Monthly Archives: October 2009

Waiting for Pinot (an œnostential comedy)

Two desolate characters, Vigneron and Donatello, lean heavily back-to-back in an empty field. The midday sun blazes overhead. Donatello is sweating profusely and repeated takes out a handkerchief to mop his brow. Though wearing a black bowler, Vigneron seems impervious to the heat.

Vigneron: Have we arrived here again?
Donatello: It would seem so.
Vigneron: As we have done every time.
Donatello: As we will continue to do… 
Vigneron: Shouldn’t we go onto something different…go somewhere else?
Donatello: You know that we can’t.

Vigneron holds his empty wine glass up toward the sun, as if examining a pour. He swirls, examines it for legs, then holds it to his nose as if inhaling its aromas.

Vigneron: What is it that he wants?
Donatello: Who?
Vigneron: Him!
Donatello: What does he want?
Vigneron: Exactly!
Donatello: What does he ever want?
Vigneron: He told us to meet him here.
Donatello: Was it today?
Vigneron: He said to meet him at noon.
Donatello: I am beginning to develop a tremendous thirst.
Vigneron: We must wait.
Donatello: There is a large bead of sweat dangling from the tip of my nose. If I extend my tongue as far as it will go, I might just be able to catch it. (Donatello sticks out his tongue, but is unable to reach his nose.) Drat! I was sure I could reach!
Vigneron: I am sure he will provide.
Donatello: Who?
Vigneron: (adamantly) Pinot! We are waiting for Pinot!!
Donatello: Perhaps I should face West.
Vigneron: All things must face West eventually. It’s inevitable.
Donatello: How do you know?
Vigneron: The azimuth of the sun.
Donatello: It is at its apex now. From here, we cannot tell which way is which.
Vigneron: Pinot will tell us.
Donatello: But when?
Vigneron: When he arrives.

Long pause.

Donatello: Switch places with me. I want him to see the back of my head as he approaches.
Vigneron: I don’t see how that matters.
Donatello: Everything matters, Vini. Everything.

Both men simultaneous try to aright themselves, but keep falling back into their interdependent posture. After four or five attempts, they realize the futility and make a 180° turn, backs pressed against each other, in order to switch places.

Vigneron: Which of us is facing West?
Donatello: Does it matter?
Vigneron: He might be concerned.
Donatello: Who?
Vigneron: He for whom we wait.
Donatello: Who?
Vigneron: Pinot!

A loud commotion is heard offstage. Miljenko, a Croatian field hand pushes a large field crusher, piled to the brim. A radiant child, Agostin, sit atop the clusters, squeezing grapes one by one, in order to shoot the seeds. A small donkey ambles beside them…

to be continued?

Your West Coast Oenophile segued into writing this blog after many years of pursuing fame & fortune as a playwright. Not that I’ve abandoned the vocation, mind you, but it has been a year or more since I’ve open up my Quark Xpress template (no writer worth his or her salt would even consider using the utterly execrable MS-Word) and set to typing.
Most of my plays constitute mordant satires, farces on the human condition as seen through wine-colored glasses, as it were. To be honest, thinly-veiled parody, as illustrated above, doesn’t really lend to expressing a distinctive voice, and, as those who have seen me toil to create Sostevinobile well know, I at all times refuse to be derivative! Still, I suppose I am a long way from putting the final touches on The Straight of Messina and seeing it mounted at The Magic Theater or Mark Taper Forum while the monumental tasks of creating this enterprise preoccupy me.
Admittedly, I derive enormous satisfaction from my forays into the wine world—an artistic pursuit unto itself—and the trip to the Pinot on the River Festival at Rodney Strong Vineyards last weekend was no exception. Like my Beckettian excerpt, the Grand Tasting began just before noon, beneath a blistering sun against which the rows of white tents could only tenuously shield. Along with the intense heat of the setting, my pulchritudinous partner-in-crime inexplicably displayed a most unwarranted petulance that quite had me taken “aback,” but rehashing of such matters are best played out offstage.
What differed this day from the preceding theatrical script was a distinct absence of waiting—Pinot Noir flowed readily and bountifully. With more than 100 wineries in attendance, it would have posed an insurmountable challenge even on a mild afternoon to cover all within the five hours allotted (roughly one visit every three minutes), so I must apologize in advance to all the places I could not cover. Certainly, there will be future opportunities to make amends.
The configuration of the pouring tables immediately thrust us upon Olson Ogden, which certainly was no misfortune. I have cited, if not lauded, their array of Pinot Noir and Syrah several times in this blog, and the 2007 Olson Ogden Pinot Noir Russian River Valley deliciously set the tone for the afternoon. A deft 180° turn brought us face-to-face with the table for Hirsch Vineyards, a grower whose lots were featured by numerous other vintners throughout the afternoon. Tasting their eponymous 2007 Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir was a rare treat, while their 2008 Bohan Dillon Pinot Noir offered a tantalizing glimpse into its future.
Hook & Ladder pays tribute to owner Cecil De Loach’s days as a San Francisco firefighter in the 1970s; at times, the extreme afternoon heat led one to wonder whether he might have to don his red helmet yet again. Nonetheless, his 2007 Pinot Noir Third Alarm Reserve was a marvelous complement to the festivities. Reach back a tad further, owner James Ontiveros’ Native⁹ Wine is a homage to his family’s nine generations in California since 1781! Looking ahead, his estate-grown 2008 Native⁹ Pinot Noir Ontiveros Vineyard was a wine of considerable portent, while both the 2007 Alta Maria Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard and the 2007 Alta Maria Pinot Noir Santa Maria Vineyard proved eminently drinkable now.
There were a few wineries at this festival with whom I had no previous contact. Moshin Vineyards, the first I encountered this afternoon, made a strong initial impression with their much-heralded 2007 Pinot Noir Lot 4 Selection, as well as the 2007 Moshin Vineyards Pinot Noir Russian River. Though I had tried Morgan Winery’s other varietals on prior occasions, I was not aware that they were the only certified organic winery in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Dare I say that their 2007 Double L Vineyard Hat Trick Pinot Noir was quite a mouthful?
Merry Edwards has long been revered as on of the wine world’s pioneering women for her fabled Pinot Noirs. Her 2007 Klopp Ranch Pinot Noir proved excellent; the 2007 Meredith Estate Pinot Noir, spectacular. It seems that at every Pinot tasting I attend, Kosta Browne is always the first to run out of wine. We wound our way to their table before the public tasting crowd filtered in and greedily two tastings each of their superb 2007 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Russian River Valley and the vineyard-designated 2007 Amber Ridge Pinot Noir. Let’s just say that I do not intend ever to be denied again!
We sauntered along the row of artisanal cheesemakers, fortifying ourselves with some much-needed sustenance before reaching the back section of tables and the multi-latitudinal offering of Expression. Like Siduri/Novy (whom I’d wished would be on hand), Expression operates in both California and Oregon; this blurring of boundaries underscores the reason why Sostevinobile elected to embrace the entire West Coast as our locale. The 2007 Expression 39° Annahala, their Anderson Valley Pinot Noir figuratively seemed the more elevated of the two Pinots they had brought, though the 2006 Expression 44° Eola-Amity Hills was certainly a superb wine in its own right. Next up, Sojourn Cellars debuted their 2008 Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyards, one of the most notable wines of the afternoon. At their neighboring table, the aptly-named Small Vines, a boutique Chardonnay and Pinot Noir producer out of Sebastopol, brought their striking 2007 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast MK Vineyard and an appealing 2007 Small Vines Pinot Noir Russian River.
I’ve known Andy Peay (like myself, as well as my vexatious tasting companion, a fellow Dartmouth alum) for quite a number of years; I can always count on him to bring a little something outside of his announced pourings, especially at these single varietal affairs. A sip of his 2007 Peay Vineyards Estate Chardonnay provided a welcome palliative to the mounting heat, and it was a treat to preview his 2007 La Bruma Estate Syrah. And, of course, befitting this event, his 2007 Sea Scallop Estate Pinot Noir did nothing to disappoint. Another longtime acquaintance, journeyman winemaker David Vergari brought a wide selection from his own label, including a couple of side-by-side comparisons. His extraordinary 2007 Pinot Noir Marin County offered an amazing contrast to the previous vintage of the same, while his well-aged 2003 Pinot Noir Van der Kamp Vineyard displayed tantalizing hints of where the 2006 bottling would be headed.

Speaking of tantalizing, San Rafael newcomer Claypool Cellars turned more than a few heads with their uplifting costumes, as well as their inaugural Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, the 2007 Purple Pachyderm. Also debuting at this event was Healdsburg’s Gracianna Vineyards, with an exquisite 2007 Pinot Noir Bagiacalupi Vineyard. Formerly known as Green Truck, the rechristened Road 31 Wine Co. shared a few last bottles of their sold-out 2007 Pinot Noir Napa Valley. The newish Pillow Road, sister winery to Ladera, translated their well-established virtuosity to this Pinot-only venture with a remarkably smooth 2007 Pillow Road Pinot Noir Russian River Valley.

Another recent single-varietal foray, Joelle Wine Company, offered a trio of vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs, including the 2007 Amber Ridge Pinot Noir and an enchanting 2007 La Encantada Pinot Noirgrown organically in the Santa Rita Hills. George Levkoff’s eponymous George Wine Co. has bottled nothing but Pinot since 2003, their array of single-vineyard wines labeled by their respective vintage. 2007 produced the Vintage 5 Pinot Noir Ceremonial Vineyard, quite the pleasing effort from this solo endeavor.

Former Benziger winemaker displayed his most efforts under his twin Ooh and Ahh labels. The 2006 Ahh Brickhill Vineyard had considerable merit, while the 2004 Ooh Bien Nacido clearly stood out as his most significant bottling this afternoon, a wine meant to be enjoyed over candlelight dinner, the means for which were generously furnished by his chandelière wife, Krassimira. Another Benziger offshoot, Signaterra represents their fusion of the forces of Earth, Man, and Nature to create distinctly sustainable wines. Their trio of vineyard-designate wines poured here included the 2007 Pinot Noir Bella Luna, the 2007 Pinot Noir San Remo and their standout, the 2007 Pinot Noir Giusti.
Nearby, Ketcham Estate is closely allied with Kosta Browne, sharing the same winemaker. Here his efforts shone brightly in the 2007 Ketcham Estate Pinot Noir Russian River Valley but utterly glistened with the 2007 Pinot Noir Ketcham Vineyard. Glistening may have been the visual effect the web designers for Cloud Rest hoped to achieve; instead, the bloat of this infuriatingly slow multimedia presentation brought my Safari browser to a crashing halt. However, I have nothing but praise for their winemaking pyrotechnics, both with the 2004 Cloud Rest Pinot Noir and the superb 2005 Cloud Rest Pinot Noir.
I hope that other wine bars will see Sostevinobile as a comrade-in-arms, not a competitor; a number of these have introduced me to wines that were pour at Pinot on the River. I’ve had the occasion to try several of Sea Smoke’s wines at on of the clubby Monday night Meet the Winemaker tastings at California Wine Merchant, but was quite disappointed they had exhausted their supply of 2007 Pinot Noir Southing by the time I made it to their table. Similarly, I’ve tossed back a few glasses of Roessler’s 2006 Pinot Noir La Encantada at San Francisco’s District; both their 2007 Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown and 2007 Pinot Noir Widdoes Vineyard held up with equal aplomb.
I can’t remember a major tasting I’ve recently attended where Santa Cruz’ Sarah’s Vineyard wasn’t a presence; nonetheless, I was more than happy to revisit their 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains and the utterly splendid 2007 Pinot Nor Santa Clara Valley. A few tables over, I made the acquaintance of brothers Aaron and Jesse Inman, nephews of Pinot legend August Briggs and founders of Romililly, a 350 case operation that featured the highly commendable 2008 Romililly Pinot Noir Russian River Valley. Not much further down the row of tables, I followed David Vergari’s suggestion and visited with Pali Wine Co., a Lompoc undertaking. Like Elevation, Pali sources single vineyard fruit from major Pinot Noir AVA from the Central Coast to Oregon. Their 2007 vintage alone included 13 different Pinot bottlings, represented this afternoon solely by the 2007 Pinot Noir Turner Vineyard, a Santa Rita Hills selection. The next vintage was pared down considerably, with two of the four Pinots produced present: the commendable 2008 Pinot Noir Huntington from Santa Barbara and, de rigueur, the 2008 Pinot Noir Bluffs from Russian River Valley. Much to my relief, a chilled 2008 Pali Chardonnay offered a respite from both the heat and the orthodoxy of the Pinot focus.
Don’t get me wrong—I am not disparaging of Pinot Noir; eventually, however, any tasting with but a single varietal makes making distinctions a considerable challenge. Happily, the best counter to this monolithicism was the ever-popular Fort Ross, cooling things down with both their 2006 Chardonnay Fort Ross Vineyard and their 2008 Rosé of Pinot Noir. Their 2006 Pinotage Fort Ross Vineyard easily matched the numerous versions of this varietal I had sampled at a recent South African wine tasting, while their true Pinot, the 2006 Pinot Noir: Symposium easily rated among the top ten wines of the afternoon.
A sparkling wine, like a Blanc de Noir from Rodney Strong’s onetime affiliate, Piper Sonoma, or Marimar Torres’ Gloria Ferrer, would have been both welcome and appropriate at this stage, but, alas, it was not to be. Still, her namesake Marimar Estate managed to keep this temperate with their organically-farmed 2006 Pinot Noir Don Miguel Vineyard and its maternal corollary, the 2006 Pinot Noir Doña Margarita Vineyard. In 1999, sparkling wine producer Domaine Chandon found they had an excess of Pinot Meunier and bottled it as a single varietal; we were so impressed with this bottling, we bought a case just for Thanksgiving dinner. Tasting the 2007 Domaine Chandon Pinot Meunier at this festival proved more than nostalgic.
While on the subject of nostalgia, this afternoon afforded me the chance to taste C. Donatiello, a rebranding of the former Belvedere Winery where I did my first bottling in 1990. The head of Bill Hambrecht’s restructured wine operations, Chris Donatiello held forth at his table with his 2006 C. Donatiello Pinot Noir Russian River Valley and the more distinctive 2007 Pinot Noir Maddie’s Vineyard. Just down the row, Cécile Lemerle-Derbès offered her 2006 Derbès Pinot Noir Russian River, while Sebastopol’s DuNah showcased both the 2006 DuNah Estate Pinot Noir and the 2006 Dunah Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard.
In addition to its lineup of seven different Pinot Noirs, De La Montanya Estate produces a dizzying array of varietals from Primitivo and Zinfandel to Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo. I was content to limit myself to their 2007 Pinot Noir Tina’s Vineyard and the formidable 2007 De La Montanya Pinot Noir reserve. At the other end of the spectrum, I delighted in sampling the 2007 Desmond Estate Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, a single production of only 80 cases.
A couple of Pinot Noir superstars came through like—well, Pinot Noir superstars. Hank Skewis showed off a quartet from his Skewis portfolio, ranging from Anderson Valley’s 2007 Pinot Noir Corby Vineyard and Russian River’s 2007 Pinot Noir Lingenfelder Vineyard to the 2006 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Reserve and the wondrous 2006 Pinot Noir Salzgeber-Chan Vineyard. Likewise, Gary Farrell’s renowned dedication to Russian River fruit was exemplified by his 2006 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Russian River Valley and his 2007 Pinot Noir Hallberg Vineyard.
K & L Wine Merchants are exclusive wine purveyors renowned throughout the Bay Area. Fittingly, I concluded the 2009 Pinot on the River Festival with my own K & L’s. First up was a revisit with Kokomo Wines, a recent acquaintance from the Dry Creek Festival, and their just-released 2007 Pinot Noir Peters Vineyard. Landmark Vineyards followed with their highly-rated 2007 Pinot Noir Grand Detour and the 2007 Pinot Noir Solomon Hills.
Winding down, I felt self-proclaimed vigneron Eric Ladd comported himself nicely with the 2007 Ladd Cellars Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast and his 2007 Pinot Noir Cuvée Abigail, a tribute to his wife. Named in homage to Roman goddess of gaiety, Laetitia Vineyards paired its 2006 Pinot Noir La Colline with its distinctive 2007 Pinot Noir Reserve du Domaine. I sprinted to the finish with four wines from Littorai,: their 2008 Les Larmes Pinot Noir, the 2007 Pinot Noir Mays Canyon, and the 2007 Pinot Noir Cerise Vineyard, along with a final 2007 Chardonnay Charles Heintz Vineyard.
A good time was had by all—but one, apparently. My erstwhile date felt compelled to unleash a torrent of invectives that, if not vituperative, felt quite officious. Importuned to drive back to San Francisco at a speed that could well have earned us an evening’s accommodation in the beneath the Marin Civic Center, I nonetheless managed to maintain both my equanimity and the posted legal limits. Call it the perceived entitlement of a latter generation or a fundamental difference in our personal ambitions; nonetheless, I can fathom no cause for her discontent nor did I receive any semblance of an explanation for such. I am still waiting…

Why, oh why, can’t organic be synonymous with dietetic?

Unfortunately, organic isn’t even synonymous with sustainable—yet. But this prefatory section isn’t designed to extoll one over the other, merely to outline the points of contrast between what defines each litmus. Your West Coast Oenophile believes we will soon reach a point where there is a convergence between the standards for organic and sustainable certification, and as each approximates the other, so, too, will the criteria by which Sostevinobile qualifies its wines (along with its beers and menu ingredients) be attenuated.
For now, however, it does seem pertinent to delineate these two allied approaches to œnology and viticulture. Sustainable winemaking focuses on practices that least impact the environment, in terms of resource depletion, pollution of the ecosystem, and the generation of carbon by-products proven to accelerate global warming. These ecological practices do not necessarily preclude, at this time, the use of fertilizer, pesticides or certain chemical treatments to prevent spoilage or infestation, though nearly every sustainable grower strives to utilize these as minimally as possible.
On the other hand, organic farming focuses on the exclusion of chemical additives for treating infestation and spoilage or to stimulate crop growth. Primarily, the organic methodology is intended to prevent human consumption of chemical additives, as well as the seepage of these artificial compounds into the soil and water tables. Yet, in theory, one can strictly adhere to organic practices, while flouting green tenets of resource conservation, energy consumption or generation, recycling, etc.
Overwhelming, however, practitioners of organic agriculture in California have been just as diligent in their environmental stewardship as their fealty to holistic farming. Last Friday, several of the most prominent proponents of organic grape growing showcased their viticultural virtuosity, alongside an array of organic beers, produce and vodkas(!) at the 2009 CCOF Organic Beer, Wine & Spirit Tasting at San Francisco’s Ferry Building.
Though formed in 1973, California Certified Organic Farmers and their distinctive tag were a rare sight in the wine country until relatively recently. It has been even more recent that labeling a California wine as organic was not seen as camouflage for some fairly mediocre vinification. But great strides have been made of late both in improving the quality of winemaking that accompanied organic farming, as well as in attracting many notable longtime vignerons to this practice.
I’ve known Richard Arrowood since his winemaking days at Chateau St. Jean in the mid-1980s; I suspect he and I have never once voted for the same candidate or state proposition in the past 25 years. His latest venture, Amapola Creek, is an intense, highly-individual undertaking, with small lots of handcrafted wines from estate vineyards that were organically certified in 2008. This hasn’t been the result of a political epiphany, but rather his awareness as both a farmer and a chemist how the introduction of pesticides and inorganic fertilizers adversely impacts both the quality of the produce and the health of the soil. I had the privilege of barrel tasting several of his current wines back in February. Now bottled, both his 2005 Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2006 Amapola Creek Syrah did nothing to disappoint.
Mendocino County bills itself as the greenest wine region in the country. One of their many standout organic wineries, Yorkville Cellars, bills itself as the only California winery producing single varietals from the eight primary Bordeaux grapes. Though we have crossed paths at several tastings this past year, I had yet to have the opportunity to try their 2006 Carmenère, a silver medalist in the International Green Wine Competition; even my tasting companion, the semi-recalcitrant David Latimer, was impressed enough to take a bottle back to Half Moon Bay. New also to me was the 2007 HiRollr Red, an intriguing blend of 51% Zinfandel with Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot.
BARRA of Mendocino is the sister label of Girasole Vineyards, a frequent exhibitor at green wine events. Their South San Francisco-based distributor primarily imports sustainably-grown wines and sponsors the Golden Glass tasting for Slow Food San Francisco, which Villa Italia Wines president Lorenzo Scarpone helped spearhead. BARRA/Girasole’s adherence to strict environmental practices and their affinity for Italian varietals makes for an intuitive alliance with Villa Italia, who was on hand, alongside Martha Barra, to pour the splendid 2006 Girasole Vineyards Sangiovese. I found both the 2006 Girasole Vineyards Pinot Noir and the barrel-fermented 2007 BARRA of Mendocino Chardonnay quite drinkable, but it was the stunning 2004 BARRA of Mendocino Petite Sirah that truly opened my eyes to just how far organic wine making has come along over the past several years.
I am quite aware that my blog entries run a bit long, and I would bet, were I technically savvy enough to embed a legal copy of the MP3, this column would run the full 13:01 of Boz Scaggs’ immortal version of Loan Me a Dime. Lacking these faculties, I must resort to paying tribute to the wines of Scaggs Vineyards, a surprising discovery at this event. Though their 2007 bottling was admirable indeed, their 2008 Grenache Rosé was near stratospheric, an astoundingly wonderful wine that, like BARRA, again showed just what organic winemaking could achieve. Rounding out their pours for the evening, Dominique Scaggs also featured her 2007 Montage, an organic take on the traditional GMS blend.
Inarguably, the best way demonstrate the virtues of organic produce to the uninitiated is with tomatoes; no one I know has ever been able to deny the intensity of flavor an organic Lycopersicom esculentum imparts versus the utterly bland taste of one mass-produced in a field leeched of nutrients. The 2006 El Jabali Chardonnay from Alma Rose Winery displayed the same stark contrast with the highly manipulated Chardonnays we have all experienced, an absolute revelation. This Sideways star also upheld its claim to Merlot-free fame with its 2007 Santa Rita Pinot Noir and the 2007 La Encantada Pinot Noir.
Not that organic Merlot can’t be equally delightful. This tasting gave me a chance to revisit with Hawley Winery, which impressed me considerably with their 2003 Merlot, as well as a well-rounded 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2006 Pinot Noir Oehlman Vineyard. Emtu Wines from Forestville ought not be confused with M2 Wines in Lodi; though both share a passion for environmental preservation, their varietal focus is quite different, as witnessed by the delightful 2008 Emtu Estate Rosé (of Merlot) and the 2006 Emtu Estate Pinot Noir
Merlot blends also showed well at this tasting. Along with their amiable 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, Medlock Ames featured their 2006 Red, evenly split between Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Trefethen’s aptly-named True Earth Wines paired their 2007 True Earth Chardonnay with their 2007 True Earth Red, a Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Petite Sirah in their Three Thieves style.
With a name like Adastra and a winemaker like Pam Starr, one cannot afford not to have wines that are stellar; just to be sure, they brought a pair of Burgundian whites, the 2007 Chardonnay and the 2006 Proximus Chardonnay, along with a pair Burgundian reds, the 2006 Pinot Noir Carneros and the 2006 Proximus Pinot Noir. Making even more of a hedge, Chance Creek Vineyards brought a trio of the same varietal, their 2006 Sauvignon Blanc, the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve, and their unzipped premium , the 2006 Terroir 95470, along with a lone 2006 Sangiovese.
Magnanimus Wines handles quite a lineup of organic venture from Mendocino and featured both the biodynamic-certified Mendocino Farms and organically-farmed Old River Cellars this evening. The latter scored with a powerful Bordeaux blend, the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Ponderosa Vineyard, while the 2005 Mendocino Farms Syrah batted cleanup to the prodigious 2007 Mendocino Farms Grenache. I wish La Rocca Vineyards had brought a deeper bench along this evening, as I only managed to taste their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon but would have loved to sample the array of their other wines, especially the 2006 Barbera that owner Philip La Rocca so extolled. Oh well, they’ve been certified organic for nearly 20 years—I expect they’ll be back for the Fifth Annual CCOF tasting next year.
Korbel Vineyards has been around since 1882, but has only recently offered an organically-grown sparkling wine, their NV Brut Champagne, crafted from Chardonnay, Sangiovese and Colombard grapes from the 2007 harvest. Meanwhile, across the room, Jim Milone’s Terra Sávia debuted its first sparkling wine, the 2006 Blanc de Blancs; I also had the chance to revisit their 2008 Chardonnay and the 2006 Meritage they introduced at Family Winemakers this summer.
I’d had the pleasure of tasting Tres Sabores on a number of occasions over the past year; still, why not sip again from their 2006 Estate Zinfandel, the 2007 Farina Sauvignon Blanc and their enchanting ¿Por Que No?, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah? Like Tres Sabores, Silver Mountain holds organic certification since 1991 and their long-standing facility in this classification showed admirably in the quartet of wines they poured: the 2007 Estate Chardonnay, the 2006 Miller Hill Pinot Noir, a 2008 Rosé made from Pinot Noir, and an exquisitely-aged 2002 Alloy, their Bordeaux blend.
I’ve recently contemplated abandoning Sostevinobile to develop a restaurant focused on Mineralism. Unlike other dietary precepts, Mineralist (or abiotic) cuisine eschews the consumption of all forms of life, be they animal, vegetable, fungi, or unicellular. Acceptable foods include soil, water (both fresh and saline), evaporated salts, and natural deposits of elements, minerals or other digestible compounds. I jest, of course—my commitment to this all-encompassing venture remains undiminished. I just felt compelled to tweak the concept of veganism. I mean, how can anyone subsist without honey or butter or milk? And do not even dare suggest to this Italian that you can make pizza with soy mozzarella!
That said, the folks from Hallcrest Vineyards, one of only four vegan wineries in California, produced some extraordinary wines, including an amazing 2005 Zinfandel Nova Vineyards, the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Brigantino Vineyards and, under their Organic Wine Works label, the 2007 À Notre Terre Red, a Rhône blend. Also in a rather esoteric niche was Napa’s Hagafen Cellars, a certified Kosher winery. Again, I personally cannot imagine life without prosciutto or Cozze in Brodo, but the 2008 White Riesling entailed was neither clawingly sweet nor restrictive to taste.
Organic entrées abounded at this event (albeit for an additional charge). I managed to sample some incredible Offal with Mango in Paper Cones from Boccalone Salumeria, fried shrimp cakes from Delica rf1, and generous dollops of caviar from Tsar Nicolai, which paired quite nicely with the organic vodkas from Shadow Spirits. I liberally consumed the free olive oil samples from McEvoy Ranch, mini-discs of Tcho Chocolate, copious amounts of Acme Bread, and a couple of servings of sausage from where I honestly can’t recall. With all that, I still managed to quaff a few of the organic beers interspersed throughout the tasting floor: a beer & tea blend from Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing and the Valencia Wheat Beer from San Francisco’s Thirsty Bear (Sostevinobile intends to feature a half-dozen sustainably-produced, local beers along with our wine selections).
By the time the 2009 CCOF Organic Beer, Wine & Spirits Tasting had concluded, I was beyond the point of satiety. And it was certainly reassuring to know that everything I had consumed over the four hour span was organically certified and wonderfully nutritious—not to mention sapid. The only problem is organic or sustainable, biodynamic or kosher, macrobiotic or vegan, why can’t any of these be non-caloric as well?

Make Wine, not War—the Sequel

I haven’t written about the Punahou Kid since he took office. Of course, if he had actually accomplished anything beyond soaring rhetoric over the past nine months, I might have felt compelled to comment. Still, I find it alarmingly incongruent that a person perpetuating one war and escalating another can be accorded the world’s most revered award for the promulgation of pacifistic ideals. Failure to see the inherent contradiction here fundamentally correlates to an unabashed appreciation of the Blue Angels as a precision flight formation performing purely for entertainment value, while myopically ignoring the militaristic propaganda underlying such displays.

Far better to see military facilities turned to civilian use. Once again, Your West Coast Oenophile had the pleasure of visiting one such converted base, this time on the man-made Treasure Island, a four hundred acre development attached to the natural formation of Yerba Buena Island at the middle juncture of the Bay Bridge. This past Sunday, the first annual Treasure Island Wine Fest hosted Lodi on the Water, a celebration of more than 40 wineries from this surprisingly diverse AVA can no longer be considered the backwater of the California wine industry.


A chance to see old friends, a chance to meet new ones. Before I started developing Sostevinobile, the Ginkgo Girl and I ventured out to the delta for Lodi Zinfest on a day where the temperature rose above 100° F. Not exactly the most conducive way to pour or to taste wine. This weekend, however, a fog so heavy the Blue Angels had to cancel their Saturday performance hovered well into the afternoon before dissipating.
Not that the wines still weren’t in danger of overheating. An overwhelming crowd had already inundated the tent Treasure Island had recently erected to host large gatherings even before I arrived—and this was only the preview reception for media and trade. Dreading the arrival of the public attendees, I beelined over to the table for Mokelumne Glen, a winery I believe is the only producer in California devoted exclusively to German varietals. With such scant basis for comparison, I concede I feel somewhat hesitant to assess these wines, though the 2008 Late Harvest Kerner certainly ranked as one of the standouts; also quite pleasing, the 2008 Bacchus blended Müller-Thurgau with a Riesling/Sylvaner hybrid.

Another hybrid varietal grown with greater proliferation in Lodi is Symphony, a cross UC-Davis developed from Grenache Gris and Muscat of Alexandria. Abundance marries Symphony with Sauvignon Blanc to create their 2007 Bountiful Blanc, a most distinctive blend. I used to drink their 1999 Viognier almost religiously and had hoped to sample their current vintage, Nonetheless, their 2005 Abundantly Rich Red, a Carignane/Zinfandel mélange, provided more than satisfactory consolation. Murphys stalwart Ironstone Vineyards offered an undiluted interpretation of Symphony with their 2008 Obsession, but true kudos belonged to their 2006 Cabernet Franc.
Ironstone’s Kautz family also produces Christine Andrews as a more sophisticated line of wines. Certainly their 2007 Malbec, though still young, portended a promising evolution, but I found myself wishing they’d brought their 2005 Tempranillo as a benchmark.

Not that the afternoon was lacking for Spanish varietals. Assuredly, Lodi’s leader in this category has long been Bokisch Vineyards, which also spearheads Lodi Rules, the rigorous standard for sustainability throughout this AVA. Markus could not attend this event, owing to harvest duties, but, much to everyone’s delight, this wife was on hand to promote the winery. Liz is the kind of girl who could pour Two Buck Chuck and make it taste good, but her own wines required no embellishment. I found myself liking the 2008 Albariño better than its previous vintage, while the 2007 Garnacha outpaced the other reds she offered.
Standing just behind her, Harney Lane’s interpretation of Albariño seemed somewhat fruitier, but both their 2007 Zinfandel and their 2006 Petite Sirah were monumental expressions of their particular varietal. Housed in Elk Grove, McConnell Estates also produced a noteworthy 2006 Tempranillo, as well as a forthright 2006 Petite Sirah, while Acampo’s St. Jorge Winery accompanied its stellar 2007 Tempranillo with a refreshing take on the standard Portuguese white varietal with their 2008 Verdelho. With a motto of “No Boring Wines,” Ripken Vineyards certainly produces strikingly colorful labels, but I felt neither the 2005 Vintage Port nor the 2006 El Matador Tempranillo had quite the same con gusto zest that their packaging conveyed. Still, I was quite enamored of their immensely flavorful 2006 Late Harvest Viognier.
What? No Pinot? In addition to German and Iberian grapes, Lodi offers a wide range of Italian, Bordeaux and Rhône varietals, not to mention a ubiquitous supply of Zinfandel (interestingly, no one with whom I spoke ventured to mention Tokay or the other filler grapes that made up the bulk of Lodi’s growing 25 years ago). I typically think of Peltier Station for their Petite Sirah, and was pleased to discover their new Hybrid label, a line of sustainable wines that included a new 2007 Hybrid Petite Sirah, as well as a nicely drinkable 2008 Hydrid Pinot Grigio. Watts Winery is a small operation with a big heart—they produce a special On Wings of Hope line to benefit Burkitt’s lymphoma research. I wish they would have taken their 2005 Montepulciano to the tasting, but their 2005 Dolcetto Los Robles Vineyard Clements Hills was more than delightful in its own right. Time constrains caused me to overlook the 2007 Pinot Grigio from Van Ruiten Family Winery, though I did manage a taster’s sip of their splendid 2006 Cab-Shiraz.
Several years ago, I introduce Macchia to Consorzio Cal-Italia; this tasting offered a chance to reconnect and sample their 2007 Amorous Sangiovese and their 2007 Delicious Barbera (one of several versions of this varietal that they produce). Still, it was their library offering of the debut 2001 Barbera that really sent me back. St. Amant Winery also brought a pair of strong Barbera vintages, contrasting their 2007 Barbera with a just-released 2008 Barbera, Another old acquaintance, l’Uvaggio di Giacomo has simplified its name for non-Italian speakers (something Sostevinobile will never do!), but the new Uvaggio label is undiminished with an outstanding 2005 Barbera and a 2008 Vermentino that makes for an easy apéritif.
The Woodbridge Winery not only compelled the gargantuan industrial wineries in California to start making wines with an eye toward quality, it also catalyzed recognition for the potential of Lodi as a varietal-driven AVA. Although this facility’s repute has dwindled since Robert Mondavi stepped back from personal control, and portends to devolve into an indistinguishable jug factory under the current regime, they still managed to produce a respectable 2008 Vermentino for this event. I can’t say that Constellation’s other holding, Talus Winery, struck much of a positive chord with any of their offerings, while Gallo’s Barefoot Cellars seemed outright pedestrian compared to their heyday as part of Davis Bynum. Once again, I could not bring myself to warm up to any of the lackluster Campus Oaks wines that Gnekow Family mass-produces. Central Valley conglomerate Delicato Vineyards ponied up to the table with four disparate labels, and managed to make a slightly positive impression with their 2007 181 Merlot.


Back to accentuating the positive. One thing for certain, Lodi has know lack of inventiveness in coming up with offbeat names for their wines.Witness Michael~David Winery,which seemingly tries to squeeze more life out of a pun than juice can be extracted from a ton of grapes. From their collection of collection of 7 Deadly Zins, I immensely enjoyed the 2006 Gluttony Zinfandel and luxuriated in the 2005 Rapture Cabernet Sauvignon; also noteworthy but obvious, their 2007 Petite Petit, a Petit Verdot/Petite Sirah blend. Grands Amis also offered a young but promising 2007 Petit Verdot and a similarly evolving 2007 Première Passion, a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Along with their noteworthy, 2007 Estate Petite Sirah, Vino Con Brio! shared their 2008 Estate Brillante, a deft mix of Viognier, Roussanne, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc and the 2008 Passione Rosé, a blushing Sangiovese. Stama Winery made their pitch with the 2005 Curvaceous Cabernet and 2007 Zany Zin, but I cottoned more to their 2005 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc.In and of itself, Klinker Brick is a great name, so they can be excused if their 2007 Farrah Syrah is a tribute to owner Farrah Felten and not the late Charlie’s Angel. Besides, their 2007 Old Ghost Zin was enough to make one downright jiggly!

A pun on the name of owner Dave Dart led to the development of d’Art Wines, a highly stylized line of wines that feature the artwork of spouse Helen Rommel Dart on the labels. With lush red coloring on the inside of the bottles, as well, they painted a bold swath with both their 2007 Tempranillo and the 2007 Zinfandel. m2 Wines featured their 2007 Artist Series’ Zinfandel, a perennial commissioned showcase, along with their appealing Syrah/Petite Sirah mix, the 2006 Duality and the 2007 Trio, which blends the same varietal with a predominant Cabernet Sauvignon. The artwork of painter Chris Spencer adorns the very Van Gogh-like label for Barsetti Vineyards. Though it may seem heretical these days, their oaky 2006 Chardonnay outshone their steel-barreled version from the following vintage.; their 2006 Zinfandel showed quite nicely, too.
Several Lodi wineries stay close to the basics and produce quite admirable wines. The Lucas Winery offered a 2006 Chardonnay, as well as a panoply of different Zinfandel bottlings, featuring their 2005 Zinstar. I remain surprised that Maley Brothers still lacks a website, but their trio of 2004 Merlot, 2006 Petite Sirah and 2005 Zinfandel remained as true as when I’d previously sampled them. Lodi mainstay Berghold Vineyards, a long-standing acquaintance, brought out a truly elegant 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, along with the debut of their 2006 Footstomp Zinfandel, both estate bottlings. And it was no onus to sample the 2007 Chardonnay and 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from Onus Vineyards.
Readers know I am never hesitant to tweak the wineries, whenever I see an opening. I told Trinitas Cellars their 2006 Ratzinger Zinfandel tasted rather “papal;” I was also quite fond of their 2005 Old Vine Petite Sirah. I also thought Oak Ridge Winery needed a wine called Elvira, but they handled themselves quite ably with their 2007 3 Girls Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2005 Moss Roxx Zinfandel.
Call it an Italian thing—I’ll refrain from the obvious puns on Borra Winery, tempting though they may be. Their designated 45.7° series may seem eclectic to some, but their Fusion wines, particularly the 2008 Fusion–Red, a blend with 60% Syrah and 30% Petite Sirah (with other varietals comprising the remaining 10%) set the standard for this winery. I hold a similar respect for LangeTwins, a winery that has been cited for its implementation of sustainable technology and long-standing dedication to environmental preservation. Their 2007 Petit Verdot shows that their fidelity to the Lodi Rules only enhances the flavor of the wine; the 2005 Midnight Reserve is a finely-tuned Bordeaux blend, with Cabernet Sauvignon predominant.
Zinfandel being a hallmark of Lodi, it was not surprising to find some wineries exclusively featuring this varietal, like the Paul Simeon Collection, whose only pour was their 2007 St. Sophia Zinfandel. Benson Ferry staged a Zinfandel trifecta, with their 2006 95240 Zinfandel zipping by and winning by a nose. Jessie’s Grove Winery also featured a number of their Zinfandels, including the cleverly-named 2006 Earth, Zin & Fire and a deep 2006 Westwind Zinfandel; My true fondness, however, was reserved for their 2008 Chardonnay and the 2008 Jessence Blanc, a Roussanne/Viognier blend.
I concede that my fondness for Harmony Wynelands may have precipitated from the charms of event coordinator Kitty Wong, who was on hand to pour their esoteric 2006 GMA, a marriage of Mourvèdre, Grenache and Alicante Bouschet. This latter varietal, a cross between Grenache and Petit Bouschet, a hybrid vitis vinifera created from Aramon and Teinturier du Cher, which gives Alicante Bouschet the rarity of having red flesh; such a complex pedigree is cause for Harmony Wynelands to give its bottling the lofty appellation of 2005 Alicante Bouschet Premier Crush. On the less exotic side, I also found their 2006 Riesling quite approachable, as well. 
In contrast, Heritage Oak Winery may have seemed to venture into the slightly exotic with their quite satisfying 2007 Vino Tinto, but its Spanish appellation belied a distinctly California combination of Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Sirah. Their 2007 Block 14 Zinfandel was equally appealing. Namesake Carl Mettler of Mettler Family Wines provided a well-received 2007 Epicenter Old Vine Zinfandel, along with the 2005 Petite Sirah and a somewhat early 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon that offered indications of future promise. Further down the row of tables, Vicarmont Vineyards’ Vic Mettler chose to stake his claim in the Right Bank’s dominating varietal, with a 2007 Vicarmont Merlot and the palindromic 2006 vMv Merlot.

My general sense is that the Lodi AVA, which had but eight working wineries in 1991, has made sizable strides in its viticultural evolution, especially since my last visit in 2007. Even though I would rate the inaugural Treasure Island Wine Fest as one of my more manageable tastings this year, with 43 wineries attending, there clearly was a enormous amount of information (and wine) to absorb. Certainly, a more capacious guide than a two-sided 8.5″ x 11″ print would have helped make the event more manageable, but I managed, most ironically, to visit with each of the presenters, thanks to the Blue Angels! Had they not put on their display somewhere near the midpoint of this marathon, the bulk of the crowd would have remained inside the tent, and my mounting sense of claustrophobia would have never permitted me to finish. Go figure!
I managed to attend a number of other tastings this past week, including Napa Valley Vintners’ Battle of the Palates that kicked off Harvest Week in San Francisco on Monday and Wednesday’s sumptuous Wine & Spirits Magazine Top 100 Tasting at The Galleria. The Punahou Kid came to town Thursday, yet inexplicably neglected to invite me to either of his soirées. I could have stood outside the St. Francis and joined the protests over the predictably lackluster results of his stewardship or the feckless selection of the Nobel Prize committee; instead, I opted to spend the evening uncharacteristically uncorking unimaginative imported wines at the Officer’s Club at Fort Mason. The first military base ever converted to civilian usage!

A Columbus Day tribute: Welcome Back, Sangiovese!

I am starting to suspect there may be more polyphenols than hemoglobin in my bloodstream. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, as far as Sostevinobile is concerned. Your West Coast Oenophile began last weekend with a fall swing up to Napa, with stops at half a dozen wineries before attending the final Cheers! St. Helena of 2009.
The wineries could not have been more hospitable. I first arrived for the Estate and Wine Cave Tour at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, a winery I had not visited since its sale to Chateau Ste. Michelle some three years prior. Despite its parent company’s recent acquisition by Altria, there seems to be no nicotine taint on this brand, only slight wafts of tobacco aromas in their array of incredibly textured Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlot.
After a few overly generous tastes of their exceptional 2005 S.L.V. Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2005 Cask 23 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, I headed north up Silverado Trail to Quixote Winery, the current organic wine venture of former Stag’s Leap apostrophic rival Carl Doumani. Liberated from his Stags’ Leap Winery, this contrarian vintner has set out on a highly Cervantean quest to bottle the perfect California Petite Sirah. Few, if any, would claim that his luxuriant 2005 Quixote Petite Syrah is tilting at windmills; equally delightful was the 2004 Panza Cabernet Sauvignon, an organically-grown “Rhôneaux” blend inadvertently poured by Quixote’s ever-affable hostess Anne White.
Anne had formerly worked at Diamond Creek, a later stop this warm afternoon. But first, I made a long-delayed swing over to Martin Estate in Rutherford, a boutique gem with 8 acres of organically-farmed Cabernet Sauvignon. Words cannot begin to capture the opulence of this winery, a 19th century edifice that originally had been constructed as a (comparatively speaking) miniature version of Greystone in St. Helena where Georges de Latour first made his wines. The building, converted in the 1940s to a residence, has been restored by current owner Greg Martin to include the current wine operations while housing part of his vast collection of antique arms and other artworks. From the decor of the mansion to the 120′ swimming pool to the Teutonic grandeur of the wine label itself, nothing about Martin Estate could be described as minimalist; befittingly, his wines, too, evoke an unabashed opulence, notably the 2005 Martin Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and his very limited port selections, including Greg’s “answer to Château d’Yquem,” the 2002 Martin Estate Gold, a botrytis-laden Late Harvest Chardonnay.
I swung back to Silverado Trail and wound my way up to Calistoga. There, it was a quick hop over to Highway 29 and over to Diamond Mountain Road, where I returned for a followup visit to Diamond Creek. Oddly, I somehow managed not to taste their array of vineyard-designated Cabernets while chatting with winery President Phil Ross. Phil did, however, provide me with a golf cart that enabled me to take a self-guided tour along the rickety paths that comb Diamond Creek’s three distinct vineyards, each distinguished by a highly differentiated soil composition and a definable microclimate that impacts their growing season. It is a tour best appreciated with one’s faculties fully intact.
Having managed not to flip the golf cart along the steep pitch of the trails, I thanked my host for his hospitality and zipped over to Twomey’s Calistoga facility. This winery, an offshoot of Silver Oak, exclusively produces their estate-grown Merlot (with an occasional touch of Sauvignon Blanc) while its sister facility in Healdsburg, the former Roshambo winery, sources and bottles a quarter of Pinot Noir selections.Of the several wines I tasted, the 2001 Napa Valley Merlot peaked beautifully at this age while the 2005 Napa Valley Merlot longed for more time in the bottle; my choices in Pinot Noir spanned the California Coast from Mendocino on down, with the 2007 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir most pleasing to my palate.
My ailing friend and fellow advertising refugee Ira Zuckerman could not meet with me at Emilio’s Terrace; instead, I was hosted by founder Phil Schlein, an ardent devoté of organically-farmed grapes. A walking tour of his steep hillside vineyard crowned my boots with a fine layer of dust, a veritable badge of honor for this urban dweller. Inside, I partook of Phil’s considerable insight into the financial aspects of business development while sipping his straightforward 2004 Emilio’s Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.
Porting home a bottle of their Cabernet Franc-based 2005 Moonschlein Red Wine, I found myself with enough spare time to attend the Friday afternoon Pulse Tasting at Acme Fine Wines. Up & coming winemaker Mark Polembski was on hand to pour from three of the wineries that employ his talents: Anomaly Vineyards, Charnu Winery, and Zeitgeist, a project he co-owns with his wife, Jennifer Williams of Spottswoode. All three wineries offered a limited-production 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, all quite good, with a slight edge going to Mark’s own label.
Cheers! St. Helena proved to be a veritable potpourri of local vintners, ranging from the large and well-known to the hard-to-find 400 cases operations that many people employed by other wineries put out under their own label. As my habitual readers know, I tend to find these large-scale events a bit of sensory overload and make best with what I can do. With barely enough time to introduce Sostevinobile to these vintners and manage a quick swill of their offerings, my observations on individual wines manage to be tenuous at best. Still, my introduction to Nichelini’s 2008 Sauvignon Vert was a pleasant introduction to a wholly unfamiliar varietal, while Soñador’s 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon was exactly what one might expect from this benchmark vintage. Roxanne Wolf’s trademark painting lend a certain concupiscence to the labels for Eagle Eye, certainly an apt trait for their trademark blend, the 2006 Voluptuous. On the other hand, the 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Lieff let its considerable pedigree stand out front. A most auspicious debut was the 2006 Wallis Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain District, while the 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Peterson Family Vineyard from SwitchBack Ridge heralds from an estate that dates back to 1914.
I wanted to find out that Kapcsándy Family Winery produced a California Tokaji, but their 2006 Estate Cuvée State Lane Vineyard instead combined Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc in a true Pauillac blend that reflected the background of winemaking consultant Denis Malbec. I exchanged pleasantries and thoroughly enjoyed the wines I sampled from other Napa ventures, including Intersection, Varozza Vineyards, Calafia Cellars, Wolf Family, Front Row from Napa’s pioneering Carpy Family, Salvestrin, and Tom Scott Vineyard, while sundry other wineries offered their current Meritage or Cabernet Sauvignon, but, at the end of the day, the standout wine was the 2006 Sangiovese Eaglepoint Ranch from Abiouness, a pure expression of this varietal (as opposed to the mask of a Super Tuscan blend) that I have not experienced at this level in California for quite a number of years. I was ready to call it a day.
I was scheduled to attend the West Coast Green Expo in Fort Mason the next day but inadvertently stumbled on the debut of the Taste of Fillmore festival on my way to Walgreens. I tried to resist—surely my venal-CO₂H capacity had attained its maximum tolerance for the weekend. Alas, my ecological impulses fell by the wayside (though I did manage to attend the after-party at the Academy of Sciences later that evening), and I warily flung myself into the thick of the cordoned-off block between California and Pine. After revisiting Dick Keenan’s Carica Wines and his delightful 2007 Temptation, I sampled the nascent talent of Pacifica’s Barber Cellars, an array of interesting wines from Napa’s Farella Vineyard, and a consensus favorite, the 2005 Proprietary Blend, a mélange of Syrah and Grenache, from Singh Family Cellars.
The very French-focused Beaucanon Estate offered a septet of wines, including a Bordeaux-style 2003 Trifecta and the utterly compelling 2005 Beaucanon Estate Cabernet Franc ‘L Cuvée.’ This afternoon, however, belonged to Italian-style wines, starting with Kelseyville’s Rosa d’Oro, with a discrete selection of their varietals that included the 2007 Primitivo, 2006 Barbera and 2006 Aglianico. Ramazzotti Wines glistened with the 2007 Ramazzotti Frizzante, a Prosecco-style sparkling Chardonnay, and their compelling 2005 Ramazzotti Ricordo, a Zinfandel blended with Petite Sirah, Alicante, Syrah, Carignane and Chasselas Doré. However, as had been at Cheers! St. Helena, the 2002 Ardente Sangiovese Atlas Peak from Ramazzotti’s kindred Ardente Estate Winery defined this day’s tasting.
For Sostevinobile, it is particularly gratifying to see a winery stake their œnological claim with the resurrection of an Italian grape that has lost much of its cachet in California. While local expression of this varietal differed from its classical vinification in both Chianti and Brunello, I felt the 2000 Atlas Peak Sangiovese Reserve had solidified its inclusion among the leading wines produced on the West Coast.
Sadly, however, when Paolo Antinori reacquired the Atlas Peak winery, the Sangiovese vines were uprooted and replanted with Cabernet Sauvignon. This conversion coincided with a general downturn in production of Italian varietals on the West Coast and the collapse of Consorzio Cal-Italia, the trade organization devoted to local production of these wines. Originally, the Consorzio had paralleled Rhône Rangers and sponsored an annual Grand Tasting in Fort Mason. Industry ambivalence toward these varietals and internal financial disarray precipitated the collapse of this event after only three years. Some members tried to maintain the tasting as a larger food and wine festival in North Beach’s Washington Square to coincide with Columbus Day celebrations, but this, too, fizzled, after only one year.
Call it Columbus Day. Call it Italian Heritage Day. Either way, it is a celebration whose importance the Consorzio Cal-Italia tasting helped underscore. To the Italian people here, the incorporation of so many of our cultural institutions and artifacts by the population at large, while at the same time denigrating us in popular media and in social settings, is a source of both pain and bewilderment. The expediency of politicization aside, we take this one day each year to affirm the inextricable role Italians have played in the development of the cultures throughout the Western Hemisphere. 
Senza la cultura italiana, la civiltà occidentale non esisterebbeA translation is not necessary, but, as a popular Italian bumper sticker boasts, immodestly but accurately, “We Found It. We Named It. We Built It.” Each year, we express our pride in what we have contributed on this day. It would truly be wonderful to have a resurgence of Consorzio Cal-Italia, a reinvigoration of Italian varietals among the local wineries, and a return of an annual festival on this holiday weekend rivaling the other Grand Tasting held in San Francisco. These renewed forays into the cultivation and local production of Sangiovese may well be harbingers of greater things to proliferate.