Category Archives: Refosco

Falling into 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

What wine goes best with Fruit Loop-encrusted doughnuts?

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




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






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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

Housekeeping

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

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


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


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


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


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



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

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

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


Oracle World Headquarters

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

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

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

Quattro…cinque…sei…sette…otto…

4) Spring Mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5) St. Helena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6) Rutherford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7) Oakville

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

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

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

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

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

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

8) Stags Leap

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

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

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

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

Definitive proof that wine can cure common cold!

I haven’t been remiss in attending to this blog. It’s just that Your West Coast Oenophile has been pulled in many directions as of late, principally in my efforts to secure the funding Sostevinobile needs in order to be open by September. Then add to the mix that I had to purchase a new computer and port over all my applications and files from the old workhorse that could no longer keep up with the software I require.
Much to its credit, Apple makes migration from one Macintosh to another almost seamless. My first efforts over my home-based WiFi network did freeze up a couple of times before completion, so switch to a direct transfer via Ethernet and within less than two hours had my new Mac a perfect mirror of its predecessor, only running blazingly fast with Snow Leopard, 4GB of RAM and a dual processor somewhere in the range of 10x’s the speed with which I had been contending. Inevitably, I encountered a small glitch or two that required assistance from Apple’s highly commendable tech support, a service that most gratefully is not outsourced to an overseas locale, with specialists whose efforts at approximating colloquial English parallel my utterly futile attempts to dunk on a 10′ rim.
If only the same could be said for Adobe Systems. With my new system, I was finally able to handle the latest issue of Adobe’s Creative Suite, a leap of several versions. Rather than allot a couple of weeks to diligently learning the nuances of these upgrades, I thought by availing myself of their phone-in assistance, it would expedite my learning curve.
Wrong! The only thing worse than the average 65 minute hold time before someone would field my call was the dreaded sound of “Good afternoon, Mr. Marc. How might I facilitate a diligent response to the urgency of your dilemma?” And even that would not have been so bad, but this mangled attempt to offer assistance belied the assumption that the speaker on the other end of the phone had even the remotest connection to technical competence.
Over the course of a four-day period, I endured some twenty hours of complete ineptitude in my efforts to unravel the basic functionality of core features highlighted in the What’s New window of InDesign CS4. With frontline tech support failing to find a solution to my query, my issue was escalated to senior level staff and assigned a case number for further reference. These diplomates of the highly prestigious India Institute of Science only managed to exacerbate my problem, insisting after many hours of research that only a third-party PlugIn could allow me to create a new document and type without the constraints of page limits, a necessary requirement in my 20 year practice of eschewing all Microsoft products for the superior software of its competitors.
Given that this functionality was a major highlight of InDesign’s new capabilities, I objected vociferously and set off to find an answer on my own. Finally, despite twelve phone calls to Adobe and my nearly non-stop torrent of invectives, I managed to uncover the solution up front and center from the Helpful Tips on Adobe’s help site, the same basic manual from which these contractors were supposedly referring for the past 14 months. Forget raising money for Haiti—I am contemplating starting a Facebook site that will solicit the funds I need to acquire an atomic weapon to eradicate Bangalore from the face of the planet!
Meanwhile, in addition to the several days I lost mired in this inexorable abyss, I also contracted my annual winter cold shortly after filing my last blog entry. Nothing too serious—certainly not H1N1—but tiring and annoying nonetheless. Sudafed and Ricola during the day, steam bath after my workout, overly generous glass of hot brandy with honey before bedtime, and within 7-10 days, I’m back with a vengeance (if my usual pattern holds true). So, feeling only slightly debilitated, I pedaled across San Francisco to attend the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association trade tasting at Farallon, a venue for wine tasting that I have repeatedly lauded in this blog.
Coming but a few days prior to the ever-overwhelming ZAP festival, this event compelled me to include an additional criterion to my usual tasting protocol: no Zinfandel! However, I seemed to have been less judicious in limiting my actual intake (vs. the professional swill & spit technique). Or perhaps it was an interaction with the over-the-counter remedies I was taking. Whatever the case, I stopped for a short respite and a chance to stretch out my legs in the lobby of the Kensington Park Hotel once the tasting had ended. Inadvertently, two minutes lapsed into two hours, and I awoke to find myself comfortably draped in a plush, Louis XIV armchair, unaware I had dozed off almost instantaneously. A bit embarrassing, perhaps, but, amazingly, my congestion was completely gone!
So maybe the New England Journal of Medicine will not accept my claim that wine can cure the common cold. This is a battle I will take up in a different forum. My readership here will choose to believe me or not; in any case, I am sure all will prefer to hear about my discoveries at the aforementioned tasting.
And, indeed, discoveries were made. Those who follow this blog should not be surprised I took an immediate shine to Watsonville’s River Run, a winery making its inaugural appearance with the SCMWA. I only wish owner J. P. Pawlowski had brought his entire inventory with him! River Run’s 2008 Chardonnay Moutanos Vineyard was a superb organic expression from Mendocino, as was the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Moutanos Vineyard. I found much to like in their 2006 Merlot San Benito County and cottoned to both the 2006 Carignane Wirz Vineyard and their Rhône homage, the 2008 Côte d’Aromas, a blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignane, Viognier, and Grenache. I yearned, however, to sample the 2007 Négrette San Benito County, only the second time I’ve encountered this varietal from California, and I would have veered from my self-imposed prohibition for a small swill of the 2004 Zinfandel Port.
I probably should have asked Dan Martin of Martin Ranch Winery who J.D. Hurley was. The lower end label for this Gilroy winery seemed to be eclipsed by their more distinctive Thérèse Vineyards (eponymous for Dan’s wife) line, which impressively debuted their 2006 Thérèse Vineyards Syrah Santa Clara Valley and an affable 2006 Thérèse Vineyards Sangiovese.
Another new acquaintance, Hillcrest Terrace Winery, prefers a more orthodox Burgundian catalog, but excels in both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Standouts were the 2008 Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains Regan Vineyard, the always dependable 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands, and a profound 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains Fambrini Vineyard. Closer to San Francisco, the La Honda Winery shares a zip code both with rock & roll legend Neil Young and the experimental cyberwine forays of Clos de la Tech. Not to be eclipsed by T. J. Rodgers, they offered an impressive Cabernet Sauvignon/Sangiovese blend, the 2006 Super Tuscan La Honda Ranch Experimental Vineyard. Actually, La Honda farms 30 vineyards throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation, including parcels in Woodside, Portola Valley, Atherton, Los Altos Hills, and Saratoga, while making its wine in Redwood City. Of their many selections, I particularly liked the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz Mountains Lonehawk Vineyard and their 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains Sequence. Also impressive was the 2006 Meritage, with Cabernet Franc and Malbec in addition to its backbone of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon.
Odonata is the taxonomical term for the order of aquatic palæopterous insects that includes damselflies and dragonflies, a species whose agility at inflight copulation puts the Mile High Club to shame; Odonata is also a family-run winery in Santa Cruz focused on organic grapes and sustainable wines, agile themselves at making a splendid 2007 Malbec St. Olof Vineyard, the very straightforward 2008 Chardonnay Peter Martin Ray Vineyard, and their 2007 Durif from Mendocino.
Having visited with the other participating wineries at a number of Santa Cruz tastings last year allowed me to take a more casual or social approach to sampling the afternoon’s offerings. Methodically, I wound my way down the list in alphabetical order, starting with Bargetto, a winery which intermittently shows flairs of brilliance with its Dolcetto. Though a straightforward expression of this varietal was not part of Bargetto’s current inventory, its proprietary 2004 La Vita, a deft blend of Dolcetto, Nebbiolo and Refosco from its Santa Cruz vineyards easily contented me. And my earlier partiality towards Black Ridge Vineyards remained intact as I tasted their current release, the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains.
Clos Títa handcrafts small lots of artisanal wines emphasizing Pinot Noir and Bordelaise varietals. This event afforded my first tasting of their 2005 Gironde, an elegant mélange of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from their Chain D’Or vineyards in Santa Cruz. Similarly, I had tasted the Pinots from Clos LaChance on a number of occasions, so I focused instead on their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast from their Hummingbird Series and a striking proprietary Bordeaux blend, the 2006 Lila’s Cuvée.
The late Kathryn Kennedy was noted as one of the first women to start her own winery, as well as for her exclusive focus on estate bottled 100% Cabernet Sauvignon in Saratoga. It seemed only proper to visit her table after her recent passing for a tasting of three of her vintages. Indeed, the 2006 Kathryn Kennedy Small Lot Cabernet S
anta Cruz Mountains
stands as a fitting tribute to this viticultural pioneer.
Medical pioneer Thomas Fogarty has long followed his success with angioplasty in crafting wines that have proved enormously beneficial not only for the heart but to the palate. Again, having recently tasted several of his Pinots, I focused on his 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz Mountains and the 2005 Lexington Meritage, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc from the Santa Cruz Mountains. Fogarty’s winemaker, Michael Martella, shared an impressive array of wines from his eponymous label, starting with the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Monterey County. But, not unexpectedly, he excelled with his assorted red wines, a quartet that included the 2006 Grenache Fiddletown, the 2005 Petite Sirah Mendocino, a wondrous 2006 Syrah Hammer and the 2006 Zinfandel Fiddletown (OK, I succumbed)!
I don’t know if it’s possible to have every Ridge Zinfandel, but I’d wager my home stockpile comes pretty close. Now, had they been pouring their 2003 Monte Bello, which was depicted in the tasting program, I might have lingered at their table for a while, but I did manage to pay a visit with their mountaintop neighbor, Don Naumann and revisit with his always approachable wines, the 2006 Chardonnay and his 2005 Merlot Estate Grown.
Another prominent Santa Cruz vintner, Sarah’s Vineyard has long stood out for its Pinot Noir and, like Ridge, featured a label of the same on their page. Nonetheless, I veered away from the tried and true and opted for the 2005 Syrah Besson Vineyard and the 2007 Grenache Santa Clara Valley. I also revisited with Saratoga’s Cinnabar, cherry-picking their 2007 Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains, the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz Mountains, the 2005 Cabernet Franc Lodi and their proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the 2007 Mercury Rising. But, alas, it seemed that the 2004 Teroldego Central Coast, a wine I had so thoroughly enjoyed last year, failed to make the journey to San Francisco.
I’d been impressed by the Gatos Locos wines I had sampled at Clements Ridge when I visited Lodi in the fall, so it behooved me to stop by the table of their producer, Vine Hill, and to retry their 2007 Gatos Locos Chardonnay Mokelumne River and the 2006 Gatos Locos Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains. I found their 2006 Vine Hill Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains compared quite favorably. But by then, the armchair in the lobby was beckoning, and my medical breakthrough was not to be denied.

On the Road Again (redux)

And what is so rare as a day in June? Perhaps a midweek March afternoon, winding up a country hillside halfway from nowhere for nine miles to stumble upon an organic farm where a striking 5’9″ Chinese girl touts organic olive oil and tea tree scrubs while ever-so-slightly mispronouncing “bruschetta.” The Mt. Olive Organic Farm wasn’t a scheduled stop or even the point of my trip, but it serves as a paradigm for all the unanticipated discoveries I made during my Paso Robles swing last week.
In terms of winery destinations, Your West Coast Oenophile has been, as I suspect many others are, egregiously Napa/Sonoma-centric for more years than I care to enumerate. There have always been pockets of vineyards interspersed throughout the state, and I’ve happily visited a number of them here and there. But the notion of a concentrated, cohesive, cooperative wine community outside of the aforementioned region seemed a bit unfathomable (even though Sideways had clued me in to the existence of such). So, naturally, I was quite taken by surprise to discover that the juncture of US 101 and Hwy. 46, long seen as little more than a convenient pit stop en route to Los Angeles, had exploded into a major AVA blanketing both sides of the freeway.
Let me end any suspense here and now: during my three day Paso Robles swing, I did not manage to visit all 240 wineries (suffice it to say that such a feat would have lent considerable credence to the Ginkgo Girl’s suspicions of my incipient dipsomania). Still, I did manage to take in quite a selective range of what this vast AVA has to offer.
My first stop in Paso Robles tended to the sustainable component of Sostevinobile, a most informative workshop on sustainable building jointly sponsored by the good folks at PG&E and the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. Wonderful to learn of the numerous energy rebates potentially available to our San Francisco flagship site, as well as the requirements for LEED-CI certification. This ever-evolving project continues to take many turns at each juncture. The workshop began with a tour of the Eos Estate Winery, the Central Coast’s first winery to supply 100% of its own electrical consumption. Years ago, I met the Arcieros, former owners of this estate, and introduced them to the forebear of Bacar and the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, Eos Restaurant and Wine Salon in Cole Valley—a natural marriage, or so it had dawned on me. But progress is progress, and one would tend to believe that should Sapphire Wines apply the same exacting diligence to their wine operations, their potential will be impressive.

After the workshop, I drifted eastward to the amazingly eclectic Tobin James, a must-see winery that also serves as a counterpoint to Healdsburg’s Dry Creek General Store 1881. In a strange way, my awkward efforts to snap a picture from my iPhone perfectly captures the élan of this place. The quirky charm of the ramshackle place belies the seriousness of their winemaking, which, in turn, exposed a common conceit to which I admit
succumbing occasionally, that being a predilection to correlate quality and price. While I had the chance to sample several of their varietal offerings, including a most agreeable 2005 Sangiovese Il Palio, their standout was also their most economical wine, the 2006 Chateau Le Cacheflo, a proprietary blend of Syrah, Sangiovese and Barbera that retails for a relatively paltry trickling from one’s “cash flow”—somewhere in the vicinity of $11.99.
By no means, however, does Tobin James hold a monopoly on Italian varietals bottled on Paso Robles’ east side. Poised at the intersection of the two main thoroughfares, Martin & Weyrich, a longtime favorite, featured a number of traditional Italian wines and esoteric blends, including their signature 2005 Insieme, a
mind-boggling mélange of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Barbera, Pinot Nero and Petit Verdot (please don’t suggest they add Graciano—that’s reserved for blending in their 2002 Flamenco Rojo)! Still, I found myself particularly enticed by their well-rounded 2004 Nebbiolo Il Vecchio, a worthy rival to any Barbaresco priced even double the $22 it commands.

Martin & Weyrich also produces a wine they label Etrusco, not really a Super Tuscan so much as a Cabernet rounded out with Sangiovese. Some dominazioni purists may regard such a blend as heresy, but the folks at Martin & Weyrich are in good company. Across 101, L’Aventure commits similar apostasy with their artful marriage of Bordeaux and Rhône varietals. Yes, mes amis, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah can happily reside in the same bottle, as their aptly-named 2006 Optimus attests. Conventional Cabernet and Rhône GMS (Grenache-Mourvèdre-Syrah) blends are well represented in L’Aventure’s library and offer quite the sophisticated counter to Paso Robles’ rustic perception, while their new Syrah-based 2008 Estate Rosé will by no means remind anyone of White Zinfandel.
I spent my final day in Paso Robles scouring the westside hills, on a loop that took me to Adelaida Cellars, Justin Vineyards, Tablas Creek, Halter Ranch and the geologically-imbued Calcareous Vineyard (would that the folks at Linne Calodo have been remotely as accommodating in their response to my inquiry)! My first stop, Adelaida, is a winery that embraces a wide swath of the viticultural terrain: Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhône, and Piemonte, as well as the obligatory homage to the local signature grape, Zinfandel. Their 2007 Viognier inarguably lived up to its billing as a balance of crisp minerality and aromatic fruit, a subdued expression of this somewhat haphazard varietal. Similarly, the 2005 Nebbiolo brought an unabashed smile to my face. I of course delighted in their 2005 Viking Reserve Cabernet, as strong a $75 Bordeaux blend as any of its Northern competitors, but, as per usual, found myself most intrigued by the 2006 Version, a jam-packed blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Counoise.
Leave it to Tablas Creek, however, to tantalize me with a 100% Counoise bottling. The 2005 Tablas Creek Counoise came about, as it has in occasional prior vintages, when their estate pantings yielded more fruit than needed for their Esprit de Beaucastel and Côtes de Tablas. This is a rare expression of this grape for California and a wondrous d
elight. Tablas Creek also poured me their 2006 Tannat (an 88% blend softened with Cabernet Sauvignon) again a rarety on the West Coast and again an amazing discovery. 2006 Roussanne, 2006 Grenache Blanc, 2006 Mourvèdre—I could wax ad infinitum—Tablas Creek, along with Alban Vineyards and Qupé, has always represented the holy grail of Rhône-style wines from California to me, and this visit exceeded my expectations. That their 120 acres of plantings are all organic certified only enhanced my appreciation.
I would be quite remiss if I did not acknowledge Monica, whose splendid hospitality and individualized attention truly made my Tablas visit thoroughly enjoyable. Her counterpart at Justin, Sara Lutsko, was equally delightful and could have even tempted me to…but I digress. Justin is a winery that also features one of Paso Robles most acclaimed restaurants. Judging by the hairpin turns and utter remoteness of the setting, diners would be wise to book a room at JUST Inn, their onsite bed & breakfast. Justin takes a decidedly Pythagorean approach to their labels, and indeed their blends often do sum up a² + b² to produce a decidedly synergistic c². Case in point, their 2006 Justification, an atypical blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, or the 2007 Orphan, a Cabernet Sauvignon + Syrah combination. I joked that they ought to pair their 2006 Savant (another Cabernet & Syrah hybrid) with a wine labeled Idiot (cf. Rainman for the reference), and they came close with their 2007 Obtuse, a port-style dessert wine made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. My kudos, as well, for their 2006 Tempranillo Reserve (mistakenly priced, one would hope, at $312.50! on their website) and their distinctive 2006 Petit Verdot. And did I mention the 2006 Isosceles, their justly-famed Bordeaux meritage?.
It seems that many of the attendees at the Green Building Workshop beat me to Halter Ranch, a small, unimposing venture that both Jill Whitacre and Kira Costa of the Central Coast Vineyard Team highly touted. Their judgment makes me wish I could have followed up on all their recommendations. As one of the first Central Coast wineries to be certified for Sustainability in Practice (SIP), Halter Ranch put forth a lineup of estate grown varietals and blends of both Bordeaux and Rhône clones, distinguished by their 2007 Viognier and their 2005 Cabernet Franc.
By now, everyone knows that bombastic scene, with Leonardo Di Caprio, arms spread back like an erne, perched atop the Titanic’s bow, proclaiming “I am King of the World!” Yet that is exactly the feeling one gets from the panoramic loft that houses Calcareous Vineyard’s new tasting facility. The grandeur of this setting, with 270° views sweeping across the entire valley, is impossible to depict with the constrictions of HTML text, but it should become an obligatory stop for any Paso Robles tour. Against this commanding backdrop, one could easily luxuriate in their 2004 Reserve Zinfandel, the 2006 Twisted Sisters Chardonnay, a York Mountain 2006 Pinot Noir or the 2006 Petit Verdot. Still, I have to confess a fondness for their 2006 Très Violet, a GMS blend that veers from duality of Grenache or Mourvèdre predominance and allows Syrah the upper hand.
I drove back to San Francisco along the Pacific Coast Highway as a coda to my revelatory visit. As I passed through Soquel, I detoured to Bargetto Winery in the hope of finding a final touch of Dolcetto to round out my excursion, but, alas, they were sold out and I had to settle for a taste of their 2002 La Vita, a proprietary blend of Dolcetto, Nebbiolo and Refosco from their Santa Cruz Mountain estate vineyards. It is a hard life I lead…