Sonoma Mountain versus Westside Paso Robles 2016 Vintage

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad News For the Santa Rita Hills

Santa Rita Hills one

The white plastic greenhouses of a cannabis-growing operation built in March are seen between the Fiddlestix (top) and Sea Smoke (bottom) vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley northwest of Santa Barbara, California on August 6, 2019

[pullquote]Santa Barbara County went to big too quick.[/pullquote]

There is, indeed, bad news for the Santa Rita Hills. Santa Barbara County has implemented a set of regulations for marijuana growers that are probably the loosest in the state. Among other features the county allows stacked grower licenses.

Yahoo! News reported on this August 10. Their article begins with this little bit of hyperbole.

Lompoc (United States) (AFP) – A bitter war has erupted between pot growers and vintners in one of California’s famed wine regions where cannabis farms are proliferating, leading critics to denounce a “green rush” they fear could prove disastrous.

It happens that this encroaches on several wineries and vineyards that grow and create excellent pinot noir. Stephen Janes the general manager at Pence Vineyards is among our favorites. Also cited in the article is Fiddlestix Vineyards, one of the legendary great growing sites in the Santa Rita Hills. Here’s what Kathy Joseph, owner of Fiddlestix Vineyard, has to say.

It’s not like any farming neighbor we’ve ever had, and this is all happening very quickly. No one anticipated the visual impact, nobody in the region had ever experienced cannabis in this quantity.

In many ways, cannabis is ruling the roost right now.


One of the big issues is the use of pesticides. California cannabis growing regulations place severe restrictions on pesticides. However wine grapes are susceptible to a number of diseases that are very difficult to control organically. There is conflict over pesticides being used on vineyards drifting into marijuana growing areas.

We contacted Barbara Satterfield of the Sta. Rita Hills Wine Alliance.  Her opinion is that “Santa Barbara County went to big too quick.” Specifically she pointed out that Santa Barbara County regulations allow stacked growing licenses. To understand what that means you need to understand a bit about the structure of California cannabis grower licenses.

California Cannabis Growing Regulations

When setting up regulations on growers, the state try to accommodate the existing industry structure. The idea was to support the existing small growers while eventually allowing a transition to larger plantings. To accomplish that, no licenses for large growers will be issued before 2023. Currently only small and medium grower licenses are available. The largest planting allowed is 22,000 square feet of canopy.

But the large growers discovered a loophole: stacked licenses. The growers purchase a large parcel of land and then buy a number of small grower licenses that they can use concurrently on the large parcel. As far as I know, Santa Barbara County is unique in allowing this structure. Here’s what Barbara Satterfield says about the situation.

It is causing a lot of stress and concern among our vineyards and and our country neighbors. It is big money coming in and bullying the established farmers by throwing lawsuits and allegations at them for what have been standard farming practices for several years.

One Reaction

The Yahoo news article mentions Maureen Foley Claffey. She and her family are pulling up stakes and moving out of Carpinteria. More about Ms. Claffey shortly. Here’s how she is quoted by Yahoo! News.

It’s like having 500 liquor stores within three blocks. This has pitted neighbor against neighbor, and I have lost friends over this, And now I’m losing my family home.

Maureen Foley Claffey

Maureen Foley Claffey

Ms. Claffey has quite a history in Carpinteria. She was a candidate for the local school board. She lived in Carpinteria for 30 years. Her mother taught in the Carpinteria public schools. Her dad was president of the school board. She is a small business owner.  Here’s what her campaign website says about her business experience.

As owner of Red Hen Cannery, I make and sell artisanal, small-batch jams and marmalades for hundreds of customers in California and beyond. My jams and marmalades are featured at nine stores across California and sold in four weekly, Santa Barbara County farmers markets. I am a sixth-generation California farmer who is proud of my Bailard Family pioneer heritage in Santa Barbara County.

The fact that she is leaving says more about the situation in Santa Barbara County than anything else I could imagine.

En Route Redux

Les Pommiers En Route Redux

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

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

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

En Route Sensory Evaluation En Route Redux

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Hahn Visits Artisan

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

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

Nicky Hahn Hahn Visits Artisan

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

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

Gaby Hahn Hahn Visits Artisan

Co-founder Gaby Hahn (click for larger image)

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

Philip Hahn Hahn Visits Artisan

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

Caroline Hahn Hahn Visits Artisan

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

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

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



A Lynmar Horizontal

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

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

Lynmar Horizontal A Lynmar Horizontal

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

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

Lynmar_2014_PinotNoir_OldVines Lynmar_2014_PinotNoir_SusannasVineyard

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The Spire Collection Is More Than Just Maggy Hawk

[pullquote]From the renowned mountain vineyards of Napa Valley and Sonoma to the remarkable hillsides of Bordeaux and Tuscany, The Spire Collection is comprised of the most esteemed wineries from the Jackson Family portfolio.

The wines of The Spire Collection express the unparalleled terroir from some of the finest vineyards around the world — reflecting the family’s resounding commitment to quality and excellence.[/pullquote]

Our first stop — and the motivation for this trip — was at the Spire Collection in Calistoga.  This operation is owned by Jackson Family Wines.  We’ve written extensively about Barbara Banke, Maggy Hawk, and Windracer before.  This time we were looking forward to tasting a variety of Maggy Hawk pinot noirs.  And we were not disappointed.

The Wines

Spire Collection Home Page

Spire Collection Home Page (click for larger image)




Maggy Hawk produces five pinot noirs, each from their Anderson Valley vineyards. Each wine is from a single block and one clone. Every vintage year Jolie, Afleet, Unforgettable, and Stormin’ and  are produced.  The fourth, Hawkster, is only made when a vintage is deemed worthy of that name.  If you’re curious about all these names, they are racehorses that Barbara Banke loves.  Maggy Hawk, a horse she owned, is her all-time favorite.  All the wines are priced at $66.  We rate this a bargain for the quality.

Maggy Hawk Bottles

Maggy Hawk Bottles (click for larger image)

The 2010 Jolie leads with aromas of black cherries, black raspberries, hint of licorice. The flavor is a Little plummy, with hints of vanilla.

The 2013 Jolie is lighter than the 2013 with more red raspberry and licorice aromas. A zesty palate leads to a nice, long finish.

We also had the opportunity to taste the 2013 Jolie large format (3 liters, a double magnum) This one needs a few more years to develop.  It’s denser than the 750 ml version with darker fruit and a chewy texture. If you have the patience, this one should be ready to open in about 2022.

The 2013 Afleet opens with red raspberry and cherry aromas. The palate is sparkling, with a nice acid balance on the finish.

By contrast, the 2013 Stormin’ is more brooding and intense. Aromas and flavors of ense forest floor and leather are the main notes..

Saving the best for the last, the 2013 Hawkster features cherry and black raspberry aromas. The palate seemed a bit lighter, but that may have been our reaction to the Stormin’.

The Winemaker

Tony With Winemaker Elizabeth Grant-Douglas

Tony With Winemaker Elizabeth Grant-Douglas

We had the opportunity to meed Maggy Hawk’s wimemaker, Elizabeth Grant-Douglas.  She revealed that the winemaking operation is actually in Windsor — where we were staying.  Next time we’ll arrange for a private tasting at the winery to avoid the trip to Calistoga.  She also mentioned how much she loves the Maggy Hawk vineyards, visiting them as frequenttly as possible.

The Venue

Tony and Chris

Tony and Estate Host Chris Schreiner

The Spire Collection event space and tasting room is located next to The Geysers north of Calistoga. Tastings are by appointment only. Phone (866) 399-0261. The address is 3299 Bennett Lane.   A good review of the tasting room and venue is on the Napa Wine Project blog.

And did I mention the bacon bar?  Three different locally-produced bacons.  Or, as the invitaiton put it, “Wine and Swine.”  Thanks to the great folks at Jackson Family Wines for including us in this special event.

Trader Joe’s 2014 “Petit Reserve” Arroyo Seco Pinot Noir

Wine Label

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Available in the greater Silicon Valley area, we took a chance on this one and were richly rewarded. This is a major bargain at $7.99 a bottle. And the wine has the notable characteristics of the fairly new Arroyo Seco AVA.  This is our mini-review of Trader Joe’s 2014 “Petit Reserve” Arroyo Seco pinot noir.

The wine opens with aromas of black cherries, leather and dust. The palate begins with an explosion of gooseberries and cherries followed by a long finish with bright acids.

We think of Arroyo Seco as Santa Rita Hills with a bit more rain. Both have the characteristics we call simply “desert.” There’s always a hint of sand and dust in there. If you want an introduction to the Arroyo Seco AVA, this wine is for you.


Mud House 2014 Central Otago Pinot Noir

Artisan Wine Depot was offering a deal on Mud House 2014 Central Otago pinot noir at $16 per bottle. (The link is to our full review on New Zealand Wine Fan.) We bought four bottles on a whim. Subtle aromas of cherries with hints of leather and tobacco greet you. Be sure to swirl vigorously, as this wine is a little shy about exposing itself. On the palate, pure grape juice with bright acidity on the finish.

Last Chance For Reuling Wine

Two years ago we wrote effusively about Reuling pinot noir.  We discovered them at Pinotfest 2014.  Yesterday we got an e-mail with some sad news.  Reuling plans to stop making wine and go back to just growing grapes.  The 2014 vintage will be their last.  The official announcement is below.  Click here to order their wine.

Reuling farewell e-mail

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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:
Part 2:
Part 4:


[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

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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.


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 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:
Part 3:
Part 4:

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 ( or 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.


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:
Part 3:
Part 4:

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.


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.


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.


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


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.

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

[pullquote]make delicious, quality wines that continually exceed your expectations.[/pullquote]

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.


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”

 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.


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.