Category Archives: Chenin Blanc

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?

Housekeeping

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

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


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


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


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


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



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

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

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


Oracle World Headquarters

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

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

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

Quattro…cinque…sei…sette…otto…

4) Spring Mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5) St. Helena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6) Rutherford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7) Oakville

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

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

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

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

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

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

8) Stags Leap

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

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

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

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

Vinolivo 1-2-3

Long before embarking on this interminable journey known as Sostevinobile, Your West Coast Oenophile attended one of New England’s most prestigious boarding schools. Founded by the widow of the man who invented the revolving canon that the U.S. Cavalry deployed at the Wounded Knee and other massacres of Native American tribes in the late 19th Century, Hotchkiss thrived in the 20th Century largely on the largesse of Philip Morris and R. J. Reynolds, conglomerates that systematically ravaged the populace in general.

During my years of sequestration in Lakeville, a fellow students was Sebastopol winery Baker Lane’s Stephen Singer. I can’t say I knew Steve well back in those days, though I suspect he would not mind my characterizing him as one of the more disaffected attendees of this august institute. When we did reconnect—over wine, of course—in the earliest days of developing Sostevinobile’s wine program, I discovered he was the same Steve Singer who had been married to Alice Waters during the early days of Chez Panisse. All have been much chronicled over the years: Alice and her æsthetics, the restaurant and its influence on contemporary cuisine, the travails of this marriage, even the rarefied upbringing of their daughter.

I’ve never met Fanny Singer, now a doctoral candidate at Cambridge, but the articles I’ve read make me wonder how gastronomically-focused her upbringing may have been. Was she told babies came from the arugula patch? Did her third grade science project consist of creating a composting bin with live earthworms (as opposed to building the more familiar ant farm)? Did she play normal childhood games, like Ringolevio, or adapt it to something more germane, like…Vinolivo?

Recently, I attended Vinolivo ‘11, a “Gala Celebration for the Senses” held in conjunction with the Annual Sonoma Valley Olive Season. This fundraiser and tasting seemed a perfect venue for Baker Lane to participate, but, as it turned out, they were not among the 48 wineries pouring here this evening, nor was their affiliated restaurant Pizzavino 707 among the nearly two dozen food purveyors. No matter, I had plenty to discover and to occupy me in the thick of the rain-sheltered tent at The Lodge at Sonoma.

Before entering the main arena, though, guests were fêted with two Specialty Tasting Bars, featuring Sparkling Wine food pairings. The first seemed downright Parisian, matching a Carneros Bistro’s duet of Pommes Frites (potato, sweet potato) with the 2006 Blanc de Blancs and the non-vintage Va de Vi Sparkling Wines from Gloria Ferrer. Across the foyer, the Meyer Lemon Roasted Salmon on White Bean Crostini from the chiastic Olive & Vine needed no complement; still both the 2000 Brut de Noirs from Robert Hunter and the 2007 Rouge de Noirs Brut from Shug Carneros delightfully accentuated this utterly addicting canapé.

Moving onto the main event, I strolled into the tightly-packed reception and endeavored to sample as many of the wineries as I could fit into the time allotted, a considerable challenge given the surprising number of attendees who had braved the evening’s torrent, not to mention the enticing aromas emanating from gourmet food stations interspersed among the wine purveyors. Given the numerous trips I had made to Sonoma over the past year, only a handful of the vintners here remained unfamiliar to me. The first, Clarbec, seemed a curious portmanteau, which I could not identify until meeting owners Clarence and Becky Jenkins. These founders of Madrone Vineyard Management have planted vines in Glen Ellen, from where they sourced the grapes for their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Glen Oaks Ranch, as well as produce their 2009 Pinot Gris Clarbec Vineyard and an excellent 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Clarbec Vineyard in the Sonoma Valley AVA.

Also from Glen Ellen, Eric Ross treated this evening’s guests to a quartet of his wines, starting with an elegant 2009 Marsanne-Roussanne Russian River. I tend to find 2009 Pinots still too underripe, and the 2009 Pinot Noir Russian River poured here seemed no exception. I’ll resist any temptation to describe his two tasty, Chanticleer-adorned blends, the 2009 Struttin’ White (“Albariño with a kiss of Orange Muscat”) and 2009 Struttin’ Red (Tempranillo, Garnacha), as “cocky”—that’s a bad pun I’ll reserve for Gallo, when a propitious occasion arises.

I was surprised that Keating had not participated in previous Rockpile tastings I’ve attended. No matter, their wines this evening made quite a solid impression. Although the 2008 Beckstoffer Georges III Cabernet Sauvignon seemed still too young. their inaugural 2009 Dry Creek Buchignani Zinfandel struck me as ripe and well-balanced. Their best offering, the 2007 Rockpile Malbec, begged the question why more Bordeaux-focused wineries don’t bottle this robust varietal.

I had not previously encountered MacLeod, a quaint family vineyard out of Kenwood. This boutique winery comported themselves quite admirably with their 2007 Merlot, 2008 Zinfandel, and 2009 Sauvignon, all estate grown. For years, I had always seen Roche perched on the hillside across from Infineon Raceway, a veritable beacon demarcating the entrance to Sonoma Valley. Suddenly, however, the quaint barn house disappeared, only to be resurrected as contemporary edifice belonging to Ram’s Gate Winery, while Roche’s tasting and hospitality operations relocated to Sonoma Square. Rather than trying to comprehend this mystery, I opted simply to try Roche’s wines, contrasting their oaked 2009 Estate Chardonnay to the more appealing 2009 Stainless Steel Estate Chardonnay. Following this comparison, I delighted in sampling their exemplary 2008 Pinot Noir Los Carneros, a wine that typified both the vintage and the AVA.

With new business concluded, I could now focus on revisiting the numerous other wineries I had previously engaged over the past two years, despite weaving through the crush of attendees and the constant urge to nosh on the some of the finest cuisine Sonoma could offer. When I toured the wine country a couple of years back with the delightfully eccentric Lucy Townsend, we were fêted at a private lunch reception and reserve tasting at the St. Francis winery. Today, Executive Chef David Bush accompanied the dry 2009 Wild Oak Chardonnay with his Pork rillette and grilled beef Banh Mi, followed by a sumptuous 2007 Port vinted from fortified Zinfandel.
Lured by the seductive wafts of Zuppa di Farro, a Tuscan barley soup served up by tablemate Della Santina’s, I wandered over to try the wines from Audelssa. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve but the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon proved a remarkable wine. I also especially liked the 2008 Summit, a blend of 39 % Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21 % Cabernet Franc, 11% Malbec, and 3% Petit Verdot. Audelssa’s winemaker, Erich Bradley performs double-duty at acclaimed Pinot producer Sojourn Cellars. The effusive praise Robert Parker has heaped on this winery proved presaged this preview of Sojourn’s 2009 vintage: the 2009 Pinot Noir Rodgers Creek Vineyard, their 2009 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast and the superb 2009 Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard. Nearly as striking was the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mountain Terraces Vineyard.

Another winery whose Pinot Noirs I have long relished is Roessler. I delayed my gratification by first sampling their excellent 2008 Big Bend Estate Chardonnay, then regaled in the 2008 Hein Family Pinot Noir. Next up, Landmark Vineyards led with their intense 2007 Damaris Reserve Chardonnay, as well as the likable 2008 Overlook Chardonnay, before showcasing their 2008 Grand Detour Pinot Noir
Nearby, Robert Hunter’s main table featured their 2006 Pinot Noir Sonoma Valley, which preceded my final Pinot of the evening, the 2008 Pinot Noir Marina’s Vineyard from Bennett Valley Cellars, two splendid wines underscored by the constant patter of rain that thankfully (as opposed to last fall’s Pinot in the River debacle) remained outside the tasting tent.

It had been two years since I’d toured Bartholomew Park and the preserve that envelops the winery, so it was a pleasure to revisit their organic 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine just now attaining peak maturity. Bart Hansen’s Dane Cellars also poured an exquisite 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Valley, with its 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Jackknife Corner falling just a
tad behind. I was equally impressed with their 2007 Zinfandel Sonoma Valley, and wish they had included their 2009 Dry Chenin Blanc, a varietal not seen enough these days. Also scarce at this celebration, the only Sauvignon Blanc I managed to try was the 2009 Estate Sauvignon Blanc from Beltane Ranch, the sole focus of this Glen Ellen boutique.

From Hamel Family’s Tres Palmas Vineyard, the 2007 Pamelita proved a worthy successor to the inaugural release of this same Cabernet Sauvignon last year. I tend to think of Schug primarily as a Pinot producer, so sampling the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon at their main table proved a pleasant revelation. By contrast, Larson Family blended their Cabernet Sauvignon with Syrah and Zinfandel to make an accessible, non-vintage jug wine they simply called Sonoma Red.

Zinfandel proved a strong suit for Mayo Family Winery, with their 2007 Zinfandel Los Chamizal Vineyard; even more compelling, however, was the superb 2007 Merlot Laurent Vineyard. Hoffman Family Cellars brought out a noteworthy 2009 Zinfandel Sonoma County under their Headbanger label, as well as a blush they called the 2010 Rock ‘n Rosé of ZinfandelAnother pink wine as big as its name, the 2009 Vineyard Station Ranch Pinot Noir Saignée from Fichtenberg Vineyards struck me as quite enticing, though I wasn’t all that fond of their 2007 Syrah.

I would have expected to find more Zins at Vinolivo, but, in truth, the evening’s true star had to have been Syrah. Westwood Winery from Sonoma poured a delectable 2007 Syrah Annandale Estate. Westerhold Family Vineyards also excelled with their 2007 Estate Syrah Bennett Valley. Mulas Family showcased a truly compelling 2005 Syrah Alta Vista Vineyards, while my good friend Mike Muscardini debuted his 2008 Fortuna, a Syrah blended with 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 2.5% Cabernet Franc, and 2.5% Petit Verdot. And, much to my good fortune, he also poured his Grappa di Sangiovese, a personal favorite as well as a welcome contrast to the abundance of wines on hand.

I wished Italian varietal specialists Jacuzzi had brought their version of Sangiovese, but settled for their 2009 Tocai Friulano, a truly delicate expression of this varietal. I bypassed the 2008 Late Harvest Aleatico but did allow enough time to savor their Bordeaux-style bottling, the 2007 Valeriano. Jacuzzi’s next door neighbor, Viansa, pioneered the planting of quite a number of less-familiar Italian grapes, like Refosco, but now is gradually transitioning to a balance between CalItalia and the Bordelaise varietals. Their 2005 Thalia Sangiovese displayed a complexity I had not seen in it earlier releases, while the 2009 Arneis, like Jacuzzi’s Tocai, offered a clear alternative to the ubiquitous Pinot Grigio. Genial new owner Lloyd Davis’ hand was clearly evident in the 2005 Samuele Cabernet Franc, a harbinger of the direction he is driving this winery.

Another Sonoma trailblazer evolving under its new ownership has been Arrowood. Now that founder Richard Arrowood has redirected his full-time energies to Amapola Creek, the winery seems less defined, though his influence still remained in each of this evening’s selections. The 2006 Côte de Lune Rouge offered a standard GMS blend in near-equal proportions while the 2006 Côte de Lune Blanc favored the Roussanne and Marsanne over its Viognier component. Keeping up with Keating, Arrowood also poured their 2007 Malbec Sonoma Valley, a definitive, unblended expression of this varietal.

Several
of the wineries from Sonoma’s 8th Street East poured this evening,
giving me a chance to experience them outside their industrial park setting. Tin Barn Vineyards excelled with both their 2006 Syrah Coryelle Fields and the 2008 Zinfandel Gilsson Vineyard. Gilgamesh-themed Enkidu grows in my estimation each time I sample their wines; the 2008 Humbaba proved a giant of a Rhône blend, combining 65% Syrah with 35% Petite Sirah. Former tenant Ty Caton, a favorite of the Ginkgo Girl, now operates in Kenwood, with no detriment to his splendid 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Valley nor his Mayacamas Mountain Range Meritage, the 2009 Tytanium.
Another former 8th Street East denizen, John Sweazy’s Anaba, which has subsequently transplanted to Bonneau Road, focused on two amiable Rhône blends, the 2008 Coriol Red (38% Grenache, 27% Mourvèdre, 25% Petite Sirah, 10% Counoise) and the 2009 Coriol White (49% Roussanne, 27% Viognier, 15% Grenache Blanc, 9% Marsanne). More impressive, however, was his 2008 Sonoma Valley Red, a proprietary mélange of Zinfandel, Mourvèdre, and Syrah, as well as the cleverly-named Anaba Red Aero Port, a non-vintage bottling of Syrah picked at 30° Brix

I wrapped up the tasting with Richard Kasmier’s Kaz Winery, first sampling his 2007 Barbera and 2007 Sangiovese (atypically blended with 25% Cabernet Franc), before moving onto his Bodega Bay Portworks lineup. The excellent “almost Tawny” Red Port boasted a scant 3% residual sugar, while the sweeter White Port, a fortified Chardonnay with 9% sugar, had me humming the 4 Deuces doo-wop classic, WPLJ (though many may understandably prefer the Frank Zappa/Lowell George version popularized on Burnt Weeny Sandwich).

Speaking of songs, I actually had someone singing Sostevinobile at the tasting! I’m still polishing the libretto for Il Canto di Sostevinobile (sung to the famous tune from Rigoletto), but am always happy to explain the mnemonic significance to anyone. Several times this year, people at the various tastings I attend have come up to me and commended the thoroughness of the notes they observe me taking on each winery that I visit. Here, a fellow I remember only as Ivan queried why I was so immersed in this exacting exercise.
After explicating the whats and whys of my wine bar project, I took a final lap around Vinolivo’s tables to seek out and thank my hosts, while Ivan headed out to attend the afterparty across the parking lot. Finito, I heard the unmistakable strains of the Sostevinobile aria reverberating in Ivan’s sonorous baritone as I entered the vestibule leading to the coat check. Quite the validating sendoff to a most enjoyable event, to be sure!

Four for the road

Your West Coast Oenophile diligently tries not exhibit any favoritism in these entries toward any particular winery, and apart from affirming that Sostevinobile will never serve Asteri Mou at any of our premises, I make no declarations about the wines I will include. But, of course, anyone who knows me does know that, outside of my professional role, I have been inordinately fond of Ridge Vineyards since the 1980s and have filled my private collection with many of their wines.

Given this predilection, it surprised me to realize I had not visited Ridge’s Montebello facility for nearly two years until my stop earlier this month. Somehow, I managed to arrange a meeting at Stanford on the same Sunday as Michael Martella’s tasting in Woodside, so scheduling a trip up the mountain made for an ideal detour between my two appointments.

Plenty of wine writers extol the virtues of Ridge’s vineyard-designate Zins or their renowned Monte Bello, but I have long held the winery’s true forte lay with its periodic bottling of off-varietals like Carignane. Occasionally, one or more of Ridge’s vineyards will yield an excess of grapes they use primarily for blending, prompting the winemakers to vinify the remainder as a single varietal. Years ago, my introduction to Mataro came from such a bottling, and I am always on the lookout for the possibility that another vintage will be released.

Last year, a surplus of Viognier led Ridge to try its hand with this grape, and the results proved astounding. The flawless 2009 Lytton Estate Viognier represents the most alluring expression of this varietal I have yet to taste, beyond the  I bestow sparingly on utterly superb wines. To prove my tasting room sample wasn’t merely a fluke or the whim of my palate on this particular afternoon, I not only brought home a 375 ml bottle, I went out and sampled a glass of the 2009 Viognier Central Coast from Alban Vineyards, one of the few wineries that has produced a consistently great Viognier over the past decade. The Ridge surpassed even this exceptional wine. Some Viogniers can be flat, almost lifeless; other are made cloying sweet. Ridge’s bottling expressed the subtlety of a honeysuckle blossom, elegant and compelling at the same time. I could not have been more pleased.

Ridge’s forays into white wines have garnered considerable accolades in recent years for this red stronghold. Wine Spectator named the 2006 Monte Bello Chardonnay its #21 Wine of the Year, and the 2007 bottling the tasting room poured this afternoon may even be better. Other wines included in its Estate Single-Vineyard Flight included the 2008 Geyserville Zinfandel (72% Zinfandel, 20% Carignane, 6% Petite Sirah, 2% Mataro), the equal blend of the 2006 Syrah/Grenache Lytton Springs and the 2007 Monte Bello Estate Cabernet/Merlot (58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot).

The real treat, though, was a sip (or two) (or three) of the 2007 Monte Bello, an exceptional assemblage with 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 9% Petite Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Franc. Part of the reason I so enjoy visiting Ridge’s Cupertino facility is its perch some 2500′ above Silicon Valley, reducing the drab, box-like factories and insular hi-tech campuses to postage stamp size; amid the afternoon cloudburst, the vistas from atop Black Mountain were totally obfuscated and yet sipping on this phenomenal Meritage, I still managed to feel above it all.


The drive down Monte Bello Road becomes particularly hazardous in these conditions, yet I managed to navigate the hairpin turns without incident. Finding my way back to I-280 wasn’t an issue, nor was finding the exit to Alpine Road. Light showers turned to a drenching downpour as I wound my way through the unfamiliar terrain of Portola Valley, past the Ginkgo Girl’s latest place of employ, and eventually finding myself at Woodside’s Mountain Terrace for the Martella tasting.

Despite the inclement weather and remote hillside setting, the parking lot had filled and many attendees had to resort to finding space across Skyline Blvd. at Alice’s Restaurant, a fabled biker’s roadhouse where Chardonnay is definitely not the drink of choice.The stark contrast between the two establishments belies an easy rapport that has existed for years, and neither attempts to be exclusionary. 

For the record, Michael wasn’t pouring Chardonnay this afternoon but did start the tasting off with his 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, a grapefruity take on the varietal. The SB proved a perfect accompaniment to the Crab Cakes the waitresses from Mountain Terrace circulated throughout the three tasting areas, but I found his 2007 Grenache Rosé a tad more satisfying as a thirst quencher; in turn, I had an even greater partiality towards the 2007 Fiddletown Grenache.

Arguments could be made either way, but I personally favored Michael’s 2007 Hammer Syrah to his 2007 Camel Hill Syrah (rumors of camel dung being the fertilizer of choice at the latter vineyard had no bearing on my preference). Not surprising, the 2008 Fiddletown Zinfandel provided one of the true standouts this afternoonZin being the backbone of the Amador AVA—while also complementing the ample charcuterie spread out on the main table

An easier distinction loomed between the 2006 Heart Arrow Cabernet Sauvignon—quite possibly the best wine of the afternoon—and its followup, the 2007 Heart Arrow Cabernet Sauvignon. The latter posed a bit of a conundrum, a wine that, with time, will likely surpass its predecessor, and yet despite its ageworthiness, seemed the more ripened of the two vintages being poured. A more vexing question, though was whether the 2007 Heart Arrow Petite Sirah made for better pairing than the Cabs with the bits of dark chocolate on the counter, and which of the three matched up best with the beef tri-tip canapés. Certainly, I’d be willing to revisit the issue!

All in all, the Martella tasting proved a most convivial gathering, and with the rains precluding gathering outdoors on Mountain Terrace’s redwood deck, a genuine intimacy took hold indoors. My friend from Rock Wall, Renee Cheng, introduced me to numerous regular attendees, including her parents, while Michael himself seemed surprised I had not previously me his wife, Beverly. “Oddly,” I noted. “Most men try not to introduce me to their wives.” We both being Italian, he well understood.

I always seem to be obliged to some other commitment when Martella holds one of its infrequent tastings, so finally making it to this event was especially gratifying. I have long championed Michael’s œnology both under his own label and for the wines he crafts for Thomas Fogarty, while his assistant winemaker, Nathan Kandler, makes exceptional Pinots under his own Precedent label; the wet, winding jaunt to this quasi-remote sector of San Mateo County was well worth my effort. Now, if only some free-spending Venture Capitalist from Woodside had felt equally impassioned, this might have turned out to be an unprecedented event!


One of these days, if I’m still on the money hunt for Sostevinobile, I plan somehow to rise at 6 a.m., drive back down to Woodside in time for breakfast at Buck’s and pretend to have lost my term sheet somewhere in the vicinity of John Doerr’s table. But perhaps my diligence will have paid off before I need to resort to such a ploy. In the meantime, I followed my Woodside trip with yet another trek to the East Bay the following weekend.

Now, normally, any excursion to Berkeley obliges me to visit Berkeley Bowl, the independent market rumored to feature the world’s largest produce section. However, I’d attended the Green Building Forum and Celebration at the David Brower Center just a few days before and had detoured to the Bowl’s new adjunct on Heinz Avenue, leaving with a $2.99 sack of loose lettuce leaves that dwarfed a King size pillow. As such, a second trip in three days seemed utterly superfluous.

Instead, I wound my way through the low-level warehouses below University Avenue to the familiar confines of A Donkey and Goat. I first met Jared and Tracey Brandt at Rhône Rangers in 2005, and while I had never completely left the wine world, the epiphany of their unbottled 2003 Syrah that led to the reinvigoration of my active involvement, ultimately spawning the genesis of Sostevinobile.

Having missed their Fall Open House, I felt compelled (as much as I ever need to be compelled to enjoy wine) to attend one of their December Holiday Saturday tastings. Here I was pleasantly surprise not only to find Tracey preparing for the birth of a second child, but to discover the latest additions to their family of wines. Syrah, Grenache, Chardonnay and, over the last couple of years, Roussanne, have been the mainstays here, so it was refreshing to see Carignane, Pinot Noir and some new Rhône blends in the lineup.

First up was the new 2009 Sluice Box, a well-balanced mélange of Marsanne and Grenache Blanc. Ironically, the next wine poured, the 2008 Mendocino Mélange blended not different varietals but different clones of Syrah (with a touch of co-fermented Viognier) from Broken Leg and McDowell Vineyards.

I find Carignane a rather finicky grape to tame, and Jared’s first stab with his 2009 Carignane from Alexander Valley proved no exception. Bouncing back in superlative form was the first of three Syrahs, the 2007 Vielles Vignes Syrah from McDowell Valley—one sip and I instantly recalled why I have championed this winery for so many years. Coming in a close second, the 2007 Fenaughty Vineyard Syrah from El Dorado County validated A Donkey and Goat’s focus on this varietal.

This afternoon’s Reserve Tasting brought out more revelations, starting with the 2009 Untended Chardonnay. The name for this wine reflects an adherence to the Natural (or Do-Nothing) Farming principles of Masanobu Fukuoka, whose non-interventionist techniques represent a reformation of biodynamic tenets. Philosophy aside, it proved quite a special wine. Next up, the superb 2009 Coupe d’Or showed its deft blend of Marsanne and Roussanne to be quite worthy of its lofty moniker.

Jared and Tracey quite fervently extol the virtues of Syrah over Cabernet and Pinot, so it was a tad surprising to discover their 2009 Broken Leg Vineyard Pinot Noir, from one of their contracted Anderson Valley Syrah ranches. But then there was the 2007 Perli Vineyard Syrah—quite possibly their best Syrah effort since the initial beaker they featured at Fort Mason. A wonderful, rich, velvety wine, it lacked only the dense dried cherries with which A Donkey and Goat usually adorns their parties’ hors d’œuvres table (forget dark chocolate—words cannot begin to describe this ætherial pairing).

With this last wine, it was time to bid farewell to all 3.5 Brandt family members and head off to my next whirlwind event. Still, I was pleased to see the winery expanding its roster and bringing its Natural Winemaking precepts to other varietals. Jared has now added me to the list for A Donkey and Goat’s upcoming trade tasting. I look forward to the event with heightened anticipation.


By now, I ought to have been able to make my way to Rock Wall with my eyes closed. Still, with the CHP out in full force for the holidays, I remained extra-vigilant as I drove to Alameda to squeeze in the tail end of their Wine Wonderland Open House. Given the frequency of events I’ve attend here lately, my visit constituted less a quest for new discoveries for Sostevinobile as it was a chance to celebrate the season with numerous friends and acquaintances. Still, I did manage to find some surprises among the nine wineries pouring at the event.

First up, I encountered Joseph Gary Cellars, a new label making their wine at the Rock Wall facility. While they are portending to release a line of Iberian wines—Garnacha, Tempranillo, Albariño—sometime in the near future, for now their sole production consisted of a label they call Manic Monday, whose 2008 Proprietary Red blends Syrah and Zinfandel from Sonoma fruit. An easy assimilable weekday table wine at an easily assimilable price.

Another newcomer to the Rock Wall event, Mercy Vineyards from Arroyo Seco, had just poured at the San Francisco Vintners Market; despite their anomalous location, it seemed a welcome addition to the East Bay contingent of wineries. Once again, I greatly enjoyed their 2008 Syrah Zabala Vineyard, but not before I had worked my way through their selection of whites and Pinot. Both the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc and the 2008 Chardonnay Zabala Vineyard proved highly pleasing wines, while the 2008 Chardonnay Arroyo Seco approached the extraordinary. With three different Pinots to samples, I found the 2008 Pinot Noir Cedar Lane Vineyard and the 2009 Pinot Noir Grive Vineyard both competently crafted vintages, while the 2008 Pinot Noir Arroyo Seco clearly excelled.

My fellow tasting panel partner, Blacksmith Cellars’ Matt Smith, showcased the current vintages of his superb 2008 Chenin Blanc and the 2008 Torrontés, while debuting the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley and a remarkable 2007 Grenache/Syrah. And despite my sampling some 18 of their wines less than a month before, Rock Wall managed to impress with the latest vintages of their 2009 Zinfandel Sonoma County and the exceptional 2009 Zinfandel Stagecoach Vineyard. Their real revelations, however, were the new line of the 2009 Viva La Blanc, a blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc and the 2009 Viva La Rouge, an extraordinary marriage of Syrah, Zinfandel, and Nebbiolo. These wines were good enough not to correct the incongruities their French nomenclature.

I confess that the short time I had allotted meant I could enjoy only a cursory sampling of the wineries I have covered numerous times previously. Nonetheless, I immensely enjoyed Ehrenberg Cellars2009 Petite Sirah from Lodi and John Robert Eppler’s splendid 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford. I wish I had had more time to explore the remainder of my friend Dick Keenan’s Carica Wines, but was happy just the same to sample his 2008 The Siren, a traditional Rhône-style blend of Grenache, syrah, and Mourvèdre.

Maybe I was too apprehensive from my other recent tastings to believe there really be three outstanding expressions of a tendentious varietal; in any case, I somehow overlooked sampling the 2008 Viognier for Eno in favor of their seductive 2007 Change Agent Grenache, along with the 2007 The One (Pinot Noir) and the 2007 Mr. Fix It (Syrah). As always, catching up with my friend Sasha Verhage made this stop all the more worthwhile.

I finished up with the musically-focused R&B Cellars, which, true to form, offered an imposing lineup. Feeling selective, I opted to start with their new 2006 Metronome Merlot. The 2006 Counterpoint Cabernet Franc showed quite impressively, as did the 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. While I also liked the 2008 Pizzicato Petite Sirah (not being a cellist, I had to look the term up), the Fortissimo Port (50% Tinta Madeira, 50% Touriga) provided the perfect crescendo to my visit.

I returned to San Francisco as Wine Wonderland drew to a close, content that I had covered enough ground for Sostevinobile to call it a wrap for 2010. That is, in terms of formal wine tasting events. There were still plenty of blog entries to fill, as well as the seemingly endless quest for financing (more on that in January). And, of course, my pick of great wines to guide me through it all.

Pop, Jazz, Squid—and Wine?

This entry could just have easily been titled Everything I Know About Monterey I Learned in the Fifth Grade. First and foremost, for anyone over 35, like Your West Coast Oenophile, Monterey has long meant the seminal Monterey Pop Festival of 1967, the first true rock mega-concert that propelled the careers of Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, Steve Miller, Janis Joplin and numerous other legendary musical acts. Music purist would probably defer to the annual Monterey Jazz Festival, now in its 53rd year—though many will cite Clint Eastwood traipsing through the woods at Big Sur with Donna Mills as their favorite scene from the 1971 film Play Misty for Me, I relish the clip of the late, great Cannonball Adderley playing at the Festival.

Growing up in a Neapolitan household, one of the more esoteric dishes I enjoyed in my youth was calamari (few people today realize that many of today’s popular menu items were long shunned as “peasant food” outside of ethnic circles). Of course, the preferred source of this delicacy was Monterey squid, even if we could only obtain it frozen on the East Coast. Wine from Monterey, however, was a far different matter.

At first, there were the big jug wines like Almaden. Other bulk producers followed, planting extensive vineyards or leasing other large tracts to furnish themselves with a substantial source of cheap varietal gapes—in one memorable incident from the early 1980s, Ernest Gallo, at his craven-hearted best, flew over the 10,000 acres he had under contract in Monterey and pronounced the grapes undesirable, leaving growers scrambling to find an alternate buyer. Then came the proliferation of “Coastal Cellars.” Several of the industry’s most revered labels, having ceded control to their new corporate conglomerate, came out with “affordable” lines of their wines, capitalizing on their long-established reputation in Napa and elsewhere, but markedly inferior to their primary bottlings—a ill-conceived effort to make wines from a prestigious label “accessible,” that only served to erode brand value and recognition.

Amid all this clutter, Monterey’s AVAs have long encompassed premium winemaking, so in quest to engage more of these wineries for Sostevinobile, I traveled south to the 18th Annual Winemakers’ Celebration in Monterey’s Custom House Plaza last weekend. Had the purpose of my two-hour drive been to escape the gloom and overcast of San Francisco for much-needed æstival warmth, this was not the trek to make. Nonetheless, a fresh setting with new people to meet and wines to sample mitigated for the lack of sunshine. Event promoters had set up ample white tents at strategic corners of this bi-level plaza to house the 40 wineries pouring a wide array of their varietals and blends. I tried to visit with each, starting, as previously document, with those labels I had not previously contacted and striving to save enough time to cover the rest

Consequently, I started out by heading to the table for Line Shack, a winery I had just recently encountered at P.S. I Love You. On hand, owner/winemaker John Baletto and his wife Daphne poured a striking array of wines grown in Monterey County, starting with a seductive 2009 Roussanne San Antonio Valley and an equally appealing 2008 Chardonnay Monterey County. I bypassed resampling their Petite Sirah in favor of the 2008 Syrah San Antonio Valley and a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon San Antonio Valley John blended in Paso Robles style, with enough Syrah to round it out rather deftly. On the other hand, Lockwood Vineyard from Monterey was a new discovery, featuring an austere 2008 Malbec and a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon rounded out with Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Syrah.

From Soledad, Manzoni Estate Vineyard made a strong first impression with a quartet of their wines, particularly their 2007 Pinot Noir Private Reserve. I also found the 2008 Pinot Gris and 2007 Syrah enormously appealing, along with a 2007 Chardonnay from the Santa Lucia Highlands. Contrasting Chardonnays marked Mercy Vineyards, an artisan winery from Pebble Beach. I rated the 2008 Chardonnay Zabala Vineyard a cut above the nonetheless compelling 2008 Chardonnay Arroyo Seco and equal to their 2008 Pinot Noir Arroyo Seco, while the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Arroyo Seco did not disappoint.

I don’t recall seeing La Rochelle on my recent swing through the Livermore Valley; then again, given the well-publicized zealotry of the local highway patrol, my eyes were probably fixed on my speedometer as I drove by. Though this winery resides in a different AVA, it sources its many of its grapes from numerous appellations in Monterey to produce both the 2009 Pinot Gris Mark’s Vineyard, Arroyo Seco and the 2007 Pinot Noir Monterey. On the other hand, Marin’s Vineyard only sounds like it is situated in another locale. This nascent San Antonio Valley winery produced a splendid 2008 Viognier, as well as their signature 2007 Syrah.

Other non-local based enterprises that grow and source significant amount of grapes from Monterey included Napa’s Delicato Family Vineyards, whose Sr. Brand Manager Christine Lilienthal served up some impressive banter, along with three of their Monterey labels. Loredona boasts itself as Delicato’s Anything But Chardonnay label, amply demonstrated by their 2009 Riesling, the 2009 Pinot Grigio and a pre-release sample of their enchanting 2009 Malvasia Bianca. Although Irony is one of their Napa labels, the 2008 Monterey Pinot Noir came from their San Benabe Vineyard (reputed the world’s largest single vineyard), as did the grapes in their Fog Head 2005 Blow Sand Syrah. Meanwhile, Wente Vineyards, the Goliath of Livermore Valley, might seem an interloper here but actually maintains extensive vineyards in Arroyo Seco, exemplified by their 2007 Reliz Creek Pinot Noir and the approachable 2008 Riva Ranch Chardonnay.

Given the number of nearby retreats like Esalen, Ventana Inn, and Carmel Valley Ranch, it comes as little surprise that Bernadus is both a resort and a winery. Nearly a decade ago, I enjoyed my first comprehensive tasting from the various Monterey AVAs at their Taste of Carmel Valley, so was more than please this afternoon to revisit their 2006 Monterey County Pinot Noir and the always wonderful 2005 Estate Marinus, a traditional Bordelaise blend, on behalf of Sostevinobile. On a much more modest scale, Mesa del Sol Vineyards offers a quiet cottage amid a 14 acre estate with trout pond and a vineyard that produces their 2005 Syrah and the highly likable 2006 Sangiovese.

I suspect many of the smaller ventures on hand this afternoon do not see tremendous distribution outside the Central Coast region, so, of course, it is a particular pleasure to give them wider exposure here. Though I found Snosrap, their semordnilaps label, a bit jejune, I nonetheless reveled in the wines Parsonage Village Vineyards from Carmel Valley featured, starting with the 2008 Snosrap Cyrano Chardonnay and the 2007 Estate Syrah. The 2007 Bordelaise blended Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot, while the quite drinkable 2007 Snosrap Merlot, blended with 25% Syrah, proved most gnillepmoc. A most aptly named Carmel winery, Mission Trail Vineyard, paid tribute to the historical planting of vineyards at California’s Franciscan missions 230 years ago with a superb 2005 Garnacha, along with a satisfactory 2006 Tempranillo. While I also found their 2007 Malbec and 2007 Syrah quite appealing, the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc left much to be desired.

I had corresponded earlier this year with Otter Cove on behalf of the wine auction for Asia Society Northern California, but had not previously sampled their wines. Like Mission Trail, I found varying degrees of quality, ranging from a superb 2006 Chardonnay to a disappointing 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands. in between, I was most impressed with their 2007 Off-dry Riesling Santa Lucia Highlands while cottoning to both the 2006 Gewürztraminer and the 2007 Syrah. Acclaimed musical composer Alan Silvestri orchestrated a harmonious trio of vintages for his eponymous winery: the 2005 Syrah Carmel Valley, the 2006 Pinot Noir Carmel Valley, and the tributary 2007 Bella Sandra Chardonnay. Meanwhile, the compelling rodeo theme of Galante’s labels underscored a gritty, no-nonsense approach that characterized both their 2007 Red Rose Hill Cabernet Sauvignon and the rich 2006 Galante Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, both from Carmel Valley.

Galante operates a tasting room in tony Carmel-by-the-Sea, where Clint Eastwood presides, as does Cima Collina, a quaint, artisan operation. Their 2009 Tondrē Riesling favored a slightly sweet approach, while their 2007 Chula Viña Chardonnay seemed quite redolent of its unfiltered process. Most intriguing, however, was the 2005 Hilltop Red, a skilled blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petite Sirah. Another familiar name, Carmel Valley’s Château Julien, offered a decidedly mellow 2009 Barrel Selected Pinot Grigio alongside its sibling 2008 Barrel Selected Chardonnay and a superb 2006 Private Reserve Merlot.

The night before I attended the Monterey Winemakers Celebration, I stopped off for a bite at St. Helena’s Farmstead, following a grueling day on the fundraising trail for Sostevinobile. Along with my entrée, I enjoyed a chilled glass of the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc San Saba Vineyard from Soledad’s Wrath Wines. Readers here know how I raved about discovering this winery at January’s Santa Lucia Highlands tasting, so I was pleased to get a leg up on my Monterey sojourn. Faced with an array of their wines, once again, I was smitten, first with the 2009 Chardonnay Ex Anima, followed by the rosé-style 2009 Pinot Noir Saignée San Saba Vineyard and culminating with their extraordinary 2007 Pinot Noir San Saba Vineyard. Today’s serendipity, however, came from Carmel Valley’s unassuming Joyce Vineyards. Dentist-turned-winemaker Frank Joyce crafted exceptional 2008 Chardonnay Black Mountain Vineyard and 2008 Pinot Noir Black Mountain Vineyard, as well as his notable 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Pedregal Vineyard and a spectacular 2007 Merlot. According to their Website, Joyce also produces something called Pudding Wine—I have no idea what this might be, but based on the virtuosity, I’d be willing to gamble on a bottle of the 2007 vintage.

Perhaps this Pudding Wine will prove to be akin the 2008 Ekem, a whimsical homonym for the revered Sauternes, that De Tierra produces from its Musque Clone Sauvignon Blanc. This organic endeavor produces several noteworthy reds, including the 2005 Monterey Syrah, the 2006 Silacci Pinot Noir, and their 2006 Estate Merlot, while excelling on the white front with both their 2007 Monterey Chardonnay and the exceptional 2008 Tin Man Chardonnay. In the same vein, Heller Estate Organic Vineyards impressed me with their 2008 Cuvée, a Meritage blending Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, the 2007 Chenin Blanc, and their current offering of the 2002 Merlot (Heller clearly relishes Merlot, also producing a 2007 Merlot Rosé, a 2006 Merlot Blanc (!), and even a 2005 Sparkling Merlot).

Still having a bit of a sweet bug, I indulged in a taste of the 2008 Vinho Doce, a Port-style wine blended from Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cão, and Tinto Roriz (aka Tempranillo), fortified with Tempranillo brandy, from Pierce Ranch Vineyards, a winery whose selections I have enjoyed on numerous other occasions. I’d also sampled a plethora of wine from Hahn/Lucienne over the years at various Pinot Noir events, so I opted for their other selections, like the 2009 Rosé, a compelling 2001 Blush Sparkling, the easy-to-drink 2005 Coastal Cabernet Sauvignon and 2008 Chardonnay Monterey, an extremely good 2005 Viognier, and the memorable 2007 SLH Estate Pinot Gris Santa Lucia Highlands. I followed by revising Ray Franscioni’s Puma Road, trying their amiable 2007 Pinot Gris Black Mountain Vineyard, an equally likable 2007 Pinot Noir Black Mountain Vineyard, his 2008 Chardonnay Black Mountain Vineyard, and the 2005 Cache Paicines, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

A winery I would have sworn I tried before was Scheid Vineyards from Monterey’s own Cannery Row, so tasting their wines turned out to be a nice discovery. Today’s well-balanced quartet was comprised of the 2007 Chardonnay, a 2008 Syrah Rosé, the 2007 Pinot Noir they atypically rounded out with 1% each of Syrah and Petite Sirah, and their 2007 Syrah, a 100% varietal expression (the latter two wines both won Gold Medals at the 2010 New World International Wine Competition named for my late friend, wine writer Jerry D. Mead). I was also surprised I hadn’t previously tried Graff Family Vineyards, the wine-producing extension of the Woodward-Graff Foundation. This Rhône-focused venture excelled with straight varietal expressions in their 2007 Grenache and 2007 Mourvèdre, while flourishing on the white side with a 2007 Viognier and a superb 2007 Pinot Blanc. Unifying the two halves was their proprietary 2007 Consensus, a deft blend of Mourvèdre, Viognier and Syrah.

Graff is a bit of an anomaly, in that their winemaking facilities are in Sonoma. Similarly, Carmel Road Winery grows its grapes in Monterey but trucks them to Santa Rosa for vinification. This virtual winery, created by Jackson Family Wines, nonetheless distinguished itself with their 2009 Pinot Gris, the well-balanced pair of the 2008 Monterey Chardonnay and the slightly preferable 2006 Arroyo Seco Chardonnay, and the starkly contrasting 2008 Monterey Pinot Noir and the 2006 Arroyo Seco Pinot Noir, a clearly superior wine. Chalone, on the other hand, was a pre-established operation Diageo purchased in 20o4, also seemed to maintain its quality and autonomy, though I only managed to sample the 2008 Pinot Blanc.

Perhaps if event promoters had furnished more than a meager five Porta-Potties for this large crowd (and interspersed them throughout at different points in the plaza instead of the corner furthest from the wine tables), I might have had enough time to visit with Crū, Estancia, Michaud, Morgan, Pelerin, Pessagno, and TondrēThat I missed their tables is a testament to the favorable encounters Sostevinobile has already enjoyed with their wines and their owners

All-in-all, the Monterey Winemakers Celebration wasa highly successful showcase for this distinctive wineregion. Even the conspicuously A.W.O.L. sun managed to make a late appearance for the final hour of the festivities! As I left, I felt there was but one glaring omission to an elsewise splendid event:

Where was the calamari?

Where there is there there

A few days after attending P.S. I Love You’s Petite Sirah Symposium, Your West Coast Oenophile ventured back across the Bay Bridge for the 5th Annual Urban Wine Xperience in Oakland. Again, having blogged this event for Sostevinobile last year,  I anticipated little in terms of new discovery, but was happy to renew acquaintances and do my small part to help publicize the efforts of these dedicated wine entrepreneurs.

There is an intangible quality to the East Bay wine tastings I’ve attended over the years, something that sharply delineates the ticket holders here from events in San Francisco. On a superficial level, the crowds look different, but only in the sense that they both equally reflect the heterogeneous population of their surrounding communities. But there is definitely a vibe that transcends ethnic makeup here, and I think it may well be a correlation between the lack of pretense among the local wine artisans and the genuine enthusiasm of the majority of attendees—hardly a poseur or dilettante in the crowd, as far as I could detect.

Last year, the Urban Wine Xperience was held outdoors, in a field beside the USS Potomac, the showcase restoration of FDR‘s “floating White House,” ensconced in the Oakland estuary. I arrived in need of some serious heat, maybe not quite the sweltering 95° of previous tasting, but definitely something to recharge the solar batteries after this summer’s protracted winter had taken its toll over the past four bleak, sunless days in San Francisco. Much to my chagrin, UWX V had moved a couple of blocks down the waterfront promenade, off the lawn and inside the enclosed showroom that anchors the Jack London Square complex.



There is no square there

Despite my disappointment at having to spend the afternoon indoors, I found the venue far more spacious and easier to navigate among the 18 various wineries, along with their partnered restaurants and caterers. The copious servings of food showcased not only their precise pairings with the wines being poured but the emerging food scene near the Oakland waterfront and surrounding neighborhoods. Certainly, I found intimations of places I am apt to explore on subsequent East Bay trips, but my focus for the afternoon centered on the appeal of the wines for Sostevinobile

I stopped by first to exchange greetings with Matt Smith, my fellow tasting panelist from the Connoisseurs Guide to California Wine, and to sample, among others, his latest release of the 2008 Alta Mesa Torrontés from his Blacksmith Cellars. Though (so I’m told) every Torrontés producer in California sources their grapes from this same vineyard, Matt manages to craft this wine with his personal touch, just as he did with the very striking 2008 North Coast Chenin Blanc, a once-ubiquitous varietal that has fallen into disfavor over the past two decades. Rounding out his inventory for the afternoon was the 2006 C.L.R.T., a wine that dare not speak its name (in accord with 2005’s Napa Declaration of Place), a Cabernet Sauvignon-based claret blended with Cabernet Franc and Merlot. 

Oakland’s World Ground Cafe matched these wines with a pork canapé, a pairing I find almost ubiquitous at fine & food affairs, but nonetheless well suited to Matt’s craftsmanship. Another restaurant I discovered just outside the exhibit hall, Bocanova, seemed a gargantuan undertaking, but also provided an intriguing pork variation to pair with Cerruti Cellars, a newcomer to Urban Wine Xperience. Their 2009 Mer Blanc Merlot Rosé heralds from vineyards in Alexander Valley, while the 2006 Cuvée Red Blend, a marriage of Sangiovese, Zinfandel and Merlot bottled under their Tudal label, boasts a Napa Valley origin. As if to forge a compromise, they melded barrels from both AVAs to produce the 2007 50/50 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa/Sonoma.

I haven’t quite ascertained how Andrew Lane Wines qualifies as an urban winemaker, though their wines certainly warranted inclusion this afternoon. Their corollary to Cerruti’s Cuvée Red blend was an amiable 2007 Rosso Napa Valley, a well-balanced ménage à trois with Sangiovese, Zinfandel and Valdiguié, another somewhat obscured varietal that had once enjoyed immense popularity. I found myself intrigued with their semi-spicy 2007 Petite Sirah Napa Valley, while enthralled with their 2007 Cabernet Franc Oakville. Franc-ly speaking, one of Sostevinobile’s most popular citations, Rock Wall Wine Company, made an equally strong statement with their 2007 Cabernet Franc Holbrook Mitchell from Napa Valley. On numerous visits to their facility, I don’t believe I’d previously tried their 2009 Russian River Reserve Chardonnay and, as with their progenitor, their array of top-notch Zins, including today’s 2008 Sonoma County Zinfandel, often leaves me scrambling to decipher my tasting notes.

Rock Wall’s Kent Rosenblum launched the East Bay winery phenomenon with his eponymous Rosenblum Cellars, now undergoing the throes of assimilation under its corporate parent, Diageo. The realignment was quite apparent in both their 2008 Zinfandel Sonoma Appellation Series and 2007 Zinfandel Paso Robles Appellation Series, not so much in the 2007 Syrah Snow’s Lake. Another spinoff from Rosenblum, JC Cellars, extended the tradition of quality begun in Alameda with a profound series of his own blends, ranging from the Roussanne-Marsanne duality of their 2008 The First Date to the complexity of the 2008 Daily Ration (Carignane, Petite Sirah, Tempranillo, Grenache, and Zinfandel) to the quixotic array of Zinfandel, Syrah, Carignane, Petite Sirah, Tempranillo, and Viognier in their ever-popular 2008 The Impostor.

JC Cellars’ white Rhône blend was paired with an incredible Seared Halibut on a fried wonton wedge from East Bay caterer Oren’s Kitchen (I confess to circling back to their table numerous times throughout the afternoon). Similarly, the Shrimp and Corn Pudding Tart from Alameda’s Little House Café proved an extraordinary complement to Stage Left Cellars’ white Rhône, the 2008 The Go Getter, a blend of Roussanne, Viognier, and Grenache Blanc. Sourced from a Syrah vineyard in Rogue Valley, their tasty 2007 The Scenic Route seemed an apt title for a descriptor of the grapes’ path back to Oakland while their 2006 Grenache stayed in-state from a vineyard sourced in Santa Maria.

One of my discoveries last year, Irish Monkey Cellars, also poured two Rhône varietals, the approachable 2008 Mourvèdre Lodi and a compelling 2007 Syrah Amador, as well as a blend of varietals they source from Napa’s Lovall Valley (a Real Estate designation, not a recognized AVA), the 2008 Chateaux du Lovall, a will-o’-the-wisp assemblage of Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, Primitivo, Syrah and Merlot. Another of 2009’s stars, Prospect 772 Wine Company, returned with the latest versions of their proprietary blends, the Syrah/Grenache mélange, the 2007 The Brat and its Viognier-infused Syrah brethren, the 2007 The Brawler, along with newcomer 2009 Baby Doll Rosé, also made from Syrah and Grenache.

At most tastings, R & B Cellars usually breaks out the kitchen sink, pouring more wines than I can fathom, but held to a mere trio this afternoon, showcasing their Sauvignon Blanc, the 2007 Serenade in Blanc, a highly likable 2007 Swingsville Zinfandel and the superb 2005 Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Also at most East Bay affairs,Urbano Cellars and Urban Legend Cellars seem inextricably joined at the hip; sequestered in different wings of the exhibition hall, they stood out today on individual merit. Urbano opened with their 2008 Vin Rosé Green Valley, a blush version of Napa Gamay (aka Valdiguié), then followed with an exceptional blend of Syrah, Grenache and Tempranillo, the 2007 5 Barrel Lodi, a haphazard assemblage of they would be, admittedly, hard-pressed to duplicate. Their standout pour came from their wondrous 2008 Sangiovese Mountain View Ranch.

Urban Cellars’ forte also stemmed from its Italian varietal bottlings, starting with the stellar 2008 Barbera Clarksburg that had crowds flocking to their table. Nebbiolo and Sangiovese worked synergistically to deliver their well-balanced 2008 Ironworks, while Marilee Shaffer delighted me with a sip from a bottle of the 2008 Teroldego Clarksburg she had secreted under the table. I also had warm feelings for the yet-unreleased 2009 Tempranillo Clarksburg and for the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Lake County that paired rather seamlessly with Warmed Grits topped with a confit of Chicken & Corn from Oakland‘s Brown Sugar Kitchen (proving, yet again, that there can be a wine to match up with almost everything).

Ehrenberg Cellars is a venture on the cusp of coming into its own, with more people behind its table sporting badges that read “Investor” than I can enumerate. Seemingly, their food partner Paradiso had as many pasta selections on hand, each distinctive and satisfying. This wine venture, formerly known as Nectar Vineyards, showcased promising futures from its unbottled 2009 Shenandoah Zinfandel and 2009 Petite Sirah, along with the 2008 Contra Costa Zinfandel from its previous incarnation. Meanwhile the more seasoned Dashe Cellars displayed its versatility with an organic 2008 Dry Riesling McFadden Farm and a pair of Sonoma vintages, the 2009 Grenache Dry Creek Valley and the 2008 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley, both tangy complements to the Seared Lamb & Arugula canapé from Oakland’s Chop Bar.

In my quest for objectivity, I hope Sasha Verhage will forgive me if I describe his 2007 The One Fairview Road Ranch, the Pinot Noir from his Eno Wines as not quite as mind-blowing as the 2007 The Change Agent (Grenache) and the 2007 The Freedom Fighter (old vine Zinfandel) proved this particular afternoon. Meanwhile, Dick Keenan’s Carica Wines held up their end with the 2008 Kick Ranch Sauvignon Blanc, the 2007 Kick Ranch Syrah, and Syrah-dominated GMS blend, the 2007 Temptation Sonoma County.

I was happy to find Marie Bourdillas’ Aubin Cellars on hand once again. This restrained, Burgundian-style operation offered equally-striking bottlings of their 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir and the 2007 Sonoma Mountain Syrah, along with a demure 2008 French Colombard. And, of course, I saved room for dessert, knowing that Adams Point Winery had its 18% alcohol Mango Wine on hand. In keeping with the Napa Declaration of Place, Adams Point calls its fortified blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petite Sirah California Red After Dinner Wine. While I found this “not Port” quite compelling, their Chocolate Dessert Wine, the same wine with an infusion of chocolate, bordered on tasting syrupy, not quite the finale to this event I had conjured.

Efforts to transform Jack London Square into a culinary mecca have been well-documented of late, and while the quiet exit of hokey food chains like T.G.I. Friday’s, El Torito and the Old Spaghetti Factory certainly seem a positive development, I, too, question whether this destination can draw sufficient crowds to sustain a mega-enterprise like Bocanova or, speculatively, a future branch of Sostevinobile. But, on this one afternoon, there definitely was a there there, and it remains safe to say that Urban Wine Experience proves the East Bay winery scene remains a vibrant presence that will continue to endure.

Is there a Durif in the house?

A different week, a different bridge. And different AVAs to explore. Your West Coast Oenophile took in two very different tastings this past week in the overshadowed wine regions of the East Bay. Given the Arctic summer we are experiencing in San Francisco, the quest for heat played no small role in my sojourns.

Given that I covered both of these events in 2009, my trek entailed less about new discoveries, rather more about reinvigorating relationships Sostevinobile had forged last year (or earlier). I started with the rather eclectic P.S. I Love You, a still somewhat nascent trade organization for growers and producers of Petite Sirah. Now single varietal advocacies are nothing new—the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) is now in its twentieth year and I understand a new Pinotage association has been formed. Nor are single varietal tastings uncommon—again, the ZAP Grand Festival every January, Pinot Days, the discontinued Merlot in May. Unlike the others, however, P.S. I Love You’s major annual conclave, the Petite Sirah Symposium, is strictly an industry affair, a daylong conference for growers and producers, with an intimate tasting that includes trade and media at the end. Not a great vehicle for public advocacy, but certainly a much more pleasurable alternative to the mob scenes with which professional attendees like myself must contend (he notes with trepidation as Family Winemakers looms on the near horizon…).

As was the case last year, the Symposium was held at Concannon Vineyard in Livermore, the 127 year old producer that lays claim to being the first winery to label Petite Sirah and has staked their claim to fame with this grape ever since. Literally and figuratively, Livermore is a far cry from Fort Mason and San Francisco, and as I wound my way through the clusters of suburban tract houses that lead to the rural portion of the town, I felt a peculiar desire to blow them all up. Then it dawned on me: maybe Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the resident design center for the America’s nuclear arsenal, has their people live in these monolithic, sterile clusters in order to make them want to blow up things, too!

Allora! I came in peaceful pursuit, to taste a variety of wines and report back to Sostevinobile’s readers, and so after parking and signing in, I headed into Concannon’s Barrel Room, armed with what has to have been the most extensive tasting guide I have ever been handed (Symposium promoter Jo Diaz claimed this was in direct response to my complaint over the lack of any printed program delineating last year’s tasting). For no better reason than my fondness for his velvet-coated labels, I beelined over to John Monnich’s table to sample the latest releases of his Silkwood Wines 2007 Petite Sirah, a Modesto vintage that is definitely not Gallo.

Normally, the transition from luxury of crushed velvet to the relative mundanity of a Shoe Shine might be deemed a considerable downgrade except when delectating this handcrafted NV Petite Sirah Eaglepoint Ranch from Eric Cohen’s Justice Grace Vineyards. This striking, 400 case debut joined another newcomer to the P.S. I Love You family, Livermore’s own Nottingham Cellars, which previewed it superb pre-bottled 2009 Petite Sirah, a wine with the chromatic intensity of shoe polish and texture of liquid velvet. (After the Symposium, I visited Nottingham’s warehouse operations and found myself equally enthralled with their 2005 Syrah Lodi, a much-welcome 2007 Viognier Livermore Valley and the proprietary 2007 Ralphi’s Blend, a Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot mix).

I’m not sure whether I’d ever had a chance to sample wine from the Ramona Valley AVA previously, but I can only hope San Diego’s Edwards Vineyards and Cellars exemplifies the wine produced there. The 2005 Petite Sirah they poured featured an unusual field blend with 3% Syrah and 1% Chenin Blanc, which contributed to the extraordinary roundness of this wine. Near the northern extreme of California’s viticultural expanse, Clear Lake’s Diamond Ridge brought forth a 2008 Petite Sirah from their estate vineyard, the same grapes Oakland’s JC Cellars contracts for their Petite. Northernmost bragging rights, however, belonged exclusive to Oregon’s lone representative this afternoon, Spangler Vineyards, featuring contrasting vintages with their 2007 Petite Sirah and the much rounder 2008 Petite Sirah.

Another Lake County participant, Guenoc, showed stark contrast between their regular 2008 Petite Sirah and the premium label, the 2006 Langtry Estate Petite Sirah, one of the afternoon’s most striking pours. Meanwhile, my old friends from Lava Cap demonstrated they haven’t totally moved away from Rhône varietals, impressing with their 2007 Petite Sirah and the noteworthy 2006 Petite Sirah Reserve. Another old acquaintance, Napa legend Carl Doumani, ought to have been on hand, but an ATV accident over the weekend placed him on the Injured Reserve List; nonetheless, Quixote, his bold experiment in Napa Valley Petite, continued pushing the envelope for this varietal with their latest bottling, the 2006 Petite Syrah (his spelling).

A number of wineries I have long known, either from last year’s event or from other tastings, had a renewed presence this afternoon in order to showcase their vinification of Petite Sirah among the various wines in their portfolio. My impressions remained favorable for Jazz Cellars’ melodious 2006 Petite Sirah Eaglepoint Ranch Vineyard, Foppiano’s 2006 Estate Petite Sirah (gotta love their pairing suggestions of ricotta ravioli, spicy butternut squash and roasted squab), the mercurial allusion (not temperament) of Cinnabar’s 2007 Clarksburg Petite Sirah, Lodi titans Mettler Family Vineyards 2005 Petite Sirah, a youngish 2008 Petite Sirah that Steve Ryan poured from his Oakstone Winery, and the 2006 Petite Sirah from the still-without-a-website Maley Brothers.

On the other side of the coin, several wineries I had not previously contacted on Sostevinobile’s behalf made strong first impressions. Monterey’s quaintly-named Line Shack scored quite well with their 2008 Petite Sirah San Antonio Valley. Though present in wine only, Yolo County’s Heringer Estate’s 2006 Petite Sirah proved redolent with jamminess, while the gnarliness of Crooked Vines’ label underscored the intensity of its new 2007 Petite Sirah. Grizzly Republic hearkened back the brief but glorious independence of the Bear Flag Republic, with its unfettered 2007 Roadrunner Petite Sirah; with an equally evocative label, Old Creek Ranch juxtaposed its somewhat tepid 2007 Petite Sirah Branham Obsidian Vineyard with the striking complexity of its 2008 Petite Sirah (can’t recall if they enlisted the same vineyard).

My recollections are intact, however, in distinguishing Seven Artisans from Artezin. The former, one of Jeff Miller’s three labels from his Artisan Family of Wines, bottles the 2007 Seven Artisans Petite Sirah as a straight varietal grown in Suisun Valley; the latter, a division of Hess Collection, focuses on the spicy varietals like Zinfandel and Carignane, while blending both Zin and Charbono into its 2007 Petite Sirah Mendocino County. In contrast, its superb 2007 Petite Sirah Garzini Ranch offers a straight expression of the varietal.

Several of the wineries in attendance offered multiple versions of PS, including, to no surprise, host Concannon. Rather than let their grapes be cannibalized into one of the Franzia’s boxes, they showcased four different bottlings of the grape, most notably their 2004 Heritage Petite Sirah. Following that, I was more partial toward the 2006 Reserve Petite Sirah, though both the 2007 Concannon Nina’s Cuvee Petite Sirah and the 2007 Concannon Nina’s Cuvee Captain Joe’s proved quite amiable. Another PS powerhouse, Clarksburg’s Bogle, brought four variations on vinification: the 2009 Petite Sirah Rosé, a rather mundane 2008 Petite Sirah, the far preferable 2007 Petite Sirah Reserve, and a wine to forgive all others, the 2007 Petite Sirah Port.

Had I plotted out this entry better, I would have targeted Trentadue as my 32nd installation, but, alas, I am only up to #26. As he had last year, puckish winemaker Miro Tcholakov brought both the 2007 Trentadue Petite Sirah and the special reserve 2005 La Storia Petite Sirah Alexander Valley Estate, but flourished most under his own label, the 2007 Miro Petite Sirah. Another fabled winemaker, Angwin’s Robert Foley tantalized with a trio of bottlings from his eponymous line: a premature 2007 Petite Sirah Napa, the more fully-fleshed 2006 Petite Sirah Muscle Man, and a most aptly named 2006 Petite Sirah Pepperland. Another of Napa’s highly-esteemed Bobs, Zinfandel guru Robert Biale, offered up his own quartet of superb vintages: the 2008 Petite Sirah Thomann Station, the 2008 Oak Knoll Estate Petite Sirah, the clever anagram of the 2008 Royal Punishers Petite Sirah, and a new Rhône blend (based on a PS backbone), the 2007 Basic Black North Coast.

On the professed sustainable/organic side, it was no surprise to find Parducci on hand with their 2007 True Grit Petite Sirah, a wine blended with 12% Syrah; I did, however, find their straight varietal, the 2007 Petite Sirah Mendocino County preferable. Meanwhile, I caught up with John Aver of San Martin’s Aver Family Vineyards for the second time this summer and found myself gushing over his 2007 Blessings, an organic Petite. Dry Creek Valley’s Pedroncelli, whose declaration of sustainable practices services as a model for Sostevinobile’s requirements, comported themselves admirably with their 2007 Petite Sirah Family Vineyards, and from the highest vineyard in Sonoma, dedicated land stewards and winemaker Gustafson Family Vineyards poured another Dry Creek star, their 2007 Estate Petite Sirah.

I’m often asked why I spent 12 years studying Latin. What is the value in the 21st century? On this day, though, my classical training bore fruit not just once, but twice, first with Foster’s Stags’ Leap Winery, Carl Doumani’s former flagship, whose field-blended Petite Sirah bore the lofty moniker 2007 Ne Cede Malis, a phrase from Virgil (not Horace!) meaning “don’t capitulate to evil.” And after I tried their 2007 Napa Valley Petite Sirah, a wine softened with Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carignane, I ambled over to reacquaint myself with John Kinney’s Occasio, a Livermore winery whose name derives from the sententious Publilius Syrus’ maxim, occasio aegre offertur, facile amittitur (opportunity is offered with difficulty, lost with ease). Nothing was lost in his translation of the grape into his wondrous 2008 Petite Sirah Del Arroyo Vineyard, however.

Given Petite Sirah’s prominence as a blending grape, I was rather surprised more wineries didn’t feature a mélange like Michael~David’s 2008 Petite Petit, a wine that marries Petite Sirah with Petit Verdot. Their straight varietal, the 2006 Earthquake Petite Sirah, proved no sloucher, either. I suspect Petite Sirah marriess best with Zinfandel and with its other Rhône varietals, and though I can’t think of a Spanish parallel to the varietal, like Garnacha for Grenache or Monastrelle for Mourvèdre, I know that it melds rather seamlessly in various Iberian blends. As such, I was a bit surprised at the lackluster flavor of T.A.P.A.S. spearhead Twisted Oak’s 2007 Calaveras County Petite Sirah, though, admittedly, it seemed it might open up with aging.

Another given these days is Paso Robles’ affinity for Rhône varietals, so it comes as no surprise that a quartet of wineries from this most expansive AVA made strong showings. Estrella Creek showed an extraordinary 2005 4M Petite Sirah after pouring its featured 2004 vintage. Clavo Cellars came through with a sustainably farmed 2007 Petite Sirah from Catherine’s Vineyard, a wine they choose to pair with a carnivore’s fantasy: pork tenderloin, braised prime rib, roast lamb, roast duck, and pot roast. In turn, Clayhouse championed its striking 2005 Estate Petite Sirah Red Cedar Vineyards, a wine I had enjoyed at the Paso Robles’ Grand Tasting Tour: Mid-Peninsula back in April. And Vina Robles left a strong impression with their delightful 2007 Petite Sirah Jardine.

I had bumped into Kent Rosenblum on my way into this tasting, so it seemed only fit that I should finish off this portion of the afternoon with a taste of the 2008 Petite Sirah Mendocino County from his Rock Wall Wines. Or was it the 2008 Petite Sirah Dry Creek Valley? Once again, my notetaking was not as scrupulous as it ought be, but the wine was splendid, and I knew I’d be seeing them again on the upcoming Saturday at the 5th Annual Urban Wine Xperience in Oakland (the topic of my ensuing blog entry).

The sheer volume of wineries cited here attests to the popularity of, and potential, for Petite Sirah on the West Coast. But is it really the next Zinfandel, as a recent article claims it portend to become? From my standpoint, P.S. I Love You would need to become more of an external advocacy, rather than an industry affinity group, to make sufficient headway along these lines. And that still overlooks the reality that the grape does not express itself with as much Zinfandel is capable of doing—an oversimplification I know, but pretty much every wine this afternoon fell within the chalky vs. spicy dichotomy. Nonetheless, it’s still an intriguing grape, fraught with potential.

Finally, I can’t quite bring myself to call this wine “Pet” or “Pet S,” as some have take to in their literature. That’s not quite so bad as “Vindependence,” but still. At 2009’s Symposium, I thought there was considerable momentum to return this grape to its original nomenclature, Durif, primarily to distinguish it verbally from Syrah, the grape that, along with Peloursin, accounts for its lineage. This year, I don’t think I heard “Durif’ even in passing. As we might say in Latin, inusitatissimus!

Does Vin12 + 3 = Vin15? Or Vinify? (see ‡ below)

Here’s an interesting concept to ponder: among the best-known tech moguls we have here on the West Coast, with whom would you most want to share (or not) a bottle of wine? Of course, they will be picking up the tab…
I imagine Bill Gates would have an ultra hi-tech wine cellar with every bottle controlled by individual sensors monitoring its temperature, rate of loss diffusion, cork moisture, etc., and automatically making the necessary adjustments to maintain the wine’s optimal maturation and integrity. Here vin ordinaire might mean a 1994 Château Le Pin or a 1985 Domaine De La Romanée-Conti La Tâche, but no matter how extraordinary the repute or price of the wine, one senses that Gates simply wouldn’t know how to relish the moment—kind of like Richard Simmons in an all-women’s sauna. His successor, Steve Ballmer , probably would appreciate the wine, even savor it, but, with his gargantuan appetite, mostly like would have a decanter and goblet of hand-blown Venetian crystal, with a bowl large enough to accommodate an entire magnum of 2005 Chateau Pétrus Pomerol, all for himself.

Larry Ellison comes across as a guy who probably not only knows the world’s most esoteric wines but how to get them. Once his mind is set on a particular bottling, he would invite you to join him on his jet, fly to the source, and share the bottle on site—and probably buying the winery while he’s there. Paul Allen, on the other hand, has probably already purchased a 10,000 acre site in Eastern Washington where a team of enologists and botanical experts are experimenting with genetic engineering to create the hybrid varietal that will revolutionize the wine industry in the 21st century.

It isn’t political differences that would make Your West Coast Oenophile reluctant to join California’s current duo of tech execs turned political aspirant for preprandial libations. One senses that Meg Whitman could make even the leanest Chardonnay taste flabby, while Carli Fiorina would probably proclaim unwavering fealty to the California wine industry, then pour a 2004 Bouchard Le Montrachet.

The Google twins, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, leave me with the same sense of incredulity as does The Punahou Kid . The rhetoric is seductive (“do no evil”) but delivery of the same seems a hollow promise; moreover, they similarly lack sufficient seasoning to inspire any credence in their command of matters outside of their primary niche. But none of the tech titans I’ve lampooned here musters the same feeling of unsavoriness as does Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, who strikes me as the kind of guy who would fill a 750 ml bottle with cheap Chianti and glue on a 2003 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Masseto label (even though he could easily afford to pour a case of the same).

My disdain for Facebook has been well-documented, and although I do maintain a page for Sostevinobile there, it stems from a sense of necessity, not a belief in the supreme importance of its social networking. But, just as I reluctantly admit that Gallo occasionally does make a good wine or two in Sonoma, I concede that Facebook intermittently offers benefits. Case in point, I might never have learned of Vin12 had I not noticed one of my Facebook compadres attending their latest wine soirée.

I started off last Thursday evening by attending the (re)launch of San Francisco’s chapter of the Clean Economy Network in the lofty reception loft of Orrick Herrington, a prominent local law firm. Given that this gathering was intended as an informal introduction to the nationwide network CEN is building in major urban centers like here, LA and San Diego, there seemed little to accomplish here, save a chance to catch up with prominent sustainable writers like Gil Friend and Dallas Kachan, study the sustainable design or Orrick’s architectural showcase, and partake in some fairly decent hors d’œuvres and a sip of Más—which is becoming to Green gatherings (mucho desmasiado!) what Two Buck Chuck is to art openings—before exchanging parting embraces with Danna West and heading around the corner to The Solarium at 55 Second Street.

Though new to me, Vin12 has been staging monthly wine events for more than a year. There’s definitely a quality to these tastings—the lineup of participating wineries struck me as more than respectable, and promoter Elie Ernest’s ability to convince numerous winemakers to attend such a moderately-scaled event certainly seemed impressive. I found few, if any, true discoveries among the wines being poured this evening (apart from there being scant few Zins in an event billed as Zinfandel Spring Event), but then, my familiarity with local wines is hardly typical of most of the people in attendance.

And that, in itself, was perhaps the major revelation of the evening. These events aren’t necessarily about wine so much as they are about bringing people together over wine—a critical component to Sostevinobile’s future success I tend to underplay in my zeal to assemble the best wine program in San Francisco.

Climbing the stairs to the event room, I first found myself at the table for Bohème, an Occidental winery. Here the 2007 Stuller Vineyard Pinot Noir impressed, alongside the approachable 2007 Que Syrah Vineyard Syrah. Meanwhile, its table mate, Sonoma’s Barber Cellars may not have brought their shears, but their 2008 Kitten with a Whip, a rosé of Syrah, most certainly dispelled any notion of blush wine as being dainty.

It had been a while since I’d sampled Bourassa Vineyards’ wines, so after reacquainting myself with Sostevinobile’s Facebook fan Efrain Barragan, I partook of their 2008 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley and the outstanding 2005 Harmony³, a Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc Meritage. Several months had also passed since my last visit to Adastra on the Napa side of Carneros, so it was quite enjoyable to catch up with Chris Thorpe and make my way through the organic offerings he had on hand: the 2008 Chardonnay, the always wonderful 2006 Proximus Pinot Noir, both his 2007 Merlot and his 2006 Merlot, whose enormous potential was just beginning to reveal itself, and, of course, his idiosyncratic 2007 Ed’s Red, a blend of Syrah, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot Adastra describes as “a hefty wine, best paired with mammoth.”

I shouldn’t have stopped by the table for Flora Springs. Not that their 2007 Merlot and the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Soliloquy Vineyard weren’t both standout wines. It’s just that Flora Springs wines need to be experienced in their new St. Helena tasting room, a modernistic edifice reminiscent of a Pat Kuleto restaurant design. Further up St. Helena Highway, the Charles Krug winery offers an almost incongruously tranquil setting for such a conspicuous facility, but excels with its portfolio of orthodox varietals: the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley, a buttery 2008 Chardonnay Carneros, the 2006 Zinfandel St. Helena, and the utterly compelling 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville. Due Vigne shares a tasting facility in Napa with an ever-changing roster of wineries at Silenus, but this evening showed great consistency with their excellent 2006 Dolcetto, a promising 2007 Nebbiolo, a 2007 Viognier and the quite affordable 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.

The Terraces is one of those wineries I’ve long had on Sostevinobile’s radar yet somehow had failed to sample, so it was a pleasure to meet Nat Page and quaff (yes, this was a quaffing night) their 2007 Napa Valley Zinfandel. On the other hand, as readers of my last entry know, I had recently reveled in Cornerstone’s rosé blended from Grenache and Syrah, so I was immensely please that their 2007 Stepping Stone Red Hills-Lake County Grenache was every bit its equal.

Normally, I like Vinum, but I was underwhelmed by their 2008 Chenin/Vio, a perfunctory blend of Viognier and Chenin Blanc. On the other hand, I have long championed Astrale e Terra, and their 2008 Sauvignon Blanc did not disappoint. Ditto for the 2008 Zinfandel Reserve Sonoma County from Rock Wall, whose wines had not crossed my lips in at least four days preceding this gathering!

this evening was billed as a Zin experience, so it seemed fitting to close out with a pair of wineries whose organic fare has received numerous citations here. Wild Hog’s 2006 Porter Bass Zinfandel may sound like a cross between wine and ale, but it proved a pure expression of this varietal; its 2006 Nova Zinfandel Lake County was flat-out excellent. Beyond organic, Demeter-certified
Quivira once again showed its deft touch in producing compelling wines without the taint of added sulfur with its 2007 Zinfandel from Dry Creek.

Many people know that between the time I began developing Sostevinobile and my early endeavors in putting together winery deals, I sloughed my way through the advertising industry, as well as a number of hi-tech ventures for which I provided advertising and marketing services. These realms contrast so starkly with the wine world and have played no small part in my impetus to open the warmth and civility so inextricable from wine to as many people as possible. With that in mind, I can only applaud the ambassadorship of Vin12. Who knows? In the months to follow, perhaps their growing following will find a most welcome home within our midst.


Three days after the Vin12 event, I finally made my way back to Vinify for this winery collective’s Open House that I had mistakenly tried to attend in April. This custom crush facility in a Santa Rosa industrial park houses production for 20 or so labels, some quite familiar, others obscure, and still others on the verge of breaking out. Having been first apprised of Vinify by fellow Lakeville refugee Steve Singer, I first paid a courtesy call to his table for Baker Lane. From a pair of small vineyard in Sonoma, Steve handcrafts small lots of Syrah and Pinot Noir—I especially liked the 2007 Estate Syrah and the 2008 Ramondo Pinot Noir he poured this afternoon.

Not surprisingly, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay would dominate this afternoon’s samplings. Exemplifying this backbone of Russian River winemaking, Pfendler Vineyards offered
both their 2007 Pinot Noir and its newly-released successor, while making their strongest statement with the 2008 Chardonnay. Meanwhile, Bjørnstad Cellars inundated attendees with 5 different Chards led by the 2007 Porter Bass
Chardonnay and a trio of Pinots, including the equally striking 2007 Hellenthal Pinot Noir and the 2007 van der Kamp Pinot Noir. Of the two pink Pinots they also poured, I found the 2009 Rosé preferable and drier.

Greg Bjørnstad provides winemaking services to Barbed Oak Vineyard, which debuted their 2008 Chardonnay Bennett Valley at this event. Another single wine effort, Westerhold Family Vineyards, showcased an extraordinary 2007 Estate Syrah Bennett Valley. In turn, their winemaker, Russell Bevan manifested his œnological versatility not only with a pair of his own Bevan Cellars Syrahs, the 2006 Syrah Bennett Valley Porter’s Cuvée and the outstanding 2007 Syrah Dry Stack Bob’s Cuvée, but ranging from the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Kick Ranch Maria’s Cuvée and 2008 Merlot Showket Vineyard Alexis’s Cuvée to his new Cuvée-less Meritage, the 2008 Ontogeny Oakville.

Because their table sign was partially obscured, I initially mistook Blagden Wine for Olson Ogden, which obfuscated a portion of my tasting notes. But I did like her 2006 Monte Rosso Cabernet Sauvignon and its companion 2008 Rosé of Cab Monte Rosso, along with her various bottlings from Sangiacomo Vineyards. Olson Ogden, in turn, comported itself with the typical aplomb I have come to expect from this winery, particularly with the 2008 Margaret’s Mandate Stagecoach Vineyard Marsanne, the velvety 2007 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, and their 2007 Stagecoach Vineyard Syrah.

A quintet of San Francisco œnophiles banded together to form Cinque Insieme, which showcased their stellar 2006 Whitehawk Vineyard Syrah alongside the debut of their 2006 Wildcat Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir. Winemaking Partner Justin Lattanzio, who, with his joyfully enceinte spouse Hillary manage Vinify, also poured from his own Lattanzio Wines, again pairing the 2007 Fedrick Ranch Syrah with their 2008 W. E. Bottoms Pinot Noir.

Up until this day, I hadn’t enjoyed the opportunity to taste any of the wines Frostwatch Vineyard produces. Attorney-turned-winemaker Brett Raven ably comported himself with his 2007 Bennett Valley Merlot. the seductive 2007 Bennett Valley Chardonnay, and the proprietary 2009 Kismet, a blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Another revelation was Audelssa Winery, an exceptional effort out of Glen Ellen, roundly impressing with their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Reserve, a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Valley and their deft Meritage, the 2007 Summit, well-balanced Bordeaux blend dominate by Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with significant portions of Cabernet Franc and Malbec, along with a splash of Petit Verdot.

It had been quite a while since I’d sampled the esteemed wines of Sojourn Cellars, so it was like a new indulgence to work my way through their justly-revered line of Pinots. While I clearly favored the 2008 Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard, sojourn’s new 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Mountain Terraces displayed quite the deft touch with this varietal, as well. In contrast, Desmond Wines staked their claim with two vintages of a single Pinot. This tiny venture offered a noteworthy 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley and a younger, contrasting, yet equally appealing 2008 Pinot Noir Russian RiverValley.

I wasn’t quite as taken with the Pinot from Gracianna, but found myself quite impressed with both the 2008 Zinfandel Bacigalupi Vineyard and the 2009 Chardonnay Suzanne’s Blend. And I confess I was poised not to give much credence to Claypool Cellars , but despite the alliterative silliness of their labels, both the 2008 Purple Pachyderm Pinot Noir and the 2008 Pink Platypus Pinot Rosé proved serious wines.

Sostevinobile is my original portmanteau from sostenibile + vino + nobile, the Italian words for sustainable, noble, and wine; I have previously speculated in this column about the coinage of the names of a couple of wineries, but my guesses have been far from the truth. Calluna continued with its intense focus on Bordeaux varietals and blends, previewing their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon The Colonel’s Vineyard and the Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot dominated 2008 Calluna Estate (both barrel samples). Their released vintages included their 2008 Merlot Aux Raynauds and the artful 2008 Calluna Vineyards Cuvée, which blends 44% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc and 23% Cabernet Sauvignon with Petit Verdot and Malbec. Much to my chagrin, their compatriots in apocryphal etymology, Jemrose, folded up their table before I could sample their wines, including the 2008 Cardiac Hill Syrah and the 2006 Two Sisters Merlot. But proprietor Jim Mack knows that I waxed eloquently last year about the previous release of their 2008 Egret Pond Viognier and positively gushed over their 2007 Gloria’s Gem, a proprietary blend of the above-mentioned Syrah and Merlot, just last month.

I was ready to symbolically fold my table, but first swung over to visit with and speak a little Italian with John Suacci of Suacci Carciere. Because I will be sampling his array of Pinot Noirs in a few weeks at Pinot Days, I focused instead on his 2007 Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay and the 2008 Bismark Vineyard Zinfandel, an unsinkable wine to be sure. with a couple of hours to kill before I was due in Marin, I tried to visit with Carol Shelton (closed for a private memorial!) and then head down the road to make my first visit to fellow paesan Giuseppe Battaglini since I started Sostevinobile.

I’ve long championed Battaglini’s natural wines since discovering their Petite Sirah at Family Winemakers about a decade ago; I have to admit I have a particular fondness for Joe and his ramshackle operations on Santa Rosa’s Piner Road, as it seems so reminiscent of my paternal grandfather and the barnyard operations and trellised grapes he planted after emigrating from Sturno, a commune in the province of Avellino (Regione Campania). When I started out in the California wine industry in the 1980s, there were still quite a number of old-school vignaioli like Elmo Martini, whose Martini & Prati at the northern edge of Santa Rosa has now morphed into a revived Martin Ray, and Ralph Montali of the now-defunct Audubon Cellars.
As one of the last remnants of this same rustic spirit, Joe produces a splendid array of unmanipulated, unpretentious Chardonnays, Zinfandels, and Petite Sirahs. As we sat back in his barn, he poured me seven different Zins from his 1999 through 2007 vintages, as well as his memorable 2005 Petite Sirah Proprietor’s Reserve. His Zinfandel line includes both a Select and Proprietor’s Reserve, in addition to his main bottling, yet, as is often the case with natural winemaking, the flavors of his youngest 2007 Zinfandel Proprietor’s Reserve left the strongest impression this afternoon.
I found some strong coffee at a nearby supermarket before attempting the trek down 101 and attracting the wiles of the CHP. Before I joined my date at E & O Trading Company in Larkspur Landing, I slipped into the local Bed, Bath & Beyond and picked out a large, stainless steel meat tenderizer. Whether this purchased had reunion that evening with the delightfully contentious Terry Graham, I cannot say. I’ll simply leave the math to my readers…

One I missed. The other I made.

There can be a considerable downside to the simplicity of Copy & Paste. Your West Coast Oenophile is starting to realize that the pressures of trying to handle all the needs of Sostevinobile can sometimes cause me to overlook small but important details when I transfer information to my iCal datebook. Like the word preceding the calendar date—the month.
Perhaps I should blame my oversight on my attendance at Rock Wall’s Spring Fling Open House. The weather was perfect Saturday (something Rock Wall always seems to conjure for their major events); the salsicce spicy and enticing; the bevy of Tibetan nursing students who arrived at the tail end of the event alluringly beautiful; the usual suspects—wineries who regularly participate in these quarterly gatherings—there in force. Carica Wines, Ehrenberg , R&B Cellars all poured essentially the same lineup I had tasted at my most recent visit and reviewed here.
Of the new wines I tasted, John Robert Eppler’s JRE label showed notable progress with their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford. Matt Smith, with whom I had recently participated on one of the Connoisseur’s Guide to California Wine Tasting Panels, poured several releases from his Blacksmith label, including his 2008 Torrontés, a nostalgic 2008 Chenin Blanc and his Syrah, Grenache/Cabernet Sauvignon blend, the 2006 Hephaestus. Good always to see Sasha Verhage with his redesigned labels for his Eno Wines; inside the bottle, the 2007 Mr. Fix-It (Syrah) and 2007 The Change Agent (Grenache) lingered longest on the memory.
Rock Wall also debuted several wines, including the 2008 Cabernet Franc Holbrook Mitchell, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Holbrook Mitchell, a Sonoma County 2008 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, and the 2008 Zinfandel Reserve. The true revelation of the afternoon, however, was the much-anticipated 2008 Montepulciano Contra Costa County. A distinct varietal, not to be confused with the Sangiovese-based Italian wine of the same name, I have enjoyed this wine only twice before from other California wineries. This 88-case bottling sold out in less than a week (I did my part by returning to the tasting table several times) and truly stand as a harbinger of the risorgimento of Italian varietals on the West Coast (more on this phenomenon later).
Following the Spring Fling, I rushed back to San Francisco to order online passes to the Vinify Winery Collective Tasting in Santa Rosa. With my e-confirmation safely logged into my iPhone, I mapped out an itinerary, arranged appointments in Glen Ellen and Kenwood, then headed out from San Francisco before my usual wake-up time on Sundays.When my companion and I arrived at the industrial complex on Coffey Lane where Vinify houses its custom crush operations, the parking lot seemed eerily empty. Sure enough, Vinify’s front door was locked and neither Hillary Lattanzio nor her husband Matt were answering their phones. The sun was sweltering, Dongzhe was impatient, and I was flummoxed.

I had noticed, as we entered, that Carol Shelton operated her tasting room from another one of the complex’s warehouses. Determined that our trip not become a total wash, I pulled up to her window, hoping to fulfill a long-standing promise to visit her operations. Unfortunately, Carol was off pouring at a tasting in Southern California, but her Hospitality Manager Joanne Emery was more than happy to accommodate us. A check of my Webmail account from Joanne’s computer affirmed that our party was in fact scheduled for the last Sunday in May, so we mollified our frustration with a rather comprehensive survey of Carol’s current releases, starting with her 2008 Rendezvous Rosé, a blush expression of 100% Carignane.
I skipped past a couple of her Zinfandels I had sampled recently, settling first for the 2005 Wild Thing Zin, a much-awarded bottling smoothed by 10% Carignane. The 2006 Rocky Reserve Zin, a bold, signature Rockpile showcased Carol’s considerable repute for this varietal, as did her perennial favorite, the 2005 Karma Zin. Rockpile’s special allure figured prominently in the 2007 Petite Sirah Rockpile Reserve, while the 2005 Exhale Syrah Reserve derived from a rare second bottling of a wine that had been left in cask for over four years.
My readers, fans of Sostevinobile, and our future clientele all know how I am constantly seeking out different and obscure varietals to add to our inventory. The lineup at Carol’s tasting room yielded just such a discovery with her 2008 Sweet Caroline, a late harvest wine crafted from Trousseau Gris. We closed our visit with a taste of Dark Chocolate and the 2008 Black Magic, a late harvest Zinfandel, a fitting cap to our impromptu stop.
I have been building the wine program for Sostevinobile for nearly two years, building on an extensive involvement in the California wine industry since 1982. During this development, I have reached out to and sampled wines from 2,000 or so labels along the West Coast; as such, it seems a natural extension of my research to provided consulting services to other ventures on their wine program, particularly in helping them gain more of a focus on the bounty of wines we have available at our own doorstep. In search of assisting a small group of Italian restaurants incorporate a selection of Italian varietals grown here for their wine list, we headed across Sonoma County to the Kenwood tasting room Michael Muscardini had opened.
Michael couldn’t meet us, owing to a charitable obligation, but we were ably guided through the selections by Tasting Room Manager George Delano. We started off with the 2009Rosato di Sangiovese, a bone-dry expression of the grape I look forward to comparing with other Rosé wines at the Pink Out SF tasting next week. Next up were the 2008 Barbera Pauli Ranch from Ukiah and the 2008 Sangiovese Monte Rosso Vineyards, one of several Sangiovesi Muscardini produces. We could not resist contrasting the 2007 Syrah Gracie Creek with the 2007 Syrah Unti Vineyard before moving onto the 2007 Tesoro, a proprietary Super Tuscan with 58% Sangiovese from both Merlo and Favero Vineyards, plus 21% of Unti’s Syrah.
The 21% remaining to this bottling was Cabernet Sauvignon from Ty Caton, which now shares Muscardini’s tasting room. No Italian varietals here, but memories of working our way through a mixed case of these wines with The Ginkgo Girl last year spurred us to try several of his current offerings. Setting our palate fresh was his crisp 2009 Riesling from the Central Coast, followed by his very approachable 2009 Syrah Rosé. With a wide choice of vineyard designate reds to chose, we opted for the 2008 Petite Sirah Caton Vineyard, the 2008 Upper Bench Merlot, and the 2008 The Ridge George’s Malbec.
Of course, we could not leave without a taste of Caton’s crown jewel, the 2008 Tytanium, a well-balanced blend of 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Petite Sirah, 24% Syrah, and 9% Malbec. I had first tried the 2007 vintage of this wine last year at the Open House for Eighth Street Wineries in Sonoma, an industrial warehouse complex that houses the production facilities for Ty Caton and a handful of other boutique wineries like Three Stick, Kamen and Enkidu. I had recently sampled Enkidu’s superb inaugural Sangiovese, the 2008 Rosso Fazekas, at QuestPoint Solar Solutions’ Appreciation and Rejuvenation soirée at Green Zebra, and was happily surprised to discover their new tasting room adjacent to Muscardini. Alas, however, this wine was not on their tasting list, so we departed for a meal in Sonoma Square before returning to San Francisco.


My premature trek to the Vinify tasting made me all the more resolute to enjoy the Taste of Mendocino in the Presidio the following Tuesday.  If only the weather had decided to act as cooperative as it had in Alameda the preceding weekend! Within moments of leaving the Cow Hollow Fedex/Kinko’s, where I had dropped off the sunglasses Dongzhe had left under my car seat, I found myself caught in a downpour as I pedaled furiously over to the Golden Gate Club in the Presidio. I arrived thoroughly drenched, then spent the next 20 minutes seeking out a restroom with hot air hand blower to try drying my shirt!
When I finally did get myself to a point of appearing presentable, I beelined for the tasting room and caught up with Fred Buonanno, who was pouring his Philo Ridge. Though his name, like mine, begs for Italian varietals, Fred vinifies a more mainstream Mendocino varietal selection, with an elegant 2008 Pinot Gris Klindt Vineyard, the AVA signature 2006 CORO Mendocino, and his 2006 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley. Of course, the A-Z (Z-A?) in Mendocino wines decidely must be Fred Zmarzly’s Albertina Wine Cellars; an intimate, small production, single varietal operation, Albertina made an emphatic statement with their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, a 330 case bottling.
Content merely to span the Bs, Brutocao Cellars and Bliss Family Vineyards herald from a single proprietorship, the former being the primary label. The more affordable Bliss brand offered a straightforward lineup, with an approachable 2008 Pinot Noir an easy favorite. Brutocao’s 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley fell squarely in line with the overall excellence of this vintage throughout the West
Coast,while its 2006 Quadriga, a blend of 40% Sangiovese, 38% Primitivo, 18% Barbera, and 4% Dolcetto, provided a tantalizing glimpse of their Italian heritage wines that were not on this afternoon’s roster.
I don’t know of many wineries with the versatility to make an array of Sauvignon Blancs, but Chance Creek Vineyards certainly proved themselves quite adept in this niche. Of the three interpretation they poured, I greatly favored the 2006 95470 Sauvignon Blanc, while being slightly partial to the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc vs. the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc reserve. And, of course. I took quite a shining to their 2006 Sangiovese. The pinnacle of Italian varietals this afternoon, however, most certainty had to have been Chiarito Vineyard. Advance intimations of John Chiarito’s bottlings of several varietals unique to this region had lead a number of e-mail exchanges before the Mendocino event, and I was rewarded with tastings of his 2003 Negroamaro and his striking 2003 Nero d’Avola. To John’s credit, his 2007 Petite Sirah was no slouch, either.
I am always appreciative of a clever wine name, especially when the wine itself warrants attention, like the 2006 Sedulous from Rivino. I suppose the 18 months I have dedicated (so far) to building Sostevinobile’s wine program might qualify me for this moniker, as well, but Jason McConnell’s deft blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, with just a splash of Viognier, deserves the spotlight at this moment, alongside his superb 2007 Sangiovese. Meanwhile, the quaint family operations of Mariah Vineyards seemed to have posted a typo in the tasting guide, lisiting both a 2006 Syrah and a 2006 Syriah, but, indeed, the latter is a proprietary portmanteau (Syrah Mariah) and distinct bottling of but 51 cases, crafted by hand.
Kimmel Vineyards has nothing to do with late night comedy, just the production of a superb 2007 Merlot and an admirable 2007 Chardonnay. One might also suspect Naughty Boy Vineyards as well of having ties to Jimmy K., but is instead the domain of Jim & Emjay Scott and crafts a fine 2007 Dolcetto.
Diametrically opposite but without apparent sanctimony, Mendielle Vertu could easily have derived an esoteric name from owner Bently Luneau or winemaker Kian Tavakoli, but instead chose to honor Mendi, their ranch dog. Though focused on Merlot, with strongest showing from both their 2007 Proprietary Red Merlot and the 2007 Reserve Merlot, they flourished with their new 2008 Chenin Blanc. With as intense focus on Pinot Noir, Phillips Hill held forth with a trio of this varietal, the most definitive being their 2008 Ring of Fire Anderson Valley.
Claudia Springs also excelled with their 2005 Pinot Noir Klindt Vineyard, while also producing a 2009 Viognier Lolonis Vineyard and a 2009 Pinot Gris Klindt Vineyard. Coincidence? Foursight Wines brought along four Pinots, dominated by their 2007 Clone 05 Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard, and a companion 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Charles Vineyard.
Coming from opposite ends of the spectrum, two wineries showcased a single Chardonnay. Independent winery Demuth Kemos produced but a scant 96 cases of their 2008 Chardonnay Anderson Valley, while Constellation’s Mendocino Vineyards bottled 10,000 cases of its foray into organic viticulture, the 2009 Chardonnay. Other boutique proprietors included: Nelson Family Vineyards, notable for both their 2008 Pinot Grigio and 2008 Riesling; Cesar Toxqui, with a sturdy 2006 Zinfandel and a non-vintage Heirloom II, a blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot; and Drew Wines, with under 1,300 cases of their three Pinot Noirs, plus a memorable 2007 Syrah Perli Vineyard.
Dreyer Wine displayed its dual personality, with its Il Cuore line and one name for the thoroughbred who ran with such heart, Seabiscuit Ranch. I warmed to Seabiscuit’s 2006 Superfecta Red, a traditional Meritage, but had my greatest fondness for Il Cuore’s new release, the 2006 Barbera, along with their 2007 Rosso Classico, a blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Carignane. Meritage components starred at Le Vin Winery, which broke out their older 2002 Merlot and 2004 Cabernet Franc for this afternoon’s gathering.
Maple Creek Winery sees itself as a fusion of wine and art, so it should come as no surprise that they poured a 2008 Artezin Symphony, a grape that itself is a hybrid of Muscat and Grenache Gris. Their notable pour, however, was the 2005 Cowboy Red, a blend of Merlot, Zinfandel and Carignane.Its Mendocino compatrio
t, Trinafour Cellars, bottled straight 2009 Muscat Canelli and 2007 Carignane, along with their 2006 Petite Sirah.
Like Fred Zmarzly, Rosati Family is a Cab-only operation, bottling 1,000 cases each year; of the 3-year vertical they poured, the youngest, the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, stood out as the most complex. One of the oldest names in Mendocino winemaking, Weibel Family Winery, demonstrated its small lot varietals, a 200-case 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and a very approachable 2006 Zinfandel, bottled in the same quantity.
Of course, Weibel’s array of champagnes and flavored sparkling wines make it quite the substantial operation. I eschewed their NV Sparkelle for two of the leading méthode champenoise producers on hand, Scharffenberger, which poured its NV Brut Rosé, and the always-marvelous Roederer Estate, which indulged me in its 2002 L’Ermitage.
Following the sale of their family label to Brown-Forman, several of the 11 Fetzer offspring have started their own labels. Present today were both Saracina Vineyards, delighting with its 2006 Atrea Old Soul Red (Zinfandel, Syrah, Malbec, Petite Sirah) as well as its 2007 Petite Sirah, and Jeriko Estate, with its 2006 Pinot Noir and 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. Like their original venture, the Fetzer spinoffs all maintain a great fealty to organic and biodynamic farming, a hallmark of numerous Mendocino wineries, including Patianna, which shone with its organic 2008 Chardonnay, and organic pioneers Frey Vineyards, whose Katrina Frey regaled me with the 2007 Sangiovese, as had her daughter Eliza with the previous vintage just as I was formally embarking on Sostevinobile’s wine program.
As always, I never seem to find the time to taste every winery with whom I set out to connect and often miss out on ones with whom I would love to reconnect. I did manage to squeeze in a taste of Esterlina’s excellent 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley, along with their contrasting 2008 Riesling and 2008 Dry Riesling Cole Ranch. Edmeades offered a quartet of Zins, headlined by the 2007 Ciapusci Zinfandel. In turn, Elke Vineyard made its strongest impression with their pair of 2007 Pinot Noir Donnelly Creek and 2008 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley. I took in a quick tasting 2008 Pinot Gris and 2006 Riesling from McFadden Farm, along with their 2008 Sparkling, but somehow entirely missed both Meyer Family Cellars and Milano Family Winery (I will be sure to make amends at another date).
Had there been time to spare, I would have gladly caught up with old familiars like Lolonis, Navarro, Parducci, Bonterra, Barra, and Jaxon Keys, but, unfortunately, my unforeseen drenching en route to the event whittled away a significant portion of the time I had allotted. Fitting, therefore, that my finally tasting was the 2009 Chenin Blanc of Husch Vineyards. while my dampened attire did not lead to anything quite as dire as pneumonia, I did come down with a nasty bout of congestion and most unwelcome case of laryngitis, which kept me “hushed” for the next several days.