Family Winemakers Tasting Overview

Family Winemakers Crowd Scene Family Winemakers Overview

We had originally planned for this to be one long post reviewing the top six wineries. When that document started approaching 3,000 words we decided to use a more nuanced approach.  This article is the Family Winemakers tasting overview.  The next six articles will each be devoted to one winery.  There are just too many wines and too many good stories to cover in one article.

We tasted pinot noir almost exclusively.  And what we found was impressive.

Kudos to the Family Winemakers organizers for finally abandoning Ft. Mason in San Francisco.  The August 17 event was held at the San Mateo “Event Center” (actually the San Mateo County Fairgrounds).  What a contrast.  Easy access, plenty of parking, a room that dampened the noise at least a little, and room for the crowd to spread out.  In 2013 we decided we would no longer attend events at Ft. Mason.  We were (and are) delighted with this change and hope the organizers will stick to their decision.

Reviewing the Family Winemakers events is always a difficult proposition. Faced with the daunting prospect of 160 wineries, we spent two full days studying the wineries and devising our strategy.

Luckily, we didn’t stick to our elaborate plan. We discovered Trione and Landmark, neither of which was in our top 22 before the tasting. We visited a few old friends, including Pence Ranch and Peter Paul. But our most startling discovery was the numerous new wineries producing excellent pinot noir. These are our top seven, but frankly you could almost put these in any order and do very well.

  1. Belden Barns on Sonoma Mountain, open for all of two months.
  2. Bailiwick Wines, opened in 2009 and specializing in pinot noir.
  3. Pietra Santa Winery in Hollister. These folks have been in business since 2005, but they’re new to us.
  4. Blair Estate,  seven years old. Jeff Blair is working with grapes from the Arroyo Seco ava, a relatively unknown area to us.
  5. Maggy Hawk, also seven years old and doing great work. They win the prize for best name of a new winery.
  6. Rob Murray Vineyards, founded in 2011. “Only” two pinots, but worth a visit, especially if you like visiting San Luis Obispo.

These six were so good that they knocked our “newcomer of the year” for 2012, Pence Ranch, down to number 8. We have to add (quickly) that Blair Pence is working with a new winemaker, so the wines we tasted are transition products. We look forward to future tastings from these folks.

Numbers 7 through 12 in order: Landmark, Pence Ranch, Trione, WindRacer, Peter Paul, and Laird Family. There are a number of other wineries producing very good pinot noir. But you can pick any pinot from a winery on this list and you won’t be disappointed.

Stay tuned for our review of Belden Barns, our top pick from this event.

About the author

Tony Lima has been a California wine fan since arriving in California from the east coast in 1974. He's lived the growth and expansion of the West Coast industry first hand. He's seen the fickle California Wine consumer fads pop up and burst... the craze for Zinfandel, then oaky Chardonnay, then Merlot, now Pinot Noir. On behalf of fellow Californian oenophiles, he hunts for great pinot noir and great values in pinot noir all along the West Coast. His day job is Professor of Economics at California State University located in Hayward. His undergrad degree in chemical engineering (MIT) and his MBA (Harvard) and Ph.D. Economics (Stanford) are the root of his interest in the Business of Wine. He is a card-carrying member of the AAWE - American Association of Wine Economists.

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