Monthly Archives: November 2010

As different as day & night

What kind of breakfast goes best with Cabernet? Blueberry muffin? Crêpes with lingonberry butter? Fruit compôte in a champagne/agave syrup? Let it be known that I utterly loath eggs, be they scrambled, poached, soft-boiled or mixed as part of an omelet. Granted, this may limit my choices at an All-You-Can-Eat breakfast buffet, but this was not a Quality Inn morning. No, at the seemingly ungodly hour of 9:30 AM, Your West Coast Oenophile was seated in an auditorium at the Culinary Institute of America’s Rudd Center for this fall’s Appellation St. Helena Media Tasting.
Frequent readers of my Sostevinobile blog know that I try never to drink wine before lunch. People who know me as a nocturnal creature or acerbic playwright recognize that, with my literary forays customarily dragging into the wee hours of the morning, I hardly ever to do ANYTHING before lunch. Impressive, therefore, that I actually rose, showered, caffeinated, and drove the 70 miles to the former Christian Brothers Winery before the time I customarily switch on my Macintosh to read my overnight e-mails.

The handful of attendees and I were greeted by Appellation St. Helena President Bob Dye, whose Charnu Winery would be featured among the various wines we would be sampling this morning. Following his salutatory remarks, a trio of St. Helena’s most distinguished growers gave us brief overviews on the course of the harvest for the wines we would be tasting, as well as the one which had just wrapped up literally hours before we had arrived.

First, Cathy Corison launched into an overview of 2007, the vintage whose universal excellence needs no introduction. Journeyman winemaker Philippe Melka painted a surprising picture of 2008, one of those underrated years that tend to blossom with age, not unlike the much-derided 1998 vintage. Finally, Mia Klein offered a mostly optimistic view of the just-completed 2010 harvest, which found one of its pockets of success in St. Helena (in contrast, nearby Diamond Mountain hadn’t even begun picking its 2010 fruit).

After a few questions, attendees set about the “arduous” task of working our way through 51 wines before noon. We started with a short flight of white wines from St. Helena’s 2009 vintage: a subdued 2009 Sauvignon Blanc from Salvestrin and a more grapefruity J. Lohr. Charnu’s 2009 Cuvée Blanc, a traditional Bordeaux-style Sauvignon Blanc rounded with 10% Sémillon, nonetheless retained a semblance of grassiness as it concluded this flight.

A dozen of St. Helena’s top 2007 Cabernets comprised the next flight. Ever the misnomer, Anomaly kicked off this round with a tantalizing 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon that blended 6% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. Likewise, the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from boutique producer Boeschen Vineyards featured 18% Petit Verdot, along with 2% each of Merlot and Malbec.

Boeschen was one of several wineries in this flight I had not known of previously. Jaffe Estate featured their 2007 Metamorphosis, an artful mélange of Cabernet Sauvignon with 15% Merlot. Midsummer Cellars, aka Son of Heitz, showcased their 2007 Tomasson Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, an unblended vintage still tight in the bottle but portending great promise with 3-5 years more aging. Parry Cellars2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, a 200-case production from the self-proclaimed “Napa’s smallest single vineyard winery,” stood on the cusp of attaining its true potential, a wine veering on the exquisite. By comparison, Forman Vineyard’s production of 2,100 case of their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon makes them seem ginormous, yet this wine struck me as every bit appealing.

This round featured a couple of the morning’s panelists, as well. Bob Dye’s Charnu dazzled with their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, while Cathy Corison poured her age-worthy 2007 Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Bob Egelhoff,
who would join in for the Q&A session following the tasting, shared two of his wines, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and his tanniny 2007 Walton Cabernet Sauvignon that intimated future greatness in 3-5 years.

Napa’s Corley Family produced a 2007 Yewell Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from St. Helena that struck me as rather pleasant, whereas Crocker & Starr served up a truly dexterous 2007 Stone Place Cabernet Sauvignon that combined current drinkability with cellar worthiness.And, indeed, that would have sufficed as a wondrous event.

However, this being St. Helena, we returned after a brief break for cheese and quince jelly that CIA furnished to find our glasses rinsed and another 12 Cabs from the nether regions of the alphabet (R-W) awaiting our discernment.

Heidi Barrett blended in 5% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot in the splendid 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon she assembled for Revana, the Cab-only venture from Dr. Madaiah Revana, who also operates a Burgundian-style venture, Alexana, in Carlton, OR. The wine did nothing to diminish Heidi’s widespread reputation as one of Napa’s foremost winemakers. Similarly, Philippe Melka flexed his considerable chops with his 2007 Aida Cabernet Sauvignon from Chuck McMinn’s Vineyard 29, then truly outdid himself with the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, a near masterpiece of a vintage. Keeping pace with these legends, my friend Chris Dearden showcased his craftsmanship with the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (11% Petit Verdot, 8% Cabernet Franc) he vinted for Shibumi Knoll.

One of the early cult Cabernets, Spottswoode, still held its own with their 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from vineyards that have been organically farmed since 1985. Salvestrin also farms organically to produce their own superb 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. And Sabina Vineyards, a new and delightful discovery for me, made a suitable impression with their organically-grown 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, as well.

I’d first met Doug and Jane Wolf of Wolf Family Vineyards at Cheers! St. Helena in 2009, but had not realized they had redeveloped the former Inglewood Estate Vineyard. Once again, Karen Culler has crafted an elegant 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon that mirrored the 2006 vintage I had so enjoyed. I’d subsequently tasted Karen’s wines at Wine Entre Femme last spring, where I first encountered Titus Vineyards, who today impressed with their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and the even more compelling 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Finally, to complete this flight, the reinvented master of White Zinfandel, Trinchero Napa Valley showed their true forte with their deeply impressive 2007 Mario’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.

After another break for cheese and quince, we embarked on what I call the Freestyle Round—12 different Bordelaise blends or varietal bottlings that spanned the 2005-2008 vintages. We started with an exceptionally nuanced Meritage, the 2006 La Reina from Calafia, a winery that has definitely not been under my radar. Ostensibly a Cabernet, with 22% Petit Verdot and 10% Malbec, the wine tasted redolent of all its synergistic components. Wolf Family returned with their 2007 Cabernet Franc, a most striking expression of this varietal rounded with 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, while Trinchero’s unblended 2007 Cabernet Franc seemed more subdued.

Trinchero also contributed their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Central Park West Vineyard and 2008 Petit Verdot Central Park West Vineyard, two wines fortuitously devoid of any Knickerbocker heritage and yearning to reach their peak. By contrast, Ballentine’s nuanced 2008 Petit Verdot presented quite well now, with overtures of ageability through 2013.

I felt the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from J. Lohr had hinted of beginning to decline, while the 2006 Bisou, an unblended Cabernet Sauvignon from James Johnson Vineyards, portended to reach its apex in another 3-5 years. So too did the tightness of Hall Napa Valley’s 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Bergfeld Vineyard presage a future complexity I hope to revisit.

Tudal’s 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon struck me as a competent wine, given its relative youth, while the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Rennie Reserve from Flora Springs drank remarkably smoothly. Fittingly last, the 2008 Transformation from Jaffe Estate, though predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, showed its 40% Merlot to be more pronounced.

It should not have surprised me that this flight had been so orthodox, as Napa rarely varies from the strictures of Bordeaux. The final round, an array of Zinfandels and Petite Sirahs, offered a wider latitude for the wineries, with varying results. Admittedly, I felt rather tepid about the 2007 Zinfandel Hayne Vineyard from Chase Cellars, but the 2007 Reserve Zinfandel Hayne Vineyard seemed more than appealing.

The ever-evolving Charles Krug showcased its own pair of Zins, the highly approachable 2007 Zinfandel alongside a compelling 2008 Limited Release Zinfandel. Its intimations of jamminess was echoed in the 2008 Zinfandel Aida Vineyard, a blend with 10% Petite Sirah, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot, that Vineyard 29 poured. Titus returned with an earthy, pleasant 2008 Zinfandel, while Robert Biale dominated with his food-worthy 2008 Zinfandel Old Kraft Vineyard.

Biale paralleled his Zin with a striking 2008 Petite Sirah Thomann Station. Stanton Vineyards equally excelled with their lone contribution this morning, their 2008 Petite Sirah, as did Varozza Vineyards with their 2007 St. Helena Petite Sirah. Ballentine returned with a pleasant 2008 Petite Sirah that featured 4% Syrah and 1% Petit Verdot, while Salvestrin’s unblended 2008 Estate Petite Sirah clearly stood out amid this flight.

Readers know I go to great length to source potential wines for Sostevinobile, but Appellation St. Helena represented my first tasting that wrapped up before noon. Unaccustomed to enjoying wine before lunch, apart from some of the more decadent morning after breakfasts I have been known to serve, I wondered whether I would hold the same appreciation of these wine under a more familiar evening setting. A few days later, I had the opportunity to find out.

Two days after trekking up to St. Helena, I attended another tasting in San Francisco’s Ferry Building, sponsored by the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant and The Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA). The Wine Merchant’s Debbie Zachareas handpicked 30 of her favorite Napa wineries for this catered fundraiser, including four of the featured St. Helena participants. Until I began to compose this section, though, I had not tried to compare my notes between the two tastings.
Once again, Anomaly poured its 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. This evening, the wine also struck me as excellent, but ever-so-slightly down a score from its breakfast impression. Clearly, however, this vintage surpassed the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Steve Goldfarb poured alongside its successor.

Charlie Crocker was on hand this evening to pour a pair of his Crocker & Starr wines. Was it the personal touch? Was it the atmosphere of the event? Whatever the cause, I found his 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon even more appealing than it had been two days prior. And too bad he hadn’t included his 2009 Sauvignon Blanc at the Rudd Center—it would have made an interesting comparison with this evening’s pour, as well. Todd Newman stood in for Revana, pouring their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine that showed as phenomenally as it had two days earlier. Surprisingly, their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon proved equally enticing, a remarkable consistency from two very disparate vintages.
Cathy Corison was on hand here, as ebullient as she had been on Wednesday. Comparison between her wines proved a bit elusive, as here she poured the 2006 Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, which I found preferable to its 2007 version. Her 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, which she did not pour in St. Helena, also exceeded the 2007 Kronos, while even she conceded that the 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon she brought along as a special pouring seemed a bit past its prime.
The rest of the tasting melded a lot of old friends with a lot of new friends, not to mention folks I ought to have met long ago. I’ve been trying to speak face-to-face with Michael Polenske about Sostevinobile for quite some time, so it was fortuitous to find him pouring his remarkable Blackbird Vineyards here. After I introduced myself, I reveled in his two proprietary (Merlot-predominant) blends, the 2008 Arise (42% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc) and the 2007 Illustration (70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec), a wine that could have stood with any of the Meritage from the St. Helena tasting. Jeff Smith’s Hourglass, famed for its single vineyard Cabernet, dazzled with its extraordinary 2008 Blueline Merlot, eclipsing what was nonetheless a phenomenal wine in its own right, the 2008 Blueline Cabernet Sauvignon.
I suppose it’s a testament to my personal doggedness that only two of the participating wineries had not previously been familiar to Sostevinobile. Sean Larkin’s eponymous label offered their highly acclaimed 2007 Cabernet Franc, a stellar wine tempered with 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, and 2% Petite Verdot, and its fraternal twin, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, equally appealing with its undercurrents of Merlot (11%) and Petit Verdot (4%). The astounding revelation for the evening was Realm Cellars, a St. Helena venture that excels at Bordeaux varietals and blends. The 2007 Falstaff Proprietary Red Blend proved an extraordinary Meritage that emphasized Cabernet Franc, with 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot and 7% Petit Verdot. Just as impressive, the 2007 Farella Park Cabernet Sauvignon, an unblended expression of the grape, utterly seduced with its lusciousness. 
Ghost Block was certainly not an unfamiliar label, but I surmise from my tasting notes I had paid it short shrift from my inadvertent encounter at First Taste Yountville. This night, I was able to give a span of undivided attention to their striking 2009 Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Sur Lie, while appreciating the more modest ambitions of their 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. On the other hand, I have often been effusive in my praise of Brown Estate, and this evening’s encounter would do nothing to detract from my previous impressions. As always, their 2009 Zinfandel Napa Valley held its own with the previous vintages I have sampled, while their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon displayed an equal versatility with this varietal. In between, the highly popular 2007 Chaos Theory proved to be a rare iconoclast, blending 60% Zinfandel with 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, while their ultrarich 2007 Duppy Conqueror, a Cabernet Sauvignon dessert wine, further flouted Napa’s unwritten strictures.
I was a tad surprised Cain chose only to pour one wine, the NV Cain Cuvée, a slapdash blend from both their 2006 and 2007 vintages of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, but was favorably impressed. I missed out on the 2007 Quintessa, among several wines that ran short (somehow, I completely missed out on both Neal Family and Miner before I could try them), but I did manage to sample the marvelous 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from sister label Faust. Likewise, I only had the chance to resample Philippe Melka’s 2007 Fac
ets of Gemstone
, a near-equal blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, from Gemstone Vineyard, but reveled in my good fortune.
On the other hand, I do wish I had been able to try another Melka endeavor, the 2007 Entre Nous Cabernet Sauvignon that Kristine Ashe poured, but I thoroughly enjoyed her 2008 Entre Nous Sauvignon Blanc. Bumping into Gretchen Lieff, I managed to take in a taste of her 2009 Sauvignon Blanc before I revisited with Napa’s tallest winemaking duo, Tom and John Garrett of Detert Family Vineyards, for a second taste of their compelling 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon that I had tried at Acme Fine Wines’ Pulse Tasting this past summer.
I confess I had quaffed more than a couple of glasses of the 2009 Blueprint Sauvignon Blanc Erin Lail poured at the Bardessono art gallery debut during another summertime visit, so I wisely deferred instead to her 2007 Blueprint Cabernet Sauvignon. I did, however, try both the 2009 Albion, a Sauvignon Blanc tempered with Sémillon, and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District from Marston Family Vineyard, yet another Melka project.
Former New York Mets pitcher Tom Seaver actually named every individual vine on his Calistoga estate. George Hendry may not be quite as fanatical, but there is an exacting precision to the 2007 Block 7 & 22 Zinfandel and the 2006 Block 28 Zinfandel I enjoyed this evening.In a similar vein, Maroon Vineyards poured its 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Old M Block from Howell Mountain, alongside a striking 2007 Zinfandel Chiles Valley
My friend Julie Johnson of Tres Sabores paralleled Maroon with her 2007 Rutherford Estate Zinfandel and a deep 2006 Rutherford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. I had hoped to see Garen or Shari Staglin attending their wines, but engaged in a pleasant chat with daughter Shannon as she poured the family’s 2007 Salus Chardonnay and well-structured 2005 Rutherford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Equally impressive were the 2008 Chardonnay and 2005 Laureate Cabernet Sauvignon from White Rock Vineyards, certified as both a Napa Green winery and a Napa Green vineyard.
Also committed to sustainable winegrowing, Round Pond validated its “Hot Wine” reputation with their crisp 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, alongside their 2007 Rutherford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. The hottest winery on hand, however, truly had to have been Kongsgaard, with its 2008 The Judge Chardonnay—a wine worth every cent of the $165/bottle it commands—and its flat-out excellent 2007 Syrah, which would have been the top representation of this varietal even if it hadn’t been the only one poured this evening!
The tasting wrapped up with two somewhat conventional, albeit excellent, endeavors. Screaming Eagle founder Jeannie Phillips’ former real estate partner, Ren Harris’ Paradigm, contrasted its 2007 Merlot with a 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. Likewise, Switchback Ridge poured its 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2008 Merlot. The four wines served as a perfect coda to an all-round splendid evening.
I do wish that this tasting, as well as the earlier event in St. Helena, had embraced a bit of the esoteric and experimental sides of winemaking that does exist in Napa. After all, the AVA doesn’t simply limit itself to the approved Bordeaux varietals + Chardonnay + Zinfandel; Sostevinobile has encountered a wide swath of grapes grown throughout the county, from Carménère and St. Macaire to Ribolla Gialla and Sangiovese. Granted, one can hardly quarrel with success, and few regions do anywhere near as well with the mainstream wines that predominate here, but wherein lies the harm in showcasing the full panoply of what is available?
Still, a Cabernet that tastes as marvelous at 10 AM as it did at 10 PM leaves little about which to quarrel. And so I shan’t.

The first 100 postings are the hardest

Quite the milestone for Your West Coast Oenophile. This seemingly interminable blog has now posted its 100th entry. I haven’t tried to enumerate the major wine events I’ve attended and covered, calculate the number of wines I’ve sampled (~7,000), nor tally a precise word count (somewhere between 200-250,000 would be a fair guess). It’s just a shame, though, to have come this far and have to log in with a pejorative note.

Thankfully, it’s not dire news concerning Sostevinobile and its protracted development. Unfortunately, however, I do have to chronicle what was, in all likelihood, the worst wine tasting I’ve ever attended—academic colloquia included! Normally, as readers know, I find myself trying to squeeze every minute I can out of an event, particularly when there are over 100 wineries pouring. Suffice it to say that only a colossal fiasco could have compelled me to leave with two hours still to go.

I’ve attended a number of wine gatherings where the terroir-focused vintages tasted more like the vineyard’s soil. This year’s Pinot on the River literally submerged us in it. Undoubtedly, some will hold that contending with the elements is part & parcel of wine tasting; however, sloughing through mud six inches deep, in an often futile effort to waddle from table to table, can hardly be said to enhance the experience.

Call it, if you will, Pinot IN the River. Call it Winestock. Clever witticisms aside, there can be no excuse for holding this event outdoors amid a torrential rain shower. The three tents erected along the lawn at Rodney Strong Vineyards may have provided a modicum of shelter from the rain overhead but offered no barrier to the surface runoff. Hard to believe that the organizers thought these provisions would be adequate, and even harder to comprehend how they could not have made contingency arrangements, with predictions of rain regularly broadcast throughout the entire week preceding the festival. The fault does not lie with Rodney Strong, of course, but still, there must be at least 35,000 square feet of indoor space at the winery that could have utilized for the tasting.

Quite a number of the wineries pulled out before I did, unable to withstand the atrocious conditions to which they were subjected, and I sense quite a few other never even bothered to show up (the ever-deepening muck made it impossible to locate several of the labels I had preliminarily highlighted for visiting). Nonetheless, I did find quite an array of superb Pinots interspersed throughout the three tents, so rather than belabor my lament, let me report on those wines I was able to source and sample.

First up was Auteur, a Carneros-based boutique
operation that sources its grapes from both Sonoma and from Oregon. I started with an impressive 2008 Sonoma Stage Vineyard Pinot Noir, which was upstaged by its Yamhill-Carlton AVA (Willamette Valley) counterpart, the 2008 Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir. A similar bifurcation might be inferred by the origins of Calicaro’s name, but fortunately their grapes are grown only in California and not the “Right Coast” state where owner Dave Ball practices healthcare business law (after all, South Carolina’s official beverage is milk, while its state snack is boiled peanuts). With less than 200 cases of production, and most vintages limited to a single barrel, this boutique nonetheless poured an impressive lineup of Pinot from four distinct appellations, while paying oblique homage to landmarks from his Greenville home: the 2007 Annahala Pinot Noir Hayley Vineyard from Anderson Valley; the 2008 Liberty Bridge Pinot Noir Split Rock Vineyard from Sonoma Coast; the 2008 Poinsett Pinot Noir La Encantada Vineyard from Santa Rita Hills; and the standout 2008 Paris Mountain Pinot Noir Lone Oak Vineyard, a Santa Lucia Highlands vintage.

Tony Austin’s Clouds Rest originates from a single volcanic soil vineyard above the 1250′ level on Sonoma Mountain, hand-farmed grapes in a hand-painted bottle. The 2004 Pinot Noir truly reflected the meticulous efforts that produced this exceptional wine; the yet-released 2005 Pinot Noir intimated equal greatness in the offing. Meanwhile, Clouds Rest’s second-tier bottling, the 2008 Pinot Noir Femme Fatale, proved a worthy entry-level expression of their intense focus. Quaintly-named Small Vines Wines made a grandiloquent statement with both Pinots they had on hand, the 2008 Russian River Pinot Noir and their superb 2008 Sonoma Coast MK Vineyard Pinot Noir.

I had had no previous exposure to Sierra Madre Vineyard, whose Santa Maria Valley ranch produces Pinot Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Noir; I found myself equally impressed with their 2007 Estate Pinot Noir and the highly-focused 2008 Block 216 Pinot Noir, and yearn to sample their whites sometime soon. On the other hand, TAZ is one of the 50 or so labels that comprise Treasury Wine Estates, which used to be Foster’s, which used to be Beringer-Blass, but still remains a relatively autonomous operation on Paso Robles’ East Side. Their trifecta included the 2008 Pinot Noir Fiddlestix Vineyard Santa Rita Hills and the 2008 Pinot Noir Cuyama River Santa Maria Valley, two highly competent wines whose grapes are combined to produce the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara, a superior mélange.

Mark West Winery constitutes the crown jewel of a far more compact conglomerate, the Purple Wine Company. They, too, offered a pair of AVA-focused wines, the 2009 Russian River Pinot Noir and the 2009 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, as well as the blended 2009 CA Pinot Noir drawn from a wide array of appellations throughout California. One of Don Van Staaveren’s ventures, Three Sticks, poured a three-vintage vertical of its Pinot, starting with the 2005 Durell Pinot Noir. This superb wine was matched in quality by the 2007 Durell Pinot Noir, but both were somewhat eclipsed by the superior 2006 vintage.

Me, oh my! I know that Caymus’ Wagner family pronounces their Meiomi label “May-oh-mee.” but either way, their 2008 Pinot Noir—a marriage of grapes from select vineyards in Sonoma, Monterey, and Santa Barbara Counties—proved a most delectable wine. Keefer Ranch Wines< /a> poured a single selection, their 2008 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, while the highly-esteemed Kosta Browne elected to represent themselves with just their 2008 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, again a cross of two renowned Pinot vineyards, Gap’s Crown and Terra de Promissio, with their newly-sourced Walala Vineyard from outside Annapolis. I also managed to taste one of George Wine’s elusive bottlings, the 2008 Vintage VI Pinot Noir Ceremonial Vineyard, a delightful successor to last year’s profound selection.

Besides mud and water, this year’s Pinot IN the River was filled with a quite a number of seasoned pros—were one able to reach their station. I did manage to battle the elements and catch up with David Vergari, one of the mainstays at the annual Marin County Pinot Noir Celebration. Despite our mutual misgivings over the handling of this event, I managed to savor his exquisite 2007 Pinot Noir Van der Kamp Vineyard and the 2007 Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard; trumping both, however, was his first-rate 2007 Pinot Noir Marin County. I also waded over to Sojourn Cellar’s table to indulge in a number of their wines. While the 2008 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley seemed a tad lackluster, I immensely enjoyed both the 2008 Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard and the superb 2008 Pinot Noir Rodgers Creek Vineyard. Most œnophiles, myself included, think of David Bruce as the premier producer of Pinot Noir from the Santa Cruz Mountains, so it was a bit of a surprise to find them here; nonetheless, winemaker Mitri Faravashi produced a splendid 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley and slipped in a taste of his unsanctioned (for this event) 2004 Estate Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains.

I would think any Pinot-focused event would embrace such varietals as Pinot Meunier and Pinotage, the aforementioned white Pinots, interpretations like Vin Gris or Blanc de Pinot Noir, or any version of sparkling wine that incorporates these grapes, but I found little variance from the common standard this afternoon among the limited number of wineries I could visit. La Rochelle did deviate from the norm with the refreshing 2009 Pinot Gris alongside their refined 2008 Pinot Noir Sleepy Hollow Vineyard and their more broadly designated 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains. Newcomer Halleck Vineyard strayed even further with their 2009 Dry Gewürztraminer that nicely complimented their family of Pinots: the 2007 Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2007 The Farm Vineyards Pinot Noir, and the 2007 Three Sons Cuvée Pinot Noir. Far surpassing its brethren, however, was their 2007 Hillside Cuvée Pinot Noir, an extraordinary find.

Another new find for Sostevinobile was Capiaux Cellars from Angwin. Atypically offering a selection of their wines from two different vintages, both their 2007 Pinot Noir Widdoes Vineyard and 2007 Pinot Noir Wilson Vineyard presented strong, forward interpretations of the varietal; greater discrepancy could be tasted between the anything but illusory 2008 Pinot Noir Chimera and the 2008 Pinot Noir Freestone Hill Vineyard. Freestone itself poured a pair of wines, the 2008 Fogdog Pinot Noir and their eponymous 2007 Freestone Pinot Noir. Also divided between these two vintages, wines produced from Durrell Vineyards contrasted its elite 2008 Dunstan Pinot Noir, with the 2007 Sand Hill Pinot Noir, another Don van Staaveren collaboration.

I do not recall whether I preferred the unfiltered 2007 HKG Pinot Noir Russian River Valley from Hop Kiln to its 2008 Estate Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, such were the challenges o
f taking notes and maintaining one’s balance amid the soggy conditions. I did, however, manage to record my highly favorable impressions of both the 2007 Pinot Noir La Colline and the 2007 Pinot Noir La Coupelle, two single vineyard offerings from Laetitia. And no shorthand was necessary to recall how truly superb both the 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley and the 2007 Pinot Noir Nicole’s Vineyard that J Vineyards poured were.

At long last, I finally encountered a sparkling wine, Gloria Ferrer’s 2007 Blanc de Noirs. While chatting with winemaker Bob Iantosca, I also sampled their 2005 José Ferrer Pinot Noir and its 2006 successor, along with the 2006 Carneros Estate Pinot Noir and its 2007 version. Another GF, Gary Farrell Vineyards, excelled, as one might expect, with both their 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Selection, blended from seven of their contracted vineyards, and the single vineyard designate 2007 Pinot Noir Ramal Vineyard.

Gary Farrell sold his eponymous label in 2004 and, since 2007, has crafted Pinot under his new Alysian line. Unable to tolerate any further soil liquefaction inside the tents, I elected to forgo hunting down the rest of my must-visit wineries (assuming they hadn’t pulled up stakes already) and close out this calamitous afternoon with four of his intriguing new venture’s initial bottlings: the 2007 Pinot Noir Starr Ridge Vineyard; Farrell’s take on a 2007 Pinot Noir Hallberg Vineyard; a competitive 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Selection, and, in a touch of final irony, the superb 2007 Pinot Noir Floodgate West Block.
The name“Alysian” apparently derives from a corrupted transliteration of Ἠλύσιον, the Elysian Fields Homer cites as the final abode for the souls of dead heroes and warriors. The inundated lawn at Rodney Strong seemed a far cry from such an ætherial vision on this rain-drenched afternoon, but the damage the resultant swamp inflicted on my favorite pair of Tony Lamas may pale in comparison to how this tasting may have been irreparably harmed by its promoters’ failure to make provisions for such abysmal conditions.

I have a favorite moment on The Sopranos where Christopher Moltisanti, clinging to life, envisions himself condemned to an Italian’s vision of Hell. Damnation, in his hallucination, is an Irish bar where every day is St. Patty’s. For an œnophile, I used to fear hell would be a wine & cheese reception, where tweedy scholars deconstructed Rod McKuen poetry while nibbling on cubes of synthetic Cheddar cheese paired with dust-laden jugs of Almaden. After Pinot on the River, I’m starting to wonder if something even more dire could possibly be in store.

I had hoped to mark this milestone for Sostevinobile with a more upbeat entry, and, fortunately, the week did close with the kind of tasting that makes my labors worthwhile. Sunday’s downpour gave way to wondrous, albeit highly delayed, summer weather, just in time to enable the Giants to win both their World Series home games and for CCOF to hold its annual Organic Beer & Wine Tasting at the Ferry Building on balmy, shirtsleeve night.

Some tastings are geared towards cognoscenti, people well versed in a certain field or sector; many of the trade events I attend would strike the casual attendee as indecipherable, if not overwhelming. On the other hand, numerous events that strive to make themselves readily accessible on all levels are likely to be better appreciated by first-time attendees, as they serve as a far more revelatory experience than as an enhancement to previous exposure or opinion. Although there was little change from last year’s gathering, I can think of no better event than CCOF’s Annual Tasting, nor a more enveloping ambiance than the spacious galleria of the Ferry Plaza Market, to introduce the uninitiated to the bounties of organic foods and beverages.

While nearly all the same vendors from last year’s event returned, a notable improvement to the evening was CCOF’s decision to dispense with drink tickets and allow unlimited sampling, something I am sure vendors, as well as attendees appreciated. Also notably improved—the quality of the wine, a testament to the evolution of organic grapegrowing and winemaking, which, admittedly, has experienced a number of pitfalls as it struggled to gain traction here. Perhaps no one exemplified this evolution better than Richard Sanford, on hand from Buellton to pour the panoply of wines he produces at Alma Rosa. Famed for his Lompoc winery, perhaps the foremost producers of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Santa Rita Hills even before Sideways brought it into the public vernacular, he sold his eponymous label and started this subsequent all-organic venture in 2005.

Attendees were richly served with Alma Rose’s 2008 Pinot Gris, plus elegant expressions of the 2007 Pinot Blanc and 2007 Chardonnay. I confess to preferring the 2007 Pinot Noir La Encantada over the 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills, though both presented elegantly structured wines. We migrated next to another organic venture that has evolved in the aftermath of selling off an iconic, eponymous label, even though owner Richard Arrowood had already retreated to Montana after completing harvest at Amapola Creek. I had previously tasted both his estate grown 2007 Syrah and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon in barrel while visiting the winery last year, and marveled at the fully-realized wine, especially the Cabernet.

I had not sampled Hawley’s wines since last year’s CCOF event, and found both their 2009 Viognier and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley likable; even more so, the 2009 Zinfandel Ponzo Vineyard proved to be an outstanding vintage. I had just recently retasted a number of wines from Lodi’s M2, but had not had Emtu since my introduction to their operations last year. This time, the 2008 Rosé of Merlot was both refreshing and delectable, while the 2006 Pinot Noir contrasted starkly from its refined successor, the 2007 Pinot Noir Labyrinth.

Several of the wineries on hand pour at numerous tastings, but it was still enjoyable to sample their bottlings in this context. Hagafen’s 2009 White Riesling proved as reliable as ever, as did the 2008 Chardonnay and 2007 Merlot from Chris Thorpe’s Adastra in Carneros. Unfortunately, I missed the table for his neighbor, Domaine Carneros, but I did manage to try the excellent 2004 Alloy, an enticing Bordeaux blend from Santa Cruz’s organic stalwart, Silver Mountain.

It’s hard to resist pinning on Girasole’s bumblebee sticker, which usually becomes a ubiquitous sighting whenever they participate at a tasting. Even harder to resist was their 2008 Sangiovese, another organic staple, as well as the 2004 Petite Sirah they poured from their Barra of Mendocino label. Much to my chagrin, Phil LaRocca declined to bring his Sangiovese to this event but did manage to impress this year with his 2006 Zinfandel and a seductive 2005 Lush Zinfandel Port.

It’s a rare treat for Mendocino’s Yorkville Cellars to pour their Carménère, and this evening was not one of those occasions; still, the 2007 Richard the Lion Heart nearly mitigated for this oversight, with its exclusive blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carménère. Their 2008 Petit Verdot also resonated, while the 2009 Sweet Malbec displayed a most interesting interpretation of the grape. Over to the east in Lake County, Kelseyville Wine Company provides a cooperative facility for a number of labels who contract their bulk wines. The wines so far have proven adequate, judging by the 2007 Kelseyville Wine Company Sierra Foothills Cabernet Sauvignon, an unspecified 2009 Chace Water White, and the 2005 Old River Cabernet Sauvignon.

Hallcrest Vineyards from Felton produces a number of labels, as well, but I only managed to try the lush 2008 Zenful Zinfandel they bottle under Organic Wine Works. My last wine stop turned out to be Terra Sávia, where my friend Laurie recognized Jim Milone from her Mendocino days. As they renewed acquaintances, I sampled his compelling 2007 Meritage, a Merlot-dominant Bordeaux blend before trying the side-by-side comparison of their two 2009 Chardonnays. Though sourced from the same vineyard, these wines underwent contrasting vinification; call it my California palate, but I found the oaked Chard slightly preferable to its unoaked counterpart.

Had Laurie and I not had theater tickets to A.C.T., we might have had enough time to cover the wines from Chance Creek and Bonterra, as well as the organic sparkling efforts both Korbel and Domaine Carneros have included in their inventory. For that matter, we might have noshed on many of the delicacies being purveyed by Ferry Plaza restaurants like Slanted Door and Hog Island Oyster Company, but settled for some quick slices of Pumpkin Pizza that Marketbar was featuring. We did, however, manage to take in a sip of Golden Vanilla Ale from Thirsty Bear, one of the eight organic brewers participating this evening, before heading out the door.

It’s admittedly quite hard to savor beer after working one’s way through a couple dozen wines, but I owe it to both CCOF and Sostevinobile to gi
ve these craft brewers first crack next year. I am still, after all, quite the neophyte in this regard. but, regardless of what beers, wines, or small plates I do manage to sample in 2011, I know that the 6th Annual Organic Beer & Wine Tasting will be just as splendid as in previous years. And if next year’s event takes place during a downpour, who cares? With its dramatic arched glass ceiling, the Ferry Plaza Marketplace will be sure to keep attendees dry, from head to toe.

And happily “wet” where they should be…