Category Archives: St. Macaire


lacuna: noun, plural lacunæ


1. a gap or missing part, as in a manuscript, series, or logical argument; hiatus.

2. Anatomy. one of the numerous minute cavities in the substance of bone, supposed to contain nucleate cells.
3. Botany. an air space in the cellular tissue of plants.

Loyal readers of the Sostevinobile blog have probably noticed a paucity of entries, so far, for 2017. As in none. This gap, however, has not occurred because Your West Coast Oenophile has been missing in action or confronting his worst case of writer’s block since John Hawkes’ graduate seminar in fiction writing. I have actually started several posts covering my wine forays to Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles, Amador, Lodi, Santa Cruz, and El Dorado (according to my odometer, nearly 77% of the miles I’ve clocked in 2017 have been for wine tasting forays). Add to that the usual array of trade tastings, although I skipped ZAP for the first time in 20 or so years, as it coincided with Premier Napa, plus I single-handedly produced a wine tasting extravaganza in Menlo Park, featuring some 30 wineries owned by or affiliated with alumni from my undergraduate institute.

In a word, I’ve been hard-pressed to put words to the page. And since I am so woefully behind in timely coverage of the various events I have attended, let me focus on the various discoveries I have made over the past few months as I have been meandering throughout the state.

As they usually do, my journeys began with a swing down to Paso Robles, though this time with one very significant difference: rain. After 5 years of drought, the weather gods seemed determined to atone for their dereliction in a single season, and on the Friday before President’s Day, turned what is normally a 3¼ hour drive down US 101 into a 7+ hour ordeal.

Despite oftentimes feeling as if I were taking my life into my own hands—at one point, almost driving into the Salinas River—I still managed to handle the deluge in stride, and managed to visit quite a number of wineries, while sandwiching in the regional Rhône Rangers tasting. It proved a most revelatory excursion, renewing my acquaintance with Roger Nicolas of RN Estate (not to be confused with Roger Nicholas of Lodi’s Grand Amis) and discussing his transition from the superb Rhône varietals he produces to a Bordeaux focus, including his sublime 2014 Malbec.

Readers here know that I have been championing Malbec as the Next Big Thing in California (along with my declaration of Pinot fatigue). Just before joining Roger for his tasting, I waded through the Adelaida District to join Jim Madsen at Thacher, where The Farm was laboring through its annual day of bottling. Much to my surprise, Santiago Achával was also manning the line alongside his associates. Though we had not met before, we have corresponded over the past several years and have numerous mutual friends, including Manuel Ferrer Minetti, his former partner at Argentina’s renowned Achával-Ferrer.

To learn from Santiago that The Farm was indeed planning to bottle their own Malbec in Paso Robles—once it met his exacting standards—was an epiphany. Further underscoring this prognostication was my discovery of Tooth & Nail’s 2014 The Fiend, a Malbec blended with 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petite Sirah, and 2% Syrah and a revisit with Wally Murray’s Bon Niche, whose 2011 Voûtes/Arches has long been a benchmark Malbec blend. In fact, Wally’s second label, Birdland, is comprised of three mid-range Malbecs and Malbec blends, a further validation of my belief that California is no longer ceding this varietal to the South Americans. The only question that remains is whether Carménère can be far behind.

I have been referring to this Paso Robles trip as my M&M excursion. True, before the massive proliferation of wineries throughout the AVA, a packet of these candies was my go-to choice whenever I stopped here for the obligatory refill the tank and relieve the bladder before the second leg of my drive to Los Angeles, but this winter, it took on a whole new meaning. Also rising up from relative obscurity among its peer varietals, Mourvèdre, at long last appears to be taking center stage for many Rhône red producers. If GSMs could be likened to a professional basketball squad, Grenache would be Kevin Durant, Syrah—Steph Curry, and Mourvèdre, the overshadowed star of this triumvirate, Klay Thompson. But just as Thompson can manage to eclipse his co-stars every so often, so too can Mourvèdre find its niche as a primary varietal.

The Saturday event at Broken Earth proved, admittedly, a bit of an endurance test, given the decibel level of the concrete antechamber where the Grand Tasting took place. Placards hung from the ceiling celebrate each of the Rhône varietals, though the irony of misspelling “Mourvédre” was not lost. Still, eleven of the participating wineries featured a varietal Mourvèdre bottling, with particular standouts including Adelaida’s 2014 Mourvèdre Signature Anna’s Estate Vineyard, Clautière’s 2012 Estate Mourvèdre, compelling bottlings of the 2014 Mataró from Red Soles, Summerwood’s 2013 Mourvèdre, and the 2014 Mourvèdre from the redoubtable Vines on the Marycrest. Rounding out the assemblage, both Seven Oxen and Rhône virtuoso Tablas Creek offered superb renditions of their 2014 Mourvèdre.

Whether it’s labeled as its Spanish name (Monastrell) or its Catalan nomenclature (Mataró), Mourvèdre has been unheralded as a primary Rhône varietal for far too long on the West Coast. It is most gratifying to see that it is finally getting the measure of respect it deserves. Of course, I could say the same for the vast majority of the 200+ varietals I have sourced for Sostevinobile throughout the West Coast,  but that would require a far more comprehensive undertaking than I have time to allocate currently. Still, my final takeaway from Paso Robles was the discovery of a true Gamay—not Valdiguié—the 2015 Stasis Gamay Noir from Rob Murray’s Murmur VIneyard in nearby Santa Maria Valley, an exceptional wine that easily rivaled the 2012 RPM Gamay Noir, my overall favorite wine from that vintage.

After stopping off in Carmel-by-the-Sea, I made it back to San Francisco with barely enough time to brush my teeth and reload my travel bags before heading up to Napa and Sonoma for a five day excursion. In many ways, I concede that the events surrounding Première Napa are more personal indulgence than research; after all, this is primary county-wide showcase of the year and it remains fairly difficult, for the most part, to distinguish, critically, wines that range from very good to phenomenal. Première is about building and cementing relationships, cultivated over the years, in the hope of gaining discrete allocations if and when Sostevinobile becomes able to take on a prestigious reserve list or cater to a private membership within the confines of our facilities.

The other challenge, of course, is the rigid orthodoxy of the Bordeaux strictures to which the vast majority of Napa wineries adhere. Encountering unheralded varietals or non-traditional blends is a rarity in this AVA. Highway 29, the backbone of the Napa Valley, interconnects its most mainstream AVAs: Oak Knoll, Yountville, Rutherford, Oakville, and St. Helena, and along this conduit one tends to find the least variance in deference to the near universal excellence of its Cabernets—not to mention the price per ton Cabernet Sauvignon from here commands. Meanwhile, the more remote regions of the county, like Coombsville and Calistoga, generally seem more willing to delve into other varietals—even those that have fallen into disuse in Bordeaux!

As scarce as Malbec may be in California, the fabled sixth Bordeaux grape, Carménère, is even rarer. Even its most noteworthy producer outside of South America, Yorkville Cellars in Mendocino, seems almost reticent in promoting its varietal bottling. But with little fanfare, the redoubtable John Caldwell has plantings in Coombsville, and what suppose to be a quick visit to discuss obtaining some graftings of Malbec and of Carménère for my Paso Robles clients turned into a 3½ hour bacchanal that only ended because I had to attend a memorial service at the Marin Art & Garden Center in Ross.

I’d like to believe the late Dr. Jim McCole would not have minded my missing his Celebration of Life. Certainly, he would have himself preferred to indulge in the 2014 Rocket Science, Caldwell’s signature bottling of  ⅔ Syrah with 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Malbec, 6% Cabernet Franc, 5% Pinot Noir, 4% Merlot, 3% Tannat, and 1% Carménère, a blend as unconventional as the man behind it. I, in turn, cottoned to the 2012 Gold Cabernet Suavignon and an equally alluring 2014 Silver Proprietary Red, a rare blend of his six Bordeaux varietals, with a 1% dash of Syrah—an homage to 19th Century Claret.

Caldwell is renowned for the meticulously researched, albeit often smuggled, varietal clones grown on his estate, and labels his wines accordingly. The apex of this precision was his 2013 Merlot [Clone 181], along with the 2013 Malbec [Clone 595], but I still delighted most in the 2014 Carménère [Clone 2].

Readers well-familiar with my penchant for rare and obscure varietals will know that I am not satisfied with sourcing a mere six red Bordeaux varietals, and while John has yet to smuggle in cuttings of St. Macaire, both Mt. Veeder’s Progeny and O’Shaughnessy on Howell Mountain have plantings. But like the elusive Planet X, theoretically lurking undetected in the Kuiper Belt, the eighth Bordeaux red, Gros Verdot, has never found its niche in California, at least until now. Indeed, O’Shaughnessy has covertly planted it at their Angwin estateand will be releasing their 8 varietal blend this spring, superseding their famed Howell Mountain Cabernet, renowned for its inclusion of St,. Maciare and Carménère with the major Bordelaise grapes. Now if only Jancis Robinson hadn’t debunked Cabernet Gernischt…

(to be continued)

Duck die nasty

This past November marked a bit of a bittersweet milestone for Sostevinobile—one which Your West Coast Oenophile seems a tad reluctant to concede at this stage—as has been the situation with the preponderance of 2013 (in no small part from having been struck by an industrial truck while cycling back in March). So for now, let me just say it is both a
triumph and a disappointment. Fortunately, I have a phenomenal bottle
of 2009 Barbera from Mora Estate with which to console myself

Mora Estate is perhaps the most recent of my wine discoveries, a boutique operation in Sonoma County that focuses on esoteric Italian varietals. I’ve also had the chance to sample their soon-to-be released 2012 Rosato, a wine made predominantly from Corvina Veronese. Winemaker Fabiano Ramaci’s greatest viticultural triumph to date, however, has to be his 2009 Valpo, California’s first authentic Amarone, produced from Corvina, Molinara, Rondinella, and Negara grapes he has sourced from Alexander Valley. And to think, I thought I had a bead on almost everything being grown out here!

Much has been made lately about Lou Reed since his recent passing, and the seminal influence of his music. Debates will long rage on as to which was his signature album, but I tend to favor The Velvet Underground and Nico. The late German female vocalist who collaborated with Reed on this opus bears no relation to Sonoma’s Nico Wines, a boutique label specializing in Italian varietals, to which I was formally introduced at Mystery Wine Night, Underground Cellars launch party. I had already had the good fortune to have been wowed by Nico’s superb 2009 Dolcetto a few weeks prior, after Debbie Zachareas of Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant had casually donated it to a poolside gathering at The Gateway, and so had prearranged to meet with owner/winemaker Kevin Rogers at this ensuing tasting. Nico’s other selections included a 2012 Fiano, along with my first sampling of a California Greco di Tufo, the 2012 Il Greco, both harvested from Tanya’s Vineyard in the Russian River Valley.

My exposure to Grignolino grown on the West Coast has pretty much been limited to Heitz’ renowned Grignolino, their Grignolino Rosé, and a Guglielmo Grignolino I have yet to try. Add Nico to that list, with its 2012 Rosé, vinted from 55% Lagrein and 45% Grignolino. Kevin’s lineup also included a 2012 Barbera and a notable 2012 Moscato (95% Moscato Giallo, 5% Fiano). My other initiation at this event came from Santa Rosa’s Woodenhead, a winery that had long eluded encountering me. Here they featured an intriguing pair of their current releases: 2010 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley and the 2008 Zinfandel Martinelli Road Vineyard Old Vine.
Sostevinobile is usually quite happy to extoll the efforts of fellow entrepreneurs venturing into the wine realm, particularly those that portend to abet what we are striving to accomplish (and vice versa). This sort of mutual cooperation has truly been a hallmark throughout all facets of the wine industry, a stark contrast to the ruthless competitiveness and unwritten code of “mediocrity promoting mediocrity” that demarcate the advertising/marketing sector (the ignoble profession I forsook to found this venture). Still, I am perplexed by a number of recent launches like Underground Cellar or Wine Savage, online forays from acquaintances on the wine circuit, that seem rather jejune, if not emulative of the ὕβρις that befell the now-defunct Wine Luxury.
In contrast, one venture that can Sostevinobile enthusiastically endorse is SoFi, a social finance initiative that provides a creative platform for investors to help mitigate the burden of student loans for higher education. As their mission statement proclaims, “SoFi connects investors and borrowers via school-specific lending funds. Investors receive a compelling return and borrowers reduce the cost of their student loans.”
SoFi sponsors a number of events in the Bay Area and in other key cities across the US to bring together members and potential investors, along with students who have subscribed to their programs, in a convivial atmosphere. I was graciously invited to attend their most recent wine gathering at San Francisco’s opulent Millennium Tower, in the private dining room above RN74. The demure allure of Thuy Vu quite swayed me from my task at hand, but I somehow managed to extricate myself from the sway of her pulchritude and focus on the quartet of wine labels being featured at this intimate soirée.
I, of course, had long ago been captivated by Realm Cellars, a winery producing three distinctive Cabernets showcasing three separate Napa AVAs: the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Farella Vineyard from Coombsville, the Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer Dr. Crane Vineyard from St. Helena, and the Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard from Oakville. Similarly, I have succumbed on numerous occasions to the twins charms of Kristine Ashe and Entre Nous, and so gladly engaged General Manager Joe Filippini, here showcasing the 2010 Entre Nous Cabernet Sauvignon from their Oakville vineyards along Highway 29. The new discoveries at this event came from the inaugural bottling of Adriel Lares2010 Memento Mori, a poignant tribute to his late father cultivated from a selection of prized Cabernet Sauvignon plantings, predominantly from Beckstoffer’s George III and Las Piedras Vineyards; wine industry veteran Lee Nordlund, with whom I ought to have crossed paths at some previous point since 1982, introduced his Punch label’s 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, alongside his 2012 Proof Chardonnay.
I had the chance to taste through the full Punch/Proof lineup a month after this event, at a private release party for their fetching 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon. Other wines from Lee’s impressive lineup included Punch’s 2011 Bracero Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley and the 2012 Proof Pinot Noir Anderson Valley.
I arrived at the Nordlund home that afternoon, having attended the nearby 14th Annual Mt. Veeder Appellation Tasting, an event that had been dampened—literally—by an unanticipated summer shower. As
with many attendees, I had delayed setting out from San Francisco in the hope the weather
would clear; consequently, I was still able to enjoy the last hour or so of this event with only slight impediment from the lingering drizzle. While the muddied grounds may have caused my hand-stitched Lucchese 2000s to slip a few times, this muck was definitely no revival of Pinot in the River
My first reward for persevering was an introduction to Anthem, a collaboration between industry veterans Jeff Ames (Rudius) and John Anthony Truchard (John Anthony), here showcasing their inaugural bottling, the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder. Other epiphanies here included Mithra, a œnological homage to the Zoroastrian divinity coöpted by latter-day Roman mysticism, dazzling with their gorgeous 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, and VGS Château Potelle, a reconfiguration of Château Potelle by inveterate Francophile Jean-Noël Fourmeaux du Sartel, which contrasted a selection of Bordelaise varietal bottlings: the obligatory yet nonetheless noteworthy 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, alongside remarkable renditions of a 2010 Cabernet Franc and a 2010 Merlot.
Despite my usually meticulous notes, I somehow had not recorded previous tastings with Foyt and with Lampyridae; the former comported itself ably with Foyt Family Wines #77, a 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, while Lampyridae’s wines, developed, in part, to raise funds for children with severe communication needs, excelled with both their 2010 Mount Veeder Communication Block Cabernet Sauvignon and their Syrah, the 2010 Lampyridae Vineyards Mount Veeder Communication Block Red Wine, as well as the 2009 Lampyridae Vineyards Mount Veeder Communication Block Red Wine, a blend of 66% Syrah and 34% Cabernet Sauvignon.
My previous omissions also included Progeny, who is, to the best of my knowledge, only the second winery (the other being O’Shaughnessy) growing St. Macaire in Napa, here featured their as-yet unblended standard, the 2007 Special Selection Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, while Ron Fenolio’s Veedercrest contrasted their amiable 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon with the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine that was definitely hitting its stride now.
Further north of Mt. Veeder, I had earlier traversed the Valley to attend another summer tradition, Rutherford’s Day in the Dust, an event that had yet again been transposed, this time from the signature grandiose staging of Jean-Charles Boisset to a more subdued venue at BV’s production facility. Many familiar faces pouring here, with 2010 Cabs and 2012 Sauvignon Blancs predominant among the offerings. Caspar Estate, a boutique project from Cultivar’s Jody Harris and Julien Fayard, underscored the tightness of this young vintage (as opposed to the immediate approachability I found in most 2009s) with their 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford. Nonetheless, I cottoned to the 2010 Scarlett Cabernet Sauvignon McGah Family Cellars poured alongside a notable 2011 1070 Green Sauvignon Blanc.
I had always liked Sawyer Cellars, in part because of its Anglicized version of my mother’s family’s name, so was apprehensive to see it reincarnated as Foley Johnson after its acquisition by Foley Family Wines, but the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford they poured displayed a most reassuring continuity. Previous renditions of this event had proven rather homogenous in its varietal range, apart from Tres Sabores2010 Zinfandel Rutherford Estate and a sporadic selection of Petite Sirahs, so it was most welcome to find a break in this monotony from newcomer Talahalusi, Rene and Maria Haug’s iconoclastic Rhône venture. I was quite satisfied with the 2011 Roussanne Rutherford but a bit more tepid towards the 2011 Picpoul. Alors, nous verrons
Recently, it was announced that Petite Sirah had supplanted Zinfandel as Napa’s second most prolific red grape, a particularly notable feat, given the relative obscurity of the varietal only a few years ago. Efforts to rebrand the grape as Durif—a disambiguation from Syrah—have largely failed to gain any traction, and the debate on whether it should be classified as a true Rhône varietal rages on, yet amidst all this clamor, this spicy varietal has gained considerable popularity.
Yet despite its upsurgence in Napa, Petite Sirah is still very much rooted in the Livermore Valley, a distinction borne out annually by the Petite Sirah Symposium—a rare instance of this term being employed in the original Platonic nuance. Though notably smaller in scope and attendance from last ye
ar’s tribute to Jim Concannon, this year’s gathering included a number of new participants Sostevinobile had yet to have encountered. Leading alphabetically, Aaron Wines, a panelist for the symposium in addition to pouring here for the first time, impressed with their 2010 Petite Sirah-Paso Robles. Napa-based Aratas Wine, here also for the first time, offered contrasting bottlings from 2009, the 2009 Shake Ridge Ranch Petite Sirah (Amador County) and their estate grown 2009 Napa Valley Petite Sirah, along with a young 2010 version of the latter.
Many here know that I started out in the wine business helping to orchestrate Mergers & Acquisitions. Over the past year, in an effort to bolster my subsistence while negotiating Sostevinobile’s funding—contrary to appearances, I couldn’t possibly survive solely on the generosity of catered wine events I attend—I have found myself reluctantly drawn back into this practice, offering to parlay the strength of my winery knowledge for discreet investors. These endeavors led me to discover Mike Kooyman’s Old Sugar Mill in Clarksburg several months ago, but I had not previously its in-house label, Clarksburg Wine Co., prior to this rendition of P.S. I Love You. Though apparently concentrating more on their white varietals, particularly the once-ubiquitous Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg comported themselves admirably with their locally-sourced 2010 Petite Sirah.
Other Sostevinobile revelations pouring here included Michael James’ Hidden Oak with a notably low alcohol (12.87%) 2009 Petite Sirah, and PaZa, a portmanteau of owners Pamela and Zane Dobson’s names, with their 2011 Petite Sirah from Placer County. I admit I am decidedly ambivalent about the name Red Soles—at least, it’s not another sappy canine label or Jack Welch tribute—but have no reservations about their 2011 Estate Petite Sirah from Paso Robles. And I am indebted to Healdsburg’s Handal-Denier, not only for their exquisite 2010 Alexander Valley Petite Sirah but for introducing me to the above-mentioned pioneers at Nico and Mora Estate.
I hadn’t encountered boutique producer Burt Street Cellars before Rosé by the Bay afforded the opportunity to sample their 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir Rosé and a sneak sip of their 2012 Chardonnay Carneros-Sonoma. I also encountered Ten Acre Winery for what would be the first of many times, as they poured their striking 2012 Rosé of Pinot Noir here.
I suppose it was only fitting that both serendipities from this year’s West of West Wine Festival derived their nomenclature from the tropospheric intensity that characterizes this coastal AVA. Appropriately named 32 Winds Wine provided a veritable tour de force with their quartet of superb wines, starting with their 2011 Lucky Well U. V. Chardonnay and its sister 2011 Lucky Well U. V. Pinot Noir. As striking was their 2010 Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir, while the 2010 Maestro Pinot Noir blew the rest of this lineup away. Gros Ventre Cellars (which—oops!— I mistranslated as “big wind”) did wind up making a similarly impressive debut with three distinct bottlings, a 2011 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, the 2011 First Born Pinot Noir, and a superb 2011 Campbell Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir.
Amid all the revisits to events the past few months, a truly outstanding debut took place at the Press Club: Wines of Danger. This intimate gathering brought together twenty relatively boutique-scale producers, the majority of which had been hitherto unknown to Sostevinobile. Some were outstanding, others admittedly lackluster, yet all were laudable in their efforts to produce wines of distinctive character. Ed Ulshafer’ and Brian Carlson’s self-referential Brian Edward poured quite amiable renditions of a 2011 Carneros Chardonnay and 2009 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, blended with 2% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc, while Michael Simons’ Monterey-based Comanche Cellars dazzled with a wide array of varietals, including their 2010 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, blended from the Hahn, Paraiso and Sarmento Vineyards, plus a striking 2010 San Antonio Valley Tempranillo Pierce Ranch Vineyard, and superb bottlings of both the 2009 San Antonio Valley Cabernet Franc Jolon Vineyard and 2009 Arroyo Seco Syrah Mission Ranch Vineyard.
Eclecticism was the rule of thumb for Eric Laumann, whose Cambiata label derives its name from the polyphonic idiom rendering an “added tonal dimension that occurs when two chords momentarily share
properties, so that the transition has greater depth and mellifluence”
; hence, the contrast of his 2012 Cambiata Albariño and 2009 Cambiata Tannat.
This theory of musical counterpoint, first cited in the musical treatise Gradus ad Parnassum by Johann Joseph Fux, highly influenced Beethoven, to which Laumann alludes in his tributary label, Ludwig and its 2009 Hammerklavier, a unique blend of Pinot Noir and Dornfelder. And not to appear harmonious in his nomenclature, Laumann’s third label draws its inspiration from the surfing technique known as Rail 2 Rail, an apt metaphor for his unbridled 2011 Rail 2 Rail Zinfandel, a bottling of Old Vine Zinfandel grown in Lodi, the legendary riparian outpost for longboard enthusiasts!
Taking matters to a literal level, Michael and Wendy Trotta’s Eclectic Wines showcased their inaugural vintage with a sublime 2012 Viognier Dry Creek Valley, a charming 2012 Vermentino Dunnigan Hills, and their 2011 Tempranillo Sierra Foothills. In a similar vein, while there may be nothing allusive in the name Lars Björkman and Molly Hill designated for their Mt. Veeder boutique, Grow Wines did impress with their estate grown 2011 Ruhl Vineyard Chardonnay.
we are in stealth mode, I am not at liberty to disclose details on an inchoate venture—not wine-related, but
potentially capable of funding Sostevinobile—but I can concede that I was quite astonished that the URL for the name we chose remained available, despite deriving our moniker from a frequently-invoked, albeit semi-scatological, term from the vernacular. So, too, does it surprise me that Cuvée Wine Cellars had not been trademarked generations before Paul Rogerville founded his San Mateo County cooperative
. Though I would have preferred a greater adherence to the level of selectivity this name implies, I nonetheless enjoyed all five wines in their lineup, starting with the 2012 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc. From the previous vintage, Paul poured a 2011 Russian River Valley Chardonnay and a 2011 Pinot Noir Saralee’s Vineyard, while dipping back two previous cycles and outside Sonoma for his 2009 El Dorado Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.
Too many possibilities come to mind if I try to conjure the origins for the name Farm Life & Massa. Organically grown by Patrick Ridder, these wines contrasted widely, from a tepid 2012 Massa Sauvignon Blanc to a more energized 2009 Farm Life Red Wine, a Syrah/Petite Sirah blend. On the other hand, Maboroshi is clearly derived from 幻の光, a term meaning “trick of light;” nothing phantasmic, however, about the exceptional wines Tom and Rebecca Kisaichi produce here, including the 2012 Maboroshi Los Carneros Chardonnay and an equally compelling 2008 Maboroshi Russian River Pinot Noir. Under their Rebecca K label, the Kisaichis excelled with a NV Rebecca K North Coast Méthode Champenoise Brut and a superb 2008 Rebecca K Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.
With only one label but two states of origin, Molly Williams and Ryan Hodgins of M Autumn contrasted their Californian 2008 Napa Valley Merlot with their Oregonian 2009 Johnson Vineyard Pinot Noir. No such peregrinations demarcated Jillian Johnston’s Onesta, a Lodi—focused startup that debuted here with a splendid 2012 Grenache Blanc, a strikingly-focused 2012 Cinsault Rosé Bechthold Vineyard, and her outstanding 2011 Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard.
As more and more wineries are now releasing their 2011 Pinots, I am beginning to view this vintage as a true test of a winemaker’s craft. Some have proven quite iffy; others, like the 2011 Pinot Noir Tudor House Vineyards and the 2011 Pinot Noir Dolinsek Vineyards, both Russian Rivers Valley selections from Patrick Murray’s Paro, proved utterly wonderful. Murray also added a 2010 Pinot Noir Sunnyside Vineyard from Sonoma Mountain and a well-balanced 2010 Rosé to his lineup here.

(A Poem in Four Cantos)

     CANTO 1

     I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
     By the false azure in the windowpane
     I was the smudge of ashen fluff–and I
     Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky,
     And from the inside, too, I’d duplicate
     Myself, my lamp, an apple on a plate:
     Uncurtaining the night, I’d let dark glass
     Hang all the furniture above the grass,
     And how delightful when a fall of snow
     Covered my glimpse of lawn and reached up so
     As to make chair and bed exactly stand
     Upon that snow, out in that crystal land!

Over the years, this blog has frequently contained Gogolian allusions, not to mention the occasional Nabokovian echo, and so it was most delightful to meet Waxwing Wine Cellars, an ornithological œnological endeavor. Shades of John Shade? Alas, my citation of Pale Fire fell flat with winemaker Scott Sisemore whose forte lies with red grapes that favor the windswept chill of coastside Sonoma. A very strong 2011 Pinot Noir Spring Hill Vineyard was complemented by both the 2011 Syrah Sonoma Coast and an exceptional 2012 Pinot Noir Rosé Spring Hill Vine
. On the other hand, I couldn’t place either reference from City Cellars, here pouring their 2008 Lopa, a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon & 40% Tempranillo​ and the 2009 Gianna, a Malbec/Petit Verdot medley.

Sometimes, an transparent allusion creates an impression different from what it hopes to convey, as with Calistoga’s People’s Wine Revolution, a boutique producer that sounds as if it ought to be nestled among Berkeley’s urban wineries. And while their labels tend more towards whimsy, one could certainly taste a proletariat edge to their quartet of vintages poured here, starting with the 2012 The People’s Viognier Salem Ranch from Dry Creek Valley and their Lodi-grown 2012 The People’s Grenache. Meanwhile, their unadorned 2011 Syrah Massa Ranch noticeably contrasted with the 2008 Bea’s Knees Petite Sirah, their vanguard bottling.
No pretense could be attributed to Sabrine Rodems’ Scratch, a Monterey project sourcing its fruit from both Arroyo Seco and the Santa Lucia Highlands. Certainly, both her 2011 Riesling Arroyo Seco and 2011 Grenache Arroyo Seco proved competent wines, but the 2011 Scratch Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands showcased her viticultural prowess. Further north, it took quite a bit of Internet sleuthing to uncover the Russian Ridge that gives rise to Russian Ridge Winery. Not far from the San Carlos cooperative where these wines are bottled, one can find the picturesque preserve that graces their label, an underdeveloped 3,137acre expanse that comprises a major asset of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. In keeping with the pristine beauty of this locale, their wines express a straightforward portrait of their individual terroirs, from the elegant 2012 Pinot Grigio Chiles Valley and 2011 Chardonnay Napa to the striking 2011 Petite Sirah Paso Robles and the 2011 Syrah Santa Cruz Mountains. 

In contrast, Site derives its name from a place as generic as it is obvious, much like the delightfully understated road sign puns from acclaimed muralist Rigo 23 adorning numerous San Francisco landmarks. Maverick Adelaida winemaker Jeremy Weintraub showcased five of Site bottlings from an assortment of Central Coast vineyards, starting with his superb 2012 Roussanne Stolpman Vineyard and his 2012 Viognier Larner Vineyard.

Jeremy also crafted a 2012 Grenache Larner Vineyard and an equally-appealing 2012 Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard, but his signature effort had to have been the lush, compelling 2012 Syrah Larner Vineyard.

I truly wish there had been more events that offered such a range new discoveries for Sostevinobile. As enjoyable as I have always found the Russian River Valley’s Single Vineyard Night, since La Follette’s assistant winemaker and effervescent new mother Simone Sequeira guided me through their inaugural event at the then-C. Donatiello Winery a few years back, the sole revelation this year came from Via Giusti Wines, a single-selection wine project debuting their 2011 Russian River Pinot Noir. Formerly partnered with Paso Robles’ Grand Tasting Tour, the annual Lamb Jam Tour did offer me the chance finally to meet Grace Patriot, a Sierra Foothills winery with Dartmouth roots, here featuring their 2012 Riesling alongside a striking blend of Tempranillo and Graciano, bearing the portmanteau of 2009 Tempriano and a Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah mélange whimsically labeled the 2007 Aboriginal. No
t from Oregon, Napa Valley’s Corvalle poured their 2011 Framework, a Cabernet Sauvignon tempered with both Merlot and Syrah.

Canoe Ridge is a Horse Heaven Hills holding from Precept Wine, one of the largest wine holding companies on the West Coast, but a relative anomaly with its focus on Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Like Leslie Rudd’s Vintage Wine Estates and Foley Family Wines, its rivals in the current Mergers & Acquisition market, Precept gives wide latitude to its subsidiaries; this autonomy manifested itself admirably in four wines Canoe Ridge offered in complement to the featured lamb entrées: the 2012 Expedition Pinot Gris, a superb 2011 Expedition Chardonnay and 2011 Expedition Merlot, and the 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Cayucos Cellars, an independent winery from the Paso Robles AVA, offered three remarkably well-aged selections: a 2007 Chardonnay, their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2007 Syrah, matched alongside their 2005 Devils Gate Zinfandel and two curiously-named multivintage blends of Grenache and Petit Sirah, the Devils Gate x/ix and its fraternal twin, the Devils Gate ix/x.
A trip to Shone Farm, the producing winery and farm that serves as outdoor laboratory for œnology studies at Santa Rosa Junior College for the for the premier of The Press Democrat’s North Coast Wine Challenge offered quite a number of familiar faces, albeit with introductions to a handful of wineries . I had tried on numerous occasions to visit Amista as I wandered along Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg, and so was more than happy to begin this event with Mike & Vicky Farrow’s sparkling wine, the NV Blanc de Blanc Morningsong Vineyard. Here they also poured an impressive 2010 Chardonnay Morningsong Vineyard and their 2008 Syrah Morningsong Vineyard, with promises to share their full lineup when I finally do visit them. Also from Healdsburg, Estate 1856, a family-held vineyard that antedates me by a full century, impressed with their 2010 Malbec and 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, alongside their signature 2010 Bordeaux Blend, a Cabernet Sauvignon rounded out with 10% Petit Verdot and 14% Malbec.
I had only recent encountered cardiac surgeon Ramzi Derek’s Grapeheart at a WineLuv tasting, but was pleased to resample their 2010 The Beat, a proprietary blend of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Syrah and 17% Cabernet Franc. Also not new, but oddly missing from these pages: Trombetta, which I had met at the 2012 West of West Festival, revisited here with their 2010 Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard, an outstanding wine that managed to be overshadowed by their exquisite 2011 Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard.
Rob + Kat McDonald’s Art + Farm Wines produces a number of quirky labels that belie a solid viticultural heritage. Here they poured their 2011 The Girls in the Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc,and the 2011 The Girls in the Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, both single vineyard expressions, as well as the 2011 Circadia Chardonnay. Another seemingly unprepossessing venture, Thirty Seven Winery, situated at the Gateway to Carneros, provides yet another showcase for winemakers May-Britt and Denis Malbec, here featuring both their 2009 Pinot Noir and 2010 Chardonnay. And to my infinite surprise, they are finally making a Malbec here, as well!
An intimate return to Fort Mason from the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance brought both Lindley, with its 2011 Pinot Noir La Lomita Vineyard and Chardonnay specialists Liquid Farm into the Sostevinobile fold. Along with a 2012 Rosé Vogelzang Vineyard, Liquid Farm produced a trifecta of Chards: the 2011 White Hill Chardonnay, the 2011 Golden Slope Chardonnay, and their showstopper, the 2011 FOUR Chardonnay, a combination from Bent Rock, Radian, Huber, and Clos Pepe vineyards. If only Huber Cellars had attended, as was billed, I might have finally sampled their signature Dornfelder!
Later on, Fort Mason hosted the Anderson Valley Trade Tasting, an attenuated version of Taste of Mendocino that still managed to yield a handful of surprises. Philo’s Angel Camp Vineyard made a spectacular, if not stunning debut, with its tricolore—red, white, rosé—of estate-grown Pinot Noirs: the 2011 Pinot Noir, the rare, excruciating-to-produce 2012 Pinot Noir Blanc, and a dry 2012 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir. Had winemaker Jon Keyes the bandwidth, they could have added an orange version, as well, as exemplified by the 2011 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir Foursight poured here: a wine with limited skin contact that visually resembled the true orange color of Pinot Gris. Though I have tasted with Foursight on numerous occasions, I’d be remiss in not noting the wonderful 2011 Sémillon and the intriguing 2010 Zero New Oak Pinot Noir they also poured here.
Jackson Family Wines has also been a major player in Mergers & Acquisitions in the wine industry, with an aggressive program to acquire established vineyards like Saralee’s in Windsor, as well as Zena Crown and Gran Moraine in Oregon, since the death of founder Jess Jackson in 2011. In addition to the 14 new properties (2,800 acres) Barabara Banke has added to her late husband’s portfolio, she has continued to launch single-vineyard projects like Cardinale throughout the West Coast, represented this day by three different properties. Champs de Rêves featured their 2011 Pinot Noir Boone Ridge Vineyard, while its thematic equestrian kin, WindRacer, poured both its 2010 Anderson Valley Chardonnay and 2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. Named in tribute to the progeny of Banke’s prized thoroughbred Maggy Hawk, the 2010 Jolie comes from a Pinot Noir Clone 115, while the 2010 Unforgettable features Clone 667.
It seems that I have forgotten to include Knez Winery in previous posts, but found both the 2010 Demuth Chardonnay and the 2011 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir poured here more than memorable. Not that I intend any short shrift to their 2011 Cerise Pinot Noir, either! And though I’ve often cited Scharffenberger Cellars for their sparkling wines, this tasting provided my introduction to their still wines: the 2011 Carpe Diem Pinot Noir and the 2012 Carpe Diem Chardonnay.
The most innovative winery here had to have been Lichen Estate, an organic seven-acre planting in Boonville. Their 2012 Pinot Noir proved straightforward, but their unconventional 2012 Les Pinots Noir & Gris, a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Pinot Gris, truly struck my fancy. Adding to the intrigue, their NV Solera Pinot Noir, here a preliminary blend of the 2011 and 2012 vintages, but portending to become more and more striking as subsequent years are added to the mix.
Sostevinobile wrapped up formal tasting season for 2013 with a repeat of last November’s Third Friday marathon. If only Elon Musk had already launched his Hyperloop! Imagine attending a Pinot tasting in San Francisco, staying until its conclusion, taking a leisurely shower and changing, hopping into a Hyperloop pod and arriving in Napa Valley 11 minutes later to attend a four-hour Taste & Sip extravaganza at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA), then hopping back into the pod and returning to the City before midnight (all the while thumbing y
our nose at the St. Helena cop who parks outside the Greystone driveway every day)
. Oh well! Perhaps in 2113!
Nonetheless, the third annual Flavor! Napa Valley again featured the Appellation Trail, a bit pared down from its inaugural rendition, with fewer of the most prominent wineries and restaurants participating and scant sightings of the Valley’s notables in attendance. And while there were still a handful of wine labels to uncover, the more compelling aspect of this event was the chance to sample from a number of storied Napa restaurants and food purveyors. Like Redd Wood. And Morimoto Napa. Auberge du Soleil. And Morimoto Napa. Press St. Helena. And Morimoto Napa. Oenotri. And Morimoto Napa. Silverado Resort & Spa. And Morimoto Napa. Bistro Jeanty And Morimoto Napa.
So perhaps I overdid it at the Morimoto station; nevertheless, my primary focus remained on the wine discoveries. Jason Valenti, with the help of Philippe Melka, showcased his Adamvs label, a biodynamic Howell Mountain project focused solely on Cabernet Sauvignon. I found myself equally captivated by their 2010 Téres, a blend of Estate Cabernet with other Napa Valley fruit, and the to-be-released 2010 Quintvs, a blend of five distinct estate vineyard blocks. Nearby, John Skupny’s Lang & Reed joined the growing ranks of vintners producing extraordinary Cab Francs with his 2011 Two-Fourteen Cabernet Franc Napa Valley.
Montes is a Chilean conglomerate producing wines much in the same mode as Cupcake or Paul Hobbs, not restricting themselves to the confines of national boundaries but sourcing varietals from the terroirs and appellations they see befitting their wine program. Their new Napa Angel label debuted here with their easy-to drink 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, a combination of Yountville, Oak Knoll, and Coombsville fruit, and the 2008 Aurelio’s Selection, a Cabernet focused on Oak Knoll and Yountville. With the changing of the guard after the death of Marie Nichelini-Irwin, I felt Nichelini had essentially become a new label; however, their signature 2012 Old Vine Muscadelle de Boredelais, formerly (and preferably) known as Sauvignon Vert, remained, if memory serves me, true to form.
Under the tutelage of acclaimed winemaker Marco DiGiulio, Adam Braustein crafted a delightful, multiclone expression of the 2010 JBV Cabernet Sauvignon, an estate grown bottling for Jack Brooks Vineyard. And I was quite pleased to meet former Opus One winemaker Kian Takavoli and partake of the austerely named 2010 Red Wine Napa Valley he crafted for Patel Winery on Silverado Trail, a Merlot-dominant Right Bank homage tempered with Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. And I most assuredly would have loved the offerings from Stone the Crows solely for their dispassionate nomenclature, but cottoned to both the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Three Twins Vineyard (no relation to Terra Linda’s much-heralded organic Three Twins Ice Cream label) and its evolving successor, the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Three Twins Vineyard.
The Appellation Trail Tasting is always a welcome challenge to navigate and complete, but the true test of the day was making a safe and relatively unfettered drive to Greystone after the annual Pinotfest tasting at Farallon. Many have heard me complain of late of Pinot fatigue—not surprising with 12% of California’s vineyards, plus nearly 40% of Oregon’s acreage, planted to Pinot Noir, and a veritable overload of Pinot tastings throughout the latter half of the year. Still this is always a must-attend event, and will remain so, even if it continues to fall on the same day as Flavor! Napa Valley.
One of the hallmarks of this tasting is the wide selections of Oregon wineries on hand, posing a
far easier commute across San Francisco than the 10 hour trek to the Willamette Valley. And while this event afforded me the opportunity to catch up with Tendril, Domaine Serene, Soter, and Domaine Drouhin, etc., as well as mingle numerous friends from Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands, and the myriad Sonoma appellations, the standout of the afternoon was the worst—and best—Pinot producer in Napa’s Rutherford AVA, El Molino, pouring an exceptional 2010
Rutherford Pinot Noir and its counterpoint, the 2011 Rutherford Chardonnay.
Lamentably, however, this event featured only a single newcomer, Paul Lato Wines, which nonetheless dazzled with two selections from a stable (several of his labels allude to horse racing) of nine distinct Pinots: the 2011 Pinot Noir C’est La Vie Wenzlau Vineyard (Sta. Rita Hills) and the superb 2011 Pinot Noir Suerte Solomon Hills Vineyard (Santa Maria Valley). This paucity of discoveries, however, wasn’t necessarily a disappointment as, I confess, had primarily hied my way over to Farallon for the delectable Seared Duck-Gizzard Confit and, particularly, the transcendant Duck-Gizzard Meatballs that always highlight this tasting
Does the duck die nasty to render these delicacies? I’ve never asked, though I am sure the process of procurement is nothing as heinous as the caged breeding and disemboweling involved in making Paté Fois Gras. And while we’re on the topic, let me close out the year with a premature resolution to once again let the grizzling on my grizzled visage return to its more luxuriant style—not the Methuselaic proportions of reinstated Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson, but more a quasi-revival of last decade’s efforts to transmogrify myself into a latter day Da Vinci, adopting an appearance to complement my numerous forays, inventive and intellectual, and impending successes (to be detailed in subsequent entries here, as they coalesce) that served to redeem a most challenging 2013.

Let sleeping billionaires lie

Following the Annual Marin Pinot Tasting in Larkspur, Your West Coast Oenophile took in a number of visits to individual wineries before embarking on the major excursion that will be detailed later in this entry. The interesting thread that tied each of these operations wasn’t their wines but the striking facilities that house their operations.

I first stopped by La Honda Winery in Redwood City to take in what has to be the most eclectic structure this side of Tobin James. La Honda’s partner Don Modica framed portions of several buildings on contiguous tracts to create a warehouse-like interior into which other structures appear to intrude. The overall effect seems much like a film stage, illusory yet compelling at the same time. I had met assistant winemaker Colin McNany at a Santa Cruz tasting earlier this year, but was happy this time to meet winemaker/owner Ken Wornick for what turned out to be one of the most energized discussions of Sostevinobile I have had to date. Moreover, the selection of wines made my jaunt down the Peninsula well worth my while, with the 2007 Pinot Noir Sequence and their new 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon/Sangiovese Modica Estate striking my particular fancy. I also greatly enjoy their 2006 Meritage, a deft blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cabernet Franc from the Windsor Oaks Vineyard in the Chalk Hill AVA.

With enough time to make one more stop, I elected to shoot across Hwy 101 and track down the new headquarters for Woodside Vineyards, a small-scale producer I had long meant to seek out. Like La Honda, the name somewhat belied its location, but the recent move to Menlo Park freed the winery from a number of local restrictions, notably a maximum allowable production scale of a mere 2,000 cases. Woodside’s new owner, Buff Giurlani, has transformed an industrial warehouse near the foot of the Dumbarton Bridge into an airy showcase for vintage auto collectors alongside his expanded winery production and tasting room, with the intent of creating event space, not unlike the nearby Museum of Aviation in San Carlos. With this expansion of the winery’s capacity, he and winemaker Brian Caseldon are looking to move beyond their current inventory of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Port and sparkling wines to include a number of Italian varietals, including Sangiovese and Dolcetto. But, for now, the noteworthy holdovers from their former facility that I had the chance to sample: the 2007 Woodside Chardonnay, the 2004 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2004 Woodside Port, more than sufficed.

I finished this day with a half-mile swim at the Pacific Athletic Club in Redwood Shores, a much-needed tonic after my major bicycle excursion (documented in my last entry) between the two major wine tastings the day before. Not that I needed the rest of the week to recover and brace myself for my planned trek up Silverado Trail; still, I refrained from any major excursions until I drove to Napa the following Friday.

Before attending the debut of Andrea Schwartz’ art installations at Yountville’s eco-resort Bardessono, I squeezed in a visit with bocce giacatrice Elena Franceschi at Silverado Vineyards. I had forgotten this winery’s connection to the Disney Family, thus was unprepared for the sheer opulence of the estate. Perched on a hilltop just after Silverado Trail crosses into Yountville, this spectacular Mediterranean edifice offers sweeping views of their 93 planted acres and most of the Stags Leap District lying just beyond. Merely to sit out on the patio leaves one feeling quite regal, if but for a fleeting moment.

Of course, the wines lived up to the richness of this setting. We cooled down first with the 2008 Miller Ranch Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, the delightful 2008 Estate Chardonnay, and, for good measure, the 2008 Sangiovese Rosato before tackling a serious array of red wines, starting with the much-anticipated 2006 Estate Sangiovese that Elena had alluded to when we’d first met. Elena hadn’t mentioned Silverado’s amazing Super Tuscan, the 2006 Fantasia before, and naturally, this Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon blend led into a selection of select Cabernets, starting with the 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. After trying the 2006 vintage, she offered me a rare vertical from the late 1990s. While the 1997 and 1998 vintages lived up to my expectations for a Napa Valley Cab, the largely unheralded 1999 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon was quite the unexpected pleasure.

I might have worked my way through half a dozen more wines, but I was past due for the Pulse Tasting at Acme Fine Wines in St. Helena, where scion Justin Stephens of D.R. Stephens Wines pour a trio of his luxuriant wines, including the 2008 Estate Chardonnay, his 2007 DR II Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and the breathtaking 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Moose Valley Vineyard. Next, I wound my way down to Bardessono, where Erin Lail was on hand to pair her 2009 Blueprint Sauvignon Blanc with the array of artists Andrea had included in her opening. I managed to take in a quick dinner at one of Yountville’s lesser-known cafés before taking in a promised stop at Michael Polenske’s Ma(i)sonry, the venerable stone edifice he converted to a gallery and tasting room he describes as “pairing artisan wines with exquisite art and furnishings in an historic setting.” While not as grandiose as Jan Shrem’s Clos Pégase nor quite as imposing as Greg Martin’s artifact-laden Martin Estate, Ma(i)sonry manages to create an enveloping atmosphere that lends itself exquisitely to sampling the artisan wines its Vintner Collective features. Most of these have appeared in this blog at one time or another, and given the exhaustive tasting I was facing the next day, I limited myself to a half-glass of the 2007 Contrarian, the Pomerol-style Meritage from Polenske’s own Blackbird Vineyards. The perfect coda to a well-traveled day

I checked out of my downtown Napa hotel at 11 AM, but left my car in their parking lot for the afternoon. After many years of contemplation, I had decided to wind my way up the Silverado Trail on my Trek, a 22-mile pedal from point of departure to destination, with a formidable return trip after three hours of wine tasting and feasting.

The ride from Napa to St. Helena could not have been more pleasant. Despite its formidable length, the road remained relatively flat the entire stretch—enough so that I never had to shift out of high gear! The temperature hovered around 75° F, maybe a tad less, and a cool but gentle breeze from the rear kept conditions ideal. I clocked in a markedly quicker pace than the 1:56 that my iPhone’s GPS estimated, and would have finished closer to an hour and a half, had I not stopped briefly at Judd’s Hill and Chimney Rock along the way. As with cycling in San Francisco, the ability to cover a known route at a leisurely pace and with sightlines unimpeded yielded a plethora of discoveries, like the hidden gem of Razi Winery or the new home for Crushpad being built at Silverado Trail Wine Studio. Ever mindful of Sostevinobile’s ecological commitment, I made mental notes of the water levels (or lack thereof) of the many creeks I crossed, surveyed the various arrays of solar installations and CCOF-tagged vineyards, and promised myself I would return to make a more detailed exploration when not so pressed for time.

Just before 2 PM, I arrived at the Charles Krug Vineyard for the Taste of Howell Mountain Wine Tasting Garden Party & Auction. This annual benefit for the Howell Mountain Elementary School marks a special convergence of professional, social and charitable interests in Napa Valley. This year’s event precluded the Howell Mountain Tasting that usually takes place later in the summer in San Francisco, so it especially behooved me to attend and renew acquaintances with the many vintners and winery owners I had met at last year’s functions.

Remarkably, of the 30 wineries on hand, only one had not participated in last year’s tasting, so I beelined over to Bremer Family’s table just as soon as I had locked my bicycled, registered, and downed the glass of chilled 2009 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc with which Charles Krug greets attendees. Bremer turns out to be an extraordinary winery (not that most of the wineries on hand could easily qualify as extraordinary in a less comparable setting), with a focus on Bordeaux reds. I felt fortunate to sample both their 2004 Howell Mountain Merlot alongside their striking 2004 Los Posados Merlot, as well as contrasting the 2004 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon with their delightful 2003 Seek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. I do look forward to trying their vintages from benchmark years.

Little of the literature I’ve encountered extols the virtues of the 2006 vintage, but quite a number of the wineries on hand showed how even a non-storied vintage can garner tremendous respect, especially if it heralds from one of California’s premier AVAs. While my resampling of the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from Roberts + Rogers showed remarkable consistency from last year, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon was clearly a more compelling vintage. I also found the 2006 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from Ladera quite excellent, while W.S. Keyes made as profound a statement with their 2006 Merlot Howell Mountain. Meanwhile, La Jota demonstrated superb vinification with each, though I gave a slight nod to their 2006 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon over their 2006 Howell Mountain Merlot.

Denis Malbec’s pedigree from Château Latour has been well-documented and I would have stopped by his Notre Vin table even if I hadn’t received his e-mail invite just the day before. As anticipated, his 2005 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, artfully blended with 83% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot, drank splendidly. As did the organically grown 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Estate from Neal Family Vineyards, an unblended bottling. In addition to their delightful, single-varietal 2007 Merlot, O’Shaughnessy Wine Estate deserved kudos for the authenticity of their Bordeaux-style bottling of the 2006 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, a historic assemblage of 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, 6% Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot, 2% Carménère, 2% St. Macaire (!), and 1% Cabernet Franc. I am hoping for single-varietal releases of each.

W.H. Smith saves its complexity for its nomenclature, as the 2006 Purple Label Piedra Hill Cabernet Sauvignon attests; the wine, a straightforward, Bordeaux-style Cab, remains a gem vintage after vintage. Calling one’s wine the 2007 Howell Mountain Zinfandel Yee Haw Vintage may evoke images of Li’l Abner, Dogpatch, and Kickapoo Joy Juice, but this delectable bottling from Lamborn Family Vineyards is anything but Boone’s Farm. Both their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Vintage IV and the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Vintage III struck me as being quite cellar-worthy, as well. Meanwhile, as if to refute those skeptics who believe Zin doesn’t age, Duane D. Draper showcased his 1996 D-Cubed Zinfandel Howell Mountain.

At the other end of the spectrum, Diamond Terrace’s Maureen Taylor pour her yet-unreleased 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain alongside her bottled 2006 vintage, with the younger wine portending of amazing complexity. So too did host Charles Krug new 2007 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon show intimations of greatness. And while beneficent owner Gordon Getty dozed perilously at a nearby picnic table (oh, if only his attendant hadn’t moved the somnolent billionaire out of the sweltering midday heat—I might have hit him up for the $3,000,000 in funding Sostevinobile is still seeking!), CADE Winery sizzled with their 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain.

I found myself more impressed with Summit Lake this time around. Their 2006 Emily Kestrel Cabernet Sauvignon was a pleasure indeed, but the 2006 Zinfandel really put them on the map. Red Cap’s lone effort, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, nonetheless made them a player with which to be reckoned, while the indubitable White Cottage proffered their own 2006 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. Another Howell Mountain stalwart, Piña impressed, as usual, with their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Buckeye Vineyard while Highlands excelled with their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Howell Mountain.

Amid the overall superior quality of virtually every wine I sampled, a handful of vintages distinguished themselves as a cut above. Once again, Cimarossa dazzled with their proprietary Cabernet, the 2006 Riva Di Ponente Estate Wine. Outpost contributed an extraordinary Chardonnay, the 2007 La Blonde. Robert Craig’s 2008 Howell Mountain Napa Valley Zinfandel tasted almost Cabernet-like in its texture and complexity, while SPENCE Vineyards brought their 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, an amazing expression of this varietal. The 2005 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon for Cornerstone Cellars proved just as enticing, while Bravante Vineyards, Wine & Spirits’ Winery of the Year in 2007, made a most profound statement with their 2006 Trio, a Merlot-based wine with balancing infusions of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The source of Robert Craig’s Zinfandel, Black Sears, demonstrated their profound œnological skills with their own 2006 Estate Zinfandel. Merlot virtuoso Duckhorn Vineyards impressed with their modestly titled Meritage, the 2005 Howell Mountain Napa Valley Red Wine, artfully blending 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot. And reborn Atlas Peak continued to demonstrate how the skills of their revitalization with their much-lauded 2005 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.

As happened at Silverado, the 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain from Dunn Vineyards proved quite the revelation from a somewhat obscure year. And certainly a rather obscure varietal for Howell Mountain was the nonetheless wonderful 2006 Petite Sirah from Retro Cellars.

Maybe I should have spent less time trying to figure a way to reintroduce myself to Gordon Getty (we had met some 22 years ago at a fundraiser at his Presidio Heights mansion, where soporific Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis had me dozing in my seat this time). Maybe I should learn to read the fine points of a program before mapping my schedule. I only had time to sample the elegant 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Steinhauer Ranch from St. Clement before we were briskly ushered indoors for the two-hour auction. Regrettably, I can only note the presence and generous contribution of Arkenstone, Blue Hall, Cakebread Cellars, Haber Vineyards, Howell at the Moon, Rutherford Grove, and Tor Kenward—all of whom I covered last year and, with several, at other tastings. I will strive to highlight them in subsequent entries.

We climbed to the second floor of Charles Krug’s renovated 1881 Carriage House, where glasses of much-needed sparkling wine were liberally poured alongside an assortment of Howell Mountain and other donated wines, plus an array of desserts that included caffeine-laced brownies! This magnificent edifice features a naturally illuminated, vaulted ceiling that seems almost ecclesiastical (little wonder why it is often rented out for vineyard weddings) and served as a perfect coda to the architectural focus of my week. 

I stumbled upon a pair of interesting wines that had not been featured at the tasting proper before I settled in: the 2005 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from Villa Hermosa and the striking 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Fleury, whose website extols their wines as “100% good juice.” Auctioneer Greg Quiroga, a fellow veteran of Jim Cranna’s Improv Workshop, regaled the crowd as he cajoled them into bidding for lots that ranged from 16 of Thomas Brown’s acclaimed wines to a sports extravaganza dinner at Bottega Restaurant Baseball Hall of Famer Tom Seaver (owner of GTS Vineyards) and other sports luminaries involved in the wine industry. By the end of the event, over $85,000 had ben raised, an increase of 10% over last year’s auction.
Growing up on Long Island, I was transfixed throughout the 1969 baseball season, as Seaver led the New York Mets to their first winning season and an astounding World series championship. I was gratified, years later, to learn that Tom had taken up the game of squash and then viticulture, two of my more pronounced passions. I’d like to think that these pursuits—plus the fact that neither of us command bank accounts anywhere near Gordon Getty’s—now puts me on relative equal footing with my childhood idol.
OK, maybe we don’t have tremendous athleticism in common, but I did record a personal best for the 22 mile cycle back to Napa.