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Chardonnay Grenache Mission Mourvèdre Pinot Grigio Pinot Gris Pinot Noir Rosé Sauvignon Blanc Syrah Viognier

The wine was terrific. The food was offal.

Readers here realize that Sostevinobile will offer a vastly different wine æsthetic than RN74, and given the subordinate role local wines play at this establishment, it’s a bit surprising to see them host trade association events in their vast antechamber. But a growing number of wineries, particularly Syrah and Pinot Noir producers, are falling within sommelier Rajat Parr’s strictures, and so, recently, this pioneering viticultural shrine has conducted a pair of truly excellent tastings that Your West Coast Oenophile has attended.

A few weeks back, San Francisco saw its first gathering of the Santa Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance. While this diverse collection of wineries has banded together for the past ten years, this tasting represented, to the best of my knowledge, their first collective foray outside their region. Among the 19 wineries on hand, several new faces were interspersed alongside a handful of familiars, but given the utterly manageable scope of the event, I was able to allot equal attention to all.

Sta. Rita Hills, of course, is Sideways territory, and so it made sense to commence with Hitching Post, where owner Gray Hartley poured a selection of—what else?—his Pinots. We started off with the 2006 Pinot Noir Fiddlestix Vineyard before settling into the more selective 2007 Pinot Noir Perfect Set, a barrel selection from their Fiddlestix fruit. The literally named 2007 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita’s Earth preceded his best selection, the lyrical 2006 Pinot Noir Cargasacchi Vineyard

Of course, it was no surprise to find Peter Cargasacchi among this group. Under his eponymous label, he contrasted the rounded 2007 Pinot Noir Cargasacchi Vineyard with the developing 2009 Pinot Noir Cargasacchi Vineyard (I forget why he bypassed the 2008). From his Point Concepción label, he poured a striking interpretation of Pinot Grigio, the 2009 Celestina, a wine vinified by destemming the clusters and allowing them to cold soak on their own reddish-pink skins to extract greater flavor, as well as its pink/orange hue. Following this unconventional bottling, he capped his appearance with Cargasacchi’s compelling 2009 Late Harvest Pinot Grigio.
Demetria also presented an anomalous lineup that eschewed the 2008 vintage. Starting with their 2007 Eighteen Chardonnay Santa Rita Hills, this extraordinary bottling edged out its 2009 version. I preferred the 2007 Pinot Noir Cuvée Sandra to the 2007 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills, while finding both the 2009 Pinot Noir Cuvée Sandra to the 2009 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills, while finding both the quite exceptional. Conversely, Kessler-Haak poured only from their 2008 vintage, offering a likable 2008 Syrah Turner Vineyard, their estate 2008 Pinot Noir Kessler-Haak Vineyard, and the impressive 2008 Chardonnay Kessler-Haak Vineyard.

I would have expected less orthodoxy within this AVA, but, at least this afternoon, few other producers showed much outside the Chardonnay-Pinot Noir-Syrah triumvirate that predominates throughout the Central Coast. Fiddlehead Cellars did pour a 2010 Rosé of Pinot Noir before serving up their trio of traditional Pinots from their Fiddlestix Vineyard, starting with the 2007 Lollapalooza Pinot Noir. From the same vintage, the 2007 Seven Twenty Eight Pinot Noir proved notably superior, as did the 2005 Lollapalooza Pinot Noir.

Fiddlehead is one of the growing number of wineries that bifurcate their operations between California and Oregon. Siduri, similarly, produces wines in both states, but leaves its more experimental winemaking to their Novy label.
At RN74, no disappointment could be found with
2009 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills nor the 2009 Pinot Noir Clos Pepe Vineyard, yet both were eclipsed by the sensational 2009 Pinot Noir Cargasacchi Vineyard. Just as enticing, the 2009 Pinot Noir Cargasacchi Vineyard from Pali Wine Company proved their best effort here, overshadowing their versions of both the 2009 Pinot Noir Fiddlestix Vineyard and its preceding vintage. Still, their 2009 Pinot Noir Huntington showed true individuality.

I’ve tried Dragonette at a number of different Pinot events, so was pleased to be able explore the diversity of their lineup here, starting with their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Santa Ynez Valley, one of three they produce from the Happy Canyon sub-sub-AVA. Moving on, their 2010 Rosé of Pinot Noir provided a superb transition to their red bottlings, including the 2009 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills and their distinctive 2009 Pinot Noir Hilliard Bruce Vineyard. To my taste, however, Dragonette showed most strongly with their Rhône vintages, the 2008 Syrah and the 2008 MJM, a profound Syrah blended with Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Viognier.

I am always fond of a good Viognier, and so it was extraordinary to discover Cold Heaven, a wine venture devoted to this oft-times fickle grape. Supremely complemented by the allure of winemaker Morgan Clendenen’s golden tresses, this lineup began with her 2009 Viognier Au Bon Climat, then followed by the 2009 Viognier Sanford & Benedict Vineyard. Of course, I had to admire a wine coyly called the 2009 Pinot Noir Never Tell, but Morgan’s forte proved to be the 2009 Late Harvest Viognier, an exceptional dessert wine.

D’Alfonso-Curran didn’t try to match Cold Heaven, but they comport themselves more than admirably with their 2009 Di Bruno Pinot Grigio from the same, acclaimed Sanford & Benedict Vineyard. Holding back their wines longer than most, they then presented a quartet of Pinots, starting with the 2006 Pinot Noir Sanford & Benedict Vineyard. I felt a bit tepid about the 2006 Pinot Noir Rancho Las Hermanas Vineyard, but truly cottoned to the 2006 Pinot Noir Rancho La Viña Vineyard. And it was wonderful to learn from Marketing Director Lisa Christensen that their euphonic 2006 BADGE Pinot Noir did indeed derive its name form the Cream classic.

It was good to meet noted vineyardist Wes Hagen and plow my way through the seven Clos Pepe wines he poured. First, he contrasted the austere 2009 Estate Chardonnay “Hommage to Chablis” with the luscious 2009 Estate Chardonnay Barrel Fermented. Demonstrating the longevity of his wines, he next poured the 2000 Estate Chardonnay, a wine showing remarkably well after 11 years. Wes’ Pinot selections showcased a disjointed vertical, with a young 2009 Estate Pinot Noir to start. I found the 2007 and 2006 vintages equivalent yet better, while being happily surprised to see the 2000 Estate Pinot Noir had aged so elegantly.

Seven wines in one stop meant I needed a dose of sustenance before moving on. Fortunately, RN74 put out a generous spread of salumi, including an addictive finocchiona (dry fennel sausage). What I mistook for a variant on head cheese turned out to be paté de compagne, a ground blend of pork and bacon. Very good, if not offal.

Back at the tasting stations, I brought myself next to Foley Family Wines’ table, where this burgeoning conglomerate served up a selection from a pair of its labels
. From
Lincourt, the 2009 Chardonnay Steel was delightful, the 2008 Pinot Noir Rancho Santa Rosa Vineyard even more so. Their home brand, Foley Estate, compared favorably with their own 2008 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills. With his Byron and Io labels now part of Jackson Family Wines, Santa Barbara pioneer Ken Brown showcased his eponymous line, starting with a 2009 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir. The 2008 Rancho La Viña Vineyard Pinot Noir proved an even more noteworthy expression, as did both the 2007 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir and the 2007 Clos Pepe Vineyard Pinot Noir.

A couple wineries that Sostevinobile had yet to cover proved fortuitous finds. At 18,000 cases, Gainey Vineyards qualifies as more than a boutique operations, yet both their 2009 Chardonnay and 2008 Limited Selection Pinot Noir showed handcrafted elegance. The tiny production of Gypsy Canyon (<200 cases) belies a sophistication both with their 2009 Pinot Noir and the non-vintage Ancient Vine Angelica Dona Marcelina’s Vineyard, a seductive dessert wine vinted from the historic Mission grapes originally planted in the AVA.

Longoria Wines offers quite a diverse portfolio of varietals and blends, so it seemed surprising that they only poured a selection of their Pinots here. Nonetheless, there was much to admire in their 2008 Pinot Noir Lovely Rita and the 2007 Pinot Noir Fe Ciega Vineyard, as well as the approachable 2008 Pinot Noir Rancho Santa Rosa. Others, like Zotovich, which grows Dolcetto and Barbera for Italian varietal specialists Palmina, showcased compelling bottlings of both their 2007 Estate Pinot Noir and 2008 Estate Syrah.

Sweeney Canyon is an understated, dry-farmed vineyard producing wines from its own fruit. Their 2008 Chardonnay Sweeney Canyon Vineyard preceded an even more extraordinary 2006 Chardonnay Sweeney Canyon Vineyard, while the 2007 Pinot Noir Sweeney Canyon Vineyard proved slightly preferable to the 2008 Pinot Noir Sweeney Canyon Vineyard. Completing this tasting, Kenneth-Crawford Wines scored across-the-board excellence with 2007 Pinot Noir Turner Vineyard and the 2006 Syrah Lafond Vineyard, then ratcheted things up a notch with both the 2008 Pinot Noir Babcock Vineyard and the 2006 Syrah Turner Vineyard.

I must tip my hat to RN74 for this splendid gathering. Great wine, delicious house-cured meats, and a cozy, manageable setting. Just the kind of industry tasting Sostevinobile will strive to host in the near future.


A couple of weeks later, Rajat & Co. managed to outdo themselves with their own conference and tasting: California Pinot Noir: In Pursuit of Balance. Here 23 diverse Pinot Noir producers who fit within RN74’s dictum against wines exceeding 14% alcohol levels. In many ways, a bouquet to the select California producers among this wine emporium’s vast roster, this gathering felt like a veritable Who’s Who of the leading winemakers who emphasize restraint above all in their vinification practices.

And in keeping with the spirit of the event, I am going to try to record my summaries of the various wines equally restrained—or at least as succinct as I can ever be! I did not attend the seminar which preceded this tasting, but I did know that Vanessa Wong was one of the panelists, so starting with Peay seemed as logical a choice as any. A rare event where Andy Peay was not representing the winery; in his stead, Vanessa’s husband (and Andy’s brother) Nick poured a trio of their wines, starting with the more general 2009 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, then moving on to the 2009 Pinot Noir Ama Estate, and, finally, to the superb 2009 Pinot Noir Pomarium Estate. I can always count on Peay to have something outside a tasting’s parameters hidden under the table, and thus was ecstatic to sample their utterly marvelous estate Syrah, the 2008 Les Titans

Given the affinity many of these wineries share for also producing Syrah, I would have expected there to have been a strong overlap here from the previous day’s Rhône Rangers tasting, but only found Pax Mahle, whom I just met for the first time. I would not have minded trying his Wind Gap wines every day that week, with a caveat. Wind Gap epitomizes the precepts of In Pursuit of Balance, and in its relentless fidelity to the production of wines that suppress the level of alcohol in order to promote greater expression
of terroir, they fall prey to the same pitfalls that bedevils many of the French wines I have sampled of late. There is little question that these wines handsomely complement food, yet I find the way they are structured makes them dependent on food to succeed. This nuance holds significant ramifications for the wine program Sostevinobile is establishing.

Nonetheless, within this context, I did like the 2008 Pinot Noir Woodruff Vineyard that Wind Gap produced from the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. I found the 2009 vintage preferable, however, on par with their 2009 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast. Another winery often mentioned in the context, Josh Jensen’s Calera holds the enviable position of occupying its own AVA, Mt. Harlan in San Benito County. One of California’s only producers of Aligoté, Calera represented themselves this afternoon with a trio of Pinot, the broadly focused 2009 Pinot Noir Central Coast and two from their exclusive enclave, the 2007 Pinot Noir Jensen Vineyard Mt. Harlan and the 2007 Pinot Noir Ryan Vineyard Mt. Harlan.

I hadn’t had a chance to try Flowers wines since Keiko Niccolini left to start her own company. Not that she had made the wine. Somehow, she just made it taste better. Still, I was extremely pleased with both their 2007 Pinot Noir Sea View Ridge Estate and the 2007 Pinot Noir Thompson Ridge Estate Estate Director Christopher Barefoot poured here. Failla came through with their usual aplomb, impressing with the 2009 Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard and the 2009 Pinot Noir Pearlessence Vineyard; I did feel the 2009 Pinot Noir Keefer Ranch was a tad too young for release.

Speaking of Hirsch Vineyards, Jasmine Hirsch, who orchestrated this tasting, and her father David poured a trio of their famed Pinots, starting with the 2009 Pinot Noir Bohan Dillon. This fine bottling preceded the exceptional 2007 Pinot Noir San Andreas, followed by a preliminary tasting of their 2009 Estate Pinot Noir (barrel sample). On the same level, Jim Clendenen’s Au Bon Climat is revered in these wine circles, and, indeed, his 2008 Isabelle Pinot Noir was close to perfect. keeping pace was his 2009 Le Bon Climat —K&U Pinot Noir and the superb, organically-grown 2007 Clendenen Family Vineyards Pinot Noir.

My command of French may not match up with Jim’s but I will hold my Latin skills up to anyone’s. Of course, it rarely offers any practical use, though I did manage to compel RN74 to correct the En Vino Veritas they had misprinted on their receipts last year. Similarly, I take issue with fellow Brunonian Ted Lemon’s choice of orthography for his Littorai (should be litora), but I cannot quarrel with his selection as the 2010 Winemaker of the Year by SFGate. Both his 2009 Pinot Noir The Pivot Vineyard and the 2009 Pinot Noir Savoy Vineyard struck me as equally fine wines, exceeded by the splendid 2007 Pinot Noir Savoy Vineyard.

Another fixture in these circles, Copain, contrasted four of their Anderson Valley bottlings, starting with the 2009 Les Voisons Pinot Noir and the single vineyard 2009 Wentzel Pinot Noir. tied for Copain’s acme were the 2009 Monument Tree Pinot Noir and the tongue-twister, 2009 Kiser En Haute Pinot Noir. Though I liked their wines, admittedly, the vertical selection of Freestone’s Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, starting with the 2007 and 2008 bottlings, along with a tank sample of the 2009, paled in comparison.

Santa Cruz’ Mount Eden always stood as the odd duck amid the Napa and Sonoma wineries that had bought into The Press Club. The success of this cooperative tasting room’s metamorphosis into a wine lounge remains to be seen, but Mount Eden has emerged no worse for the wear and tear, boasting an exceptional odd-year vertical, the 2009 Estate Pinot Noir, their benchmark 2007 Estate Pinot Noir, and a remarkably well-aged 2005 Pinot Noir. Another familiar venture I was pleased to see here was Native⁹ pouring a mini-vertical of their 2009 Pinot Noir Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard and its superior predecessor, the 2008 Pinot Noir Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard.

I hadn’t previously tried James Ontiveros’ other label, Alta Maria, a collaboration with Paul Wilkins of Autonom. Here the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley proved slightly preferable to the otherwise wondrous 2009 vintage. I had not heard of Chanin Wine Company before this event, but developed a great fondness for their 2008 Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard and the preferable 2008 Pinot Noir Le Bon Climat Vineyard. Similarly, I discovered Kutch Wines here and sampled my way through their 2009 Pinot Noir McDougall Ranch and 2009 Pinot Noir Falstaff, both Sonoma Coast, as well as their 2009 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley.

Before delving into the several other wineries I had not tried before, I needed to recharge my system with the delectable Prosciutto, as well as the same salumi and offal-looking paté RN74 had provided at the previous event. Revitalized, I moved onto Solíste, the winery here that offered the most contrast to the Pinot uniformity. Starting with a crisp 2010 Lune et Soleil Sauvignon Blanc, we segued into the red selections first with the 2009 Soleil Rouge, a rosé of Pinot Noir. The fruity 2008 Pinot Noir L’Esperance preceded a more subdued 2007 vintage, while both contrasted with the younger 2009 Pinot Noir Sonatera Vineyards. Solíste’s forte, however, proved to be their 2008 Syrah Out of the Shadows, a wine that made one wish others had brought along a Syrah as well.

Rajat’s own label, Sandhi, did not pour their Syrah but did assert their viticultural prowess with the 2009 ELV Tempest Pinot Noir; for contrast, the 2009 Sanford & Benedict Chardonnay showed itself to be a worthy balance to its Burgundian counterpart. One of Sandhi’s winemakers, Sashi Moorman, is partnered with former Rubicon General Manager Lawrence Stone in Evening Land Vineyards, a far-flung venture making wines from Sonoma, Santa Rita Hills, the Willamette Valley, and even Burgundy. At In Pursuit of Balance, they sampled both their 2009 Pinot Noir Tempest Bloom’s Field from the SRH appellation and the exceptional 2009 Pinot Noir Occidental Vineyards along the Sonoma Coast.

Also from the Sonoma Coast, Cobb Wines offered an assimilable threesome: the 2007 Pinot No
ir Emmaline Vineyard
, the uxorial 2008 Pinot Noir Diane Cobb: Coastlands Vineyard, and their standout, the 2008 Pinot Noir Coastlands Vineyard. This appellation also featured John Raytek’s Ceritas, with their 2008 Pinot Noir Escarpa Vineyard and its successive vintage; with Sanglier’s Glenn Alexander, he also produced the 2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir under the Cartha label, a venture that has been widely praised for its Sonoma Coast Chardonnay.

I had had disparate experiences with the final three wineries. Lioco, a stalwart of the Natural Wine movement, balanced their offerings here between the 2009 Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard and their outstanding 2009 Pinot Noir Michaud Vineyard from the Chalone appellation. Miura, which I had cajoled into donating wine to The Asia Society’s Annual Dinner but never tasted myself, featured their emblematic 2008 Pinot Noir Silacci Vineyard–Matador, along with the 2008 Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard and their standout, the 2008 Pinot Noir Pisoni Vineyard. Rounding out the afternoon, understated Tyler, a winery I had not heard of before, scored with an impressive lineup of Pinots from Santa Barbara: the 2009 Pinot Noir Bien Nacido N Block–Old Vines, a beautiful 2008 Pinot Noir Clos Pepe, and the 2008 Pinot Noir Presidio.

All in all, In Pursuit of Balance turned out to be a splendid event, so much so that I remained for the first hour of the public tasting to resample several of the wines and nosh on some more offal. In doing so, I made one final discovery for the day: our host Rajat Parr plays squash at the same racquets club where I belong. A match will soon be arranged, Sostevinobile vs. RN74. Don’t let on about my court strategy—I intend to subdue by my display of restraint!

Categories
Cabernet Sauvignon Chardonnay Grenache Merlot Mourvèdre Pinot Noir Syrah Tannat

Au contraire

I
suppose a number of people perceive Your West Coast Oenophile as a bit of a contrarian. Certainly, that has always deliberately been the case with the wine program I am building for Sostevinobile
. Our broad-ranging focus on the sustainably grown wines of the West Coast flies in the face of dominant paradigm throughout the San Francisco region, and, to be honest, I am hoping it will carve out quite a special niche for us.

Other times, however, my iconoclasm stems from something more unintentional. I really do not have a refined beer palate and usually end up ordering wine at brewpubs like Gordon Biersch. Not that I dislike the beers—they just don’t go down as easily, especially when I’m not accompanying them with food.

The day after my marathon excursion to Napa, I attended the Pinot Noir Summit’s Grand Awards Tasting at the Hilton Hotel-Financial District in San Francisco. I had never participated in one of Barbara Drady’s wine events before, but I had agreed to help publicize it (for which I was extended my trade ticket) beforehand; even so, it was a bit of terra incognita when I arrived. Perhaps because I’ve become so intimately involved with wine, I could not get myself in the spirit of the event or to participate in the Shootout that saw competing bottles of Pinot color-tagged and ludicrously wrapped in aluminum foil.

Frankly, I was still
decompressing from the sensory overload of eight tastings in two days
and was tempted to leave almost immediately after I arrived
. However, I quickly became aware that nearly all of the participating wineries were pouring a range of wines in addition to their Pinot submissions. Wonderful! A Pinot tasting with varietal variety!

And so I set out in iconoclastic fashion to taste my way through such wines as the appealing 2008 Lascivious, an anomalous blend, in its own right, of Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvèdre and Syrah from Paso Robles’ Asuncion Ridge and the exceptional 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Frank Family. The very vivacious Teri Michele Love impressed me with the quirkily-labeled 2008 Tiggy Paso Robles, an asymmetric mélange crafted from Grenache and Tannat by her Gioia Wine.

From Sonoma, UPTick Vineyards vinted an amiable 2008 Russian River Valley Estate Syrah. A well-familiar operation, also from Sonoma, Simple Math showed itself as delightful as when I first sampled their wines last year; this time they featured the 2007 Convex, a Syrah blended with 20% Grenache.

I managed to find a couple of contrasting whites in this crowded room, starting with the 2009 Chardonnay from Leveroni, the same family that produces Clover Stornetta milk, one of the Bay Area’s most iconic (Tip Clo through Your Two Lips) brands. While Chardonnay is a natural complement to Pinot Noir, the excellent 2008 Riesling from Oregon’s Firesteed Cellars proved a surprising yet welcome contrast to the expected.

Temecula
may be California’s most unpresupposing AVA, but I am always glad to
make new discoveries from this Riverside County enclave. Here, Woodworth Vineyards proved their mettle with the pleasant 2007 Black Dog, a modest blend of 65% Cabernet, 25% Syrah, and 10% Merlot.
I also sampled their 2008 Estate Pinot Noir, a wine that underscored the vast geographic range where this varietal can flourish. From that point, it simply became a matter of tasting as many Pinots as I could squeeze into the time remaining.

I was surprised I had not previously tried the wines of Santa Rosa’s Adler Fels, but found their 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara more than approachable. Roudon-Smith’s winemaker Brandon Armitage inaugurated his eponymous, 70-case production of the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains. Coming in slightly larger, with 425 cases of Pinot Noir and a mere 75 of Cabernet Sauvignon, Fotinos Brothers of Carneros impressed with their sophomore vintage offering, the 2007 OSR II Block Los Carneros Pinot Noir. Similarly, Coghlan Vineyards of Los Olivos produced only 300 cases of their 2009 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir, with a bottling of Grenache Blanc to be released this fall.

I moved about the other tables with relative precision, seeking out new labels, eschewing the imports, and exchanging pleasantries with established friends. From Healdsburg, Portalupi showcased an austere 2008 Pinot Noir Russell Family Vineyards they describe as “Côte du Nuit not Côte du Rhône.” Over the years, I have sampled numerous Pinots from the Sonoma Coast, but only once before encountered Sonoma Coast Vineyards, which poured their delightful 2007 Pinot Noir Balistreri Vineyard. North by a few miles, Standish Wine Company featured their whimsical Wild King label and its 2007 Pinot Noir Bosc Block.



I find the labels from PARO Wines incredibly evocative (hopefully, most attendees got to see this bottle with the aluminum cloak removed); sourcing their grapes from various AVAs in both Sonoma and Mendocino, their 2009 Pinot Noir Indindoli Vineyards artfully depicted the splendors of Russian River Valley fruit. Another Mendocino finalist, Masút, is a relatively new offshoot from the prodigious Fetzer clan, here making an impressive debut with their 2009 Estate Pinot Noir. I can’t unravel the etymology of either Indindoli or Masút, but I do know that Joseph Jewell derives from the middle names (to be sure, far more assimilable than Micah Adrian or Wirth Manspeaker) of its two proprietors, who collaborated on their 2008 Pinot Noir Appian Way Vineyards from the Russian River Valley.

The curiously named Zoller Wine Styling constitutes a Paso Robles enterprise producing an assortment of ten far-ranging labels, represented here by their 2008 Pinot Noir Keller Vineyards from the Sonoma Coast. Embracing a wide swath of Central California, virtual winery Pacific Coast Vineyards introduced themselves in stunning fashion with their superb 2007 Pinot Noir Babcock Vineyards from the Santa Rita Hills. Similarly spreading out from their Templeton base, Icon Estates’ Wild Horse offer an amiable 2008 Pinot Noir Central Coast.

Not to be confused with Wild Horse, WildAire from the Willamette Valley impressed with their 2008 Pinot Noir Timothy. Returning to California, Cotati’s James Family Cellars offered an unpretentious 2008 Pinot Noir Stony Point Vineyard, while nearby, overlooking the Sonoma Plaza, Sharp Cellars poured the highly impressive 2007 Keenan’s Cove Pinot Noir.

I sampled both of Windward Vineyards’ bottlings, the 2008 Monopole Pinot Noir and the 2008 Gold Barrel Select Pinot Noir, with equal delight. And I also sipped two contrasting wines from McIntyre Vineyards, preferring the 2008 Estate Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands to the nonetheless excellent 2007 Pinot Noir Arroyo Seco.


I had tried McIntyre’s Vin Gris of Pinot Noir at last year’s Wine Artisans of the Santa Lucia Highlands in Los Gatos. Given their ubiquity at more tastings I can count, I would have thought my friend Joe Lazzara’s Jazz Cellars would also have poured there, so it was a fitting conclusion that I finished off the event here with their delightful 2008 Doctor’s Vineyard Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands.

Perhaps my relentless pursuit to taste and catalog the finest wines from the West Coast for Sostevinobile has left me a bit jaded. I can’t countenance such secular activities as Wine Tweets or the circus-like atmosphere at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Maybe this popularity pageant at the Pinot Noir Summit presented a valid exercise in broadening these wines’ appeal to the general public—as one might say in Québec or France, however, ce n’était pas à mon goût. But still, I recognize that this event did introduce me to quite a number of wineries I had not previously encountered or, in several instances, even heard of, and I did get to sample some very fine Pinot Noirs this evening, along with a far more diverse selection of wines than I ordinarily encounter at single-varietal tastings. So, contrary to my initial inclination, je suppose que cette fête ne fût pas si mauvais, après tout.

Categories
Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Carignane Chardonnay Chenin Blanc Malbec Malvasia Bianca Merlot Petit Verdot Petite Sirah Primitivo Refosco Riesling Sauvignon Blanc Sémillon Syrah Valdiguié Zinfandel

Quattro…cinque…sei…sette…otto…

4) Spring Mountain

I don’t mean to give short shrift to the early morning reception at Clos du Val, but Your West Coast Oenophile had reviewed the same wines served here back at their Vindependence function in July, and with my well-documented aversion to eggs, I could only try the wonderful baguettes along with the 2009 Ariadne (Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon), Pinot Noirs, and library Cabernets on hand. But I did manage to persuade Hospitality and Wine Education Associate Jim Wilkinson to open a bottle of the limited-release 2007 Primitivo that I enjoyed immensely.

Excruciatingly missing from Clos du Val’s fête was my essential AM Java jolt (I had anticipated getting my fix here and so had eschewed the hotel’s diluted styrofoam-clad version before driving up to Stags Leap). Miraculously, I managed to cruise on autopilot over to Yountville and locate the quaint Coffee Caboose I had espied the day before at the Napa Valley Railway Inn. Sufficiently caffeinated, I coherently would my way up St. Helena Highway to join in the festivities at Spring Mountain Vineyard.

Constrictions of time and space here preclude me from recounting numerous tales of this storied winery, which I had not visited since 1984. Suffice it to say, the facilities had changed dramatically over the past quarter century, as had the personnel. Still, I found it most welcoming to be greeted by Sostevinobile’s Facebook fan Valli Ferrell before descending into the bowels of the candlelit caves that had been excavated since my last tour.

To be frank, long-term, subterranean occupancy may well be suitable for bats, but it is hardly conducive to Homo sapiens, and while being capable of flying might mitigate reincarnation as one of the Chiroptera species in the next life, for now, negotiating a two-hour tasting in this dimly-lit environment utterly strained my endurance. That said, the wines, of course, proved more than delectable, and, despite the constraints of the setting, I managed to negotiate all 17 wineries pouring here.

First up, I stopped by Cain to chat with Associate Winemaker François Bugué and sample through his eclectic mix. We started with his non-vintage Cain Cuvée, a Merlot-dominant blend from both the 2006 and 2007 vintages, rounded out with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, as well as 7% Petit Verdot. With 20% Merlot and just 2% Cabernet Franc, the 2006 Cain Concept could have been labeled varietal Cabernet Sauvignon, while the flagship 2006 Cain 5 married the five Bordeaux grapes in differing percentages, with none dominating. Most intriguing, however, was Cain’s auction selection, the 2009 François’ Pick, an atypical blend of 67% Malbec and 33% Petit Verdot. By contrast, Frias Family chose simply to pour their excellent 2007 Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, while Sherwin Family’s lone entry, the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, softened with 12% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc.

I’d missed the table for Vineyard 7 & 8 at the Next Generation tasting, so was pleased to atone for my oversight here with their trio of Cabernets. I preferred the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon to the(slightly) more modest 2007 7 Cabernet Sauvignon, while the 2001 7 Cabernet Sauvignon proved an unexpected pleasure. And although I had tried both wines only a few hours before, I was happy to resample the 2009 Albion and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Marston Family again poured.

Another all-Cab effort, Peacock contrasted their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District with winemaker Craig Becker’s East Napa venture, Somerston, from along Sage Canyon Road, and its 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Estate Grown; like Vineyard 7 & 8, Peacock also treated attendees to a taste to a retrospective of their 2001 vintage.

The Spring Mountain District AVA was established in 1983, so I am at a los to explain of the significance of the 2001 vintage or why nearly every winery here brought a sample. Although they produce a number of varietals, Terra Valentine showcased a pure Cabernet play, starting with their 2001 Wurtele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. I was just as pleased with the 2007 Wurtele, while the 2007 Yverdon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Spring Mountain District Cabernet both proved highly amiable wines. By contrast, the 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Barnett Vineyards poured outshone their current 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District, while the 2008 Merlot Spring Mountain District provided a refreshing contrast to this uniformity.

Juslyn Vineyards may not be Justin Vineyards (now incongruously part of the Fiji Water empire), but their wines created no ambiguity, with a superb 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, complemented by their proprietary 2006 Perry’s Blend, a Merlot-based Meritage tempered with 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot. Behrens Family Winery, producers of Erna Schein, featured their Behrens & Hitchcock label, bulking up with their 2006 Petite Sirah Spring Mountain District and the evocatively illustrated 2007 The Heavyweight, an equal Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot mix, tempered with 20% Petit Verdot.

Keenan Winery virtually wrote the book on blending Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Their flagship 2001 Mernet combined 50% Merlot with equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Just as impressive was the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District, while the 2008 Chardonnay Spring Mountain District brought a most welcome white wine into the mix. Similarly, Fantesca showcased not only their impressive 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon but what they claim is winemaker Heidi Barrett’s first foray into white Burgundy, her 2008 Chardonnay.

Schweiger first poured their 2008 Estate Chardonnay, then followed with the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and an utterly compelling Meritage, the 2006 Dedication, a wine easily 5-10 years before its peak. Their best effort, however, was assuredly their ten year old 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon, an omen for these later vintages. Newton’s iconic 2007 Unfiltered Chardonnay definitely stood up to its considerable legend, but their coup here came from two near-perfect wines, the superbly aged 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon and their 2007 The Puzzle, a marriage of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, and 3% Cabernet Franc.

Before coming to this event, I cruised to the top of Spring Mountain and inadvertently found myself driving through Pride Mountain’s vineyards. Here I intentionally navigated my way through their superlative 2009 Chardonnay, then onto the 2008 Merlot and 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, before settling into their luxurious 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon. Last up, our hosts, Spring Mountain Vineyards gallantly provided the final pours of this tasting, starting with a most refreshing 2009 Estate Sauvignon Blanc. The 2007 Syrah proved a welcome alternative to the near monotony of Bordeaux reds, while their own 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon held its own in this crowded field. Finally, the 2006 Elivette, a Cabernet Sauvignon with touches of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, led into their crowning achievement, the 2001 Elevette.

And with this final wine, I re-emerged from the bowels of darkness into a bath of welcome sunlight. Gradually regaining my bearings, I quickly thanked Valli (“Farewell, Ferrell”) for her hospitality and proceeded to “de-elevate” from the mountain slope to the floor of the Valley for my second round of the afternoon.

5) St. Helena

Even before I arrived at the Charles Krug Winery, it had become apparent that I would never be able to taste every wine and visit with every winery, with barely an hour to devote to each of the events remaining on my itinerary, Highway 29 traffic notwithstanding. I headed down Spring Mountain Road, turned north, and followed Main Street almost the juncture where the St. Helena Highway resumes.

I’ve attended enough events at Krug now that I instinctively knew to head for the restored 1881 Carriage House behind the main winery facilities. My head was still throbbing from spelunking at Spring Mountain, but Whitehall Lane’s Do
uglas Logan-Kuhs heroically managed to round up some aspirin. Revitalized, I proceeded to ply my way through the various wineries I had not yet contacted for Sostevinobile, and then some.

Commencing with Bressler, I found their superb 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon to be everything one should expect from a Mia Klein/David Abreu collaboration. Another boutique producer, this time with Chris Dearden consulting as winemaker, V Madrone poured a noteworthy 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon V Madrone Vineyard, along with its even more fetching predecessor from 2006.

I suspect the generic name of Peter Story’s St. Helena Winery may have caused me to overlooked this unassuming venture over the years, so finally being able to sample their 2006 Scandale and superb 2006 Sympa, both Estate Cabernet Sauvignons, proved truly serendipitous. Another discovery, Casa Nuestra, seems delightfully bent on going against the St. Helena grain, beginning with the once commonly planted 2010 Estate Dry Chenin Blanc. What they label the 2007 Tinto St. Helena is a field blend not of Portuguese but of traditional Napa varietals including Refosco, Petite Sirah, Carignane, and Zinfandel; their special bottling for Première, the 2009 Ellis blended these same grapes, along with Mondeuse and Valdiguié, from their Oakville vineyard where they produce their self-described Tinto Classico.

Van Ballentine didn’t pour his acclaimed Chenin Blanc but did offer a sample of the newly-released 2009 Malvasia Bianca Betty’s Vineyard, followed by his 2006 Merlot St. Helena. And certainly there was nothing small about either 2006 Petit Verdot and 2008 Petite Sirah, two wines I greatly enjoyed. Stellar quality seemed to be the rule of thumb at this event, but, after Ballentine, few of the wineries I tried showed little daring to venture outside of Bordelaise orthodoxy. Jaffe Estate, which had so impressed me at November’s St. Helena tasting, revalidated my laudation of their wines with the 2007 Transformation, a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot. Boeschen Vineyards complemented their fine 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon with their 2008 Carrera Estate Blend, a Meritage of unspecified proportions.

A familiar name with which I first became acquainted in 1982, Freemark Abbey’s 2007 Josephine could almost have qualified as a blend, but with only 12.6% Merlot, 7.9% Malbec, and 4% Cabernet Franc, its 75.5% Cabernet Sauvignon met the varietal threshold. I tried to convince Joann Ross of Shibumi Knoll to incorporate the Rolling Stones’ Shattered (okay, so maybe Jagger is actually singing “shadoobie”) before delving into their inarguably wondrous 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.

I’ve ceased being surprised at all the AVA tastings where I find Steve Lohr pouring; his family’s Silicon Valley-based J. Lohr Vineyards may very well source grapes from every single one! From St. Helena, his 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Carol’s Vineyard proved surprisingly appealing, as did the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Tomasson Vineyard from Midsummer Cellars.

Just a notch higher, I found the 2006 Bisou Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Bisou Cabernet Sauvignon, James Johnson’s sole endeavor, equally excellent. On par here was the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Sabina Vineyards, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Forman Vineyards, and the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from Revana.

Although I’ve sampled his wines on a number of occasions, this tasting marked my first meeting namesake Dr. Madaiah Revana, who graciously invited me to one of his storied house parties the next evening (alas, I was already committed to a tasting back in San Francisco). I also met Austin Gallion of Vineyard 29 after numerous e-mail exchanges over the past several months while tasting my way through their phenomenal 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and their Première bottling, a 2009 Cabernet culled from their several Napa vineyards.

By now, I was approaching the time I had allotted St. Helena, but did take a final taste of the 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2006 Estate Petite Sirah from Varozza. I had hoped to see my friends Marc and Janice Mondavi before I left, but they were not in the Carriage House. H
owever, my friend Douglas Logan-Kuhs pulled off yet another coup, introducing me to 96-year-old Peter Mondavi Sr., and poured us both a taste of a 1960 Zinfandel (I believe it was bottled under the CK Mondavi line—the label was too faded to read!), a wine that had withstood the tests of time almost as well as the winery’s patriarch.

6) Rutherford

In retrospect, maybe I ought to have attended the Phillipe Melka party at David Stevens’ 750 Wines instead of the Rutherford event, or skipped both and taken in the Oakville tasting from the beginning. Not that the wines poured upstairs at Peju weren’t wondrous—it was just that I’d had the opportunity to sample all of them several times previously.

Several of the staff recalled me from my sorry-I-can’t do-eggs luncheon visit this past summer. In turn, however, I was pleasantly surprised to find my longtime associate Dan Gaffey, with whom I’d worked at Real Beer.com, now part of the Peju team. (The irony here is that I wrote the content for nearly 30 craft beer brewers’ websites throughout the latter part of the 1990s, yet probably consumed the equivalent of one 6-pack a year—or less)!

Running into Dan probably set the tone for this gathering, which ultimately proved more of a klatch than a tasting. Doyen Huerta Peju may not have been in attendance, but Rutherford’s sonsiest winemaker, Bridget Raymond warmly greeted me at the top of the stairs. As we caught up with each other and discussed her upcoming San Francisco Vintners Market, I sampled her latest effort, the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon she bottles under her Courtesan label, as well as the Meritage from her secondary line, the 2006 Brigitte.

Over in the main room, Greg Martin stood out in a corduroy jacket that understated his encyclopædic command of antique weaponry and other artifacts of medieval societies. I see Greg quite often at our health club and have sampled his wines almost as frequently, so after retasting Martin Estate’s 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, I deferred to my friend, aspirant œnophile Lisa Mroz, while I roamed about the other stations. I didn’t see my former neighbor Michael Honig, who used to run his family operations from their home in Pacific Heights when the winery solely focused on Sauvignon Blanc. Now firmly ensconced in Rutherford, their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc displayed redolence of the mastery that gave this winery such acclaim, but the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Campbell Vineyard showed even stronger, as did the 2008 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc.

Nearby, Alpha Omega also showcased their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and their special Première bottling, the 2009 Red (52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 13 Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot). I sampled Cakebread’s anomalous 2009 Red, a blend of 75% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, and 10% Syrah, before I meandered to the back room and ran into Julie Johnson.

At Julie’s insistence, I worked my way through her range of Tres Sabores wines, starting with a luscious 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. As we traded recollections of Spring Mountain Winery from the 1980s, I sampled her organic 2008 Estate Zinfandel and 2008 ¿Por Qué No?, an unusual blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Petit Verdot, before trying her best effort, the compelling 2007 Petite Sirah. As a couple out-of- town buyers commandeered Julie’s attention, I turned to introduce myself to Sharon Crull of The Terraces. As we chatted, I revisited her 2009 Chardonnay and the intensely aromatic 2009 Riesling, an uncommon Rutherford varietal. As usual, I found the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon thoroughly enjoyable, while the 2008 Zinfandel and 2008 Petite Sirah were clearly superior wines.

Napa Smith Brewery also manned a table here, a first time (in my experience) that a Napa wine tasting also featured a beer maker. By now, however, I was clearly past the hour I had slated to arrive at Oakville’s Opening Party for Première, and, besides, there was no way my stomach could tolerate mixing beer with wine at this point. Instead, Amanda Horn sent me off with 22 oz. bottles of their Organic IPA and the Amber Ale to explore at home for the local, sustainable beer program Sostevinobile will feature. I liked these beers, to be sure, but I realize my palate is far too unrefined to be assaying the beers we will serve. Still, the unfamiliar sight of me cradling a pair of ales definitely put a smile on Dan Gaffey’s face as I left.

7) Oakville

I’ll know better for Première 2012. I should have paid closer attention to the times on my invite. I should have scheduled my other visits more precisely. I should have consulted the GPS Map on my iPhone and realized Nickel & Nickel’s facilities and the Far Niente estate, where the Oakville tasting was being held, weren’t situated all that close to each other. And ever since the time we drove to Oxbow Market’s special reception for successful Auction Napa Valley bidders on the wrong day, I should have known not to rely on Karen Mancuso’s inside scoops.

Despite the glaring typo on its program cover, Première Napa Valley Begins in Oakville was the focal event of the day, but I only caught the last half hour or so. Once I managed to find a space in the makeshift parking lot, I elected to walk up to the caves rather than wait for a shuttle, which dissipated another vital 15 minutes I might have spent interacting with the participating wineries. Once I did arrive, the labyrinthine caves felt more like a maze; finding in which corridor the individual wineries had set up might even have confounded Dædalus!

I did connect with quite a few, nonetheless, while others that I missed, like Detert, Ghost Block, Gargiulo, Swanson, and Gamble, have been covered here quite a few times (not that I would have had any reluctance to taste them again)! First up, I managed to catch up with Groth’s genial winemaker, Michael Weis, while sampling his 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville along with the Duck Rillettes on Crouton from Groth’s chef Peter Hall. Deeper into the cave, Brix chef Anne Gingrass offered up a glimpse of her culinary wizardry with her Fennel & Mushroom Risotto Fritters, fittingly juxtaposed between Kelleher, with their 2005 Cabernet Brix Vineyard, and the always delightful Kristine Ashe, who poured her superb 2008 Entre Nous Cabernet Sauvignon.

Facing this alcove, what turned out to be the central nexus of the caves housed a dizzying array of endeavors, all bearing the Oakville name: Oakville Cuvée, Oakville East, Oakville Ranch, Oakville Terraces, and Oakville Winery. I’m still not sure which represented bonded wineries and which were cooperative bottling projects, but I did manage to sample the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Gary Raugh’s Oakville Terraces and both the 2008 Estate Zinfandel and 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Oakville Winery.

From there, following the map became far too confusing, and in my efforts to locate Opus One, I stumbled upon my friend Phil Schlein, whose protégé at Stanford Business School co-wrote the business plan for Sostevinobile with me. Phil produces three distinct lines of organic wines at his estate, including Emilio’s Terrace and the whimsically named MoonSchlein, but here I only sampled the 2007 Sophie’s Rows, a Cabernet Sauvignon with 10% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc. Unfortunately, I missed out on both Robert Mondavi’s Cabernet selections and the Braised Lamb Bouchée from their chef Jeff Mosher, who had been sharing this station, but the overpowering aromas of Mu Shu Pork served up by Mustard’s Grill chef Cindy Pawlcyn lured me to the deepest recesses of the cave, where I found the tables for Rudd and for Bond/Harlan Estate. Regrettably, Rudd had already packed up and Bond could not even muster a drop from its last bottle of 2006 Vecina, but I did manage to garner the final pour of the 2004 Harlan Estate, a Meritage best described as “mind-blowingly great.” I completely savored every drop.

Just before I left, I did catch my old friend Ren Harris pouring his Paradigm. His Heidi Barrett-crafted 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon deftly blended 7% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot. I knew both Ren and Jeannie Phillips when they shared a real estate office in the Napa Valley, prior to launc
hing their individual labels. I suppose if Screaming Eagle had been on hand for this event, I might never have made it through the front door!

8) Stags Leap

By now, I was fairly exhausted, but I had promised Clos du Val’s Tracey Mason I would make it to the 2011 Stags Leap District Bar and Lounge at Pine Ridge. Here the veneer of valet parking and ornate name tags belied the reality of yet another plunge into the depths of a cave, albeit without even the perfunctory guidance of a map or event program.

Despite the hazy lighting of the disco-like atmosphere, I did manage to stumble upon most of the wineries that had been scheduled to participate and hastily scribbled notes on whatever paper I could muster. Cliff Lede poured his ever-reliable 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District, a wine he rounded out with 12% Merlot, 7% Malbec, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. Foster’s Group’s Stags’ Leap Winery offered its 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon—the wine tasted just as wonderful here as it had when I had tried at the estate last summer.

I was surprised at how much I liked the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Terlato Family Vineyards while the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from their Chimney Rock Winery seemed almost as approachable. Next to their table, Baldacci poured their 2007 Brenda’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon alongside a striking barrel sample of their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon being offered at Saturday’s auction.

On my first Napa swing of 2011, I had stopped at Regusci and lauded their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon as much then as I did this evening. From there, I had meandered down Silverado Trail and tasted with Steltzner, similarly enjoying their 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon as much then as this evening. On a different trip, I had visited with host Pine Ridge, but most assuredly had not been poured the well-rounded 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon they featured here.
Pine Ridge’s nook here also featured the Bar and Lounge’s DJ, and while I enjoyed most of the selections he played, the music only complicated my efforts to sample and evaluate the wines on hand. Barely legible notes list my favorite wine here as the 2007 Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, but I cannot make out my shorthand for the winery. Silverado? Shafer? I am completely lost.
No matter what I had written, it was apparent that I had reach my saturation point. I stopped by Clos du Val’s table to try their contribution to the auction, the 2009 Cabernet Franc, and to thank the two blonde Traceys for inviting me. And with that, I headed back to the less frenetic pace of The City.
Eight tastings and then some in less than 36 hours. I don’t know how many wineries I covered and won’t even try to guess how many wines I had sampled. On my way back to San Francisco, I vowed I would abstain from touching another drop—for at least 18 more hours, when I was due to attend the Affairs of the Vine’s 9th Annual Pinot Noir Summit

Categories
Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Chardonnay Cinsault Dolcetto Grenache Malbec Merlot Petit Verdot Petite Sirah Pinot Noir Ribolla Gialla Riesling Sangiovese Sauvignon Blanc Sémillon Syrah Tocai Friulano

Uno…due…tre…

Eight tastings in the space of 32 hours. And that’s not including wine breakfast at Clos du Val! Is there any wonder why Your West Coast Oenophile is just now filing my review of Première Napa? So, in the interest of posting this review out before Tax Day and trying to do justice to all the wineries with which Sostevinobile connected, let me take a stab at something totally uncharacteristic of this blog—brevity!

To say that Première Napa is the premier trade event of the winter isn’t a tautology; major wine buyers from around the country descend upon the Valley for the entire week preceding this highly anticipated auction. Various trade groups and other associations host dozens of tastings and private parties throughout the entire region, showcasing their barrel samples as well as many of the bottlings they typically reserve only for select customers. With each district seemingly trying to outdo each others, this friendly rivalry makes for quite lavish entertainment for attendees.

It’s hard to countenance, but Sostevinobile is not (yet) on Première’s A-list. I understand the priorities given to auction bidders and the people who already actively purchase wine. Once we are up & running and amassing inventory, though, we will be a force with which to reckon! Last year, I wasn’t even aware that I was in the midst of these events the same day I was conducting a business swing through the Valley; I thought I was meeting Chris Dearden of Costa Del Sol Consulting at the Vintage 1870 Barrel Room simply to try his wines—only to find myself catching the tail end of First Taste Yountville. Being able to sample a small modicum of the wineries on hand, I resolved to redeem myself by starting off my Première marathon here.

1) Yountville

First Taste 2011 included 26 of this sub-appellation’s most distinctive wineries, too many to fit on a single-sheet program but just enough to be able to engage with everyone in a reasonable amount of time. I started off with Tor Kenward, whose Cabernets from Howell Mountain draw inordinate attention at that AVA’s summer gathering; here the 2008 Cabernet Mast Vineyard proved every bit their equal. His tablemate, Tom Scott Vineyard, which really ought to feature a saxophone on their label, held court with a preview of their sole endeavor, the prodigious 2008 Barn Burner Cabernet Sauvignon.

Not too frequently, I land up overlooking a label in the mistaken belief I have previously sampled their wines. I could have sworn I had tasted Tamber Bey on several occasions, but here was glad to be introduced to their two thoroughbreds: the 2008 Deux Chevaux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2008 Deux Chevaux Vineyard Rabicano, a Meritage of predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Their tablemates, the redoubtable Rocca Family, upheld their repute with the 2007 Grigsby Cabernet Sauvignon and the lone representative of a 2007 Syrah here this afternoon.

No question that I’d previously tried Bell Wine Cellars, which staked their claim with today’s only 2007 Petit Sirah Massa Ranch. Blankiet Estate, on the other hand, came as a completely fresh revelation, first with their 60%/40% Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot mélange, the 2007 Proprietary Red Wine Paradise Hills Vineyard, then followed by the more intriguing 2008 Prince of Hearts Red Wine, a Bordeaux blend of unspecified proportions. Similarly, at the next table over, Ted Astorian’s boutique Clos Valmi has flown under the radar without even a Website to promote it, though his delightful 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and atypical (for Yountville) 2008 Pinot Noir certainly spoke for themselves. Sharing a common nook here, Charles Krug continues in its evolution into a formidable 21st century winery with its Yountville bottlings, the 2008 Vintage Selection Cabernet Sauvignon and their limited release 2008 X Clones, the pinnacle of their Cabernet Sauvignon production.

Five other tables fell into this same pattern of matching a long-standing acquaintance with a fresh face. Like Blankiet, Joe Grupalo’s Groppallo offered an unvariegated Bordelaise blend, their 2009 Bliss alongside a distinctive 2009 Estate Merlot. Their “neighbor” Gemstone p
erformed its customary bedazzlement with the cult-like status of their 2008 Facets of Gemstone, paired with a special release, the 2006 10th Anniversary Cabernet as well as the 2009 Parma Clone Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

Lest anyone think Yountville only produces red wines, newcomer Dillon contrasted two Chardonnays grown from the same estate vineyard, the 2009 Chardonnay Oak Fermented vs. the 2009 Chardonnay Oak Fermented (I found both equally pleasing). Not accidentally, this winery shared its spot with familiar faces from 5th generation Gustav Niebaum descendants Lail Vineyards, who juxtaposed their renowned Philippe Melka-crafted 2008 Georgia Sauvignon Blanc with their new 2008 Henry Sauvignon Blanc, grown on their remnant of the former Inglenook estate. For good measure, they also poured their flagship 2006 J. Daniel Cabernet Sauvignon, an unblended interpretation of the varietal. I also had no previous experience with Joseph George and their very fine 2009 Sauvignon Blanc but had previously tried an earlier vintage of the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc from Gamble Family Vineyards.

A second Pinot, the 2009 Pinot Noir came from Elizabeth Rose’s certified organic vineyards. Winemaker Kristi Koford’s fresh effort naturally demanded she produce a 2010 Rosé, blending Syrah with Grenache and Cinsault. The formidable Ghost Block, also produced at Bonded Winery No. 9, poured alongside this boutique label, staking its claim with their extraordinary 2007 Yountville Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and an assimilable 2009 MorgaenLee Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc. Finally, I caught up with Chris Dearden pouring both the 2008 Sangiovese and the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from his main project Chanticleer (not to be confused with Chaucer or the men’s choral ensemble). Next to him, my new friend Carmen Policy put an impressive seven points on the scoreboard with the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from his Casa Piena, then quickly chipped in three more with his backup label, the 2008 Our Gang Cabernet Sauvignon.

If wineries truly correlated to football franchises, Christian Moueix’ Château Pétrus would undoubtedly stand as France’s version of the Dallas Cowboys. Here in Yountville, his Napa affiliate Dominus Estate consistently vies for the lead in Bordelaise-style wines, with his single bottling, the 2007 Dominus, a blend ironically devoid of Merlot but consisting of 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot. Next to his station, Corley Family showcased their sole Yountville endeavor, the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon State Lane Vineyard.

By contrast, Hopper Creek inundated attendees with seven of their vintages, beginning with a three year vertical from the 2007 Estate Merlot to its 2009 counterpart. Though appreciably young, their 2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon impressed even more than the matured 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Valerga Vineyard. And while I particularly cottoned to the 2005 Petit Verdot Massa Ranch, the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Massa Ranch left me somewhat indifferent. I would have anticipated a Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay from table partner Grgich Hills, but happily settled for their superb 2009 Petit Verdot and the 2006 Yountville Selection Cabernet Sauvignon.

Though Kapcsandy may also challenge the strictures of English orthography, I have nothing but the greatest admiration for their œnology, as evidenced here by both the 2008 Family Estate Cuvée, a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated Meritage and their proprietary blend, the 2008 Endre. I defied convention by next sampling their exotic 2009 Rosé (49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot) before elbowing over to try the 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Keever Vineyards.

Granted, I mistook John Piña for his brother Larry, but had no confusion with their outstanding 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Wolff Vineyard from their Piña Napa Valley. Not that it bore any significance, but finishing up with the 2007 The Philanthropist, a limited production estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Markham Vineyards, allowed me to move onto the next stage of my excursion on a most pleasant high note.

2) Oak Knoll

Oak Knoll is a road I frequently take to bypass downtown Na
pa and cross from Highway 29 to Silverado Trail relatively unimpeded. While I’ve long recognized Oak Knoll as a district within the City of Napa, I only recently realized it constituted its own sub-AVA. Though dominated by the vast acreage of the Trefethen family, several other highly-acclaimed wineries like Laird and Darioush also dot this terrain. And so the prospect of sampling premium wines with a complementing bounty of appetizers lured me to Bistro Don Giovanni, a familiar sight along St. Helena Highway, where the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley held its gathering.

This afternoon, eleven Oak Knoll wineries participated in this intimate tasting. For the second time today, Corley Family garnered a table and poured an array of wines from their Monticello Estate. While the 2008 Corley Reserve Estate Grown Chardonnay and the 2008 Monticello Vineyards Estate Grown Cabernet Franc showed their greatest strength, there was much to appreciate in both the 2007 Monticello Vineyards Estate Grown Merlot and the 2006 Corley Proprietary Red Wine, an opulent blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.

Focused solely on its proprietary blend, Matthiasson impressed not only with their Right Bank-style 2006 Red Wine (51% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec) but also with their inimitable 2009 White Wine, a fusion of Sauvignon Blanc, Ribolla Gialla, Tocai Friulano, and Sémillon. Anchor winery Trefethen presented their own 2009 Double T Red Blend of the same Bordeaux varietals, along with the 2008 Harmony Chardonnay.

Lewis Cellars offered a typical Napa red & white selection with anything but typical results: both the 2009 Chardonnay Napa Valley and 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley proved exquisite wines. Veteran vineyardist Robert Biale produced similar across-the-board excellence with his four reds: his delightful 2008 Sangiovese, the 2008 Petite Sirah Napa Valley, and a pair of Zins—the 2009 Zinfandel Aldo’s Vineyard and the 2009 Black Chicken Zinfandel. Michael Polenske’s Blackbird showcased their interpretation of a Pomerol Merlot with the 2007 Illustration and a more balanced blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon in the 2008 Arise.

A few years back, the Ginkgo Girl had given me a subscription to Black Stallion when they opened. Regrettably, their acquisition by Diageo has diminished their viticultural output in my estimation, as the roughly passable 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon demonstrated. No such qualms about the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Erna Schein, whose hand-designed labels reminded me of the fluid style of Thomas Hart Benton. From primitivism to simplicity, the unadorned labels of Boyd belied the complexity of their 2006 Merlot and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.

O’Brien Estate sports the golden calligraphy of an “O” on their label, symbolizing the lofty standards their wines meet. Following their superb 2009 Chardonnay, I moved onto an even more impressive 2008 Merlot and the complex 2007 Seduction that blended Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. The sheer apex of the afternoon came from O’Brien’s remarkable 2008 Unrestrained Reserve, a flawless wine derived from 49% Cabernet Franc, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 7% Merlot.

I finished off this event (along with the pizza and the crab cakes) with John Anthony, sampling his well-crafted 2009 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc and 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ve often cited Carneros vintners Tony and Joanne Truchard of Carneros in this blog, but hadn’t correlated John Anthony Truchard as their son prior to speaking with him this afternoon. As my next event was the annual Next Generation tasting at Ted Hall’s Farmstead, this revelation provided a perfect segue before I headed up to St. Helena.
3) NG: The Next Generation In Wine

OK, so technically this gathering didn’t encompass a specific AVA, but it was an invitation I couldn’t pass up. A number of trade associations focus on the promise burgeoning wine aficionados hold for the wine industry, like New Generation Growers and Vintners and my friend Bridget Raymond’s Next Generation Winemakers™. The 4th Annual gathering of The Next Generation showcased the efforts of the progeny of 18 of Napa’s leading wineries, including host Chris Hall of Long Meadow Ranch.

I suppose more seasoned industry veterans would have recognized the advantage of providing attendees with a program detailing who was in attendance, so without a printed guide, I may have overlooked some of the stations. But those with which I did visit portended great promise for the next decade or two, as the ensuing generation of these well-established wine estates move into more prominent roles.

With no prior awareness of Broman Cellars, I was happy to let daughter Lisa Broman Augustine guide me through their three current releases: the 2009 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc and the equally appealing 2005 Napa Valley Syrah and 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Certainly, I had heard of Spelletich and their new generation Spell Wines (not to be confused with Shane Finley’s superb Spell Estate), but had not met the mother-daughter team of Barbara & Kristin Spelletich before this event. I found myself particularly impressed with the 2006 Spelletich Reserve Merlot and the stout 2005 Spellport, while the splashy gradients radiating from Spell Wine’s labels hardly belied the youthful, fruit-forward approach of the 2006 Spell Wine Syrah and the 2006 Spellonu Red, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with 41% Merlot.

Over at Ray Signorello Jr.’s table, Marketing Director Ryan Shenk previewed a barrel sample of their 2009 Collaboration, a Cabernet crafted in unison by the Estate’s two winemakers, Pierre Birebent and Luc Morlet, then wowed with the bottled 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet stalwart Marston Family expanded their operations to enable their son John and daughter Elizabeth Marston Leahy to launch their own autonomous label, ElizabethJohn; here they poured their own 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, as well as the 2007 Marston Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and a new release, the 2009 Marston Family Vineyard Albion, a Sauvignon Blanc with 4% Sémillon.

One of the most established wineries here, Burgess Cellars, featured scion Steve’s contributions to their exceptional line of reds: the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, the unblended 2007 Estate Merlot, and the 2007 Syrah (10% Grenache). And continuing their family’s organic practices, Brandon and Jill deLeuze poured ZD Wine’s 2009 Pinot Noir Carneros, the 2009 Chardonnay, and a surprisingly ripe 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Brette Bartolucci, representing her family’s organic Carneros winery, Madonna Estate, instinctively poured this Italian lad a fetching 2008 Dolcetto, then followed with an equally appealing 2007 Estate Pinot Noir. I also relished her 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Riesling. Cleo Pahlmeyer poured both the 2009 Jayson Chardonnay and the 2007 Jayson Pinot Noir from her father’s second label, before impressing with the 2006 Proprietary Red, and its successive vintage, which focused even more (85% vs. 81%) on Cabernet Sauvignon.

This event provided my introduction to Rutherford’s Stewart Cellars, a serendipitous discovery as daughter Caroline escorted me through the 2008 Chardonnay Farina Vineyards, the exquisite 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley before pouring their special 2007 Nomad, their reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Another Pinot that rated a “Whoa!” in my hastily scribbled notes was the 2007 Stewart Ranch Pinot Noir from Hill Family Estate, Son Ryan Hill also treated me to the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc and their noteworthy 2008 Clarke Vineyard Syrah.

I’d met Robert Fisher a few years ago, but hadn’t tired his wines in a while; the current releases of both the 2008 Syrah Hidden Terrace Vineyard and the 2007 Coach Insignia, their signature Cabernet Sauvignon, proved just as delightful as I had recalled. I ran into Janet Viader only a couple of weeks before, but was pleased to be regaled by her brother Alan as he poured their sumptuous 2007 Viader, a Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc Blend. Meanwhile, there seems always to be someone from the Ceja clan at every Napa event I’ve recently attended, but it was still fun to have Dalia pour me her
2007 Carneros Pinot Noir.

Of course, no New Generation wine event in Napa could be complete with Mt. Veeder’s Yates Family, with both Whitney and Mary holding down the fort here this evening. And even though I am always charmed and smitten, I nonetheless remain thoroughly objective in my praise for their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2007 Fleur de Veeder (Merlot), and the 2007 Cheval, a stellar Cabernet Franc. I nearly lost my barely legible tasting notes after this visit, so I decided it was time that I head back to my hotel room in downtown Napa (not before stopping once again for my dose of Onion Rings across the street at Taylor’s Refresher) and ready myself to arrive on time for my 9 AM wine breakfast the following day.
(to be continued)