery continues to maintain its progress towards conversion to biodynamic farming and further adoption of a wide range of green implementations. Meanwhile, focusing my attention on the wines featured here, I found both the 2010 Viognier and the 2009 Syrah quite admirable, while the 2009 Savant, a proprietary blend of 77% Syrah, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon (!), and 4% Grenache stood as their most striking Rhône bottling. But, from under the table, a sneak pour of their justly acclaimed 2009 Isosceles, a blend this year of 94% Cabernet Sauvignon with 3% each of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, meant all could be forgiven.
Next up—Hearthstone, with an amiable 2009 Pearl (58% Roussanne, 42% Viognier) and the 2007 Slipstone, an exceptional blend of 65% Grenache and 35% Syrah. And while I quite appreciated the 2008 Grenache, the standout here had to have been the 2007 Lodestone, a distinguished GMS blend balancing 50% Syrah, 33% Grenache, and 17% Mourvèdre. From there, I moved onto Paso’s Finnish wonder, kukkula. a winery that never failss to enthuse me. This day, I sampled their 2010 Vaalea—43% Viognier, 29% Roussanne, and 28% Grenache Blanc, then moved on to contrast the 2009 Sisu, which blended 51% Syrah, 27% Grenache, and 22% Mourvèdre, with the even more enticing 2007 Sisu, slightly differing in its balance of 55% Syrah, 25% Grenache, and 20% Mourvèdre. On par with this latter bottling: both the 2009 Pas de Deux (58% Grenache, 42% Syrah) and the 2010 Aatto, a Mourvèdre-focused wine with liberal dashes of Grenache and Counoise added.
kukkula’s Kevin Jussila acknowledges the influence of Paso’s premier iconoclast, Stephan Asseo, whose L’Aventure sets the bar for what can be accomplished venturing outside French AOC parameters. Nowhere was this eclectic mindset more apparent—and successful—than with the 2009 Estate Cuvée, a near-flawless wine comprised of 42% Syrah, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 16% Petit Verdot. Stephan’s traditional Rhône bottling, the 2009 Côte à Côte, blended 42% Grenache, 33% Syrah, and 25% Mourvèdre, with results nearly as alluring.
I’ve had many occasions to sample my way through nearly all of the single varietals Tablas Creek produces, save their newly-released Petit Manseng, and so limited myself to just a selection of the red wines gracing their table. This winery remains at the vanguard of California Rhône producers, with an approachable second line, the 2010 Patelin de Tablas; here, the rouge bottling consisted of a traditional Syrah-focused GMS blend, with 3% Counoise added. In keeping with the strictures of Côtes-du-Rhône, the Patelin’s big brother, the 2010 Côtes de Tablas, blended the same quartet of varietals in a Grenache-focused bottling: 46% Grenache, 39% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre, and 5% Counoise. Keeping pace, their single-varietal 2009 Estate Grenache proved an exceptional vintage, while their signature effort, the 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel, showcased how extraordinary a Mourvèdre-focused blend (40% Mourvèdre, 28% Syrah, 27% Grenache, 5% Counoise) can turn out.
My last visit was bestowed on Katin, an understated virtuoso in California Rhône vinification. Three simple bottlings, all astronomically great. The 2009 Viognier Paso Robles proved near perfect; both the 2008 Syrah Glenrose Vineyard (Paso Robles) and 2008 Syrah Michaud Vineyard (Chalone) stood near flawless. It would be hard to ask more of a winery.
If only there had been more time to taste more wines! As alluded above, Sostevinobile will endeavor to sample and review as many wines as possible at next year’s gathering, particularly those we had to overlook this round. But the attrition of participating wineries and the notable paucity of attendees over the past several years does lead me to wonder about the prospects for the 16th Annual Rhône Rangers Grand Tasting. As well as gives me pause in my dilatory attempts to launch Risorgimento, a parallel consortium for Italian varietal producers.
It is a subject I will have to address in a subsequent installment here…