Sonoma Mountain versus Westside Paso Robles 2016 Vintage

Last night we cracked open two bottles of pinot noir, both 2016 vintage.  One was the Belden Barns Serendipity block.  The second was Jack Creek Cellars Estate Reserve.  The former is in the Sonoma Mountain AVA just east of Santa Rosa.  Jack Creek is in the Westside district of the Paso Robles AVA.  We are long-time club members of both these fine wineries.  This is our Sonoma Mountain versus Westside Paso Robles 2016 vintage tasting competition.

At the outset, we’ll confirm your suspicions.  Both these wines are terrific right now.  The Belden Barns entry will probably improve a bit with one more year in the cellar.  We’re old and impatient.

Both of these need time to breathe. Immediately after opening the bottles, each wine had excessive earthy notes both aromatically and on the palate.  The Jack Creek developed in about 15 minutes.  We decanted the Belden Barns to encourage it.  To put it mildly, a little air was just what they needed.

The Jack Creek offering opened with aromas of cherries and spice.  The palate is cherries and huckleberries with a solid underpinning of earthiness.  The finish is long and exquisite with silky tannins and a nice acid balance.

Belden Barns opened with rose petals and cherries with a hint of brambleberry on the nose.  The palate was more cherries with a solid spice base and a nice acid balance.  You could easily cellar this for another year, but we suspect anything longer than that would be excessive.

Comparing the two led to an unusual result.  We are accustomed to the idea that the further north the vineyard, the lighter the pinot (palate, not color).  In this case, the Jack Creek was lighter.  Once again the importance of microclimates shows itselfNorma preferred the Jack Creek while I liked the Belden Barns.  Which makes for both a good tasting experience and a good marriage!

En Route Redux

Les Pommiers En Route Redux

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We discovered En Route pinot noir at Pinotfest 2015.  And we were very impressed.  On Norma’s recent birthday we took a chance on The Post, a new local restaurant (full review forthcoming, stay tuned).  On the wine list was “Nickel & Nickel Russian River Valley “Les Pommiers” pinot noir.” That sounded familiar, so we took a chance.  But, frankly, it’s hard to screw up grapes from the RRV AVA.

When the wine arrived, Norma looked at it and noticed that the label said En Route, not Nickel & Nickel.  I did a quick search of CaliforniaWineFan on my phone and found our old review. Sure enough, this is  one of the sisters of that winery.

We are, if anything, more impressed with the 2016 vintage ($60) and priced fairly at $75 at The Post.  We can do no better than the sensory description from their website.

En Route Sensory Evaluation En Route Redux

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RN Estate 2012 Pinot Noir Solomon Hills

RN Estate 2012 pinot noir

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If you have a bottle of this beauty laying around, don’t hesitate to open it.  Aromas of bing and black cherries.  The palate features one of the finest, silkiest tannin finishes I’ve ever tasted.  Mid-palate of cola and spice with a hint of cinnamon.  Outstanding.  And worth every minute of the wait. Added bonus: the RN Estate 2012 pinot noir Solomon Hills is available as a library selection for the bargain price of $49.  Scroll to the bottom of the current releases page to find it.

Hahn Visits Artisan

Long-time readers will remember our admiration for Hahn Family Wines.  We were delighted to be invited to a tasting by our friends at Artisan Wine DepotHahn visits Artisan and we are there to report on the event. As always, all prices are from Artisan.

Browsing the Hahn website, we discovered the fascinating biographies of the Hahn family.  I’ll include photos and bio sketches between wine reviews.  Let’s start with co-founder Nicky Hahn.

Nicky Hahn Hahn Visits Artisan

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There were ten wines on the menu.  In the interest of promoting only the best, we’ll limit our review to five of them.  (Naturally, we’ll skip the Smith & Hook cabernet sauvignon and the Boneshaker zinfandel.)

Hahn’s 2016 Monterey County chardonnay ($16) is a bargain. The opening is tropical aromas of citrus, and orange zest. The palate is more citrus with a nice acid balance and  luscious mouth-feel.

Gaby Hahn Hahn Visits Artisan

Co-founder Gaby Hahn (click for larger image)

The 2016 “SLH” Santa Lucia Highlands pinot noir ($20) is also a bargain. This one is the forest floor – earthy style. The nose is ripe cherry fruit with touches of newly-plowed earth. The palate features dark berry flavors, with hints of spice and dried thyme.

Philip Hahn Hahn Visits Artisan

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Lucienne is one of Hahn’s higher-end labels.  The 2016 Smith Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands pinot noir ($45) begins with enticing aromas of strawberry and blackberry with a hint of chocolate. The palate features dark fruit, especially plums with spice undertones. Add a nice acid balance and this is a winner.

Caroline Hahn Hahn Visits Artisan

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The 2016 Doctor’s Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands pinot noir ($45) is a good illustration of why terroir matters, even at the vineyard level. Aromas are toward the earthy end with hints of leather and, unusually, cedar. Flavors feature wild raspberries, blackberries and more cedar.  Incidentally, this vineyard is named in honor of Dr. Caroline Hahn (see bio sketch above).

It was a pleasure to be reminded of this outstanding winery.

Three Excellent Pinots From Gregory James

We wrote a brief review of Gregory James Wines in Part 2 of our Garagiste Northern Exposure preview.  We liked their wine so much we ordered half a case.  We’ve now tasted each of the three wines. We were not disappointed.  And, as an added bonus, their 2014 Patchy Fog Vineyard is a major bargain at $31.

Hawk Hill 2014

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The 2013 Hawk Hill Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($48) opens with aromas of earth and leather.  The palate is bright bing cherries and notes of spice with a hint of cranberry.  The finish is long and complex with lingering spice. This wine will improve even more with another year or two in the cellar. (We also have several bottles of the 2014 but two seemed like enough for last night.  We’ll add to this review in the coming days.)

The 2014 Hawk Hill Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($48) carries a lesson in how the California wine industry has evolved.  If you have any friends who still believe vintage doesn’t matter in California wines, have them taste this side by side with the 2013.  The two could not be more different.  This one starts with aromas of bing cherries and raspberries leading to bright cherries on the palate.  The characteristic long finish with a terrific acid – tannin balance rounds out a great experience.

Patchy Fog 2014

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The 2014 Patchy Fog Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($31, major bargain!) begins with lush, ripe aromas of black cherries and chocolate.  The palate is more black cherries, a bit of licorice, and a hint of spice.  Another long, complex finish makes this a terrific experience.


About Gregory James

The winery name is a combination of the first names of the two owners.  Greg Adams is the winemaker and viticulturist.  Jim Demuth is the president and handles the business side of the operation.  They share a mutual love of the land and grapegrowing — in fact, they met while digging around in a vineyard.

Greg (left) and Jim

Greg (left) and Jim (click for larger image)

From their website:

Site matters to Gregory James.

We grow and source our grapes from vineyards located within the maritime reach of the Pacific Ocean. Here, the cool foggy nights and mornings dramatically shroud the varied terrain producing grapes of remarkable intensity and character.

Our vineyard sites are tucked away among rolling hills, bucolic valleys and dramatic ridge tops of the West Sonoma Coast where each location tells its own story.

We invite you to share in the hard won results of farming in the extreme coastal environment of the Pacific Ocean. 

Greg and Jim actually have help from a third partner.

Charley the third partner

Charley the vineyard doodle. “Fastest doodle in the west.”

Charley joined the family in 2009 thanks to a gift from cherished friends Paul & Jamie. He has been an integral part of the wine team specializing in moral support and gopher scenting. He leads a charmed life in the hills and vineyards of the Sonoma Coast.




Garagiste Northern Exposure in Sonoma Preview Part 2

This is part 2 of our preview of Garagiste Northern Exposure.  We advise reading Part 1 first if you haven’t already.

As an overview note, many wineries were pouring 2013 and/or 2014 vintages.  We preferred the 2013’s by and large.

Gregory James Wines is, like several others, named after owner Jim Demuth and winemaker Greg Adams. Their pal Jenny greeted us and gave us the rundown on the wines and the winery.  She was pouring two 2014 pinots.  The Hawk Hill Vineyard ($48) and the Patchy Fog Vineyard ($31) are both on the western edge of the Sonoma Coast AVA just outside Freestone, a town south of Occidental and west of Sebastopol.  In other words, terrific terroir.  And the wines are excellent.


Fallon Place Wines was represented by winemaker Cory Michal.  The winery is named after Fallon Place on Russian Hill in San Francisco, one of the famous staircase walkways in the city.  Cory used to make a barrel of wine on the landing outside his apartment when he lived there.  Luckily for us, he turned professional.  His 2016 Herbitage Vineyard ($38) is an excellent representative of the Carneros AVA.  It will improve over the next few years, so be patient.


Betwixt Wines featured owner-winemaker Tim Tello.  They, too, are located in San Francisco.  Their 2015 pinot noir ($40) is from Anderson Valley’s Helluva Vineyard (say it out loud).  Tim makes about 450 cases per year including grenache, grenache rosé, and chardonnay.  The pinot is all of 85 cases so get it while you can.


La Pitchoune Winery was our last stop of the day.  Owner Tracy Nielsen greeted us with enough enthusiasm to bolster our flagging energy.  They featured two pinots, both 2014.  One is a Sonoma Coast blend ($48).  The other is from the Holder Vineyard in the Russian River Valley ($68).  Tracy offered us their 2017 Sonoma Coast vin gris of pinot noir ($28), a heavier style of rosé.  That process preserves more of the pinot character while still retaining rosé quaffability.  All three wines were as charming as Tracy herself.  Incidentally, La Pitchoune is a Provençal expression for “the little one”, deriving from the Occitan word pichon.  It’s also the name Julia and Paul Child gave to their cottage in Provence.  Which, by the way, you can now rent on AirBnB. (For our regular readers, Tracy is quite familiar with Picayune Cellars. We’ve written about them several times.)

Garagiste Northern Exposure in Sonoma Preview Part 1

On May 12 we traveled north to the town of Sonoma for the first Garagiste event north of Paso Robles: Garagiste Northern Exposure.  And we were not disappointed.  We found eight new wineries, each producing at least one pinot noir.  Quality varied from very good to outstanding.  This is part 1 of our summary in roughly the order we tasted the wines.  We’ll publish part 2 followed by more in-depth articles about individual wineries in the future.

As an overview note, many wineries were pouring 2013 and/or 2014 vintages.  We preferred the 2013’s by and large.

Burning Bench Cellars owner, grapegrower, winemaker, and bottle washer David Mease greeted us.  These folks only make pinot noir.  And it’s really good.  All 175 cases per year are from their Moon Hill Vineyard in the North Coast, Marin County AVA.  The 2013 and 2014 vintages are $45 each.


Camlow Cellars offers their Magna Porcum Estate Pinot Noir. Yes, that’s a wild boar in their logo.  The winery name is a hybrid of the names of owner Alan Campbell and winemaker Craig Strehlow.  They make all of 400 cases per year, including a pinot noir rosé featuring the winery mascot, Pigasus.


Von Holt Wines featured two 2014 pinots, both Sonoma Coast.  The Sonoma Coast blend is $35, while the Suacci Vineyard is $45.  Both are excellent.  Co-owner Chris Von Holt probably has no problem collecting his accounts receivable.  The winery is his second career.  He retired after 20 years as a Secret Service agent.  (The other co-owner is his wife Pam.)


Charlie Chenoweth greeted us with an amazing story about Chenoweth Wines.  Charlie grew up in agriculture.  In 1980 they ripped out their vegetables and planted grapes. And we sure are happy they did.  Their pinots are a blend of three vineyards: Treehouse, Bootlegger’s, and the estate Home Ranch.  The 2013 is $55 and the 2014 is $65.


More coming, hopefully next week.

Colene Clemens Vineyard 2014 Dopp Creek (Chehalem Mountain) Pinot Noir

2014-Dopp-Creek-Pinot-Noir-FullOur friends at Artisan Wine Depot recommended the Colene Clemens Dopp Creek pinot noir. Lush aromas of strawberries and dark fruit. Lush, dense palate of black cherries with bright acid and spicy tannins. Long finish with notes of five spice and more tannins. Artisan’s price: $24.97 a bottle. They have just a few bottles left, but are expecting more soon.

Click to get to their website.  For our full review, click here.

A Day in Paso Robles

When William and Katherine invited us to spend two nights at The Canyon Villa, we jumped at the chance. As always, the food, friendship, and accommodations were superb. We got January off to a good start by spending a day in Paso Robles. And we found two terrific wineries we did not know about. As an added bonus, we were the first to visit the tasting room at a third winery that doesn’t even open until February.

Lauren and Leslee A Day in Paso Robles

Lauren Rava and Leslee Falkenberg of Rava Wines (click for larger image)

We promised Lauren and Leslee that we wouldn’t do a full write-up of Rava Wines until they release their full wine lineup next month. We’ll just say that what we tasted shows a lot of promise and potential. We’ll write a longer review in February.  But you can taste their excellent sparkler and albariño right now. They are also pouring a selection of Brophy-Clark wines.  (John Clark is doing double duty as the winemaker at both Brophy-Clark and Rava.) Make an apopointment first. And ask for a tour of the spectacular facilities. By the way, Rava is a must-visit for the scenery, architecture, and good vibes. Those planning a wedding or other event should consider this place.

Ryan and Grace A Day in Paso Robles

Ryan and Grace (click for larger image)

Next up was Deovlet Wines (pronounced Dev’-let). We were greeted by Ryan Deovlet and Grace. Three outstanding pinot noirs led to one question: why haven’t we found these folks before? It turns out that we had visited their tasting room once. But it was occupied by 4 Vines.

Dilecta dog wants to play A Day in Paso Robles

Dilecta dog wants to play

Finally, we arrived at Dilecta. William and Katherine have their wines on The Canyon Villa’s in-house wine list. We were greeted enthusiastically by the winery’s golden retriever who was eager to play. Owner – winemaker Orion Stang rescued us from the puppy and proceeded to pour us some yummy GSMs. We’re normally not big fans of Rhône-style blends, but Dilecta has made us believers.

Dilecta's Orion Stang and Tony A Day in Paso Robles

Dilecta’s Orion Stang and Tony (click for larger image)

Three for three on the day. And 2018 is off to a very, very good start.

A Unique Experierience At Williamson Wines

Williamson Wines was the top new find on our trip to Sonoma. After a few wines, co-founder Dawn Williamson joined us at the table for a lively conversation. Along with her husband Bill they provide a unique experience at Williamson Wines. First, you can’t beat the price for the tasting: $0.00 for groups smaller than six people. Second, they serve the wine tastes accompanied by food morsels so you can evaluate the wines in the context of an appropriate food.

Dawn and Bill emigrated from Australia about 35 years ago. They’ve been making wine since 2002. And their wine is great!

Dawn with our crowd A Unique Experierience At Williamson Wines

Dawn with our crowd (click for larger image)

An unusual, terrific aspect of Williamson is their restaurant. There are a number of wine and food pairing options:

Wine and Food Pairings A Unique Experierience At Williamson Wines

Wine and Food Pairings (click for larger image)

Or visit The Terrace at Eighteen (18 Matheson St. in Healdsburg).

The Terrace at Eighteen A Unique Experierience At Williamson Wines

The Terrace at Eighteen (click for larger image)

If you’re feeling flush, a mere $395 gets you a 30 minute helicopter ride over Sonoma Valley followed by a tasting at the winery:

Helicopter Flight and Wine Tasting A Unique Experierience At Williamson Wines

Helicopter Flight and Wine Tasting (click for larger image)

The Wines

But let’s talk about their wines. By my count they offer 47:

Williamson Wine List A Unique Experierience At Williamson Wines

Williamson Wine List (click for larger imaage)

By making so many different wines, Williamson can produce small lots of each wine and still achieve some economies of scale. Production is 12,000 to 15,000 cases per year. That’s between 255 and 319 cases per wine on average.

Here’s what we tasted.

2015 viognier “Frolic” Mendocino County ($34). Aromas of honeysuckle and orange blossom greet you. On the palate, light flavors of peach and apricot, with a nice finish of well balanced acidity. The food pairing was apple horseradish jam.

2014 grenache “Embrace” Dry Creek Valley ($47). Aromas of cotton candy supported by light hints of blood orange peel. Flavors of hint of apple and cranberry notes of light leather and soft tannins finish. The food pairing was Moroccan date sauce.

“Entice Cuvée” Bordeaux-style blend ($48). Blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, malbec, petit verdot. Youthful aromas of coffee and blackberries greet you from the glass.. The cabernet sauvignon appears immediately on the palate, but softened by the merlot and malbec. The food pairing was jalapeño and sweet pepper jam.

2012 cabernet sauvignon “Indulge” Dry Creek Valley ($65). Rich plum and blackberry with a hint of tobacco to the nose. White pepper and plum with hints of caramel, tobacco and black licorice on the palate with assertive tannins finish. Age this one for a year or two. The food pairing was blue cheese and honey.

2015 pinot noir “Rapture” Sonoma Coast ($56). Aromas of bing cherry and cranberry with hints of cinnamon and leather. The palate is earthy and big, with notes of brambleberry and clove lead to a long finish with silky tannins. The food pairing was truffle salt.

Dawn and Bill Williamson

Dawn likes “Wednesday night recipes” that people can actually cook. As she put it,

People come to wine country and they think you’re going to have the big Viking stove, and you have to have all this stuff. We ship to New York, we ship to Washington, people have beautiful apartments, but they don’t have huge kitchens. We like recipes that you can cook in an apartment kitchen, that you can get on the table in a reasonable amount of time, and, as I tell young people, if you screw up it’s still going to be all right. … I have hundreds of cookbooks with all the pretty pictures. I enjoy them. You flip through them and see how pretty they are. You say, “That looks good,” then you look closely and it’s ¼ teaspoon of everything you’ve ever heard of.

Together they have put together a memorable, unique wine-tasting experience. Assisted, of course, by their terrific wines. Not bad for immigrants from down under!

Cabana Winery and Bistro at Family Winemakers 2017

Cabana is the first of two central valley wineries we visited at Family Winemakers 2017. (Dancing Coyote is the second.) Located in East Sacramento, the official name is Cabana Winery and Bistro. According to several reviews (here and here), the bistro operation is worthy of a standalone restaurant. But, naturally, we’ll focus on their wine.

Cabana is the product of Bob Smerling. After founding and running Renwood Winery (Amador County) for17 years, his daughters Sarah and Kelly convinced him to strike out on his own. With his wife Irene, he opened Cabana in 2013.

Sarah and Kelly Smerling

Sarah and Kelly Smerling

Bob likes the East Sacramento location for several reasons. First, there is easy access to grapes from Napa, Sonoma, Lodi, and the Sierra foothills region. Second, he likes the idea of urban wineries. He discovered that after a visit to Santa Barbara. Current production is 6,000 cases aiming for 9,000.

Cabana makes 14 different wines. But we’ll only review one, their California pinot noir. Sadly, our review is too late for you to take advantage of their August pinot madness sale.  This terrific wine was offered at $100 per case.  But I predict there will be more available next August.

Cabana’s 2014 California pinot noir does not raise expectations on the nose. The aromas are flat. But the palate is dense chocolate with notes of coffee. The wine is 100% pinot noir, 30% Carneros and 70% Lodi grapes. As Bob described it, “You get the barnyard from Lodi, you get the body and aroma from Napa.”

If you’re in the Sacramento area, these folks are worth a visit. Heck, they’re worth a visit even if you’re not nearby.

Murder Ridge at Family Winemakers 2017

Cooper had $7.50 on his person and a demijohn of wine. The wine was missing but the money was found in his coat. Joseph Cooper was about 70 years of age, an inoffensive man, and why he should be murdered is a mystery.

Murder Ridge won our award for Most Original Name in our overview of Family Winemakers 2017. But they would not have made the list if their wines hadn’t been excellent. Let’s take a closer look at their pinot noir. This is Murder Ridge at Family Winemakers 2017.

The Story

 Murder RidgeSteve Alden at Family Winemakers 2017

Winegrower Steve Alden

We were greeted by Steve Alden behind the Murder Ridge table. As we later discovered, Steve grows the grapes. Steve’s degree in photojournalism is from San Jose State University. In 1951 his grandfather bought a 2,000 acre timber ranch in coastal Mendocino. Steve found he was spending more and more time managing the ranch. Then he caught the grapegrowing bug. He started surveying the ridgetops to find the best locations for growing winegrapes. The Perli Vineyard was planted with pinot noir and zinfandel in 1994. The winery’s first vintage was 1997 And we sure are happy he made that decision. Today Murder Ridge produces 250 cases of wine per year and zero timber for the last fifteen years.

Fog Over Perli Vineyard Murder Ridge at Family Winemakers 2017

Fog Over Perli Vineyard (click for larger image)

Winemaker Leslie Sisneros Murder Ridge at Family Winemakers 2017

Winemaker Leslie Sisneros (click for larger image)


The Murder Ridge winemaker is Leslie Sisneros. She followed a more traditional career path, getting her degree in Plant Science, Viticulture from U.C. Davis. The two met when Steve was delivering grapes to Vinwood Cellars in Geyserville for the 2001 harvest. They hit it off and Leslie has been making wine from Perli Vineyards since 2007. She also works with several other wineries.


After partaking in a thirteen month global agricultural work program she continued her pursuit of a fulfilled life by getting married, starting a family and working at various large wineries including Chateau St. Jean and Rodney Strong. She eventually stumbled onto a family operation known as Kendall Jackson where she welcomed the challenge of this dynamic, growing, business and worked her way up from lab tech to Pinot Noir Princess during her thirteen harvests.

The Name

There was, in fact, a murder on Murder Ridge. The complete tale is shown here:

Murder Ridge story Family Winemakers 2017 Stay On Message

Murder Ridge story (click for larger image)

And there’s also a poem about the event.

The Wine

2015 Murder Ridge Perli Vineyard Mendocino Ridge pinot noir ($48). Blackberries and black cherries on the nose, a palate that is a fruit bomb with a hint of forest floor.

The Murder Ridge wine club is called a Murder of Crows.  Hence the excellent logo:

Murder Ridge Logo Murder Ridge at Family Winemakers 2017

Murder Ridge Logo


Discovering new wineries like Murder Ridge is one of the real pleasures of writing at CaliforniaWineFan. We urge Steve and Leslie to keep up their excellent work.

Family Winemakers 2017 Stay True To Your Terroir

This is our overview article about the Family Winemakers Tasting 2017 event. We’ve attended and reviewed these event organizers a few times in the past (most notably in Pomona). On August 20 we tasted pinots from 18 wineries. And there are two great messages. Out of those 18 wineries, only one produced a flawed wine. After about two hours, Norma figured out what was happening: Family Winemakers 2017 stay true to your terroir.  Terroir matters, especially for pinot noir.  If you have Santa Lucia Highlands grapes, make Santa Lucia Highlands wine.  If the fruit is from Santa Rita Hills, the wine should have the dry, desert characteristics of that AVA.

Pinot noir once was a grape that was difficult to vinify. No more. Between chemistry, technology, and accumulated knowledge, producing a competent pinot noir has become the new standard. Stay true to your terroir means when you are confronted with a load of pinot noir grapes from the Santa Rita Hills, do not try to turn it into Russian River Valley wine.

On August 20 we made our way to San Francisco for the Family Winemakers 2017 tasting. We’ve avoided this event in recent years because it had been held at Ft. Mason, a location virtually inaccessible from anywhere on the peninsula. For 2017 the event moved to Pier 27 on the Embarcadero. We decided to take a chance.

The Wineries at Family Winemakers 2017

Coit Tower from Pier 27 Family Winemakers 2017 Stay On Message

Coit Tower from Pier 27 (click for larger image)

And we were not disappointed. We visited fourteen wineries pouring pinot noir. These were the wineries new to us. Four old favorites continue their excellent work. We’ll say a bit more about the pluses and minuses of the venue at the end of this summary.

Between the folks at U.C. Davis, Fresno State, and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, pinot noir grapes have been tamed.

Of the 14 wineries, 13 had wine that ranged from excellent to pretty good. Only one pinot we tasted had serious flaws. More important, we tasted a total of 17 pinots from those wineries. One single bottle was bad. Ten years ago this would have been remarkable. Between the folks at U.C. Davis, Fresno State, and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, pinot noir grapes have been tamed.

The Wineries

A complete list of the new wineries at Family Winemakers 2017 follows along with links to their websites. But we have to note some, um, unusual outfits.

Murder Ridge story

Murder Ridge story (click for larger image)

Most original name: Murder Ridge, located on a ridge where there was actually a murder in 1911.

Hyampom, California

Hyampom, California (click for larger image)

Most off the beaten track: Merlo Family Vineyards located in Hyampom, Trinity County. According to Ray Merlo, this is “the northernmost AVA in California.”

Region rising, Lodi: Dancing Coyote (Clarksburg) and Cabana (East Sacramento) in a tie. By the way, several wines used Lodi pinot grapes. As you might guess they are dense, rich, and add notes of chocolate and cola to the finished product.

Migrated furthest to make wine: Close call. Parmeson’s Tom Parmeson is from Houston. But by about 400 miles the winner is Patrick Krutz of Krutz Family Cellars who hails from Mississippi. We suspect the eventual winner might be Michael Wettle of Owl Ridge Wine Services, but we’re waiting for confirmation of his origins.

Biggest disappointment: Mantra Wines sells out their pinot every year and had none available for tasting. It must be yummy!

Dave Meniketti is the lead singer, lead guitarist, principal songwriter, and founder of the globetrotting rock band, Y&T.

Most intriguing day jobs: Pech Merle co-owner Bruce Lawton digs wine caves in his day job. But Pech Merle’s cave is still in the permitting stage. Meniketti Wines … well, here’s the description by the co-owner→


Denise Selyem and Kirk Hubbard

Denise Selyem and Kirk Hubbard (click for larger image)

Best pedigree: WesMar Winery co-owner Denise Selyem is from the justifiably famous Williams & Selyem Winery.

WesMar Winery is a result of the combined efforts of Kirk Wesley Hubbard and wife Denise Mary Selyem. We learned about wine making and the wine business from working with Ed Selyem, Denise’s father at Williams & Selyem Winery,

Here’s the complete list in roughly the order we tasted them.

Blue Farm Merlo Family Vineyards
Cabana Winery Murder Ridge Winery 
Dancing Coyote Wines Owl Ridge Wine Services
Stonehedge Winer Parmeson Wines 
Krutz Family Cellars Pech Merle Winery
Mantra Wines Victor Vineyards 
Meniketti Wines WesMar Winery

Parking at Family Winemakers 2017

The Pier 27 venue is on The Embarcadero about halfway between the Bay Bridge and Pier 39. (I know that doesn’t seem to make sense, but the pier numbering is idiosyncratic even by San Francisco standards.) This is a brand new modern building with great 180° views from the Bay Bridge to Coit Tower.  Our only complaint is parking. The “official” Pier 27 parking lot has space for maybe 100 cars. Howeer, there is a huge concrete plaza that could have easily doubled the available space. That lot was full when we arrived at 11:30 am. We found a garage almost next door at Pier 31½ where we paid $30 to park indoors. Better all around.

Pier 27 is 2.8 miles north of AT&T Park where the Giants play. Much to our amazement, some fans parked on the street way north of the Bay Bridge and hiked down to the game. Street parking has a price of zero on Sundays. The game’s first pitch was scheduled for 1:05. Luckily the number of fans dwindled as we neared our destination.

Map to Pier 27

Map to Pier 27 (click for larger image)


A day well spent. We’ll post in-depth reviews of the fourteen pinot producing wineries new to us at Family Winemakers 2017 as time and energy permit.

Made in New Zealand Featuring Craggy Range

Over at, we’ve reviewed Craggy Range.  We tasted their pinot noir at Made in New Zealand last March.  You can read our full review here.

Craggy Range Owners Terry and Mary Peabody Made in New Zealand Featuring Craggy Range

Craggy Range Owners Terry and Mary Peabody (click for larger image)

A Lynmar Horizontal

Confession: we have somehow accumulated a large number of bottles of Lynmar 2014 pinots in our Eurocave. So we’re creating space. This will be the first of several Lynmar horizontals.

The wines are the Susanna’s Vineyard (Sonoma Coast, $65) and the “Old Vines” (Russian River Valley, $80). I’d advise you to join their wine club to save money, but neither membership tier offers a discount to new members. You should have joined when we first reviewed Lynmar.

Lynmar Horizontal A Lynmar Horizontal

(click for larger image)

These two wines are terrific representatives of the respective terroirs. The Susanna’s has a black cherry black raspberry nose followed by more black cherries on the palate and a marvelous butterscotch finish. The “Old Vines” is slate and river rock through and through – with a milder butterscotch finish.

I could copy the text from the back labels, but the Lynmar website has done the heavy lifting for me. Forthwith, the story.

Lynmar_2014_PinotNoir_OldVines Lynmar_2014_PinotNoir_SusannasVineyard

(click for larger images)