Tag Archives: Calcareous

My August Trifecta

We all have a litany of what if?s in our lives. Your West Coast Oenophile could enumerate many, some related to Sostevinobile, others on a more personal level. Should I have stayed with my original plan to develop my own wine label? Would I have been better off going to a school like Yale? Or majoring in math, as i was recruited to do?  Where would I be now if I had driven west to Los Angeles instead of San Francisco? Or if my avant-garde satire on the 1980s, The Last Sharper Image Catalogue, had found an enthusiastic publisher? And what might life have led us if a certain special woman and I had ever connected romantically?

We have seen each other only sporadically over the intervening decades but, of late, have been intermittently communicating via that emotionally sterile modality of the 21st Century: the text message. With no ostensible agenda beyond staying in touch. Just because.

Many years ago we tried to set up her little brother with my little sister. It was quaint and charming and felt rather adult on our part, but not patronizingly so. I’m no0t sure whether Jill and Elliott ever connected after that New York luncheon, but she now lives in London, while he runs horse breeding operations back in Kentucky. One of his stallions has had a modicum of success this past year. And even though horse racing fans tend to favor bourbon over the grape, I’m pretty certain most of my readers will be familiar with Justify.

This August also constituted a Trifecta of sorts for Sostevinobile. The dictate of fundraising for what will now be a 26,000+ sq.ft. complex require that I engage in a host of wine-related endeavors. So far, these side ventures have entailed everything from grape brokerage to label development to event production to my former wine-related profession, Mergers & Acquisitions. Plus, along the way, I quietly help out other wine ventures with advice and connecting them to any number of people with whom I work, both inside and out of the industry.

Granted, my role was quite minimal in assisting Carlo Anthony Niboli with the debut of his Cabfest, but I was pleased to attend this tasting on both Saturday and Sunday to consult and critique. The lobby beneath the dome at Westfield Center portended to be a challenging setting for an event of this scope; surprisingly, even with throngs of shoppers filling the mall and its restaurant courts. More impressive was the breadth of wineries on hand, from an array of Napa stalwarts like Oakville East and Raymond to a panoply of Paso Robles’ emerging Cabernet stars, including Calcareous and Justin, along with Sonoma’s much-acclaimed Bellacosa. the generational successor to Glen Ellen’s B.R. Cohn.

The music ranged from a smaltzy 1920s Toppman Trio on Saturday, courtesy of the event’s co-sponsor Speakeasy SF, to a most alluring avant-garde violinist, Shaina Evoniuk. Normally, I would have expected live performances to overwhelm the audibility of the venue, but here they provided an unobtrusive ambient backdrop to the tasting. One also would have expected a new event like CabFest to provide rather lackluster catering—of which even the most establish events are frequently guilty—but the generous smorgasbord was complimented by superb hors d’œuvres from the venerable Morton’s The Steakhouse. along with utterly delectable baked goods from Best of Friends Cookies, a Fresno concession run by Carlo’s pixieish mother Debbie.

To be candid, I had vested interest not only in seeing CabFest succeed but to see it expand beyond the capacity of this Westfield setting. But a more salient reason, perhaps, is that the Bay Area no longer plays host to any annual Grand Tasting that focuses on Cabernet Sauvignmon. In San Francisco, Pinot Noir events like Pinot Fest and Pinot Days abound. Sonoma holds its annual Pinot on the River each October and has revived the cutting-edge West of West celebration. Santa Cruz has its Pinot Paradise and Anderson Valley holds its Pinot celebration every May. Nothing of similar scale displays the regionality and versatility of Cabernet. If I can help elevate CabFest to the pinnacle once held by the California Cabernet Society, my task will have been complete.


As previously mentioned in this column, Sostevinobile is now collaborating with The Midway to host trade tastings in San Francisco. On August 26, we inaugurated this venture with the 28th Annual Grand Tasting of Family Winemakers. My hope had been to launch this program with CalAsia 2018, a Grand Tasting of the 82+ Asian-American/Asian owned wineries in California, but my previous health predicament this past winter proved too much of a setback for me to rebound  insufficient time to organize an event of this scope. Nonetheless, the Family Winemakers tasting  marked an auspicious debut for us, as well as an instrumental learning curve, and I look forward to sustaining a long an  prosperous relationship with this organization that has been a pivotal component in building the Sostevinobile wine program.

Stay tuned as I commence organizing CalAsia for January 2019.


Another of the many hats I wear on behalf of Sostevinobile has been the revival of the winery M&A practice in which I was occupied through most of the 1980s. While it has not proven the most lucrative of my current endeavors, it admittedly still fascinates me. And so I uncharacteristically awoke before 7:30 AM to join several of the industry’s most prominent practitioners at the North Bay Business Journals annual Impact Napa conference. These gatherings have always proved most informative, and following a field report from Clay Gregory, president and CEO of Visit Napa Valley, on last year’s fires’ impact on tourism, the audience was treated to an extraordinary glimpse into the philosophy of Christian Moueix, the legendary proprietor both Yountville’s highly acclaimed Dominus Estate and a portfolio of French domaines that includes Pomerol’s Château Pétrus.

It would not be overstatement to note that Moueix lives in a rarfied realm. Pétrus just sold a 20% stake in its business for ~$232 MM, making it the most valuable winery in the world. His support of Napa’s recent Proposition C—whose architects Dennis Groth and Andy Beckstoffer were also in attendance—also begs a certain privilege, as raising the threshold for new wineries to a 40-acre minimum would preclude all would-be viticultural entrepreneurs save for an extreme wealthy few. But Moueix’ for such austere measures as this or letting uprooted vineyards lie fallow for 4-5 years before replanting stems from conscientious environmental stewardship of his many properties and an unshakable belief in the need to protect delicate watersheds and aquifers here and in Bordeaux, as climate change continues to make water an endangered commodity. A man who spends three hours each morning in his vineyards and has never missed a communal dinner with his workers, his position and passion are ultimately laudable.

The final segment of this conference was essentially a primer on the spectrum of investment profiles throughout the wine industry. Panelists included Richard Mendelson, a Napa attorney and Merger specialist who earlier had interviewed Moueix, Carol Collison from Global Wine Partners, and Sean Maher of Aspect Consumer Partners. The latter two specialists have long been familiar to me through potential deals on which we have engaged, but it was a particular treat to see Sean bring along his father, Dick Maher, who had counseled me some 35 years ago.

Though this trio’s experience was long and deep, with successes I could only envy, their message ultimately restated what has long been obvious. Many of the wineries today, especially those that have not been annexed by corporate or industry behemoths, stand potentially. if not actively, ripe for acquisition—to wit, the sale of Stony Hill to Long Meadow Ranch but a few days before the conference. But credible, committed buyers remain a rare breed, as my Rolodex will attest. But, as is often the case, when one door closes, another opens.

And so funding for Sostevinobile may be coming from elsewhere, but not as far removed as one may think…

What have I done for you lately?

Unarguably, my favorite bumper sticker that I didn’t compose simply declared “Eschew Obfuscation.” During the protracted intermezzo between the two stages of my wine career, I continually advised clients that, similarly, they should eschew all acronyms in their promotional literature I was retained to write. And yet while Your West Coast Oenophile may have seemed MIA for the better part of 2015, the truth is that I have probably been harder at work on Sostevinobile than since its inception.

Just before the beginning of the year, I found myself lured back into complex challenges of winery Mergers & Acquisition (M&A), a practice I abandoned in 1989, vowing never to resume. Don’t get me wrong—my previous foray into the M&A realm accorded me considerable recognition within the wine industry, while instilling a n appreciation for the subtle intricacies of œnology and viticulture, a comprehension that now underscores the various endeavors I am undertaking on behalf of Sostevinobile.

But this initiation also entailed the often insurmountable challenge of trying to persuade two often-disparate parties—buyer and seller—without having sufficient leverage to control or manipulate the deal in question. Though in 2015, I am better situated to handle the complexities of contentious negotiations and am beginning enjoy the advantage of having prospective clients approach and retain me, I still remain an intermediary, a subordinate player beholden to the precarious whims of principals whose arbitrary choice can subvert even the soundest deals.

To the degree this resurrected role preoccupies the bulk of my working ours, even I sometimes fell I have lost sight of my primary goals with the wine industry. Still, never let it be said that my determination to realize the lofty vision I have created for Sostevinobile has been diminished. Extrapolating from the vast number of relationships I have built among the West Coast wineries, I am continually expanding the reach of my professional wine involvement: sourcing grapes, orchestrating bottlings, developing wine lists for like-minded enterprises, and even spearheading hotel acquisitions. And yet amid all these efforts, I still have found the time to taste perhaps the widest selection of wines and esoteric varietals I have found since embarking on this venture.

With no particular adherence to chronological order, my sojourns over the last six months have taken me to from Nevada City to Templeton, covering Lodi, Plymouth, San Miguel, Paso Robles, Saratoga, and sundry destinations throughout Napa and Sonoma, not to mention the putative viticultural deserts of Santa Clara and Richmond. My ever-expanding database added numerous unheralded discoveries, ranging from Vranac and Schioppettino to Peloursin and Lacrima di Moro, along with exotic but yet-to-be-bottled varietals, including Canaiolo, Clairette Blanc, and Colorino.

Distinctive wines, however, are by no means solely the purview of the esoteric, an understanding that lured me to the drought-impacted domain of Paso Robles, with its eleven newly-minted sub-AVAs, for their Cabs of Distinction conference. An admirable albeit rather fledgling advocacy, the 24 wineries participating in this consortium represented a comprehensive yet by no means exhaustive cross-section of Paso’s premier Cabernet Sauvignon producers.

The gist of this gathering, of course. was to showcase how the wines of this burgeoning region can now rival those produced in both Napa and Bordeaux—a claim, in effect, catapulting the AVA’s prominence on par with the Alexander Valley and the various pockets of esteemed Cabernet sprinkled throughout Washington State. Certainly, quite a number of these wines could stand head-to-head with the more extravagantly priced ($200-300) Cabs found in Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena, and the surrounding mountain districts, starting with the roundly lauded offerings from Justin. Admittedly, I had not found myself as wowed with these wines as more prominent critics have been, but the 2014 Isosceles proved a most formidable wine that compelled revisiting throughout the three days of events. As impressive was the 2012 Soul of the Lion, Daou Vineyards’ showcase offering, a wine whose pedigree winemaker Danny Daou meticulously laid out in a tour of his estate.

I am usually prone to reserve this level of vinification (for Cabernet Sauvignon) for L’Aventure, as well, whose absence from this conference appeared rather conspicuous. Nonetheles, I was surprised to find myself including the 2012 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Calcareous, the 2012 CV Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Broken Earth, and Brecon Estates’ lush 2012 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Moreover, a pair of Meritages—Vina Robles’ elegant 2011 Suendero (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Petit Verdot) and J. Lohr’s Right Bank tribute, the 2010 Cuvée Pom, a Merlot-focused blend rivaled these wines.

Paso Robles’ greatest claim to fame still comes from the breadth of its Rhône varietals, while making a most compelling case for its Bordelaise wines. However, the true sleeper in this region has to be its emergence as California’s leading producer of Malbec. It has long seemed that wineries here were content to surrender this category to the admittedly wondrous wines produced in Argentina; the great revelation from Cabs of Distinction, however, may have inadvertently been the handful of bottlings showcasing this grape. The serendipity of my previous visit proved to be Wally Murray’s Bon Niche, an unheralded East Side winery whose 2011 Voûtes, a blend of 45% Malbec, 45% Petit Verdot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, proved no less extraordinary this time around.On par: the 2011 Malbec from West Side stalwart Halter Ranch, a truly profound wine.

My peregrinations through several of Paso’s hitherto unexplored sub-AVAs only fortified my belief that I need to make yet another Sostevinobile swing through this vast region, with a particular eye for other impressive Malbecs and blends. Ironically, my attempt to meet with  Argentine legend Santiago Achával revealed that his Paso project is producing Grenache and unorthodox Cab blends, but not Malbec, for which he is so esteemed. No matter. I will still seek out The Farm, Sculpterra, the ever-elusive Linne Calodo, Four Lanterns, Rob Murray’s Tooth & Nail, and, of course, Law Estate, whose Clairette Blanc should be ready to sample by then.


“I am not a dime a dozen! I am Willy Loman!”

—Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

Way before Miles Raymond devastated Merlot for an entire generation with a single swipe in Sideways, the late Arthur Miller annihilated an entire profession in his chef d’œuvre. Over the years I have been able to endure kneejerk comparisons to Holden Caufield for having gone to boarding school, relished the very accurate stereotypes of virility attributed to my Italian heritage, and abhorred the innuendos of criminality ascribed to the same. But to label myself a salesman remains an anathema.