Monthly Archives: November 2009

Marc’s flat-out mean & lean post-Thanksgiving slimdown

No more interminable digressions! No more anecdotes from my checkered past! From hereon until the New Year, I have vowed to keep my Sostevinobile blog tight, sparse, and directly to the point. Call it what you will, but Your West Coast Oenophile is commencing his annual post-Thanksgiving ritual.
To be honest, this isn’t a response to my overconsumption. Rather, it’s the realization I must devote December to the unenviable task of raising the capital Sostevinobile needs to launch in 2010. After months of laying the groundwork, it’s time for a full-fledged assault, casting aside my “arduous” schedule of four-five wine tastings a week.
Before Thanksgiving, I was able to sandwich in a pair of tastings, however: PinotFest in San Francisco and Holiday in Carneros. Many fans of this blog will surely be clamoring for me to include my next installment of Waiting for Pinot before launching into my findings at Farallon’s 11th annual “Public Tasting of a Sexy Wine,” but, like Vigneron and Donatello, they will simply have to bide their time. I will preface my remarks, however, by commending Peter Palmer and his staff for always staging an impressive event (even though the tray of Ahi tuna medallions on fried wontons made its way by me only once). The private rooms in the Kensington Park Hotel where Farallon holdings its periodic industry tastings are warm and capacious, with presenter tables spaced amply apart. The catering is splendid (as one might expect from Farallon); the servers, more than accommodating; the crowd, knowledgeable and professional. In short, all the right elements for a splendid wine tasting.
The best part of this event, besides unexpectedly running into Yvonne Cheung, was the chance to meet with so many wineries from Oregon. The A-List of Oregon Pinot producers starts with Argyle and Adelsheim, a pair of wineries whose high profile sometimes tends to belie just how spectacular their wines can be. Argyle has, of course, gained as much of its reputation of late from its line of sparkling wines as it has for its Pinot Noir, and the 2007 Argyle Brut Rosé, blended from both Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier deftly showcased their prowess in this area. Their 2006 Reserve Pinot Noir Willamette Valley was as strong a vintage of this particular bottling as I can remember. Likewise, Michael Adelsheim demonstrated his family’s winemaking and artistic prowess with their popular 2007 Adelsheim Pinot Noir Willamette Valley and their single-vineyard 2007 Elizabeth’s Reserve Pinot Noir. Veering slightly off-course, he also poured the 2007 Auxerrois Willamette Valley, a fairly obscure white varietal resulting from cross between Pinot Noir and an ignoble (!) varietal known as Gouais Blanc.
Tony Soter gained considerable acclaim for his wines at Étude, before pulling up stakes and establishing his eponymous winery in Carlton, Oregon to make Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. Soter obviously studied well in Carneros, judging by the pair of Oregon Pinots he poured: the 2007 Pinot Noir North Valley and a dazzling 2006 Pinot Noir Mineral Springs. Also staking its claim to “Oregonically grown” royalty was the aptly named Rex Hill, with noteworthy selections in their 2006 Pinot Noir Reserve Willamette Valley and the 2006 Pinot Noir Jacob-Hart
Domaine Drouhin sounds like a name that might have been lifted from Le Morte d’Arthur or Chaucer (coincidence I subsequently discovered from their Website—their Chardonnay is called Arthur); this Oregon branch of a 13th Century Burgundian house having not previously come to my attention, I was especially pleased to sample their flagship Pinot, the 2006 Laurène and the 2007 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley. Chehalem, on the other hand, is a name that could only come from Oregon; their trio on hand from the numerous Pinots they produce included the 2006 Oregon Pinot Noir Reserve, the 2007 Corral Creek Pinot Noir, and a distinctive 2007 3 Vineyard Pinot Noir.
Despite my exhortations,
I could not convince owners of Ponzi Vineyards that they ought to produce a wine called Madoff. In contrast, Dick Ponzi produces wines that are incredibly straightforward and honest, “neither fined nor filtered…crafted to be delicious upon release,” as ably exemplified by the 2008 Tavola Pinot Noir and the 2007 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley that he poured. Though the Wine Spectator declares that “all Oregon Pinot Noirs are measured by the Ponzi yardstick,” I suspect Domaine Serene may feel their wines warrant similar accolade. The Wine Spectator and Robert Parker may differ over whether they prefer the 2006 Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir to the 2006 Jerusalem Hill Pinot Noir, but it will require a bottle of their 2005 Monogram to get me to reveal my choice!
Bridging the divide between Oregon and California stands, Siduri/Novy, Adam Lee’s sister labels. My fondness for his Siduri Pinots has been noted several time in this blog, but I was extremely please to see that he had brought along the 2008 Novy Blanc de Noir, an exceptional white wine crafted by gingerly pressing the Pinot Noir grape to extract its juice without skin contact. Descending latitudinally, I made the acquaintance of Greenwood Ridge, an organic winery in Mendocino. If only it were possible to describe their 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino Ridge better than Wine & Spirits’ citation as “a meaty Pinot Noir for Coq au Vin with Morels!” Still, my appreciation for this wine pales in comparison with their 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Meyer Vineyard (a wine I discovered subsequently at the Green Wine Summit)—perhaps the best expression of this varietal I can recall enjoying.
I managed to taste Kosta Browne’s 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley and 2007 Pinot Noir Amber Ridge Vineyard for the second time each in as many months and found my appreciation for these wines still enormously favorable. The treat this afternoon, however, was sampling the private efforts of associate winemaker Shane Finley and his much-storied Spell label; his 2008 Spell Pinot Noir Weir Vineyard shows how well he has taken Michael Browne’s tutelage to heart. His utterly splendid 2007 Shane Syrah Mendocino, however, shows an artistry all his own.
Like Kosta Browne, Littorai was a winery whom I had sampled at Pinot on the River; their 2007 Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard was a superb discovery this time around. Pey has poured their fare at several tastings I attended this past year, but I still relished my first sampling of their 2007 Pey-Marin Pinot Noir Trois Filles Marin County and the equally spectacular 2007 Pey-Lucia Frisquet Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands. The real treat, however, was the 2008 The Shell Mound Riesling, Marin County that Jonathan Pey managed to smuggle in.
Another familiar presence, though one I do not usually associate with Pinot, was Thomas Fogarty. The debate over the efficacy of angioplasty may be somewhat nascent, but his efforts with this varietal proved undeniable. Besides, I would far prefer to unclog my arteries with his 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Cruz or the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Rapley Trail and most certainly via the catharsis of his extraordinary 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Windy Hills. I have no idea whether Costa de Oro has any medical affiliations, but their Pinots were beyond therapeutic. Apart from their soothing 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County, the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Gold Coast Vineyard and especially the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Riserva Oro Rojo would provide extraordinary palliative therapy for almost any condition.
Some names in the Pinot world need no introduction, but an opportunity to taste their wine can never be overlooked. Robert Sinskey’s renowned organic winery in Napa falls into this category and came through with flying colors on their 2005 Pinot Noir Vandal Vineyard. Similarly, the highly-touted Williams Selyem from the Russian River Valley showed why 2007 has proven such a banner year for Pinot, with their 2007 Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir and their triumphant 2007 Westside Road Neighbors Pinot Noir (having missed out on my WS List member allotment this fall, I was doubly pleased to enjoy this sample).
Sometimes you are predisposed to like a band even before you hear their music, simply because they have such an appealing or quirky name, like Foo Fighters or Death Cab for Cutie. I was similarly drawn to Radio Coteau and, ultimately, far from disappointed. Of the four Pinot Noirs I tasted, the 2007 Terra Neuma stood out, followed closely by the 2007 Savoy. The 2006 Savoy presented a classic contrast between these two vintage years, while the 2007 La Nebalina lagged a tad behind its 2007 counterparts. While Lynmar Estate is not a particularly esoteric name for a winery, its 2007 Terra di Promissio lures one in automatically to this splendid Pinot, a worthy Sonoma Coast variant to Lynmar’s home-based 2007 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.
The Napa Valley usually is not considered a stronghold for Pinot, so sampling El Molino’s efforts with this varietal was most illuminating. As in Sonoma and on the Central Coast, the comparison between vintages was quite stark, with the 2007 Rutherford Pinot Noir clearly preferable to its nonetheless admirable 2006 Rutherford Pinot Noir. Moving forward, I tasted was the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley from Foxen Vineyard, who also furnished their highly-specific 2007 Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard Block 8. Ah, if they had only brought along their selection of Sea Smoke bottlings!
A number of Central Coast wineries made strong impressions with this tasting, starting with Barbara Banke’s hands-on project for her Jackson Family Wines, Cambria Winery, offered its own highly-specific 2007 Pinot Noir Clone 2A. Michael Michaud’s eponymous winery bottles its wines with varied, alluring pastel labels that most certainly do not belie the quality of his Chalone appellation wines, notably the 2004 Pinot Noir he sampled. Even more enticing was the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Arroyo Grande Valley from Talley Vineyards, producers of the trendy Bishop’s Peak label.
In my quest to find California producers of Lagrein, I had recently uncovered Santa Barbara’s Whitcraft Winery, but was dismayed to learn from founder Jonathan Whitman they had discontinued the varietal. I nonetheless allowed myself to be consoled with a quartet of his Pinots, starting with the 2006 Melville Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills, then moving onto the 2007 Aubaine Pinot Noir from Nipomo. The 2006 Morning Dew Ranch from Anderson Valley represented Whitcraft’s “northern” excursion, the 2006 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir N Block his pinnacle. My palate reached its threshold with Cobb, a Pinot specialist from the Sonoma Coast. Their wines proved that their considerable advance accolades were no hype, as I greatly relished both the 2007 Pinot Noir Rice-Spivak Vineyard and the 2007 Pinot Noir Coastland Vineyard. One can only wonder whether their 2007 Pinot Noir Joy Road Vineyard would have completed a trifecta.
I promised Yvonne I would see her in Carneros the next day, and as my next installment will attest, I was true to my word. Fortunately, I had not promised a similar timeline for completing this entry. My overwhelming schedule for Sostevinobile these past few weeks has set me woefully way behind.

Shticks of One and Half a Dozen of the Other

The late, great Abbie Hoffman used to cite Mad Magazine as one of the most profound influences on his political philosophy. I would add that anyone whose formative years fell with the span of the 1950s or 1960s would attribute their anarchist or outré tendencies not just to Mad but to the musical parodies of Allan Sherman. No one else could concoct such inspired lyrics this excerpt from the purloined title to this installment illustrates:

Do not make a stingy sandwich
Pile the cold cuts high
Customers should see salami
Coming through the rye

Had he lived, Allan would have turned 85 next week. Your West Coast Oenophile attended a dizzying whirlwind of wine tastings, business meetings and sustainable summits, all in the pursuit of making Sostevinobile a viable enterprise. My half dozen or so undertakings included:
The San Francisco Green Festival
hereby promise I will never again complain about the enormity of ZAP! This comprehensive three-day expo at the San Francisco Concourse, with 1062 trade booths, along with numerous stages, food and drink stations, and a full slate of lectures and forums overwhelmed even the most fervent attendee.

Granted, many of the exhibitions I eschewed may have held a significant personal interest; the sheer enormity of the event dictated that I restrict my time to those presentations that would likely offer a direct applicability to the sustainable designs Sostevinobile intends to implement in order to obtain LEED certification. Within the limited block of time I could allot on Sunday, I first paid my obligatory calls on acquaintances that have lent their support to my efforts, like Dharma Marketing ServicesGreen Key Real Estate, and Inka Biosphere. I missed the entire slate of lectures, including the Punahou Kid’s putative pal, Bill Ayers, and his wife, Bernadine Dohrn, but did manage to visit with a number of solar technologies, the Green Restaurant Association, and a green billfold manufacturer, a concept which, sadly, is designed to make your wallet qualitatively thinner, not, as I would have hoped, quantitatively fatter.


Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!

To no one’s surprise, I eventually found my way to the sustainable wine section, where a handful of organic vintners displayed their wares. I wish that Coturri had not run out of wine so early, but I anticipate seeing them next week at the Green Wine Summit in Santa Rosa. On the other hand, La Rocca Vineyards came amply supplied, affording me opportunity to sample several of the wines I’d missed at the CCOF Organic Beer, Wine and Spirits Tasting. I found much to admire in their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and their 2006 Chardonnay, as well as their lower-end 2006 Zinfandel; still, rumors of a $50 Barbera and a reserve 2002 Lush Zinfandel left me with a sense of askance. Once again, Frey Vineyards held a strong presence, even without the soon-to-be wed Eliza. I do wish I could be more sanguine about their 2005 Biodynamic Syrah, a wine that cried for better vinification, but I was quite pleased by my first taste of their 2007 Organic Sangiovese.
Being a wine importer, Organic Vintners would normally fly beneath Sostevinobile’s radar; however, they do contract out a line of vegan wines from Mendocino that they bottle under their own label. I found their samples of the 2008 Organic Vintners Vegan Chardonnay and the 2007 Organic Vintners Vegan Pinot Noir accessible and refreshing. The surprise of the afternoon came from Beaver Creek, a biodynamic winery from Middletown (Mendocino County) showcasing their first release. The four wines owner Radan Bruno Kolias poured all made enormously favorable impressions, notably his 2007 Merlot Rutherford, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Lake County, and the 2007 Zinfandel Lake County. Nonetheless, in this age of austerity, his one wine priced below $60, the 2007 Red Wine Napa Valley, proved the standout of the afternoon, a traditional Meritage that highlighted how skilled biodynamic farming can educe the intensity and incredible flavors inherent in each component.
On my way out, I passed by a table for Rudolph Steiner College, an institution in the Sacramento town of Fair Oaks, billed as a “center for anthroposophical studies and transformative adult education,” as well as a college for preparing teachers for the Waldorf system. Steiner may have concocted the elaborate rituals and practices of biodynamic farming, but I still managed to bypass their application forms.

The biggest door in all of San Francisco
Duty called unexpectedly the next night. I had hoped to spend a quiet evening at home, but around 7 PM I espied an Internet posting for a wine tasting at Local Kitchen & Wine Merchant, one of the more successful wine-focused operations in San Francisco. I say wine-focused because local manages to be a restaurant, enoteca, wine shop, tasting room, and corner convenience store, all in one setting. It also boasts a massive, 25′ high front door designed to ward off all but the most intrepid. Or perhaps it was inspired by another Allan Sherman parody:

Last night I met a man from Mars, and he was very sad
He said, “Won’t you help me find my girl friend, please?”
So I asked him, “What does she look like?”
And the man from Mars said, “She’s…
Eight foot two, solid blue,
Five transistors in each shoe,
Has anybody seen my gal?

I feel I can make small jest because Sostevinobile and Local, though widely disparate, are kindred operations with much to offer each other on a coöperative basis. The complimentary admission provided me and other members of the wine and restaurant trade speaks to this notion of camaraderie or alliance. 
The tasting lacked any air of pretentiousness, so it seemed only fit to start off easily with San Francisco-based Heron Wines, an interesting collection of low-priced wines Laely Heron makes from vineyards she contracts locally and abroad. Her California wines approachable and eminently fair, for their price point; though Merlot is apparently her forte, I found the 2007 Heron Chardonnay the most compelling of the four wines being poured. At the other end of this evening’s spectrum, Trefethen showed its considerable chops, as it were. Its 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Oak Knoll District, a wine rounded out with 4% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot, certainly can hold its own against any Napa Cabs from this esteemed vintage, but their standout on this particular evening was certainly the 2008 Dry Riesling, a subdued wine would pair marvelously with a wide array of entrées or, as an apéritif, would be sure to “Loosen” up any affair.
It was good to “Bump” into Sandra Rex (iPhone aficionados know what I mean) from Deerfield Ranch Winery at this tasting and sample her 2005 Red Rex, a Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend nuanced with Sangiovese, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Zinfandel. Less complicated but as appealing were the 2004 Shiraz Cuvée and the 2004 Merlot Cuvée. Though restricted to the traditional Bordeaux varietals, the 2006 Meritage from Dry Creek Vineyard offered a nonetheless distinctive balance of 36% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc and 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, with 8% each of Petit Verdot and Malbec.
Raymond is a winery that can trace its roots back to the founding of Beringer in 1876. Their five-generation Napa heritage seemed abundantly evident in their 2005 Reserve Merlot and the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon being poured at Local. Another long-standing wine operation, Gallo, showcased a pair of its North Coast acquisitions, the 2007 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir and the 2006 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon from Louis M. Martini.
Landmark Vineyards is a Kenwood winery known for its lush Chardonnays and colorful appellations. I enjoyed both the 2007 Overlook Chardonnay and the 2007 Steel Plow Syrah, but found the 2007 Grand Tour Pinot Noir easily the most memorable. On the other hand, I will always remember Alexander Valley’s Trentadue Winery because I belatedly discovered their sparkling wine two weeks after my 32nd birthday; this evening, their 2005 La Storia Zinfandel left a much happier recollection.
Two titans of California sparkling wine share a distributor, Maison Marques & Domaines, as well as a table at the event. Both the NV Roederer Estate Brut and the NV Scharffenberger Brut were exceedingly delightful. Their sister operation, Carpe Diem, is a California-based project from Christian Moieux of Château Pétrus and Dominus fame, with his Yountville site releasing its new 2006 Carpe Diem Cabernet Sauvignon and his Firepeak Vineyards in Edna Valley crafting the elegant 2006 Carpe Diem Pinot Noir.
The final station of the evening also featured a selection of different labels from Niven Family Wine Estates. Under its Baileyana label, I found both the 2006 GFC Chardonnay and the 2007 GFC Pinot Noir exceedingly delightful. The more moderately price Tangent line offered an impressive 2008 Riesling and the 2007 Ecclestone, an eclectic blend of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Albariño, Viognier, and Riesling.
I lingered well after the tasting had finished, comparing notes with Local’s Carl Grubbs and helping to polish off much of the wine that had been left behind. How I managed to pull open the 25′ front door afterwards, I’ll never know.

The generational divide is hardly something new. Even things that now have become inextricable totems of our culture often met considerable resistance at their inception. Note Allan Sherman’s timeless paean to parental disaffectation, Pop Hates the Beatles:

My daughter needs a new phonograph
She wore out all the needles
Besides, I broke the old one in half
I hate the Beatles!

Needless to say, there are stark contrasts between the up & coming generation of winemakers and the generation that preceded them. Today’s new winemakers are folks for whom recollection of the Vietnam War holds no immediacy and who have known Michael Jackson only as being white. They bear no connection to that era when bigger meant better, more meant more, and the goal for most vineyardists was to force as many tons of grapes per acre that the land, along with chemical intervention, could sustain. Throughout California and the rest of the West Coast, this generation pays fealty to the notion that sustainable stewardship of the soil stands imperative not just for preservation of the environment and insulation against climate change but for the production of the highest quality of wine, as well.
Twenty of this generation’s most prominent practitioners of the viticultural arts took part in last week’s California’s New Generation Vintners and Growers, a joint presentation of The Wine Institute and the California Association of Wine Growers at Sausalito’s glistening eco-resort, Cavallo Point. Part demo, part workshop, this event bracketed a series of informative colloquia with a delectable tasting of numerous wines these 30-somethings are producing.
Not surprisingly, most of these representatives have enthusiastically embraced new media and social networking. The panel on Hip & Trendy Marketing highlighted a wide array of tools and techniques they have embraced for promoting their wines and keeping wine enthusiasts engaged in an active community. Everything from blogs and content-rich Internet sites (vs. strictly e-commerce or a static informational web presence) to audio and video podcasts to active Web 2.0 presence on Facebook, Twitter and the like, as well as targeted live events and promotions, all form essential components to this new mix. To put it another way (in references that may fly by this group), Orson Welles and Bartles & Jaymes have most definitely become passé!
Also passé is the kind of homogeneous winemaking style that prevailed in the period when jug-style blends dominated the viticultural landscape. As elucidated in Evolving California Wine Styles, today’s terroiristes focus on a winemaking style that reflects both the characteristics of the viticultural appellation from where the wine is grown as well as the individualized stamp of the winemaker. No longer can myopic attempts to be universally dismissive of the wines originating from here hold any weight, as sweeping generalizations like “California’s high alcohol content” of “fruit-forward focus” loom as relics of a by-gone era.
Much to Sostevinobile’s pleasure, green guidelines are not a matter of conversion to these new vineyardists and winemakers, rather principles by which they have always functioned. Though the terms “organic” and “sustainable” can sometimes be mutually exclusive, this generation is overseeing a convergence of both into a unified standard for upholding the ecological integrity of their vineyards and operations. Equally, these practices highlighted in Eco-Friendly Growing and Winemaking are deemed vital to the environment at large, elemental to the production of superior wine, and essential to the preservation of lands that often have been held by multiple generations of each family.
The notion of heritage holds strong for many of these panelists. In their opening session, Next Generation: Passing the Torch, ties to the wine industry and to family-held wineries ranged from 2nd generation legacies to 5th and 6th generational operation of holdings founded in the 19th Century. And, if not unabashedly heterosexual, this current wave of winemakers is certainly intent on passing on their legacy to yet another generation. Of the 20 young winemakers we met, at least eight were either pregnant or had a spouse imminently expecting!
My companion for this afternoon, San Francisco wine broker Karen Mancuso, and I both readily enjoyed the face-to-face contact with these rising stars of the wine world, and, of course, the opportunity to sample their wines. As we were scheduled to attend a reception for the Auction Napa Valley that overlapped this event, I may have bypassed a few stations, but found much here to merit my encomium.
Although Mike Heringer’s family dates back six generations in Clarksburg, his Heringer Estates winery is a label I had not previously encountered. I found his 2008 Viognier was the perfect complement to the extraordinary crab cakes from Murray Circle that circulated throughout the tasting room, while discovering his 2005 Petite Sirah proved truly serendipitous. I failed to convince one of the servers that the trays of crab cakes were intended exclusively for me; nonetheless, I did receive an overly generous second portion that balanced equally as well with the compellingly dry 2007 Riesling from Jason Smith’s Paraiso Vineyards.
Edna Valley Vineyard is a Diageo holding that produces a number of wines, particularly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, in high volumes that stores like Safeway and BevMo readily scoop up; these vineyard-designated bottlings are well-priced and easily stand a cut or two above the various “Coastal” labels that occupy the same shelves. Less familiar is its moderate production of underrepresented varietals like Grenache, Mourvèdre, Pinot Gris, and Viognier, as well as a number of small bottlings sold only through their tasting room in San Luis Obispo. From this latter category winemaker Josh Baker brought the 2007 Estate Chardonnay and the 2006 Estate Syrah, a pair of wines that resonated with the same craftsmanship that distinguished this winery when it was still part of the Chalone portfolio. Still independent following six generations of family farming, Bogle produces a well-recognized budget brand that exceeds expectations for its price range. This Clarksburg winery’s vineyard manager, Warren Bogle, showcased his 2006 Petite Sirah, the varietal for which Bogle is primarily known.
Having a name like Cane Vanderhoof almost predestines one to achieving something distinctive in life, and the 2005 Sangiovese Temecula Valley and the 2005 Three Block Syrah he brought from his Miramonte Winery in Riverside County indeed validates my presumption. Andrew Murray may not have as distinctive a moniker as Cane’s, but his devotion to Rhône varietals helps create wines that are as intense. I greatly enjoyed his just-released 2007 Grenache, as well as a 2006 Syrah whose single vineyard I failed to note. Of course, there was no ambiguity in identifying the 2007 Rockpile Ridge Zinfandel from Mauritson Estate, along with winemaker Clay Mauritson’s subtle 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Dry Creek Valley. 
As Karen’s wine brokerage connects her more directly with strictly growers who do not produce their own label, she was happy to introduce me to Nicholas Miller, whose family farms Bien Nacido, Solomon Hills, and French Camp Vineyards. From their grapes, we sampled the 2007 Chardonnay Clos Pepe from The Ojai Vineyard and a most compelling 2005 Syrah from Kynsi Winery. I needed no introduction to Alan Viader, as his sister Janet is always kind enough to invite me to innumerable wine tastings. And I needed no incentive to taste Viader’s 2006 DARE Cabernet Franc, after I had so delighted in the 2005 vintage earlier this year.
Another old familiar I whose current vintage I was happy to sample was the 2008 Gewürztraminer from Navarro, whose winemaker Sarah Cahn-Bennett had managed to avoid the pregnancy pandemic cited above. I can’t recall whether Cheryl Murphy Durzy from Morgan Hill’s Clos LaChance was enceinte, but she did manage to coax me into trying her 2006 Lila’s Cuvée, a superb GMS blend rounded out with Carignane. Rounding out (no pun intended) the tasting were the twin labels from Nick de Luca: Dierberg Estate and Star Lane Vineyard, ably represented by the 2006 Dierberg Vineyard Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley and the 2006 Star Lane Merlot Santa Ynez Valley.
I managed to squeeze in a few quick pleasantries with Judd Finkelstein, Kathy Benziger, and Aaron Lange, all of whose families I’ve met on several previous occasions before we were compelled to make our abrupt exit. About a mile before reaching Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa, Karen looked at her iPhone calendar and exclaimed, “Oh no! The party isn’t until Thursday!” It was too ludicrous a scenario not to laugh. We decided instead to drop by the Bounty Hunter, where proprietor Mark Steven Pope, self-billed as “MERCHANT♠NÉGOTIANT♠VINTER” treated us to some of his own bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon from Beckstoffer Vineyards. À propos of our misadventure, we dined on Bounty Hunter’s fabled Beer Can Chicken, the one that’s roasted with a full can of Tecate plugged up its…cavity.

Devi essere ancor più bella nel buio…
As Karen and I combed downtown Napa Tuesday evening, my iPhone rang with a call from the young Siciliana I was scheduled to meet after work on Wednesday. Why wasn’t I at our destination?
Again, my bemusement got the better of me. The next night, she reprised our meeting at Paréa, a quaint cafe in the Mission focused on Greek wine and cuisine. Despite this billing, I found the 2005 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley from Benton Lane a more apt compliment to the cold dishes we ordered. I think she ordered something Greek. I think she told me about a breakthrough sustainable UV technology her company was promoting. I kept thinking “if only she spoke Italian…”

$10,000,000,000,000 and counting
Thursday was my turn. I actually rose before 8 AM and pedaled across the City to the William J. Rutter Center at UCSF’s new South Beach campus in order to attend the Teaming USA Bay Area Workshop. I registered in the cavernous, ground floor lobby (everything at the William J. Rutter Center is cavernous), collected my three pounds of handouts, loaded up on some much needed coffee plus an Apple Crumb muffin, then scoured the Robertson Auditorium for an available seat.


I had thought this full-day workshop was intended to help emerging business like Sostevinobile navigatethe sea of opportunities available to start-ups and small businesses inthe wake of the Federal Stimulus Program. After all, the invite hadread: “Teaming USA will focus on preparing a business to be ‘contractready…’ Attendees will learn how to secure proper certifications,clearances, and registrations and identify new selling areas throughthe 85 billion dollar federal stimulus funding for California.

Turns out I was way off the mark. This program was actually designed to enable small businesses to partner with large enterprises and help secure their government contracts. As such, the auditorium was overflowing, if then some, all looking to help enlarge the Federal deficit. As I slinked out the side entrance, I couldn’t help but contemplate that I could get everyone there to enjoy just one glass of wine at Sostevinobile, we’d be profitable within the first week!

An act of Providence
Despite how it may sound, Brown Entrepreneurs is not a Dick Cheney-sponsored, knee-jerk reaction to Green Technology. The local chapter of the Brown University Alumni Association has been holding these informal klatchs for the past several months in the hope of spurring the development of new enterprises spearheaded by its San Francisco graduates. Twenty-four hours before Thursday’s gathering, I unexpectedly discovered I had been selected to pitch my development plans for Sostevinobile. A golden opportunity, or so I thought, to meet with a number of potential investors and solicit the start-up funding we are currently seeking.
Despite having cracked the bifocal contact lens on which I have become so dependent of late, I was determined to make a stellar impression. I printed up several handouts of Sostevinobile’s Keynote presentation and summary, polished my Luccheses, and rehearsed my elevator pitch about a dozen or so times. Luck even seemed on my side, as I managed to coax the bartender at the University Club to serve me a relatively decent Pinot Noir (instead of the utterly dreary Salmon Creek that has become their standard pour) before joining the group in the private room that had been reserved for this event.
Much to my disappointment, the Entrepreneurs was more of a support and discussion group among a handful of people either contemplating new ventures or simply interested in the field. Not a VC or angel investor in sight. Despite my misconception, I resolved to deliver my spiel with comportment and enthusiasm.
Or so I intended. To put it gallantly (if not Gallicly), when it comes to public speaking, ceci n’est pas mon forte. Then again, I had attended Brown for its Graduate Program in Playwriting, a genre that enables me to compose words and have others speak them for me. matter. Still, the realization of Sostevinobile rests, at least for now, entirely upon me, and it was a valuable lesson to flub my delivery in front of an audience of this nature, rather than one that might have offered me funding.
Back when I moved to Providence, the Brown campus radio station, used to delight in taunting celebrity freshman JFK Jr. with Allan Sherman’s outré novelty hit, I Think I Slept with Jackie Kennedy Last Night:

Met this girl and she was real nifty
Even though she was pushing 50…

Oh wait, that was David Roter’s song…

…I’m a Tur-key!

One of the truly great things about kids is their ability to embrace absurdity simply for the sheer pleasure of nonsense. Reflect, for a moment, on the guileless lyrics of a childhood parody (I hate Bosco, it’s rich and chocolat-y. Mommy puts it in my milk to try and poison me…) or the unabated pleasure of jejune humor. When I was much younger, I used to delight in the banter of the lock & key joke. The first person would start with something like:

“I’m a Hair-lock…”

To which the other would respond:

“I’m a Hair-key!”

Then he’d say:

“I’m a Nose-lock…”

The reply:

“I’m a Nose-key!”

The next round might start with:

“I’m a Don-lock…”

Unaware, the other person would announce:

“I’m a Don-key!!!” Peals of laughter would ensue.

Alternatively, the jokester might try:

“I’m a Mon-lock…”

“I’m a Mon-key!!!

Or perhaps:

I’m a Tur-lock…”

Suffice it to say that this sleepy little hamlet in Stanislaus County, a minor of satellite in greater metropolitan Modesto’s orbit, does not take kindly to my theory on the origin of its name. Several years ago, amid exceptional tribulation, Your West Coast Oenophile accepted a position with Turlock’s most storied enterprise, the (allegedly) not-for-profit Medicalert Foundation. On my drive out to the First Sip in Lodi this past Saturday, there was nary a moment I was tempted to veer south and revisit this inglorious chapter from my past.
Having tasted nearly all the wines being poured this weekend at the recent Treasure Island WineFest, my visit was more of a goodwill tour on behalf of Sostevinobile, a chance to visit with friends and see them operating in their own setting, not to mention a respite from the diurnal struggles of urban survival.
Over at Abundance, owner Dino Mencarini sat rather regally in the recesses of his warehouse as the crowds descended from what seemed like an endless parade of stretch Hummers. The long drive from San Francisco mandated that I start with something cool, which his Colombard-based NV Brut fit the bill nicely. I hadn’t tried the 2005 Old Vine Zinfandel before, and it certainly exemplified why Lodi has become so renowned for this varietal. And, of course, how could I say no to a taste of the just-released 2008 Bacio Dolce, Abundance’s signature late harvest Carignane, pipetted from an unstopped mini-barrel?
Mitch Cosentino operates branches of his winery in Lodi and in Yountville, focusing on grapes that flourish in each locale. I could launch into an extended peroration on why wineries should never forge a connection between their products, which have pronounce health benefits, to tobacco, the most-readily accessible carcinogen on the planet, but I will concede that his 2006 CigarZin was quite delectable. On the other hand, pushing tolerances at 16% alcohol, his new 2006 Daredevil, a Syrah-based blend, proved an exceedingly fine wine. Clearly my favorite was the modestly named 2006 The Franc, from his Lodi-based The Wine series.

My visit to LangeTwins proved most eye-opening. Their scant production of ~4,000 cases in no way prepared me for the site of the 2,000,000-case contract winery I encountered. A ginormous facility recalling Lodi’s cooperative warehouses from the 1980s, this plant makes the Lange’s fervor for sustainable winemaking all the more impressive. Their fidelity to making a classic Meritage was manifest in the 2006 Midnight Reserve, a Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend, while their less traditional 2007 Petit Verdot|Petite Sirah seemed quite approachable.
More startling than LangeTwins, however, was my discovery of Viaggio, a wine estate so opulent, it seemed an apparition on the banks of the Mokelumne. Whether this gargantuan erection makes Acampo a true destination remains to be seen; still, it made quite a stirring first impression.

The new Viaggio Estate

Viaggio has yet to make wine at this facility, contracting their production to Oak Ridge in Lodi. Nonetheless, I did appreciate both their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and their 2006 Pinot Grigio, which, respectively, paired quite nicely with the superb Beef Tri-Tip and the Mango Bread Pudding, prepared by Viaggio’s Vino di Vita cafe that owner Kent Raverty to showcase his forte as a pizzaiolo.
I had wanted to visit with quite a number of wineries this afternoon, but time and the wide spread of locations made completing my list an impossibility. I was sure I could make it to both Harney Lane and Harmony Wynelands at the end of my loop but fell short of my expectations. I also wanted to pay a courtesy visit to Onus Vineyards, to thank Marty Peterson for sending me a bottle of his superb 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Lodi, an exquisite interpretation of this varietal that is drinking at its peak right now.
I did manage to squeeze in Michael~David, a winery that seems hellbent on milking every pun it can construe from its 7 Deadly Zins and other allusions. Still, I enjoyed their Petite Sirah-dominant 2007 Petite Petit and found their 2005 Rapture Cabernet Sauvignon a true pleasure at this stage in its development.
After trying a third 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from Lodi at the opulent estate of my longtime friend Joe Berghold, I had to concur with his observation that Lodi wines attain their peak more rapidly than wines from nearby Napa. Given how a wine bar’s wines must offer an immediate appeal to its clientele, his analysis was not lost on me or the program I am building for Sostevinobile. Berghold is billed as a “Victorian winery,” and the breadth of the antique collection Joe has amassed approaches museum quality. With two 26-foot-long carved bars imported in their entirety from Pennsylvania and a collection of 19th century armoires that words cannot truly depict, the tasting areas convey a sense of warmth and romance few wineries could better capture. Joe spent the better part of an hour pouring me a wide selection of his wines, ranging from his truly delectable 2005 Merlot to the very special 2005 Souzão, a varietal I had tried but once before. The blended 2003 Cabernet Franc/Syrah was a revelation in itself, while the 2007 Viognier was remarkable in it restraint. I even found myself delighting (there goes that pernicious tobacco reference, again) in his Stogie Club Petite Port, a post-prandial pleasure even without a cigar to accompany it.


Way out on the eastern edge of Lodi, the town of Clements seemed halfway to Jackson, but I was happy to trudge out there to visit with Markus and Liz at their tasting station for Bokisch. As per usual, I readily partook of their familiar Spanish trio, the 2007 Tempranillo, the 2007 Garnacha, and the 2007 Graciano, which somehow tasted better on their home turf. The real treat, however, was a chance to sample their limited-production 2007 Monastrell, which may be my favorite of their bottlings to date. Bokisch shared tasting space with Clements Ridge Produce, perhaps the only winery in California to have a Web page devoted to its selection of fruit pies. My efforts to scarf a piece of their mini pumpkin tarts obliged me to try a sampling of their wines; despite my transparent pretext, I found both the 2005 Gatos Locos Syrah and especially the 2007 Gatos Locos Zinfandel surprisingly likable wines.
I might have stayed around for Sunday’s tasting, but my agenda for the next several days proved beyond manageable. With any luck, I hope my next installment can convey my appreciation for these ensuing absurdities with the same unfettered delight I enjoyed during my formative years.

How Green Was My Thursday

A most interesting piece in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat on Sunday highlighted how consumers may one day see wine bottles making carbon claims to show consumers these products aren’t contributing to the destruction of the planet. The article quoted Robert Nicholson from Healdsburg wine consulting firm International Wine Associates as predicting that “It’s going to be increasingly important for consumers to know that the wines they choose are participating in the green revolution that our planet is going to have to go through to survive.” 
Your West Coast Oenophile could not agree more. I’d like to believe that Sostevinobile has been quite prescient in insisting that we implement the highest degree of sustainable guidelines from the outset of our development, in the expectation that most, if not all of these practices will soon become mandatory. And it is gratifying to see this article cite that the California wine industry (as well as its counterparts in Washington and Oregon) has been “long at the forefront of the sustainable agriculture movement.”
Throughout much of the West Coast wine region, there is no formal standard for defining “sustainably-grown wine;” it will, of course, be incumbent upon Sostevinobile to establish a set of criteria for what we will ascertain as sustainable in the wines that we select for our wine bar operations. On the other hand, it is just as much our responsibility to encourage all vineyards and wineries within our designate locale to adopt sustainable practices throughout their farming and production. As I grind out this latest blog entry, I am of a mind to focus not solely on those operations that have already adopted strictly defined parameters for sustainability but also to embrace those labels that show a true impetus towards incorporating an identifiable and well-reasoned environmental stewardship into their winemaking and distribution.
Last Thursday, Napa Valley Grapegrowers stage their bi-annual Wine & Grape Expo. It wasn’t merely the lure of a free lunch and superb wine tasting—not to mention a much-needed break from midweek urban realities—that drew me up to Yountville. The day was packed with seminars, trade booths, and some lively demonstrations of cooperage and barrel blasting, nearly all of which focused on advancing sustainable practices throughout the entire wine production cycle.
With my linguistic abilities limited to English, Italian, Russian and French (along with my facility in ancient Greek or Latin, if ever summoned to the Vatican), I spared myself the arduousness of attempting to arrive at 8 AM for the early morning seminars in Spanish, even though topics like Importancia del Cambio Climático Sobre la Fenelogía de la Vid and Introduccíon a la Agricultura Biodinámica have obvious implications for sustainability. I did manage to attend the later morning sessions on developing water wells and the integration of vineyard architecture and soil reservoir as determinants for winegrowing strategy, subjects that play a significant role in the sustainable management of a vineyard.


Lunchtime gave opportunity to visit with a number of the exhibitors, including the solar power advisers from Solarcraft and the ecologically imperative The Compost Store. I suspect (though will willingly stand to be corrected) that the offerings from Dow Agro Sciences and Chevron’s Allied Propane would not meet the litmus for sustainability, but nonetheless I was happy to partake of one of their reusable cloth shopping totes for my intended stopover at Berkeley Bowl West en route back to San Francisco. 
A number of custom crush facilities, including Judd’s Hill & Microcrush and Bin to Bottle, also operated trade booths, but the true crowd pleaser for the afternoon was the barrel-making demonstration from Seguin Moreau Napa Cooperage.Watching such time-honored precision handicraft up close was indeed a marvel to behold. Across the courtyard, the truly modern technique of CO₂ barrel cleaning and sanitization held court. The environment
al implications of Cryo Clean’s Barrel Blasting method, a patent-pending process that propels dry ice pellets at airstream velocity into the fine wood surface of the barrel’s interior include no chemical residue or runoff, dramatically reduced waste residue, no water contamination, and significant increase in a barrel’s longevity.

Still, the most salient presentation of the day came from UC-Davis Steven Sinclair Scott Professor Roger B. Boulton, a leading proponent of sustainability in the wine industry. His comprehensive presentation, entitled Self-Sustaining Vineyards and Wineries, examined the myriad aspects and challenges of developing a self-contained, truly sustainable vineyard and winery operation, not merely in terms of carbon emissions but also mitigating the emission of CH₄ (methane) and N₂O (nitrous oxide), consumption and onsite generation of energy, reclamation and reapplication of winery water, and the use of environmentally-sound cleaning and sterilization solutions—particularly in terms of potential soil contamination.
Boulton’s far-sighted proposals and solutions for future development and implementation in wine industry extended beyond the theoretical. Following his discourse, he unveiled a preview of the Research and Teaching Winery under construction at UC Davis’ Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science. Upon its opening for the 2010 harvest, this working laboratory will constitute “the world’s most sustainable vineyard and winery,” with innovative features that include onsite photovoltaic hydrogen production, passive solar-fuel cell co-generation of hot water, reverse osmosis (RO) and nano-filtration (NF) systems for water purification, an all-electric vehicle fleet with recharging station, hydrogen fuel cell hybrid, and rainwater capture and storage systems, all to be housed in a LEED Platinum Certified facility.
Even preoccupied with all these innovations, I think one can safely assume that Davis’ Department of Enology can also make a fairly decent wine. And, of course, this jaunt up to Yountville had its own perquisite tasting of an impressive selection of local vintages (after all, a trip to Napa without tasting wine is like sunning on a nude beach wearing blindfolds). Following a final seminar on olfactory sensations in wine by one of France’s leading parfumiers, an assortment of Napa Valley wines were scattered about the various exhibition booths. This arrangement made finding particular wines or determining whether I had sampled each of the donations rather haphazard, but my notes covered as much as I could sample during the brief period before the expo concluded.
Many of these wines marked my first tastes of their 2006 vintage. I started out on a high note with the 2006 Corison Cabernet Sauvignon. My enthusiasm did not diminish with Branham Estates’ 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon nor were Cade Winery’s two selection, the 2006 Napa Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon and the superb 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain any bit the letdown.
Rocca Family Vineyards also featured a pair of wines, their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville and their 2006 Merlot Yountville, proving that here the Burgundian Left Bank/Right Bank schism has little corollary. The 2006 Georges de Latour Private Reserve from Beaulieu Vineyards was its usual excellent self, and I found the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon D’Adamo Vineyard from Piña would have made quite the indulgence—if only I weren’t compelled to swill and spit!
Benessere makes a number of Italian varietals I have yet to try, but made quite the impression with their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. As wondrous as this wine was, however, it still placed a distinct second to their 2005 Phenomenon, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese and Syrah, with no need for false modesty. The 2005 vintage from Napa continues to impress me every time I enjoy it; the tastings this afternoon merely elucidated this opinion, with Trefethen’s exceptional 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Oak Knoll, my old friend Ren Harris and his Paradigm’s 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville, and the hitherto unfamiliar Meander with their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon.
For this day, at least, the head of the Class of ’05 had to have been the 2005 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, one of Celia Welch’s most noteworthy efforts. beyond that, my most joyful discovery of the afternoon was the 2006 Opus One, and not just because it was being poured so liberally. As documented in many installments of this blog, I tr
uly dread how the giant conglomerates eviscerate a respected label after they acquire it (cf: Diageo and BV Coastal Estates; Constellation and Solaire by Robert Mondavi; Gallo and Louis M. Martini’s Ghost Pines). With such a dismal history, one ought to be downright euphoric to discover that Opus One has weathered the takeover virtually unscathed, thanks, I am told, to the perseverance of Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, who insisted that this icon label not be tampered with. The result was a glorious 2006 Meritage (the first produced since the sale of Robert Mondavi) that unabashedly maintained its esteemed pedigree.
The one white wine I managed to try was the 2005 D’Argent Chardonnay from Silver Rose, which bills itself as Napa’s only resort winery. I am aware of missing a few other whites, Sauvignon Blancs from both Cakebread Cellars and from Long Meadow Ranch, but did manage to slip in a modest sip of their 2004 LMR Cabernet Sauvignon. Two other labels, Jaffe Estate and Snowden Vineyards were listed as being poured, but I have no recollection of encountering either. Another winery I did taste, but—true confession—I cannot decipher the scribble from my own hand.
The rest of the wines stood out from Cabernet’s inevitable domination. Though quite elusive (at least on the Internet), Blair Estate dazzled with their 2002 Blair Estate Meritage, an enormously pleasing wine. Tofanelli strayed even further with their amiable 2006 Zinfandel. Truly a Napa apostate, B. Kosuge managed to comport himself quite respectably with his 2007 The Shop Pinot Noir. Ever the iconoclast, my friend John Wilkinson poured his 2006 Wilkinson, his esoteric blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah he bottles at Bin to Bottle, his custom crush facility in Napa. And just for fun, I had to try a sip of the 2006 Lagrein from Jacuzzi Vineyards, a very festive wine, to say the least.
I had hoped that this event would have provided the occasion, at long last, to meet brothers Sloane and John Upton, owners of the famed Three Palms Vineyard and fellow survivors of the arcane rectitude of the storied Hotchkiss School. If they did attend, we still managed to miss each other, and while it would have been a special treat to sample the flagship Merlot Duckhorn Vineyards produces from their grapes, the 2005 Duckhorn Vineyards Howell Mountain Napa Valley Red Wine, a blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot proved more than adequate compensation.
The Napa Wine & Grape Expo provided considerable fodder to help validate my espousal of sustainable practices for Sostevinobile; y seeing these tenets so universally embraced by the California wine industry greatly reassures me that our focus on serving only sustainably grown wines will embrace an incredibly wide selection from the preponderance of wineries here and throughout the West Coast. I left the Lincoln Theater amid a slight drizzle and plodded my way down the East Bay corridor to attend the last half-hour of the Green Chamber of Commerce’s 2nd Annual Celebration, entitled Building an Honest Economy. Here, overlooking the Tribune Tower in downtown Oakland, I found an assembly of like-minded ecopreneurs, passionate in their vision, but nonetheless pragmatic. Their unapologetic mantra: “people, planet, and profit.”
The Green Chamber of Commerce (GCOC) comprises a San Francisco-based business network of more than 160 Bay Area businesses from various industry sectors including architecture & design, media, finance, legal, renewable energy, and health. In light of recent developments, GCOC is aggressively seeking to present a viable alternative for major companies like Apple, Nike and PG&E, which have withdrawn from the US Chamber of Commerce in protest over its sheer inanity in refusing to endorse legislation that would counter the precipitants of climate change.
The annual celebration featured a dynamic presentation from Ahmed Rahim, co-founder of Numi Organic Tea and a preview of the Chamber’s new promotional video. Oakland’s Savoy Events highlighted the evening with a rather sumptuous spread of sustainably-farmed, healthy appetizers (although hors d’œuvres of sculpted, purple-dyed potatoes strike me as somewhat counterintuitive), complemented by the 2007 Organic Syrah and 2008 Organic Chardonnay from Mendocino’s pioneering Frey Vineyards, recognized as the first organic winery in North America.
I received a complimentary toothbrush fr
om GCOC member Dr. Nammy Patel as I left. My 23 years as a copywriter makes me question certain connotations of billing her practice as “green dentistry,” albeit her extreme awareness of the environmental impact caused by numerous aspects of basic dental practices. But even the dreadful glass of White Zinfandel I was offered at my final stop of the day, the Bravo Club party in the lobby space of San Francisco’s Automattic, could not diminish the fact that a green time was had by all.