Three Excellent Pinots From Gregory James

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

Hawk Hill 2014

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

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

Patchy Fog 2014

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


About Gregory James

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

Greg (left) and Jim

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

From their website:

Site matters to Gregory James.

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

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

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

Greg and Jim actually have help from a third partner.

Charley the third partner

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

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




Two GSMs from Dilecta

Orion and Tony

Orion and Tony

Dilecta was one of our discoveries on our trip to Paso Robles in January.  Following the recommendation of Wills and Kath Carter (proprietors and hosts at the fabulous Canyon Villa), we visited the winery for a delightful hour of tasting and conversation.  Owner – winemaker Orion Stang knows his way around the standard GSM grapes.  But technically these are not GSM in that he often uses only two of the three grapes.  Tonight we opened the 2014 Unorthodox and Cookie.  The two could not be more different.  Before reading further, here’s some advice.  If you have these in your cellar, leave them for at least another year, and two would probably be a good idea.  They’re tasty right now but will improve with more age.

Unorthodox 2014 78% syrah 22% mourvedre opens with aromas of earth, licorice and black raspberries.  The palate is spice with some tannins and more black raspberries.  A long and tangy finish rounds out a very pleasant experience.  This one could wait another year. (The 2014 is no longer available from Dilecta.  The 2015 is $52.)

Playful Dilecta dog

Playful Dilecta dog

The 2014 Cookie is big.  Really big.  The wine opens with deceptive aromas of black olives, black raspberries and spice.  The palate is a bomb.  Deep, rich, and opulent with more spice and dark fruit.  Youthful tannins with a good acid balance and fruit backbone imply this one will continue to improve for at least five years. (The 2014 is no longer available from Dilecta.  The 2015 is $62.)

Orion’s mom is an artist.  She designs the labels for the wines.  These labels are much wider than the traditional size.  As such, only a video clip can do them justice.

If you’re a fan of syrah, you can do no better than Mr. Stang’s wines.

Dilecta About Page

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Sean Minor Returns

[Editor: Mr. Minor never really left.  What went missing was the author’s brain.]

We were excited to get an e-mail from this old favorite.  And we were even more thrilled to discover that Sean is still making pinot noir.  We ordered a mixed case.  This review will cover tastings made over the course of a week.  We’ve reviewed Sean’s wines before, but somehow he fell through the ever-widening cracks in our brains.

We had remembered – incorrectly, as it turns out – that Sean had stopped making pinot noir.  Thankfully, a helpful employee refreshed our ever more failing memory.  He stopped making Carneros pinots, shifting instead to the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast AVAs.

The Wines

His 2016 Central Coast pinot “Four Bears” ($16) opens with mild aromas of black cherries and leather.  The palate is lush and full with flavors of chocolate covered cherries and a hint of spice.  The finish features long, smooth, silky tannins.  Another terrific deal.

The 2016 Central Coast chardonnay “Four Bears” ($14) tends to lemon curd.  Aromas of citrus and smoke lead to pineapple and lemon curd palate.  A nice long finish rounds out the experience.

But the real champion is the 2015 Sonoma Coast pinot noir ($22).  Aromas of cranberries and bing cherries lead to a palate that features more cherries and spices.  A long, complex finish opens with smooth tannins and a touch of acid, merging seamlessly into more spice.  At $22 per bottle this counts as a major bargain.  Get this one while it lasts. And don’t be afraid to let it sit for a year or two.  This one has some aging potential.

The Business

The website has been updated significantly since our last visit.  Vibrant colors with a sparse, almost Japanese, layout.  The design is warm and welcoming.  Here’s an example:

Little Black Dress

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Sean and Nicole are the perfect winery couple.  For those who are curious, the “Four Bears” designation refers to their four kids.

Sean and Nicole

Followed by a clear, clean statement of purpose.  Companies searching for a mission statement could learn a lot from this:

Statement of Purpose

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An interesting side note: Sean was born in Kansas “surrounded by surrounded by agriculture and the hard work and values responsible for the enviable work ethic of Midwestern people.”  It happens that Tony’s maternal grandparents owned a farm in Kansas.  He spent many summers there when he was a child.  [Editor: That’s what Tony claims.  Given the state of his memory, I would be skeptical.]

These are good folks making wines that are incredible values.  If you’ve never tried them before get online and order a case  or two!  Here’s their team:

The Sean Minor Team

Stuart, Nicole, Larry, Barbara, Sue, Sean, Kristi



Tablas Creek 2012 Esprit de Tablas

Tablas Creek 2012 Esprit de Tablas

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“Like a French Rhône, only good!” were the first words out of my mouth.  The Tablas Creek 2012 Esprit de Tablas opens with aromas of smoke, leather, and black cherries.  The palate is black raspberry, cassis,  black tea, and sweet spices.  A nice finish, with silky tannins.  You can’t buy this from the winery, even though it’s listed in their library.

A quick search of several wine retail websites produced zero hits. estimates the retail at around $55.  If you go looking and find a place that has some for sale, please let us know.

Dante Robere 2012 Reserve Syrah

Reserve Syrah 2012Rummaging in our Eurocave I ran across this goodie. It’s been a while since we visited Dante Robere, one of the best wineries in the Livermore Valley.  The Dante Robere 2012 Reserve Syrah was excellent after decanting. Smoke and black raspberries on the nose. Palate of spice, milk chocolate, and more raspberries. A long, delicious finish with well-structured, silky tannins. If you own a bottle or two, this may be the time to pop the cork.

They’re selling the 2015 vintage right now for $42. Pick up half a case if you have the patience. Dan and Bob know their stuff.

A Unique Experierience At Williamson Wines

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

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

Dawn with our crowd A Unique Experierience At Williamson Wines

Dawn with our crowd (click for larger image)

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

Wine and Food Pairings A Unique Experierience At Williamson Wines

Wine and Food Pairings (click for larger image)

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

The Terrace at Eighteen A Unique Experierience At Williamson Wines

The Terrace at Eighteen (click for larger image)

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

Helicopter Flight and Wine Tasting A Unique Experierience At Williamson Wines

Helicopter Flight and Wine Tasting (click for larger image)

The Wines

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

Williamson Wine List A Unique Experierience At Williamson Wines

Williamson Wine List (click for larger imaage)

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

Here’s what we tasted.

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

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

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

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

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

Dawn and Bill Williamson

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

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

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

Murder Ridge at Family Winemakers 2017

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

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

The Story

 Murder RidgeSteve Alden at Family Winemakers 2017

Winegrower Steve Alden

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

Fog Over Perli Vineyard Murder Ridge at Family Winemakers 2017

Fog Over Perli Vineyard (click for larger image)

Winemaker Leslie Sisneros Murder Ridge at Family Winemakers 2017

Winemaker Leslie Sisneros (click for larger image)


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


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

The Name

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

Murder Ridge story Family Winemakers 2017 Stay On Message

Murder Ridge story (click for larger image)

And there’s also a poem about the event.

The Wine

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

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

Murder Ridge Logo Murder Ridge at Family Winemakers 2017

Murder Ridge Logo


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

Artisan Does Italy

It’s been a while since we visited Artisan Wine Depot. (For a retired couple we seem to be awfully busy.) But then we were invited to a tasting of Italian wines, olive oils and imported foods. How could we say no?

The Sponsors

Casa de Case takes its name from Kris and Howard Case. This couple loves Italian food and wine. In 2000 they started Casa de Case as an importer. Their original focus was Italian olive oil. After a few successful years they quit their day jobs to focus on turning Casa de Case into an importer and distributor of Italian foods. Shortly thereafter, they began importing wines from wineries they had visited and enjoyed.

Kris and Howard Case

Kris and Howard Case (click for larger image)

Our usual practice is to review the wines in the order tasted. But this time we’ll make the primary ordering by winery. That way we can give you some background on each winery before moving on to their wines. All prices quoted are the Artisan single-bottle prices, not including shipping and handling.


Be warned: if you visit the Mustilli website and don’t read Italian, have your dictionary ready (or use a web translation service). Italian only written here. But the site itself is visually spectacular.

The first wine featured a new grape, the Falanghina. Well, it was new to us. Specifically, the wine was “Vigna Segreta” 2015 Falanghina (Sannio, Campania, Italy) ($30). That name sounded too short for a good Italian wine so we visited the winery website. Sure enough, the full name is “Vigna Segreta Falanghina del Sannio Sant’Agata dei Goti DOC 2015.” As for the wine, it’s pleasant enough with very light aromas and flavors of white peaches and minerality. If you’re looking for a wine to beat the summer heat that’s guaranteed not to offend any of your guests, this is a good bet.

Mustilli’s “Artus” 2015 Piedirosso di Sannio (Campania, Italy, $30) was our favorite among the reds. Aroma of plums and red fruits, with a delicate finish of floral notes, herbs, lavender, thyme and sage.

La Baia Del Sole

Lo and behold, La Baio Del Sole‘s first wine was a vermentino. And it was our favorite of the event. We first encountered this grape on our visit to Tessa Marie in Los Olivos. The Italian version features much less vermouth flavor. This one is very nice indeed. The wine is the “Oro d’lsee” 2016 Vermentino Colli di Luni (Liguria, ltaly, $16) Our tasting notes feature aromas of peaches and honeysuckle with more peaches and some minerality on the palate. This one qualifies as a BARGAIN.

A second vermentino, “Sarticola” 2015 Vermentino Colli di Luni _ (Liguria, ltaJy, $20) had been kept on the skins a few days. We found it overpowering.

Vermentino nero? Black vermentino? Apparently. The “Prima Brezza” 2015 Rosato IGT (Liguria di Levante, Italy, $15). Not to our taste, but quaffable.


There were several other wineries and wines at this event.  But the nebbilios were too, well, nebbolio-esque.  As always, we’ve reviewed what we liked.

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.

Made in New Zealand Featuring Craggy Range

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

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

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