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.




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)

Conclusion

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.




Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Part 2

Update November 16: This article evolved into a four-part series.  Here are the links to parts 1, 3, and 4:
Part 1: http://californiawinefan.com/2016/10/anderson-valley-pinot-noir-festival-part-2/
Part 3: http://californiawinefan.com/2016/11/anderson-valley-pinot-noir-festival-day-2-part-1/
Part 4: http://californiawinefan.com/2016/11/anderson-valley-pinot-noir-festival-day-2-part-2/

Update: I just noticed this audio clip from the tasting event.  The louder voice is me, but the commentary speaks for itself.

This is the second part of our review of the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival. To read part one, click here. This article covers the Saturday tasting event. Part 3 will cover our Sunday tour of wineries located in the valley.

The Venue at Goldeneye Winery Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival

The Venue at Goldeneye Winery

We’ll discuss the wineries in roughly the order of our preferences. The usual disclaimers apply. We write about what we like. Tasting at an event is not the same as tasting in a more relaxed environment. And please remember we’re not getting paid for this. It’s a labor of love.

WindRacer Wines

WindRacer is the sister label to Maggy Hawk. They are both part of the Jackson Family Wines “Spire Collection.” And the two are pet projects of Jackson Family CEO Barbara Banke.

WindRacer Vineyard Map Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Part 2

WindRacer Vineyard Map (click for larger image)

The 2013 WindRacer Anderson Valley pinot noir ($50) opens with aromas of blueberry tea, anise, and violets lead to a palate featuring Bing cherries, cloves, vanilla and a hint of earthiness.

The Withers Winery

Founder Andrew Tow with his wife Kathleen Tow started making a few barrels of wine to share with their friends. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. They decided to go commercial. And we are all better off because of that decision.

Before delving into their pinots, we have to mention that they also make exquisite GSM’s. And their “Mr. Burgess” syrah blend is spice, smoke, and really good.

Their Anderson Valley pinot source is the Charles Vineyard. They exclusively use Pommard clone 777. The 2013 ($44) features dark cherry and spice. But it is no longer listed on the winery’s website. The 2014 ($44) has more balance with spice. It’s quite aromatic. But there are distinct notes of tannins and chalk. This one needs another year or two in the bottle.

Update: Andrew informs me that there are a few bottles of the 2013 left.  But you have to say, “Please” and “Thank you.”

Roma’s Vineyard

Roma’s Vineyard overlooks the Anderson Valley from their perch on Lone Tree Ridge, altitude 1850 feet. The winery’s website is very out-of-date. We recommend looking at their Facebook pages instead (https://www.facebook.com/romas.vineyard or https://www.facebook.com/Romas-VineyardLone-Tree-Ridge-Winery-111463455561861/). Owners Dean and Suzi Carrell farm eight acres of Goldridge soil. Warm days and cool ocean breezes at night make this ideal terroir for the Pommard clone they planted in 1992.

Roma's Dean Carrell and Myra Carrell Wenzel Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Part 2

Roma’s Dean Carrell and Myra Carrell Wenzel

Roma’s 2013 Ridgetop Vineyard is even lighter than usual for Anderson Valley pinots. Aromas and flavors of bing cherry, strawberry, and cranberry with a nice acid balance make a pretty good wine.

Roma's also wins the award for the best vintage label. Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Part 2

Roma’s also wins the award for the best vintage label.

Quince Winery

Quince is a pet project of Passalacqua Winery. We first encountered Passalacqua many years ago when they were making some of the best, most approachable zinfandels anywhere. While Quince focuses on Russian River Valley pinots, the made it to this event by producing one from Anderson Valley.  (Like Roma’s, the Quince Facebook page is more informative.)

Quince Logo featuring flowering Quince Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Part 2

Quince Logo featuring flowering Quince

Their 2013 Anderson Valley is under the Passalacqua label. They made a mere 150 cases. The wine is a little brittle, almost crunchy, with enough acid and tannins to age for at least another year.

Domaine Anderson

Jennie Dallery and Patrick greeted us with the 2013 Dach Vineyard pinot. But you can’t just walk in and buy it. The wine is only available to wine club members. (Club members will have 15 or 20 percent knocked off the $65 suggested retail price. Or, you can visit the winery and buy it in the tasting room even if you’re not a club member.)

Domaine Anderson at the Festival Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Part 2

Jennie Dallery and Patrick

This wine is heavier and darker than the average Anderson Valley vintage. Aromas of plum, molasses and licorice with just a hint lavender emerge from the first swirls. The dominant flavors are black cherry with earthier elements.

Pangloss Cellars

Pangloss opened their doors in 2010. Winemaker Erich Bradley still works with Sojourn Cellars. Pangloss makes chenin blanc, a white rhone blend, pinot noir, a rhône-style blend, zinfandel, and cabernet sauvignon. The winery sits atop Moon Mountain, where Carmenet used to be in Sonoma County. Erich works with Anderson Valley grapes from the Charles, Farrington, Deer Meadows, and Conzelman vineyards.

Pangloss Bottles Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Part 2

Pangloss’s 2014 Anderson Valley blend ($35) was the first to add Conzelman grapes to the other three. This is an excellent representation of the Anderson Valley with bright red fruit aromas and flavors. reserve is pretty good.

Panthea Winery and Vineyards

Kelly and Jessa Boss run Panthea with the able help of their son Griffyn. They use wild yeast fermentation (at least for their pinots).

Kelly, Jessa and Griffyn Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Part 2

Kelly, Jessa and Griffyn

Their 2012 Filigreen Vineyard ($38) is an expression of dark fruit featuring plum and blackberry. Notes of earth and spice create a very nice palate.

Also from 2012, the Klindt Vineyard ($42) features aromas of bing cherry, rose petals, and sandalwood. A palate of red and black berries, black cherry, tobacco, and dark smooth tannins is complex and long.

Panthea Siren Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Part 2 Panthea Klindt Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Part 2 Panthea Filigreen Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Part 2

There were also two 2013s included. But neither is on the winery website. Panthea’s 2013 Anderson Valley “Siren” is leathery and a bit too light even for our palates. But the 2013 Anderson Valley Estate is very good indeed. The wine features 25% Pommard and 75% Dijon 667. This wine also uses native yeast with no fining or filtering.

Conclusion

The Anderson Valley festival has opened our eyes to the potential of its microclimates and terroir. Once upon a time, this region was simply a roadside attraction on the way to Mendocino. No more. It is now a destination unto itself.




Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival

Update November 16: This article evolved into a four-part series.  Here are the links to parts 2, 3, and 4:
Part 2: http://californiawinefan.com/2016/10/anderson-valley-pinot-noir-festival-part-2/
Part 3: http://californiawinefan.com/2016/11/anderson-valley-pinot-noir-festival-day-2-part-1/
Part 4: http://californiawinefan.com/2016/11/anderson-valley-pinot-noir-festival-day-2-part-2/

The third weekend in May we headed north for our first visit to the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival. We had reservations at The Madrones, right next door to the event. More on this unusual and fun place to stay later. First, we wanted to give our overall impression of Anderson Valley pinots.

We’re late getting this onto the blog. We have both had very busy summers, including paying customers. But now we’re back to the important stuff. In an effort to expedite posting, this will be the first of three or four reviews of this event. Never fear, we have plenty to say.

The valley is part of the main route from US highway 101 to Mendocino and the north coast. It is ideal for pinot noir and chardonnay with mountains, proximity to the ocean, and a northern latitude (39 degrees to be precise). Anderson Valley pinots tend to be somewhat lighter than most, probably due to the shorter, cooler growing season.

The Event

We highly recommend this event. It’s not just a Saturday afternoon grand tasting (although that was pretty nice despite the rain). This is a long weekend event with wineries offering special tastings and food on Sunday. We planned carefully and recommend that you do likewise. Reserve the Saturday event for wineries that don’t have tasting rooms or that are located outside the Anderson Valley. (The requirement for inclusion is a wine made from Anderson Valley grapes, not a physical presence in the region.) Spend Sunday exploring the local wineries. We promise this will be a delightful experience. If you’re of a certain age you’ll remember the Napa Valley in the 1970s and Sonoma in the 1980s. These wineries are generally informal, interesting, and owned by true individuals with unique personalities and winemaking philosophies. We’ll have a few recommendations in part 2 of this review.

The Venue

The venue was the Goldeneye Winery, conveniently located right next to our room at The Madrones. (The Indian Creek Inn is also very close, but we haven’t stayed there, so we won’t comment one way or the other.) Goldeneye is a project of the legendary Duckhorn family. Goleneye is devoted to Anderson Valley pinot. We’ll review them in part three of this article.

The Band (with Wine Bottle Player) Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival

The Band (with Wine Bottle Player)

The actual event was behind the winery in a tent that was a square tunnel. This would have allowed circulation across the center – but it was raining, sometimes heavily. Nevertheless, we persisted, wading through the crowds.

The Wines

We’ll discuss the wineries in roughly the order of our preferences. The usual disclaimers apply. We write about what we like. Tasting at an event is not the same as tasting in a more relaxed environment. And please remember we’re not getting paid for this. It’s a labor of love.

Maggy Hawk

We’ve written about this fabulous winery several times before. We started here to calibrate our taste buds. And, once again, our judgment proved correct. (Prices are not listed. Maggy Hawk wines are available only to members of the winery’s e-mail list.)

The Original Maggy Hawk Maggy Hawk Offers Money, Story, Marketing and Great Wine

The Original Maggy Hawk

The 2013 Jolie opens with aromas of black raspberry and pomegranate. On the palate this wine is light, with smoke, tobacco, and red currants.

Another 2013, Stormin’ featured excellent acid balance. Darker and more brooding than the Jolie, the nose features brambleberry and dark coffee. Flavors of chocolate with earthy undertones.

The 2012 Hawkster is the usual big fruit bomb. Scents of spice and black cherry are followed by brambleberry and anise. If you don’t like Hawkster you just plain don’t like pinot noir.

Waits-Mast

By a slim margin, Waits-Mast rates as best in show that’s new to us. In a note of serious irony, the winery is headquartered on Minnesota St. … in San Francisco (Dogpatch neighborhood). Brian Mast and Jennifer Waits specialize in single-vineyard pinots. And they do a great job. Waits-Mast Family Cellars started production in 2007.

Jennifer Mast Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival

Jennifer Mast

Their 2013 Nash Mill Vineyard ($40, 67 cases produced) features lots of spice and a hint of vanilla on the finish. A very light nose, with elements of red raspberries and cranberries.

The Wentzel Vineyard is in the hills above the Goldeneye winery. The 2013 edition ($47, 42 cases) opens with black cherry aromas leading to a spicy palate with good acid balance.

Deer Meadows Vineyard is just off Deer Meadows Road (of course). The 2013 ($58, 115 cases) is juicy, loaded with blackberry and black cherry.

You will not go wrong with any of these wines.

Harmonique

Co-owner Moira Conzelman greeted us with a big smile and incredible enthusiasm. And why not? Their pinots are very, very good.

Moira Conzelman Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival

Moira Conzelman

Moira and her husband Bruce started the winery in 2002. In 2007 they bought what is now Conzelman Vineyards. They sell some of the grapes to their winery and the rest to the highest bidder.

Harmonique follows the increasingly popular virtual winery business model. They use a custom crush facility for their winemaking needs. Apparently that worked as they could afford to buy the vineyard.

Their 2009 Elegancé ($48) opens with fruit forward aromas of cherries and red raspberries with a hint of spice. On the palate, the fruit darkens to by blackberry and black cherry. A long finish ends with a touch of mocha.

The 2009 “The Noble One” ($39) opens with aromas of tobacco and leather followed by a rich, full mouth feel. Flavors of dark fruit with a hint of molasses on the finish.

Grapes were sourced from vineyards in the cooler, “deep end” of Anderson Valley. Two notables are the Klindt Vineyard Pommard and 115 clones, and Conzelman Vineyard Pommard, 115, and 667 clones.

The 2009 Delicacé ($46) was our favorite of the three. Featuring a nice body, the wine is a mouth full of chocolate and black cherry with nice mineral balance.

Ardzrooni Family Wines

These folks currently are in first place for the least pronounceable winery name in California. Tip: don’t try to say it, just enjoy their terrific wine. The Ardzrooni Family farms about 600 acres in the Anderson Valley. They’ve been growing grapes in California since the late 1880s. Around 1990 they moved to Anderson Valley. But their first vintage was 2012. Current production: all of 150 cases per year. Get it while you can.

Andrea (L) and Genevieve Ardzrooni Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival

Andrea (L) and Genevieve Ardzrooni

This is truly a family operation. Paul grows the grapes and his daughter Genevieve is the winemaker. In 2009 they planted the Wendling vineyard, 20 acres of various clones of pinot noir. They also farm the Farrington vineyard, giving them sources for terrific grapes.

The 2013 “Genevieve’s Blend” ($32, 120 cases) combines grapes from the Farrington and Wendling vineyards. Aromas of black cherry and licorice lead to black cherries and more licorice on the palate. A long, spicy finish makes this our first BARGAIN of the event.

The 2014 Wendling Vineyard (not on web site) features lots of spice with a good balance, “I like that” says Norma.

LIOCO Wines

Founders Matt Licklider and Kevin O’Connor combined their last names to create LIOCO. From the website:

We met in 2001, when Kevin was wine director at Spago-Beverly Hills, and Matt was the national sales director for North Berkeley Imports. The alley behind the restaurant served as a makeshift tasting area and the rain gutter as a spit bucket. Our friendship was immediate and easy, and it didn’t take long for conversations about Burgundy, Piedmont, and Rhone to evolve into ideas about winemaking here at home.

OK, these two guys have serious credibility. And they get more kudos for their extensive coverage of their vineyard sources.

Emily Virgil Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival

Emily Virgil

Emily Virgil was behind the table, pouring tastes and giving background. Here’s what we thought.

The 2014 La Selva Pinot Noir is a blend of Anderson Valley grapes:

From a selection of premier Anderson Valley sites including Cozelman & Cerise. Pinot Noir clones Pommard, 115, 667 and 777 planted in varied soils of decomposed sandstone, clay, and fractured rock in elevations ranging from 400-1100 feet. Along with an omnipresent marine influence, this valley is defined by the presence of old growth redwood trees. La Selva means ‘the forest’ in Spanish.

Aromas of anise, mulberry, dried oregano followed by red currant, and dried strawberry on the palate. Not for the faint of heart!

We’ll review wines from Knez in part three  of this review. It happens that Knez owns the Cerise vineyard. And LIOCO’s 2013 Cerise Vineyard is a good representation of these grapes. (We also tasted and bought a few bottles of the Knez Winery Cerise. Be patient.) The LIOCO version features bing cherries and strawberries with a good acid balance. This vineyard is above Boonville where it gets more sun than the Klindt Vineyard.

Speaking of which, the 2012 Klindt vineyard is the best of the three. Located at the deep end of the valley, this is a tough place to grow anything, much less pinot noir grapes. But the Klindts persisted, helped by Matt and Kevin. More cranberries with bing cherries and some earthy elements on the nose, followed by pickled plum, chinese five spice, and fresh chanterelle palate. Unusual and tasty. But get it while you can. The Klindt vineyard has been sold and their grapes will not be available to LIOCO in the foreseeable future.

Matt Licklider and Kevin O'Connor Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival

Matt Licklider and Kevin O’Connor

Conclusion

We’ve reviewed five wineries from the Saturday event. We have at least five more to go; that will be part two. After that, we’ll look at the local wineries we discovered Sunday. By then it will probably be 2017.




Stanford Art and Wine Stroll 2016

Ah, retirement.  What retirement? We’ve been busy with a time-consuming consulting project.  Which is now over.  Which means we’ll try to catch up on our writing.  Starting right now.

July 30 was the Stanford Art and Wine Stroll 2016.  Wineries must have a Stanford connection, usually at least one alumnus.  The event is held around the Cantor Arts Center and the new Anderson Collection. Guests are invited to stroll the galleries.  Caveat: no wine in the museums.  You can stroll or taste wine, just not at the same time.

The Stanford Scene Stanford Art and Wine Stroll 2016

Without further ado, we present our results. Best newcomer: Caldera Cuvee and owner Sammy Papert. Biggest surprise: the venerable Wente Winery is now making pinot noir and chardonnay sourced from the Arroyo Grande AVA. Best bargain: MacLeod 2012 Sonoma Valley Estate Zinfandel ($28). Read on for details.

Caldera Cuvee

Sammy and Cheryl Papert Stanford Art and Wine Stroll 2016

Sammy and Cheryl Papert

Caldera Cuvee Stanford Art and Wine Stroll 2016Stanford alumnus Sammy Papert is fortunate to live in Cambria, about 10 miles south of Hearst Castle on the central coast. If you’ve never visited this lovely town, add it to your life bucket list. Until recently, Sammy made one wine every year, a Bordeaux-style blend called – surprise – Caldera Cuvee. (In 2011 he added a merlot to the lineup.)

The 2010 vintage ($79) is marvelous stuff. And we’re not cab fans, either. My notes say, “tasty.” Sammy only makes a little over 100 cases per year, so get yours while you can.

Caldera Cuvee is made from grapes growing in a collapsed volcanic cone. We’ll have an article about the unique terroir coming soon.

Caldera's Caldera Stanford Art and Wine Stroll 2016

Caldera’s Caldera

Wente Vineyards

Anyone who has drunk California wine has consumed at least one bottle of Wente wine. Located in the Livermore Valley, Wente remains family owned and operated. They count five Stanford alums among their team. And, year in and year out, Wente wines have always been respectable with the occasional outstanding bottling.

Five Wente Family Members Stanford Art and Wine Stroll 2016

Things are changing. The new “small lot” program features limited bottlings, with only wine club members guaranteed an allocation. Also new: sourcing from a non-Livermore Valley vineyard. Wente has acquired the Riva Ranch Vineyard in the almost-new Arroyo Seco AVA.

Wente WinesStanford Art and Wine Stroll 2016

Wente’s 2015 Livermore Valley “small lot” chardonnay ($28)  is oak-free. The palate features an unusual caramel flavor with nice citrus. Clear and bright with medium intensity exhibiting aromas of lemon zest, pear,  and nectarine alongside citrus blossom.

The 2013 Charles Wetmore Estate Livermore Valley cabernet sauvignon ($30) is pretty good, for a cab. Very little of the objectionable features. Beautiful floral aromatics with hints of tobacco are followed by flavors of ripe black cherry and dark plum with undertones of leather, coffee and spice. Rich, yet approachable tannins lead to a long, smooth finish

Then came two from the newly-acquired Riva Ranch vineyard.  The 2014 Riva Ranch Vineyard, Arroyo Seco AVA chardonnay ($22) features tropical fruit, acidity and creamy notes of butter, vanilla, and toasty oak from barrel aging, this chardonnay has a rich, full mouth-feel and a balanced, long finish.  Too much oak for our taste, but otherwise excellent.  And the 2014 Riva Ranch Vineyard, Arroyo Seco AVA pinot noir ($30) starts with black cherry, cranberry, and crisp red apples with notes of black tea, baking spices and coriander. Elegant and balanced with lively acidity with supple tannins and a long, smooth finish.  The first bargain of the evening.

MacLeod Family Vineyard

Dry, lean, poor soil. Uplifted and eroded bench-like terrace block covered with 80-100` Glen Ellen formation, unsorted alluvial debris, stream rounded cobbles, sand and clay lenses. Top soil about 18 – 22”.

From the MacLeod website fact sheet →

These folks have been around since 1974. The vineyard began as a retirement project for George and Greta. The MacLeod clan (or “association” as they like to call themselves) still run a family operation. Today there are 24 family members, with a new arrival heralding the fourth generation of MacLeods. George (1943, MS, 1947) and Greta (1947) are both Stanford alumni. The most recent attendee is Laura Wolfson Keller (MBA, 2012).

Emma and Skyler Murphy Stanford Art and Wine Stroll 2016

Emma and Skyler Murphy of the extended MacLeod clan.

MacLeod’s 2015 Sonoma Valley Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($22) has just a hint of grass on the nose, robust aromas and flavors of green apple, grapefruit and a hint of green pepper. The influence of the cooler summer and dominance of fruit harvested from the shady side of the vine shows in the flavors of green apple, pineapple.

Their 2012 Sonoma Valley Estate Zinfandel ($28) is a major bargain. Just a hint of zin spice on the finish. Blackberry, black cherry and pepper flavors are nicely balanced with layers of clove, nutmeg, cinnamon and coffee.

Muns

We met Ed Muns at the 2015 event. We rated his pinot best in show that year. This year, Ed wins the award for best syrah. His 2012 estate syrah ($25) is “pretty darn good” according to my notes. Aromas of roses and red raspberries lead to flavors of brambleberry and more raspberries. Outstanding.

Renteria Family Wines

New to us, Renteria offers a number of pinot noirs. For Stanford they were pouring their 2012 Griffin’s Lair Vineyard Sonoma Coast ($40). This is pretty good, but – surprise – it still needs a few years bottle time to fully mature. Delicate on the palate, yet has a medium body that finishes with a fresh, crisp acidity. A well integrated bouquet gives off aromas of farmers-market fresh plums and florally violets. Tannins and oak on the palate will improve this wine with age. Buy and hold until 2020.

Marcella Renteria-Dew, Stanford 1990 Stanford Art and Wine Stroll 2016

Marcella Renteria-Dew, Stanford 1990

Like many other vintners, owner Oscar Renteria took over the family’s vineyard management business. The company currently manages 1,500 acres in the North Bay. In 1997 they released their first vintage under their own label. Current production is about 2,000 cases per year. Give these folks a try – you won’t regret it.

Conclusion

We are concerned.  There seemed to be a smaller crowd this year than last.  We hope this won’t be the final Stroll!  If you’re a Stanford alum and live in the Bay Area, try to make it to this event in 2017.  See you there!

 




Pinot Shootout at the Artisan Corral

OK, we apologize to John Sturges.

James and Christine were kind enough to invite us to this event. They know us too well. We could not resist a semi-blind tasting of ten pinots. While we did badly on the winery identification, the lineup was impressive. And we were surprised at our top three. Our favorite was Sean Minor’s 2013 Carneros ($15, MAJOR BARGAIN). We have consumed many bottles of Mr. Minor’s wines over the years.  Second and third places are actually a tie between Talbott’s 2012 Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands ($35) and Sojourn’s 2013 Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast ($50).  (All prices are single bottle as quoted by Artisan on July 22, 2016.)

But you will not go wrong with any of these wines. Take a look at our tasting notes.   If you visit the Artisan website you can find other reviews.

The Top Three

Our top three were wines from Sean Minor, Talbott, and Sojourn Cellars. We were not surprised by Sean Minor. Talbott and Sojourn were somewhat less plausible. While we have enjoyed wines from both, we did not expect them to show up in our top three.

Sean Minor

Sean Minor, Nicole Minor and Family Pinot Shootout at the Artisan Corral

Sean Minor, Nicole Minor and Family

make delicious, quality wines that continually exceed your expectations.

Sean and Nicole Minor started their winery in 2005. Their explicit goal is to →

Over the years we have neglected this fine winery. The Fess Parker winery’s description of their Parker Station pinot noir said it best:

The best pinot noir you can afford to drink every day.

Sean’s 2013 Carneros ($15) is medium-bodied with rich aromas of dark berry, plum, leather, and tobacco . The palate features plum and blackberry flavors with earthy and sweet oak notes throughout the mid-palate. The spicy finish lingers on the palate with silky round tannins.

Talbott

Robb Talbott at Work Pinot Shootout at the Artisan Corral

Robb Talbott at Work

We’ve enjoyed Talbott wines over the years. We like their wines (especially their Kali Hart chardonnay), but have found them to vary quite a bit from vintage to vintage. But their 2012 Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands ($35) knocked our socks off.

Aromas of black cherry and blackberry with a hint of smoke, followed by sweet blackberry flavors with nuances of spice orange zest. Smooth tannins and spice lead to a wonderful long finish.

Notably, Talbott’s operations are located in the town of Carmel Valley. We’ve stayed there on several occasions and enjoy the semi-rural, unhurried pace.

Sojourn Cellars

Sojourn's Chief Dog Ziggy Pinot Shootout at the Artisn Corral

Sojourn’s Chief Dog Ziggy

We’ve tasted Sojourn’s pinots many times and found them too big for our palates. But we were surprised by their 2013 Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast ($50). Scents of cranberries and cherries lead to a serious fruit bomb. Save this one for a special steak.

But we have written about Sojourn before.  Ziggy, chief winery dog, is famous for her training to detect TCA in oak barrel staves.  For the whole story, click here.

For those a bit rusty on their wine chemistry, here’s part of the Wikipedia entry on TCA:

2,4,6-Trichloroanisole (TCA) is a chemical compound that is a chlorinated derivative of anisole. TCA is a fungal metabolite of 2,4,6-trichlorophenol, which is used as a fungicide. It can be found in minute traces on packaging materials stored in the presence of fiberboard treated with trichlorophenol.

TCA is the chemical primarily responsible for cork taint in wines. TCA has also been implicated as a major component of the “Rio defect” in coffees from Central and South America, which refers to a taste described as medicinal, phenolic, or iodine-like.

The Complete Lineup

In the order we tasted them, here they are.

Domaine Serene ‘‘Yamhill Cuvee” 2011 Willamette Valley ($40). Fruit, fruit, fruit, a real fruit bomb.

Domaine Serene Vineyard Pinot Shootout at the Artisan Corral

Domaine Serene Vineyard

New Zealand was well represented by Escarpment ”Te Rehua” 2013 Martinborough, New Zealand $60). Dark, brooding, mineral nose, herbs, nuts, chocolate on the palate. A note of honeysuckle adds to a complex palate.

Milo McKenna, Top Dog at Escarpment Pinot Shootout at the Artisan Corral

Milo McKenna, Top Dog at Escarpment

From the Escarpment website:

Escarpment Vineyard was established in 1998 as a joint business venture between Robert & Mem Kirby (of Australia’s Village Roadshow) and Larry & Sue McKenna. Collectively, these four directors bring to Escarpment a world of experience, skill and understanding to the nurturing and making of fine, deliciously sublime wine.

Talbott 2012 Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands ($35). See above.

Ric Forman and Cheryl Emmolo of Rossi Wallace Pinot Shootout at the Artisan Corral

Ric Forman and Cheryl Emmolo of Rossi Wallace

Rossi Wallace 2014 Napa Valley ($26). Real substance, hints of Arroyo Grande AVA, surprised to learn the fruit is from Atlas Peak, Napa Valley.

Sojourn Cellars 2013 Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast ($50). See above.

Miura's Emmanuel Kemiji Interviewed by Fred Dame Pinot Shootout at the Artisan Corral

Miura’s Emmanuel Kemiji Interviewed by Fred Dame. Photo from The Tasting Panel Magazine October 2012 “A Conversation With Emmanuel Kemiji” http://digital.copcomm.com/i/86618-october-2012/42

 Miura ”Talley Vineyard” 2010 Arroyo Grande ($57). Surprisingly rich and full-bodied for an Arroyo Grande pinot. Very nice.

Hahn Harvest Pinot Shootout at the Artisan Corral

Hahn Harvest

Hahn 2014 Santa Lucia Highlands ($20). Anise, licorice and dust aromas, more dust, nutmeg, and licorice on the palate.

Sean Minor 2013 Carneros ($15). See above.

Cherry Pie Pinot Shootout at the ARtisan Corral

Cherry Pie

 

Cherry Pie “Cherry Tart” 2013 ($17). Forest floor, cloves, and dried strawberries. Unusual, but interesting. If you think you’d like it, go for it.

 

Belle Glos “Dairyman Vineyard” 2014 Russian River Valley ($55). Notable for its sweetness, you could drink this as an aperitif or dessert.

 




Ankida Ridge Picked for IPNC

A few summers ago we were invited to a tasting of Virgina wines at Siduri.  We were very impressed by several, including Ankida Ridge.  (You can read our full review of this event by clicking here.)  It happens that Ankida Ridge was also the only winery at Siduri that was pouring a pinot.  We liked it a lot.  Quoting from our review,

Their 2012 pinot noir ($42) is big and muscular. Aromas of cherries and earth are followed by a terrific mouth feel with flavors of cassis and wet slate. A long pepper and spice finish holds the promise of improvement with age. There are enough tannins and oak to support at least a couple of additional years in the bottle.

And, a few days ago, we learned that Ankida Ridge has been selected for Oregon’s annual International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC).  By our count, there are 54 wineries participating: 34 are Oregon-based, 16 from California, and one each from Canada, Michigan, Virginia, and Washington.  We’re proud to say that we knew about Ankida Ridge two years before word got out to the rest of the world.

We attended IPNC in 2011 as part of our tour of Oregon wine country.  Read our review here.




Gary Farrell Visits Artisan. Plus Christine’s Chardonnay Challenge

For the rest of your wine-crafting days, if you could only make wine from one red grape variety what would it be? Pinot Noir, of course. ;)

Well, not Gary himself. The winery, however, was well-represented via winemaker Theresa Heredia. More on Ms. Heredia later. But for now this quote from an interview at Winetable.com will do nicely. →

There were two events Friday, July 1. In addition to Gary Farrell, Artisan was hosting their annual “Christine’s Chardonnay Challenge.” Christine Tran, co-owner of Artisan, assembled a dozen chardonnays in the traditional brown paper bags. We swirled, inhaled, tasted and made many notes. Stay tuned for our recommendations.

Gary Farrell Wines

James and Christine Tran, owners of Artisan Wine Depot, were kind enough to invite us to this special tasting. The Gary Farrell Winery has been around forever, at least as long as we’ve been visiting Sonoma County. We’ve dropped by occasionally but the wines have historically been big, loaded with tannins and oak. Those wines had incredible aging potential. But we’re not generally that patient.

According to the website, tasting at Gary Farrell is now by appointment only.  Contact them at 707-473-2909 or concierge@garyfarrellwinery.com.  You can also book through the website.

Artisan was pouring four Gary Farrell wines, two chardonnays and two pinot noirs. We’ll dispense with the chardonnays quickly. The style is oak and butter, although not as excessive as we’ve experienced in the past.

But the pinot noirs were very nice. The 2013 “Russian River Selection” Russian River Valley ($38 at Artisan) is pretty with earthy notes. Aromas of strawberry and rhubarb lead to a fruit bomb palate typical of RRV pinots. The mouth feel is lush and tangy.

Farrell’s 2013 “Hallberg Vineyard” Russian River Valley ($42) is lighter, with aromas of forest floor and cherries. Blackberries and herbs on the palate with a long finish. We actually liked the blend a bit more and picked up a couple of bottles.

Winemaker Theresa Heredia

Theresa Heredia and Tony Gary Farrell Visits Artisan. Plus Christine’s Chardonnay Challenge

Theresa Heredia and Tony

Ms. Heredia was happily working on her Ph.D. in chemistry at U.C. Davis when the wine bug gave her a big, wet kiss. She worked for several years in the vineyards of Burgundy, learning from the source. Among her accomplishments, producing the first vintage at Freestone wines stands out. Following that she was named a “Winemaker to Watch” by the San Francisco Chronicle. Here’s what she has to say about working at Gary Farrell:

Accepting the role of winemaker at Gary Farrell has been the experience of a lifetime! This winery has a deeply rooted historical significance in the Russian River Valley, and I am honored to be at the helm of the evolution of these critically-acclaimed wines.

We hope Theresa’s career at Gary Farrell is long and prosperous. And we’re happy to add Farrell pinots to our recommended list.

Christine’s Chardonnay Challenge

Every year Christine selects a dozen chardonnays for a blind tasting. One objective is to see how the infamous Rombauer chardonnay stands up against others. The specific Rombauer was their 2014 Carneros ($34). There were eleven others ranging from standards like Kendall Jackson to newcomers such as Gregory Graham. After tasting, making copious notes, and rating the wines, Christine told us which was which. The Rombauer was oaky with a fair bit of malolactic fermentation, but better fruit than most. The other eleven wines had similar structures with oak and butter. Which means we didn’t like any of them very much.

But, having said that, we’ll reveal our notes on four that we found pretty good. These are in the order in which we tasted them.

Kendall Jackson’s “Grand Reserve” 2014 Central Coast ($16) is a bargain. With less oak than most of the others and a hint of acid balance, this rates as a bargain.

Pahlmeyer’s “Jayson” 2012 North Coast ($45) is not a bargain, but we rated it quaffable. Vanilla with hints of lemon and apples and some oak on the palate.

The aforementioned Gregory Graham “Wedge Block Vineyard” 2013 Lake County ($22) features a nice nose (mango!) with peaches and melon on the palate. A long butterscotch finish makes this another bargain.

We have attended the Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Festival for several years. This event is held at the Mer Soleil Winery at the base of the mountains. It happens that Mer Soleil’s “Reserve” 2014 Santa Lucia Highlands ($27) includes an unusual honey palate and a bit too much oak. We recommend saving this one for dessert.

Full marks to Christine Tran for crowdsourcing chardonnay rankings. And, no, the Rombauer did not make our top four.




The End of Bad Pinots? Garagiste Visits Solvang Overview

Garagiste Southern Exposure, Solvang, February, 2016 from Norma Schroder on Vimeo.

On February 11 we headed south. Our objective was the Southern Exposure edition of the California Garagistes on February 13 and 14 in Solvang. We spent two nights at the Seacrest Oceanfront Hotel in Pismo Beach before heading to our destination in Santa Barbara. More on that in part 3. This is the overview, part 1. Parts 2 and 3 will go into detail about the wineries listed here. We wanted to get something up while our memories are still working.

The End of Bad Pinots?

Our conclusion: this may be the end of bad pinots. When the Garagistes visit Solvang, we did not taste any bad wines.  As far as we can remember, this is the first time we’ve had that experience at any major tasting event.

Ryan Cochrane Bottles

Ryan Cochrane wines (click for larger image)

We tasted about ten wineries that were new to us and pouring pinot noirs. Special thanks to Rhythm Wines for bringing along a bottle just for us. The good news is that we did not taste a single bad wine. These folks have figured out the fussy, temperamental pinot noir grape. Which is, of course, great news for everyone.

Mark and Wendy Horvath

Mark and Wendy Horvath

Our two personal favorites were Crawford Family Wines and Ryan Cochrane Wines. Mark Crawford Horvath and his wife Wendy are the driving forces behind Crawford Family.

Ryan Cochrane started out by doing an internship with Roger Nicolas (RN Estate) then got promoted to assistant winemaker. Through that connection and exceptional winemaking skills he acquired some Solomon Hills pinot noir fruit.

But you won’t go wrong with any of the others. In alphabetical order:

We also revisited Scott Pagter whom we met at the Paso Garagiste last November. He’s still making wine for the Pagter Brothers Winery.  And it’s still pretty darn good.

Ryan Cochrane

Ryan Cochrane

Several of these folks have a distinct focus on pinot noir. Kudos to Weatherborne for producing only pinot noir. Ryan Cochrane and Seagrape produce both chardonnay and pinot noir. Crawford Family makes it into this group with chardonnay, pinot noir, and syrah. We’ll forgive them for including a second red grape as long as they keep on making great pinot! Mollie gets included here, with a cabernet sauvignon as their other red.

Stay tuned for the detailed results, including some surprising non-pinot noirs.

 




Pinotfest 2015 Offered Four Newcomers

OK, OK, don’t give us a hard time. We know Farallon’s annual Pinotfest was last November. We have to make a living to support our wine habit … er, hobby.

This year there were four noteworthy wineries that were new to us: Charles Heintz, En Route, LaRue and Lutum. In the interest of getting this review out before the next Pinotfest, we’ll focus on these four. They are presented roughly in our order of preference. However, you won’t go wrong with any of these fine pinots.

LaRue Wines

LaRue Wines is an homage to winemaker/owner Katy Wilson’s great-grandmother, Veona LaRue Newell. For reasons that remain unknown, Ms. Newell’s mother chose her unusual middle name. Katy remains impressed by her wit, wisdom, and toughness.

Katy Wilson Pinotfest 2015 Offered Four Newcomers

Katy Wilson

Katy also makes some pretty good wines. Her 2013 Sonoma Coast ($60) is a blend from the Rice-Spivak and Emmaline Ann Vineyards. This wine opens with aromas of leather, tobacco, and cherries. Our tasting notes simply say, “Juicy.”

The 2013 Emmaline Ann Vineyard ($70) is from grapes grown on a three acre vineyard near the town of Freestone. This vineyard has pure Goldridge sandy loam soils and Dijon clonal selections. Proximity to the ocean and a higher elevation give the grapes some unique characteristics.

Initially you are greeted with scents of dark fruit and violets, with hints of cranberry. Flavors of strawberries and cherries combine with wet slate and leather notes. Drink now or hang on to this goodie for a few years.

Lutum Wines

Lutum is a joint venture between Bill Price and winemaker Gavin Chanin. For those rusty on their Latin, “lutum” translates to dirt or soil – where all terroir begins. They focus on small-production, single-vineyard pinot noir and chardonnay. Naturally we’ll stick to the pinot.

Bill Price and Gavin Chanin Pinotfest 2015 Offered Four Newcomers

Bill Price and Gavin Chanin

Their 2013 Bien Nacido Vineyard ($50) opens with white pepper, mushrooms and forest floor. On the palate you’ll find red raspberry, tea and a hint of spice. The finish is soft tannins with more spice.

Lutum’s 2013 Sanford and Benedict Vineyard ($60) starts with aromas of cherries and anise. This wine features structured tannins with a nice acid balance.

The 2013 Rita’s Crown Vineyard ($50) is darker and heavier, including scents of coriander and black cherries. Spices are integrated with smooth tannins on the palate.

Finally, the 2013 La Rinconada Vineyard ($50) A bright garnet color reveals a heady nose of cranberry, dried bark and umami. A concentrated mid-palate of red fruit and substantial tannin lends itself to great structure. This is a fuller-bodied Pinot Noir that offers complexity and richness.

Lutum offers the full array of the pinot noir experience. Think of them as your one-stop shop.

Charles Heintz

Yes, there is a Charles Heintz.  And he has a heck of a story:

Heintz Ranch has been owned by the Heintz family for nearly 100 years. Charlie’s grandparents purchased the land in 1912. Over the many decades they grew many crops. In the first years it was chickens, berries, cherries apples and other vegetables.

In 2004, our ultra-premium label, “Heintz” was introduced. These small-production wines are made with 100% Heintz Ranch fruit, farmed for lower yields and are grown primarily on the hillside areas of Heintz Ranch.

Because our wines are produced in small lots, they receive the utmost care and attention, which is reflected in the taste, color and aroma of our wines. Charlie painstakingly manages all aspects of farming the 55 acres of vineyard including operations and personally overseeing the winemaking process of our chardonnay and pinot noir and syrah.

The Heintz 2013 Swan ($48) is made from vines growing at the lowest elevation of Heintz Ranch. The wine has intense flavors of fresh red cherries, cranberries, spice and vanilla. Integrated acid and tannins make for an excellent, long finish.

Charlie’s 2013 Valentina ($48) is named after the first generation of Heintz Ranch landowners. The wine has aromas of cherry and ripe cranberry. More cherries and cranberries on the palate with accents of cardamom and lavender lead to a long and lingering finish.

En Route Winery

Like many wineries, En Route blends the talents of a couple of winemakers and a viticulturist. Andrew Delos, the winemaker, is yet another U.C. Davis graduate. He’s been working with Russian River Valley pinot grapes for many years, including stints at MacRostie (Carneros) and Pellegrini (Russian River Valley). His work at Nickel & Nickel in Napa Valley impressed the partners so much that, when they created En Route in 2007, Andrew was the natural selection. In 2015 he added the title President to his portfolio.

Andrew is assisted by Gordon Smith. With his background, it’s surprising Gordon didn’t end up in music: he’s from Nashville, Tennessee. While working on a Ph.D. in chemistry at U.C. Santa Barbara, he took some time off and developed a taste for pinot noir. (Note: great idea!) He took a part-time job in a wine shop back in Nashville. One day, his manager asked him why, with his chemistry background, he wasn’t making wine. Smith worked his first harvest in 2010 at Williams Selyem in Russian River Valley. Before long, he was offered an opportunity too good to pass up: a chance to join EnRoute as the enologist, becoming the second employee at the winery. In 2015, he was promoted to assistant winemaker.

The viticulturist is Aaron Fishleder. Vineyards worldwide owe him a vote of thanks. Aaron was doing research at U.C. Davis trying to figure out better ways to fight phylloxera. While he was at it, he worked on a Masters degree. Later his research focused on Pierce’s Disease. His first job was with Far Niente, where he advised outside vineyard management on the winery’s estate vineyards. A few years later, Fishleder helped launch Far Niente Vineyards, a company separate from Far Niente charged with farming the vineyards owned by the partners of Far Niente, and sister wineries Dolce and Nickel & Nickel. Today, as president of Far Niente Vineyards, Fishleder and his staff farm the wineries’ estate vineyards and outside client vineyards in Napa Valley, Russian River Valley and Green Valley.

En Route’s “Les Pommiers” ($65) is named after the apple orchards that once graced the Russian River Valley. On the nose, red raspberry, black cherry, and floral notes. On the palate raspberry and cherry with a hint of minerality. Ripe, integrated tannins create a long, smooth finish.

Conclusion

Pinotfest is usually an event where we see what’s new with old friends.  The 2015 version offered four surprises.  Very pleasant surprises at that.