Category Archives: Grenache

Not to be confused with Pâté de Foie Gras

Your West Coast Oenophile is hitting the road this month for several events not previously chronicled here. Even with my database for Sostevinobile now exceeding 4,400 wine labels, there are new ventures to discover and explore, new alliances to be formed—almost on a daily basis. With my new partnership in producing wine tastings, the hope is that many undiscovered labels and West Coast wine regions will be coming to me, but until I can build enough momentum, I continue to go out in the field and meet the wineries on their turf.

Not that it’s bad to escape the pressures of urban living, traipse around the vineyards and garner a healthy layer of mud on my well-worn Lucchese boots.Or wander about a verdant lawn where 20 or so vineyards are showcasing their latest releases. And so it was my anticipation as I headed out to the northernmost AVA in Napa for this year’s Calistoga Wine Experience.

Calistoga vineyards may predate statehood, but the AVA here was not officially designated until 2010; as such, I have not had many opportunities to taste a wide selection of these wines collectively and not on their own turf since their inaugural event at Première Napa a few years back. And so it came as quite a surprise that this gathering on the turf at Pioneer Park, a tiny, pristine suburban oasis alongside the Napa River, just off of downtown’s Lincoln Avenue was covered in its entirety with Astroturf!  Or—pardon my Franglais—to put it more succinctly, a Partée de Faux Grass!

Still, the wines were quite genuine and delectable, accentuated by an abundance of shrimp and other catered hors d’œuvres. Not surprisingly, these crevettes were perfectly complemented by the 2014 Sauvignon Blanc from Jones Family Vineyards, a multi-generational Calistoga institution. I also cottoned to the immense 2015 Huge Bear Chardonnay Sonoma County from Huge Bear, and a delightful 2016 Chardonnay from Vincent Arroyo.

Given Calistoga’s proximity to Knight’s Valley, it is not uncommon to find grapes, particularly white varietals, sourced from just over the border, but no other region can rival Calistoga for its signature varietal, Charbono.While there may be arguments about this grape’s pedigree or even its DNA, there can be no denying that it makes for a most appealing wine, particularly from its heirloom clone.I have long championed Tofanelli for its mastery of this grape, and the 2015 Charbono poured here perpetuated this admiration. The surprise here, though, was discovering their 2013 Estate Grenache, an equally compelling wine.

From the eastern side of Calistoga, the revitalized August Briggs showcased their exemplary 2015 Calistoga Napa Valley Charbono, a spritely expression of this exuberant grape. I would have expected Shypoke also to be pouring their Charbono; instead, featured an exceptional 2015 Olivia’s Sangiovese.Calistoga.Plus, their 2015 Keep married a select blend ofCharbono, Grenache and Petite Sirah. Because it falls outside the central thoroughfare of Napa Valley, Calistoga is more apt to veer from the Bordeaux orthodoxy of the Yountville-Oakville-Rutherford-St. Helena continuum, as other outlier AVAs like Coombsville also practice. A wondrous expression of innovative mélange came from the venerable Storybook Mountain, whose 2014 Antaeus blended Zinfandel with Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Merlot. 2880 Wines countered with a Rhône-style blend of Grenache, Petite Sirah, and Petit Verdot, their 2014 Twenty-Eight Eighty Red Wine.

Of course, true Bordelaise expressions also abound in Calistoga, starting with the splendid 20015 Cabernet Sauvignon from Jack Brooks, the microproducer that had extended me the invite for this afternoon. Renowned for its Chardonnay, Château Montelena nonetheless furnished an exquisite 2014 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, a delicate blend with only 2% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot added. New ownership has brought considerable changes to Clos Pégase, but their superbly matured 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon poured here harkens back to their Jan Shrem era.

Other notable Cabs came from Poggi, with their 2014 Twin Palms Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (like the Montelena, slightly rounded out with Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Merlot) and from Olabisi, their 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, selected form designate vineyards in Calistoga, Rutherford, and Atlas Peak. I have long thought of Jax as one of San Francisco’s urban wineries, but with their vineyards in Calistoga, they constitute a vibrant part of this AVA, as evidenced by their delightful 2016 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, an approachable young wine tempered with 3% Cabernet Franc.

In 2017, Cabernet Franc actually commanded a higher price per ton in Napa than its offshoot, Cabernet Sauvignon. A wondrous expression of this varietal came from Kenefick Ranch, the 2014 Cabernet Franc Caitlin’s Select, a hand-harvested estate wine. Though labeled as a Meritage, Canard’s standout, the 2014 Adam’s Blend presented an even more Cabernet Franc-focused blend, with a scant 5% Merlot and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon rounding it out. Under its Sempre Vive label, Romeo Vineyards vastly impressed with its varietal 2015 Petit Verdot,

On this warm evening, I found myself particularly impressed with the panoply of wines Switchback Ridge poured here. The bold, expressive 2014 Merlot Peterson Family Vineyard soared alongside the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Peterson Family Vineyard. Winemaker Bob Foley has long been justly revered for his Cabernets, but here showed himself equally adept the 2013 Petite Sirah from the same estate site. Nonetheless, his hallmark had to have been the utterly opulent 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, a near-flawless library offering.

I finished off the event with  Calistoga Winegrowers’ former President Tom Eddy, an unheralded vintner greatly revered by wine connoisseurs. Usually I am dealing with palate fatigue at this point in a tasting of this scope, but for once they saved the best for last, the 2013 Napa Valley Cabernet, a multivineyard blend accentuated with 17% Malbec, the unheralded star of Bordeaux’ Big Five red varietals. Look for both wine and winemaker to come into promince in 2019.

Monterey Jazzed

It is not often that Your West Coast Oenophile finds himself retreating on a position taken here. Actually, Sostevinobile has never not held the wines of Monterey County in high regard, but, in the past, I have taken some issue with what I perceived as an over-reliance on conformity, particularly within the Santa Lucia Highlands. This AVA is not alone in producing a plethora of wines from its predominant vineyards—how many Napa labels produce a George III or To Kalon Cabernet? But, in the past, I have been hard-pressed to find an SLH Pinot Noir not heralding from Garys’ or Pisoni or Tondrē or Sobranes or Doctor’s, etc.

And so, it was most welcome to discover nearly all the wineries pouring at this month’s 26th Annual Monterey Winemakers’ Celebration focused on estate bottlings. Additionally, the array of varietals here encompassed far more than the preponderance of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that I had anticipated. Among the most striking offerings I discovered were the 2013 Estate Bottled Mourvèdre from Shale Canyon, both the 2015 Syrah and 2015 Marsanne from Michaud, an alluring 2014 Carmel Valley Estate Syrah from Silvestri, and the 2014 Grenache from Scratch, which also poured one of the most focused Pinots of the afternoon, their 2013 Pinot Noir KW Ranch Vineyard. Both Testarossa and Hahn offered a captivating 2016 Pinot Noir, while the decidedly understated Blair Estate contrasted their excellent 2013 Pinot Noir Delfina’s Vineyard with an equally compelling 2013 Pinot Noir The Reserve from the same proprietary vineyard.

The Winemakers’ Celebration afforded me my first opportunity to explore a number of wineries lining Carmel-by-the-Sea’s cordoned-off 7th Street. Jackson Family Wines’ Carmel Ridge is probably best noted for its joint venture in producing Drew Barrymore’sBarrymore wines after her less-than-stellar vintages originating from Italy at the beginning of this decade. Now calling Monterey home, these wines included her 2017 Rosé Of Pinot Noir alongside Carmel Ridge’s 2015 East Bend Chardonnay and their 2014 First Row Pinot Noir. Another collaboration, Seabold Cellars had included the late Peter Figge at the helm;m his deft topuch was evident in their 2015 Monterey County Chardonnay and 2015 Monterey County Pinot Noir, as well as the newly released 2017 Riesling and 2017 Rosé.

An old pro with a new label, Ian Brand has folded his acclaimed Le P’tit Paysan and Marea labels into I. Brand & Family. Needless to say, I was equally impressed with a crisp 2017 Albariño Kristy Vineyards, the 2016 Jack’s Hill Chardonnay, his 2015 Grenache Brosseau Vineyard, and the 2017 Rosé, a predominantly Mourvèdre blend , with Grenache and Cinsault.

In a resurrection of a different sort, Big Sur Vineyards, which was lost to the 2016 wildfires, has arisen like the phoenix with its Carmel Valley facility. Owner Lenora Carey poured a generous selection of her vintages, starting with her 2015 Monterey County Chardonnnay, the 2016 Rosé vinted from Cinsault and Grenache, a robust 2013 Pinot Noir from the slopes of the Laureles Grade in Monterey, a 2015 Syrah, and her proprietary 2015 Big Sure Red Wine, a delightful mélange of Grenache, Syrah and Petite Sirah. All in all, it was good to have her back and running strong once again.

As it was so good to see Monterey evolve so nicely. I was first introduced to the region in the mid-1980s when Ernest Gallo flew over the 10,000 acres he had under contract here in a prop plane and announced “we’re not buying any of these grapes this year.” Following that scramble came the nadir of the Coastal labels for brands like BV and Robert Mondavi. Fortunately, the evolution of the Santa Lucia Highlands turned Monterey’s fortunes around, but with a terribly monolithic focus. The current expansion of both varietal selections and estate properties holds even greater promise for the Monterey AVA; I was more than jazzed I could partake in it.

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.


 

How you gonna keep him down on the Pharm?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An austere wine, with an alluring bucket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quō vasisti, vēritās?

Let me state from the outset, Your West Coast Oenophile is not trying to cast any aspersions. Sostevinobile may be a passion—even an intellectual pursuit as I strive to develop an encyclopædic knowledge of the wines grown and produced along the northeast rim of the Pacific. But I initially trained as a Classics scholar, a pursuit with little practical relevance outside of academia or a post at the Vatican, and so I resort to any pretext I can find for dusting off twelve years of Latin studies (what does irrumabo mean, Sister Frances?) as a language and corpus of literature.

At another point, I may regale readers with some of the more piquant tales of my academic pursuits, particularly those relating to the tutelage of renowned Plautine and Euripidean scholar, the late Erich Segal. Suffice it to say that my response to his intellectual pretense became encapsulated in a full-length drama I wrote to fulfill the requirements for my other academic major in Creative Writing: (The Love Story of Big Daddy’s) Пошлость. OK, so I needed a pretext to dust off my knowledge of the русский язык, as well.

But before I go off on yet another endless digression, let me redirect focus to a trio of intimate wine tastings I attended to kick off the opening round of wine releases for 2014. All of these events, of course, are familiar to frequent visitors here, but the prospect of sampling numerous bottlings from the highly-anticipated 2012 vintage portended to promise “never having to say you’re sorry.”

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I) Every January, the collective known as In Vino Unitas holds its annual trade tasting in several venues around the Bay Area, including San Francisco. In many ways, it’s exactly what a trade tasting should be: intimate setting (Press Club), a moderate crowd delimited by staging in multiple alcoves, a leisurely pace that allowed ample time to interact with each of the winemakers or representatives from the wineries, and a discrete selection of wines neither overwhelming in its scope nor predominated by the more familiar selections each winery typically featured at other events.

I, of course, have sampled and cited each of the 14 wineries pouring here numerous times now; as such, let me simply highlight the most noteworthy selections from each, starting with a surprising 2010 Malbec Napa Valley, a three vineyard assemblage from Buoncristiani. This opulent rendering was accompanied by the four Buoncristiani brothers’ signature 2009 O.P.C. (Ol’ Pa’s Cuvée), a proprietary blend of four varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Malbec. And as exquisite were the 2012 Chardonnay Napa Valley, blended with grapes from both Hyde Vineyard and Pahlmeyer Waters Ranch, and the limited production 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, combining fruit sourced from the Howell Mountain, Coombsville, and Atlas Peak appellations.

Like Coombsville, Atlas Peak is a sleeper sub-AVA in the Napa Valley that is finally starting to get the recognition it deserves. Although Antinori has replaced the extensive Sangiovese plantings that gave this region its early renown, the current roster of Atlas Peak vineyards is achieving prominence for all five of the primary Bordeaux varietals, Syrah, the resultant Meritages and blends, plus a number of Rhône and other varietals. Perhaps the most prominent tract from Atlas Peak, Stagecoach Vineyard is the centerpiece of Krupp Brothers viticultural expanse. While myriad labels source their grapes from Stagecoach, here Krupp’s own eclectic labels showcased a number of exceptional selections, including their 2009 Black Bart Syrah and 2011 Chardonnay. Krupp’s true stars of the afternoon came from their (slightly) waggishly-named 2008 Veraison Red Wine, a claret-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Syrah, and the superb 2008 Veraison Cabernet Sauvignon Stagecoach Vineyard, a pinnacle of Atlas Peak œnology.

The name Stagecoach may be a conceit for Krupp but certainly holds validity for Fisher, a winery whose forebears revolutionized carriage production. With a viticultural craft as meticulous as their branded Body by Fisher, their immensely appealing 2011 Mountain Estate Chardonnay poured here served as bold prelude to the phenomenal 2010 Coach Insignia Cabernet Sauvignon, a blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon and 14% Merlot from their Calistoga estate.

A couple of more understated Napa Valley estates focused on their 2011 releases. Organically farmed Ehlers Estate, a trust holding of the Leducq Foundation (Ehlers was deeded by late founder Jean Leducq), showcased their 2011 120/80 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2011 1886 Cabernet Sauvignon. Michael Marks’ Gemstone highlighted an exceptional 2011 Estate Red Wine, a Meritage focused on 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, with 23% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc. 

It seems to early to formulate a consensus on the 2011 Cabernet vintage; so far, after four consecutive excellent, if not monumental, years, the 2011 Pinot Noir vintage has tested the mettle of winemakers across the state and in Oregon. Donum Estate in Carneros, now owned by a Danish partnership but still overseen by Anne Moller-Racke displayed their forte with both the 2011 Anderson Valley Estate Grown Pinot Noir Angel Camp Vineyard and the less ponderously labeled 2011 Russian River Valley Estate Grown Pinot Noir. Also excelling with this vintage, Soledad’s Manzoni Estate Vineyard, impressing with their 2011 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Home Vineyard and startling with the luxuriant 2011 Pinot Noir Estate Reserve Santa Lucia Highlands Home Vineyard.

Jericho Canyon in Calistoga should not be confused with the Sanel Valley’s Jeriko Estate, two wineries as much dedicated to sustaining the integrity of the environment as much as their devotion to their viticulture. Jericho Canyon’s meticulous focus on Bordeaux varietals most evidenced itself in both their 2012 Sauvignon Blanc and a striking 2010 Jericho Creek Cabernet Sauvignon. And, of course, I would never compare Meyer Family Cellars to Löwenbräu, Munich’s 631 year old brewery, despite the overt similarity of their leonine logos. Heralding from Yorkville, near Mendocino’s Hopland (as opposed to Bavaria, Germany’s “Hopsland”), their iconoclastic bottlings prominently featured the 2009 Reserve Syrah High Ground and a voluptuous 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Bonny’s Vineyard 10-Year Anniversary Release.

Little question whether redheads like Christina Hendricks embody the very definition of voluptuous. Nearly as luscious—Los Gatos’ titian tribute, Testarossa, a winery whose name clamors for Italian varietals but nonetheless flourishes with a striking portfolio of Burgundian bottlings. From its hillside perch along the Santa Cruz Highway where Novitiate used to make sacramental wines, Rob and Diana Jensen produce consistently elegant vintages, evidenced here by both their 2012 Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay and the 2011 Doctor’s Vineyard Pinot Noir.
67th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Arrivals

Streaks of red highlighted the asymmetric coiffure Remi Barrett sported for this event, but there was little, if any, bottleshock detectable in the stellar lineup from La Sirena that she poured here. Winemaker Heidi Barrett, Remi’s mother, while renown for her Cabernets, here excelled with a pair of Syrahs: the 2010 Le Barrettage Napa Valley and the 2007 Syrah Barrett Vineyard. Nevertheless, the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley proved every bit the equal of both these bottlings, but the true standout here undoubtedly came from the 2010 Barrett and Barrett Cabernet Sauvignon, a sumptuous collaboration between Heidi and husband Bo, winemaker for Château Montelena.

I wish Heidi’s considerable repute would carry over to her winemaking at Kenzo. It’s not that the wines aren’t good, but neither the 2012 Astasuyu, an estate-bottled Sauvignon Blanc, nor the 2010 Rindo, Kenzo’s traditional Meritage, astounded—something I expect from a $200 million winery that lavished on every aspect of its production.

Back when I started out in the wine industry, I was acquainted with Heidi’s father Richard Peterson, as well as the Mirassou brothers in San Martin, who had offered to provide the juice for my George Herbert Walker Blush. While Mirassou is now firmly in the clutches of Gallo, Steven Kent Mirassou, the family’s sixth generation winemaker, is serving notice that the Livermore Valley is a force with which to be reckoned (beyond its nuclear capabilities). Certainly the Russian River Valley 2012 Pinot Meunier Saralee’s Vineyard his La Rochelle label produces deserves a nod, but both the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Livermore Valley from this Steven Kent Winery and the extraordinary 2010 Lineage, a proprietary bottling of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, and 1% Malbec, also from Livermore, could easily hold their own against higher priced Napa bottlings..

As wonderfully unpredictable as a Livermore venture of such exceptional caliber may seem, a mediocre bottling from the fabled Far Niente, along with sister labels Nickel & Nickel, En Route and Dolce, would be equally surprising. Yet the opulence of the Far Niente label hardly belies the richness of its viticulture. Its 2012 Chardonnay Napa Valley Estate proved utterly splendid, as did its 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Estate. Equally enchanting: the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Branding Iron Vineyard from Nickel & Nickel. As the baby sister of the family, En Route still needs time to equal these peaks, but the 2007 Late Harvest Wine from Dolce, a botrytis-laden blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc, most definitely warranted its “Liquid Gold from Napa Valley” moniker.


II) My extensive Latin studies coincided with 12 years of pedantic exercises regurgitating les précis de grammaire française. Add to the mix six years of ancient Greek and several terms of Russian along the way. If memory serves, there was actually a master plan behind all this, though precisely what eludes me at this stage.

It wasn’t until I completed my various courses of study that I decided to tackle a language with practical implications. Others in my position might well have opted to learn Spanish, but for myriad reasons I may elucidate in another post, non voglio parlare spagnolo

My choice finally to learn the tongue my grandparents grew up speaking continues to open doors for me in San Francisco and throughout the wine realm, but at times my predilection for Italian puts me at odds with the realities of a state that had formerly been part of Mexico. And so I must catch myself from the pronouncing ci as ch (instead of the Spanish si) when speaking of the Santa Lucia Highlands.

But, of course, Sostevinobile concerns itself with the pleasures of wine, not the minutia of morphology, and once again, the annual trade tasting for the Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans abundantly demonstrated why this AVA is so prized. And perhaps more than any other AVA in California, its renown predominantly relies on select, highly-revered vineyards even more than its acclaimed labels, notably Soberanes, Pisoni, Garys’, Rosella’s and Sierra Mar Vineyards, farmed collectively or individually by the Pisoni and Franscioni families, well as Tondrē Grapefield and the Hahn Family’s Doctor’s Vineyard.

The youngest tract in this cluster, Soberanes, found ample representation within this tightly-bonded alliance, as evidenced by newcomer Cattelya, with their introductory 2012 Syrah Soberanes Vineyard (at $70/bottle, a surprisingly high price for a first release, were it not crafted by a winemaker with Bibiana González Rave’s pedigree). Also sourcing from this plot, my friend Rebecca Green Birdsall’s Black Kite, a winery that, until now, had sourced its Pinot strictly from Mendocino. Here the 2011 Pinot Noir Soberanes Vineyard paired nicely with their first white offering, the 2012 Chardonnay Soberanes Vineyard.

One of my central tenets in developing the wine program for Sostevinobile has been my belief that the boundaries between the West Coast states have now blurred in terms of the quality and prominence of their viticulture—an admission I would certainly never have made when I began
my wine career in 1982. Perhaps no other artisanal endeavor transcends the artifice of these territorial delineations more than Hawks View Cellars, an Oregon-based winery specializing in distinctive varietals from all three states. Here they showcased their California selections, a 2011 Pinot Noir Soberanes Vineyard along with an equally luscious 2011 Syrah Garys’ Vineyard. Their apex, however, was the 2011 Syrah Cellar Series—Garys’ Vineyard, a masterful expression of the grape.

Like many of today’s wine writers, I maintain a scoring system, not for purposes of publication, per se, but rather to maintain a hierarchy for my own notes. I haven’t scrutinized the methodologies 100-point scoring systems Wine Spectator and Robert Parker employ, but I would be hard pressed to make such fine distinctions between say a 96 vs. 97 in their ratings; rather, mine roughly correlates to the 4.0 scale academies use in their grading. As such, so many of the wines here warranted scores substantially greater than the proverbial A-, I am going to restrict inclusion only to those in the top tier for the day, like the aforementioned Cellar Series Syrah.

All six of the wines Lompoc’s Loring Wine Company poured showed extraordinary complexity, but even among this collection, the 2012 Chardonnay Sierra Mar Vineyard outshone. McIntyre, which only sources estate fruit for its Pinots and Chardonnays, radiated with its “old vine” selection, the 2012 Estate Pinot Noir 25th Anniversary Santa Lucia Highlands. Similarly, Dan Morgan Lee, who produces the quasi-eponymous Morgan label, flourished with a pair of bottlings from his proprietary vineyard blocks: the 2012 Pinot Noir Twelve Clones and the equally spectacular 2012 Pinot Noir Double L Vineyard, where he also grows Syrah, Chardonnay and, atypically, Riesling.

Another winery that notably veers from the orthodoxy of the SLH trifecta: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah, Chris Weidemann’s Pelerin, which I last encountered at Wines of Danger, hit their apex here with their 2010 Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard. Manzoni made a reappearance at this tasting, with the same lineup as they had poured at In Vino Unitas, while La Rochelle showcased their SLH selections, highlighted by a spectacular 2010 Pinot Noir Sleepy Hollow Vineyard and their version of 2011 Pinot Noir Soberanes Vineyard.

Both of the Garys excelled in their own right at this tasting. Gary Franscioni highlighting the 2012 Pinot Noir under his Roar label, Gary Pisoni with the 2012 Chardonnay Soberanes Vineyard from his Lucia line. And Tondrē Alarid more than proved his mettle with his 2010 Pinot Noir Tondrē Grapefield from his eponymous Tondrē Wines.


III) Shifting focus, my next foray took me to the Oakland outpost of Campovida, the Hopland retreat center that produces a line of organic wines under its various Mendocino labels. The tasting here served as one of the several regional preludes Rhône Rangers has been hosting prior to its revamped Grand Tasting in Richmond, with select wineries from its North Coast chapter.

As with the SLH Artisans, exceptional wines were largely rule of the day, starting with the 2006 Syrah Saralee’s Vineyard from Arrowood, a winery that, along with Byron and Freemark Abbey, was bounced around in an acquisition juggernaut following Constellation’s purchase of Robert Mondavi, before finally settling in the Jackson Family Wines portfolio. Although Richard Arrowood has moved onto Amapola Creek, this splendid wine still bore his imprimatur. Charlie Dollbaum’s Carica Wines has also seen a changing of the guard, as well as the vineyards it had originally sourced, and so his superb 2009 Syrah Kick Ranch will not have a successive vintage. Nonetheless, his 2010 Siren, a Sonoma County Syrah-focused GSM blend proved even more compelling.

I tend to regard Craig Camp’s Cornerstone as a Cabernet-focused house, but here they abundantly demonstrated their versatility with Syrah. starting with their 2009 Stepping Stone Syrah, blended with 10% Grenache, followed by their showcasing of the subsequent 2010 Stepping Stone Syrah, atypically rounded out with 5% Merlot. Another Rhône iconoclast from Napa, Miner Family Winery, excelled with a bone-dry yet subtle 2011 La Diligence, their 100% Marsanne. Equally appealing—the 2011 Marsanne from JC Cellars. Complementing this white delight, winemaker Jeff Cohn reached back to his Rosenblum roots to craft an elegant 2010 Syrah Rockpile Vineyard and a stunning mélange of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Petite Sirah he modestly labeled the 2011 Misc Stuff.

Another JC’s compatriots from the East Bay Vintners Alliance, Bob Rawson’s Urbano Cellars, vastly impressed with both their 2009 Grenache Lodi and the 2010 Côte du Clements, a blend of 50% Syrah, 25% Grenache, and 25% Mourvèdre. Urbano’s frequent tablemate at these tastings, Oakland’s Urban Legend, similarly is a label I tend to associate more with Italian varietals; here, they flourished with their Rhône offerings: the 2010 Grenache Shenandoah Valley, the 2011 Syrah Cooper Ranch, and the 2020 Cuvée Lola, a distinctive blend of 45% Mourvèdre, 42% Grenache, 10% Syrah and 3% Petite Sirah.

I have striven, throughout the years I have been building the wine program for Sostevinobile, to maintain an utter objectivity about the wines we will select. Granted, I may display a small degree of partiality toward a number of wineries and winemakers who abetted my previous tenure in winery Mergers & Acquisitions (eventually, I will recount here how a series of coincidences involving Frog’s Leap and a comedy sketch by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore led me to the wine field) while the collapse of Katselis Wines has rendered my vow never to serve Αστέρι Μου a moot point; still, I ought to have a predisposition towards Kent Humphrey’s Eric Kent Wines based on our mutual renunciation of the kakocracy known as advertising to pursue the collegiality of the œnological realm. No bias needed on this day, however, to luxuriate in both his 2011 Kalen’s Big Boy Blend (100% Syrah) and the 2011 Barrel Climber Grenache—both for the wine inside the bottles and the amazing commissioned art gracing the individual labels.

If I had one, albeit slight, complaint about this tasting, it was that most of the wineries poured conservatively, not veering from the GMS mainstays on the red side, along with Petite Sirah, and the Roussanne-Marsanne-Viognier triumvirate for their whites. Christian Stark, however, showcased his 2012 Carignane Trimble Vineyard alongside impressive bottlings of the 2011 Petite Sirah Damiano Vineyard and the 2011 Syrah Eaglepoint Ranch. And William Allen, one of the prime movers on the current Rhône Rangers Board of Directors, featured Two Shepherds’ signature 2012 Grenache Blanc Saarloos Vineyard, complemented by the 2011 Syrah|Mourvèdre.

It took a bit of prodding to get host Campovida to pour their rendition of the 2012 Carignane Mendocino County from behind the bar, but it proved well worth the effort. Among their official selections for the afternoon, the standouts were the 2012 Grenache Mendocino County and a proprietary blend, the 2012 Campo di Rossa, a sublime marriage of 67% Grenache, 18% Syrah, 16% Carignane and 4% Petite Sirah.

I concluded the afternoon with Melinda Doty’s Stage Left Cellars, an Oakland winery given to some wondrously unorthodox blends, like Grenache/Cabernet Sauvignon/Mourvèdre, but here electing to prove their forte with unadorned yet excellent single varietals: the 2009 Syrah Alder Springs Vineyard from Mendocino, their 2010 The Escape Artist, a Santa Lucia Highlands Syrah, and a 2009 Petite Sirah, blended from the Yorkville Highlands’ Theopolis Vineyard and HoppeKelly Vineyards in the Russian River Valley.

Whither the truth in all these forays? Will my ceaseless efforts to catalogue the entire panoply of sustainable West Coast wines finally bear fruition in 2014 or merely serve as another intellectual pursuit? Rest assured, there was method to my madness back during my academic tenure that adapted to the rigors of my current pursuit, will carry my vision for Sostevinobile to fruition.

Quod erit demonstrandum.

A blog a week, that’s all we ask

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burns, baby, Burns!

An elliptical way for Your West Coast Oenophile to toast to Auld Lang Syne, usher in the New Year, wish all of our Sostevinobile readers the best in 2014, etc. If only Scotland’s greatest poet, Robert Burns, had written a tribute to wine, although his homage to Scotch may inspire me to switch to a wee dram of Talisker or Oban for these festivities.

My favorite aspect of the New Year celebrations isn’t the day itself or the night before, but the Monday following, which I have christened The Parade of the NYRs. This is a phenomenon that I’m sure occurs at every health club: the annual rush of newly-resolved fitness devotees, adorned in spanking new aerobic outfits they gifted themselves for Christmas, sworn to exercise fervently, shed 15 pounds and embark on a newer, richer—perhaps even amorous—lifestyle. Of course, 90% of these zealots will concede defeat and vanish by Valentine’s Day, reverting to a familiar and comfortable lethargy until next January 2; still, though they may create a cue to ride the elliptical trainer and clog the garage over the ensuing six weeks, for 10½ months afterwards, their MIA status subsidizes my membership!
In any case, trite as it may seem, I’m going to share a number of my own resolutions for 2014:

  1. First and foremost, I am not going to be run over by another truck as I navigate the streets of San Francisco on my new carbon frame bicycle.
  2. Should anyone should even try to steal this bicycle, I will renounce my lifelong commitment to pacifism and deal with them accordingly.
  3. I did add nearly 25 pounds after my accident and still need further physical therapy before I m restored to my optimal condition and weight. This will happen.
  4. I have ⁶⁄₇ of Sostevinobile’s funding completed. Now all I need is the digit in front of the two triple-aughts. This, too, will happen.
  5. I will keep these Sostevinobile blog entries succinct. (keep laughing)
  6. I will post these Sostevinobile blog entries in a timely fashion. (keep laughing)
  7. At long last, I will open Sostevinobile as the most dramatic wine bar in the Bay Area.
In several previous posts, I’ve alluded that big changes are afoot on the trade tasting circuit, precipitated by diminishing attendance and participation, exorbitant rental fees, and the pending renovation of the Fort Mason Center. Small tastings that can be accommodated by The Golden Gate Room, where I first attended ZAP 24 years ago, will continue, as the upcoming Santa Lucia Highlands Trade & Press Tasting affirms, but the larger mainstays have fled for newer turf and revamped formats. ZAP, for instance, has bifurcated, holding a trade tasting mid-week at Rock Wall in Alameda, then presenting a dizzying, multi-venue public session in The Presidio the ensuing weekend.
I have a number of fond associations with Fort Mason. My play Stillborn House saw its first public script-in-hand performance there. I commenced learning Italian at Museo ItaloAmericano in Building C. For several years I took Jim Cranna’s Improv Comedy Class there on Saturdays, discovering my unparalleled talent for l’esprit de l’escalier—invariably, on Sunday, I had the wittiest repartée of the group! And I concede that I attended more than a few tastings before I acquired legitimate trade & press credentials in the wine industry.
So, in return, let me highlight the last two major events I attended in 2013, starting with Family Winemakers of California’s swan song at Fort Mason. Originally I had been informed that the 2014 event would take place in Point Richmond, at the New Craneway Pavilion, to where Rhône Rangers will be relocating their 2014 Grand Tasting; now, the plan is apparently to hold this event at a yet-undesignated site in San Mateo. While Family Winemakers enthusiastically touts the benefits of a new locale, they seem less sanguine
about conceding the attrition in winery participation over the last
several years.
Of the 218 wineries on hand in 2013, Sostevinobile had established contact with all but a mere fifteen since 2009. From the top, including a number of labels I had previously sampled but inadvertently omitted from these posts, I delved into Windsor’s Balverne, a revival of the label John Kongsgaard and Doug Nalle popularized in the 1980s, reemerged with a 2012 Russian River Chardonnay, as well as a noteworthy 2012 Russian River Sauvignon Blanc and 2010 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, all crafted under Doug’s tutelage. Like Stone the Crows, Arroyo Grande’s Center of Effort had me predisposed toward their wines merely by virtue of their name, while the lineup poured here only solidified this bias. Particularly superb wines included their 2009 Chardonnay Effort and the cuvée, the 2010 Chardonnay Center of Effort;, Similarly, the 2010 Pinot Noir Effort and their red cuvée, the 2010 Pinot Noir Center of Effort excelled, while both the 2012 Chardonnay Fossil Point and the 2012 Pinot Noir Effort portended to come into their own at some later point.

Cenyth represented yet another of Barbara Banke’s single-wine projects, debuting here with its inaugural 2009 Red Blend, a Bordeaux style wine consisting of 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot and 7% Malbec from select estate vineyards in Alexander Valley, Bennett Valley and Chalk Hill. A bit more diversified, Santa Maria’s Double Bond Winery, offered distinctive renditions of a 2009 Pinot Noir Wolff Vineyard, their 2009 Syrah Larner Vineyards, and a 2011 Chardonnay Edna Ranch Vineyards.
With Julien Fayard at the winemaking helm, Napa’s EDICT poured a wide range of varietals and blends, ranging from their 2011 Oakville Sauvignon Blanc and 2010 Napa Valley Chardonnay to a 2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir and an utterly superb 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2011 Napa Valley Proprietary White blended Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Chardonnay and Viognier, while the 2010 Napa Valley Proprietary Red married Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec in unspecified proportions.
Without trying to be elliptical, I had judged most of the wines Healdsburg’s Ellipsis poured here at Taste TV’s New Release Wines Taste-Off but had not been introduced to winery principals Chris Sevilla and Jonathan Neisingh, and so was pleased to sample their pleasant 2011 Rosé of Sangiovese here. A similarly clever segue to introduce Eonian eludes me, yet their inaugural 2010 Eonian, an Australian-style blend of 80% Syrah with Cabernet Sauvignon, boldly eschewed the dominant paradigm for St. Helena.
In contrast, Oakville’s Galerie, yet another Barbara Banke discrete varietal venture, holds firm to Napa’s fealty to Bordeaux strictures, pouring its first selection, the 2012 Naissance Sauvignon Blanc (to be followed with release of its Cabernet selection later this year). Also from the Napa Valley, Herb Lamb may sound more like an entré that goes with Cabernet Sauvignon, not its producer, yet I was vastly impressed with both their 2010 HL Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon and from the cooler blocks of this tract, the 2010 Two Old Dogs Cabernet Sauvignon, along with their tangy new 2010 Two Old Dogs Cabernet Sauvignon.
I took a brief pause before venturing onto Hiatus Cellars, a winery that lists its address in Carlsbad but sources the grapes (I shudder to imagine, were the converse to be true!) for its 2011 Idle Hour Simpson Vineyard Barrel Select Viognier from prominent vineyards in Sonoma and Napa; their results ranged from quite appealing interpretations of a 2011 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir Griffin’s Lair Vineyard and a 2012 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc to their 2007 Red Wine Julianna’s Vineyard, a blend of 39% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Franc, 22% Petit Sirah, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Zinfandel, and the apex of their efforts, the 2010 Apex, an exquisite Cabernet Sauvignon softened with 7% Merlot and 2% Malbec. Next I idled my time with Idle Hour, an Oakhurst label featuring wines from the Clarksburg, Madera, and Santa Lucia Highlands AVAs. From its perch overlooking the Fresno River, owners Anna Marie dos Remedios and Deb Payne shone with their Rhône selections, the 2011 Idle
Hour Simpson Vineyard Barrel Select Viognier
and 2010 Syrah Love Ranch Vineyard. Along with their 2010 Tempranillo Heringer Estate Vineyard, even more impressive standouts included the 2011 Cabernet Franc Heringer Estate Vineyard and the 2009 Cuvée Rouge Love Ranch Vineyard, a deft blend of 53% Mourvèdre with 47% Syrah.
I’m trying quite hard to resist any pithy observations about a wine label called Law Estate, especially in face of their splendid interpretations of several Rhône-style blends. This Paso Robles winery offered compelling nomenclature for their four wines here, not to mention the wines themselves: the 2010 Sagacious, a GMS comprised of 44% Grenache, 42% Syrah, and 14% Mourvèdre; a straight Syrah, the 2010 Intrepid; the 2010 Beguiling, a Grenache tempered with 6% Syrah; and their most esoteric 2010 Audacious, a proprietary blend of 44% Grenache, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah, and 10% Petit Sirah.
Also known for his audacious blends, esteemed winemaker David Phinney debuted his Locations label, a project highlighting the viticultural fortes of five distinct winemaking nations, here pouring his understated selection from Republic of California (“California is a country unto itself, and fittingly, an appropriate addition to the Locations family”), the non-vintage CA-2, a masterful blend of Tempranillo, Barbera, Petit Sirah, Syrah, and Grenache. Lost Canyon, the Burgundian-focused sister to Cloverdale’s Fritz Winery, showcased their 2011 Ruxton Vineyard Chardonnay and a pair of vineyard-designate Pinots: the 2010 Morelli Lane Vineyard Pinot Noir and an excellent 2010 Goff-Whitton Vineyard Pinot Noir.

O’Connell Family Wines, a Napa winery founded in 1988, certainly seems the kind of prolific producer Sostevinobile ought to have encountered long before this past summer. Happily, Family Winemakers gave remedy to this oversight and enabled me to sample through a wide swath of the numerous wines they produce under four interdependent labels. Under CE Cellars, they produced a lighthearted Sauvignon Blanc, the 2010 Levity, as well as an economical Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2010 Bash. Their Pietro label also featured a 2012 Pietro Sauvignon Blanc and a Cab, the 2010 Pietro Napa Valley, plus their 2010 Pietro Chardonnay. Other Cabernets included the ultrapremium O’Connell Family Estate bottlings and the Gabrielle Collection, here featuring both the 2010 Equilateral Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2008 Vertex Red Cuvée Blend 615.
Not to be outdone in the quest for elliptical nomenclature, Templeton’s ONX featured a sextet of esoteric blends, beginning with their 2012 Field Day, a mélange of 59% Sauvignon Blanc and 41% Viognier. The appropriately-named 2011 Brash comprised 62% Zinfandel 62%, 21% Petite Sirah and 17% Tempranillo, while the 2011 Crux added 7% Cabernet Sauvignon to a 51/16/26 GMS. The 2011 Mad Crush substituted Tempranillo for Syrah in what would have been a 65/14/21 GMS blend; the 2011 Reckoning combined 64% Syrah, 20% Petite Sirah, 8% Zinfandel, 4% Tempranillo, and 4% Grenache; most beguilingly, the 2011 Prætorian consisted of 64% Tempranillo with equal parts Grenache, Mourvèdre and Malbec rounding it out.
Simplifying matters, Pegasus Estate offered a single bottling from their Santa Ynez Valley perch, the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon., while Calistoga’s Picayune Cellars poured both their 2012 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley and the 2011 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast. Simplicity may also mark the style of beloved Papa Francesco, but a modesty reflected in Pope Valley Winery, where an unostentatious profile belies a complexity in its viticulture, with a diverse inventory of wines, including a sparkling 2010 Blanc de Blancs, their 2012 Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford, and the 2012 Chenin Blanc Meyercamp Vineyard. Red selections ranged from the 2010 Merlot Eakle Ranch and 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Eakle Ranch to the 2010 Tre Uve, a SuperTuscan blend of 55% Sangiovese, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Merlot and the remarkable 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Reserve.
Powell Mountain should not be confused with Calistoga’s Howell Mountain; true to form for its Paso Robles base, it straddles an affinity for both Rhône and Bordeaux grapes, with a Primitivo identified as their 2010 Zinfandel for good measure. Varietal bottlings include the 2010 Viognier, the 2010 S
yrah, a 2011 Grenache
, an outstanding 2010 Mourvèdre, and their pure Paso 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. Proprietary blends the 2010 Summit, a mélange of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Syrah, a GMS, the 2010 Ascent, and their Meritage, the 2010 Pinnacle, with 20% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc, 6.5% Malbec, and 6.5% Petit Verdot rounding out the Cabernet Sauvignon.
With wines from both Paso Robles and the Santa Maria Valley, Rob Murray Vineyards divvies up its wines into four disparate collections. Here they featured the 2010 Amor Fati Grenache Murmur Vineyard and its spectacular kin, the 2010 Amor Fati Syrah Murmur Vineyard. Quite pleasing was the 2010 Chardonnay Murmur Vineyard, produced as part of the Stasis collection, and the 2012 Force of Nature Pinot Gris, also from Murmur Vineyard.
Sonoma’s Saxon Brown is a seasoned Sonoma operation offering a striking range of vineyard-specific bottlings. My sampling bean with the 2011 Sémillon Cricket Creek, then segued to a contrasting pair of Chards: the exceptional 2009 Chardonnay Durrell Vineyard and the atypical 2010 Être Chardonnay Sonoma Coast, a blend with 5% each of Roussanne, Marsanne and Vermentino from Prenda Vineyards. Their two Pinots consisted of a striking 2009 Pinot Noir Parmalee-Hill and the 2009 Pinot Noir Durrell Hayfield. Several Saxon Brown wines focused on designated blocks within a parcel, as exemplified by the wondrous 2007 Syrah Parmelee-Hill Camp Block, while the 2009 Zinfandel Parmelee-Hill Stonewall contrasted favorably with their 2009 Zinfandel Fighting Brothers. And the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley proved more than a worthy coda to their diverse capabilities.
A new participant, Silver Trident, described its inaugural releases here as “our maiden voyage,” an auspicious debut, to be sure, for both their 2010 Benevolent Dictator, a Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and the 2010 Twenty Seven Fathoms, a Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the Napa Valley. Another initiate, St. Helena’s Taplin Cellars, offered their first two Julien Fayard-crafted vintages, a well-rounded 2008 Terra 9 Cabernet Sauvignon and the young 2009 Terra 9 Cabernet Sauvignon.
My last stop over the two-day stretch was The Wine Foundry, a collective from Sonoma’s East 8th Street. Representing this group at Family Winemakers was Egyptian-themed Ankh, showcasing both their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley and a relatively improved 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley; Ankh’s wines may not have yet achieved noteworthy distinction, but the sheer bombast of their grandiose membership program—Inundation: The Path to Eternal Allocation—certainly deserves plaudits. 
Another Wine Foundry co-tenant, Platinum Crush, also offered a modest 2007 Ink Grade Cabernet Sauvignon from Howell Mountain. Additionally, 5 Bridges paired their 2007 Tempranillo with a three year vertical of their proprietary Bordeaux (Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon): the 2005 Red, along with the 2007 and 2008 vintages.


The Wine Foundry was prominently represented at what may very well turn out to be the last major tasting at Fort Mason, this fall’s Vintners Market. Along with Ankh, 5 Bridges. and Platinum Crush, their colleagues Antonio Patric, Kaye Wines, Mulvane, and RockRoom poured inside the Reserve Room.
Antonio Patric, another Kian Tavakoli project, entitles their wine club Vignoble—not quite as lyrical as Ankh’s Inundation, but surely akin to Sostevinobile. Here I developed a definite affinity for both their 2009 La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Noir and their 2009 Coombsville Cabernet Sauvignon, inexplicably listed as part of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA on their product sheet! Their tablemates, Mulvane, Rocco Califano’s boutique Sonoma label demarcated by its clever rebus, notably featured their 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Neal 3 Vineyard and the 2011 Syrah White Hawk Vineyard.
I found myself rather enthralled the Pinot-focused Sonoma label from owner/winemaker Ed Thralls, whose day gig consists of directing social media at < a href="http://www.flowerswinery.com" target="_blank" class="">Flowers. Under his eponymous label, he distinguished himself with both his 2012 Pinot Noir Bucher Vineyard and 2012 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, along with an elegant 2008 Syrah Alder Springs Vineyard. Readers know that I have been an avid proponent of NVMAVA from its outset; here, I had hoped to introduce Honrama Cellars’ owners Juan José and Miriam Puentes to this association, only to learn they had become acquainted before I could discover them! And while their 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon seemed a bit early in its evolution, it did portend of intriguing releases with future vintages.

Though the name Honrama derives from a contraction meant to pay tribute to Miriam’s father, Honorio Ramírez-Mata, my linguistic propensity initially led me to suspect it was a Japanese surname. Similarly, I anticipated that Mastro Scheidt
might have produced Italian varietals, or, more aptly, wines in the
tradition of Alto Adige, aka Südtirol, the autonomous Northern Italian
region that straddles both Italian and Austro-Germanic cultures. The
truth could not have been farther away, yet I was hardly disappointed in
their 2010 Cabernet Harris Kratka Vineyard or the 2011 Generations, a blend of 91% Cabernet Sauvignon from Dry Creek Valley and 9% Merlot from Alexander Valley, and I especially cottoned to their 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Dry Creek Valley. Similarly, my presuppositions about Enoteca 5
were quickly dispelled by their emulation of St. Émilion, with a decidedly
non-Italian focus that eschewing the five principal Bordelaise varietals for but three: the Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Merlot that
predominate on the Right Bank of the Gironde River.
The winery poured two contrasting releases: the 2011 Cabernet Franc Silvaspoons Vineyard from Lodi and the 2011 Cabernet Franc Alegría Vineyard from Acorn’s highly prized Russian River Valley vineyard, then previewed their forthcoming 2012 Petit Verdot Ripken Vineyards.

I did manage to appease my Italian cravings, somewhat ironically, with St. Barthélemy Cellars, a contrarian Napa operation producing seven varietal-focused fortified wines, of which I sampled the 2003 Barbera Port before delving into the 2003 Syrah Port and the 2003 Petite Sirah Port (the Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot and Pinot Noir version will have to wait until our next encounter). And I might have had another fix, had Lucca decided to bring their 2011 Sangiovese or even their Bordeaux-Barbera blend, the 2011 Grande, but I was hardly disappointed by their 2011 Old Vine Carignane nor their astounding 2011 Old Vine Mourvèdre.

Other most impressive discoveries were the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon from TwentyFour, the label produced by storied Oakland Raider Charles Woodson and, seemingly, a graphic homage to Edward Gorey, the superb 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Cameron Woodbridge’s Stormy Weather. À propos, Stephanie Cook Sedmak’s Wonderment Wines indeed proved a wonderment, starting with her delightful 2012 Dr. Stan’s Pinot Noir and utterly remarkable 2012 Campbell’s Vineyard Pinot Noir. Similarly, her wondrous 2011 Bastioni Zinfandel was nonetheless exceeded by the sheer complexity of her 2011 Burton Ranch Zinfandel.
Napa’s Holman Cellars eschewed convention to produce a most unorthodox 2010 Uncharted Vineyard Blend, an esoteric mélange of Syrah and Tempranillo, with 12% Viognier added for balance. Their 2010 Uncharted Red Wine married Cabernet Sauvignon with 28% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc, while the 2010 Fate Red offered a well-rounded Bordelaise blend with an additional 8% Petit Verdot.
I was less sanguine about OFFbeat Brands2012 Zin-Phomaniac, an Old Vine Zinfandel sourced from Lodi that was long on the pun and less so on the delivery (I could not bring myself to sample their saccharine Jellybean Wines). And I hoped for more complex wines than Jamieson Ranch’s bargain brand 2012 Light Horse Pinot Noir and 2012 Light Horse Chardonnay proved. But my final discovery, Solvang’s Larner Vineyard and Winery, redeemed these disappointments with a quartet of exceptional Rhône-style wines: the 2009 Grenache, a Grenache-focused GSM dubbed the 2009 Elemental, an even more delectable 2009 Syrah, and the coup de grâce, their 2009 Reserve Syrah, an utterly spectacular wine.


Vintners Market has announced its intentions to return to Fort Mason for its Spring 2014 rendition, though I will not be surprised to see them abruptly announce a change of venue. Then again, perhaps the mass defection of the other major events will give pause to the Board of Trustees and precipitate a more favorable revision of their rental policies and pricing.
Regardless of what transpires this year, the overarching issue—from a personal standpoint—is the ongoing viability of major trade events. For some time now, I have been discussing the resurrection of an Italian varietal trade association, and have recently taken a number of steps towards realizing this vision. From the wineries’ standpoint, such an organization makes tremendous sense; as of December 2013, I had cataloged 311 West Coast wineries producing varietals and blends with Italian grapes, with 42 Italian varietals grown here (admittedly, I haven’t found anyone bottling Schioppettino yet). But the steady decline in winery participation and public attendance at each of the major trade events, coupled with the schizophrenic demands of suitable venues calls into question the wisdom of trying to found a new trade association and concomitant perennial event on par with Rhônes Rangers and T.A.P.A.S.
So let me sign off with a vetching question: should my Resolution #8 be to launch Risorgimento?