Category Archives: Tempranillo

After the Fire is Gone

Steely Dan labeled it best as Pretzel Logic. Longtime readers of this blog will remember the Ginkgo Girl from my earliest posts and are likely to realize I have not filled the void in my life since we split up several years ago. To a large extent, Your West Coast Oenophile has had to make do on a subsistence level while raising funds for Sostevinobile—not exactly something that enhances one’s marketability on the romantic front—so with my recent rise from the threadbare level of impecuniosity, I have concomitantly become more self-assured in my social forays. But alas, the hopes I had affixed to an exceedingly charming woman I met at a SoCap gathering were promptly dashed with “I am happily married” in our ensuing conversation.

Like many others, I find myself taking solace not just in wine but in music as well, at such moments of deep disappointment, and so I tracked down the ever-so-appropriate video of Midnight Confessions by The Grass Roots. YouTube usually generates a list of interrelated videos in its right side column whenever you visit their site. I suppose there is a thematic link to Linda Ronstadt’s Long, Long Time—after all, who has better vocalized unrequited love?—even if, musically, these two acts could not be more incongruous. In turn, I subsequently indulged in a reprise of her great hits from the 1970s to distract myself from the hazardous air quality that had sequestered me in my San Francisco flat for the better part of a week.

Christopher Loudon of Jazz Times wrote in 2004 that Ronstadt is “blessed with arguably the most sterling set of pipes of her generation.“ I certainly won’t contend with the overall sentiment of this encomium, but just as wine connoisseurs will favor the 2012 Ghost Horse Spectre over Screaming Eagle, true music aficionados know that Tracy Nelson has no peer. The former lead singer of Mother Earth has only achieved minor commercial success over the years, save for her now-obscure duet with Willie Nelson and theme for this post: After the Fire is Gone.

The recent conflagrations in the wine country have exacted a toll on the California wine industry that will take months to comprehend fully. Somewhere between the sensationalist headlines of the national media and the laudable optimism of the growers and vintners there lies a sobering reality no one has yet to comprehend fully. And among the myriad efforts to aid the stricken communities, it has been particularly laudable to see and participate in the events sponsored by CA Wine Strong, a collective effort among numerous wine trade associations across the state. In my usual overambitious manner, Sostevinobile is exploring sponsoring its own wine benefit in the ensuing months, but I will decline to expound further until it is a certainty.

In the meantime, I hesitate to note that the aftermath of this cataclysm does leave open a long overdue window for the many diverse viticultural districts across the state and throughout the West Coast to attract attention to their wondrous wines. This should not be seen as opportunistic—wide appreciation for the panoply of wines produced here can only help invigorate the world’s perception of our entire region once Napa and Sonoma have fully rebounded.

Many other industry veterans have noted that emergent Cabernet strongholds like Paso Robles, the Columbia Valley, and Washington’s Red Valley are now likely to come into prominence. Wineries nearby in AVAs like Monterey, the Livermore Valley, and the Santa Cruz Mountains have long had strong local followings, and will certainly now look to expand the scope of their reputation. But it is my hope that the many unheralded regions will now also be given their due.

Even I have had my share of serendipitous moments of late, discovering a wealth of wineries in AVAs like Inwood Valley and Clarksburg, where an understated Scribner Bend amazed with its 2013 Black Hat Tempranillo. And spurred by Mike McCay’s tireless efforts to tireless efforts to define and refine Zinfandel vinification as the signature expression of the AVA, rising stars like Michael Klouda, whose spectacular 2015 Carignane Lodi Appellation has rightfully been called “a phenomenal expression of this underappreciated varietal,” are reinventing Lodi as a must-see destination.

After combing through my copious tasting notes for 2017, I still feel the most impressive wine I have sampled thus far has been the 2015 R Blockhouse Vineyard Dolcetto from Jeff Runquist. This superb, exquisitely balanced wine embodied all of the glory that a superior Dolcetto can reach. Admittedly, these grapes were sourced from Yountville, but the overall craft of this winemaker, who blends grapes from Amador County, El Dorado County, Paso Robles, Clarksburg, Lodi, Stanislaus County, San Joaquin County, and River Junction as well, reaffirms why this winery is one of the true beacons of the Amador AVA . Acrosss Shenandoah Road, the inveterate Vino Noceto produces some of California’s purest expressions of Sangiovese, in particular the 2014 Dos Oakies Sangiovese, which I sampled during a delightful 3-hour tour and tasting with owners Jim and Suzy Gullett. Their plantings and vinification of Sangiovese Grosso clones sourced from Montalcino are a testament not only to the Shenandoah Valley sub-AVA but to the incredible bounty of varietals produced throughout California.

As noted in previous posts, Vino Noceto has a kindred spirit in the Los Olivos AVA, Jamie and Julie Kellner’s esteemed Cent’Anni, whose authentic recreation of Chianti employs their meticulous plantings of Montepulciano, Sangiovese Clone 3, Sangiovese Clone 6, Sangiovese Clone 23, Sangiovese Rodino Clone, Colorino, and Caniaolo. Yet while Santa Barbara County may contain Southern California’s most noted winery cluster, numerous other as-yet unheralded enclaves are starting to clamor for attention.

Among these are the Ramona Valley in San Diego, both Malibu-Newton Canyon and Malibu Coast (including parts of Ventura County) in Los Angeles County, Cucamonga Valley, which straddles both Riverside and San Bernadino counties, and Sierra Pelona Valley near Santa Clarita. Several of these areas focus heavily on the Italian varietals Sostevinobile so favors, as does the Temecula Valley, the most prominent wine region of Riverside County.

I have only visited this AVA once before, but have known its warm climate to be well-suited for grapes like Nero d’Avola and others thermophilic varietals that predominate the Italian south. But Temecula was ravaged by Pierce’s Disease at the beginning of this millennium, which obliterated over 90% of its vines. Despite replanting, the region has been handicapped by this event, and, in truth, I, too, held an enormous skepticism about its quality and viability. That is, until I was introduced to one of its oldest and most resilient wineries, Baily Winery. Initially, as a courtesy, I had invited owner Phil Baily to participate in the Dartmouth & Its Winemakers tasting I produced this past spring, expecting he might pour a white wine and his Sangiovese, as representative of the region. Rather, Phil not only flew up to Menlo Park the night before the event but graced us with a 3-year vertical of his signature estate blend—I have savored the 2013 Meritage many times since—Cabernet Sauvignon invused with Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Malbec, all grown at his Berenda Vineyard. All three vintages could easily have fetched twice the price tag of $65, had they been cultivated in Napa or Alexander Valley. But perhaps the ultimate barometer of Temecula’s status and quality is that numerous of its wineries are now the target of Chinese investment!

Like most, I grieve for the losses friends and colleagues throughout the North Coast have endured this fall. And I have little doubt most, if not all, will prevail despite this incalculable devastation and return in time to their former prominence, steeled with resolve and renewed fervor. I, too, will continue efforts to aid them in ways at which I am most adept, while employing Sostevinobile’s various resources to promote other West Coast wine regions during this period of rebound and transition. After all, the perceoption of a robust and pervasive wine industry throughout our Pacific region can only be beneficial to all.

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!”

Pecorino, Palomino, and Pedro Ximénez

As readers of these sporadic postings realize, Your West Coast Oenophile continues to plug away in discovering off-the-map wineries and nascent wine labels to add to the comprehensive database Sostevinobile is creating for our wine-by-the-glass and reserve lists. I would really prefer to be on the road far more often than I have been, visiting all the various AVAs that dot the three West Coast states—not to mention possible inclusions of such bordering regions as the Guadalupe Valley and Okanagan BC. Fortunately, the various major trade tastings, like next week’s Rhône Rangers, afford me the opportunity to visit with numerous wineries from regions I have only explored peripherally.

Recently, a couple of my affiliated wine undertakings—building wine programs for a handful of local restaurants and producing wine tastings for Ivy league alumni groups—redrew my attention to a slew of wineries producing Italian varietals in Riverside’s Temecula Valley. Many of my fellow members of the Nebbiolo Enthusiasts and Believers (NEB) hold a deep skepticism over the potential of this region, and I concede I am hardly in a position to refute them. Much to my chagrin, I have scant little familiarity with most of the wines produced here, and have only visited a small sliver of the AVA on a drive-through several years before I launched Sostevinobile.

Still, I want to believe Temecula can become an important wine producer. Not surprisingly, the AVA is abundantly planted with varietals generally associated with warmer climates, like Vermentino, Tempranillo, Nero d’Avola, and Sangiovese. But here you also find wineries like Cougar and Ponte that are in the vanguard for a number of decidedly esoteric varietals planted nowhere else on the West Coast: Falanghina, Coda di Volpe, Ciliegiolo, Piedirosso, Lambrusca di Alessandria, Brachetto d’Acqui, and—is it a wine or a cheese?—Pecorino. Sound like high time I hit the road.

To many readers, these varietals may seem adventurous, perhaps even esoteric (some, I’m sure, regard any Italian varietal, other than Pinot Grigio, as esoteric). For many others, the divergent selections poured at the recent rendition of Seven % Solution, constitute eclecticism. Sostevinobile, of course, is on a mission to source as many of these wines as we can find; as such, exotic is not a term that comes to mind with any of the wines I have encountered. Nonetheless, I would categorize a handful of producers as niche specialists, wineries that eschew the mainstream categories of still wines and limit themselves to crafting wine variants. Though technically a distillery, Ukiah’s Germain-Robin is probably the most reputed of this lot, pioneering the production of varietal alembic brandies (actually, a cognac, were it not for the restrictions of the 2006 EU pact). Also in Mendocino, Scharffenberger and Roederer make superb sparkling wines, while Napa’s St. Barthélemy bottles an array ports fortified with specialized distillates from the same varietal. Other North Coast producers include Prager Port Works in St. Helena and Sonoma Portworks in Petaluma. Unique even among this subset, Quady Winery in Madera only produces infused and fortified wines, ports, vermouths, and even a sherry (though, curiously, not a Madeira).

I have known Andy Quady for several years now and have long championed his Vya Vermouth—the sweet version, along with 136° Thomas Handy Sazerac, forms the base of my atomic cocktail recipe, The Manhattan Project. For sheer decadence, however, his dessert wines, based on a range of Moscato varietals are without peer. I have enjoyed earlier vintages of the 2014 Elysium, 2014 Essentia, 2015 Electra, and 2015 Red Electra on numerous occasions, but was only introduced to their seductive apéritif, the NV Deviation, an Orange Muscat infused with Rose Geranium and Damiana, at the recent Wine Warehouse trade tasting a couple of weeks back. Granted, the setting at Fort Mason hardly allowed for experiencing “the aphrodisiac powers of Damiana,” but the effect was perceptible.

Andy’s other revelation this afternoon was his homage to Amontillado, the NV Palomino Fino, a barrel-aged sherry produced from this relatively-obscure varietal. I could wax Poe-etically about this wine interminably, but suffice it to say that it has been progressively produced as a solera since its inception in 2002.

Only a handful of wineries in California vinify a solera-style wine, including Tackitt in Templeton, a Tempranillo from Geyserville’s Mercury, Lodi’s Berghold, Heritage Oak, and OZV, Cabernet soleras from ZD Wines in Napa and Le Cuvíer in Paso Robles, and a Late Harvest Zinfandel Vineyard 29 identifies as a “modified solera.”

Several weeks back, while attending CUESA’s grape-growing panel, How Green is Your Wine?, at the Ferry Plaza Building, I came upon a 400-case boutique venture from Santa Cruz, the whimsically macabre-named Condor’s Hope. There, alongside his biodynamically-farmed Syrah and Zinfandel, vintner Steve Gleissman produces a solera-style sherry from his Pedro Ximénez! This varietal, of course, is in no way related to José Jiménez, but in all my years developing Sostevinobile (plus the previous 25 years I spent with other wine involvements), I had never come across this grape. But, just as I was about to concede that Steve had finally stumped me, I discovered that Bill Nachbaur’s Alegría Vineyard contains Pedro Ximénez vines, as well as Palomino, among the 60 varietals he has planted!

Unfortunately, that leaves me with 25 more varietals yet to be sampled and catalogued for our eventual roster…

Discoveries

It’s far too infrequent that Your West Coast Oenophile gets to celebrate a milestone in the prolonged development of Sostevinobile, but I suppose it will portend of good things finally coalescing in 2015 if I start off this year’s chronicle by noting that, at long last, I have managed to optimize our winery database and bring it current, cataloging a backlog of 400-500 business cards I had allowed to accrue over the course of 2014. Granted, not exactly earth-shattering news, but still a highly significant hurdle, with widespread ramifications for the Sostevinobile wine program as I dabble with alternative sources for funding (more on that in another post).

Much of what I wrote last year bemoaned the apparent decline in the major trade tastings, both in terms of public attendance and winery participation. Over the past two decades, these events have proven a cornerstone in my developing a comprehensive perspective on the West Coast wine industry and in enabling Sostevinobile to meet and vet some 3,600+ wine producers since our inception.

But I have never relied exclusively on these events to research the exhaustive program for sustainably-grown West Coast wines we are undertaking. Often, I resort to happenstance or other random means to discover unheralded wineries that limit their distribution to a discrete clientele or simply shy from publicity. No matter where I journey, I always make a point to avoid scheduling meetings or tastings for the latter part of the afternoon and allow myself to get lost along the back roads of the particular AVA I happen to be investigating. Invariably, I will stumble upon a ramshackle barn with a dirt driveway beside a barely perceptible welcome sign or ID placard, a harbinger of unpretentious yet dedicated craftsmen—vignerons, in the true sense of the word.

Last fall, I made several treks to southern Napa and the Carneros region to see how I might help out numerous friends whose wine operations were severely impacted by the Napa earthquake. On one such visit, en route to Bouchaine and Adastra, I quite unexpectedly came upon the unadorned rustic tract where McKenzie-Mueller Vineyards & Winery crafts its select varietals. The rundown, dusty barn that houses their wine operations and ersatz tasting room seemed anachronistic, a throwback to an era before ornate $50 tastings became the vogue in Napa, but the simplicity of the setting belied a fastidious endeavor whose forte lies with their bottling of the other four Bordelaise reds, a rarity here on the West Coast, along with an unwavering commitment to a straightforward vinification, unmasked by filtration or other manipulations.

Most impressive among their offerings were the 2006 Malbec Los Carneros and the 2009 Petit Verdot, both splendid renditions of these less storied varietals. The more familiar 2007 Estate Bottled Cabernet Franc Napa Valley and the 2009 Merlot Los Carneros proved nearly as striking, while their 2008 Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon reflected the adequacy of this off year vintage.Alas, McKenzie-Mueller’s proprietary blend, the 2005 Tartan was not available this particular afternoon, and so I will be compelled to visit again!

On a different tour of the earthquake’s scope, I walked through downtown Napa to survey the undocumented damage and visit with the dozen or so wineries that have set up tasting rooms there. Stopping by Gustavo Wine, the downtown nexus for what had been known as Gustavo Thrace and other wines produced by the legendary Gustavo Brambila. Not to make short shrift of these selections, worthy successors all to his role in Château Montelena’s historic showing at the Judgment of Paris, but my intrigue lay in discovering the wines from Avinodos, a nascent undertaking by his son Lorin Brambila and Tasting Room Manager Dan Dexter. Starting off modestly, this label nevertheless made an auspicious debut with both their 2012 Sauvignon Blanc and a full-bodied 2012 Malbec—yet another encouraging indicator of California wineries’ determination not to accede to perceptions of Argentina’s inextricable domination of this varietal.

My meanderings in Dry Creek yielded similar serendipity. On a hot afternoon last fall, I unexpectedly came upon the Geyserville home of Cast, as I headed up Dry Creek Road in search of the beachhead at Lake Sonoma. This brand new, state-of-the-art winery culminates the aspirations of two community bankers from Texas, and though the ambience may seem a bit Southwestern, the wine is decidedly Californian. The early lineup includes a NV Blanc de Noirs, a Pinot-based sparking wine, a tepid 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, the vineyard-specific (Marimar Estate’s Don Miguel Vineyard) 2012 Pinot Noir, and the 2011 Grey Palm Estate Zinfandel. The forte for winemaker Mikael Gulyash proved, however to be the exquisite 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel Watson Vineyard and—atypical for Dry Creek— the 2012 Grey Palm Estate Petite Sirah.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the AVA, I discovered the striking, sustainably-designed tasting room for Uptick Vineyards. Perched above their Westside Road vineyards, I enjoyed a striking NV Sparkling Brut, a wine designed to bias me toward white selections. The 2012 Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc proved amiable enough, but the hot afternoon only accentuated the 2012 Hilda’s Rosé, a deft marriage of Pinot Noir and Syrah. Uptick

Because of the sweltering conditions, I eschewed Uptick’s selection of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and Syrah, as well as their Old Vine Zinfandel, in favor of two delightful—and chilled— white selections: the 2009 Chalk Hill Chardonnay and the contrasting yet equally impressive 2011 Russian River Valley Chardonnay. There will be other occasions to revisit and sample these other selections, perhaps on my next Dry Creek stumble.


As much as I have lamented, over the past year in particular, the paucity of new labels for Sostevinobile to source at the major wine tastings—partly because I have repeatedly attended these events, partly because of the decline in winery participation—I nonetheless manage, on occasion, to encounter a plethora of discoveries.

Such fortuity seems to be the rule at the various Garagiste Festivals held throughout the state. Most recently, the Paso Robles session offered nearly 40 (!) wineries and labels to add to the Sostevinobile roster, a veritable cornucopia of nascent producers bottling under 1,000 cases annually. Exemplifying this profile, John & Lisa Shaw craft a scant 300 cases under their Alma Sol label. Their 2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon offered a competent wine, while their 2011 Meritage blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot proved preferable, even for such a challenging vintage. But, true to Paso’s unfettered œnology, the standout was the 2013 Sagrado, a proprietary blend of Syrah, Viognier, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

An implicit acknowledgment of this open spirit is evidenced in the nomenclature for Artisan Uprising. Brothers William & David Vondrasek produce a mere 275 cases annually, exemplified by their appealing 2012 Merlot, alongside its Bordelaise counterpart, the 2012 Malbec. By contrast, Barton Family’s 900 cases annually seems gargantuan (this volume partly explains their need to bottle under three distinct labels: Barton, Grey Wolf, and Occasional Wines). Here, under their eponymous line, the superb 2011 E-Street artfully blended 80% Tempranillo with 20% Mourvèdre (or Monastrell, its Spanish name).

Mourvèdre underpinned three sublime interpretations of traditional Rhône bottlings from Copia Vineyards, starting with 2013 The Answer, a marriage of 75% Syrah, 23% Grenache, and 2% Mourvèdre. Their previous project, 2012 The Cure predominantly featured Syrah, while their standout, the understated 2012 The Blend married 40% Syrah with equal parts Grenache and Mourvèdre. Dramatically, David DuBois’ Cholame Vineyard showcased the Mourvèdre-dominant 2011 Cross Country, a mélange rounded out with 35% Grenache and 5% Petite Sirah; this Rhône-style variant was nicely juxtaposed against the 2012 Summer Stock, an estate grown Grenache Blanc.

Rising above the strictures of the French AOC, Ascension Cellars forged together a line consisting of both Rhône and Bordelaise-style wines, showing deft touches with both their 2011 Ascendance, a proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and the 2012 Evangelist, an exceptional dessert-style (6.8% residual sugar) Viognier. Even more disparate, Château Lettau’s 1,100 case production not only spanned both Bordeaux and the Rhône, but offered an interpretation of Iberian varietals that proved their forte: a striking 2012 Stiletto Tempranillo, accompanied by the 2013 Albariño Kristy Vineyard. A winery that truly epitomizes the frontier spirit that demarcates Paso Robles, Deodoro Cellars dazzled with its unconventional blends, starting with a dazzling white trilogy of Sauvignon Blanc, Malvasia Bianca, and Viognier, the 2013 Euphoria. On the red side, the 2012 Pantheon married Zinfandel with Grenache and Syrah, a deft combination that almost made the straightforward 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon seem mundane. And lest I forget—the 2012 Nepenthe, tempering a Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc pas de deux with Petite Sirah.

Conventional or not, blends did seem to dominate among these craft vintners. One of my most impressive discoveries of the afternoon, Deno Wines, offered their imaginative 2010 2 Bills Estate Blend (66% Zinfandel, 34% Grenache) alongside a three-year vertical of their proscribed Rhône blend (60% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre), the most striking of which was the middle selection, the 2009 Estate GSM. Proudly proclaiming its contrarian approach, Dilecta Wines poured what might be called an MSG, the 2012 Unorthodox, a blend of 42% Mourvèdre, 42% Syrah and but 16% Grenache. Less bold but as flavorful: their 65% Grenache/35% Syrah blend called the 2012 The Tiller.

The orthodox tenets of Catholicism under which I was inculcated as an impressionable youth attending St. Peter of Alcantara Church would not have countenanced the incorporation of an Indian elephant, particularly with its allusions to the Hindu god Ganesh, into its catechism; this unusual hybrid, however, distinguishes Guyomar Winery in Templeton, whose estate, coincidentally, is known as St. Peter of Alcantara Vineyard. Blue Nun this is not, but it pervasive religious nomenclature includes the 2010 Monsignor, a Petite Sirah-dominant blend with 24% Zinfandel, 16% Syrah, and 4% Grenache. On the other side of the pulpit, the 2010 Laity offered 64% Syrah, 16% Grenache, 14% Petite Sirah, and 6% Zinfandel, while the intermediary 2010 Oblate focused on the Zin, with 19% Petite Sirah, 9% Grenache and 5% Syrah to round it out. A relative gargantuan at this tasting, with 1250 case production, Falcone Family Vineyards loomed large with their 2012 Estate Syrah and a striking 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Mia’s Vineyard, but overshadowed even these exceptional vintages with their NV Annaté V Estate Blend, an ongoing solera culled (so far) from the 2001, 2012 and 2013 bottlings of their proprietary Syrah/Petite Sirah/Cabernet Sauvignon blend.

Another classical Indian allusion, drawn from the apocryphal 65th position in Vātsyāyana’s Kama Sutra, LXV Wines strives to evoke a deep sensuality with its labels, as well as their wines, like their Cabernet Franc/Syrah/Merlot, the 2012 Secret Craving. and the seductive 2012 Rising Tempo, a deft blend of Grenache, Tempranillo, and Syrah. The double-entendre of its nomenclature—MCV (not to be confused with MC5) —derives from winemaker Matt Villard’s initials and well as to a different Roman numeral, to which he paid homage with he 2011 1105, a Petite Sirah softened with Syrah and Grenache and its more elegant successor, the 2012 1105, a true blend, with 66% Petite Sirah, 24% Syrah, 9% Grenache and a 1% splash of Viognier. However, MCV really kicked out the jams in Petite Sirah with their 2013 Pink, a rosé expression of Petite Sirah, Syrah, Grenache and Tannat, alongside their 2012 Petite Sirah Rosewynn Vineyard, a stunning expression of the varietal unadorned.

I always appreciate a good pun—especially a bilingual one. Ryan Pease’s Paix Sur Terre is a 400 case specialist in Mourvèdre, though when I arrived, they only had left their Syrah/Mourvèdre blend, the 2012 Either Side of the Hill still on hand (testimony, I guess, to the quality of their straight varietal bottling, 2012 The Other One). At 500 cases, Edmond August put on an amazingly diverse display, starting with the 2012 Inference, a classic Rhône white marrying 76% Roussanne with Viognier. Both their 2011 Soft Letters (½ Mourvèdre, ½ Grenache) and 2010 Indelible (Syrah rounded out with Grenache and Viognier) proved likable, drinkable wines, while the 2011 Anthology Red (60% Grenache, 16% Syrah, 8% Tannat, 7% Cinsault) stood on par with the white blend.

Like a number of wineries (Artisan Uprising and Guyomar) pouring their first vintage here, Diablo Pass displayed considerable viticultural adeptness with both their 2013 Grenache and the robust 2012 Tempranillo. Similarly, Mystic Hills Vineyard turned a passable 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon into two deft Meritages, the 2011 Estate Unforgiven, a traditional five varietal blend and the more striking 2011 Sequel, a mélange of 605 Cabernet Sauvignon with equal parts Cabernet Franc and Merlot rounding out the wine. Sebastian Noël’s first vintage of Nobelle Wines displayed surprising sophistication, not only with Rhône’s fraternal white twins, the 2012 Marsanne and the 2012 Roussanne, but also with an astounding 2012 Cabernet Franc.

Despite my need to focus on labels to add to the Sostevinobile database, I still could not bypass a handful of familiar establishments like Cutruzzola. Once again, I delved into their 2011 Riesling Riven Rock Vineyard and reveled in their wondrous 2012 Gloria Pinot Noir. An even more extraordinary rendition of this varietal was the 2012 Pinot Noir Fiddlestix Vineyard RN Estate Winery featured. An unheralded viticultural star, this winery consistently impresses with blends like the 2010 Cuvée des Artistes (Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot) and the 2011 Cuvée des Trois Cépages (Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc). A most pleasant surprise, however, came from II Moons, a burgeoning label from my long-standing Dartmouth colleague John Gleason. This independent spinoff from Clavo Cellars seemed rather perfunctory when I first sampled their initial vintage. Two years later, I found myself vastly impressed by their 2012 Aporia, a well-balanced blend of Grenache Blanc and Marsanne. As splendid: the 2011 Angst, an atypical GMS equally balanced between the three varietals, while clearly the most striking blend, the 2011 Ardor, offered 50% Mourvèdre and 50% Syrah.

Andy Zaninoch’s Tlo Wines also poured a strikingly well-balanced 2012 GSM, skewed slightly toward the Grenache. Keeping stride, his 2011 Tempranillo featured 25% Touriga Nacional, a true Spanish blend. In contrast, Roger Janakus’ Stanger Vineyards elected to follow a decidedly unorthodox path, blending Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tempranillo with noteworthy results. I noted a striking contrast between the Syrah-dominant 2009 Bench and the even core compelling 2010 Master, in which the Cabernet Sauvignon predominated. A similar fondness for atypical Syrah blends came from Jacob Toft, a decidedly esoteric (and eponymous) boutique. Bloviating notwithstanding, this winemaker made an eloquent statement with both his 2012 Sarah’s Cuvée, a Syrah blended with 18% Grenache, and the 2012 Maggie’s Cuvée, a predominantly Petite Sirah wine, with 22% Syrah and 19% Mourvèdre. And with its even more elliptical nomenclature, Nicora Wines nonetheless made a sizable impression with its 2012 Buxom Syrah (6% Grenache) and the 2012 Euphoric La Vista Vineyard, a delightful single-vineyard Grenache, balanced with 4% Syrah.

With 4,030 hits on Google, Sostevinobile certainly knows the value of creating your own portmanteau in dominating an Internet search on your name. Likewise, Ryan Render’s alteration of his surname to coin Rendarrio, which culls entries solely linked to his wine. Which probably accounts for the regal coat of arms on his label and blends like his 2011 First Born King, a Grenache/Syrah mélange. Admittedly, I had to research 2012 League of Shadows to uncover its Batman derivation, but required only traditional œnophilic techniques to uncover the appealing flavors of its Cabernet/Merlot marriage. Pulchella Winery is one of several wine labels to allude to dragonflies (Libellula pulchella or the Twelve-Spotted Skimmer), but manifests its individuality with distinctive blends like the 2012 Highs & Lows (66% Syrah, 34% Grenache), and the 2012 Awakening (66% Syrah, 34% Grenache).

In a similar vein, Justin Murphy’s Irie Wines showcased an intriguing trio of wines, starting with their 2013 One Love, a rosé of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Viognier. The 2013 Zinfandel La Vista Vineyard presented a single vineyard effort, while the extremely limited (23 cases!) 2012 Cask One tempered Petite Sirah with 8% Zinfandel. One of the few endeavors on hand that tackled Italian varietals, Bella Luna Winery featured a modest 2011 Lot One, their estate Barbera and their 2010 Estate Riserva, a SuperTuscan. Another contender, Vinemark Cellars, focused their efforts on Primitivo, with both their straight varietal bottling, the 2012 Primitivo, and the proprietary 2012 Mezzanotte, a balanced blend of 75% Primitivo and 25% Petite Sirah.

One of the smallest endeavors here, Soaring Hawk, offered an array of wines that comprised their 250 case production, the standout of which was easily the 2009 Syrah Gill Vineyard. Moving from the supernal to the pelagic, Seashell Cellars presented select blends like the 2010 Balboa Reserve (75% Tempranillo, 25% Garnacha) or the sedate 2011 Vineyard Collection, a Syrah-focused GSM. And I can think of no clever segue to assay the delightful wines of Felten Cellars, which distinguished itself with both the 2012 Gewürztraminer and its wonderful 2012 Old Casteel Vineyard Zinfandel.

Another splendid endeavor, The Missing Leg, stumped any critics with such full-bodied wines as its 2011 Syrah St. Peter of Alcantara Vineyard or the adroit 2012 Pinot Noir Kruse Vineyard. An equally compelling 2012 Estate Syrah distinguished Cambria’s Stolo Family Vineyards, while LaZarre Wines, the proprietary label of much-lauded winemaker Adam LaZarre, proved its mettle with their compelling 2010 Merlot Paso Robles and a subtle 2012 Albariño Edna Valley.

Also flourishing through their Iberian varietal bottlings, Filipponi Ranch, which produced an extraordinary 2012 Cronologie Verdelho alongside a more-than-approachable 2012 Cronologie Tempranillo. In a different vein but as appealing: the 2012 Lorenzo, a Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon/Petite Sirah combine. As the festival drew to a close, I discovered a winery surprisingly sophisticated for its miniscule (450 case) production. The unapologetically Francophilic Clos Selène dazzled with their 2013 Hommage Blanc, a beguiling blend of 65% Roussanne and 35% Viognier. Purely Rhône-style in their focus, the 2012 Hommage à Nos Pairs Syrah deftly married varietal pickings from both Russell Family Vineyards and iconic Paso winery L’Aventure.

However, my greatest revelation of the day came from Wally Murray’s decidedly unpretentious Bon Niche. This unassuming vintner delighted with his 2011 Voyage an estate Syrah rounded with 20% Petit Verdot and 10% Merlot, but utterly defined what California Malbec could be with three of his offerings: the near-mindboggling 2010 L’Entrée, his estate Malbec, and both the astounding 2010 Voûtes, a proprietary 45% Malbec, 45% Petit Verdot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and its worthy successor, the 2011 Voûtes. To say Murray has found his niche would be an understatement.

There will be several Garagiste Festivals in 2015. With more discoveries like these to be made, Sostevinobile’s calendar is marked for all.

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote…

Make no mistake about it: five years of seeking out and sampling wines for Sostevinobile takes its toll in unforeseen ways. Your West Coast Oenophile recently donated over 50 wine glasses to Goodwill, not necessarily out of a sense of χάρις—despite the urbanity of the local indigent populace, who have compelled pharmacies here to safeguard their supply of dental floss in locked display cases—but, rather, in an overdue attempt to streamline the clutter in my 150 ft.² kitchen. Standing out among the forgotten gems from this meticulous collection, culled from over two decades of professional tasting, was a pair of souvenir glasses from the erstwhile Consorzio CalItalia, the trade association for locally-produced Italian varietals that I have frequently cited here. Although I’ve had owned this set since 2005, I somehow had failed to notice that the bowl was engraved with a secondary promotional logo, one that inextricably explained why Consorzio had collapsed so spectacularly. Its principal co-sponsor had been that travesty masquerading as Italian cuisine—Olive Garden!

Olive GardenHospitaliano! It cannot be overstated how fundamentally offensive these poseurs are, not simply because their culinary assembly line poses an affront to anyone who cherishes their rich Italian heritage. More odious renditions of this artifice certainly can be found—assuming I could ever muster the temerity to set foot in one of their pretentious prefab outlets. And know that I find jejune, cartoonish stereotypings, like The Fonz or the intellectually vacant Vinny Barbarino, far more debasing than any of the 30-second spots Darden Restaurants broadcasts. But the none-too-subtle implication of Olive Garden, with its pathetic promotional panderage, is that not just Italian, but any ethnicity can be readily coöpted—nay, blithely bastardizedfor crass commercial benefit.

Even without being underwritten by such an odious enterprise, my oft-mentioned desire to launch Risorgimento as a successor to Consorzio CalItalia faces significant hurdles, something that the diaspora of this year’s Rhône Rangers Grand Tasting painfully drove home. Like many in the trade, I had tried to keep an open mind about trekking across the Bay to the Craneway Pavilion in Point Richmond (if truth be told, Sostevinobile owes Richmond a debt of gratitude I will explicate after our doors finally open). This renovated Ford assembly plant occupies a scenic perch along the eastern shore of the San Francisco Bay, with unrivaled vistas of The City, several bridges, and the sundry islets that dot the estruary; warm sun, a negligible breeze and a reasonably-priced chartered ferry made the excursion far more placid than battling the inevitable traffic that clogged the main thoroughfares in either direction.

Still, less than thirty of my trade cohorts took advantage of this amenity, an ominous portent for the ensuing event. Inside the cavernous hall, the 89 participating wineries represented a striking diminution from just a few years back when nearly 200 filled the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason, and though an ample number of professional tasters did arrive by car or public transportation, public ticketholders were rumored to be only 120.

In truth, I doubt more than forty paid attendees actually showed up, but no matter the actual tally, it was apparent that the Rhône Rangers membership absorbed a substantial financial hit for the afternoon. Still, an extensive selection of impressive varietals and blend, along with a number of new participants, made for a worthwhile excursion. First up, I saddled up to Los OlivosBernat Estate, an organic winery that features organized retreats and an onsite café. Along with Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, they specialize in a trio of bottlings, starting with the amiable 2009 Presence, their Colson Canyon Syrah. More impressive, however, was their 2009 Gratitude, an estate-bottled Syrah, which was complemented by an equally delightful 2011 Grenache Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley.

Making the trek to Richmond from the Central Coast, new attendee Le Cuvier debuted with an impressive 2010 Viognier Paso Robles, then segued to their 2010 Syrah Paso Robles. I found myself vastly impressed with their 2010 L’Enfant du Pape, a subtle blend of Viognier, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Grenache, while the barrel sample of their 2010 Grenache Paso Robles portended great promise. Another newcomer, Lightning Wines, enjoyed a far easier commute from Napa to pour their 2013 CdP Blanc, a distinctive mélange of Roussanne, Picpoul Blanc, and Grenache Blanc sourced from Paso Robles, and a 2012 Grenache Sonoma County. Most striking, their 2011 Syrah Phoenix Ranch, with grapes from a Rhône-focused vineyard on Altlas Peak I had not previously encountered.

Hyde Vineyard in Carneros has long been familiar; nonetheless, Mira Winery offered distinctive expressions of their grapes, with both the 2010 Syrah Hyde Vineyard and its preceding 2009 vintage. Northeast of Carneros, the Capay Valley iepresents a designated AVA with a burgeoning reputation that also serves as the historic home of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation. With over 11,000 acres in production, the tribe today produces a diverse range of agricultural fare, including olive oil, honey, and a nascent wine label: Séka Hills. Derived from the Patwin word for blue, their inaugural efforts here included their amiable 2012 Viognier and a proprietary blend, the 2012 Tuluk’a, a decidedly nascent endeavor combining 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot, and 3% Petite Sirah.

Despite the relatively obscure location, a few intrepid souls found their way to Richmond from the Pacific Northwest. Hailing from Prosser, WA, newcomer Mercer Estates is a fourth-generation Horse Heaven Hills producer, here showcasing their 2013 Viognier, the 2013 Rosé (100% Grenache), and their Estate Reserve blend, the 2010 Ode to Brothers. a GSM featuring 40% Grenache, 39% Syrah, and 21% Mourvedre. Also debuting at Rhône Rangers, Southern Oregon’s EdenVale featured a 2009 Viognier that seemed past its prime alongside a noteworthy 2007 Grenache.

Expediency dictates that I limit my review of this tasting to these new discoveries—I have chronicled the rest of the attendees multiple times over the past five years, and while I am hardly sanguine about the financial setback Rhône Rangers must have incurred from this year’s tasting, I can only hope this choice of venue will not prove utterly deleterious and 2015 will see a new and reinvigorated tasting closer to the nexus of the Bay Area.


Another Fort Mason refugee found its change of venue diminished its scope and attendance, though not nearly as drastically as its French counterpart. Over the past several years, I have endeavored to help promote T.A.P.A.S., the trade association for Iberian varietal producers in the US., in no small part because I had hoped to see them catalyze renewed interest in a diverse array of trade tastings. I fear, though, that this annual showcase may have already reached its pinnacle, with fewer than 40 wineries on hand for 2014. While core members of this organization, like Bokisch, Abacela, Verdad, Quinta Cruz, Pierce Ranch, and Twisted Oak remain committed to advancing this sector and promoting its events, but too many others, like Berghold and SilvaSpoons, along with maverick producers like Forlorn Hope, were conspicuous in their absence (along with the once obligatory culinary anchor, Marco Paella), new participants dwindled to a mere four—all from outside of California.

These Northwest newcomers included HillCrest, Oregon’s oldest estate winery, purportedly the first winery to bottle a Pinot Noir in the Beaver State. This pedigree was amply displayed in their NV One the Lamb, an intriguing blend of Mazuelo (Carignane) and Pinot Noir. I found their 2008 Cadiz, an Umpqua Valley Tempranillo quite appealing, while their Tempranillo/Cabernet Sauvignon (a SuperRioja?) blend, the 2009 Umpqua Ribera, proved superb. I was a bit less sanguine about their 2010 Tempranillo Della Terra Torero Nuevo, but truly cottoned to the 1998 Vintage Trop, a superbly aged, fortified, Port-style offering.

Previously, I hadn’t realized that there was an Oakland in Oregon, here represented by Triple Oak Vineyard, which fittingly featured a chronological vertical of its three most recent releases. This trio commenced with the striking 2010 Tempranillo Umpqua Valley. The 2011 bottling frankly seemed a bit wanting, while the quite-young 2012 hinted at fuller expression over the next 2-3 years. In contrast, the 2011 Tempranillo Rogue Valley from debuting winery Upper Five Vineyard proved a superb, compelling rendition of the varietal.

Further north, Woodinville’s wondrously named Vinateria Idilico proffered an excellent 2013 Albariño Yakima Valley. Their 2011 Tempranillo and 2011 Garnacha Columbia proved equally appealing, while the 2011 Graciano Snipes Mountain simply dazzled. And while Tempranillo, Albariño, and, to a degree, Garnacha—the 2011 Garnacha San Antonio Valley from Pierce Ranch proved astounding—predominated this T.A.P.A.S. session, I was pleased that a number of wineries poured Graciano, led by the spectacular 2011 Graciano Mokelumne River & Clement Hills that Bokisch farmed and bottled. Others included Fenestra’s 2011 Graciano Lodi, Riaza’s 2011 Graciano Clement Hills, and the 2010 Graciano Clement Hills from Quinta Cruz—all, I assume, sourced from Markus’ plantings, while Pierce Ranch showcased their own 2011 Graciano San Antonio Valley, Twisted Oak featured a 2011 Graciano Calaveras County, and Bob Lindquist’s Verdad poured the 2012 Graciano Ibarra-Young Vineyard from the Santa Ynez Valley.

Otherwise, the preponderance of the event seemed decidedly mainstream—no Trincadeira, no Tinta Cão, merely a pair of Souzãos, no Loureiro, and no Torrontés. The sole revelation here was from a number of wineries pouring Verdejo—I believe, for most, their first vintage. I must confess that, until this year’s tasting I had assumed Verdejo was simply the Spanish term for the Portuguese Verdelho—an error quickly rectified by sampling the two varietals side-by-side. Though slightly overshadowed by the more sublime 2013 Verdelho Yolo County, Berryessa Gap’s 2013 Verdejo Yolo County still very much pleased with its slightly tart palate. A similar (albeit slight) contrast marked the exceptional 2013 Verdelho Borden Ranch from the 2013 Verdejo Borden Ranch that Bokisch debuted. Equally compelling: the 2012 Verdejo Clarksburg from Riaza.

At this point, I must own to another of my ulterior motives—a wine blending project I am contemplating,  to be called V (pronounced “quintus”). Like so many other endeavors I cite here, this, too, has been incubating far too long, as I have been searching for the hitherto elusive  V-varietal #5 to complete this esoteric blend. And in Verdejo, my quest may have been fulfilled.

Despite an overt disappointment in the decline of these focused trade tastings, Sostevinobile remains firmly committed to our continued support of worthy organizations like T.A.P.A.S. and Rhône Rangers and will strive not only to bolster their efforts, but, of course, to showcase the incredible panoply of wines produced within our designated boundaries. Of course, a generous serving of paella (or bouillabaisse) along the way would go far in fueling my energies toward these ends…


Fast forward to the anomaly known as Pinot Days. This event abruptly shifted both its date and location from earlier in June to the end of the month and from Fort Mason to the resurrected Metreon Center overlooking Yerba Buena Gardens. As such, I would have predicted significantly diminished attendance from previous years, and indeed the number of participating wineries did dwindle by nearly ⅔, from 253 to 92! As such, new discoveries for Sostevinobile’s wine program were but few, starting with Attune Wines, a boutique Sonoma producer focused exclusively on Burgundian varietals. Veering from the sanctioned selections, they first pour a 2012 Chardonnay, which displayed a focused roundness. And while their 2013 Pinot Noir Rosé proved quite amiable, their 2011 Pinot Noir held up impressively for, admittedly, a most challenging vintage.

One of the hallmarks I have set for Sostevinobile has been an unwavering objectivity in the wines we review and select. So some may question my effuse praise for the exceptional Pinots Belden Barns poured, given that proprietor Lauren Belden also graduated from the Creative Writing program at Dartmouth, but coincidences will abound My introduction to their 2012 Estate Pinot Noir was beyond pleasant, while their 2012 Serendipity Block Pinot Noir proved one of the highlights of the afternoon. Belden Barns also bottles a discrete selection of white, including both an estate bottled Late Harvest Viognier and an Estate Grüner Veltliner, ambitious for so young a winery and certainly an rarity among Sonoma’s Pinot vineyards. I hope to report more in a future post.

One of the few wineries trekking from Oregon, Merriman Wines nonetheless made the most of their journey, scoring impressively with both their 2011 Cummins Road Pinot Noir and their outstanding flagship, the 2011 Estate Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton District, a wine that rivaled the aforementioned Serendipity. Though unrelated to Merriman Capital, another Dartmouth colleague I had previous approached for Sostevinobile’s financing, Merriman does share Belden Barn’s penchant for the anomalous, complementing their red production not with the typical Burgundian white, but, rather, an Old Vine Chenin Blanc, a varietal that has certainly become underserved on the West Coast.

Teac Mor sounds like an Oregon label, but, in fact, hails from the Russian River Valley. Though I would dispute co-owner Christine Moore’s contention that pistachios make for an excellent palate cleanser, I had no quarrel with the 4-year vertical they poured here. Being a young venture, their 2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir seemed a tad jejune, while the 2010 Russian River Valley Noir showed signs of hitting its stride. Atypically, their
2011 Russian River Valley Noir shone far brighter than its preceding vintages, while the 2012 bottling lived up to expectations for such a banner. year.

Another Sonoma producer, Kobler Estate, also showcased a vertical of their wines, beginning with the 2009 Russian River Pinot Noir. This well-balanced wine was followed with a striking 2010 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, the sole variant in this flight. The 2011 Russian River Pinot Noir seemed adequate for the vintage, while the 2012 Russian River Pinot Noir matched the loftiness of the 2010 bottling.

Though technically Spell Estate did not constitute a new label, it has subsequently parted ways with winemaker Shane Finley since I first encountered them and is, in essence, a wholly different entity. Yet Spell has most definitely suffered no diminution in its scope or profound quality under current winemaker Andrew Berge. After sampling their exquisite 2011 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, I found myself marveling equally at their trio of vineyard-designate Pinots: the 2012 Pinot Noir Nicole’s Vineyard, the 2012 Pinot Noir Alder Spring Vineyard, and their crown jewel—the 2012 Pinot Noir Marimar Estate Vineyard. Astounding wines, all.

Jayson Pahlmeyer is no newcomer, either, but Pinot Days afforded the opportunity to sample his much-heralded new Sonoma label, Wayfarer. Keeping stride with Pahlmeyer’s mythic Chardonnay, the 2012 Wayfarer Vineyard Pinot Noir proved a glorious wine. only to be outshone by the aptly-named 2012 Golden Mean Pinot Noir, a truly extraordinary expression of the grape. Similarly, FEL represents legendary Napa producer Cliff Lede’s conversion of Mendocino’s Breggo Cellars for his Sonoma and Mendocino operations. With equal aplomb, this new moniker debuted the 2012 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley alongside the vineyard designates 2012 Pinot Noir Savoy Vineyard (Anderson Valley) and 2012 Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard (Sonoma Coast).

I do not mean to give short shrift to the other labels showcased here—certainly I cannot fail to cite Wrath’s equally impressive 2011 Wrath Pinot Noir San Saba Vineyard nor its compelling 2011 Ex Vite Pinot Noir—but despite uncharacteristically arriving just as the gates opened, I only managed to sample a few other selections this afternoon from those wineries making a return appearance at this tasting. Typically, I tend to malinger at tastings of this scope, hoping to include as many different wineries as possible, but on this afternoon, I felt compelled to exit an hour before closing. For while the number of wineries on hand had considerably dwindled from years past, the number of public attendees barely differed from the throngs that filled Fort Mason!

Admittedly, I am not a person who bears up well in tight crowds. Trying to navigate such a compact space became intolerable almost immediately after the gates opened. Just as synæsthetes can see colors from sounds—as in Rimbaud’s Voyelles—I cannot taste when the volume reaches a certain decibel level. And so I surrendered to the futility of the exercise and departed.

As with the other tastings I have chronicled here, I am not seeking to critique the event, merely to comprehend its post-Fort Mason evolution. Certainly, I find it most encouraging that a major tasting can still draw a significant crowd, and while I am sure there are scores of Pinot Noir devotees, if not rabid fans throughout the Bay Area, I suspect the attendance at Pinot Days resulted more from aggressive marketing. And as I contemplate launching Risorgimento, I hope this holds true!

A blog a week, that’s all we ask

Your West Coast Oenophile realizes I may be setting myself up making the above declaration, but it’s time for me to redouble my efforts on all fronts concerning Sostevinobile. Later on, I will perhaps devote one or more of these entries to detailing the various aspects of what I am striving to do behind the scenes in order to effect our launch, but for now let me just say that the many, many months I have devoted (and kept both the wine world and my readership dangling) with the promise of opening an unparalleled wine bar/casual eatery/retail outlet will result in a far more comprehensive and exciting establishment than what I had originally mapped out.

The past few years have witnessed a
growing phenomenon, particularly in the Central Valley, of vineyards being
torn out and replanted with nut trees, now that almonds have surpassed grapes as the second leading crop in California. I personally have never been a rabid nut aficionado, although the proven health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet suggest that I ought focus on more than simply the wine component of this regimen.

Ironically, almonds have served as a continuous thread throughout my professional career, from my initial forays in the wine industry to some of the most inspired (albeit unproduced) copywriting I crafted during the thankless interregnum I employed myself in consumer advertising—even to now, with the peripheral ventures I have recently undertaken in order to finance my long-awaited shrine to West Coast’s viticultural prowess.

After I had severed my ties to Merrill Lynch White Weld and Bacardi’s futile attempts to compete in the wine arena—back then, apart from Gallo, the leading megaplayers in the industry were all food & beverage conglomerates like Coca Cola, Nestlé’s, Heublein, Seagrams—I took on a number of clients, including Agricultural Industries, Inc., the holding company that lost out to Suntory in its escalated bidding for Château St. Jean, after the Merzoian family put the winery up for sale. I won’t belabor readers with rehashing the story at this time, apart from my utter incredulity at this client’s refusal to consider the alternative of acquiring the 1,000,000-case operations of Sonoma Vineyards, now known as Rodney Strong, for $35,000,000 less than St. Jean’s eventual sale price; rather, the salient aspect of recounting this calamity was that Agland principals Dick Jones and Buzz Carless, in addition to owning vast tracts of Central Valley grapes they had hoped to vinify, also controlled what was then 50% of California’s almond crop.

The collapse of this deal pretty much catalyzed my decision to exit the Merger & Acquisitions field and plummet into the miasma of the advertising world. If I had had my druthers, I would have concentrated exclusively on broadcast accounts—script writing being my forte, particularly for radio. But advertising (as practiced in San Francisco) proved more pernicious than I could have ever anticipated, a collusion where mediocrity triumphed over talent and where broadcast copywriting was treated as a plum, rather than a skilled specialty. My efforts to transcend these biases met with success far too infrequently, but I did encounter a rare interlude when I was introduced to Chuck Blore, a radio legend in Los Angeles.

In 1995, Chuck hired me toscript a number of radio spots for Blue Diamond, the cooperative that thencomprised the majority of almond growers in California. I created a campaign that dovetailed rom their signature A Can a Week, That’s All We Ask, juxtaposing their array of flavored almond selections against a series of satirical cameos spoofing prominent public figures as Just Plain Nuts. These included such luminaries as Rush Limbaugh: That’s right, friends. A conspiracy of the Left to lower our average oxygen intake; Ronald Reagan: Well, if it doesn’t work, maybe I can sell a whole bunch of goods to embargoed countries at ten times their worth and pay off the national debt with the profits; and Hall of Fame pitcher Steve Carlton: The Borgias are still alive and controlling the world from a secret bunker below San Marino. A memorable campaign, to be sure, but little chance of convincing more than 3,000 almond growers to take a calculated risk with their marketing!

And so, putting the advertising profession in the rear view mirror, I created Sostevinobile after first tentative making tentative forays into starting my own label. Readers here know that launching a wine bar & retail operation this comprehensive has turned into quite a protracted process, compelling me to venture out into other practices while I assemble the necessary financing. Rather hesitantly, I allowed myself to reengage in Mergers & Acquisitions for the wine industry, on a limited basis.

I can’t say that this practice has become any easier over the past 25 years, nor any more lucrative. While I have tried to remain as judicious as possible, only taking on projects where I deemed myself to have 110% faith in both the validity and the resolve of my clients, the few deals I have allowed myself to entertain have, so far, all been for naught. Still, I found it quite interesting to discover that the principals behind Clarksburg’s Old Sugar Mill and the Clarksburg Wine Company now also control the majority of almonds grown in California! Some may call it déjà vu; some may call it an inexorable cycle. I just hope that the degree to which it drives me to drink inspires my customers when Sostevinobile finally opens its doors!

While I am on the topic of alternative crops, I found myself abruptly confronted this past week with plum blossoms covering the hood of my Corolla! Fruit trees blossoming in mid-January? Normally, I would have anticipated seeing fruit trees flower in April, but coupled with the news that estates in Napa are already pruning their vines, this accelerated vegetative cycle bodes ominous for the 2014 harvest, with dire predictions of yields reduced by as much as 80%!

But why fret over the uncertainty of the future? For now, with two consecutive bountiful harvests behind us, wine is in abundance, and as wineries begin to release and showcase their 2012 vintage, the quality of these wines appears to be just as impressive.

In any year, the first major tasting has traditionally been ZAP, radically reconfigured after 20+ years of captivating San Francisco in January. As I have cited in previous entries, every major trade tastings has forsaken the expanse of Fort Mason for an array of cozier venues throughout the Bay Area. ZAP had actually precipitated this migration two years ago, setting up shop at the Concourse Exhibition Center in the South of Market (SOMA). But with the huge influx of techies and humans over the past several years, available housing is at a dearth in San Francisco, and so this pavilion is being razed for a new condominium development.

The new format for 2014 bifurcated the Zinfandel tasting into separate trade and public events. The trade tasting took place three days before the public session, inexplicably excised from the logical relocation to the Presidio to Rock Wall’s expansive barrel room in Alameda. The roster of wineries that had once filled two halls in Fort Mason now dwindled to 85 participants, the vast majority of which had poured at numerous previous tastings.

The few discoveries I found here nonetheless proved consistently impressive. El Dorado’s Gwinllan Estate showcased a delightful 2009 Zinfandel, surpassed only by its striking 2010 Zinfandel. Healdsburg’s Hart’s Desire contrasted their semi-generic 2012 Ponzo Vineyard Field Blend Zinfandel with the superb 2012 Ponzo Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel. No stranger here (or at numerous other tastings), Rutherford Wine Company showcased their Predator label’s 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi alongside their more formulaic 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel Napa Valley, bottled under their Rutherford Ranch label.

The Prisoner, and its sister label, Saldo, helped catapult David Phinney to viticultural fame. Now owned by the Huneeus family (Faust, Quintessa, Flowers), these wines still delighted, though at a slight notch below their earlier zenith. Nonetheless, I held both the 2012 The Prisoner, a Zinfandel blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Charbono, and Grenache, and the 2012 Saldo, a mix of multiple Zinfandel plantings in Napa, Sonoma, Lake, Amador, Mendocino, and Contra Costa counties, in equal esteem.

Moonlighting from his full-time gig at wine megabrokers Ciatti, Glenn Proctor debuted his Puccioni Vineyards, contrasting the 2010 Old Vine Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley with its equally worthy 2011 successor. And not content to devote her entire focus on her extraordinary Tierra Roja label, my friend Linda Neal showed herself equally adept to her Cabernet craft with her Mellowood’s 2009 Zinfandel Fair Play, its successor, the 2010 Zinfandel Fair Play, and the foundation of a nascent solera(?), the 2009/10 Red Hat.

Numerous friends and familiars filled the expansive setting here looking out across the bay to downtown San Francisco. Jerry Baldwin featured the 2010 Slater, a blend of Zinfandels from Baldwin Wines’ from Rattlesnake Ridge, Dawn Hill Ranch and Madrone Ridge vineyards. Beekeeper poured with its usual aplomb, dazzling with its 2011 Zinfandel Madrone Vineyard, while Morgan Twain-Peterson returned with two gems, the 2012 Sonoma Valley Old Vine Zinfandel and the 2012 Evangelho Heritage Wine, a field blend of 40% Carignane and 38% Mourvèdre, plus Zinfandel, Palomino, Alicante Bouschet, and Mission, from his Bedrock Wine. Meanwhile, Bella Vineyards dazzled with their 2011 Zinfandel Big River Ranch and a remarkable 2010 Zinfandel Lily Hill Estate.

I first met the Parducci clan in the early 1980s; here I tasted through McNab Ridge, Rich Parducci’s successor to the label his family sold to Paul Dolan. I was mildly impressed with McNab’s 2011 Mendo Zinfandel and the 2010 Coloniah Reserve Zinfandel, bottled under their Family Reserve label; more compelling were both the 2011 Zinzilla, a blend of 87% Zinfandel, 8% Pinotage, and 5% Petite Sirah, and the 2010 Zinister Reserve, also a McNab Family Reserve. As I might have expected, Kyle and Jorja Lerner of Harney Lane unfailingly wowed with their 2011 Lodi Zinfandel and the incredible 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel Lizzy James Vineyard. And my good friend Mike McCay also ventured from Lodi to Alameda to feature a quartet of his eponymous wines, starting with the 2010 Trulux Zinfandel. Equally appealing were the 2010 Jupiter Zinfandel and his extraordinary 2010 Contentious Zinfandel, but the 2011 Equity Zinfandel proved the showstopper.

Representing Paso Robles, Sextant, producers of a rather rare Late Harvest Sauvignon Gris, comported themselves admirably with their flagship Zinfandel, the 2011 Wheelhouse, but truly shone with the 2011 Holystone. Their fellow Paso compatriots, Peachy Canyon, strained credulity with their 2011 Incredible Red but rebounded with their 2011 Westside Zinfandel. The Sierra Foothills were well represented by Placerville’s Lava Cap, with competent bottlings of the 2011 Zinfandel Rocky Draw and the 2011 Zinfandel Reserve, while Plymouth’s Andis showcased a trifecta: their 2011 Zinfandel Amador County, the 2011 Estate Zinfandel, and the venerable 2011 Zinfandel Original Grandpère, a wine sourced from oldest documented Zinfandel vineyard in California.

Of course, Napa was also well-represent at ZAP, including Hendry and its tangential progeny, Mike & Molly Hendry. Their stellar 2011 Blocks 7 & 22 Zinfandel gave way to an even superior (and more specific) 2011 Block 28 Zinfandel—too bad they didn’t pour the 2011 Block 24 Primitivo to contrast! And Mike and Molly had previously committed not to producing the same as their family, they happily succumbed with the 2011 Zinfandel R. W. Moore Vineyard. Meantime, at the next table over, Howell Mountain’s new owner, Mike Beatty, poured an equally noteworthy 2010 Old Vine Zinfandel.

Also under new ownership, Healdsburg’s Limerick Lane, a winery borne of Zinfandel, displayed flawless continuity with both their 2011 Zinfandel Russian River Valley Rocky Knoll and their 2011 Zinfandel Russian River Valley Block 1910. Geyserville stalwarts Trentadue contrasted their 2011 La Storia Zinfandel with the 2012 Old Patch Red Lot 36, a Zinfandel/Petite Sirah blend, while their winemaker, Miroslav Tcholakov, showcased his Miro Cellars2011 Zinfandel Wolcott-Bevill & Piccetti Vineyards. And biodynamic pioneers Quivira featured their 2011 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley, rounded with 10% Petite Sirah, 7% Carignane, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 1%Syrah, plus their superb 2011 Quest, a blend of 85% Zinfandel and 15% Petite Sirah.

I freely admit a longstanding fondness for the Italian varietals Acorn produces; here owner Bill Nachbaur demonstrated the range of his œnological dexterity with the forthcoming 2012 Zinfandel Heritage Vines, and its current 2011 release, an astounding mélange of 78% Zinfandel, 13% Alicante Bouschet, and 7% Petite Sirah, with the remaining 2% comprised of a field blend that includes Carignane, Trousseau, Sangiovese, Petit Bouschet, Négrette, Syrah, Plavac Mali, Tannat, Muscat Noir, Peloursin, Béclan, Cinsault, and Grenache. Next, over at ZAP’s first table, I paid my respects to Italian progetto, Accademia dei Racemi, which featured its 2011 Sinfonia,a wine labeled as Zinfandel but cited as 100% Primitivo. No need to quibble—Racemi’s Gregory Perrucci has dedicated his efforts to preserving obscure Apulian varietals like Sussumaniello and Ottavianello, while patenting hybrids like Zinfandel/Malvasia Nera.

As intriguing as Racemi’s programs may seem, Sostevinobile cannot bend its sustainable parameters to accommodate an imported producer. But I am gradually moving towards considering other AVAs beyond the California-Washington-Oregon axis, should they fall within the radius from San Francisco that I have proscribed. This expansion could include up & coming West Coast regions, such as the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia or the Guadalupe Valley in Baja California Norte, along with the burgeoning wine destinations of nearby Arizona.

The experimental blends produced by Jerome Winery/Cellar 433 certainly lend credence to this argument. Here at Rock Wall, the team from Gilbert, AZ poured eclectic concoctions like their NV Zinfandel/Blaufränkisch, a 2010 Zinfandel/Marselan, and a barrel sample of their Amuse Bouche, a mix of Primitivo and Arinarnoa. Other offerings included the 2010 Bitter Creek Star XVII, their Primitivo/Montepulciano blend rounded out with Tempranillo and Petite Sirah, and the 2010 Arizona Angel—by comparison, a staid Zinfandel/Syrah marriageand the unblended 2012 Jerome Primitivo. Whew!.

Reaching back inside my originally designated boundaries, Oregon’s lone representative here, Troon Vineyard, offered a straight, if not exceptional, quartet of Zins, starting with their 2011 Foundation ’72 Zinfandel. The 2012 Foundation ’72 Zinfandel proved excellent, as did the 2011 Estate Zinfandel Applegate Valley, but the absolute standout proved to be the 2010 Reserve Zinfandel. Even closer to home, I concluded this tasting with Brown Estate, one of ZAP’s perennial favorites. Of course, their 2012 Napa Valley Zinfandel was delightful, and the 2012 Chaos Theory, this year blending 60% Zinfandel, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Petite Sirah, drew the customary crowd to their table. But arguably the best wine I tasted this afternoon had to be the 2012 Rosemary’s Block Zinfandel, a near-perfect expression of the grape.

I did not have the bandwidth to take in the numerous other events scheduled for this year’s festival, and so cannot evaluate the wisdom of dissociating the trade and public tastings. As for relocating to Alameda? Until they build a bicycle lane on the western span of the Bay Bridge, I will always opt for a San Francisco site. Whether the wineries concur, remains to be seen.

No matter, when Sostevinobile opens its doors, they will always have a San Francisco showcase.

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.

What wine goes best with Fruit Loop-encrusted doughnuts?

In our last installment, Your West Coast Oenophile alluded to a continuing need to augment the databank of labels and varietals being assembled for Sostevinobile.
Over the past several weeks, I’ve had the opportunity both to visit
with new wineries and to attend a number of new industry events that
further exposed me to intriguing labels of which I had not previously been aware.


There can be a certain charm when a new, perennial wine tasting starts to get its footing. Or when a perennial tasting reinvigorates itself. The first gathering of the current cycle, the“season” between bud break and harvest, the always delightful benefit in Larkspur for the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, has augmented itself over the past few years, as plantings in Marin County, technically an extension of the Sonoma Coast AVA, have expanded and diversified.


Just as the savory game charcuterie from Mark Pasternak’s Devils Gulch Ranch
has evolved from rabbit sausage and venison shanks to include an array
of farm-bred patés, so too has the selection of wines grown in this
semi-rural county grown beyond the monopoly of cold climate Pinot Noir
to include a broad array of plantings. Famed for its olive oils, McEvoy Ranch in the Marin portion of Petaluma debuted its first wine foray here, the 2010 Evening Standard Estate Pinot Noir, a tribute to owner
Nan McEvoy’s newspaper legacy. But this wine was merely a portent of
things to come, as 25 acres of this special preserve have been planted
to Pinot Noir, Syrah, Montepulciano, Refosco, Alicante Bouschet,
Grenache, and Viognier.


I often stumble upon wineries through Internet searches and articles I read, then try to connect with them for Sostevinobile. One such venture with which I had corresponded over the past several years but never had the chance to taste is Department C Wines, a Pinot-focused label that had originated in San Francisco. Their first Marin release, the 2011 Chileno Valley Vineyard Pinot Noir, finally afforded me the opportunity to meet Ian Bunje and acquaint myself with his œnological prowess.


As it evolves in its own right as a sub-AVA, Marin will mold an identity, one that is not so restrictive that it creates a de facto orthodoxy. In this vein, Pacheco Ranch had first broken through the Pinot Noir stranglehold with its dry-farmed Cabernet, here represented by both the 2006 Reserve Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2006 & 2007 vintages of the Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon. Pushing even further, newcomer West Wind Wines showcased their Nicasio-grown 2006 Cabernet Franc and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. Add to this array the return of Pey-Marin’s 2012 The Shell Mound Riesling and Kendric’s introduction of their 2012 Marin Viognier, and behold the seeds of a varied and distinct AVA being sown.


There are still parts of San Francisco to which realtors fancifully ascribe—or worse, deceptive concoct—a nomenclature to feign the appearance of a desirable locale. A few years ago, restored stucco houses in the Presidio, along the edge of the Outer Richmond, were designated Wyman Avenue Cottages and wishfully described as “lakeside properties.” True, the sludge-filled pond known as Mountain Lake lies but a mere 50 yards away, but in between lies Veterans Boulevard, an impassable four-lane thoroughfare to the Golden Gate Bridge. Try to imagine these residents dashing out the front door for an early morning swim before heading off to work!


The
pundits of real estate commerce have yet to devise a sobriquet for the
triangular wedge that lies between the gradually gentrified Dogpatch, a
strip of abandoned factories and obsolete shipyards along Third Street and its Muni rail line (and home to both August West Wines and Crushpad’s renaissance, Dogpatch Wineworks) and the still-foreboding enclaves of Bayview, Hunter’s Point, and India Basin. Here, in the heart of this terra incognita, the peripatetic Bryan Harrington has settled on a home for his Harrington label.


I’ve known Bryan for more than a decade, ever since his then Berkeley-based operations donated to the annual fundraiser my playwrights’ workshop, Play Café, produces. Bryan’s migration westward parallels an ascendancy in his wine making, both in terms of quality and in breadth; his forte in Pinot Noir has gradually been augmented with an impressive lineup of Italian varietals, including his off-dry 2012 Muscat Canelli Fratelli Vineyard. I was duly impressed with his 2010 Nebbiolo Paso Robles, but most striking had to be his bottling of three different interpretations of Fiano. First up was his striking 2012 Fiano Fratelli Vineyard from the Santa Clara Valley, an emerging niche for Italian varietals. Sourced from the same vineyard in Paso Robles, the 2011 Terrane Fiano, a sulfite-free expression, contrasted quite favorably with the 2012 Fiano Luna Matta Vineyard, an organic vintage.


I made the intrepid trek on my since-purloined Trek 1.2 to Harrington’s Spring Open House in the ramshackle warehouse he shares with an industrial designer and was rewarded for my efforts not only with the aforementioned wines but an exceptionally generous selection of local cheeses and salumi. But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this semi-annual gathering was the portent of things to come,
with barrel selections from his 2012 Négrette, Trousseau, Teroldego,
Charbono, Lagrein, and Carignane. Quite the evolution from the
specialized Pinot producer I first met, and certainly one that appeals
to the esoteric predilections of Sostevinobile! I am certainly looking forward to sampling the bottled versions of these varietals in 2014.



A lot of people are surprised to learn that, beneath my hirsute (beard, ponytail) exterior, lies a discernable discomfort with, if not dread of, San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. Back when I returned to San Francisco with my freshly-minted Master’s in Creative Writing, I financed my literary aspirations with a series of bartending gigs, more often than not in the less desirable establishments, where customers invariably tipped with unwashed coins, not crisp dollar bills.


One of the most despicable employers I had to endure ran a tawdry, mildew-laden saloon that feigned a veneer of sophistication with nomenclature bearing trite homage to Greek mythology. One evening, the pusillanimous dweeb who owned this dive inexplicably launched a tirade of racially-laden epithets against a clandestinely-armed patron, who, upon being ejected from the bar, lurked outside at the corner of Haight & Clayton, intent on stabbing me as I headed out.


Fortunately, several of the more level-headed regulars diffused this situation before my shift ended, but what perturbed me most wasn’t so much the volatility of this situation as the
sudden realization that many other habitués of this downbeat district
could have spontaneously sprung into violence without provocation, as if still strung out on a rumored batch of bad LSD had pervaded the neighborhood some fifteen years before.


But what
of the hippies who fortuitously managed to drop the good batch of acid
back then? These folks, so the story goes, packed up and settled in
Fairfax, a quasi-gentrified enclave that straddles the edges of
yuppified Central and still-rustic West Marin. As in Humboldt County, wine in Fairfax now constitutes the second-most preferred social lubricant, and so it seemed most befitting that the annual Fairfax Ecofest sponsor an organic wine tasting tent this year.


Without even a semblance of a site map, I fumbled my way through booths hawking handcrafted flying pig mobiles, energy gems, lobbyists for Palestinian solidarity, artisan ceramic and jewelry makers, tripped over innumerable loose dogs and unleashed children, nearly fell into the brook, but eventually wound my way up the hill, through the Fairfax Pavillion, and onto the hilltop tent perched above the Ball Field of FUN. There I sampled through an admittedly smaller than advertised selection of mostly familiar stalwarts of organic winemaking like Medlock Ames, Terra Sávia, Ceàgo, Scenic Root’s Spicerack, and Chacewater.


Of course, I found it most heartening to sample through an array of organic Sangiovese and Tuscan blends from old friends at Frey, Petroni, Barra’s Girasole, and Lou Bock’s Chance Creek, but the serendipity of the afternoon came from Fairfax’ own Maysie Cellars, a boutique operation that poured its 2012 Rosato and the 2010 Sangiovese Masút, one of three different Sangio/Tuscan bottlings they offer. 


Also of note, an outstanding 2010 Velocity, the flagship Malbec from Velocity Cellars in Ashland, Oregon, which also is known the home of California’s leading Shakespeare festival—at least it is in Fairfax, where altered perceptions of geography remain kind of de rigeur!


One could argue that Washington was the first state to have an AVA highlighted in a hit song—Alvin and the Chipmunks’ 1958 chart topper, My Friend the Witch Doctor (oo-ee-oo-aah-aah, ting-tang, Walla Walla bing-bang). I prefer to believe this distinction belongs to California, Sir Douglas Quintet’s Top 100 hit in 1969, Mendocino. At least, that was how my initial introduction to this rising star on the viticultural landscape came about.


Now in its fifth incarnation, after devolving from The Golden Glass (sadly, an event now in search of itself), Taste of Mendocino revamped its format from last year’s extravaganza at Terra; the dissolution of the Mendocino Winegrape & Wine Commission gave rise to the newly-formed Mendocino WineGrowers, which offered a scaled-down event at the Presidio’s Golden Gate Club.


Even
though wine was the central focus of this event, the panoply of
Mendocino’s offerings in the gustatory realm was amply displayed here.
Culinary exhibitors like Assaggiare Mendocino, Kemmy’s Pies, Eat Mendocino, Pennyroyal Farm, Mendocino Organics, and Ocean Harvest Sea Vegetable
served up exceptional tidbits that included savory panini sandwiches,
slices of homemade fruit pies, several cheese selections, and an
assortment of delectable dried seaweed snacks


And of course, there was the wine. Over the years, I have tasted numerous wines from Alder Springs Vineyard, but can’t recall any from under his own label. Given owner R. Stuart Bewley’s beverage
pedigree, it would be all too tempting to quip how these four wines
were far better than California Coolers; then again, they were far better than many, many wines I have tried over the years I have been building the wine program for Sostevinobile. I was well impressed by both of the white selections on hand, the 2011 Row Five Viognier-Marsanne and the 2010 Estate Chardonnay, while the 2011 Estate Syrah easily proved their equal. The standout, however, was a claret-style wine deftly blending Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot, the sumptuous 2009 13 Tasks
. Tempting, of course, to describe this wine as Herculean, but that would leave it a task short.


The
beauty of the wine program I am designing comes from the breadth I
allowed for creativity, particularly in designing categories for the 16
three-wine flights that will form the core of our menu every week. With
such an expansive latitude, I needn’t restrict myself only to varietal
groupings, featured AVAs, focus on a particular winemaker, etc., and can
create truly esoteric groupings, like Euphonic Wineries (Harmony Wynelands, Harmonique and Harmony Cellars),
Wines of the NFL or Ivy League Winemakers or something else that
strikes my fancy. Shortly after Marc Mondavi released his own Divining Rod label, I learned about Van Williamson’s Witching Stick Wines, here ably represented by their 2010 Fashauer Zinfandel. Now all I need is a third label predicated on dowsing and I’ll have my category!


On the other hand, I will never be able to bring myself to have a flight based on pet-themed labels. Or really bad proselytizing puns, like Same Sex Meritage. But Testa Vineyards
could earn an entire flight for themselves, were they take up my
suggestion that they give their wines Italian colloquial names. Such as Testa Dura, something my paternal grandfather used to call me in moments of exasperation (other terms, in his native dialetto napoletano, comprise an orthography far too mangled for me to attempt). Nonetheless, with wines like the 2010 Simply Black Tré, a striking blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane, and Petite Sirah, and the compelling 2010 Simply Charbono, my suggestions were likely superfluous.




It
should be noted that regional dialects are not merely the province of
former Italian city-states. Up in Mendocino, the natives of Boonville
concocted Boontling, their own derivation on English peppered with numerous derivations from Scottish Gaelic, Irish, Pomoan and Spanish, along with unique local coinages. Frati Horn, the Boontling term for “glass of wine,” produced limited releases of the 2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir and its more complex successor, the just-released 2011 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. Apparently, this esoteric dialect is facing the possibility of extinction, with only 12 fluent speakers remaining, but even an outsider can understand that these wines make for bahl hornin’!






Familiar faces populated the rest of the tables at the Golden Gate Club this afternoon. Standout wines included a surprisingly subtle 2009 Merlot from Albertina, along with their 2009 Cabernet Franc and textured 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Reserve. Bink Wines proved just as formidable with their 2009 Merlot Hawkes Butte Vineyard, while Phillip Baxter excelled with both his 2009 Pinot Noir and 2009 Syrah Valente Vineyard.


As has been almost a rule of thumb, the pourings of 2010 Pinot Noir from Claudia Springs and from Greenwood Ridge proved outstanding, as did the latter’s perennial favorite 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, a masterful organic expression. Elke Vineyards also shone with their 2010 Pinot Noir Donnelly Creek Pinot Noir, while the aforementioned Harmonique dazzled with both the 2007 Pinot Noir The Noble One and the 2008 Chardonnay Un-Oaked,


Normally, I’d be quite skeptical of any self-canonized winemaker, but
Gregory Graziano has certainly committed himself to the promulgation of
Italian varietals in California as devoutly as any evangelical,
particularly with his Monte Volpe and Enotria labels. Under the latter auspices, his 2009 Dolcetto proved a delightfully unexpected discovery. Biodynamic adherents Jeriko Estate contrasted a compelling 2011 Pinot Noir Pommard Clone with a vastly impressive 2010 Sangiovese.


The
2011 vintage seems to be erratic for Pinot Noir, though not without
splendid bottlings throughout both California and Oregon’s
Burgundian-focused AVAs; on the other hand, 2010 continues to show
uniformly excellent, as also evidenced here by both Lula Cellars
2010 Mendocino Coast Pinot Noir and Navarro’s 2010 Pinot Noir Méthode à l’Ancienne.


Rounding out my most notable list for the afternoon, Meyer Cellars impressed with their Meyer 2009 Syrah High Ground, while my longtime friend Fred Buonanno displayed his usual aplomb with both the 2009 Pinot Noir Marguerite Vineyard and the 2012 Gewürztraminer Ferrington Vineyard from his meticulously sustainable Philo Ridge.


I
am not meaning to give short-shrift to the other wineries pouring here
and covered numerous times in this column. At the risk of sounding
trite, the whole event this day was greater than the sum of its parts,
and, in many ways, Taste of Mendocino proved an ideal
tasting, with the right balance of wine and food, and just the right
number of participating producers that one could both enjoy each of the
wines without the sense of being rushed or scrambling to cover as much
as possible.



Ordinarily, wine serves as a complement to food, an equal partner in gustatory pairings. At the 6th Annual Vinify Get a Taste tasting in Santa Rosa, the culinary indulgence of Vinoteca co-owner
Hillary Lattanzio came close overwhelming the collective vinifications
of 14 boutique winemakers. Trays upon trays of hand-pressed
meatballs—three varieties in three different sauces—lured attendees from
the different wine stations set up along this cozy custom crush
facility parked inside the same Santa Rosa industrial complex that
houses Carol Shelton and Salinia.


Along with anchor winery Lattanzio, well-known produces like Olson Ogden, Sojourn, Couloir, and Calluna poured alongside Baker Lane, Argot, Bjørnstad, Desmond, and Frostwatch. Boutique producers included pulchritudinous Pfendler, co-tenant Super Sonoman, and Syrah virtuoso Westerhold. Having cited these labels in numerous Sostevinobile posts, I was nonetheless pleased to discover Randal Bennett’s Townley Wines pouring their 2010 Chardonnay Alder Springs Vineyard, the almost foolproof 2010 Pinot Noir La Encantada Vineyard, and a curiously-named 2008 The Shizzle Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. 
Other revelations here came from microproducer Cowan Cellars2012 Sauvignon Blanc Lake County2012 Rosé North Coast2010 Isa, and 2010 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, while Couloir’s alter ego, Straight Line Wines impressed with a trio of wines: the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, 2011 Syrah, and, most welcome, 2011 Tempranillo.


Over the past few years, T.A.P.A.S.
has proven the most peripatetic of the major tastings, changing venues
with almost each iteration until settling this year, as have many
others, at the Golden Gate Club. One of the cornerstones of this event
has always been its gargantuan paella dish, this Spanish culinary
staple being the perfect complement to Tempranillo. Whether it were a
matter of funding or the challenges of the Presidio setting, I cannot
attest, but its absence this year sorely impacted the overall tasting. 

Nonetheless,
the smaller venue paired nicely with the intimate collection of
wineries for the sixth staging of the Grand Tasting. The forty wineries
on hand included a number of new participants (at least, new for Sostevinobile, as commitments to a synchronous event in St. Helena precluded my attending), a list that began with Egan Cellars, a boutique operation that impressed with its
2011 Albariño Terra Alta Vineyard and 2011 Tempranillo Liberty Oaks Vineyard (along with an anomalous 2012 Vermentino Las Lomas Vineyard they graciously poured).

From Paso Robles, the delightfully-named Pasoport focuses on fortified wines whose sanctioned nomenclature, fortunately, was grandfathered in before the U.S. /EU Wine Agreement on Certificates of Label Approval took effect, as well as other Portuguese-style blends and varietals. Starting with their 2011 Vinho Blanco Edna Valley, a light, competent Albariño that prefaced their 2008 Vinho Tinto, a deft blend of 30%
Tempranillo, 25% Touriga, 23% Tinta Cão, and 22% Souzão. Beyond these
still wines, their port offerings took center stage: the 2008 PasoPort Brandi Touriga Nacional and the utterly superb 2007 Violeta, an intense marriage of 53% Touriga, 28% Souzão, and 19% Tinta Cão.

The US/EU Wine Agreement covers a number of Spanish regional designations, but not the labeling within. As such, Dubost Ranch can call its red blend—40% Tempranillo, 40% Syrah, 20% Garnacha—a 2009 Crianza (though
Syrah is not a designated varietal of the Rioja DOCa, this wine does
conform to the aging prerequisites of Crianza classification).
Similarly, the 2009 Reserva Starr Ranch, a co-fermented blend of 30% Tempranillo and 70% Syrah, aged in barrels for three years before bottling, as Rioja requires.

After selling off their vast R. H. Philips
operations, Lane and John Giguiere remained in Yolo County and opened
their Crew Wine company, a multi-label holding company that includes Matchbook in Zamora, CA. Their Iberian offerings include the 2009 Tempranillo Dunnigan Hills, the crisp 2012 Rosé of Tempranillo Dunnigan Hills, and a 2009 Tinto Rey, a crossover blend of 40% Tempranillo, 33% Syrah, 19% Graciano, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 4% Tannat. From Sonora, Inner Sanctum Cellars featured a more traditional blend, the intriguing 2010 Torro, a mélange of 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano.

Though
distinctly California town, Sonora and Zamora sound as if they belong
in Arizona. Each year, T.A.P.A.S includes a growing contingent of
wineries from the Sonoita AVA and the Verde Valley; as the quality of
these wines incrementally improves, it becomes more and more compelling
to expand the scope of Sostevinobile’s wine program (though technically not part of the West Coast, these vineyards do fall within the 750-mile radius from San Francisco).Highlights from the Cactus State included a competent 2012 Tempranillo from Javelina Leap, Dos Cabezas three-headed blend of Tempranillo, Monastrell, and Garnacha, the 2010 Aguileon Cochise County, and longtime participant Callaghan Vineyards, returning here with their 2009 Claire’s Sonoita, a blend of 55% Monastrell and 45% Garnacha.

One of the state’s highest profile winery, Caduceus Cellars, stems from the pioneering vision of Maynard James Keenan, lead singer of Tool. At T.A.P.A.S., his 2010 Sancha artfully blended Tempranillo with 8% Garnacha. Meanwhile, sister winery Arizona Stronghold poured their 2010 Site Archive Mourvèdre, aka Monastrell, as well as the 2011 Site Archive Malvasia Mid-Block, a varietal whose Spanish name eludes me.

In 2013, Arizona Stronghold brought a number of new varietals into production, including their Cabernet Pfeffer. Kenneth Volk,
which sources Cabernet Pfeffer from California’s only known plantings,
broadly impressed here with their wide selection of Iberian varietals,
most notably the 2010 Verdelho, Paso Robles, a striking 2009 Grenache San Benito Vineyard, and the redoubtable 2008 Tempranillo San Benito (though technically not part of the official T.A.P.A.S. roster, both the outstanding 2010 Tannat Bella Collina Vineyards and 2007 Cabernet Franc Paso Robles underscored Volk’s legendary viticultural prowess).

As
with Primitivo and Zinfandel, or Charbono and Dolcetto, there continues
to be considerable debate on whether Cabernet Pfeffer and Gros Verdot
are distinct varietals or simply different nomenclature for the same
grape (Sostevinobile is wont to believe they are not).
Nonetheless, let me move onto Petit Verdot, another grape that is
normally foreign to the Iberian lexicon; here, this ancillary Bordelaise
varietal comprised a third of the trilogy that comprised Starr Ranch’s 2010 Orion, in what has previously constituted a Tempranillo-Garnacha-Monastrell blend. Starr Ranch also served up an amiable 2011 Tempranillo Paso Robles and an exquisite 2011 Estate Grenache.

The rest of the tasting featured wineries that have sustained this event since its inception. Berryessa Gap, which hales from the rather isolated confines of Winters, showcased their 2009 Rocky Ridge Tempranillo. Bodegas Paso Robles stunned with their 2008 Pimenteiro, a 2:1 blend of Bastardo and Tempranillo and a delightful 2010 Monastrell.

I do wish Baiocchi
specialized in Italian varietals, but nonetheless they excelled here
with a trio of outstanding Grenache-focused wines, starting with the 2011 Gminor,
a mixto of 44% Garnacha with 32% Syrah and 24% Tempranillo. The
equally-splendid 2010 Orellana featured Tempranillo and Garnacha in a
3:2 blend, while the 2012 Neophyte Rosé (100% Garnacha) proved utterly stellar. Other Garnacha standouts were Turkovich’s 2011 Grenache California, Twisted Oak’s 2009 Torcido Calaveras County, and Core’s 2008 Grenache Reserve Santa Barbara County.

Of course, Tempranillo ruled the roost here, with veterans like Clayhouse, with their 2010 Casa de Arcilla Tempranillo and Verdad’s 2010 Tempranillo Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard. Berryessa Gap in Winters offered a scintillating 2009 Rocky Ridge Tempranillo, as did Sutter Creek’s Yorba with their 2009 Tempranillo Amador County, while from Oregon’s Rogue Valley, Folin Cellars weighed in with their sumptuous 2007 Estate Reserve Tempranillo.

Oregon’s other representative here, founding T.A.P.A.S. member Abacela, brought their perennial favorite, the 2009 Port, a blend of 46% Tempranillo, 19% Tinta Amarela, 18% Bastardo, 11% Tinta Cão, and 6% Touriga Naçional that even an abecedarian could cotton to! Closer to home, Lake County’s Six Sigma showcased their 2010 Diamond Mine Cuvée, an atypical blend of 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Tempranillo, and 8% Syrah, while Lodi’s venerable Riaza intrigued with their NV Viña Selecta, a “sort-of-proprietary red blend” consisting of 80% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, 5% Graciano, and 5% ???

Lodi’s other mainstays here, Bokisch proved across-the-board excellent, with this year’s standouts coming from the 2012 Verdelho Borden Ranch, a striking 2010 Tempranillo Lodi, their 2010 Monastrell Clement Hills, and an always-dazzling 2010 Graciano Lodi. And in addition to their own excellent 2010 Tempranillo Lodi, Harney Lane yet again produced a dazzling 2012 Albariño Lodi.
Regrettably absent from this year’s Grand Tasting: Forlorn Hope, Berghold, and Silvaspoons, three wineries that have long impressed me here and on other occasions. But it would be absent of me not to cite attending wineries like St. Jorge which, in their stead, showcased a trio of esoteric varietals, including the 2009 Touriga Nacional Silvaspoons Vineyard, a sublime 2009 Souzão Silvaspoons Vineyard, and (to the best of my knowledge) California’s first 2010 Trincadeira Silvaspoons Vineyard. A final singular grape expression came from the 2011 Arinto San Antonio Valley, bottled (I had tried the barrel sample earlier this year) by Lockwood’s Pierce Ranch, complemented perfectly by their 2011 Albariño San Antonio Valley.
Even though the San Antonio Valley AVA is in Monterey County, it reminds that the first T.A.P.A.S. Grand
Tasting featured a Texas winery, an absence I can’t say I totally
regret. But this event has thrived, in the past, not just by its wines
but through pairing and the totality of the Iberian tasting experience.
Certainly locating a venue that can accommodate the full panoply of the
event would bode well for the Seventh Grand Tasting next year.


The following week saw the return of a perennial megatasting Pinot Days
in its final Fort Mason appearance. Even if the exhibit halls were not
being shut down for a dramatic redesign, I suspect relocation of this
and numerous other wine events would have been desirable. Shrinking
attendance, as well as a notable diminution of participating wineries,
have reached a point where the Festival Pavilion has begun to feel
cavernous.
With
the desertion of the once-teeming crowd and numerous wineries, there
was also a notable absence of any kind of substantive food offering,
It’s not just that five hours of tasting requires a lot of stamina and a
continuous need to replenish. It’s primarily a safety measure to
provide attendees a modicum of something to nosh and keep from hammered
after visiting eight or so tables. But perhaps a new venue next year
will come with onsite catering.
Meanwhile, Sostevinobile was able to acquaint itself with a handful of new wineries and begin to gain a perspective on the 2011 vintage (and even a glimpse into 2012). First up was Santa Rosa’s Amelle Wines, a specialist in both Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, with a refined 2010 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and a stellar 2010 La Cruz Pinot Noir. As would be pattern, the 2011 Amelle Pinot Noir Pratt Vineyard, while quite amiable, did not prove the equal to the preceding vintage. Showcasing their first commercial bottling, Apogee served up an equally appealing 2010 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, a 130 case effort.
With Siduri’s Adam Lee as their winemaker, Healdsburg’s Bucher offered a tepid rendition of the 2011 Pinot Noir but surprised with a sneak pouring of their strikingly rounded 2012 Chardonnay. Chris Donatiello is another veteran winemaker, and while his C. Donatiello label isn’t new or unfamiliar, it does represent a sort of resurrection since his schism with Hambrecht Wine Group. Here his 2010 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley proved an exceptional wine, while, as with others, the 2011 Pinot Noir Tina Marie Vineyard and the 2011 Pinot Noir Block 15 seemed a slight notch below, although both were excellent bottlings. In his stead, VML Winery has taken over the Healdsburg facility (where , in its Belvedere incarnation, I had contracted my first bottling in 1990) and here showcased winemaker Virginia Lambrix’ deft approach, first with her superb 2011 Earth Pinot Noir, a blend of assorted vineyards and clones from the Russian River Valley, followed by one of the afternoon’s standout, the 2011 Floodgate Vineyard Pinot Noir. Also not to be missed: the 2012 Rosé of Pinot.
Pence Ranch
lists it address as Pacific Palisades, which would be one of the most
ætherial places to own a winery, but, alas, its grapes and production
all come from Santa Barbara. No disappointment whatsoever, however, in
the quality of their wines, with a trio of superlative offerings:
the 2010 Estate Pinot Noir, the 2010 Uplands Pinot Noir, and most significantly, the utterly delectable 2010 Westslope Pinot Noir. Such wines can only make one interpolate how their sold out 2010 Swan Pinot Noir might have tasted.
In other years, I have chided Tondrē for failing to show at their designated table at a number of events. And with wines like their 2010 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands,
I will excoriate them if they ever fail to show again! I’ve also had a
number of occasions to savor Hall Wines, but previously not had the
opportunity to taste through their adjunct WALT Wines. In keeping with her Cabernet forte, the Pinots here proved just as first-rate: the 2011 Blue Jay Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley and the exceptional 2011 Rita’s Crown Pinot Noir from the Sta. Rita Hills.
A new and interesting participant this year was Healdsburg’s Ousterhout,
a Zinfandel-focused winery that sounds like Pinotage producer, but only
vints rosés from its Pinot Noir grapes. Here their two offerings stood
in marked contrast to most producers, with the 2012 Dellinger Vineyard Pinot Noir Rosé decidedly preferable to the 2012 Wood’s Vineyard Pinot Noir Rosé. Also pouring a rosé, fellow newcomer Reuling Vineyard juxtaposed their 2012 Rosé of Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast with an equally-appealing 2011 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast.
The last word at this tasting came from Oregon’s Z’IVO Wines, showcasing a retrospective of their 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills and their current 2009 Eola-Amity Hills Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. Judging by the previews of the 2012 vintage I sampled here or elsewhere, Pinot Days 2014
portends to be a revelatory, if not highly enjoyable tasting, wherever
it is eventually held. As long as the promoters don’t further scrimp on
the sustenance.


The day prior to the Pinot tasting proved to be a
whirlwind, starting with this century’s equivalent of feeling naked in
public, namely arriving at an event, only to realize I’d left my iPhone
at home, and ending amid the
row of tasting rooms in Saratoga’s quaint downtown.
The calamity of the forgotten phone meant I could only shoehorn in a
15-minute survey through the vastly pared-down Golden Glass tasting at
the revived Metreon Center, yet even this brief interlude revealed that
this once-monumental event had dwindled to a mere vestige of its
previous glory.

Collecting myself and my cell phone, I quickly headed down the Peninsula for the Farm to Grill celebration Ridge
extends to its members. But before embarking on the long trek up Monte
Bello Road, I detoured to the Campbell Community Center for the
inaugural Silicon Valley’s Wine Escape, sponsored by the nascent Wineries of the Santa Clara Valley
trade alliance. Despite its long viticultural significance—at the time
of statehood, Santa Clara counted more vineyard acreage than any other
county in California—the Santa Clara Valley AVA has long been
underrepresented among the prime viticultural settings in the Bay Area.
On this afternoon, there was an obvious overlap with the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrower Association, with several attendees also frequent pourers at these older trade events.
These wineries also tended to be more seasoned than their less familiar colleagues, yet there were plenty of intriguing discoveries. From Gilroy, Fortino featured a rather impressive 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon alongside their equally-appealing 2008 Charbono from their San Martin plantings. And demonstrating their command of œnological sciences (as opposed to Scientology), Thomas Kruse Winery showcased their 2011 Chardonnay and 2010 Merlot.
Two
other Gilroy wineries further highlighted the versatility of the AVA,
with the multichrome Satori Cellars ably marrying 49% Cabernet
Sauvignon, 36% Syrah and 15% Merlot to produce their 2010 JoyoUS Estate Reserve. Tucked into Hecker Pass, Solis Winery flourished here with a diverse trio of wines: a highly competent 2008 Estate Syrah, a wondrous 2012 Reserve Fiano, and an unspecfied Bordeaux blend, the 2009 Cara Mia.
Two
other Gilroy wineries further highlighted the versatility of the AVA,
with the multichrome Satori Cellars ably marrying 49% Cabernet
Sauvignon, 36% Syrah and 15% Merlot to produce their 2010 JoyoUS Estate Reserve. Tucked into Hecker Pass, Solis Winery flourished here with a diverse trio of wines: a highly competent 2008 Estate Syrah, a wondrous 2012 Reserve Fiano, and an unspecified Bordeaux blend, the 2009 Cara Mia.
Most of the wineries here heralded from the garlic capital of the world, Gilroy. Kirigin Cellars has the added distinction of being the only winery in North America that also sports a regulation cricket pitch and field. Neither batsmen nor Commonwealth loyalists were on hand here, as the winery featured a decidedly Italian 2012 Malvasia Bianca, alongside their 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon and a passable 2011 Petite Sirah (I will refrain from commenting on their saccharine, signature Vino de Moca). Another of Gilroy’s Hecker Pass denizens, Sarah’s Vineyard, excelled with their Rhône focused 2010 Côte de Madone Blanc, a Roussanne-focused vintage rounded out with 25% Marsanne, 15% Viognier, and 10% Grenache Blanc and their 2009 Côte de Madone, a GMS blend with Carignane and Counoise, as well.
Just after Christmas, in 1988, I was actually snowed out of a meeting in San Martin as I sought a custom facility to bottle my George Herbert Walker Blush—A Kinder, Gentler Wine; no worries about precipitation on this scorching afternoon as I sampled the 2008 Estate Melody, a Meritage of 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Cabernet Franc, 17% Petit Verdot, 14% Malbec, and 4% Merlot from San Martin’s Creekview. Morgan Hill’s Sycamore Creek also specialized in Bordeaux varietals, with an appealing 2010 Malbec and a well-rounded 2009 Merlot
As I had sampled a number of Jason-Stephens wines only a few days before, I elected here only to try their superb 2010 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Likewise, the constraints of a breakneck schedule meant bypassing such familiars as Aver Family, Clos LaChance, Cooper-Garrod, and the ubiquitous J. Lohr. I could not, however, fail to taste the exquisite Martin Ranch’s 2009 Thérèse Vineyards 2009 Sangiovese nor Guglielmo’s utterly compelling 2009 Private Reserve Barbera, despite my usual trepidation after being informed it had won Best in Region at the 2013 California State Fair Wine Competition.
I did like the 2011 Colombard from Lightheart Cellars but was a bit less sanguine about their 2012 Let There Be White, a wine described only as “a fun white blend.” The other wineries on hand—Casa De Fruta, Ross Vineyards, Rapazzini, Morgan Hill Cellars, and Sunlit Oaks—fared
even more poorly, I fear, including a pair of Moscato bottlings I found
utterly clawing. Perhaps, however, these wines were the inspiration for
the box of Fruit Loop-encrusted doughnuts (!) decorating the food table in the center of the Community Center!
With
150 years of viticultural history, the Santa Clara Valley may not
qualify as an emerging wine region, but as a trade associate, it is
still quite inchoate. As such, their events will combine a mixture of
veteran savvy and naïve charm, as the Silicon Valley Wine Escape
showed. The setting felt more like a church bake sale than a slick wine
tasting, with a genial crowd and some of Silicon Valley’s better
gastronomic ventures interspersed throughout this meeting hall. Some
wineries were quite established, others still jejune, but that is to be
expected at this stage, and all held promise for the future. And with a
center bar of tables featuring a surfeit of homemade entrées and
desserts (including the aforementioned doughnuts), they certainly upped the ante for outright hospitality to which some long-established tastings might want to pay heed!

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.