A mondegreen is a misconstrued song lyric. Probably the best-known example is from Jimi Hendrix’ Purple Haze, with “’scuse me while I kiss the sky” invariably being interpreted as “’scuse me while I kiss this guy.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that (to quote Jerry Seinfeld).
Hendrix aside, the indisputable King of the Mondegreens has to be John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Is there a person alive who can even come close to deciphering the words to Down on the Corner? Or Up Around the Bend? You can look up the lyrics to these songs on the Internet; it will absolutely amaze you what he’s actually singing!
Creedence could be joyous. Creedence could be political. Creedence could be incredibly poignant. Their most heart-wrenching song (with surprisingly well-enunciating vocals to match), Lodi, still remains incredibly evocative every time I listen to it. For several decades, it stood as the only thing most people knew about this quiet, Sacramento Delta town.
Those of us involved in the wine business in the early 1980s had another impression of Lodi. From the days when a wine could be labeled as a varietal if it contained 51% of a specified grape, Lodi thrived as a cheap source of bulk fillers, most notably Tokay(no correlation to Hungary’s etherial Tokaji) and, secondarily, Thompson seedless. There were a handful of wineries that were outside the incestuous, quasi-industrial—a frequent joke, back then, was that these facilities might be requisitioned as emergency refineries when the next oil crisis hit—troika of Gallo, Franzia and Bronco that ruled the Central Valley; these predominantly cooperative collectives, assembled from a vast swath of local growers, produced some of the most ungodly wine known to mankind. One outfit, known back then as Eastside Cooperative Winery, had an inventory of 212 wines (types, not necessarily varietals) that they offered. The one I still cannot forget was Chocolate Cinnamon Wine.
Eastside’s sole virtue, apart from their moderately successful Royal Host Brandy, was that they made their Lodi neighbors, Guild Wineries, seem almost competent. Or maybe not. In those days, Guild had one brand of note, Cresta Blanca, and another, Cribari, that I’m told had once been respectable but had been turned into a pallid version of Carlo Rossi. Their crushing and fermentation took place in Fresno, then they would ship the bulk wine up Highway 99 to Lodi, where it was cellared and bottled. This convoluted process baffled Your West Coast Oenophile, to put it mildly.
“Why are you exposing your wine to Central Valley heat in this manner?” I asked with well-warranted incredulity. Their response offered little clarification. “We think people perceive Fresno as a negative. We wanted the prestige of ‘Bottled in Lodi’ on our label!” Of course, people back then thought Ronald Reagan had no idea what was going on with Iran-Contra, either!
Back in the early 1980s, these aforementioned wineries and other nearby ventures had upwards of 500,000 cases of wine stacked in their warehouses (I saw 50,000 cases alone of Eastside’s inimitable Chocolate Cinnamon concoction). Then someone at Brown-Forman came up with the brilliant concept of wine coolers, a blend of indescribable wine with a base of fruit juice and high fructose corn syrup. Millions of gallons of hitherto unsalable wine were dumped into these 6-packs, and an entire sector of the wine industry was rescued from impending oblivion.
It was virtually impossible to screw up the wine cooler solution. Unless you were Guild. Brown-Forman had California Coolers, with their memorable ad campaign. Gallo, in its inimitable fashion, let Brown-Forman blaze a path, then swamped them, in typical Gallo fashion, with Bartles & Jaymes. Guild, on the other hand, came up with Quinn’s Quail Coolers, and one of history’s most misguided ad campaigns: Soar with the Quail. Fine, I suppose, except for the incidental consideration that the quail merely jogs and never gets off the ground for any appreciable period of time.
In similar fashion, I would like to think that it’s virtually impossible to screw up wine grown on Howell Mountain. If the Taste of Howell Mountain, which I attend last weekend, is any indication, my premise is well-founded. With not even a remote semblance of Guild to be found among the 40 wineries donating their fare to this charitable fundraiser, there was nary a flawed wine to be found. Great if you’re an inveterate imbiber; not so great if you’re an aspiring blogger. How does one differentiate (at least in print) among a plethora of stellar Cabernets and Zinfandels (with a smidgen of Syrah and other varietals) grown in this landmark AVA?
The tasting felicitously began with a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc from host Charles Krug, the sole non-Howell presence at this benefit. I must concede that even I have frequently overlooked this excellent winery, which has unfairly suffered the perception of being “the other Mondavi” as well as being “the other Krug.” Since the mid-1990s, Charles Krug has meticulously endeavored to reestablish both its wines and its branding, and now oversees what I believe is the largest holding of organically-farmed acreage in the entire county. Moreover, with the sales of Robert Mondavi and Louis M. Martini to external, maleficent conglomerates, it remains the last of the independently-owned grand estate that dotted Highway 29 in the 1970s.
Outside on the lawn, tables were spread out generously around central islands for catering and silent auction bids to afford easy access to the assorted wineries offering a sampling of their recent vintages. Participants ranged from boutique operations like Blue Hall and Summit Lake to industry stalwarts like Cakebread, Duckhorn, Beringer and St. Clement. The highly-coveted Cimarossa vineyard was ably represented by both Tor Kenward and its own eponymous label. Arkenstone, who also poured a Sauvignon Blanc to help mitigate the 85° heat, might have vied for the best nomenclature, but the unequivocal winner here had to have been Howell at the Moon.
I started off the day enjoying the gracious hospitality of Zelock Chow, proprietor of Howell Mountain Vineyards, and was happy to retaste his wines in the afternoon. Despite my usual gregarious nature at these events (I find people in the wine business so much more engaging than my familiars in the advertising world—and don’t even get me started on the Silicon Valley folks who think Friday night Happy Hour happens at Fry’s), I managed to complete my entire dace card, so to speak, and rounded out the Silent Auction segment with White Cottage Ranch, Piña Cellars, O’Shaughnessy, Rutherford Grove, Highlands Winery, Villa Hermosa, and Red Cap.
Another first for me, at this event, was the mobile wood-burning oven that was carted in to make individually-fired pizzas. Of course, the very next day, Pizzeria Delfina brought in a version twice this size to accommodate their booth at Golden Glass in San Francisco. Still, I’m convinced that if I land up closing out my twilight years in a Winnebago Vectra, I will be hitching one of these marvels to my trailer post.
Feeling fully sated and moderately lubricated, I joined the rest of the 400+ attendees inside for the live segment of the afternoon, presided over, quite genially, by auctioneer Greg Quiroga. Bidders both local and from afar had turned out to raise much-needed funding for Angwin’s Howell Mountain Elementary School, and by the end of the day, had contributed over $32,000 to the cause. While the auction proceeded, volunteers from the school and community offered liberal pourings of sparkling wine, and, for those who still desired, full glasses of the various wines we had sampled outside. The room had a bit of a cathedral-like aura to it, but the proceedings were anything but solemn. As School Board Director Wendy Battistini, a most gracious hostess, proudly proclaimed “Howell Mountain wines rock!”
I managed to linger for about another hour or so, mingling among some of the local winery workers and decompressing from a long day at work (you think covering eight tastings in one month is easy?). Before returning to home to the Ginkgo Girl, I stopped off at Taylor’s Automatic Refreshers in downtown St. Helena and kept the CHP at bay with one of their ever-delightful veggie burgers. The warm summer air at 9PM was a stark contrast to the weather that awaited me back in San Francisco.
I will return to the next Howell Mountain tasting at the Bently Reserve later this summer and assess these wonderful wines with much greater detail. For now, I’m too lazy to complete my research and find out from Uncorked Events why Howell Mountain hasn’t been included in their Napa Valley with Altitude tastings. The orphaned hill among its brethren mounts? The black sheep of the Napa Clan? Perhaps, in compensation, I should compose a Howell Mountain anthem. Perhaps I might even have to sing and record it myself with my distinctive atonal delivery. In that event, step aside, John Fogerty—the Howell Mountain mondegreens will abound like no others!
Pinot Noir double-entendres have long abounded. Any day now, I half-expect Fred Franzia (or one of his relatives) to come out with a low-end “expression” of the varietal and call it SubPinot. If there were clever marketers in South America, they might come out with Pinot Che, a joint Bolivian-Chilean (shades of Vin Mariani?) effort. Pinot Envy might be a tad facile, but has been used numerous times over the years, so I’m not sure who can lay claim to originating it. The clever folks at Paul Mathew Vineyards push the envelope a bit further—maybe quite a bit further—with their slogan Let Me Put My Pinot in Your Mouth!I am more than happy to pay homage to such deft mastery.
Still, I cannot extricate myself from this thread before extolling my own foray into the esoteric and alliterative practice of Pinot punning. Not long after ATF withheld label approval for my George Herbert Walker Blush—A Kinder, Gentler Wine, I again approached Pat Paulsen with a surefire way to save his winery from being padlocked by the IRS. The concept was utterly straightforward. After 25 years of futilely pursuing the White House, Pat was to hold a news conference announcing that he was giving up politics and assuming the mantle of junk bond king from disgraced financier Mike Milken, who had just pled guilty to six charges of securities fraud and reporting violations (out of an indictment of 98 charges of fraud and racketeering). Following his announcement, he would open an office on Wilshire Blvd. called Paulsen Burnem Baad, which would offer the most worthless junk bonds ever issued. However, foreshadowing the emergence of Wine Clubs that nearly every winery now offers, these bonds would yield their bearers four shipments a year of wine from Château Lompoc, also known asThe Wine Served Behind the Finest Bars in America. Each of our four wines would feature a series of twelve scenic labels: Pat playing tennis with the warden at Club Fed, etc. We planned to offer two generics: White Collar Crime and Caught Red Handed, as well as a pair of evocatively-named varietals: Chino Pardonnay, and, of course, Penal Noir.
Pat’s business sensibilities were not as acute as his comic timing. By the time he finally decided to move forward on this idea, the IRS had seized his winery and taken the keys to Asti’s City Hall (having purchased the entire town, Paulsen had declared himself mayor by sheer fiat). Alas, Château Lompoc turned out to be the last direct foray into the wine industry Your West Coast Oenophile attempted until launching Sostevinobile.
I suppose there might be a moral to this story, but, for now, it eludes me. And so it was with great pleasure that I managed, for yet another year, to elude the Gomorrahist gala known as the Pride Parade to undertake the formidable task of handicapping the Pinot Days Grand Tasting last Sunday. With the Ginkgo Girl off on some personal quest, I managed to rise well in advance of the noontime whistle and headed straight from my coffee and morning ablutions to the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason. Though focused on but a single varietal (albeit surreptitiously joined by its Burgundian cohort, as well as a handful of Syrahs), the Tasting managed to exude a distinctly heterogeneous feel, with a panoply of over 200 wineries pouring Pinot Noir and sparkling derivatives from California and Oregon.
Judging by the turnout, the promoters of this annual event had every reason to feel gay—I mean, elated. Unlike the noticeably sparser attendance at Rhône Ranger and ZAP this past year, the crowd flocked to Pinot Days in full force. If only this were a harbinger for the economy as a whole! Their fortuitousness, however, became my challenge, and within moments of my arrival, I realized there was no possible way to cover every one of the wineries on hand.
Of course, I might have visited more of the attendees, had I not gotten caught up in a handful of conversations with long-standing acquaintances in the trade (my apologies to the promoters of Pinot Days, but if these talks turn into much-needed funding for Sostevinobile, we’ll all be better off for it). Bill Canihan, arguably the leading vintner in San Francisco’s Marina District, sampled his wonderful 2006 Canihan Wines Pinot Noir and snuck in a taste of his highly regarded 2006 Exuberance Syrah while we caught up on a wide range of wine happenings. Across the aisle, I reacquainted myself with the folks from Olson Ogden, whose 2007 Russian River Pinot Noir matched the show-stopping Pinot with which I was introduced to them three years ago. To their left, another old familiar, Orsi Papale featured a rich 2006 Russian River Pinot Noir. On their other side, I met Joe and Mary Toboni, the husband-wife team behind Oakwild Ranch, as well as their eponymous vineyard that supplies Pinot Grapes to several other Sonoma ventures. A sample of their 2007 Russian River Pinot Noir showed why their grapes are so highly prized by others.
Oakwild Ranch is listed as a San Francisco-based venture with a decidedly Sonoma name; Russian Hill Estate is a Sonoma venture with an ambiguously San Francisco name. I found no confusion, however, in delighting in their 2007 Russian River Pinot Noir and its compatriot 2007 Russian Hill Estate Pinot Noir. Also from Sonoma, acclaimed winemaker Don Van Staaveren showed his considerable prowess with the 2005 Sand Hill Pinot Noir, Durell Vineyard that made me wish I had had enough time to retaste his Three Sticks wines
This time, I did not miss his Eighth Street East neighbor Talisman Cellars, with their splendid 2005 Hawk Hill Vineyard Russian River Pinot Noir. Equally pleasing was the 2007 Longbow Pinot Noir from Arista Winery. Nearby in Santa Rosa, BATON Wines produced a formidable 2007 Laguna Ridge Pinot Noir while Benovia Winery produced a more modestly named 2007 Sonoma Pinot Noir. Normally, I’d have been a bit wary of a winery that lists, as its address, that capital of colorless conformity, but San Jose’s Coterie Cellars came through admirably with both their 2007 Fairview Pinot Noir and 2007 Saralee’s Vineyard Pinot Noir. Also hailing from an urban locale, Furthermore Vineyards offer a 2006 Pinot Noir, Bohemian Vineyard, Russian River Valley that attracted considerable fanfare.
Once again, I became entangled in a long conversation with fellow Dartmouth alum Andy Peay while sampling his always remarkable 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast. This mired me for quite a while amid the P’s, where the aforementioned Paul Mathew Vineyards showed their wine pedigree with their 2006 Paul Mathew Pinot Noir TnT Vineyard. From Carmel Valley, Pelerin Wines may have lacked business cards but more than compensated with a trio of Pinots: 2006 Cuvée St. Vincent, 2007 Rosella’s, and a wonderful 2007 Santa Lucia Highlands. I’m debating whether Sostevinobile can properly included the geographic anomaly of Périple, an Idaho winery that sources its grapes from California and ferments them here before bottling in Boise (talk about a carbon footprint!), but 2007 Russian River Valley-Pinot Noir Inman Olivet showed little ill effect from the long journey through the Grand Tetons. A more environmentally-friendly trek brought Point Concepcion’s 2007 Cargasacchi Vineyard Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hillsto Fort Mason, and it proved a fortuitous discovery.
The sweltering heat of the afternoon made the 2008 Ramona Rosé of Pinot Noir from Nicholson Ranch a refreshing relief; its companion 2007 Pinot Noir Sonoma Valley Estate proved no slackard, either. I suspect that Kastania Vineyards derived its name from an Anglicized version of the original, and I suggested that a castagna (chestnut) might be a more fitting emblem than the gufo (owl) they currently employ. Nonetheless, their 2006 Kastania Pinot Noir, Estate Proprietor’s Reserve proved overwhelmingly true to its name. Nearby, the 2007 Pinot Noir Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands from hope & grace displayed as big a wine as its gargantuan name. Sadly, I had time for just one more winery, but I closed out the tasting on a definite high note with Hirsch Vineyard, whose 2007 M Pinot Noir and justly acclaimed 2006 Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir proved well worth the wait.
If there was any downside to this year’s Pinot Days, it was the relative paucity of Oregon wineries in attendance. Of course, it is always welcome to see Domaine Serene at any gathering, but with only 5 or 6 other wineries making the trek from north of our state border, one still must surmise that the weakened economy is taking its toll. Notably absent on this day was Styring Vineyards, who nonetheless furnished the event with an evocatively sensual video. The all-too-oft-quoted Miles Raymond could not have put it to word any better, nor could my own alliterative phraseology and innuendos have composed such an ultimate paean to heterosexuality as The Passion of Pinot.
Colleen was a girl of certain type—but she wasn’t. Well into her mid-twenties, she still looked like she retained her baby fat, giving her a soft, slightly roundish appeal. On the surface, she had a complete lack of pretense or guile, perhaps even an aura of naïveté. She wore her hair long, parted in the middle and without any concession to fashion or style; her attire, if memory serve correct, was generally a pair of denim overalls with a plain or calico shirt underneath. She was exactly the kind of girl you wanted to take on a picnic somewhere in a secreted mountain meadow, then make love on a blanket until the sun went down.
At the tender age of 17, Colleen firebombed a McDonald’s. In the stealth of the night, she tossed a Molotov cocktail into a new franchise under construction in Washington, DC and burned it to the ground. She was never caught and the McDonald’s never rebuilt. Leslie Bacon ought to have struck with such surgical precision.
Today, Colleen would find a kindred spirit, albeit less prone toward literal conflagration, in Carlo Petrini. Petrini, revered worldwide as the founder of the International Slow Food Movement, first came to prominence in the 1980s for taking part in a campaign against the fast food chain McDonald’s opening near the Spanish Steps in Rome.
Originally, Petrini started out contributing culinary articles(!) to Italy’s Communist daily newspapers Il Manifesto and l’Unità (anyone know who their sports columnist was?). He has edited multiple publications at publishing house Slow Food Editore and writes several weekly columns for La Stampa. In 2004, he founded the University of Gastronomic Sciences, a school bridging the gap between agriculture and gastronomy.
The Slow Food Movement has spread across the Atlantic to North America, where is has found a most zealous advocate in Berkeley’s Alice Waters. Last year, Waters was instrumental in bringing Slow Food Nation 2008 to San Francisco, a highly-
publicized gathering that drew 85,000 enthusiasts to venues in Fort Mason and at the Civic Center, where the plaza was turned into a working Victory Garden that produced over 1,000 lbs. of organic food during its 4-month tenure.
The Golden Glass, as the name suggests, also presented an opportunity to sample an enormous selection of wines, again focused on Italian vintages. And herein lies the rub. If Slow Food is dedicated to the preservation of sustainably-operated, local farming, why was this convergence so focused on imported wines (the dozen wineries that did participate represented the first time The Golden Glass has even included California)?
Not that Italian wines don’t have their well-deserved place. After all, I know of no one on the West Coast who grows Fumin or Negroamaro or Grecante, to name but a few varietals, or who even attempt to make a straw wine (passito) like Cornarea’s Tarasco 2005. It has been well-documented, in this blog and elsewhere, that local efforts to produce Italian varietals have had to retrench considerably and are justing to make a revival. But if the true focus of Slow Food Nation—and, by extension, The Golden Glass—is to promote local, sustainable agriculture, then the vast array of wineries in this area that implicitly adhere to their manifesto ought to be the backbone of this tasting (this is, after all, the foundation on which Sostevinobile is building our wine program).
Of the West Coast wineries that did participate, several did display their efforts with Italian varietals. Iberian varietal specialist Bodega del Sur brought their 2006 Sangiovese to contrast with their 2006 Tempranillo and 2008 Verdelho. Berkeley’s Broc Cellars showed their 2006 Luna Matta Sangiovese, along with a 2007 Cassia Grenache that stakes their claim to fame. Ever ubiquitous, Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm surprised with his 2005 Ca’ del Solo Nebbiolo, a notably worthy expression of this varietal. On the other hand, it was no anomaly that Girasole Vineyards had a 2006 Sangiovese, and restaurateur Lorenzo Petroni premiered his eponymous label with his remarkable 2004 Brunello di Sonoma Poggio alla Pietra and a Super Tuscan style 2006 Rosso di Sonoma.
I had tasted the wines of Verge Wine Cellars but two nights earlier at A Community Affair, but was pleased to resample his 2007 Syrah Dry Creek Valley. Pey-Marin had poured their Pinot Noir the week before at the MALT tasting in Larkspur, but this time accompanied it with a refreshing 2008 The Shell Mound Riesling. Magnanimus Wines distributes organic and biodynamic wines from Mendocino County; I particularly liked Ukiah Cellars 2008 Chardonnay Mendocino and Mendocino Farms 2007 Grenache. From Hollister, Alicats brought a notable 2006 Syrah Gimelli Vineyard, while Sonoma’s Nalle Winery shone with their 2006 Pinot Noir Hopkins Ranch. Edmunds St. John, to whose philosophically-strewn newsletter I have long subscribed, showed the kind of consistency with their 2005 Syrah Wylie Fenaughty I have come to expect from their vintages, while Clos Saron from Oregon House displayed the versatility of the Sierra Nevada Foothills 2007 Pinot Noir Home Vineyard.
The Golden Glass has always been a marvelous event, and Your West Coast Oenophile looks forward to a long, enduring relationship between their parent Slow Food San Francisco and Sostevinobile. This year’s festival was a wonderful opportunity for me and the Ginkgo Girl to catch up with so many restaurants that have come to love us and to share in this most vital advocacy. We are looking forward to an even grander Golden Glass in 2010, with the anticipation of its increased outreach to the rich abundance sustainably -grown wines from California, Oregon and Washington.
Most of us can recall a teacher or professor whose idiosyncratic style still manages to bring a smile merely at the mention of his name. Bernie Bergen was the lone holdout amid a department rife with Skinnerian acolytes and unreconstructed behaviorists. Once, he stopped in mid-lecture, pointed out the window at the Department of Psychology and pronounced: “Those people in there—they want to tell you the mind doesn’t exist…And they’re wrong!”
In true Nabokovian fashion, I discovered Nabokov in Bergen’s sociology seminar, stumbling upon his obituary in The New York Times while waiting for the lecture to commence. Bernie held joint tenure from both Dartmouth Medical School and Dartmouth College, teaching interdisciplinary courses in Psychology and Sociology with mellifluous allegories citing “little Roscoe,” an elusive mystery even unto this day. I forget the formal title of his course, but the paper I wrote deconstructing the persona of Allen Ginsberg’s mother from his commemorative Kaddish garnered me a most distinctive grade of A-wow! It was the last sociology course I took.
My ongoing efforts to draft the business plan for Sostevinobile requires Your West Coast Oenophile to be a bit of a sociologist these days. I suppose my paltry academic training in this area will excuse the broad generalities I construct, though my well-honed skills as an author do require that I be a piquant observer of the human condition. Last Friday, I attended a charitable event in the Green Room of San Francisco’s War Memorial and Performing Arts Center that was billed as A Community Affair:Summer in the City. The theme of this ambitious, albeit meritorious, gathering was Wine Tasting with Asian American Community Organizations.
Apart from the obvious social nature of this event, many of the attendees insisted to me that they were present in order to support these many causes. My subjective angle on the affair, however, noted that an even healthier percentage of the nearly 500 guests came to appreciate and experience the wine. For a relative neophyte, this, indeed, might have been a nice introductory tasting. Sixteen or so vendors brought a plentiful skew of local wines, along with a smattering of imports that I chose to overlook. Still, it’s hard for me to countenance a tasting where roughly half the wine poured could easily be obtained on the shelves of Safeway or BevMo. This isn’t meant to denigrate the various offerings from such industry standards as J. Lohr, Wente, Rodney Strong and Francis Coppola Winery—all certainly produce commendable, if not laudable, vintages. It’s just that I would have personally preferred a more ambitious lineup to have been assembled.
Still, off the top of my head, I could rattle off another half-dozen Asian winemakers who would have gladly shown their wares at this gathering. More broadly, in the course of writing this blog over the past six months, I’ve covered over 400 wineries, each of which would have been glad to open their label to a new audience. The attendees last Friday’s gathering were entitled to a more comprehensive wine experience; Sostevinobile will be more than happy to contribute our resources and assistance to planning future events.
Of course, I would be remiss in not admitting a large degree of enlightened self-interest in attending A Community Affair. A large part of Sostevinobile’s mission is to provide a commercial establishment that can break down the de facto ethnic segregation that exists in Bay Area commercial venues and entertainment.
It is an anomaly that has long perplexed me. On most other fronts, we have arguably achieved a harmonious integration in our society here, particularly among the Asian and Caucasian (including Hispanic-identified) ethnicities, that constitute nearly 90% of the Bay Area populace. Schools and universities are seamlessly integrated. Most workplaces reflect a rough cross-section of the community. Social interplay and intermarriage has become fairly pervasive. Yet one would be hard-pressed to identify a drinking or dining establishment that attracts a representational mix among its clientèle.
Back in the mid-1990s, one such establishment made an all-too-brief splash on the San Francisco dining scene. With a kitchen manned by up & coming chef Alexander Ong (now of Betelnut), Orocco billed itself as an East-West supperclub and delivered with considerable panache behind the considerable vision of Michael Tieu. The food was incredible, the lounge was seductive, and the musical ensembles always inviting. Most strikingly, it drew an incredible mix that cut through the ethnic balkanization found everywhere else at night. As my very, very astute Korean girlfriend commented on more than one occasion, “this is the only place we can go that doesn’t feel like one of your places or one of mine.” Unfortunately, financial mismanagement, along with the imposing median strip along Geary, precipitated Orocco’s premature demise, but it still stands as a shining beacon that has yet to be replicated.
Fast-forward to today, and one starts to see an affinity for wine as a new harbinger of unity. In my ongoing development of Sostevinobile’s wine program, I frequently attend wine tastings, visit numerous wineries, and habituate a wide range of wine bars. In all these instances, I am increasingly struck by the high level of endorsement from the Asian communities—an observation I hear echoed by the winemakers and proprietors, as well. This is why I am tremendously heartened to see a gathering like last Friday’s command such a large turnout, and why I feel the need to exhort promoters of similar events to devote a high level of attention to the quality and variety of wines that they offer. You have an eager clientèle on hand; executed properly, informative wine tastings can only increase their enthusiasm .
At this stage, there is probably little point in my delving deeper into my sociological exploration of these matters. The empirical evidence I have seen tells me that the wine program we are creating for Sostevinobile cuts across ethnic divides and will offer considerable appeal to all we welcome into our establishment. Like the omen from Field of Dreams, the task that lies ahead seems clear: “build it and they will come.”
I like to create my own anagrams. Back when Your West Coast Oenophile contemplated becoming a children’s doctor, I devised POPPA, which stood for Pediatricians Opposed to Prophylactics, the Pill, and Abortion, a self-aggrandizing scheme aimed at providing an endless stream of new patients for my future practice. Later, while working at Tetris™ distributor Spectrum HoloByte, I came up with the quintessential Pranksters Hired to Undermine (Your)Competitors’ Quality and Usurp (Their)Prominence and Profitability, otherwise know as PHUCQ UPP. Of course, I am always happy to give due credit to others who can hold their own in this arena, and, as Randall Grahm aptly noted in his off-the-cuff discourse, the contrivance to come up with Tempranillo Advocates Producers and Amigos Society in order to educe TAPAS was sheer mastery.
Maybe because I decided to forgo the quintennial gathering of my own amigos from our days of sequestration back in Lakeville, Connecticut, I decided to attend the trade seminar on Spanish varietals, prior to the 2nd Annual TAPAS Grand Tasting at Fort Mason on Sunday. My friend Markus Bokisch broadly elucidated the history and transformation of Albariño vinification quite ably, not terribly surprising once you’ve tasted his own deft manipulation of this varietal. Similarly, Penelope Gadd-Coster navigated aficionados through an overview on Tempranillo that was highly enjoyable and never didactic.
Onward we went, from the seminar in Building D to the quaint antechamber in Building A, known as the Golden Gate Room. Hard to believe this nowadays, but it was in this very same room that the gargantuan ZAP Grand Tasting, which now occupies two entire piers, first took place. A good omen for TAPAS, to be sure, and a much easier venue to reach than the late, great Copia, where their inaugural tasting was held.
This year’s gathering included 36 member wineries from California and Oregon, plus one lone representative from Arizona. In other words, just about the right density to remain manageable for one afternoon. My simple plan of attack meant rounds of seven wineries at a time, interspersed with a recharge of the incredible paella the chefs from Marco Paella were generously doling out from the back of the room. Maybe because of their alphabetically primacy, I first turned my attention to Oregon’s Abacela, a winery owned by TAPAS president Earl Jones. Standout among their pourings was a 2005 Tempranillo, Reserve, Southern Oregon, and I reserved some space for a revisit near the end of the afternoon with their 2006 Port, Southern Oregon, whose memory from last year’s tasting still lingered. A nearby swing brought me to Plymouth’s Bray Vineyards, whose noteworthy 2008 Verdelho preceded a taste of their striking 2006 Vinho Tinto, a blend of 5 Portuguese varietals: Tinta Cão, Touriga Nacional, Souzão, Tinta Roriz, and Alvarelhão (my spellcheck hasn’t a clue about any of these)! Bodega del Sur from Pacifica(!) similarly offered their 2007 Carmesi, an intriguing blend that spanned multiple viticultural designations, combining Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. Then again, compare these wines with Boeger Winery’s 2005 Milagro, a decidedly more Spanish-leaning mélange of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Graciano.
Graciano, of course, has long been my favorite offering from Bokisch Vineyards, though I found myself more partial this time to their 2007 Garnacha, Lodi. Another paragon of this varietal was the 2007 Garnacha, Denner Vineyards, Paso Robles from Villa Creek Cellars, whose equally delightful 2007 Mas de Maha, Paso Robles combines Tempranillo with Garnacha and Mourvèdre. I am used to referring to Garnacha by its Rhône designation, Grenache, and I often flip between Mataro and Mourvèdre; calling this latter varietal Monastrell, as does Paso Robles’ Viña Castellano was unfamiliar to me. Nonetheless, this house produces a fine bottling of such but truly stood out for both its 2004 Tempranillo and 2005 Tempranillo. Viña Robles is of course, another neighbor taking liberal advantage of Paso Robles’s abundance of Rhône varietals, using Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Tannat to add to Touriga to make their 2007 Red Blend.
Maybe someday Bonny Doon will swap me a couple of cases of their finest (would that they still made grappa!) in exchange for my insights into Web design. A striking visual site, but a Web presence is supposed to be all about rapid access to information. To be fair, almost every design house I know is as self-indulgent with their own site; still, Randall, who needs hallucinogenic graphics when your 2007 Angel Paille already fits the bill? The good folks at St. Amant Winery offered their version of a post-prandial wine with their 2006 Vintage Port, Amador County, while St. Helena’s Tesouro Port Cellars blended Touriga, Tempranillo, Alvarelhão, Souzão and Tinta Cão to make their 2005 California Dessert Wine, a deceptively generic name for such an intriguing wine. Further north, in Jacksonville, Oregon, Valley View Winery topped the alcohol charts with their 2007 “Anna Marie” Port, Rogue Valley.
Though currently Sostevinobile does not plan to include Arizona in its mix, the Grand Canyon State was ably represented by Callaghan Vineyards, whose 2007 Padres accentuated its 58% Tempranillo with both Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Iberian wine houses permeated in a number of atypical locales, like Livermore’s Fenestra Winery, which finds its strength in Portuguese varietals, including its 2006 Alvarelhão and 2006 Touriga. Also from Livermore, Murrieta’s Well blends their 2007 Zarzuela with Touriga Nacional, Tempranillo, Souzão and Touriga Francesca. Closer to San Francisco Bay, Danville’s Odisea Wine Company offers blends of epic proportion, my favorite being their 2007 Two Rows Garnacha, a duet of Grenache and Tempranillo. Poised at the Bay’s edge, El Cerrito’s Tejada Vineyards offered similar fare with their 2005 Tempranillo & Garnacha Blend, as well as a noteworthy 2006 Tempranillo, Reserve. Quaint Murphys in the Gold Country lays claim to Hovey Wine, with its standout 2007 Rolleri Cuvée Tempranillo, Calaveras County; the urban confines of the City and County of San Francisco, meanwhile, is home to James Judd & Son’s 2006 Tempranillo. Circling back to Jacksonville, Red Lily Vineyards offered one of the day’s standout wines, their 2005 Tempranillo, Rogue Valley.
Anomalies (at least as far as I am concerned) in nomenclature also abounded, to a degree. The parlance of business school should have nothing to do with the soaring, elegiac beauty of viticulture; still, the 2006 Tempranillo, Lake County from Six Sigma Winery represents a commendable undertaking. I kidded the proprietors of Irish Family Vineyards that their label seemed as much an oxymoron as Pasquale’s Corned Beef & Cabbage, but their 2006 Grenache and 2007 Touriga Nacional warrant no ribbing.
Providing their own laughs, of course, was the ever-outréTwisted Oak, with a quartet of nonetheless highly respectable wines, including a 2008 Verdelho from Lodi’s highly regarded Silvaspoons Vineyards. Another familiar face was Constellation’s Clos du Bois, valiantly striving to maintain an individual identity with its 2005 Tempranillo, Alexander Valley, Sonoma Reserve. This blog has also given considerable plaudits in the past to Quinta Cruz, a pre-eminent Iberian wine producer, whose 2006 Touriga combines both Touriga Nacional and Touriga Francesca.
A number of wineries came out with commendable Rosés (Rosado). After Penelope Gadd-Coster’s morning presentation, many folks flocked to the Coral Mustang display to try her 2006 Tempranillo Rosé. Solvang’s D’Alfonso-Curran dazzled with their 2007 Grenache Gris. Trenza/Tangent Wineries offered a 2008 Trenza Rosado, an uncommon Spanish-style rosé from the familiar Rhône the GMS blend. Verdad Wine Cellars, the Spanish division of Rhône-style pioneer Qupé, blended 90% Garnacha with Tempranillo to make its bone-dry 2008 Rosé.
Truth (verdad) was clearly expressed in the 100% Tempranillos from a pair of Napa wineries. Truchard Vineyards offered a vertical from 2000-2005, the standout being their current 2005 Tempranillo. Striking, too, was the 2007 Tempranillo, Shake Ridge Vineyards, Amador County from Yorba Wines. Less orthodox were the predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon blends with Tempranillo from Parador Cellars, although their 2006 Tempranillo Reserva Rancho Chiles was delightful.
Lacking a clever segue, I can only list the remaining presenters without the benefit of thematic continuity. Barreto Cellars proved strongest in their Portuguese offerings, particularly their 2005 Touriga, Lodi. From the next vintage, Pierce Ranch Vineyards shone with their 2006 Touriga . The wonderfully-labeled Dancing Coyote dueling whites from each country, with a slight edge going to the 2007 Verdelho, Clarksburg over the 2007 Albariño, Clarksburg. Premier grape grower Ron Silva, bottling as Alta Mesa Cellars from his own Silvaspoons Vineyards, truly excelled with his 2008 Alta Mesa Cellars Verdelho, Lodi.
The standout producer for the afternoon also crushed Silvaspoons grapes. Matt Rorick’s whimsically named Forlorn Hope Wines dazzled with four wines. The 2008 La Gitana was one of only two Torrontés at TAPAS. The 2008 Suspiro Del Moro was, I believe, the only single-varietal Alvarelhão. A third white was his Verdelho, the 2007 Que Saudade. Lastly, he blended Touriga, Tempranillo, Tinta Cão and Tinta Amarela to make his superb 2006 Mil Amores.
It will take perhaps not mil amores but definitely mil amigos to continue sustaining TAPAS. With my strong predilection toward Italian varietals, I have watched the rise and subsequent retreat of these varietals on the West Coast, as well as the dissolution of their trade association, Consorzio Cal-Italia after its promising beginnings. Despite these vicissitudes, including Antinori’s lamentable decision to uproot the Sangiovese vines from its reacquired Atlas Peak, I see inklings of a resurgence in Italian varietals here on the West Coast and, one would hope, a restoration of the Consorzio on par with Rhône Rangers and other specialized advocacies.
I wonder whether Spanish and Portuguese varietals will need to endure a similar oscillation before truly taking hold here. Like Sangiovese and Viognier, I suppose it will take a few tries before vintners truly grasp the full nuance of Tempranillo and its compadres. And, of course, there is still the issue of acceptance from a public that has scant familiarity with these wines. Most people still associate Spanish wine with Sangria and, unfortunately, the taint of Mateus and Lancers still clouds perception of Portugal’s offerings. As always, though, I wish TAPAS all the best with their mission and look forward to the day they, too, move out of Building A and occupy the piers of Fort Mason, just like ZAP (okay, maybe just one pier—there isn’t a paella pan large enough to accommodate both exhibit halls)!
1991. The Year of the Palindrome (as was 2002). Too long past now to attribute as a “few years back.” It was a cold, drizzly November evening, with the sun setting by 5 p.m. The perfect kind of evening for drinks inside the fireplace at the Pelican Inn. The perfect kind of first date setting that ends in “how do you take your coffee?”
My date had moved West from Indiana only a few weeks before. I think this may have been her first trip to Marin. As we began the climb up Panoramic towards Muir Beach, she took my hand in a premature but not unappreciated sign of affection. It all seemed to be going swimmingly until—WHACK! A young deer darted out in front of my Tercel and went sprawling across the highway. By the time I stopped the car and got out to look, the deer had picked itself up and had darted off, easily as shaken as I was. After inspecting the grill and finding no appreciable damage, save an infusion of deer hairs it took a month to fully clear out, I returned to the wheel and headed back toward our destination. Around the next bend, a sizable jackrabbit ran out in front of my car, again forcing me to jam on the brakes and nearly swerve off the road. “Great,” I thought to myself. “I’ve been with this girl for less than an hour and already I’ve very nearly killed both Bambi and Thumper!”
Fast-forward to June 2009. This past weekend, I found myself once again pedaling from San Francisco to Larkspur for a return to the 2009 Marin County Pinot Noir Celebration. This annual tasting benefits the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT), a most worthy preservation project that has safeguarded over 40,000 acres of West Marin farmland for perpetuity, and features the growing roster of wineries producing Pinot Noir below Sonoma County.As it has been every year, the array of Pinots has been wide and consistently quite
aforementioned Disney friends in the guise of Rabbit Sausage and Barbecued Venison! Let it be known that Your West Coast Oenophile is generally not long on sentimentality!
The 15-mile trek from Pacific Heights to the Historic Escalle Winery in Larkspur does much to stimulate one’s appetite, and let’s be honest, a heaping helping of savory grilled forest fare demands that a good Pinot Noir be lustily imbibed, not tepidly swilled and spat. But with the tasting running uncommonly until 7 p.m., there seemed plenty of time to work through the 16 wineries pouring their expression of the fickle Pinot grape.
In general, I was a bit surprised in the contrast between these wines and the Pinots I had recently tasted at Larkspur’s Sideways tasting. At the May event, each of the wineries showed decidedly better with their 2007 vintage than with their 2006. Here, the converse held true for those wineries who had comparable selections. An interesting anomaly I have yet to fathom.
Being an inveterate Classicist, I beelined over to the far corner where Sean Thackrey was pouring his 2006 Andromeda, a pure expression of Pinot Noir that contrasts with the intricate, esoteric blends like his noted Pleiades XVI, a mélange of Syrah, Sangiovese, Mourvèdre, Barbera, Carignane, Petite Sirah and Viognier, among myriad others. A man who culls many of his winemaking techniques from ancient Hellenic transcripts, he and I will have to discuss Aristophanes’ peroration from Πλάτωνος Συμποσίον the next time we encounter.
The winemaking community in Marin being a small, tight circle, it was not unexpected that I would encounter several of the producers I had met at previous festivals. David Vergari continues to refine his style, as exemplified in both the 2006 Marin County Pinot Noir and its 2007 successor that he poured. That ever-ebullient raconteur Mac McDonald, disappointingly, was off at another engagement, but the 2007 Chileno Valley Marin County Pinot Noir from his Vision Cellars was still splendid despite his absence.
Even though angioplasty’s efficacy is currently being challenged in some medical circles, the wines of patent-holder Dr. Thomas Fogarty (and, presumedly, his residuals) remain undiminished; his 2006 Corda Family Vineyards, Marin County Pinot Noir easily testified too this endurance. His assistant winemaker, Nathan Kindler, also debuted his own venture, Precedent Vineyards, with a noteworthy 2006 Pinot Noir, Chileno Valley Vineyard. And the Corda Winery, who produces Fogarty’s Pinot grapes, brought forth their own moderately-priced 2006 Marin County Pinot Noir.
The two revelations of this event included Brookside Cellars, with a 2006/2007 duet of their Pinot Noir Marin County, grown at Nicasio’s Moon Hill Vineyard. Even more memorable was the erotophonic Orogeny Vineyards, whose justly-priced 2006 Pinot Noir Redding Vineyards was close to orgasmic (I can’t wait to try their various expressions of Chardonnay).
One slight limitation to events such as this gathering is that only one varietal is served. Such was the case Saturday, although Gary Miller of Miller Wine Works did slip me an illicit taste of his Syrah. The one official exception to the afternoon was Point Reyes Vineyards, whose sparkling NV Blanc de Noir, Marin County, made solely from Pinot Noir, provided a refreshing contrast to the still wines of the afternoon.
I’d be remiss in not mentioning the very forthright 2006 Kendric Vineyards Marin Pinot Noir. Stewart Johnson’s Kendric Vineyard in Northern Marin also supplies the grapes for Miller Wine Works. Remiss, however, is a term I’m tempted to apply to both Stubbs Vineyards and Moon Hill Vineyards, who departed well before the 7 p.m, closing and prevented me from making further acknowledgment of their wines. They may want to stay on for their full commitment in 2010.
Having sampled all the available wines, I hopped back on my bicycle and wobbled over to the Bay Club Marin, where I had pre-arranged to rendezvous with The Ginkgo Girl. Still spinning from the tequila-infused Ginger Cake I had lovingly crafted for her very significant birthday the night before, she had declined to join me at the tasting but drove up so we could attend Marin Theatre Company’s presentation of What the Butler Saw. Joe Orton’s posthumous masterpiece, a scabrous satire with Aristophanic overtones, had nothing to do with Pinot Noir, but then the allusive title has no bearing whatsoever on the play. Somehow, a very apt symmetry to close the day with.
OK, scratch the third comparison. Sometimes Your West Coast Oenophile can get a tad overzealous when starting a new blog entry. But, with the possible exception of grappa, wine is, according to my unabashed claim, notably superior to the vast array of alcoholic potables because it is a communal beverage. Whisky, ale, gin—these drinks are designed for individual consumption. Wine is meant to be shared, with friends or with strangers, in happiness or in sorrow, with all partaking from the same bottle. It is this unique, convivial quality of wine wherein lies its distinctive beauty.
The month of June began as all months should, with a celebratory kickoff. I received an invite from a loose collective of women heralding from assorted Napa wine ventures to join them for lunch and wine tasting at San Francisco’s Ferry Building—in other words, a marvelous excuse to break up the tedium of a Monday, to crisscross the City on my 14-speed Trek, and to meet new friends (I still haven’t figured out how I was included in their mailing) who share similar passions.
Being a long-time fan of Taylor’s Automatic Refreshers in St. Helena, any chance to patronize their outpost here has “Gott” to be good. And it didn’t hurt to be accompanied by a sextet of female denizens of the viticultural arts. After all, it wasn’t all that long ago when it seemed the only woman in the wine industry was Jill Davis!
My hostesses each brought a sampling of their own wines, ranging from Orin Swift’s ever-popular 2007 The Prisoner to the somewhat dyslexically-labeled 2008 Abi Blanc (a 100% Viognier) and 2007 Adi Rosé (of Syrah) from Beth Adams’ new Abigail Adams. From stalwart Patz & Hall, Anne Moses brought two of her finer Pinot Noirs, the 2007 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and the 2007 Jenkins Ranch.
Another familiar label, Viader, was ably represented daughter Janet, who organized this gathering. Her Howell Mountain offerings consisted of their eponymous 2005 Viader, a proprietary Bordeaux and their elegant Cabernet Franc, the 2005 Dare. From Buehler Vineyards, gregarious Italophile Misha Chelini graced the table with their 2008 Russian River Chardonnay and 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Quaintly named Jelly Jar Wines, a venture of Shannon Pistoni and her husband, proved to be no misnomer—their 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel was jammy indeed and quite pleasing to the palate. Finishing off the event, fellow pentasyllabic Italian surnamed Melissa Leonardini also chipped in with her Orin Swift 2006 Papillon, a traditional Bordeaux blend and the 2007 Volunteer, a side venture of her and her husband.
Amid such pleasant company and delightful wines, it would have been a shame to swill and spit, and so I allowed myself to forgo the illusion of further productivity for the afternoon and happily imbibe. Perhaps I may
have even consumed one drop too many, for I somehow managed to forget to eat my obligatory Taylor’s Veggie Burger. Oh well, as the crew packed up their effects to head back to Napa, I gladly accepted the proffering of a nearly-full bottle of the Volunteer (I might have taken more, but where to carry on a road bike?). I managed to cradle the leftover portions we had ordered and passed them out to some transients sleeping on the grass beside the immortal Vaillancourt Fountain. Even for these desultory fellows, not a bad way to kick off the month.