Three Days in Sonoma County

We met my brother Tom and his wife Ginger in Windsor for three days of wine-tasting and conversation. This is the overview of our three days in Sonoma County.

We discovered a  really good winery that was new to us: Williamson Wines. We finally got to visit Belden Barns. We first discovered them in 2014. We revisited several old favorites including the Spire Collection (Maggy Hawk, Windracer), Zichichi (reviewed by us in 2011), Balletto (reviewed in 2016), Chateau Montelena (reviewed in 2017), Siduri (reviewed more times than we can count), and Pech Merle (which we’ve been meaning to review, mentioned in our overview of the Family Winemakers Tasting).

And, as an added bonus, we discovered two great restaurants in Healdsburg.  Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar does seafood (surprise). The Brass Rabbit occupies the space once used by Chez Ralph. Both offer outstanding food and excellent service.




Our Weekend in Sonoma Part Calistoga

Well.  It has been a few months since we wrote about our March trip to Sonoma and Napa.  We’ve been busy working on paying projects to support our wine habit.  While we were in Calistoga we visited Chateau Montelena and Picayune Cellars. This is our weekend in Sonoma part Calistoga.

Chateau Montelena Our Weekend in Sonoma Part Calistoga

Chateau Montelena (click for larger image)

We went to Calistoga for the Spire Collection event.. Neither of us had ever visited the justifiably famous Chateau Montelena (featured in the movie Bottle Shock). We brought home three bottles of their zinfandel. If we had the patience to wait 20 years we might have picked up a bottle of their cabernet sauvignon. Forthwith our review of the wines.

Their 2015 Napa Valley sauvignon blanc ($35) opens with citrus aromas leading to yellow grapefruit on the palate. (The current release is the 2016 vintage at the same price.) A 2014 chardonnay ($58) was appealing with no butter and very light oak. But it lacked fruit.

By far our favorite was the 2013 Napa Valley zinfandel featuring an unusual butterscotch nose with bing cherries and light berries on the palate. (The current release is the 2014 vintage from Calistoga for $39.) Finally, if you can wait 20 years we have the perfect wine for you. The 2013 Montelena Estate cabernet sauvignon ($160) currently shows a nice balance of tannins, oak, and fruit with a good structure.

Our second stop was Picayune Cellars. We’ve written about them before and looked forward to dropping by their new tasting room. Claire Ducrocq Weinkauf is now the sole proprietor of the enterprise, having bought out co-founder Jennifer Roberts a few years ago. Claire works in the spirit of a French négociant, buying wines from different sources and blending them. The quality today is just as good as the first time we tasted their wines. Current production is 2,600 cases per year.

Jennifer Roberts and Claire Weinkoauf First Bottling April 2011

Jennifer Roberts and Claire Weinkoauf First Bottling April 2011

These are all major bargains. Claire knows her stuff.

2015 sauvignon blanc ($21). 87% Red Hills Lake County, 13% Napa Valley. Aromas of lemon, gooseberry and grapefruit.  The palate is bright and lively with lime zest, Asian pear and lemon curd.

2014 Sonoma Coast pinot noir ($29). A burst of juicy blueberry and fresh raspberry. The vibrant fruit flavors are complemented by hints of lilac.

2014 Padlock ($29) 73% merlot, 21% malbec, 6% cabernet sauvignon. Deep layers of black cherries, cassis, blackberries, cocoa, currants and bit of truffle on the nose. A rich mid palate with attractive texture and excellent acidity, This one needs to sit for a few years.




Our Weekend in Sonoma and Napa

We traveled north on February 17. Our main objective was the Spire Collection tasting of wines from Maggy Hawk. A full review will be coming shortly. This is the overview of our weekend in Sonoma and Napa counties.

The Spire Collection tasting was in Calistoga. We stayed at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Windsor, about half an hour from there. And we were very happy with the Maggy Hawk wines. We were especially intrigued with two versions of Maggy Hawk’s “Jolie” 2013 vintage. One was in a standard 750 ml bottle. The other was a 3 liter double magnum. We’ll publish our tasting notes in the full review. For now we’ll just say the two were very different. An added bonus was meeting winemaker Elizabeth Grant-Douglas.

Tony With Winemaker Elizabeth Grant-Douglas Our Weekend in Sonoma and Napa

Tony With Winemaker Elizabeth Grant-Douglas

Since we were in Calistoga we made two more local stops. Neither of us had ever visited the justifiably famous Chateau Montelena (featured in the movie Bottle Shock). We brought home three bottles of their zinfandel. If we had the patience to wait 20 years we might have picked up a bottle of their cabernet sauvignon.


Our third stop was Picayune Cellars. We’ve written about them before and looked forward to dropping by their new tasting room. Claire Ducrocq Weinkauf is now the sole proprietor of the enterprise, having bought out co-founder Jennifer Roberts a few years ago. Claire works in the spirit of a French négociant, buying wines from different sources and blending them. The quality today is just as good as the first time we tasted their wines.

Sunday we started with an appointment at Lynmar Estate. We have written about them many times before and are long-time members of their wine club. The tasting room is now appointment only, so call ahead if you want to be sure to get a seat. As always, the staff was friendly and efficient.

Lynmar Tasting Room In the Rain Our Weekend in Sonoma and Napa

Lynmar Tasting Room In the Rain

After Lynmar we headed toward Healdsburg, intent on visiting Hartford’s new tasting room. (We were reluctant to go to the winery because the heavy rains had caused flooding in the Russian River Valley). En route we passed a sign for Balletto Vineyards. Some quick work on the iPad revealed that they make several pinots. A quick u-turn got us back to the new find of this trip.

Balletto Tasting Room Our Weekend in Sonoma and Napa

Balletto Tasting Room

Balletto mainly grows grapes. They keep some (presumably the best) for their use. And their wines are pretty terrific. If you don’t want to wait for the full review, we can recommend them right now with no reservations.

On to Healdsburg where parking was a major problem. But the spot we finally found put us next to the new Siduri tasting room. We spent an enjoyable half hour sampling some of our favorites. Notably, Siduri is now making a Parsons Vineyard pinot. It’s been a few years since we saw that name on a Siduri label. The hosts told us that Parsons had run into some difficulties, but was now straightened out again.

Siduri Tasting Room Our Weekend in Sonoma and Napa

Siduri Tasting Room

Finally, the Hartford tasting room about two blocks north of Siduri. One chardonnay, one zinfandel, and one pinot noir were being poured. All three were excellent. But if you want the full Hartford experience, visit the winery.

Time permitting we’ll get the first two reviews out this month. The Spire Collection and Balletto will be the featured wineries. As for the rest, we’ll do our best.




Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival day 2 part 2

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

And we are just about exhausted. Forthwith, the fourth and final segment of our seemingly never-ending series on the Anderson Valley pinot noir festival day 2 part 2.

Elke Vineyards

Elke Tasting Room Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival day 2 part 2

Elke Tasting Room

Elke focuses on traditional Burgundy-style pinot noirs. The Elke family has been growing fruit since 1979 but has only been making wine under their own label since 1997. Here’s their story in their own words:

Tom and Mary Elke started Elke Vineyards back in 1979. Drawn to the land, they bought vineyards and orchards in Napa and Anderson Valley. With their two young boys in tow, they set about learning to grow grapes the old-fashioned way – by just doing it, and overcoming the challenges along the way.

Originally, the Elke’s Anderson Valley property was planted with organic apple trees, and Mary was known for years for the apple juice that she produced. Over time, she realized the potential of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on the land, and began planting grapevines. In 1997, she launched the Elke wine brand and the first commercial production of Elke wines, and she has been running the business since then. She has served as president of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association.

Mary has sometimes defied conventional wisdom in her grape growing. The customers for her grapes, which include some of the finest Pinot Noir wineries in California, seem to vindicate her approach. In any case, Mary’s deep understanding of her land and vines, and her commitment to hard work, continue to shine through. You will still find her driving a tractor through the vineyard, encouraging the grape pickers at 4am, and helping out with winemaking.

Matt Elke (Tom and Mary’s son, […] ) has always felt a special attachment to the family’s home ranch in Anderson Valley, and he is now managing that land.

Elke’s signature wine is their Blue Diamond brand. We were treated to a three-year vertical:

The 2011 Blue Diamond ($36) features red raspberries, spice, and minerality. This one’s ready to drink now.

Their 2012 ($38) shows good aromatics, some minerality, tannins and spice. We liked this one the best of the three.

And the 2013 ($38) has layers of red fruit, earthy notes, and minerality. Look for hints of cedar and spice.

Winemaker Matt Evans Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival day 2 part 2

Winemaker Matt Evans

This label allows Matt to step outside of the traditions of the Elke Wines, and explore different techniques (some modern, most ancient) in pursuit of great Pinot Noir.

But it happens that the wine we liked best was under their have a second label, Evans (named for winemaker Matt Evans).→

The 2011 Evans is not on website where the 2013 is featured. The wine opens with aromas of strawberries and mild pepper, with a hint of caramel on the palate.

Baxter Winery

Phillip and Claire Baxter are the second generation of the Baxter family to make wine in California. The winery began when Phillip I. Baxter teamed up with his youngest son, Phillip T.G. Baxter to open their eponymously-named winery in 2002. It happens that was also the year the younger Baxter finished his studies in enology and viticulture at U.C. Davis. Additional details here.

Claire and Phillip T.G. Baxter Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival day 2 part 2

Claire and Phillip T.G. Baxter

Baxter sources grapes from seven vineyards in the Anderson Valley, Mendocino, and Mendocino Ridge appellations. The Mendocino Ridge vineyards (Fashauer, Signal Ridge, and Valenti) are at an elevation that gets quite a bit of sun. The grapes get more solar ripening and less heat. The winery was pouring five pinots.

Baxter’s 2013 Valenti Vineyard Mendocino Ridge (not on website) has the lightness characteristic of many Anderson Valley wines. Strawberries and raspberries abound overlaying a mineral and spice base.

The 2013 Langley Vineyard Anderson Valley ($48) begins with aromas of huckleberries and violets. A palate of bing cherries, raspberries and pomegranate lie beneath a layer of minerality.

Their 2013 Oppenlander (not on website) is silky, with aromas and flavors of light cherries and strawberries. According to my notes, this wine is 100 percent whole cluster.

Finally, the 2012 Oppenlander Vineyard Mendocino ($60) features aromas and flavors of light bing cherries and strawberries.

Toulouse Vineyard

Toulouse has a theme: geese. Their motto is “Too Tense? Toulouse!” And there’s this:

Tense Goose Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival day 2 part 2

and this:

Stuffed geese Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival day 2 part 2

Toulouse parrot Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival day 2 part 2

(click for larger image)

And, of course, the inevitable parrots.

But the wine is pretty darn good, as is the ambience. Owners Vern and Maxine … well, let’s let them tell their story:

Owners Vern and Maxine didn’t always make wine. In previous lives Vern was a Captain in the Oakland Fire Department and also built homes as a residential contractor. Maxine traveled the world as a flight attendant for United Airlines.

After retirement, the two decided to explore the possibility of owning vineyard land and becoming grape growers. Their quest brought them to a beautiful site approximately one mile from the town of Philo. The couple planted 21 acres of vines and by 2002 they were making wine!

From this hard work and shared dream comes the Toulouse vision for creating exceptional, handcrafted wines. Vern and Maxine take great pride in producing their wines and want you to come enjoy a tasting experience at the winery (where dogs are welcome).

The 2012 Weir Vineyard Yorkville Highlands ($55) is a bit restrained, with medium-weight dried herb, brambleberry, spice, cherry and tobacco flavors, fanning out on the finish.

Conclusion

Next up: the annual Pinotfest at Farallon.  Wish us luck.

 




Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Day 2 Part 1

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

 

[Update November 6 to add Phillips Hill’s 2013 Anderson Valley pinot noir.]

After a long day at the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival May 21, what are wine semi-professionals to do on Sunday? Hit the road and visit all the local wineries that we skipped Saturday because they’re, well, local. And we made some discoveries that are astonishing. As always, we write about what we like. Your tastes probably don’t match ours. But wines reviewed here will not let you down. Once again, to get this to press fast, we’re dividing our review into two parts.  This is our take on the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Day 2 Part 1.

Knez Winery

Knez Label Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Day 2 Part 1

(click for larger image)

We have to confess that we screwed up by not visiting Knez as our first stop Sunday. The reason is that Knez is actually located on the grounds of The Madrones – where we were staying. But these folks are certainly among the top three we discovered this weekend.

Knez owns the justifiably famous Cerise Vineyard. And they keep some of the grapes for their own use. Which is lucky for all of us. They also own the Knez and Demuth vineyards.

And we learned something new. Oak barrels are not just differentiated by country of origin and manufacturer. The grain of the barrel makes a difference. The finer the grain the more oak is absorbed by the wine. Interesting. And, as a footnote, Knez uses only French oak.

Their wines are terrific. If it’s possible for a $47 bottle of wine to be a bargain, their 2013 Cerise qualifies.

Knez’s 2013 Cerise Vineyard ($47) opens with hints of cedar and spices. On the palate more cedar with bay leaf, plum, and blackberry. A dusty, dried herb with a finish ofdusty tannins reminded us of the “desert” character we usually associate with the Santa Rita Hills AVA.

Their 2014 Anderson Valley ($34) Seductive aromatics lead to pronounced ripe cherry flavor laced with candied raspberries within a well-structured tannin profile give balance with finesse. Powerful, yet approachable, interwoven complexities of rich red fruit bound with elements of vanilla, spice and cherry liquor finishes with a sweet candy note enhanced with a cleansing lightness.

Lazy Creek Vineyards

Our tasting notes were lost in a technological failure. But we know we liked it because we bought half a case. And, of course, that means we tasted it here at home.

Lazy Creek Tasting Room Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Day 2 Part 1

Lazy Creek Tasting Room

Lazy Creek Vineyards has been around approximately forever. Since 2008 the winery has been owned by Don and Rhonda Carano. They also own Ferrari-Carano, so they have their winery management techniques down pat. Snippets from their website:

Named for the creek that meanders through it, Lazy Creek Vineyards is located in the heart of bucolic Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Known as the second oldest vineyard in the valley, Lazy Creek was established in the early 1900s by the Pinolis’, an Italian family who began their American odyssey by farming plum orchards and vineyards. The Pinolis sold the property to Hans and Theresia Kobler in 1969. [The Koblers] converted the old barn to a winery. Hans planted Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay vines that he brought by suitcase from Europe. [Note: don’t try that today.] He was particularly proud to have had the foresight to plant Pinot Noir, even after Robert Mondavi advised against it. Hans was committed to making a good bottle of wine for a decent price, and his Burgundian-style Pinot Noir and Alsatian-style Gewürztraminer were honored with multiple international awards.

Hans operated Lazy Creek Vineyards successfully for 26 years before selling the 95-acre ranch to Josh and Mary Beth Chandler in 1998.  As luck (and the wine gods) would have it, the Chandlers found Lazy Creek by accident while on their way to make an offer on another property. At the time the Chandlers purchased Lazy Creek, there were 19 acres of planted vineyards.

Don and Rhonda Carano Buy Lazy Creek

In the summer of 2008, Don and Rhonda Carano discovered Lazy Creek and immediately fell for its considerable charms, as it recalled their first foray as grape growers on a small Alexander Valley ranch they purchased in 1979. Don and Rhonda also grew a few acres of Gewürztraminer that they sold to Grand Cru winery. Owning and operating Lazy Creek Vineyards since 2008 has truly been a personal labor of love for them, an inspiring daily reminder of why they remain in the wine business today. It’s about the beauty and respect for the land; as Mark Twain said, “buy land, they are not making it anymore.”

When Don and Rhonda Carano discovered Lazy Creek Vineyards, their first thought was, “What a magical place!” Driving up a narrow dirt road off of Highway 128, across three rough-hewn wooden bridges surrounded by majestic redwoods and rambling bushes, they found a small winery and a 100-year-old farmhouse nestled in a hollow surrounded by rolling hills, vineyards and gardens. Instantly smitten, they purchased the 95-acre ranch, which at the time was planted to roughly 40 acres of grapes including Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, and Chardonnay.

Winemaker Christy Ackerman

Graduating in 2001 with an enology degree from California State University Fresno, Christy Ackerman was drawn to winemaking inspired by its hands-on nature and its mixture of chemistry and art. She began her winemaking career as a harvest intern at Murphy Goode for one season, and then moved on to Jordan Winery in 2001 as assistant winemaker. In 2006, Christy joined the winemaking team at Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery as associate winemaker, working on Ferrari-Carano’s Russian River Valley and Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Project. This experience led Christy to Lazy Creek Vineyards, where she has headed up the winemaking team since 2008, shortly after Don and Rhonda Carano, owners of Ferrari-Carano, purchased the property.

Don and Rhonda Carano Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Day 2 Part 1

Don and Rhonda Carano

Christy Ackerman Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Day 2 Part 1

Christy Ackerman

And the Wine is Pretty Good, Too

Lazy Creek’s 2014 “Lazy Day” Anderson Valley ($35) has attractive aromas of plum, cherry and rose petal with lush flavors of bright red cherry, mocha, a hint of cola and a nice touch of spice on the finish.

Their 2013 Estate ($58) opens with aromas of wild blackberry, violets and a touch of spice. The palate is dark fruits, notably black cherry and black plum.

Phillips Hill

Natacha Durandet Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Day 2 Part 1

Natacha Durandet (click for larger image)

We were greeted by Natacha Durandet. Phillips Hill is a great location for visiting, exploring, a picnic, or just tasting good wine. But stop here early in your day. The tasting room is housed in a historic apple dryer barn. Stairs are uneven and some climbing is necessary.  Not something to try after a long day in tasting rooms!

The former apple dryer barn just north of Philo is linked to rich family histories of long-time farmers and wine-producers whose presence spans 100 years in Mendocino County. The apple dryer barn was originally owned by the Day family in the 1880s. Prior to World War II, before fresh produce was readily available, apples were dried on site and transported to port by way of buckboard. They were then shipped out to communities along the Pacific coast.

Apple Dryer Barn Left Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Day 2 Part 1 Apple Dryer Barn Right Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Day 2 Part 1
The Apple Dryer Barn
(click for larger images)

 

Over the years, the original 53-acre Day Ranch has been used to raise sheep and grow apples, pears and grapes. The Oswald family, farming in Mendocino County since the 1950s, purchased the Day Ranch in the mid-1970s and planted Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes to grow alongside their crops. By 1979, over 100 acres of vineyards were planted.

The tasting room visible from Highway 128 retains characteristic elements of its past: weathered redwood siding originally milled from trees grown on the property, apple drying equipment, original wooden staircase and furnishings. Nearby ponds, willows and small apple and pear orchards are reminders of a bygone era.

Phillips Hill’s 2013 Oppenlander Vineyard Mendocino Comtche ($48) is rustic, with a mixture of dark and red fruit. Firm tannins with a bit of grit on the finish.

Tasting Room Crew Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Day 2 Part 1

Tasting Room Crew

Their 2013 Valenti Vineyard Mendocino Ridge ($43) greets you with woodsy, savory aromas. Flavors of spice and fruit with notes of mushrooms give this wine an unusual, unique character and personality.

Update November 6: Tonight we opened a bottle of Phillips Hill 2013 Anderson Valley pinot noir.  This wine is not listed on their website, but it is, frankly, terrific.  Aromas of bing cherries and rose petals followed by more charries on the palate.  A hint of spice with an excellent acid balance lead to a long finish wth silky tannins.  We will contact the winery to get more information about this beauty.

Nelson Hill

And now we have a confession. We tasted Nelson Hill’s wines Saturday. And only realized what we’d done when we discovered a new batch of photos from the weekend. We are now compensating for our error.

Barbara and Gregory Hill Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Day 2 Part 1

Barbara and Gregory Hill

The winery is owned by Barbara (Nelson) Hill and Gregory Hill. Those interested in a long-term picture of their wines should seek out the seven year vertical review at the Prince of Pinot website. .

Our notes say their wines are 30 percent off at the tasting room. Forthwith, their story:

In 1999, Greg and Barbara Hill bought a small ranch from the Pinoli family in the heart of Anderson Valley’s “golden mile” of wineries, close to Golden Eye, Roederer Estate, Husch and Navarro vineyards. They began rebuilding one of the valley’s oldest farmhouses and planting a small vineyard on a south-facing slope. They selected French Dijon clones, similar to the ones used in their favorite old-world, burgundian style pinots, and set out to pursue their passion and dream of making a “memorable pinot noir”. They assembled a team who shared their vision of handcrafting small lots of delicious, well-balanced Anderson Valley pinot noir.

Deny Dudzik wears two hats as both vineyard manager and winemaker. Trained as a field biologist, Deny is an International Certified Crop Advisor who consults widely on vineyard best practices. He was also co-winemaker at Handley Vineyards for a decade, giving him a unique combination of skills. Deny works closely with Ardzrooni Vineyard Management,the largest vineyard manager in the valley, whose team cultivates our crop with sustainable, environmentally friendly methods that produce the fullest expression of the fruit without the use of herbicides and pesticides.

We got to sample a smaller vertical from 2010, 2011, and 2012. All three are from their Deep End Vineyard. Located in the northwest corner of the valley, the land begins to slope downward toward the ocean. Hence, “deep end.” Also, that’s what the local folks called it in their charmingly historical Boontling language.

Nelson Hill’s 2010 ($42) features aromas of light spice over a base of forest floor. On the palate, flavors of black cherry, huckleberry, and plum with notes of mocha on the finish.

2011 ($39) was a difficult year in the Deep End. This pinot is bright with floral aromas of ripe cherries. Flavors of dried cherries lead to a very nice finish..

But the 2012 ($42) emits aromas of cherries with hints of caramel. On the palate, black cherries, black raspberries, and spice.

Conclusion

And we still have more to cover. Next time we’ll plan to spend a week exploring this fascinating region.




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.




Please Vote For The Canyon Villa

USA Today  is running a competition for “Best Wine Country Hotel.”  We urge everyone to vote for The Canyon Villa in Paso RoblesWe have stayed at this lovely place many times over the years.  And it has always been a first-class experience.  The new owners, William Carter and Katherine Bloxsom-Carter, have managed to improve what was already a terrific experience.

William and Katherine Field Recordings in Paso Robles

William and Katherine

Here’s the problem.  The Canyon Villa is currently in second place, trailing Gervasi Vineyard in Ohio.  Now we could stand losing to Oregon, Washington, or Virginia.  But OHIO?  When we were acquiring WineFan properties we didn’t even bother with OhioWineFan.

Disclaimer: we are doing a bit of work with William and Katherine getting their e-mail lists and processes up to date.




Four More From Paso Robles

Our not-so-recent trip to Paso Robles featured the newly-revitalized Canyon Villa and Field Recordings Winery. In this second review we’ll look at two old favorites (Jack Creek Cellars and Kenneth Volk) and two that were new to us (Venteux and Sextant). We’ll also mention a place worth stopping by, but not necessarily for wine tasting.

Sextant Wines

Nancy and Craig Stoller Four More From Paso Robles

Nancy and Craig Stoller (click for larger image)

Nancy and Craig Stoller learned winemaking from the ground up. Craig is the third generation owner of Sunridge Nurseries, noted for their relationships with French, Spanish and Portuguese winegrape growers. They import top-quality vines and cultivate them for sale to vineyards. Founder Glen Stoller opened the nursery in 1977. Craig joined the business in 1991, again working from the ground up.

In 2002 the Stollers planted vines in Templeton. Ironically they threw away the grapes. They were after the cuttings from the vines. Two years later, sanity prevailed and they began harvesting the grapes. In 2007 they opened their first tasting room. But it wasn’t until 2011 that a good property on Highway 46 west became available. They bought it and built their winery and tasting room.

Sextant Tasting Room Four More From Paso Robles

Sextant Tasting Room (click for larger image)

The Sextant 2014 grenache blanc ($21) opens with aromas of pineapple and anise. The palate is gravelly, featuring slate and other minerals with hings of apples and kiwi.

Their 2013 Santa Lucia Highlands reserve chardonnay ($28) features floral aromas with white peaches on the palate. The persistent butter and oak finish shows a good combination of oak barrels and malolactic fermentation.

The 2013 Edna Valley “Windemere Premier Cuvée” pinot noir Edna Valley ($25) is, sadly, currently only available in the tasting room. Raspberry and cherry aromas give way to an explosion of black cherries and spice flavors. The acid finish calms down with a bit of air. This is a major bargain. But you’ll have to travel to Paso Robles to get it.

Another 2013 pinot noir is from Santa Lucia Highlands ($25). Naturally, this wine has more depth than the Windmere, opening with fragrances of strawberries and lavender. This wine is a fruit bomb on the palate, loaded with black cherries and ramping up to a butterscotch finish.

Moving on to the more aggressive reds, the 2012 Holystone Zinfandel ($28) has terrific aromas of violets and cedar. It’s great on the mid-palate, featuring almonds and graphite. The finish is a bit astringent. Wait a year to open this..

The closing wine was the 2011 Passage GSM ($45). Technically this wine is GSP, with petite sirah substituting for mourvedre: 68% syrah, 20% grenache, and 12% petite sirah. Aromas of chocolate and black fruit, followed by chocolate and black raspberries on the palate.

Venteux Vineyards

 

Patricia and Adam Goldenberg with Scott and Bobbi Steizle Four More From Paso Robles

Patricia and Adam Goldenberg with Scott and Bobbi Steizle (click for larger image)

(Some of the background Information is from the Paso Robles Press.)

Venteux is a joint venture between the Steizle and Goldberg families. Scott and Bobbie Steizle released their first vintage in 2006. But in 2010 they ran into financial difficulties. Enter internet entrepreneur Adam Goldenberg and his wife Patricia. With their new financing Scott and Bobbi have not only stayed afloat but expanded, acquiring the 12 acre property next door. That was a fortuitous acquisition as the property included a three-bedroom house that visitors can rent. In addition, there are two second-floor apartments. The combination of vineyards, winery, and accommodations is becoming increasingly popular in Paso Robles, probably because the region is very large. (In Germany, this is a common practice. We stayed in several wineries on our visit a few years ago.) In any case, Scott has no plans to increase production much beyond the current about 2,000 cases per year.

Venteux’s 2013 Fleur Blanc ($28) is a classic Rhône-style blend: 60% viognier, 20% grenache blanc, 15% marsanne and 5% picpoul blanc. You’ll be greeted by a smoky aroma with some spice, followed by more smoke on the palate. This wine is crisp, light, and good stuff.

Venteux tasting room with vintage trucks Four More From Paso Robles

Venteux tasting room with vintage trucks (click for larger image)

(Side note: red Rhône-style blends have adopted the GSM labeling. When will winemakers start using the VGMP annotation for the whites?)

Their 2011 grenache ($34) is blended from three different vineyards: Starr Ranch, Rolph, and Alisos Canyon. Aromas of almonds followed by flavors of spice and strawberry.

The 2010 cabernet sauvignon ($48) will be great for those who like traditional cabs. Again there are grapes from three vineyards: Adelaida Springs, Chelle Mountain and Starr Ranch. Aromas of earth and red raspberries followed by red currant and spice flavors will satisfy most cab fans.

Finally, their 2010 estate syrah ($46) is a pretty terrific syrah. Aromas of figs and cherries lead to flavors of figs, bing cherries, raspberry, spice, and a hint of

Tooth & Nail

We’ll have a piece on wineries for millenials coming soon. It will feature Tooth & Nail as well as a few others we’ve found. For now, we’ll give you one photo and our advice: explore this place but taste the wine at your own risk.

Tooth & Nail Four More From Paso Robles

Tooth & Nail (click for larger image)

Jack Creek Cellars

We have been members of the Jack Creek Cellars wine club for many years. This visit solidified their position as one of the premier, best value wineries in California. Doug and Sabrina Kruse, ably assisted by Brette Womack, continue to grow terrific grapes and make great wine.

Tony with Doug Kruse at Jack Creek Winery

Tony with Doug Kruse at Jack Creek Cellars

Jack Creek’s 2014 “Glow” is a rosé of pinot noir (with a touch of grenache). The hint of grenache adds smoky elements. Our best description: “half mellow.”

The Kruse Estate

The Kruse Estate

Their 2013 estate chardonnay ($36) has hints of oak and malolactic fermentation, but it’s mostly just chardonnay. Aromas and flavors of Meyer lemon are a nice balance to the acid.

Also from 2013 is the estate pinot noir ($36). This wine has aromas and flavors of bing cherries and raspberries. Although the tasting notes on the website suggest it should be ready to drink in the spring of 2014, there is still a touch of tannins, meaning the wine probably could use another year or so in the bottle..

The final 2013 is the estate reserve pinot noir ($44). This is bigger and bolder than the non-reserve, featuring more tannins. The aromas and flavors are darker, featuring black cherries, huckleberry and spice. Again, the website says to drink this between 2016 and 2023. We suggest waiting until 2017.

The last wine was a 2011 estate grenache ($40). The profile is cherries, rose petals and spice. We agree with the website: this should be cellared until 2018.

Kenneth Volk

For a few years we were members of Kenneth Volk’s wine club. He continues to do some of the most interesting wine experiments that we’ve encountered. We have fond memories of the couple of years when he produced two pinot noirs from the same grapes: Old World Style and New World Style. That was not only interesting, it was also educational. And his work with cabernet pfeffer is unparalleled.

Ken Volk

Ken Volk

Sadly, we were among the last visitors to the Paso Robles tasting room. Health problems have forced Ken to scale back operations a bit. However, he continues to do wonderful things with grapes. We remain big fans.

Ken has made several vintages of his justly famous “Jaybird” chardonnay. The name is derived from the well-known phrase, “Naked as a jaybird.” Like the eponymous bird, this chardonnay is oak-free and stainless steel only. The 2013 vintage ($22) is sourced from Santa Maria Valley grapes. Aromas of Meyer lemon and pear, followed by very light citrus and green apple on the palate. According to the tasting room host, the grapes are from the coast near Hearst Castle.

The 2013 Steiner Creek Vineyard chardonnay from San Luis Obispo county ($36) opens with aromas of pineapple and melon, followed by citrus with a little oak on the palate.

Volk’s 2012 pinot noir Santa Maria cuvee ($30) is an earthy-style wine with aromas of forest floor, and blackberries. On the palate, there are flavors of blackberry, cassis and Bing cherry.

Finally, the 2012 Steiner Creek Vineyard pinot noir from San Luis Obispo county ($60). Floral aromas followed by cranberry, forest floor, and more floral notes on the palate.

Conclusion

There’s one more part to this review that will cover two newcomers: Glunz Family Winery & Cellars and Broken Earth Winery. We’ll also catch up with our old pals from Calcareous Vineyard.

Paso Robles remains one of the most exciting growth areas of the California wine industry.




Field Recordings in Paso Robles

We spent a long July 10 weekend in Paso Robles. Naturally we spent two afternoons visiting wineries. Our exciting newcomer is Field Recordings. More on those folks in a minute.

The Canyon Villa

William and Katherine Field Recordings in Paso Robles

William and Katherine

William Carter and Katherine Bloxsom-Carter purchased The Canyon Villa from former Innkeepers Diane and Jim Babcock in early April. The Canyon Villa plans to upgrade the guest experience by offering unique dining experiences, winemaker-led private tastings, holiday celebrations and special weekend packages.

Our other purpose was to get acquainted with the new owners of the Canyon Villa. From the e-mail announcing the ownership change→

William and Katherine are absolutely delightful hosts. Pizzas and other dishes from the wood-fired pizza oven are now regular events. For those staying at least three nights, they offer a Sunday supper at no additional charge. They have added catering services and are planning to host business events during the workweek. We are pleased to continue our five-star rating for this wonderful experience.

Canyon Villa Watercolor Field Recordings in Paso Robles

The Canyon Villa. Copyright © 2015 William S. Carter. Used by permission. (click for a larger version)

Field Recordings

Andrew Jones Field Recordings in Paso Robles

Andrew Jones

This winery boasts one of the most unusual names we’ve encountered. Owner-winemaker Andrew Jones knows grapes from the ground up — literally:

Field Recordings is 34-year old winemaker Andrew Jones’ personal catalog of the people and places he values most. Spending his days as a vine nursery fieldman planning and planting vineyards for farmers all over California, Andrew is sometimes offered small lots of their best fruit on the side. Having stood in just about every vineyard on the Central Coast, he has a keen eye for diamonds in the rough: sites that are unknown or under-appreciated but hold enormous untapped potential. As friendships are made and opportunities are embraced, Andrew produces small quantities of soulful wine from these unusual, quiet vineyards.

Taken from photographs of starlings in flight, the artwork for the Field Recordings label documents natural, un-staged patterns that can never be repeated nor replicated. In the same way, each bottle of Field Recordings Wine captures the inimitable circumstances of each vineyard, vintage, and friendship that made it possible.

As our tasting room host Jennifer Bartz put it, “Andrew believes wine should reflect the vineyard and grapes as much as possible. His wines are faithful recordings of what happened in the fields where the grapes were grown.”

The Wines

Field Recordings’s annual production varies wildly depending on where Andrew can get grapes he can work with. They make 50 wines, with 80% of their production going into cans. Their biggest markets are Chicago and Texas. Canned wine for sporting events that don’t allow glass bottles!

The winery boasts two secondary labels, Wonderwall and Fiction. These are vineyard-specific, but the Wonderwall label is exclusively reserved for pinot noir and chardonnay.

Before diving into the reviews, we have to note one thing.  Each and every one of these wines is a bargain.  We’ll especially recommend the Wonderwall chardonnay.  To our tastes (and economist minds) it competed well with chardonnays priced 50 percent higher — in the $30 range.

We started with the 2014 chenin blanc ($22). Unusually, this wine was aged in acacia barrels. And it worked. This is close to a French Chablis but without the minerality. It’s light, refreshing, and very quaffable.

Wonderwall Chardonnay Field Recordings in Paso Robles

Wonderwall Chardonnay

Next up was the 2014 Wonderwall chardonnay from the Spanish Springs vineyard in Edna Valley ($22). Andrew put this wine in barrels just long enough for some oak aromas. But there is none on the palate. Flavors of lemon cream, hints of lime and pineapple lead to a mineral finish. This is a major bargain, competing easily with wines priced over $30.

The 2013 tempranillo ($18) was from the Ventucopa vineyard in Santa Barbara County. We’ve tasted tempranillo before and even bought a few bottles. But this is absolutely unique. Aromas of boysenberries and earth are followed by a flavor fruit bomb including ripe figs and oranges with a hint of cranberry.

The 2014 Wonderwall pinot noir ($22) is also from the Spanish Springs vineyard in Edna Valley. Aromas of black cherries and cola are followed by smoke and pepper on the palate. A hint of cinnamon adds to a long, delightful finish.

A wine labeled 2014 carignan ($25) was actually blended with 25% cinsault. Yes, we know, this percentage is well within legal limits. And the cinsault is clearly identified on the label. Moral: read the label! The grapes are from the Camp 4 vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley near Los Olivos. The nose is rose petals, eucalyptus, and spice, with a strawberry, cotton candy, and licorice palate.

Inevitably, there will be a cabernet sauvignon in any wine tasting. This one was a 2013 ($29) from the Grassini Vineyard in Santa Barbara. The wine is blended with 12% petit verdot, putting it 2/5 of the way to the traditional Bordeaux blend. Thankfully, the wine has pure cabernet sauvignon character with no green pepper. This is about as good as a cabernet gets.

A 2014 “Hinterland” cabernet franc ($22) was truly amazing. Blueberry and blackberry aromas followed by more of both on the palate.

Conclusion

On a trip like this we’re lucky to find two or three good wineries that are new to us.  This trip was exceptional. A future post will discuss the others, actually about half a dozen.  But Field Recordings and the revitalized Canyon Villa were too good to wait.  Stay tuned for more from Paso Robles.

 




An Afternoon in the Livermore Valley

[Edited May 18 per a correction from Steve Burman of 3Steves Winery.]

On June 1, we traveled to the Livermore Valley. Our excuse was that we needed to pick up six bottles of Steven Kent Cabernet Sauvignon. Those nice folks donated the six bottles to support the Economics Club at California State University, East Bay. I’ll write about the event in a separate article. But I do want to thank the Steven Kent Winery for their kind donation.   Special thanks to Tracey Hoff who arranged all of this.

The Steven Kent Portfolio

Steven Kent Winery and Tasting Room An Afternoon in the Livermore Valley

Steven Kent Winery and Tasting Room

Steven Kent remains the premier winery in the valley. The winery is now part of the Steven Kent Portfolio. Besides the Steven Kent label, the Portfolio also includes Lineage (Bordeaux-style blends) and La Rochelle Winery (pinot noir and chardonnay). We reviewed a La Rochelle wine in part 2 of our review of the May 17 Santa Lucia Highlands gala. But here we want to look at the cabernet sauvignon.

Steven Kent Livermore Valley cabernet sauvignon 2011 ($48) is a blend of grapes from the valley. The wine is blend of 88% Cabernet Sauvignon (from the Home Ranch and Ghielmetti Estate Vineyard), 5% Petit Verdot, 5% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc (Ghielmetti Estate Vineyard). Intense aromas are presented with elegance. The palate is lush with notes of intense black cherry. A bit of herb leads to a marvelous long finish with a hint of chocolate.  If a wine priced at just under $50 can be called a bargain, this is it.  At worst, it’s a great value.

Steven Kent Mirassou is the entrepreneur behind this operation.  He’s a genius.  That’s the only word that works.

Steven and June Kent Santa Lucia Highlands

Steven and June Kent

Two Interesting Newcomers

Steve may be in for some competition. We tasted wines from Dante Robere Vineyards and immediately signed up for their wine club. This puts them in pretty elite company including Steven Kent, Hartford Family, and Jack Creek Cellars. Dan Rosenberg (Farmer’s Insurance agent) and Bob Bossi (former accountant) clearly had all the skills necessary to start a winery. Just kidding, there’s no particular reason to believe they would be successful at winemaking — except for their obvious passion for the field. The winery is very new, with their first release in 2012. Before that, Dan and Bob made zinfandel at home and volunteered at several Livermore Valley wineries. You can take all the classes you want, but nothing beats on-the-job training in this industry!

 

Dante Robere's Dan Rosenberg An Afternoon in the Livermore Valley

Dante Robere’s Dan Rosenberg

The name Dante Robere is a fanciful interpretation of Dan and Robert (the partners).

Their best wine is a GSM blend under the label “Dante’s Inferno” ($31). With 46% syrah, 31% grenache, and 23% mourvedre, this wine is the equal of any GSM we’ve tasted in the past few years — including the infamous Pellerin – Tablas Creek comparison at Artisan Wine Depot a month or two ago. Blueberry, strawberry, hints of coffee and smoke, light lavender, and mild spice characterize this blend. We rate this wine our find of the trip and a bargain, too.

Their syrah Livermore Valley 2012 ($34) opens with aromas of black cherries and caramel, leaving us wondering how they managed that trick. The palate is the traditional syrah spice is paired with red cherries and soft tannins. The finish is all right, but not very long or complex. See our comparison with the RN Estate syrah posted May 16.

A red blend with the colorful name “Two Cellar Rats” ($25) is a little bit of everything: 34% carignane, 31% syrah, 13% petite sirah, 10% cab, 9% zin, 3% barbera. Floral aromas followed by cherry, black cherry, and spice on the palate. If I remember correctly, the two cellar rats that loaned their name to this wine are two sons of the owners.

Dante Robere’s 2012 Tracy Hills Touriga ($25) features aromas of violets, blueberries, and a hint of lavender. Flavors of cherry and raspberry with a hint of cedar round out this respectable selection.

Their 2012 syrah rosé ($15) just barely qualifies as a rose. We would describe it as a light syrah, with hints of raspberries and rhubarb. This, too, is a real bargain.

A 2012 Sblendorio Vineyard Livermore Valley chardonnay ($22) opens with smoke and cedar, followed by spice and butterscotch.

Finally, Dante Robere’s 2012 sauvignon blanc ($17) features lime, lemon, and green apple with a wet slate mid-palate. Our guess is that this is blended with a hint of something, perhaps viognier.

Eagle Ridge tasting room An Afternoon in the Livermore Valley

Eagle Ridge tasting room

Dante Robere’s tasting room is currently being hosted by Eagle Ridge Vineyards, also producing pretty good wines. We especially liked their 2012 pinot grigio ($21) which is light and refreshing. Since one of my long-term interests is the effect of medals won at tasting competitions on wine sales, I have to add that this wine won a gold at the prestigious San Francisco International Wine Competition. My research shows this competition is the single best of the nine tasting competitions I studied.

Eagle Ridge also scored with their 2010 estate zinfandel ($29). This is pretty yummy, with a nice mouth feel and good tannin-spice balance.

The 3 Steves An Afternoon in the Livermore Valley

The 3 Steves

Another newcomer is 3Steves Winery. Located next to McGrail Vineyards, it is owned by three guys named Steve. There is, apparently, a fourth Steve loosely affiliated with their venture. These folks got their license in 2010. The winery has only been open since July, 2013.

3Steves Brut Sparkler An Afternoon in the Livermore Valley

3Steves Brut Sparkler

We especially liked their brut sparkler ($25). This is a methode champenoise wine that is perfect for warm summer evenings.

But the wines to watch for from 3Steves are the 2012 cabernet sauvignons. One of the Steves was nice enough to let us taste these and they are very nice. The grapes are sourced from two vineyards in Livermore. 3Steves owns part of one vineyard. The other belongs to a neighbor. Both are located on Crane Ridge which is the same ridge where the winery sits, at the top of Greenville Road. When they sat down to do the final blends, all the wines were incredible on their own and even better when added to the cabs. The Steves blend in some petit verdot to add a better finish and sometimes add merlot to enhance the mid palate. Both cab vineyards were very different in flavor and mouth feel, and they just felt it would be a waste to make one cab blend from so much great wine. So they decided to make two small lot cabs rather than just one larger lot of cab. We look forward to acquiring some of these wines on our next trip to the valley.

When you visit BoaVentura de Caires, plan your trip to have a picnic lunch on their grounds. Very kid and dog friendly. (If you don’t have a dog, the resident canines are very sociable.) A key feature for children is the chicken cage with small entrances for the kids. There is also a rooster in residence:

The winery has an interesting story:

Brett Caires, a self-made realtor, chef, and winemaker, hails from the stock of wine connoisseurs. BoaVentura Baptiste de Caires, Brett’s grandfather and the winery’s namesake, handed down a passion for relishing good wine. Brett recalls family meals with his Oakland, California-based grandparents, where wine was always a staple at the dinner table: “The table was set with glasses of wine, port, and milk.” To boot, according to family legend, Brett’s great grandfather, Antonio Caires, was deported during Prohibition for winemaking after he brought his family to America. A devotion to his family heritage was a natural inspiration for Brett to cultivate his own knowledge of winemaking.

BoaVentura's Brett Caires An Afternoon in the Livermore Valley

BoaVentura’s Brett Caires

The BoaVentura wines are true to their Portuguese heritage. (Disclaimer: Tony’s heritage is 50 percent Portuguese.) Many tend toward the tart end of the spectrum which is not where our taste buds thrive. We did, however, enjoy their 2010 Nelson Vineyard syrah ($32) was very good with bold fruit flavors, hints of smoke, and a great mouth feel. Moderate tannins complement the traditional syrah spice and are followed by a lingering finish.

BoaVentura Tasting Room An Afternoon in the Livermore Valley

BoaVentura Tasting Room

BoaVentura is doing some interesting work with cabernet sauvignon. Vineyards are located in front of and behind the old barn that houses the winery and tasting room. (The barn features a patched galvanized roof, adding to its charm.) The vineyard in front of the barn is rocky and shady, while the one in the rear is sunny. Mr. Caires has experimented with different blends of the front and rear vineyards. Let’s see if we can summarize the various labels (denoted by colors).

  • Maroon (2008, sold out): 100% from front vineyard.
  • Blue (2010, $55): 60% front, 40% rear
  • Platinum (nonvintage, sold out): 20% 2009 front, 40% 2010 front and 40% 2010 rear
  • Black (2011, $36): 50% from each.
  • Green (2010, $34): 100 percent rear.

BoaVentura Wines An Afternoon in the Livermore Valley

BoaVentura Wines

We tasted the green, black, and blue label. It was quite an educational experience. The green label has traditional cabernet aromas and flavors. A dense bing cherry palate is followed by a hint of wet wood. The black label features a touch of green pepper aroma followed by a traditional cabernet palate, very similar to the blue label. The blue label was aged 30 months in French oak. It needs a few years to develop properly. Right now it features black raspberries with a mushroomy finish and enough oak and tannins to age properly.

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention BoaVentura’s red blend, “MUTT” ($24). The 2010 version is 46% syrah, 30% petite sirah, 15% cabernet sauvignon and 9% zinfandel. A tart cherry palate leads to an even more tart finish. Not to our taste, but your taste is probably different.

[portfolio_slideshow include=”3631,3632,3633,3634,3635″]

Conclusion

And to think that we just went over to pick up wine at Steven Kent! New discoveries that run the gamut from fun to wonderful with several stops in between. We’re looking forward to our fall shipment as members of the Dante Robere wine club.