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
I 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 Services, Green 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…