Category Archives: Primitivo

How you gonna keep him down on the Pharm?

2016-07-30 15.16.40It was high time Your West Coast Oenophile venture outside my frequent stomping grounds and undertake some serious exploration of the joints—I mean, wineries—that I have vetted for Sostevinobile primarily through trade tastings in San Francisco and on Treasure Island. And so I threw caution to the wind and risked upping my per-mile bracket with Metromile and headed north beyond the confines of Sonoma and Napa for the other regions that constitute the vast North Coast AVA: Lake and Mendocino counties.

After several years’ worth of invites, I finally capitulated and agreed to attend the annual picnic and members meeting for the Redwood Forest Foundation (RFFI) in Ukiah. This foundation represents a laudable effort to preserve not only much of the old growth redwoods throughout California but to protect the wildlife that inhabit these preserves. Naturally, the focus of their efforts aligns synergistically with the sustainable aims of Sostevinobile, but I am not entirely sanguine about the use of cap & trade carbon credits to offset their budget deficit. Global warming has now reached the point where merely maintaining current level of carbon emissions—which, in effect, is what carbon credits facilitates—rather than radically reducing them, is not sufficient to offset the pending catastrophic impact from our profligate industrial consumption.

In spite of such conundrums, Mendocino still can lay valid claim to its self-professed accolade as “The Greenest AVA in America.” Many may claim this is a double-entendre, and yet my only encounter with any semblance of cannabis culture was a sign at the gateway to Hopland. There was no indication, however, that they operated a tasting room.

No dearth of visible tasting rooms existed for the numerous wineries that have sprung up in county since I first visited with Mendocino’s first varietal producer, the late John Parducci. Before locating the Redwood Forest picnic, I fittingly managed to squeeze a visit with Rich Parducci’s McNab Ridge, a winery I had featured a few years ago at a tasting I designed for NAAAP-SF. As eclectic in his tastes as his grandfather, Rich bottles an extraordinary array of organically grown selections that span from a strikingly appealing 2014 French Colombard to his admirable rendition of the 2013 Pinotage. I was quite taken with McNab Ridge’s exemplary 2013 Primitivo, but still managed to spare enough room to sample their 2013 John Parducci Signature Series Port, an opulent blend of Touriga Nacional (55%), Tinta Roriz (16%), Touriga Francesca (10%), Tinta Barroca (10%), and Tinta Cão (9%).

Time constraints dictated that I cut short my visit with McNab Ridge and depart Hopland’s quaint confines for the aforementioned luncheon, aptly situated amid a redwood grove at Nelson Family Vineyards. As these wines are not commonly distributed beyond subscribers and visitors to the tasting room, I took the opportunity to sample through their roster after the RFFI conclave. Starting with their NV Brut, one of Mendocino’s signature expressions, I segued to a delightfully light 2014 Pinot Grigio. Nelson’s deft touch truly manifested itself next in their 2013 Viognier, a well-balanced expression of the grape that proved neither austere nor cloying.

Creative minds most certainly lurked behind their 2015 Barn Blend, a unique blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Zinfandel and Viognier. More traditional, the 2013 Top Row Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, an intensified wine crafted from a prized block on their estate vineyard. Finally, Nelson revealed its true virtuosity in their exceptional 2013 Zinfandel, a dense, jammy wine that long lingered on the palate.

I next veered southward back to Hopland, where I spent a most enjoyable hour visiting with César Toxqui at the tasting room he maintains alongside Bruotocao’s. His affable 2013 Muscat Canelli prefaced 2014 Rosé of Zinfandel, a wine most definitely not to be confused with the much-maligned White Zin concoction that ruled the 1980s. I found his 2012 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley appealing, his 2010 Grenache decidely more so. Here again, the 2007 Immigrant Zinfandel reigned supreme, closely followed by a 2013 Zinfandel Dry Creek, sourced from across the county line.

César also poured a noteworthy single vineyard Cabernet, his 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Bloom Vineyards. His trademark, however, stems from his non-vintage blends, the Ruthless Red, a mélange of 80% Zinfandel, 10% Syrah, and 10% Merlot , dedicated to his wife, and the Heirloom Cinco, a solera now in its fifth cuvée, produced from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, and Viognier.

Following an a raucous evening indulging in all two of downtown Ukiah’s hot spots, I rose early the next day, squeezed in a few laps across the motel pool, and headed out to the foot of Anderson Valley for their annual Barrel Tasting Weekend. Before I reached the festival, I popped into Simaine, an bootstrap winery/tasting room housed in a light industrial complex where my GPS steered me in my quest to locate Germain-Robin. Owner Vic Símon graciously received me just as he prepared to open for the day and opened a selection of his current offerings, starting with his personal favorite, the 2012 Sangiovese. Other wine, designated as Reserve, included the 2010 Petite Sirah and a 2010 Carignane, both of which proved balanced and approachable. His final selection, a Bordeaux blend with the rather elusive name, the 2011 Virisda.

After departing Simaine, the scenic 17-mile expanse of Hwy. 253 wound across the county to Boonville, where I collected my credentials at Philo Ridge’s tasting room. I had hoped to surprise Fred Buonanno with my long-delayed visit but was informed he was still nursing the after-effects of his 60th birthday celebration the night before. Nonetheless, I managed to soldier on and taste through a number of his selections. Having recently sampled several of their Pinot Noir selections at June’s Taste of Mendocino, I opted to taste through an array of white varietals, starting with a lean 2014 Chardonnay Haiku Ranch.Seventeen syllables later, I moved onto the 2014 Pinot Gris Nelson Vineyard, a fresh, tank-fermented rendition of the grape. Also, tank-fermented: the floral yet delicate 2014 Viognier Nelson Ranch, a perfect white for what would prove a scorchingly hot afternoon.

Several Mendocino growers have collaborated over the past several years on a bottling a regional proprietary wine they call Coro. In keeping with this Zinfandel-focused blend, Philo Ridge bottles an intriguing mélange they call Vino di Mendocino. Currently in its fourth release, this wine marries Zinfandel with Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Carignane. The wine was delightful but the burden of becoming a sexagenarian had evidently taken its toll, so I abandoned the notion of waiting for Fred to appear and moseyed onto the next stop.

It was rather surprising to find a town as quaint and remote as Boonville dotted with so many satellite tasting rooms; I would have thought such a laid-back rural setting more conducive to onsite estate visits. Nonetheless, it proved rather convenient to meander between premises and sampling their offerings. Having tried Seebass Family Wines at numerous tastings over the years, I correlated their wines with the impressive Bavarian coat of arms that highlights their label. The tasting room proved to be anything but ponderous, manned by Brigitte Seebass’ daughter Michelle Myrenne Willoughby. Michelle ably navigated five different parties that had bellied up to her bar, yet still found time to attend to my personal discretion. We started with her 2015 Family Chardonnay, a bold wine, like all of Seebass’ selections, sourced from estate-grown, hand-harvested, hand-pruned, sustainably farmed fruit. Quelling my thirst from the 95° F heat, the delightfully chilled 2015 Fantasie proved a compelling Rosé of Grenache.

Varietal bottlings constitute a distinct strength at Seebass, starting with the 2012 Grand Reserve Merlot and punctuated by the exceptionally well-rounded 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel, honed from 100+ year old vines. Nonetheless, I also greatly enjoyed their 2012 Romantik, a blend of Syrah and Grenache, along with their NV Mysteriös, a proprietary mix from their 2011 & 2012 harvests, combining Grenache, Syrah, Merlot and Zinfandel.

Though certainly a pleasant wine, admittedly the most striking aspect of the Mysteriös was the artistic design of it label, a reproduction of one of Michelle’s late father’s paintings, a geometric design that echoed the prints of op art’s grandfather, renowned Hungarian-French master Victor Vasarely. Coincidentally, I bounced over next to Boonville’s John Hanes Fine Art, a modern gallery that shares space with Harmonique. I would like to think the hermaphroditic statuary that adorned the entrance to this facility dissuaded me from partaking of the various Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs for which Harmonique is prized, but, in truth, Harmonique’s absence from the roster of the Anderson Valley Barrel Tasting precluded my visiting.

And so I ambled across the street to the Boonville Hotel, the onetime home of the legendary New Boonville Hotel, a restaurant that had turned this area into a culinary mecca. In the courtyard, I found Paul and Valerie Gordon of Halcón Vineyards, an intrepid couple who sojourn weekly from their Silicon Valley home to produce Mendocino wine. Their al fresco tasting in the hotel’s garden court included a slew of exemplary wines, starting with their 2013 Prado, a classic Rhône blend of Roussanne and Marsanne. From there, we progressed to the 2014 Rosé, a deft melding of Grenache and Syrah, then segued onto the 2014 Alturas Estate Syrah, classically cofermented with a scintilla of Viognier. Opting for a pure expression of the varietal, Paul poured his 2014 Tierra Petite Sirah, a wine quite reflective of its Yorkville Highlands pedigree. His coup de grâce most certainly, however,was the 2014 Wentzel Vineyard Pinot Noir, an exceptionally well-balanced wine, neither light nor ponderous, a blend with 35% whole cluster that clung to the palate ever so delightfully.

Following this stop, I backpedaled from the center of downtown Boonville to visit with Joe Webb at Foursight. This boutique operation has long stood as one of Mendocino’s premier Pinot Noir labels, but first I had to try the refreshingly chilled 2013 Charles Vineyard Sémillon, a most pleasant, understated wine. Though it may be a noble experiment, I confess that I did not cotton to the 2013 Unoaked Pinot Noir, a simplified expression of the grape that struck me as overly sour. In contrast, Joe’s signature wine, the 2014 Paraboll Pinot Noir presented a geometric leap over the Unoaked, a truly exquisite wine that attested to Anderson Valley’s rightful place in California’s Pinot hierarchy.

Onward, returned to my car and headed north to Elke, the first onsite tasting room on the trail. The dirt road, clapboard barn, unpretentious landscaping embodied just the kind of ramshackle setting I had envisioned before I’d arrived, and while owner Mary Elke was not on hand this afternoon, I still enjoyed a most pleasant session, sipping through a welcomely-chilled NV Sparkling Brut crafted from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I found myself equally pleased—and refreshed—by both the 2014 Chardonnay Anderson Valley and a candy-like 2014 Rosé of Pinot Noir Anderson Valley. For balance, I finished with their 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Lake County, a heterodoxical selection for the afternoon.

Creeping back onto the highway, I next dropped in on Witching Stick, another understated operation that belied the sophistication of its œnology. Owner Van Williamson began my tasting with a straightforward yet excellent 2014 Durrell Vineyard Chardonnay, then moved to the delightful albeit atypical 2014 Carignano Rosato. After these chilled wines, I delighted in an enticing 2012 Valenti Vineyard Syrah before delving into Van’s Pinot lineup. The 2013 Gianoli Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2013 Perli Vineyard Pinot Noir proved equally compelling, but both were clearly outshone by the lushness of the 2012 Gianoli Vineyard Pinot Noir. But the pinnacle at this stop turned out to be the 2013 Fashauer Vineyard Zinfandel, a deep, complex , jammy wine.

Across the street, Phil T. G. Baxter welcomed me like an old friend to the intimate confines of his eponymous tasting room. As with Witching Stick, the tasting centered on his lineup of Pinot Noir, starting with an acutely focused 2013 Weir Vineyard Pinot Noir. I found both the 2013 Valenti Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2013 Langley Vineyard Pinot Noir on par with the 2013s from across the street, while the 2012 Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir once again underscored the superior quality of this vintage. Phil concluded our visit with a sample of his 2013 Valenti Vineyard Syrah, a perfectly amiable wine that complement a perfectly amiable setting.

I have often expressed my personal qualms about engaging in Mergers & Acquisitions, my original role in the wine industry and a practice I’ve recently resumed on behalf of Sostevinobile. One of my favorite Mendocino labels has long been Greenwood Ridge, and I had hoped to visit with Allan Green in Philo, but the winery had been acquired back in March by Diane and Ken Wilson and folded into the mini-empire they have quietly cobbled together in Sonoma and Mendocino. Though Allan will be sorely missed, the new regime has nonetheless stayed the course, including the winery’s focus on organic farming and winemaking; the wines I sampled here, however, were produced under the former ownership, so assaying the perpetuation of these practices remains undetermined. Nevertheless, I cottoned immensely to all three wines I tasted, starting with the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, the first wine to open my eyes to the full potential organic winemaking. Complementing this indubitable bottling, the 2015 Riesling retained just enough sweetness to taste refined, not cloying. Rounding out my visit, the whimsically-labelled 2013 Hundred Point Pinot Noir, named for a promontory along the Mendocino Coast where 100 ships have wrecked, bore fitting testament to Allan’s legacy.

Not quite Helen of Troy (was this the face that launched a thousand ships?), but close. My combined 18 years’ inculcation in Greek & Latin literature begs for allusion as often as I can cite it. As such, I need confess the allure of Lula Cellars stemmed not merely from the beauty of its wines but the striking pulchritude of their delightful hostess. Kacy managed, despite my overt distraction, to steer me through Lula’s lineup with considerable aplomb, commencing her tasting session with an exceptional 2014 Dry Gewürztraminer, a varietal that for many years characterized Mendocino for me. The 2015 Rosato displayed a delight derivation of a Pinot Noir, while the 2013 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir simply resounded. Rounding out this visit, the 2014 Mariah Vineyard Zinfandel provided a rich dénouement to a most productive afternoon.

Only my tasting day was far from over. Resolved to head back to San Francisco along the leisurely coastal route, I continued up toward along Route 128 toward the town of Albion, below which it interests with Highway 1. To my great surprise, nearly all the wineries along this road remained open until 7pm, a far cry from Napa and Sonoma, where 4:30pm seems the general rule of thumb. And so I abruptly veered into the parking lot for Domaine Anderson, the new branch of Roederer Estate dedicated to still wines. I had first encountered these wines at San Francisco’s Pinot Days, where Wine Club Manager Jennie Dallery had apparently drawn the short straw and was relegated to the antechamber at Bespoke, along with a handful of other wineries forced to compete against subway-level acoustics. I had promised her I would visit soon and discuss these wines in an audible setting, but was chagrined to learn she had left the premises a mere five minutes before my arrival. Nonetheless, I made the best of my visit and sampled both the 2014 Estate Chardonnay and the notably lemony 2013 Dach Chardonnay, both complements to the designate Pinot Noirs I had tried in San Francisco, before continuing my trek to an old familiar, Handley Cellars.

I’ve lost count how many times I’ve sampled (and enjoyed) these wines at tastings throughout the year since 2008 and have even attended a luncheon where seven selections of their Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays were paired to each course. So here I was more than happy to taste through their non-standard selections, starting with the exquisitely floral 2014 Pinot Blanc Mendocino County. Complementing this wine, the 2015 Pinot Gris Anderson Valley seemed a bit more subdued but approachable, while the 2015 Riesling Anderson Valley gave considerable credence to Mendocino’s claim as California’s prime AVA for Alsatian varietals.

I bypassed Handley’s all-too-familiar lineup of Pinots for a selection of their other reds, including the unlisted 2013 Vittorio Petite Sirah. I found the 2013 Zinfandel Russian River Valley equally pleasurable, yet both combine, along with a healthy share of Carignane to make a true standout, the 2013 Vittorio Red Table Wine. Meanwhile, standing out on its own merits: the 2013 Syrah Kazmet Vineyard.

Truth be told: I had two primary destinations in mind when I embarked on this journey. Although I finally did manage to determine the actual location for Germain-Robin, I learned that weekend appointments would not have been available anyway. My other Holy Grail, of course, was sparkling wine virtuoso Roederer Estate, which was just about to close its doors as I arrived. I almost convinced the tasting room staff I had won a case of L’Ermitage, but settled for the final tasting of the day as reward for my ruse. Their base offering, the Brut MV, artfully combined a blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir. Roederer serves this wine from different size bottles, and clearly the Brut MV Magnum outshone the confines of the standard 750ml bottling. I could not have asked more of the Brut Rosé MV, a Pinot-dominant blend, while their Tête du Cuvée, my cherished 2009 L’Ermitage reaffirmed itself as my perennial favorite sparkling.

2016-07-24-16-33-40While my return to Mendocino proved both fruitful and enlightening, I confess I was surprised that I never once stumbled across the mood-altering botanical for which it is primarily known. Perhaps because it has been a few decades since I cultivated an affinity for the weed that its whereabouts eluded me. Perhaps it was because I have had little to praise for the few bottlings of marijuana-infused wine that I’ve tried. Or could it be that this reputation is simply an elaborate hoax, a convoluted pharmaceutical paronomasia?


I passed through Mendocino a week later, en route to a wine tasting in neighboring Lake County, another AVA I have been remiss in visiting. But with so many fires having recently ravaged this pristine preserve, it seemed almost obligatory that I journey north as a gesture of solidarity with the fourteen wineries on hand for The People’s Choice Wine Tasting.2016-07-30 15.44.28Admittedly, I could have made better timing in getting to the Kelseyville destination, but I decided to follow the scenic mountain route over from Hopland.As I began my descent down Highway 175, the vista from atop Cobb Mountain provided a breathtaking panoramic of Clear Lake, a natural phenomenon often unfairly depicted as a poor man’s Lake Tahoe. The vast expanse of this waterway was an unanticipated revelation, tinged with regret that I have not taken advantage of the resorts that dot its shore, especially when San Francisco summers have taken an Arctic turn.

My other epiphany came as I wound down from Middleton to the back stretches of Bottle Rock Road: seemingly every other vineyard I passed was tagged with a Beckstoffer sign. Behind this ubiquity lies a concerted effort to bolster the quality and reputation of Lake County’s wines, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon hailing from the Red Hills AVA, where they farm nearly 1,300 acres of vineyard. This past winter, owner Andy Beckstoffer announced a program wherein he would provide one acres’ worth of Cabernet for free to ten select vintners in the county to draw help catalyze this ambitious project. Despite being seen by some merely as theatricality, the chosen vintners with whom I spoke wear their selection as a badge of honor.

I arrived at host Moore Family Winery amid their own theatricality, a blind tasting of thirteen Lake County Sauvignon Blancs. As with the Anderson Valley Barrel Tasting, I quickly drifted from the staged event inside the Tasting Room and focused my visit on the wineries pouring their Gold Medal selections. Host Steve Moore offered a distinctive lineup, starting with his 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, a wine that had not taken part in the shootout. I clearly favored his 2015 Chardonnay, however, but did cotton to the 2009 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, a most deserving dessert wine.

In a similar vein, Kelseyville’s Chacewater showcased their 2014 Chardonnay, a wine I would have liked to contrast with their Organic Certified 2015 Chardonnay. Complementing this vintage, however, was the 2015 Muscat Canelli, a sweet yet appealing wine, to be sure. Former Kendall-Jackson winemaker Jed Steele had his various labels out in force, impressing with the Sweepstake Red Winner, the 2012 Steele-Stymie Merlot and, in a nod to poetic justice,the 2015 Writer’s Block Roussanne.

Forsooth, Fults Family Vineyards, a winery I had not previously encountered, countered with a pair of their amiable whites, the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc and the 2015 Chardonnay. Contrasting quite nicely, the stainless steel 2015 Endeavor, a limited release Chardonnay from Wildhurst, which showcased its 2013 Petite Sirah alongside. And in keeping with the caliber of his worldwide wine portfolio,a standout 2013 Petite Sirah came from Langtry, new NHL team owner Bill Foley’s Lake County acquisition.

While Foley has ponied up $500,000,000 for the construction of T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, the more anticlimactic redevelopment of San Francisco’s Treasure Island has begun displacing the cottage wine industry there, starting with the myriad labels produced at The Winery SF. Nonetheless, owner Bryan Kane remains committed to the Lake County fruit he sources for his personal Sol Rouge label, resulting in an ever-reliable 2013 Petite Sirah and a most compelling bottling of his 2012 Cabernet Franc. Another multilabel enterprise, Shannon Ridge showed atypical restraint, pouring a mere four selections from their seemingly inexhaustible lineup. Both the 2013 Wrangler Red, a blend of 44% Zinfandel, 43% Syrah, 11% Petite Sirah, and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2012 Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon seemed tepid, particularly when juxtaposed with their 2015 High Elevation Sauvignon Blanc and the superb 2013 High Elevation Chardonnay. Another winery that featured a blend was Fore Family Vineyards, also previously unfamiliar to Sostevinobile, with their delightful Grenache-based 2013 GSM; deftly displaying the potential of the Red Hills volcanic soil, their 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon proved sheer elegant.

From Clearlake Oaks, Cache Creek Vineyards shares only a name with the more familiar casino, but a kindred spirit with its Lake County brethren. Their 2014 Rosé of Cabernet attested to their acuity of their vinification, while the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon constituted yet another testament to the potential of this AVA. Admittedly, I found myself wondering if Jack Welch would deem that Six Sigma’s somewhat tepid 2014 Sauvignon Blanc held to continuous efforts to achieve stable and predictable process results, but I was especially pleased to taste their 2013 Diamond Mine Cuvée, a black belt mélange of Tempranillo with lesser parts Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

Also veering from the predominant French focus of the afternoon, Nick Buttitta made an impromptu appearance on behalf of his Rosa d’Oro label, sharing his intense 2013 Aglianico, a dense, intense interpretation of this varietal. Still, I concede that the standout wine of the afternoon was the opulent 2014 Viognier from Gregory Graham, one of the most acclaimed winemakers in Lake County.

Andy Beckstoffer contends Lake County’s “Red Hills is the most promising Cabernet Sauvignon site outside of Europe.” At the heart of this AVA sits Tricycle Wine Partners’ Obsidian Ridge, whose wines compare favorably at 2-3 times the price from their southerly neighbors in Napa. Underscoring this point today, they wowed the crowd with considerable aplomb, pouring a robust 2013 Estate Syrah, their 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, co-winner of the Sweepstake Red award, and a distinctive Meritage, the 2012 Half Mile Proprietary Red, a wondrous blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.

I wish I had allotted more time to this visit, as many intriguing Lake County ventures that participated in this competition could not be present. I find myself now filled with trepidation that I may never have the opportunity to visit with several of these; as most people know, a series of wildfires have struck since my visit, threatening to undermine the emergence of Lake County as a world-class AVA. Fortunately, the arsonist responsible for many of these conflagrations has been apprehended. Moving forward, absent of natural catastrophe, perhaps Lake County can look toward their westerly neighbor for definition of the expression “up in smoke!”

An austere wine, with an alluring bucket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discoveries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

And the beat goes on…

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

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


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


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

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

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

Zurviving ZAP

Many of my longstanding readers know that Sostevinobile was borne partly out of Your West Coast Oenophile’s frustration with the advertising industry in San Francisco. Meritocracy be damned—this is an insidious clique hellbent on quashing true talent in favor of preserving the status quo mediocrity. A prime example of this phenomenon can be see at the once illustrious Foote, Cone & Belding, an agency that blazed trails in the 1980s with its work for Levi’s, as well as its iconic claymation, The Dancing Raisins. 

In the 1990s, FCB created one of the most vapid commercials ever broadcast, for the short-lived malt beverage Zima. Their spokesman, a pallid imitation of Chico Marx, feebly promoted this clear-colored alternative to Bartles & Jaymes and Quinn’s Quail Coolers by eliminating the letter “S” from his dialogue, substituting a “Z” whenever possible.

Zimply ridiculouz! I was so offended by this spot—not because of its content but because the hack who created it, not me, was thriving as a copywriter—that I took to posting this retort outside FCB’s entryway.

Zo I zaid,“Zit on my face!”


And zhe replied, “Then pop it, Pimplehead!”


Zima exists now only in the painful recesses of the memory, while Foote Cone & Belding’s office in San Francisco has shrunk to a vestige of what it once was. I don’t pretend I could have salvaged this product, but had the FCB folks ever had the perspicacity to put me on staff, I can safely say (zafely zay?) such a ludicrous campaign would have never seen the light of day.








Twenty-five years’ of backstabbing, rampant mediocrity, and relentless
mendacity ultimately drove me out of advertising & marketing and back into the relative tranquility of the viticultural realm, though readers here know that I always maintained close ties to the industry through this hiatus, developing wine labels, custom bottling, and, most importantly steadfastly attending numerous trade shows to continue expanding and refining my palate. These efforts included taking part of nearly every ZAP festival since it first filled the Golden Gate Room at Fort Mason.

Naturally, I was on hand a couple of weeks ago for 20 Years of Zinspiration, the vigentennial celebration of ZAP’s Grand Zinfandel Tasting. Popular perception holds that this gathering has mushroomed to overwhelming proportions since its inception, but actually it has contracted from around 250 participating wineries in 2009 to just 205 this most recent incarnation. Yet with nearly seven hours to cover both buildings, I still found myself hard-pressed to meet with every winery I had pre-identified for the afternoon.

Over the course of the afternoon, I delved into some Primitivos, some Zinfandel blends, a handful of Ports, and one or two unsanctioned wines hidden beneath the table. If there were any White Zins on hand, I managed to skillfully avoid them; for the most part, however, the event provided an interminable flow of Zinfandel, Zinfandel, and more Zinfandel.

Several of my previous entries have detailed my perceptions on the challenges of tasting through a single varietal event. My methodology for navigating these events certainly has been laid out extensively. And by now, I’ve described the setting of the pavilions at Fort Mason and my bipedal commute from Pacific Heights ad nauseam. So, rather than risk redundancy, let me list the stations I visited, starting with the newcomers to the Sostevinobile roster.

Santa Rosa’s Carlisle Winery bottles both Zinfandel and an array of Rhône-style wines. Here they poured contrasting Zins, starting with the 2009 Zinfandel Montafi Ranch from the Russian River Valley. This superb wine only slightly eclipsed their 2009 Zinfandel Monte Rosso Vineyard, which, in turn I found slightly better that the still-impressive 2009 Zinfandel Martinelli Road Vineyard. Now recite them all, three times fast…

My readers know that I have been steadily building this wine program for nearly three years. At this stage, I can list three certainties about the wine industry: 1) no one can list all the wine labels being produced on the West Coast (current estimates place this figure at ~8,000 distinct producers); 2) no one can possibly guess how many varietals are being grown here (Sostevinobile has uncovered 147 so far); 3) no one knows every wine venture Nils Venge has his hand in. And so I was quite surprised to see this storied winemaker standing at the table for Cougar’s Leap, a red wine venture out of Rutherford. Today’s tasting provided a cursory insight into the scope of this venture, which is also bottling a Meritage, Petite Sirah and Rosato di Sangiovese; the 2007 Black Rock Zinfandel showed beautifully, while the 2009 vintage struck me as too early to be poured.

My appreciation for the wines from Dendor Patton fell pretty much along the same lines. This Mendocino venture, which lists its business domain as Belchertown, MA (great address for a brewery!), impressed me greatly with their 2007 Wisdom Zinfandel, while the 2009 proved premature.

Lest anyone begin to suspect that the 2008 vintage was somehow missing in action, Haraszthy Family Cellars more than filled in the gap with four distinct bottlings—not surprising when the title bar to their Website reads “Zinfandels and only Zinfandels.” Their pouring progressed from the 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi to the pleasant 2008 Zinfandel Amador County to the more luxuriant 2008 Zinfandel Sonoma County. The crescendo came from their unannounced 2008 Zinfandel Howell Mountain, a genuine pleasure to sample.

From there, I moved onto a semi-unfamiliar label, Headbanger, a division of Hoffman Family Cellars. As with Dendor Patton and Cougar’s Leap, attendees were presented with non-sequential vintages of their Zins, the definitive 2007 Sonoma County Zinfandel and the aspirant 2009 vintage. Headbanger also offered their 2010 Rock n Rosé of Zinfandel, nice diversion but not a wine worth revisiting.

Headbanger brought to mind last year’s 120 dB pour from Deep Purple, which I unfortunately bypassed, as well as the other rock ’n’ roll label, Sledgehammer (think Peter Gabriel). All jesting aside, this Napa project produced quite an impressive 2007 North Coast Zinfandel. As over the top as these labels may sound, at the opposite end of the spectrum I discovered Predator, the Zinfandel-only label out of Rutherford Ranch’s stable, benignly illustrated with a spotted ladybug on its label. In a rare reversal, I found the 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel from Lodi most distinct, while the 2007 Rutherford Ranch Zinfandel seemed commonplace.

Another highly impressive 2009 came from Mike and Molly Hendry, a label wholly independent from the acclaimed Hendry Ranch Winery run by Mike’s uncle. This offshoot also produced a solid 2009 vintage, the 2009 Zinfandel R. W. Moore Vineyard. There are more offshoots from the Sebastiani clan these day than I enumerate, but, ironically one is not Sebastiani, which is now part of the burgeoning Foley Wine empire. Nonetheless, this current incarnation mildly impressed me with both their 2008 Zinfandel Sonoma Valley and the 2008 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley.

I had a nice moment visiting with Camille Seghesio, whose mother I had befriended just days before her untimely death. As one of the leading Zinfandel producers whose name does not begin with an “R,” their 2008 Cortina from Dry Creek Valley proved as splendid as ever. Camille’s cousin, Gia Passalacqua, returned to ZAP with her Dancing Lady Wines’ spectacular 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel (I could not muster the same enthusiasm for the 2009 California Zinfandel from her pal Gina Gallo’s Dancing Bull ). Another Seghesio cousin, Rich Passalacqua has consistently dazzled with his lineup of Gia Domella Zins, making equally impressive showings with both the 2007 Estate Zinfandel and the 2008 Estate Zinfandel. Approaching a surreal plane were both his 2008 Reserve Zinfandel Russian Valley and its predecessor, the 2007 Reserve Zinfandel Russian River Valley.

I had not previously encountered Rancho San Miguel Winery from Sonoma, yet found myself extremely pleased with their 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel Starr Rd. Vineyard. On the other hand, the San Joaquin Wine Company from Madera produced a 2007 Green Eyes Zinfandel barely worth the $7 it lists for. Ditto for the overpriced ($11.99) 2006 Howling Moon Zinfandel from ADS Wines of Walnut Creek, a decidedly schizophrenic operation. And Forever Vineyards poured a $9.99 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel that, indeed, may be permanently burnished in the memory in ways they had not intended.

Returning to my genial demeanor, I found much to appreciate in the 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel Sherman Family Vineyards from Lodi’s Fields Family. I was also extremely pleased finally to make it to Manzanita Creek’s table to sample a trio of their wines. while the name alone made me like their lush 2005 Stealth from Alexander Valley, even more compelling were the 2007 Zinfandel Alfonso Old Vines and the 2007 Zinfandel Old Vines Carreras Ranch.

I knew I had tasted with Pech Merle previously, but somehow managed to forget incorporating them in my previous entries. Non è importante—it was more than a pleasure to revisit with Laree Adair Mancour and Bruce Lawton and enter both the 2008 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley and their impressive 2008 L’Entrée into my Sostevinobile column. Keeping my pre-tasting notes, however, proved a bit more elusive. A glitch in my iPhone somehow relegated my methodical sampling guides to an unknown sector of cyberspace just as I was finishing up with Spenker—a Lodi house producing enviable results with their 2002 Estate Zinfandel and the aptly-named 2008 Rustic Red Zinfandel—and, in my frantic attempts to recreate this road map, I inadvertently overlooked Saldo, Sausal, along with Nils Venge’s home base, Saddleback Cellars.

Despite not having my iPhone to guide me, I did remember to traipse over to review Healdsburg’s Rusina. Here the splendid, acronymic 2007 AXV (for Alexander Valley) presaged the even more appealing 2007 DCV (Dry Creek Valley). Finally, their 2007 Triskelion, echoing the familiar three-legged Sicilian icon, broke up the afternoon’s redundancy with a distinctive blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Syrah. Nearby, Jeff Cohn crafted not only an excellent organic 2008 Estate Zinfandel for Simoncini but also a dry 2009 Zinfandel Rosé that bore little resemblance to Bob Trinchero’s paltry pink approximation of this wine.

Trinchero does not comprise the only Italian “T” within the California wine realm. Vince Tofanelli, whom I would subsequently visit in Calistoga just to try his Charbono, made a marvelous initial impression, first with his 2007 Estate Zinfandel, then with the superb 2008 Estate Zinfandel. Trione Vineyards, whose various incarnations I have encountered since 1983, held court with their 2008 Home Ranch Zinfandel. Technically, of course, Trentadue is Swiss Italian, but I was nonetheless taken by their 2009 Old Patch Red, an old school blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane and Sangiovese. And while Trattore Estate’s Tim Bucher may not be Italian, his pivotal role in the promulgation of Apple’s OSX garners him honorary inclusion among il vero popolo eletto, as we refer to ourselves. Not that his 2009 Estate Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley wouldn’t warrant major accolades!

Being such an unabashed evangelist for Italian culture and, in particular, Italian varietals grown within Sostevinobile’s radius, I would think certain wineries like Staglin would be ecstatic to have me sample their pertinent bottlings, like the 2008 Stagliano Estate Sangiovese. Similarly, I have long been pestering Bill and Betty Nachbaur to ply me with their 2008 Dolcetto Alegría Vineyards; instead, I had to content myself with Acorn’s nonetheless splendid 2008 Zinfandel Heritage Vines. And although Jerry Baldwin does not produce any wines in the CalItalia category, once I had finished sampling his striking 2008 Zinfandel Dawn Hill Ranch and its preceding vintage, he did pour me a most enjoyable 2008 Rattlesnake Ridge Petite Sirah

I’ve not only indulged in the wonderful Sagrantino and Aglianico Napa’s Benessere crafts, I have even partaken of their little-known Grappa of Trebbiano; their ZAP selection, the 2007 Black Glass Zinfandel, more than held its own with their signature varietals. Another ZAP stalwart, Brown Estate made their customary splash with both the 2009 Zinfandel Napa Valley and the incredible 2009 Zinfandel Chiles Valley. And no matter how many years they pour at this event, Rombauer will always make for a mandatory visit, as both their exceptional 2008 Zinfandel Fiddletown and the quirkily-labeled 2008 Zinfandel North Coast (60% Sierra Foothills, 40% North Coast) readily attested.

Rombauer, of course, is best known as one of the four R’s of Zinfandel. Being that I receive Ridge’s ATP shipments, sampling from their two tables seemed superfluous, given the confines of my schedule. I also chose to bypass Rosenblum, whose fortunes appear to be declining under Diageo’s stewardship, but did partake in a couple of wines from successor Rock Wall: the 2009 Zinfandel Pearl Hart Reserve and the newish 2009 Vive La Rouge, blended from Syrah, Zinfandel and Nebbiolo.

Ravenswood Quarry separated itself from the Ravenswood Sonoma table, where founder Joel Peterson —a fitting acknowledgment from parent company Constellation presided—arguably showed no signs of decline following their acquisition, boasting a phenomenal 2008 Zinfandel Old Hill Vineyard, a single vineyard designate described as Zinfandel “+ mixed Blacks,” and the ever-reliable 2008 Zinfandel Teldeschi Vineyard, a wine blended with Petite Sirah and Carignane. Teldeschi Vineyard’s family stewards, Ray and Lori, appeared once again this afternoon with their Del Carlo label, featuring the 2006 Old Vine Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley and the clearly preferable 2007 vintage of the same. 

Zinfandel seems to thrive in nearly every sector of California. Witness Guglielmo from Morgan Hill, with their respectable 2007 Private Reserve Estate Zinfandel Santa Clara Valley. Marr Cellars of Davis sandwiched two exceptional versions of the grape, the 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel Mattern Ranch and the 2008 Zinfandel Tehama County around a very food friendly 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel Mendocino. Templeton’s Rotta showcased their 2006 Estate Zinfandel Giubbini Vineyard and the 2006 Heritage Zinfandel, a blend of 80% Zinfandel and 20% Primitivo. And from Alexander Valley, Starlite Vineyards produced a 2006 Estate Grown Zinfandel.

One of Lodi’s premier Zinfandel producers, McCay Cellars, featured their two stellar bottlings, the 2007 Jupiter Zinfandel and (this is not a mistyping of Turlock) the 2007 Trulucks Zinfandel. Fiddletown’s Easton excelled with both the 2007 Estate Zinfandel Shenandoah Valley and the 2008 Fiddletown Zinfandel Rinaldi Vineyards. And with a quartet of elegantly crafted wines, Gamba Vineyards certified the Russian River Valley’s rightful place in the Zinfandel pantheon: the 2008 Zinfandel Russian River Valley, their 2008 Estate Old Vine Zinfandel, and the remarkable 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel Moratto Vineyard, as well as a preview release of their 2009 bottling.

Austin Hope’s Candor label came through, as per usual, with an intriguing non-vintage selection, their Lot 2 Zinfandel, blended from both Lodi and Paso Robles grapes. Lake County’s Gregory Graham demonstrated his virtuosity with the interminably-named 2007 Cluster Select Sweet Zinfandel Crimson Hill Vineyard. Vineburg’s cacuminal Gundlach Bundschu offered their affable 2008 Zinfandel Sonoma County, while Healdsburg’s Sapphire Hill seemed downright whimsical in their nomenclature for both the 2008 Zinfandel Winberrie Vineyard and their impressive 2006 Zinfandel Porky’s Patch.

Th-th-th-th-That’s all, Folks! Or so I would wish, having some 20 more wineries to cite. Several tried and true friends from my two decades of attending this event warranted quick visits as I passed by their tables. Harney Lane lent considerable credence to the acclaim for Lodi’s Zins with their 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel Lizzie James Vineyard, as well as the unpretentious 2008 Lodi Zinfandel. Similarly, Lava Cap helped consolidate the Sierra Foothills burgeoning reputation for this varietal with three solid bottlings: the 2008 Zinfandel Rocky Draw, their 2008 Zinfandel Spring House, and the standout 2008 Reserve Zinfandel. I know Skip Granger probably has still not forgiven me for eschewing tasting every one of Starry Night’s selections but I was favorably impressed with the two I did sample, their final 2006 Zinfandel Tom Feeney Ranch and the 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel Nervo Station, before I moved onto other stations I needed to cover.

Rockpile pioneers Mauritson brought out their big guns with the 2009 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley, the 2009 Jack’s Cabin Zinfandel, and the masterful 2009 Rockpile Ridge Zinfandel. ZAP’s co-founder Prof. Jerry Seps manifested his Storybook Mountain Vineyards’ considerable pedigree with both the 2008 Mayacamas Ridge Estate Zinfandel and the 2007 Estate Antæus, a superior mélange of 57% Zinfandel, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot, and 6% Merlot. Julie Johnson’s Tres Sabores poured a similar blend, the 2008 ¿Por qué no? (Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah) and her excellent 2008 Rutherford Estate Zinfandel.

I bypassed both vintages of their Willow Creek Farm Zinfandel in favor of the 2008 Dimples Proulx poured, an evenly-balanced mix of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Syrah in true Paso Robles style. Another Central Coast operation, Hearthstone Vineyards, made a nice ZAP debut with their 2007 Zinfandel Paso Robles. And Paso Robles Zin specialists Peachy Canyon prominently poured their 2008 Mustang Springs Zinfandel, as well as two confidently-named bottlings, the 2008 Vortex Zinfandel and the 2008 Especial Zinfandel.

Despite Sostevinobile’s frequent disparagements, the large conglomerates sometimes do manage to produce memorable wines, like the 2007 Zinfandel Paso Robles from Constellation’s Paso Creek. Likewise, Terlato Wines2007 The Federalist, a single-bottling endeavor, provided a nicely approachable Zin, even though their costumes and antics seemed totally affected (ever since Randall Grahm sold his over-the-top Cardinal Zin, someone has always been trying to usurp his aplomb). And hard as it may be for me to admit, the 800-lb. gorilla in the room, Bronco, managed to preserve the quality and integrity of Red Truck’s organic offering, the 2008 Green Truck Zinfandel.

Of course, these mass producers will inevitably bottle their vintages, too, like the 2007 The Fiddler Zinfandel from Masked Rider (Bronco) and the nadir of Twisted’s unpalatable 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel (Delicato).

20 Years of Zinspiration marked what may well be the annual devolution of the Grand Zinfandel Tasting into something more manageable for attendees and more viable for wineries. If participation continues to contract, the event could easily revert to occupying a single pavilion, as it had in earlier days; certainly, a number of the wineries at this event would be better served tinkering with their œnology before considering a return here. As always, there were extraordinary wines on hand, but the proliferation of mediocre bottlings seemed far more evident than ever before.
Usually, I like to wrap up my posts here on an upbeat note, but, alas, the last word in Zin this afternoon, the 2009 Lodi Zinfandel from Zynthesis tasted as absurd as its name. Zometimez, that’z juzt the way the ball bounzez!

All wine trails lead to San Francisco

Your West Coast Oenophile is back in full swing on the wine circuit. This has nothing to do with my internist giving me the all clear on my liver tests (an annual ritual mandated by my need for daily statins); building the wine program for Sostevinobile remains an inexorable labor of love.

I’ll review ZAP’s 20th Annual Grand Zinfandel Tasting in my subsequent column. Sandwiched between this behemoth were two intimate, trade-only events in San Francisco, on winter days that strove to compensate the local populace for our Summer of 2010 that never happened. Fittingly, the first of these tastings transplanted itself from the undemarcated reception area adjoining One Market (San Francisco’s only top-tier restaurant that eschews imports among the 400+ selections on their awarded-winning wine list) to one of summertime’s more dazzling settings on the Bay, the St. Francis Yacht Club.

In Vino Unitas creates an alliance of prominent wineries, predominantly from Napa, that sell their wares directly to purchasers in California. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting with nearly all of these winemakers on numerous occasions, and so beelined directly to the table for Quill, a newcomer both to Sostevinobile and to this event. I wish owner Shana Graham had brought her 2007 Viognier Stagecoach Vineyard (Ridge has got me on a serious Viognier quest these days), but I was quite content to taste my way through her Syrah and array of Cabernets. Her exquisite 2007 Bismarck Ranch Syrah from Sonoma Valley could hardly have been said to have left me with a sinking feeling while two separate vintages each highlighted the distinct differences in Napa’s sub-AVAs. I could not pick a favorite between the 2006 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, but think the 2007 Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon edged out its predecessor (though the 2006 did portend to open up more in a few years).

I suppose the obsolescence of the quill as a writing instrument makes it a quaint name for a label. By extension, one wonders whether the rise of the iPad will spur labels like Ballpoint or Biro once penmanship has totally been obviated! No matter, this virtuoso winery made for a great discovery on a sun-drenched afternoon.

Other wineries new to In Vino Unitas included Jericho Canyon, which comported themselves admirably with three selections: an appealing 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, the 2006 Creek Block Cabernet Sauvignon, and their standout 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Chase Cellars also made their first appearance here with a Zin-focused lineup. I enjoyed both the 2006 Hayne Valley Zinfandel and, in particular, the jamminess of the 2007 Hayne Valley Zinfandel, but the fruity 2009 Rosé of Zinfandel left me rather indifferent.

The third newcomer this afternoon was a longtime familiar label, Mendocino’s Navarro, though I had not previously met owner Deborah Cahn. With nine wines to work through, we easily made up for this oversight and had become old acquaintances by the time I had finished! Her first pour, the 2008 Estate Gewürztraminer, defied usual expectations, revealing an dry, clean interpretation of the varietal, devoid of sweetness and demanding a food complement. The 2008 Première Reserve Chardonnay proved an amiable wine, while the 2009 Estate Muscat Blanc professed a dryness not unlike the Gewürz.

We moved onto Deborah’s reds, starting with the 2007 Pinot Noir Méthode à l’Ancienne, a wine that reflected the across-the-board excellence of this vintage in Anderson Valley. The 2008 Navarrouge, a wine salvaged from the smoke infusion that stymied the Pinot crop in Anderson Valley and nearby parts of Sonoma following the summer’s wildfires, made for an oddly appropriate wine to pair with lox. Navarro rebounded, however, with a superb 2007 Zinfandel Mendocino, a highlight of the afternoon.

Atypically, we swung back to white for a side-by-side comparison of Deborah’s two Rieslings. Again, the 2009 Dry Riesling Anderson Valley held its own with her other dry vintages, while the 2007 Cluster Select Late Harvest Riesling seemed almost ætherial. From there, I moved onto the more succinct display from my old friends at Gargiulo Vineyards. Neither Jeff nor April were on hand this time round, but I nonetheless enjoyed their ever-evolving expression of their signature Sangiovese, the 2007 Aprile. I don’t recall having previously sampled their Cabernets, but the OVX G Major 7 Cabernet Sauvignon was quite delectable while the 2007 Money Road Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon tasted as expensive as it sounds.

Now if only Gemstone had nine wines to pour! Alas, I had to content myself with the wonderful 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and 2007 Facets of Gemstone, then finalize this brief interlude with the utterly superb 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. No paucity of selections, however, could be found at the Far Niente table, with its twin sister Nickel & Nickel, along with single-release satellites Dolce and EnRoute. I discovered an equal fondness for Nickel & Nickel’s 2009 Chardonnay Searby Vineyard and Far Niente’s 2009 Estate Bottle Chardonnay.

There was much to admire in the 2007 Harris Vineyard Merlot (Nickel & Nickel), but not surprisingly, their selection of Cabernets dominated. Nickel & Nickel’s 2007 John C. Sullenger Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon leaped exuberantly out the bottle, while the more subdued 2007 Vogt Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon displayed the reticence of a wine that will not fully express itself until 2015. The development of the 2008 Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Bottled was presaged by the ripe maturity of the 2004 vintage, drinking now at its peak.

As I have in years past, I immensely enjoyed the 2006 Dolce, a Sauternes-style wine Far Niente bottles exclusively under this separate label. EnRoute, their new entry in the mix, debuted with a likable if young 2009 Les Pommiers, a blend of organically farmed Pinot Noir grapes from their vineyards in Green Valley and the Russian River AVA.

Moving forward, it is always a pleasure to visit with Matt Buoncristiani and sample portfolio of his wines. Here I was impressed with another Rhône expression, the 2008 Gemello Viognier. In the same vein, the 2007 Artistico was a splendid expression of Napa Valley Syrah. This venture from four brothers excelled, however, with both their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and the premium 2007 The Core Cabernet Sauvignon, despite these wines tasting at least seven years away attaining from peak maturity.

Similarly, Ehlers Estate offered a small selection of their Napa Valley wines, starting with the somewhat clawing 2009 Estate Sauvignon Blanc. Far more appealing were their red bottlings: the 2007 Estate Merlot, the 2007 Ehlers Estate One Twenty Over Eighty and, in particular, the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1886. Their exclusive focus of Larkmead lent itself to a four-year vertical tasting of the Cabernet Sauvignon Larkmead Vineyard. The 2008 vintage inevitably tasted a bit too young, while the 2005 clearly soared. Both the 2006 and 2007 fell squarely in between the two.

Just next to them, Krupp Brothers made an impressive statement with their array of Wild West-themed wines, starting with the 2007 Black Bart’s Bride, a mélange of Marsanne, Viognier, and Chardonnay. More compelling, however, was their Black Bart Syrah, and the 2007 Synchrony Stagecoach Vineya
rd
, a Bordeaux blend focused on Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The 2006 Veraison Cabernet Sauvignon represented a more traditional Left Bank-style Cab while the proprietary 2007 The Doctor offered a proprietary blend of 33% Merlot, 31% Tempranillo, 23% Malbec, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Both Heitz Cellar and Grgich Hills have historical ties to the 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting that put California on the world wine map, so it was little trouble to wade my way through the extensive inventory they had on hand. Grgich offered eight different wines, starting with the 2008 Estate Fumé Blanc and 2008 Estate Chardonnay, a wine I would have anticipated to be more compelling, given Miljenko Grgich’s pivotal role as winemaker for Château Montelena, which garnered first in the white wine competition. More impressive were his 2007 Estate Zinfandel and 2006 Estate Merlot.

Much closer to my expectation was the 2006 Estate Chardonnay Carneros Selection, a wine on par with Grgich’s 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville Selection. The standout this afternoon, however, proved to be the uxorial 2008 Violetta, a late harvest blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer.

Heitz Cellar stands as a singular winery, famed for its Cabernet Sauvignon and as one of the very few producers of Grignolino on the West Coast. Admittedly, I was somewhat tepid about the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and the 2008 Chardonnay they poured at In Vino Unitas, but quickly warmed to their 2007 Zinfandel. Their quartet of Cabernets, all from 2005, impressed me incrementally with each bottling I sampled, starting with the generic 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Bella Oaks Vineyard seemed even better, while the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Trailside Vineyard completely allured me. At last, the famed 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Martha’s Vineyard simply overwhelmed and garnered the rare Sostevinobile accolade: .

Heitz concluded its presentation with a non-vintage dessert wine called Ink Grade Port, made from Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Souzão, Tinta Cão, Tinta Bairrada, Tinta Madeira, Tinta Amarela, and Bastardo (all I can say is, “loved the wine but thank heavens for Cut & Paste”)! A more modestly structured but equally enjoyable Port-style wine came from the Löwenbräu of wineries, Meyer Family Cellars, with their superb Old-Vine Zinfandel Port, also non-vintage. Similarly, I very much liked their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Bonnie’s Vineyard from Oakville, but wish I had passed on their inaugural 2006 Yorkville Highlands Syrah.

Like Meyer, Yorba heralds from outside of Napa. Here the varietals typified the diversity of Amador County, starting with their 2006 Zinfandel and a delightful 2006 Syrah.Their 2007 Tempranillo represented a straightforward expression of the grape, while their eclectic 2007 Shake Ridge Red combined Syrah, Petite Sirah, Malbec, Merlot, Mourvèdre, and Primitivo.

Apart from Gargiulo, Yorba featured the only other Italian varietal of the afternoon, their tangy 2007 Barbera. As I often them, Testarossa ought to try their hand at CalItalia bottlings, but nonetheless seem content to focus on Burgundian-style wines. Of their three Chardonnays, I distinctly preferred the 2009 Chardonnay Sierra Madre Vineyard to the quite competent 2009 Chardonnay Santa Barbara County and the 2009 Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands. Given their youth, I found both the 2009 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County and the 2009 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands too premature to assess.

When all was said and done, this year’s In Vino U
nitas
proved a most delightful event, one I hope will continue to be held at the St. Francis Yacht Club. After all, their co-occupants on the breakwater, Larry Ellison’s Golden Gate Yacht Club, will be sponsoring quite the yachting spectacle some 24 months from now. Imagine that as a backdrop to a wine tasting!


Several days after ZAP, the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association held their first trade tasting of the season at the always well-appointed Farallon. I like to think this sumptuously catered affair was meant to atone for last year’s gathering at the Professional Culinary Institute in Campbell. Not that it had been a bad event or venue, but still, compelling attendees to stroll alongside the picture windows overlooking the school’s culinary lab and gaze upon their gastronomic marvels while we had to content ourselves with Monterey Jack and slices of celery constituted pure torture. 

This afternoon, the Farallon staff generously circulated wedges of fried wonton topped with slabs of sushi-grade Ahi as professionals and poseurs alike sipped through an array of newly-released wines. Feeling quite sated, I commenced my wine explorations by regaling in the gustatory delights of Regale, a new participant in this group. Befittingly, they pulled out all the stops, serving up nine of their wines, starting strongly with their 2007 Barbera El Dorado County. I cottoned as readily to their 2007 Sangiovese Napa Valley before sampling their notably restrained 2006 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley. As has often been the case, I enjoyed their 2007 Pinot Noir O’Neel Vineyards, then found myself as enthused by the 2008 vintage. The more broadly focused 2008 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast seemed less developed than these other two, and it certainly would have been more telling if they had poured their 2007 Estate Pinot Noir (actually, it seemed odd that none of the wines they showcased were Santa Cruz-grown).

Regale finished with their Bordelaise selections, a nice but undramatic 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, with a similar results for its subsequent vintage, while the 2006 Cabernet Franc portended to brandish its true potential 2- 3 years from now. In the same fashion, Santa Cruz-based MJA Vineyards chose to pour only its Napa-grown wines, bottled under two separate labels. I preferred the 2007 Serene Cellars Carneros to the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley, while the 2006 DaVine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon outpointed the 2006 Serene Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon. While apparently sourced from different vineyards than before, the 2005 Serene Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon tasted roughly equivalent to its successor.

Lest one begin to think the fruit of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA not compare with the Napa crops, the estate grown wines from Beauregard proved to be more than well-regarded. Its two vineyards in the Ben Lomond Mountain sub-AVA offered four contrasting yet equally wondrous Burgundian wines: the 2007 Estate Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains and its apposite, the 2007 Estate Chardonnay Bald Mountain Vineyard, along with their red counterparts, the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains and the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Bald Mountain Vineyard.

I have never seen Picchetti at a trade tasting, but Cupertino’s other Monte Bello Road wineries showed up in full regalia. First up, my friend Don Naumann showed off his customary wines, with a delicious 2008 Chardonnay and a truly delightful 2006 Estate Merlot. Though quite good, his 2007 Estate Merlot still struck me as young, but his superb 2007 Late Harvest Semi-Sweet Merlot proved a wondrous addition to his lineup. From across the street, the good folks at Ridge made quite an impressive appearance, pouring their sturdy 2008 Ridge Lytton Springs, a strik
ing yet hitherto unfamiliar 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and the absolutely riveting 2007 Monte Bello, unquestionably worthy of a .

My friend Michael Martella pulled double-duty this afternoon, fronting both his eponymous label and Thomas Fogarty, where he serves as winemaker. His own 2009 Monterey Sauvignon Blanc showed quite likably, while he excelled with his red selections: the 2007 Fiddletown Grenache, his 2007 Hammer Syrah, and the exceptional 2007 Heart Arrow Petite Sirah. From the Fogarty label, he poured a forward 2007 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay and the 2008 Monterey Gewürztraminer, alongside a somewhat fruity 2008 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir. I quite enjoyed the 2005 Lexington, a mélange of 49% Cab. Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 21% Cabernet Franc, while totally relishing the 2006 Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Franc.

Another exceptional take on this varietal came from Cinnabar, whose 2007 Cabernet Franc rivaled the appeal of their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon in complexity. Similarly, their 2007 Merlot proved quite strong while their 2008 Mercury Rising was particularly affordable for a Bordeaux blend of similar quality. La Honda Winery’s Ken Wornick chaired this year’s tasting, but still managed to serve up his wines this afternoon, starting with the 2009 Exponent, a deft blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Sangiovese. On the more traditional front, I immensely enjoyed his 2008 Salinian Block Cabernet Sauvignon and the exceptional 2007 Naylor’s Dry Hole Cabernet Sauvignon.

Two Clos for comfort—if not wondrous wines! The ever-unassuming Clos Títa managed once again to impress me with their beautiful Bordeaux blend, the 2006 Gironde, as well as their proprietary of Syrah, Merlot and Viognier, the 2007 La Sierra Azul. Meanwhile, Clos La Chance made an impressive showing with their 2007 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay, the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, and an exceptional 2007 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir.

The Santa Cruz Mountains AVA is, of course, acclaimed for its Pinot Noir, so the Pinot-only focus of Heart o’ the Mountain comes as now surprise. Certainly their 2007 Estate Pinot Noir put them on par with Clos LaChance’s efforts, while their 2008 vintage fell a notch below. And although they also bottle Pinot, Big Basin elected to represent themselves with four different Syrahs, the 2006 Rattlesnake Rock Syrah, the 2007 Fairview Road Ranch Syrah, a sand-free 2007 Mandala Syrah, and their standout, the 2007 Homestead Syrah. Sonnet Wine Cellars also focuses on this varietal only, with a quartet distinct vineyards in different AVAs. Of the four, I particularly liked their 2008 Pinot Noir Tondrē’s Grapefield (Santa Lucia Highlands) and the 2007 Pinot Noir Mums Vineyard (Santa Cruz Mountains).

While they also bottle Pinot, Big Basin elected to represent themselves with four different Syrahs, the 2006 Rattlesnake Rock Syrah, the 2007 Fairview Road Ranch Syrah, a sand-free 2007 Mandala Syrah, and their standout, the 2007 Homestead Syrah. And though Kathryn Kennedy Winery originally staked its claim as a Cabernet-only endeavor, her heirs now release an organically-grown 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. While the 2000 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon served this afternoon seemed focused more on nostalgia, the 2006 Estate Cabernet Estate Cabernet certainly paid tribute to her legacy. 

No Santa Cruz tasting would be complete without Bonny Doon, a winery known for never sitting on its laurels. I bypassed both Le Cigares and settled for the 2009 Ca’ del Solo Albariño and their new 2009 Contra, a Carignane rounded with Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel. No need to winnow my sele
ctions with Martin Ranch Winery, who quietly presented their 2006 J. D. Hurley Merlot and 2006 Dos Rios Cabernet Sauvignon.

Saratoga got to call itself Saratoga, after the famed hot springs in upstate New York, only because the speaker at Calistoga’s christening screwed up and pronounced this to be “the Calistoga of Sarafornia!” Nonetheless, two of Saratoga’s more prominent wineries, along with Kathryn Kennedy, were on hand for this tasting. Chavannah-Sanelle—I mean, Savannah-Chanelle, poured an array of their wines, including their 2007 Estate Zinfandel and noteworthy 2007 Estate Cabernet Franc. I liked the 2007 Coastview Vineyards Syrah, though found it a bit floral, while the 2007 Monmatre, a Zinfandel/Carignane/Cabernet Franc blend, tasted too acidic for my liking. Cooper-Garrod (not Gooper-Carrod or some other syncretic twist) offered a range of wines, which I commenced sampling with the 2009 Estate Viognier. I was copacetic with the 2006 Estate Syrah, as well, but relished to the 2005 Test Pilot F-16, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. Their varietal 2006 Estate Cabernet Franc, however, proved simply outstanding.

Every county in California apparently contains a municipality with its same nomenclature. Similarly, each AVA contains a winery named the wine region that encompasses it. Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard grows a number of well-structured, if not familiar varietals, but I opted to focus on the Iberian-style wines it produces under its Quinta Cruz label. Their 2008 Tempranillo was certainly a pleasant enough wine, while the 2008 Graciano proved truly outstanding. So, too, was the 2007 Touriga, a blend of both Touriga Nacional and Touriga Francesa. Even more diverse were the wines from River Run, a Watsonville winery. I did appreciate their organic 2008 Chardonnay Mountanos Vineyard and the atypical 2009 Rosé of Carignane, as well as their 2008 Côte d’Aromas that blended of Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignane, Viognier, and Grenache. More telling was the 2007 Carignane Wirz Vineyards and the wondrous 2008 Négrette San Benito County.

His organically-grown grapes mean that I frequently encounter Jerold O’Brien’s Silver Mountain Vineyards at CCOF and other interrelated tastings. With time pressing, I limited myself to his superb 2006 Syrah and a retasting of the 2004 Alloy, his signature Bordeaux blend. Despite the waning minutes, I should have tried all four wines Storrs Winery poured, but leapfrogged over to their 2008 Central Coast Grenache. Thankfully, I did not miss out on the new release of their phenomenal 2007 Pinot Noir Christie Vineyard.

I keep waiting to hear that Press Club has closed its cooperative satellite tasting room near Yerba Buena Gardens, so it seemed fitting that I close out the tasting with Mount Eden, one of the six stations still pouring in their subterranean cavern. As with Silver Mountain, the frequency with which I have sampled their wines at other events led me to limit myself to their 2009 Wolff Vineyard Chardonnay and the equally impressive 2007 Saratoga Cuvée Chardonnay. And with that, I rested, knowing I had to brace myself for a squash match in just a few hours.


I had hoped to file my 2011 entries here in a more timely fashion, but the demands of sewing up the financing for Sostevinobile have taken center stage as of late. Admit it, though—wouldn’t you rather be tasting all these marvelous wines at our bar, rather than just reading about them? E-mail me a buona fortuna, and I’ll put you on the guest list for our Grand Opening!

Maybe I need to take out palate insurance

November turned out to be another one of those months for Your West Coast Oenophile, which is why I landed up starting this entry in December. Sometimes my duties for Sostevinobile make me wonder how sustainable I am. But I get to drink some pretty special wine quite often. At least I usually think I do…
My first jaunt was to a special Friday night reception at Stags’ Leap Winery for the relaunch of their Artist in Residence program. With the good folks at Treasury Wine Estates providing shuttle service from San Francisco’s Ferry Building, this offer seemed too good to pass up—I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Napa with a designated driver in well over 10 years!

The trip up to the winery proved more than comfortable, given I can only remember 10-15 minute segments at either end, wrapped around a much-needed, hour-long nap. Oddly, though, I seemed to be the only rider connected to the wine industry. Everyone else on the bus either worked as a travel writer or belonged to the Luxury Marketing Council, an association with which I had no previous familiarity. While this anomaly didn’t quite make me feel like a nun on an Esalen retreat—after all, the wine world is supposedly my milieu; still, finding common ground among my fellow passengers certainly seemed a stretch. Nevertheless, I did collect some business cards, just in case I’m ever in the market for a new yacht.

In spite of the Friday night commute traffic, we arrived in front of the turret gracing the winery’s famed Manor House in under 90 minutes. Movie fans may well recognize this 120-year-old landmark as the home of my earliest childhood crush, Hayley Mills, in Pollyanna, or perhaps from This Earth is Mine, but my attention was quickly drawn to the crisp 2008 Viognier we were served upon entering.

Details from Portrait of a Community

Inside this converted residence, attendees were fêted with canapés and other appetizers exquisitely paired to the 2008 Reserve Chardonnay and Stags’ Leap’s signature Petite Sirah, the 2006 Ne Cede Malis. Throughout the Manor House, portraits of several wine country luminaries adorned the walls, a remounting of Napa Valley: Portrait of a Community, the series 1998’s Artist in Residence Patrick McFarlin had composed during his tenure.

Outside
on the porch, guests assembled for a brief history of Stags’ Leap,
accompanied by a recitation by poet Theresa Whitehill, and the debut of
the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, an impressive vintage from a
somewhat mercurial year. Oddly, the chronicle of the winery offered rich
insights into the winery’s stewardship by the Chase family, followed by
the Granges (several of whom were in attendance), yet elided
over the period when Carl Doumani brought the winery into prominence and
pioneered its focus on Petite Sirah. Nonetheless, with the current
corporate ownership systematically enhancing the winery’s focus and
upgrading its facilities, we were introduced to new winemaker
Christopher Paubert and treated to an overview of his œnological
philosophy.


Christopher led us on a tour of the new wine caves, where current Artist in Residence, New York photographer Jefferson Hayman hung a selection of his photos detailing the varying aspects of Stags’ Leap. We enjoyed a barrel sampling from of the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Christopher’s first, then collected gift bags that generously include a bottle of the aforementioned 2006 vintage. Needless to say, the ride back to San Francisco became a lot more festive than on the way up!


Alas, I did not have the luxury of being chauffeured the next day as I again crossed the Bay Bridge to attend the 2010 Harvest Rocks at Rock Wall, a winery that has frequently appeared here. What can I say? They put on a good party, they have a convenient location with an incredible vista on fog-free days, and they consistently make excellent and intriguing wines. This afternoon’s gathering lacked their more esoteric endeavors, like the 2007 Tannat Contra Costa County, the utterly compelling 2008 Montepulciano, or their 2009 Sparkling Grenache Rosé (although winemaker Shauna Rosenblum did put on an entertaining demonstration of dégorgement—the freezing and ejection of the sediment cap that forms during riddling—one of the more animated stages of méthode champenoise). The more mainstream varietals that they did pour demonstrated an overall consistent quality, both with their red and their white selections, and easily could stand with wines at twice their suggested price.

I found myself particularly fond of the 2009 Viognier Monterey County,
a bottling that further exemplified how California wineries are at last getting
hold of how to structure this wine—a well-balanced, superb
expression of the grape.
Similarly, the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Lake County displayed admirable restraint, neither too grassy nor too citrus. And with three Chards to taste side-by-side, the 2008 Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay clearly stood above the two 2009 bottlings.

Despite its lineage, Rock Wall isn’t striving to be the reincarnation of Rosenblum Cellars (no matter how much Diageo succeeds in eviscerating the pioneering Alameda facility). Still, it would be nigh impossible for them not to produce a lineup with numerous Zins, headlined this afternoon by a simply spectacular 2007 Zinfandel Reserve Sonoma County. While the successive Sonoma bottling in 2008 did not shine quite as brightly, I did also greatly enjoy the 2008 Jesse’s Vineyard Zinfandel from Contra Costa County.

Given Rock Wall’s versatility, I would have expected a bit more from their Cabs. The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley seemed a tad lackluster, however, while the extremely approachable 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley still lagged behind the numerous exceptional wines this vintage has produced. On the other hand, their 2008 Petite Sirah Mendocino County, the varietal that introduced me to this venture two years ago, showed every bit as solid as my initial exposure had been.

Before closing out with the dessert selections, I did partake in a plate of the tangy barbecue whipped up by Big Ray “the Armadillo” Green. With sightlines across the Bay to downtown San Francisco and AT&T Park, it took considerable restraint not to tweak this native of Euliss, Texas, a town only 7 miles from Rangers Ballpark, about the just-concluded World Series, but great ribs have been known to inspire discretion. Fittingly, the post-prandial wines, the 2007 Late Harvest Riesling and the 2008 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc proved as fitting a cap to the event as an Edgar Renteria home run, and with that I retreated to the comforts of my championship home turf.


Rock Wall has been a mainstay of the Urban Wineries that comprise the East Bay Vintners Alliance. Another member that is garnering considerable attention of late has been Urban Legend, which hosted a Release Party to celebrate the inaugural in-house harvest at their recently completed facility. While I’ve been able to taste one or two of their wines at collective tastings before, I hadn’t really had the opportunity to explore the wide range of varietals they produce, nor focus on their wines exclusively. All of which made trekking to West Oakland’s warehouse district rather compelling (though perhaps more wisely attempted during daylight hours).

Wineries that operate in converted storage sheds or light industrial parks tend to be quite utilitarian—not exactly the pastoral setting one finds in Paso Robles or the Shenandoah Valley. But the lack of surrounding vineyards or imposing architecture did nothing to detract from the quality of the wine, as Marilee and Steve Shaffer readily demonstrated. A polished tasting bar greeted their guests in the antechamber of their facility—a singular welcoming gesture, to be sure—while stacked tiers of barrels holding the just-completed 2010 crush filled the main area. Eager tasting room assistants served up the organically grown 2009 Lake County Sauvignon Blanc, the sole white pour this evening, 

Moving onto the reds, the 2008 Ironworks blended Nebbiolo with 20% Sangiovese for a soft, approachable wine; I held similar fondness for the 2009 Lake County Mourvèdre. A more robust Rhône expression came from the 2009 Lolapalooza, their take on Grenache. The strongest expression of the GMS elements, however, was the 2009 Amador County Syrah, a wine that craved chocolate pairing.

Urban Legend covers a lot of ground, viticulturally speaking. Their sole foray with Iberian varietals (discounting interpreting their Mourvèdre as Monastrell or the Grenache as Garnacha) was a delightful, peppery 2009 Tempranillo from Clarksburg. Bordelaise vintages included an amiable 2009 Petit Verdot from Mendocino and the Right Bank-style 2009 Uptown, blending 60% Merlot with 40% Cabernet Sauvignon.

I had been seduced earlier this summer by the 2008 Teroldego and hoped this or the subsequent vintage would be poured at the event, but I will have to wait for a subsequent visit. Nonetheless, Italian varietals flowed in force this afternoon; released from the dominant Nebbiolo of the Ironworks, their straight 2008 Lake County Sangiovese proved delightful in its own right. The 2008 Barbera from Clarksburg seemed a bit sweet for my taste, but the 2009 Dolcetto from El Dorado County was a masterful bottling (as well as the strongest candidate I could find for an ideal Turkey Day pairin
g)
.

Steve and Marilee put out a smorgasbord of appetizers to complement their wines—fitting, indeed, for the inevitable smorgasbord of attendees one finds at East Bay wine tastings (Sostevinobile finds such multicultural interest in wine most telling to our core mission of promoting wines for their universal appeal). And so its seemed only right to conclude the evening with their Grapefiti, a non-vintage blend of just about everything Urban Legend puts in a barrel—not quite a field blend but definitely not a haphazard assemblage, either. A most enjoyable wine from a most enjoyable venture.


My readers know I made no bones about my disappointment in this year’s Pinot on the River. For weeks, I assuaged myself with the anticipation of Farallon’s annual PinotFest, held just before Thanksgiving in the safe and dry confines of the Kensington Park Hotel. Now, most wine critics, myself included, do find single varietal tastings somewhat challenging—we all reach a point where it becomes extremely difficult to distinguish among the various labels on hand. This tasting, however, completely flummoxed me—none of the wines stood out!

I started to think that I might have been permanently affected by the October debacle—perhaps I would never be able to appreciate Pinot unless my feet were sunk 6″ deep in mud! Then, I realized something almost as horrific was afoot—my palate had gone on strike! I recognized many of these wines; I had tasted them before and delighted in their nuances. This day, I could barely distinguish a thing beyond an initial recognition of the varietal. Fortunately, this setback turned out to be ephemeral, but any hope of finding an amazing new discovery this day was shot.

And so I can only offer an amalgamation of what I did sample, with apologies all around. First up, I wound my way over to the table for Bonaccorsi, a Santa Barbara winery specializing in Viognier, Syrah, and, of course, Pinot. Principal Michael Bonaccorsi cut his teeth as the director of Spago’s wine program in Los Angeles; today, his venture debuted at PinotFest with their 2007 Cargasacchi Vineyard Pinot Noir, a wine even my debilitated palate could not fail to appreciate, alongside the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills and the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara. Also from the Central Coast, Drake poured a striking duo: the 2008 Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard H Block and the superb 2008 Les Galets Pinot Noir from Arroyo Grande Valley.

Just up the coast, Fiddlehead Cellars offered a pair of wines from its Fiddlestix Vineyard in Santa Rita Hills: the 2007 Seven Twenty Eight Pinot Noir (the name derives from the mile marker on Santa Rosa Road) and the 2007 Lollapalooza (not to be confused with the Lolapalooza from Urban Legend). Fiddlehead is a bit of an anomaly, in that it produces only Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc and that it manages vineyards in both California and in Oregon, the latter which was not showcased here. Siduri Wines did contrast the two parts of its bifurcated operations, pouring their 2009 Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands alongside the 2007 Willamette Blanc de Pinot Noir, a truly special handcrafted effort.

I began to realize my palate was rather askew this afternoon when I visited with Skewis at the next table over. I had sampled these Pinots with considerable pleasure quite recently in Geyserville; today, I felt almost indifferent towards them. I have long known I can rely on Skewis as a benchmark for excellence in Pinot Noir, and while I was willing to allow that one wine could seem off from my previous evaluation, how could I sip my way through such wines as the 2000 Montgomery Vineyard Pinot Noir or the 2008 Anderson Valley Reserve Pinot Noir and not experience a tinge of elation? I began fearing my libido would be the next to go.

Nonetheless, I soldiered on, hoping my taste buds might somehow recover before the afternoon concluded. Newcomer Beaux Frères from Oregon offered a nice array of their wines, starting with 2008 The Beaux Frères Vineyard Pinot Noir. This Pinot-only operation from Newberg, Oregon also poured their 2007 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and a new release, the 2009 Les Cousins Pinot Noir. From nearby McMinnville, former Stags’ Leap winemaker Robert Brittan paired the 2007 Basalt Block Pinot Noir and 2007 Gestalt Block Pinot Noir produced at his eponymous Syrah- & Pinot-focused winery. Meanwhile, one of Oregon’s tried & true wine pioneers, Adelsheim, showcased both their 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and the coveted 2008 Elizabeth’s Reserve Pinot Noir.

Quite a number of wineries from our northern neighbor make the annual trek to this event. Among those I enjoy with regularity were Domaine Drouhin, with its 2007 Cuvée Laurène, one of their twin Estate Pinots, and the 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. The ever-revered Domaine Serene sampled a pair of its wines, the 2006 Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir and the equally-acclaimed 2007 Mark Bradford Vineyard Pinot Noir. Soter Vineyards made a return appearance to feature their latest, the 2008 North Valley Pinot Noir and the 2008 Mineral Springs Ranch Pinot Noir.

Tony Soter’s former venture, Étude, continued his legacy with their Carneros bottlings, including the 2008 Estate Pinot Noir. Just north of Carneros, Hendry represents a rare winery within the Napa Valley AVA producing a 2007 Estate Pinot Noir. Back in Carneros, Gloria Ferrer tends to be better known for their sparkling wines, but comported themselves admirably here with both their 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir and the 2006 José S. Ferrer Pinot Noir.

I’ve long relished the sparkling wines Sonoma’s Iron Horse produces, so was more than happy to sample their 2005 Brut Rosé alongside their 2008 Estate Pinot Noir (a wine I feel sure I would have appreciated with an intact palate). I do know, from the CCOF tasting in October, that I highly appreciated the selection of Pinots from Alma Rosa, Richard Sanford’s followup to his eponymous winery; certainly, there was no disappointment either with the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills or the top-rated 2007 Pinot Noir La Encantade Vineyard. And I almost would have been willing to defer any assessment of the wines Au Bon Climat poured to previous accolades from other sources, but I nonetheless managed to sample the 2006 Barham Mendelsohn Russian River Pinot Noir, the 2007 Bien Nacido Historical Vineyard Pinot Noir, the filial 2007 Pinot Noir-Isabelle, and, with a name almost as convoluted as Sostevinobile, the 2007 La Bauge Au-Dessus Estate Pinot Noir.

Another acclaimed Pinot producer, Merry Edwards, offered a tantalizing glimpse into her portfolio with the 2008 Olivet Lane Pinot Noir and her 2008 Klopp Ranch Pinot Noir. I managed to sample but one of Robert Sinskey’s fabled organic Pinots, the 2007 Pinot Noir Three Amigos Vineyards, and only the 2008 La Neblina from Radio-Coteau, a winery I first encountered at last year’s tasting. I relish Greenwood Ridge for their biodynamic Sauvignon Blanc, but subsequently discovered their Pinot at last year’s PinotFest; my recollections made me eager to try their 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino Ridge this time round.

I opted for the 2008 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir Occidental Ridge Vineyard from Failla’s two selections, while choosing the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County from Costa de Oro. I hadn’t had the chance to catch up with Byron since their whirlwind of ownership changes a couple of years back, so I lingered long enough to sample both the 2008 Monument Pinot Noir and the 2008 Nielsen Vineyard Pinot Noir while discussing the evolution of their winemaking under the stewardship of Jackson Family Wines.

Down in Lompoc, Melville operates a highly concentrated endeavor that limits itself to (and excels in) Chardonnay, Syrah, and, of course, Pinot Noir. For PinotFest, they poured three of their more noteworthy efforts: the 2009 Estate Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills and both the 2009 Estate Pinot Noir Carrie’s and the 2009 Estate Pinot Noir Terrace’s, which are scheduled for release next spring. Melville’s winemaker Greg Brewer has also heads up a Burgundian-focused project with Italian varietal specialist Steve Clifton (from Palmina), fittingly named Brewer-Clifton. I enjoyed both the 2009 Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills and the 2009 Pinot Noir Mount Carmel, though even my palsied palate could sense that these wines were still quite young.

Certainly, if time had permitted, I would have brought myself to sample the numerous other wineries who have made this event so splendid year after year. After all, it wasn’t that I hadn’t found nearly all the wines I tried this afternoon commendable—rather, it was an inability to discern the distinguishing characteristics of the various vintages that left me in such a quandary. I recall how my good friend Carlo Middione had to close Vivande, his temple to Southern Italian cuisine, earlier this year, after an automobile accident rendered his sense of smell and taste permanently impaired; even though my own dilemma turned out fortunately to be a fleeting (albeit excruciating) moment, I can well empathize with his frustration. After all, it has been the exquisite subtlety of my palate that has carried on the vision for Sostevinobile for nearly two years.


Fortunately, my taste buds revived with a vengeance in time to take in the second installment of San Francisco Vintners Market, my final marathon for the month of November. Instead, the debacle of my palatal paralysis gave way to the perplexity of perambulating the aisles of a trade show that did not even provide attendees with a booth guide or tasting map. As is my wont, I had deciphered the list of attending wineries from the promoters’ website and highlighted those I hoped to acquaint with Sostevinobile’s wine program; even with this targeted agenda, the task of finding their tables inside the enormous Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason became a game of sleuthing.

Working blindly, I first stumbled upon Rua, a small, single bottling venture from the consultancy at Wines West. The 2008 Rua Napa Valley is a Right Bank-style Bordelaise wine derived from a co-fermentation of Cabernet Franc and Merlot grown on the right side of the Carneros AVA. Cultivar, a winery out of Rutherford, offered a most impressive 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (especially considering its $25 price point).

Sometimes a label can seem so evocative, one wonders whether the wine can match the impression it gives. Despite the allure of David Pizzimenti’s Mendoza, TAJ Cellars managed to exceed expectations with the 2008 Zinfandel and an exceptional 2007 Syrah. Similarly, the classical allusion of a goddess bearing two οἰνοχόαι (wine jugs) adorning the bottles of Mercy Vineyards’ artisan wines heralded a much-pleasing 2008 Syrah Zabala Vineyard from Arroyo Seco. And the appeal of its Papyrus Condensed lettering superimposed on a swath of broad-stroked sunset colors hardly belied the delights of the striking Italian varietals from Plymouth’s Bella Grace: their 2008 Vermentino, the 2008 Pinot Grigio, and the 2009 Primitivo, as well as its cousin, the 2006 Old Vine Zinfandel.

As with April’s Vintners Market, one of the true pleasures of the event was discovering a number of microproducers like Evidence Wines, whose 250 case production consists solely of its 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, a meaty selection from Knights Valley with 10% Malbec, 8% Petit Verdot, and 7% Petite Sirah. Hamel Family Wines topped out 290 cases of the 2006 Pamelita, an estate Cabernet Sauvignon from their sustainably farmed, one acre vineyard in Sonoma Valley. Along with 49 cases of Sauvignon Blanc, Heibel Ranch Vineyards bottled a whopping 188 cases of its proprietary 2007 Lappa’s, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah.

All told, Flying Horse has produced an inventory of nearly 2,000 cases among its three vintages from 2005-07. With Denis Malbec consulting, the 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006 Napa Valley Petite Sirah, and 2007 Sauvignon Blanc all proved to be well-structured, memorable wines. J&J Cellars is the premium line from A Cellar Full of Noise’s James Judd; I found their 2009 Tempranillo Rosé more than refreshing while being pleasantly surprised by the complexity of their NV Autumn Flight Barbera.

Vintners Market featured a VIP section with many of the same premium wineries that also poured in April. I was pleased to meet Vito Bialla and taste his 2008 Cabernet, a Craig MacLean vinification tempered with 14% Merlot. Nearby, an extraordinary discovery was the 2007 Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon from Rugg Family, blending grapes from Stag’s Leap, Oak Knoll and Yountville. Downtown Napa’s leading wine bar, Bounty Hunter, poured their own 2008 Jurisprudence, a Cabernet Sauvignon blended with 12% Cabernet Franc and 1% Merlot.

Another special blend in the VIP section was the 2007 Enjoie RTW, a Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot mélange from VinRoc, whose Atlas Peak 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon proved truly outstanding. I was happy to visit with Sciandri and resample their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon I had first encountered at the inaugural Coombsville tasting. Demuth Kemos featured their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mountain Terraces but truly excelled with their 2008 Syrah Bei Ranch.

Back with the οἱ πολλοί, I worked my way through the latest and greatest from Baker Lane: the 2009 Rosé of Syrah, the 2008 Ramondo Pinot Noir, and both the 2008 Estate Syrah and the 2008 Sonoma Coast Cuvée Syrah. I also revisited with Tom Keith’s Athair in order to try his elegant 2007 Russian River Pinot Noir and the 2009 Russian River Pinot Noir Rosé. On the more raucous side, Red Zeppelin struck a resounding note with both their 2009 White Zeppelin Chardonnay and the 2009 Black Zeppelin Petite Sirah.

I had hoped to retry John Chiarito’s Italian varietals, but opted instead for his exquisite 2007 Petite Sir
ah
. With Kelseyville’s Rosa d’Oro on hand, I did get my fix with their 2007 Barbera, the 2007 Dolcetto, and an imposing 2008 Sangiovese. And if that weren’t enough, Treasure Island’s Fat Grape Winery poured its 2008 Sangiovese alongside a 2008 Cabernet Franc, an appealing 2008 Zinfandel, a 2008 Mourvèdre, and a 2008 Petit Verdot.

Page Wine Cellars bottles its Bordeaux-style blends under its own name and designates its Revolver label for the rest. This afternoon they poured the 2007 The Stash, a Cabernet Sauvignon softened with 5% Cabernet Franc, while showcasing Revolver’s 2007 The Fury (Cabernet Franc) and the 2007 Perdition (Petite Sirah). Also from Napa, Longfellow Wines elected to feature their 2007 Dry Creek Valley Syrah Unti Vineyard and the 2008 Pinot Noir Griffin’s Lair Vineyard. The unassumingly named Napa Station from former Merryvale CEO Peter Huwiler quietly made its splash here with a quartet of well-executed wines: the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, the delectable 2007 Chardonnay, a balanced 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Merlot.


In Mendocino, the city of Point Arena has its own lighthouse, as well as an official Poet Laureate—and Mariah Vineyards; their meticulously hand-picked wines included the 2007 Zinfandel and the 2006 Syrah, both strikingly well-crafted vintages. Meanwhile, Bennett Valley near Santa Rosa boasts Bennett Valley Cellars, with its appealing Bin 6410 Pinot Noir. And nearby in Santa Rosa, Kivelstadt Family Vineyard offered its 2009 Dog Daze Rosé (Syrah/Grenache) and the 2008 Pavo Syrah. An utterly superb Grenache came from Santa Rosa’s Grey Stack, the 2007 Dry Stack Grenache, while their 2007 Marie’s Block Syrah came half a sip to being as good.

Like Mariah, Fogline Vineyards handcrafts their wines, with impressive results for both the 2009 Pinot Noir Windsor Oaks Vineyard and the 2009 Zinfandel. Equal parts Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon constitute the aptly-named and immensely appealing 2006 Mixto from Solovino.

I oughtn’t be critical of Greater Purpose, a wine venture with charitable aspirations, but with their added purpose, all-too-hip design, and state-of-the-art Web site, they seem to have overlooked attention to detail in their wine blending. Their two wines, the NV White Label and the NV Black Label, both marry Cabernet Sauvignon with Zinfandel, the latter adding 10% Syrah. Neither had that “you’ve got to try this” cachet, but I respect their effort. I will, however, stand unrestrained in my disapprobation of wineries and wine events that affiliate themselves with or incorporate tobacco; certainly, I hope the appearance of CigarRV—the Mobile Mancave will prove a one-time aberration for Vintners Market. (Readers here should know that Sostevinobile’s
commitment to a sustainable environment means that we will not
accommodate smoking on any portion of our premises, including the
projected outdoor seating area atop our living roof
).

In reading other wine blogs, I sense I may have missed perhaps 50% of the possible new wineries that attended Vintners Market. As always, I am grateful to Bridget and Cornelius for inviting me to their splendid event, but let me exhort them print out a program next time!! It will expedite matters for everyone: the media trying to cover the event, wineries taking the time to make the event happen, and attendees who come to enjoy and purchase the wine on hand. In return, yours truly will continue striving to sample and evaluate as many West Coast wineries that meet Sostevinobile’s criteria as I can—provided my palate doesn’t go south again!