Art and Wine at Stanford

We are both Stanford alumni. One of the perks of living in the greater Silicon Valley area is the opportunity to attend occasional events sponsored by the Stanford Alumni Association. On another blog we have reviewed the Anderson Collection, a stunning collection of modern and contemporary art housed in a new building adjacent to the Cantor Arts Center with its Rodin Sculpture Garden.

Saturday, August 15, we joined about 925 other alumni and friends at the Stanford Alumni Art and Wine Stroll. The wines were from fourteen wineries with strong Stanford connections. The complete list is at the end of this article.

The Venue

The Cantor Arts Center has a sculpture garden featuring a number of Rodins. There are also more contemporary sculptures, some affiliated with the new Anderson Collection. That collection is housed in a brand new museum devoted entirely to the art collected over the decades by the Anderson family. Harry Anderson founded Saga Foods in New Jersey, but quickly moved the operation to Menlo Park, California. The Vanity Fair article “A Dorm-Food Fortune Has Funded the Best New Museum in Silicon Valley,” if anything, understates the magnitude of this installation.

The Venue Art and Wine at Stanford

The Wine

After all, this is California Wine Fan, not California Art Fan. (Note to self: consider registering that domain.) We won’t try to cover all the wines because we’d like to actually get this story published. A complete list is at the end of this story (with URLs).

Our pick for the best in show is Muns Vineyard‘s 2010 pinot noir. Ed Muns ’71 is the founder and head honcho at Muns Vineyard. Located in the  Santa Cruz mountains, the vineyard overlooks Santa Cruz and the Monterey Bay on the Loma Prieta Ridge 2,600 feet above the ocean — the highest pinot noir vineyard in this AVA. The 2010 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate pinot noir ($40) is excellent. The Muns pinot shows forest floor and black cherry aromas. More black cherry, blueberry and chewy tannins on the palate. Muns is a great example of making pinot noirs that can age a few years.

Ed Muns Art and Wine at Stanford

Ed Muns

We have tasted Sokol Blosser and Trione before. We had no idea they had any Stanford connection.

We immediately headed for the Sokol Blosser table. They were pouring their 2012 Dundee Hills pinot noir ($38). Aromas of cherries and cranberries with more cherries and wet slate on the palate, and just a hint of spice in the finish.

Susan Sokol Blosser Art and Wine at Stanford

Susan Sokol Blosser

Susan Sokol Blosser and Bill Blosser are both class of 1966. Their son, Nik, is class of 1993. The winery’s future seems to be in good hands.

Our tasting notes for Trione’s 2012 Sonoma County pinot noir ($39) say big, big, big aromas, featuring black cherries and tannins on the palate. Lay this one down and don’t open it until 2017 at the earliest.

Trione also offered their 2014 sauvignon blanc ($23). Whole lotta grapefruit here, both aromatics and palate. A nice fresh, crisp finish rounds out something.

Trione is the namesake of Vic Trione, class of 1969. That happens to be the same year I got my B.S. (but not from Stanford).

Hindsight Wines presents an interesting contradiction. Why “hindsight?” Co-owner Alisa Gean ’82 has a BS and MD from Stanford. She had a very successful career in neurosurgery until health problems forced her to cut back on her medical practice.  This has been a fortunate turn of events for wine drinkers.  Dr. Gean, Keith Hargrove, and Seth Gersch were sitting around one evening with their partners in wine. They were trying to come up with a name. Someone suggested “Foresight.”  Someone else said, “No, Hindsight.”  The “20/20” followed immediately.

Alisa Gean and Keith Hargrove Art and Wine at Stanford

Alisa Gean and Keith Hargrove

Naturally there is a Hindsight 20/20 Proprietary Red Blend 2012 ($35). This is a pretty good, quaffable Bordeaux-style wine. Lots of earth on the palate with a hint of green pepper,

The Hindsight 2013 Napa Valley chardonnay ($28) is an explosion of apples and pears on the palate hard on the heels of a hint of citrus aroma. Very little oak, no tannins, yes good. We rate this a bargain.

Cardinal Rule Wines offered a 2013 Russian River Valley pinot noir ($35). This is the earthy, leathery style both in the nose and on the palate. There is just a hint of cherries on the finish.

Cardinal Rule Wines is Stanford start to finish, including Warren Louie ’80; Rose Chan ’82; Leslie Scharf ’73; Sarah Scharf ’10; and Stephen Scharf ’75.

Test Pilot Label Art and Wine at StanfordWe’ve tasted Cooper-Garrod wines at the winery on several occasions. But we didn’t know that Doris Cooper was in the class of ’79. Doris is the daughter-in-law of George and Louise Cooper. The Garrod part is Louise’s maiden name. George had a career as a fighter pilot in World War II. After that, as if he needed more excitement, he was a test pilot for NASA. We were pleased to see the Test Pilot, F-86 ($39) label. The wine is a Bordeaux-style blend with aromas of plums and leather. The flavors are more plums and a hint of cedar. This one needs a few more years in the cellar. Cooper-Garrod vineyards and winery are certified organic and sustainable.

Uvaggio Wines in Lodi specializes in Italian varietals. Our guess is that the Lodi terroir is close to ideal for this. We were lured to their table with the promise of vermentino, a grape we first encountered at Tessa Marie Wines in Los Olivos.

The Uvaggio 2013 Lodi vermentino ($14) is very quaffable but light on the vermouth. Their 2012 Lodi barbera ($18) is a true Italian wine, big and chewy with lots of bite.

Uvaggio’s Stanford connection is via Mel Knox ’68 who was pouring at the event. Mel’s day job is running Mel Knox Barrel Brokers in San Francisco. He’s an interesting guy. Visit the company website and check out Team Mel/Wines by Mel. He partnered with Jim Moore in 1997 … well, we’ll let Mel tell the story:

Uvaggio Quote Art and Wine at Stanford

(click for larger image)

As Jim Moore points out on the winery website, Uvaggio is much easier to pronounce than the original name: l’Uvaggio di Giacomo.

Vintage Estate Wines is the creation of Dave Rogers ’75. The company actually houses a number of labels and brands. On this day Dave was pouring two wines from Windsor Vineyards. “Is that the same Windsor Vineyards we remember from decades back?” we inquired. Indeed, it’s the same place founded by Rodney Strong 55 years ago. Windsor has always produced wines that were very approachable. They have moved into a higher market segment under Dave’s leadership. But Dave has continued a long Windsor tradition: custom wine labels.

Windsor’s 2012 Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon ($32) greeted us with aromas of huckleberries and earth. On the palate are cassis and more earth. Not bad for a cab.

The 2012 Sonoma County Reserve chardonnay ($18) features aromas of green apple and white peaches leading to yeasty minerality on the palate.

Vintage Estates also has a series of wines aimed at the millennial market. In the past we’ve noted that Tooth and Nail in Paso Robles has targeted this market. Vintage Estates is, um, more straightforward in their approach. While exploring the company website we ran across the Sexy Wine Bomb label. Dave also pointed to the labels of the Wine Sisterhood. If you’d like a break from stodgy wine marketing, this website will entertain you for a few hours.

Wine Sisterhood Art and Wine at Stanford

(click for larger image)

Other wineries of note for various reasons include Huge Bear Wines (for the name, RoAnn Costin ’81) and The Farm Winery, another we’ve tasted before, known for very big cabs (Jim Madsen ’89 and Santiago Achaval ’89)


This was a great event. Thanks to the Stanford Alumni Association for sponsoring it and to Stanford University for providing such a great venue. But next time we’d like cooler weather.

Name URL Stanford
Bodkin Wines Chris
Christensen ’03
Cardinal Rule
Wines Warren
Louie ’80; Rose Chan ’82; Leslie Scharf ’73; Sarah Scharf ’10; Stephen Scharf
Cooper-Garrod Doris
Cooper ’79
Wines Alisa
Gean ’82
Huge Bear
Wines RoAnn
Costin ’81
MacLeod Family
Vineyard George
MacLeod ’43; Greta MacLeod ’48
Wines Greg
Martellotto ’96
Muns Vineyard Ed
Muns ’71
Round Pond
Estate Ryan
Bovet MacDonnell ’01
Sokol Blosser Susan
Sokol Blosser ’66; Bill Blosser ’66; Nik Blosser ’93
The Farm
Winery Jim
Madsen ’89; Santiago Achaval ’89
Vineyards Vic
Trione ’69
Uvaggio Wines Mel
Knox ’68 
Vintage Wine
Estates Dave
Rogers ’75
  Sexy Wine Bomb
  Sonoma Coast Vineyards
  Windsor Vineyards
  Wine Sisterhood

Hamilton Russell Vineyards

Anthony Hamilton Russell in the Artisan tasting room

Anthony Hamilton Russell in the Artisan tasting room (click for larger image)

Monday, August 3, 2015 our friends at Artisan Wine Depot invited us to a tasting of wines from Hamilton Russell Vineyards in South Africa. And, as a bonus, Anthony Hamilton Russell was pouring. We jumped at the chance.

Hamilton Russell produces two labels in addition to the obvious. Southern Right is named after the southern right whales that are often seen from the nearby coast. Ashbourne is the winery’s 279 acre estate, lending its name to the third label.

Hamilton Russell’s vineyards are at elevation and exposed to the westerly winds coming off Walker Bay.  These are ideal conditions for pinot noir and chardonnay. Consistent with the cooler climate, alcohol levels are at the (previously) normal levels for California wines: 12.5% for the whites, 13.5% for the reds.

The winery and vineyards are located in the Walker Bay region of South Africa, on the west coast just north of the Cape of Good Hope. All their wines are made from grapes grown on their Hemel en Aarde Valley estate.

Hamilton Russell gets full marks for the amount of technical detail they supply. Here’s what they say about their 2014 chardonnay:

Hamilton Russell Vineyards 2014 chardonnay technical specs

Hamilton Russell 2014 chardonnay technical specs (click for larger image)

The 2014 Hamilton Russell chardonnay ($36) is very nice, with no detectable oak or malolactic. According to the technical sheet, the wine was only aged in new oak for 8.5 months. Lots of citrus and herbs on the nose followed by flavors of lemon and slate. While this wine is currently a touch too acid for our taste, a number of reviewers point out that Hamilton Russell chardonnays have a history of aging well. Buy some and let it sit for a few years.

Anthony’s 2009 Ashbourne “Sandstone” ($23) would qualify as a sauvignon blanc under California regulations. The sauvignon blanc grapes are blended with 12% chardonnay to take some of the edge off the palate. The wine has distinct grapefruit aromas lead to more grapefruit and a hint of herbs on the palate. If you get a chance to buy a bottle or two, take it.

Ashbourne Labels Hamilton Russell Vineyards

Ashbourne Labels (click for larger image)

Moving to the third label, the 2013 Southern Right pinotage ($28) has great mouth feel with hints of butterscotch, chocolate, and a hint of coffee. A hint of tannins creates a long, nice finish. The pinotage grape is a cross between pinot noir and cinsault created in South Africa. The idea was to create a more heat-tolerant grape that still maintained pinot noir characteristics. We’ve tasted some of these wines in the past and can say that Hamilton Russell has worked wonders with this grape. Anthony described it as a big wine appropriate for barbeque. We’ve tasted any number of California pinot noirs that are bigger, more tannic, and less quaffable than this gem.

Southern Right labels Hamilton Russell Vineyards

Southern Right labels (click for larger image)

The 2008 Ashbourne “Walker Bay Wine of Origin” red ($55) is an interesting blend of 67% cabernet sauvignon and 33% pinotage. Hamilton Russell has taken advantage of the more robust nature of the pinotage grapes to create a unique blend. Aromas of huckleberries, spice, and roses, with forest floor undertones lead to blackberry and strawberry with hints of smoke and pepper.

We were treated to a vertical of Hamilton Russell’s pinot noirs. Well, a two-year vertical including 2013 ($55) and 2014 ($55). These pinots are grown in gravel above a layer of clay, with no limestone. The wines are darker, more brooding, and are more subtle than pinot noir. The 2013 is juicy, is a little tight, and may need another year in the bottle. Aromas of cranberries and spice with a characteristic touch of eucalyptus. Flavors of strawberry and red raspberry lead to a surprising earthy finish. The 2014 is lighter, with aromas of blackberries and huckleberries followed by a red raspberry – bing cherry palate. Both wines have the fine-grained tension from tannins created when grapes grown in clay containing lots of iron and no limestone.

Hamilton Russell Vineyards labels

Hamilton Russell labels (click for larger image)

We’re pleased to discover Hamilton Russell and look forward to enjoying their many wines in the future.

Hamilton Russell Vineyards team Olivia and Anthony center front

Hamilton Russell team, Olive and Anthony center front (click for larger image)

Editorial: The New York Times Should Stick to Foods East of the Hudson River

Today’s New York Times features an article titled “Learning to Engineer a Better Brisket in the Business section no less (BU-3, west coast edition).  In the article, the author, Ms. Claire Martin, extols the virtues of a “superior” barbeque grill invented by engineering students at Harvard.

Before delving into the horrors of this “invention” we have to recommend wines that go well with barbecued ribs.  A good California zinfandel that can stand up to the mop and the sauce are always good.  We recommend the 2012 Hartford Fanucchi-Wood Road Vineyard Zinfandel ($55). If you’re looking for something a bit older, try the 2007 Thomas George Estates Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley.  We bought a couple of bottles of this back in 2009 and opened one the other day.  Great stuff.  But sold out at the winery 🙁 .  And we reviewed the classic Ridge zinfandels last year.

So many things wrong with that simple phrase.  “Engineering students at Harvard” means they couldn’t get into MIT. (Disclaimer: I am an MIT graduate.)  “Superior barbeque grill?”  Impossible.  And their design is based on the execrable “Big Green Egg,” disavowed by every real barbeque cook.

What a travesty. Harvard students purport to show the rest of us how to “improve” barbeque. How can they hope to improve on something that’s nearly perfect? And the $1500 price tag could only appeal to residents of Manhattan, Long Island and Connecticut.

A few years ago my lovely wife bought me a Char-Griller Outlaw. Today you can buy the same unit for $170 direct from the company, probably less if you look around.




One of the “features” of the Harvard model is a chute that lets you add fuel without opening the lid.  Two questions come to mind.  First, does the chute slope downward?  Second, do you have to open the chute to add fuel?  If the answer to both those questions is, “Yes” then you’ve just destroyed the entire purpose of the chute.  Clue: warmer air rises to displace cooler air.

But what’s worse is that there is a zero-marginal-cost solution to this problem.  Just bolt on the (included) side fire box to your Outlaw.  You can add wood without opening the lid.  And the firebox is mounted horizontally to the barrel unit.  Meaning there’s no place for the heat to rise.

Outlaw Firebox

Outlaw Firebox

Which is largely beside the point for me. My specialty is ribs. And every single recipe worth cooking requires use of a mop blend, a liquid with spices blended that is painted onto the ribs every hour or so. Once the folks at Harvard can figure out how to get a mop that will cover the ribs without opening the lid, I might listen. On the other hand, an easier solution is just to leave the ribs cooking for another hour. If you’re in a hurry you should probably be cooking burgers over direct charcoal heat.

Oh, yes, there’s more to barbeque than just fuel.  What about the actual smoke?  Presumably they can include wood chips when they’re adding fuel.  I won’t speculate on the likelihood of that succeeding. But I would like to know if their design can accommodate wood-only smoking (no charcoal).

Reluctant as I am to give this horror any more publicity, here it is:

The Harvard Barbeque

The Harvard Barbeque

First peas in guacamole. Now this. I have a simple request for the Times: please stick to cooking you folks east of the Hudson actually know something about. As Justice Don Willett (@JusticeWillett) put it, “That’s a felony in Texas.”  Somewhere Steven Raichlen is crying.

Two Bargains from Trader Joe

We occasionally buy some wine at Trader Joe’s. But we recently discovered two that are amazing bargains. Each is $7.99 per bottle. You will not find better deals on wine anywhere. This is the story of two bargains from Trader Joe.

Honey Moon Two Bargains from Trader Joe

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Over the years Norma has become fond of their “Trader Moon” Honey Moon viognier. The 2013 vintage is so outstanding we had to write about it. Quite simply, this is the best viognier I have ever tasted. Norma is not quite that enthusiastic, settling for “pretty darn good.”

Here’s the scoop: floral and honeysuckle aromas followed by passion fruit and an amazing orange blossom flavor. There’s a hint of lime on the finish. Viognier, like pinot noir, is very susceptible to terroir and winemaking technique. We find most of them overbearing with too much of the natural honey. Not this one.

And a few days ago I brought home a couple of experimental bottles of pinot noir. We’ve only tasted one — and Norma sent me back the next day to pick up a case. The wine is from New Zealand. The Picton Bay South Island 2014 pinot noir is light enough to be a summer wine. Aromas of red raspberries and cherries are followed by more raspberries, tart cherries, and a hint of spice. Light enough to support what might otherwise be excessive acidity.

Picton Bay Two Bargains from Trader Joe

(click for larger image)

According to Wine Searcher, Picton Bay is the export label for the highly regarded Mt. Riley winery in Marlborough. It looks to me like this label was created specifically for the U.S. market and (perhaps) exclusively for Trader Joe’s.

Trader Joe’s generally gives store managers considerable latitude in choosing non-TJ’s wines. You can probably find the Honey Moon almost everywhere. I know the Picton Bay is available at the Trader Joe’s on Homestead Road in Los Altos, CA.

Two More From Pomona: Windsor Oaks, Vino Vargas

In our previous article we raved about Picayune Cellars and Flying Goat Cellars. But we tasted pinot noirs from eleven — count them — eleven wineries making pretty good pinots.

That’s a testimonial to cooperation and education among winemakers and educators. Kudos to U.C. Davis, Fresno State, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and Sonoma State for educating generations of winemakers.

Eleven wineries is too much for one review. We’re going to write them up and post as time permits.  Today we’ll look at Vino Vargas and Windsor Oaks. This review is two more from Pomona: Windsor Oaks, Vino Vargas.

Vino Vargas

After tasting a few pinots and not finding anything we liked, we decided to calibrate our palates. Luckily, Pedro and Vicky Vargas were there. We’ve written about Vino Vargas before and headed over to their table to see if the southern California air had screwed up our tastebuds.

Thankfully, that was not the case. Their 2012 Russian River Valley “Rio Ruso” ($45) was a delight. With 30% of the vintage aged in French oak, Pedro and Vicky are still making great pinot noir. The wine opens with aromas of strawberry and cherries with just a hint of earth. The palate is more cherries with a silky tannins on the finish.

Vicky Vargas

Vicky Vargas

We arrived early enough to chat with Vicky for a few minutes. Vino Vargas is apparently doing very well. We learned that Pedro is a U.C. Davis graduate. Vicky has a credential from the French Culinary Institute. She is a qualified sommelier. And, from their website, they have occasional wine club pickups in Los Gatos! Convenient for us bay area folks.

Windsor Oaks

We were greeted by Bruce Krueger who poured us tastes of Windsor Oaks’ two pinot noirs. Both were 2012 Russian River Valley, but one was a reserve (10 cases produced).

Windsor Oaks Pinot Noirs Windsor Oaks Vineyards

The non-reserve pinot ($28) opened with aromas of black cherries, rose petals, and an earthy undertone. On the palate there was cola, spice and tannins leading to a long finish.

The reserve ($35) needs some bottle time to develop. Aromas and palate were flatter than the non-reserve. “Juicy” was the best description we could come up with, with hints of oak and vanilla. Buy half a case and open one bottle a year starting in 2017.


Bob and Renee Stein Windsor Oaks Vineyards

Bob and Renee Stein

Windsor Oaks is a 20 year project of Bob and Renee Stein. The winery is located east of U.S. 101 in the town of Windsor (about halfway between Santa Rosa and Healdsburg). But the vineyards extend west beyond Sebastopol. The Steins own the 700 acre estate, of which

… approximately 350 acres have been deeded to the Sonoma County Open Space District and are designated ‘Forever Wild.’ The remaining 250 acres are uniquely situated in both the Russian River Valley and Chalk Hill appellations, representing two of the most recognized growing regions for outstanding quality wine grapes.

In fact, the address of the winery is actually in the Chalk Hill ava. The Steins put the wilderness area in the middle of the property with the vineyards around the edges:

 Windsor Oaks Vineyards

Windsor Oaks Aerial View (courtesy of Bing Maps, click for larger image)

Bob and Renee partnered with Doug and Julie Lumgair when the winery was started. Doug is still the estate general manager. Julie was the winemaker through the 2011 vintage when she decided to relax a bit.

Margaret Davenport Windsor Oaks Vineyards

Margaret Davenport

But not to worry. Her replacement, Margaret Davenport, previously worked at Clos du Bois and Passalacqua. We have fond memories of her Passalacqua zinfandels.

The 2014 vintage will mark Margaret’s 35th crush. She’s only been with Windsor Oaks since 2011, but her wine already speaks for itself. A lab apprenticeship in 1980 began a long, critically-acclaimed winemaking history.

Sabrina Prati Windsor Oaks Vineyards

Sabrina Prati

Margaret is assisted by Sabrina Prati. Sabrina has wine in her veins. One of her first memories is ridinga vineyard tractor with her father. With her BS in Viticulture and Enology from UC Davis, the year 2013 was her eighth harvest.


Douglas Lumgair Windsor Oaks Vineyards

Douglas Lumgair


Douglas Lumgair is the Estate General Manager. Doug has been a partner in Windsor Oaks from day 1. Today he keeps it all running.


We were excited to discover Windsor Oaks and (indirectly) renew our acquaintance with Margaret Davenport.


In Case of Accident

If you look closely you’ll see that this is a truck from a winery in Pennsylvania!


Paso Robles Garagiste Festival 2014: But Not Pinot Noir

After exhausting the pinots we made another circuit to taste other reds. We were delighted to discover that many wineries have followed the lead of Roger Nicolas, producing eclectic blends that would be illegal in France.

That’s a shame because French wine drinkers (is that redundant?) are missing some real treats. These winemakers know what they’re doing. Blending cabernet sauvignon and syrah? No problem. We have to mention the increasing use of Spanish varietals, especially tempranillo.  In fact, we tasted several “GST” wines — grenache, sarah, and tempranillo. This is our review of Paso Robles Garagiste Festival 2014: but not pinot noir.

This review turned out much longer than I expected.  Here are some links to help you find what you’re looking for.  Wineries are listed alphabetically here from Z to A (just to overcome the usual A-Z bias).

Friday evening
Saturday afternoon
Ranchita Canyon
Paix sur Terre
Nobelle Wines
levo wines
Falcone Family Vineyards
Copia Vineyards

Friday Evening

Paso Garagiste festivals begin with an Opening Round Friday evening. In 2014 this event was held at The Carlton Hotel in Atascadero. We ran into significant traffic on the trip south (thanks, CalTrans) so arrived at the event late. We tasted many wines that evening, but only found one that knocked our socks off.

levo wines

levo wines (they seem to prefer lower-case, who are we to change that?) produces 800 cases per year. The first vintage was produced by winemaker Bret Urness in 2012. This is about as Garagiste as you can get.

levo's Jamie Traylor

levo’s Jamie Traylor

[pullquote]Suddenly I woke up in 2014 and I started running into old friends. One over riding question was “where the hell have you been?” Being held ransom by wine. I rarely poke my head out of hiding, but I finally have three messages in a bottle for the outside world. Ransom is one of them.[/pullquote]

Bret has personalized the winery’s website in delightful ways including individual stories for each of his four wines. We tasted his Ransom (2012). Here’s part of the story of the wine’s unusual name →

Ransom ($36) is 75% grenache, 25% syrah. Opening with smoky aroma, the palate is a delightful combination cedar, black cherries and blackberries. Highly recommended.

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Saturday Afternoon

Saturday Crowd Paso Robles Garagiste Festival 2014: But Not Pinot Noir

Saturday Crowd

There were many excellent, unusual varietals and blends at the Grand Tasting. Rather than trying to pick the “best” of a very eclectic group, we’ll just write about them in the order in which we tasted them.

Nobelle Wines

Nobelle Winemaker Sébastian Noël

Nobelle Winemaker Sébastian Noël

Nobelle Wines was the beginning. Winemaker Sébastian Noël’s first vintage was 2012. The winery’s annual production is 800 cases per year.

The 2012 Cuvee Noël ($25) blends 40% cab, 10% merlot, 10% petite sirah, and 40% malbec. It features a nice aroma from the petite sirah and malbec, overcoming the perpetual issues of cabernet sauvignon nose. This is a very nice wine, dark fruit with a hint of spice. The merlot adds texture while tannins are supplied by the cabernet sauvignon.

Sébastian is an interesting guy.  From the Nobelle website:

Maître de Chai—“Ora et labora,” work and pray, as Burgundians monks used to say.

Sébastien Noël is a French Winemaker who joins us from Bordeaux, Burgundy and Paris, France. He worked his first harvest in Bordeaux in 1999, and carries a family passion that can be traced back for decades, as Sébastien is a descendant of a ‘negociant’. As a boy, he listened to stories about how his ancestors would purchase and ship bulk wine by horse and carriage. The route was from the Loire Valley to Neauphle le Chateau (a small village in the west side of Paris). There they would age the wine at the Grand Marnier Cellar, owned by the Lapostolle Family, to later sell to the Parisians.

Fascinated by the family history, Sébastien’s curiosity grew. In September 2005 he began his journey to California, pursuing a wine career with only 2 backpacks and his Springer Spaniel, Orion. His first stop was at Laguna Canyon Winery in Laguna Beach. Quickly rising to Assistant Winemaker, the expanse of wine country began attracting him. In 2009, Sébastien’s next stop was Paso Robles with a packed trailer and Orion, man’s best friend. His new position as intern at Justin Winery started at 7am the following day. Since then Sébastien has also worked for some of Paso’s finest: Sextant, Robert Hall, and Eberle.

For generations wine has been in his family, on their tables to enjoy and in their cellars to age. Sébastien espouses that winemaking is a combination of art, love and science. The first two came naturally; his scientific background comes from experience, as well as from education at Saddle Back Community College and UC Davis. His first private release, a 2009 vintage received 17.5/20 from judges. Sébastien’s winemaking is ever evolving, with recipes that are unique and authentically French.

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ONX Wines

Another marvelous discovery was a plethora of creative, even artistic labels. ONX was the first example. Winemaker Brian Brown and associate winemaker Jeff Strekas produced 1,000 cases last year. Unfortunately they will produce 2,000 cases this year and will not be eligible for Garagiste 2015. Their first vintage was 2008. Here’s the full label of their Praetorian 2012:

ONX Praetorian 2011 Label

ONX Praetorian 2012 Label (click for larger image)

The Praetorian 2012 ($45) is 55% tempranillo, 22% grenache, 14% mourvedre, 8% malbec, and 1% alicante bouschet. This is a wine made to drink with food. We disagreed a bit on when this one should be drunk. I thought it needed a few more years to smooth out the tannins, but Norma rated it “ready now.” On the nose, aromas of red raspberry and pomegranate yield to spice and cinnamon palate. There are also hints of wet slate and lavender. The finish combines rough tempranillo tannins with the gentler from malbec.

ONX wines

ONX wines

Brash 2012 ($45) is a more traditional zinfandel blend. This wine is eminently quaffable. My tasting notes say, “Unbelievably good.” The blend includes 70% zinfandel, 15% petite sirah, 10% cabernet sauvignon, and 5% syrah. Beginning with aromas of blackberries and cedar, flavors of forest floor begin the palate. This leads to black pepper with a hint of chocolate. The tannic finish is a bit rough, lending itself to the general rustic style of the wine.

Even if you don’t buy their wine, the ONX website is worth visiting for its design and creativity, combined with vast amounts of information. For example, they include two vineyard maps. One shows which varietal is planted where. The other is a soils map. Overlay the two and you can get a good idea of this vital part of terroir.

ONX Varietal Planting Map

ONX Varietal Planting Map (click image for larger version)

ONX Soil Map

ONX Soil Map (click image for larger version)

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Paix sur Terre

Paix sur Terre offered an excellent GSM, the 2012 Songs of Its Own.  Before reviewing the wine, take a look at these labels:

Paix sur Terre wines

Paix sur Terre wines (click the image for a larger version)

The winery has an artist creating their labels. Jon Blythe is behind the label artwork. Winemaker Ryan Pease and Jon have known each other since childhood — more on the art later.

Ryan and Nicole Pease

Ryan and Nicole Pease

[pullquote]The Grenache A is planted on high limestone terraces on the summit of Glenrose and has incredibly pure red fruit notes of strawberry and kirsch with hints of coriander, thyme, and garrigue. The Mourvedre A at the top of the summit lends its flavors of black cherry, baking spices and saline qualities. Shiraz clone 7 provides meatiness, sweet lavender notes, and chalky mineral flavors. The palate is juicy and mouthwatering and will provide great drinking pleasure over the next 10 years.[/pullquote]

Ryan and his partner Nicole Pease produced their first vintage in 2010. The winery produces all of 225 cases per year, putting them in the cult category.

Their 2012 Songs of Its Own (Glenrose Vineyard) is 58% grenache, 30% mourvedre, and 12% syrah. This wine is really good, featuring complex aromas and flavors. The wine opens with traditional GSM aromas, melding into a palate with a hint of spice flowing into black cherries. Long, silky tannins finish a marvelous experience. From the website →

Excuse me? What is “garrigue?” We turn to the Wine Spectator’s “Ask Dr. Vinny” feature for the answer:

Dear Dr. Vinny,

I’ve read the term “garrigue” in reference to describing wine flavor. Does the term usually refer to a wine expressing a sense of the limestone that some plants grow in, or the notes of the actual herbs like sage, rosemary or lavender coming out in the wine?

—Michael S., Oak Park, Calif.

Dear Michael,

Garrigue refers to the low-growing vegetation on the limestone hills of the Mediterranean coast, not the limestone itself. There are a bunch of bushy, fragrant plants that grow wild there, such as juniper, thyme, rosemary and lavender, and garrigue refers to the sum of them. Think herbes de Provence, or a mix of fresh minty-herbal notes with more pungent, floral fragrances.

—Dr. Vinny

Paix sur Terre grapes

Paix sur Terre grapes

Now about the artist. Again from the website:

Jon Blythe is the artist behind the label artwork for Paix Sur Terre. Ryan and Jon have known each other since childhood and Ryan has always respected and enjoyed Jon’s abstract art. When deciding on a label, we were looking for something that would allow us to stand out among the crowd; Jon’s artwork does just that. We are excited to be teaming with Jon as he will be producing a new piece of art for each Paix Sur Terre wine. 

Paix sur Terre Songs of Its Own Label

Paix sur Terre Songs of Its Own Label

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LXV is whimsically named after the Kama Sutra. That text includes descriptions of the 64 sutras. According to owners Neeta and Kunal Mittal, wine is the 65th sutra. LXV, of course, is 65 in Roman numerals. (Yes, it took us a while to figure that out.)

Neeta and Kunal Mittal

Neeta and Kunal Mittal

Kunal Mittal

Kunal Mittal

Working with winemaker Amy Butler, the Mittals’s first vintage was 2010. Current production is 450 cases per year.

We were excited to taste a barrel sample of a cabernet sauvignon – syrah blend. As you would expect, this wine needs time to calm down. But our semi-professional opinion is that the wine has good potential.

[pullquote]The Rising Tempo label and name are “inspired by Nritya, the Kama Sutra Art of Dance. [Los Angeles] contemporary dancer Reshma Gajjar [was] photographed as she indulges in her dance.”[/pullquote]

On the other hand, LXV’s 2012 Rising Tempo ($42) blends 65% grenache, 23% syrah, and 12% tempranillo. This wine opens with aromas of black cherries and coffee, followed by Bing cherries, chocolate, and herbs on the palate. The finish is long, with fine tannins.

Their 2012 Secret Craving ($52) combines 34% cabernet franc, 33% syrah, and 33% merlot — a GSM of a different M. Scents of cherry, licorice, and blackberries combine with spice flavors. All this leads to another long finish with smooth tannins.

[pullquote]”Secret Craving is inspired by Food, the Kama Sutra Art of Culinary Design. [The label features] Bravo Top Chef Dakota Weiss from the W Hotel in Westwood, California.”[/pullquote] 

We look forward to LXV’s release of a sangiovese – petite sirah blend soon (not yet available on their website as of January 28, 2015).

And we noted this from their website:

The new LXV Wine Lounge (Tasting Room), in downtown Paso Robles, is a sensory experience , with deep blue walls, day beds full of vibrant colors and plush pillows, wines paired with spices, and labels inspired by the 64 arts of Kama Sutra.


LXV wines

LXV wines

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Falcone Family Vineyards

[pullquote]You learn more in those places [large wineries] than you do making 200 cases. You learn how to process mediocre grapes, bad grapes, good grapes, you learn about the chemistry, you learn how to do the work in the cellar, … [/pullquote]

Compared to many of the other winemakers, John and Helen Falcone are old hands. Falcone Family Vineyards first vintage was in 2002, with current production at 1,250 cases per year. Today their daughter Mia helps out. Before opening his own shop, John was a winemaker at a good-sized winery. As he put it, →

Mia, John, and Helen

Mia, John, and Helen

Falcone's Annaté V

(click image for a larger version)

Falcone’s Annaté V ($65) is both multi-vintage (64% 2011, 28% 2012, 8% 2013) and multi-varietal (50% Syrah-Falcone Vineyard, 45% Petite Sirah – Diamond West Vineyard, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon-Falcone Vineyard). This wine is pretty darn good — we liked it a lot. On the nose, scents of cherry and a hint of smoke. The aromas are reflected in the flavors, with rich tannins creating a long, smooth finish.

Since John had experience with larger-scale production, I asked whether he was familiar with Terravant in Buellton. It turns out that under Helen’s fine direction, Terravant makes the Falcone chardonnay!

John and Helen

John and Helen

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Copia Vineyards

The Netherlands were kind enough to export Michael DeWit to California. He currently makes wine for his Copia Vineyards. Their first vintage was 2011 and current production is 300 cases per year. Copia will start pouring at Paso Underground in mid-April, Fridays through Sundays.

Copia Team

Evelyne Penia, Renaud LHomme, and Michael DeWit having fun

Copia’s “The Blend” 2012 L’Aventure Vineyard ($65) is a traditional GSM: 40% syrah, 30% grenache and 30% mourvèdre. This wine is quaffable right now. Opening with aromas of black cherries and fresh-cut flowers, the palate adds spice and kirsch. This is a very nice wine.

The Answer 2013 ($40) is another GSM with 75% syrah, 23% grenache and 2% mourvèdre. Excellent aromas of black cherry and rose petals are followed by licorice and chocolate on the palate. Buy this and don’t open it until 2017 at the earliest.

Michael has been around. He owned a vineyard in the south of France. From there he made wine in the infamous Malibu AVA. Now he’s located in the hills west of Paso Robles. Undoubtedly the relaxed lifestyle of that area contributes to the quality of his wines.

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Ranchita Canyon

Bill Hinrichs and his sister-in-law Barbara

Bill Hinrichs and his sister-in-law Barbara

Ranchita Canyon is a project of winemakers Bill and Teresa Hinrichs. Their first vintage was 2003, with current production 1,100 cases per year. They farm 72 acres, mainly selling grapes. But from what they keep they make 21 different wines.

Ranchita Canyon display

We were excited to see that the Hinrichs produce a cabernet pfeffer. (We first encountered this grape through Kenneth Volk’s wine club.) Ranchita Canyon has a few acres planted. The 2010 ($30) is their first estate cabernet pfeffer. The wine has nice strawberry and raspberry flavors with a hint of pepper. The wine is old enough that the tannins have integrated, giving it great structure.

Ranchita cabernet pfeffer

Unfortunately our audio recorder let us down at this point, so we can only report that these two wines are pretty darn good. The 2010 Divin ($34) is 38% cabernet sauvignon, 22% merlot, 14% petit verdot, 14% malbec, and 12% cabernet franc. The 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel ($32) is also an estate wine.

Ranchita Canyon has one of the best logos we’ve seen.  Have a look:



There are eight wineries in this review from which we reviewed 13 wines. Part 1 of our review looked at two wineries and three wines. Part 2 evaluated four wineries and five wines. (Remember, we only review wines and wineries we like. We tasted many more than 21.) This neatly summarizes why we go back to the Garagiste festival every year. There are many small wineries making terrific wine. We’re happy we can share some of them with our readers.


Pennsylvania Declares War on Wine

[Updated September 22, 2o14 with additional information from a friend who lives in Pennsylvania.]

We interrupt our regular reviewing with a public service announcement. First, you need to know that in Pennsylvania alcoholic beverages can only be purchased in stores owned and operated by the state.  This can lead to bizarre situations such as a particular wine only being available in a few stores. This is a case of Pennsylvania declares war on wine.  According to an article at,

Earlier this year, after a months-long undercover investigation, Pennsylvania state police agents served a warrant on the home of Arthur Goldman, an attorney, and his wife, Melissa Kurtzman.

So just what was it that led police to target the homeowners? Cocaine? Marijuana? Meth? Raw milk?

None of the above. This bizarre and infuriating case involves no illicit substance whatsoever. It’s a case about wine. Legally purchased wine, at that.

Goldman and Kurtzman are now fighting the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in court. They argue the state’s seizure of more than 2,400 bottles of fine wine is unconstitutional and are seeking to force Pennsylvania to return the entire collection. The state, on the other hand, has designs on destroying the wine.

The couple are wine lovers.  They regularly have wine delivered to their New Jersey residence.  This is perfectly legal in the more enlightened state of New Jersey.  As a favor to friends Goldman and Kurtzman began ordering wine on their behalf.  They did this at their cost, not making a profit.  (As a side note, Mr. Goldman is an attorney who is obviously working hard to improve the public image of his profession.)

In 2013 the couple bought a home in Malvern, Pennsylvania.  However, they continued to use the New Jersey house as their primary residence.

At this point, the absolute lunacy of Pennsylvania’s alcohol laws becomes clear.  You can order wine to be shipped to Pennsylvania, but it must be shipped to one of the state stores.  And you can’t order any wine that the state stores already carry.

[pullquote]add a $4.50 handling fee, Pennsylvania’s 18% liquor tax, 6% sales tax (and 2% sales tax in Philadelphia or 1% Allegheny counties.[/pullquote]

Exactly what a Philadelphia resident should do if the wine they want is only available in a Pittsburgh store remains in question. And when you pick up your wine →

More from the Reason article:

… fast forward to March 2013. It was then that, while Goldman’s and his wife’s wine collection slept soundly at their New Jersey home, an “anonymous complainant reported” Goldman to Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement (BCLE) for allegedly selling wine in Pennsylvania without a license.

It’s unclear who the informant is or what they claimed Goldman had done. But that same month, an undercover BCLE officer “infiltrated… Mr. Goldman’s mailing list.” The officer then made a buy (to use undercover cop parlance), joining in one of Goldman’s pooled orders from California.

This officer was soon joined on the list by another undercover officer, who posed as his stepdaughter, and still another officer, who posed as the second officer’s fiance. These officers also joined in the pooled orders.

Continuing with his generosity, Goldman shared glasses of his own wine with the undercover officers in his home. He gave them a tour of his wine cellar, which by July 2014 was located in his Malvern home, now the marital residence.

Testing the limits of that generosity, the officers concocted a story about looking for a special wedding gift of wine. Though Goldman wasn’t in the business of selling wine, he made an exception, selling to undercover agents a total of four or five bottles—at cost—from his personal collection.

Soon afterwards, on January, 6, 2014, Pennsylvania police raided the home and seized more than 2,400 bottles of wine. They charged Goldman was an unlicensed wine dealer who made purchases in contravention of state law, and that his alleged crimes required Pennsylvania to destroy the entirety of the couple’s wine collection—worth an estimated $160,000.

 If you’re as outraged as me, I urge you to write Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett at or call 717-787-2500. (Gov. Corbett lost his bid for re-election.  As of January 20, 2015 address those e-mails to Governor-elect Tom Wolf.) S-mail to Governor Tom Corbett, 508 E-Floor Main Capitol, Harrisburg 17120

Update: Mr. Corbett is a Republican.  And Republicans have controlled both houses of the Pennsylvania legislature for at least a few years. They tried to eliminate the state monopoly stores. But the stores’ employees are unionized.  And the lobbying was intense.  To the everlasting shame of the Republican party, Pennsylvania knuckled under.  The law failed.  And the wine Gestapo marches on.

Thanks to David Burge (@iowahawkblog) for tracking this story down. #oneman

Pinotfest 2014: the Best of the Rest

A few weeks ago we reviewed the two best newcomers: Reuling Vineyards and Ernest Vineyards. Today we want to review seven excellent wines. This is Pinotfest 2014: the best of the rest. In roughly the order in which we tasted them, they are:

  • Wayfarer Vineyards
  • Paul Lato Wines
  • Bethel Heights
  • Failla Wines
  • Archery Summit Wines
  • Patz & Hall Wines
  • Skewis Wines

Wayfarer Vineyards

Wayfarer Vineyard Map Pinotfest 2014: the Best of the Rest

Wayfarer Vineyard Map (click the map for a larger image)

Wayfarer is the culmination of a 30 year quest by Jayson Pahlmeyer. Those who have been around the industry for a while will be familiar with Pahlmeyer wines of Napa Valley. Jayson Pahlmeyer planted the winery’s first cabernet sauvignon in 1981 using cuttings of Bordeaux varietals smuggled into the U.S. through Canada. The first vintage was 1986. But for 30 years he dreamed of Burgundy. In the early 1990s he nearly closed a deal for vineyards in Burgundy. Luckily for us, the deal fell through at the last minute. But his patience was rewarded about 1997 when the Wayfarer Farm on the Sonoma Coast came on the market. The result is Wayfarer Vineyards and some pretty good pinot noir.

Wayfarer Golden Mean Pinotfest 2014: the Best of the RestThe Wayfarer 2012 Golden Mean ($115) blends fruit from the Fort Ross-Seaview vineyard. The wine opens with aromas black cherries and rose petals. Earth and more black cherries on the palate are balanced with nice acid. A long finish with spice and tannins rounds out a great experience. The specific grapes are Pommard clones 4 and 5 plus Swan.

In addition to Jayson, his daughter Cleo is the verve behind Wayfarer. With a degree in art history and a background in the international art market, Cleo seems out of place in the wine business. But, as she told her father, “When it comes to the future of Pahlmeyer, I am all in!”

The Pahlmeyers are ably assisted by Bibiana González Rave, the consulting winemaker. She’s very good, having done a stint as winemaker for Lynmar Estate. (We are members of the Lynmar wine club. Along with Hartford Family, they are year in and year out the most consistently excellent pinot noir producers that we know.)

Jayson Pahlmeyer, Cleo Pahlmeyer, and Bibiana Gonzales Rave Pinotfest 2014: the Best of the Rest

Jayson Pahlmeyer, Cleo Pahlmeyer, and Bibiana Gonzales Rave

Paul Lato

Paul Lato Pinotfest 2014: the Best of the Rest

Paul Lato

Paul Lato bottles Pinotfest 2014: the Best of the RestPaul Lato featured Paul Lato himself. His 2012 “Happiness” Hilliard-Bruce vineyard (Santa Rita Hills) was very good. Aromas of red raspberry and vanilla are followed by the distinctive “desert” flavors characteristic of the Santa Rita Hills. Tannins and spice finish a very nice experience.

Bethel Heights

Bethel Heights was our first Oregon winery of the afternoon. They are located northwest of Salem in the Aeolian Hills.

The winery has been around a while, bottling their first commercial vintage in 1984. Bethel Heights was founded in 1977 by five refugees from academia: Ted Casteel, Pat Dudley, Terry Casteel, Marilyn Webb, and Barbara Dudley. Today their production is about 10,000 cases per year, making them quite a success in Oregon. Somehow we missed them on our Oregon road trip a few years ago. And now we regret that.

The next generation is gradually taking over at Bethel Heights.  Terry and Marilyn’s son Ben Casteel and his cousin Mimi Casteel are the winemaker and viticulturist/general manager respectively.

Ben and Mimi Casteel Pinotfest 2014: the Best of the Rest

Ben and Mimi Casteel

The 2012 Aeolian (green label, $42) opens with aromas that knock your socks off. Typical of Oregon pinot noirs, this is lighter, with distinct acid. By contrast, the 2012 Casteel (red label, $60) features very light aromas followed by intense flavors of spice and earth.

Bethel Heights bottles Pinotfest 2014: the Best of the Rest

Bethel Heights bottles


We first encountered Failla at Pinot on the River in 2011 (“Feeding Frenzy at Failla” was our alliterative headline).  So we thought we’d try them again.  And we were not sorry.

Failla’s 2012 Sonoma Coast is a fruit bomb that explodes on palate with black cherries, brambleberries, leather and a long finish. By contrast, the 2012 Hirsch Vineyard Sonoma Coast is more complex and less explosive. The wine opens with spices, merging into tannins with notes of brambleberries.

Ehren Jordan, Anne-Marie Failla and daughter Pinotfest 2014: the Best of the Rest

Ehren Jordan, Anne-Marie Failla and daughter

Failla has an interesting history. Co-founders Ehren Jordan and Anne-Marie Failla followed very different paths only to end up in the same place. Ehren, the winemaking genius, got his degree in art history from George Washington University. His introduction to wine was a part-time job as a stock boy at Bell’s Wine Shop in Washington, D.C. At the tender age of 21 he ended up in Aspen, spending his days skiing and nights bussing tables. By the end of the season he was thee sommelier/manager of the restaurant. Obviously there was talent. He burnished his credentials working for Jean-Luc Columbo in the Rhône Valley. On returning to Napa in 1994 he worked as winemaking partner at Neyers Vineyards. In 1996 he proposed to Anne-Marie. The two were married in 1997.

[pullquote]Prior to construction, a pride of mountain lions appeared to have taken a wrong turn coming out of hibernation.  The first beast laid siege to the residence, crashing through a window in pursuit of a cat and making short work of it…inside!  Within a week a trio of adolescents was on the front doorstep and they weren’t looking for sugar.  Let’s just say we now have the emergency after-hours phone number for the Department of Fish and Game tattooed to our eyelids.[/pullquote]

In 2006 Failla was building their tasting room in the hills next to the Silverado Trail in Napa Valley.  This anecdote is unforgettable →

Anne-Marie Failla is the CFO and someone dear to my heart: she has a degree in economics from the University of Virginia. After numerous stints in investment banking, venture capital, and entrepreneur at an internet ” start-up cum flame-out in San Francisco” she had learned the ins and outs of both spreadsheets and unrealistic forecasts. After moving to Napa she worked in William Hill’s cellar, followed by marketing jobs at Beringer and Chappellet. In the early years of Failla she pruned vines, picked grapes and learned to wield a mean weed-whacker.

Today they are looking forward to help from their two daughters, Audrey and Vivien.

Archery Summit

Chris Mazepink Pinotfest 2014: the Best of the Rest

Chris Mazepink

We did visit Archery Summit on our Oregon road trip.  So we dropped by their table. We especially liked their 2012 Red Hills Estate ($85) with its earthy aromas and palate and a long finish of spice and tannins.  But it’s sure no bargain.

[pullquote]I firmly believe that the best wines in Oregon are made from the Dundee Hills and Ribbon Ridge AVAs. At Archery Summit we have all the ingredients to build upon the winery’s past successes.[/pullquote]

Archery Summit does not have the long history of Bethel Heights, but they’re also no newcomer.  Founded by Gary Andrus in 1993, the winery assembled a portfolio of six vineyards.  Five are in the justifiably famous Dundee Hills ava, with the sixth on Ribbon Ridge.  Gary was assisted by vineyard manager Tim Scott.

Archery Summit is into a new generation of management, with Chris Mazepink holding the titles winemaker and general manager.  Here’s what Chris has to say →

 Patz & Hall

We’ve run into Patz & Hall several times before and always been favorably impressed. At Pinotfest they were pouring five pinots. We both thought the 2012 Gaps Crown was the best of a pretty good lot, with the Hyde Vineyard in second place. We split on third place. I voted for the Jenkins Ranch, while Norma went with the Sonoma Coast blend. So, in the order of our preferences:

The 2012 Gaps Crown vineyard ($70, sold out on the website) seduces you with aromas of cranberry and dark fruit with a hint of earth and spice. The wine explodes on the palate featuring strawberries, cherries, and red raspberries, followed by a hint of vanilla. Tannins and spice round out an excellent finish.

The Gaps Crown vineyard is actually in eastern Sonoma county, near the Napa county line. The altitude combined with wind currents keep the grapes cool. A classic California microclimate vineyard.

Hyde Vineyard is at the far south end of Sonoma county near the intersection of Sonoma, Napa, and Marin counties. Although technically located in Sonoma county, the vineyard is in fact part of Napa’s Carneros ava. The 2012 Hyde Vineyard ($70) is lighter than the Gaps Crown, with aromas of Bing cherries, cranberries, and oranges. On the palate there are red raspberries and more Bing cherries. The balance is tilted toward acid, with a finish of silky tannins.

Patz & Hall Vineyard Map Pinotfest 2014: the Best of the Rest

Patz & Hall Vineyard Map

The Sonoma Coast blend ($46) is on the big side. Aromas of lush strawberries and red raspberries with notes of mint and earth. Flavors of black cherries and spice lead to another long finish with a good balance of tannins and spice.

Jenkins Ranch is a vineyard we have encountered on many occasions. The vineyard is located in central Sonoma county but still gets enough cooling breezes. Patz & Hall’s 2012 Jenkins Ranch opens with aromas of red raspberries and rose petals. The palate is juicy and spicy with residual tannins. You can probably age this one a few years to good effect. (This wine is sold out on the website and no price is listed. The 2011 vintage is $55.)

We were not as fond of the 2012 Chenoweth Ranch ($60), despite the vineyard’s location north and west of Jenkins Ranch. We found this wine too light with very little pinot noir character.

Like so many wineries, Patz & Hall begins as the story of four friends: Donald Patz, James Hall, Anne Moses and Heather Patz. In 1988 these four decided to focus on pinot noir and chardonnay. Lucky for all of us. Here’s a quick biographical sketch of each.

Anne Moses met James Hall while the two were students at U.C. Santa Cruz. Anne interrupted her progress toward a degree in biology to take enology and viticulture classes at U.C. Davis. She returned to Santa Cruz to finish her degree. She worked for various wineries in a number of capacities, including stints at Far Niente and Spring Mountain.

James Hall, Donald Patz, Anne Moses, Heather Patz Pinotfest 2014: the Best of the Rest

James Hall, Donald Patz, Anne Moses, Heather Patz

Heather Patz runs customer relations, including the Salon Society wine club. She helped design and open the Tasting Salon with its seated, private tastings. However, she began in the business end of the winery, including accounting.

James Hall is the founding winemaker of Patz & Hall. Unlike Anne, when he went to U.C. Davis he transferred to finish his degree there. His first job was at Felton-Empire. But at Flora Springs he met Donald Patz, then the sales manager.

And Donald Patz (Heather’s husband, you could have figured that out) is still the national sales manager. One measure of his success is his 2012 election to the Wine Institute board of directors in 2012.

Skewis Wines

Skewis People Pinotfest 2014: the Best of the Rest

Violet and Kathryn pouring for Skewis

A quick search revealed that we have actually tasted Skewis pinots before. But this time we had extra motivation. Siduri’s Adam Lee recommended a particular Skewis pinot. We’re not stupid. We headed to the table next door to give Skewis a try.


Skewis bottles Pinotfest 2014: the Best of the Rest

Skewis bottles

Hank and Maggie Skewis Pinotfest 2014: the Best of the Rest

Hank and Maggie Skewis

And we were not disappointed. The 2012 Salzgeber-Chan Vineyard Russian River Valley Westside Road ($50) opened with very nice aromas of black cherries, spice, and earth. On the palate we found gooseberries and some minerality. The finish features a marvelous mixture of tannins and spice.

[pullquote]We believe that the finest Pinot Noir can only be made from low yielding vines located in premium growing regions. We work with growers who share this belief and rigorously limit yields by means of winter pruning, spring shoot thinning, and summer cluster thinning prior to “veraison.” As a result, the average crops in the vineyards we contract with are between two and two and one-half tons per acre.[/pullquote]

Hank and Maggie Skewis founded Skewis Wines with the intention of producing high quality, vineyard designated pinot noirs from California’s north coast. In 1994, they bought their first grapes from the Floodgate Vineyard in Anderson Valley. Since then they have sourced fruit from the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations. Annual production is all of 900 cases, placing Skewis squarely in the “determined to remain boutique” category. Here’s their philosophy →


The trade tasting at Pinotfest 2014 was a great, great experience. The wineries brought their best. Thanks to them as well as Farallon Restaurant and Peter Palmer for continuing to put on such a terrific event.

Paso Robles Garagiste Festival 2014: The Best of the Rest

Our earlier review focused on the best two pinot noirs we found at Garagiste: Vinemark Cellars  2012 Paso Robles pinot noir ($29) and Vino Vargas  2012 Rio Ruso Russian River Valley pinot noir ($45).

Today we want to cover the other fine pinots we tasted at the Paso Robles Garagiste Festival 2014: the best of the rest. In roughly the order we tasted their wines, the wineries are:

  1. Tlo Wines (Paso Robles)
  2. Lazarre Wines (Paso Robles)
  3. Felten Cellars (Paso Robles)
  4. Cutruzzola Wines (Cambria)

Cutruzzola is a name you’ve read here before. We discovered them at last year’s Garagiste festival. They were one of our two newcomers of the year for 2013. (The other, Baker & Brain, was not at the 2014 Garagiste Festival.)


Andy Zaninovich

Andy Zaninovich

Tlo Wines is a long-time dream of owner and c0-winemaker Andy Zaninovich. The other co-winemaker is his son Adam. Keeping things in the family, newlywed daughter Avery Z. Jones handles marketing. (As an aside, she gets extra credit for cleverly shortening her last name.) Her husband Bryce helps out in the winery. Avery and Bryce usually handle events, sharing the pouring and other duties. But the two were absent from the Garagiste Festival because they were on their honeymoon. (Excuses, excuses.) Andy is married to Kathleen who holds the crew together. Lili takes care of mice. Their first vintage was 2010. They’ve grown to 500 cases per year.

Adam, Kathleen, Lili, Avery, and Bryce

Adam, Kathleen, Lili, Avery, and Bryce

The Tlo 2013 Spanish Springs, Edna Valley pinot noir ($25) opens with aromas of Bing cherries followed by red raspberry and cranberry on the palate with a bit of earth. A long spicy finish rounds out a respectable pinot. Andy pointed out that the Spanish Springs vineyard is the closest vineyard to the coast in California. It gets that fog every night.

Adam and Andy with Nicole Burns

Adam and Andy with Nicole Burns


[pullquote]Adam and his wife Angie are completely committed to providing the very best possible wines at any price and will continue to do so until he departs this earth.  After all, wine is a gift from God and should be enjoyed responsibly or at least naked…..[/pullquote]

LaZarre Wines is a joint venture of Adam and Angie LaZarre, both of whom were nice enough to pour us a taste and chat for a few minutes. These two folks are as enthusiastic about wine as anyone we’ve met. This from their website →

There doesn’t seem to be much else to say about the winery, so let’s get to the pinots.

The LaZarre 2011 Central Coast pinot noir ($32, 120 cases produced) is competent, featuring aromas of cherry and earth. The flavor spectrum is dominated by huckleberry with surprising candy notes. A solid entry in the pinot noir category.

Adam poured us a barrel sample of their 2012 vintage. Right now this wine is crunchy with tannins and oak, but the structure seems very nice. Look for it in a year or so. My guess is that it will develop nicely.

Adam and Angie LaZarre

Adam and Angie LaZarre

LaZarre produces under 1,000 cases per year. This year 600 of those cases were pinot noir. Let’s encourage them to make more!


Mary-Ellen Felten

Mary-Ellen Felten

Felten Cellars is another true Garagiste winery with annual production of 500 cases. As far as I can tell, the winery’s first vintage was 2011. Felten is the brain child of Stephen A. Felten who started making wine when his then-fiancée Mary-Ellen gave him a home winemaking kit. He has made wine for Norman Vineyards, EOS Estate Winery, and Rutherford Hill Winery in Napa Valley.

Stev and Mary-Ellen Felten

Stev and Mary-Ellen Felten

Felten’s 2011 San Luis Obispo County pinot noir ($21, BARGAIN) is a competent pinot noir. Unusually for vineyards this far north, the wine has the characteristic that we call “desert” (see Santa Rita Hills). Featuring fruit and spice, the undertone of dust is unmistakable.


Cutruzzola’s Lisa Miller was pouring their 2012 Gloria pinot noir ($40). Named after co-owner Frank Cutruzzola’s mother, the website’s tasting notes match ours:

Ripe black cherries, red plum, tobacco and cedar on the nose graduate to an powerful palate of cherry and spice, lifted by bright acidity. Silky tannins are beautifully balanced by the fruit and spice, and are only revealed on the precociously long finish.

Lisa had some exciting news for us. There were enough exceptional grapes in 2013 to let them produce their first reserve wine. Named, naturally, Giacomino (after Frank’s father), this gives us something to watch for in the coming months. This wine will only be available in their Cambria tasting room, scheduled to open in January.


This has been an excellent year for pinot noir newcomers. They have been helped by the excellent growing conditions in 2012. The real challenge will be for them to maintain the quality when the grapes aren’t quite this good (or plentiful).

Pinotfest 2014 Two to Watch

We were fortunate to be invited to the Pinotfest trade tasting November 21. We visited quite a few newcomers, some old favorites, and a few that we’d tried before but wanted to revisit. This is our Pinotfest 2014 two to watch — the best two that were new to us.

Pinotfest Crowd Pinotfest 2014 Two to Watch

Pinotfest Crowd

Ernest Vineyards

Ernest The Engineer Pinotfest 2014 Two to Watch

Ernest The Engineer

The biggest surprise was Ernest Vineyards. And they are true newcomers, producing their first vintage in 2012. Their wines are named whimsically but with a logic that is inescapable. We especially liked The Engineer and picked it for our best in show (but by a very narrow margin). Aromas of raspberries and cherries, flavors of maraschino cherries (without the sugar) explode on palate, dark fruit, tannins and spice on the finish. This wine is made from the Romanini vineyard grapes.

We were not as fond of Ernest’s The Wrangler. However, it lives up to its name, less refined and more rustic than The Engineer. Lots of mushroom and forest floor. The winery website says it will improve with age. We, of course, are not that patient.

Ernest Vineyards owners Todd Gottula and Erin Brooks have made their winery and wines an homage to their parentage. Ernest Gottula was Todd’s paternal grandfather and donated his first name to the winery. He was also a NASA     engineer. The Engineer is named in honor of his profession. Similarly, Erin’s grandfather owned a ranch in Texas. The Wrangler is his contribution. There are three other wines that are chardonnays: The Bombardier, The Farmer, and The Jester. The last name is taken from Erin’s father who had a Tom Jones cover band.

Ernest Vineayrds' Todd Gottula and Erin Brooks Pinotfest 2014 Two to Watch

Ernest Vineayrds’ Todd Gottula and Erin Brooks

Reuling Vineyards

Reuling Bottle Pinotfest 2014 Two to Watch

Reuling Bottle

Reuling’s first vintage was 2011. Their 2012 Sonoma Coast opens with brambleberry and lavender aromas followed by earth, tobacco, and spice. The finish is a lovely balance of acid and tannins.

Tim and Jackie Reuling met in pre-school in Morton, Illinois. They dated in junior high school, but went to universities about 2,000 miles apart. In 1978 they met by accident when they were in Illinois visiting their families. There is considerably more to the story, but we’ll save that for a longer piece in the future. We’re just very happy they decided to make pinot noir!

Tim Reuling Pinotfest 2014 Two to Watch

Tim Reuling


Paso Robles Garagiste Festival 2014: Two Pinots to Watch

We spent the first hour plus at the Saturday Garagiste grand tasting doing a tour of pinot noirs. And we found two to watch: Vinemark Cellars and Vino Vargas. We’ll review each in detail as time permits. But we wanted to get the word out as soon as we could.


Julie and Mark Wasserman

Julie and Mark Wasserman

Vinemark Cellars was our first find of this event. Mark and Julie Wasserman released their first wine in 2012. Their 2012 Paso Robles pinot noir ($29) is interesting featuring bing cherry aromas and blackberry flavors.

Vinemark Wines

Vinemark Wines

[pullquote]This finesse Pinot Noir offers cedar and spice aromas that lead to juicy mouth-watering black cherry flavors. The varietal red berry flavors are complemented by dark chocolate and dried cherry, creating a Pinot Noir confection.[/pullquote]

But the real surprise is their 2012 Reserve Santa Lucia Highlands ($32, MAJOR BARGAIN). My tasting notes just say “sheer bliss.” The winery tasting notes are pretty accurate →

Pedro and Victoria Vargas

Pedro and Victoria Vargas

Vino Vargas is the joint project of Pedro and Victoria Vargas. Pedro is a U.C. Davis product. Victoria is a sommelier who trained at the French Culinary Institute. Talk about a wine power couple!

Vargas Wines

Vargas Wines

The Vargas 2012 Rio Ruso Russian River Valley pinot noir ($45) opens with strawberry aroma, followed by a light raspberry palate. The finish lasts forever, featuring nice tannins. Pedro and Victoria have been making wine for about five years, with total annual production around 1,000 cases. They feature four reds, two whites, and some specialty blends. Look for their first GSM coming out in December. (Rio Ruso is Spanish for Russian River).

Paso Roble Garagiste Festival 2014

Garagiste Festival

Garagiste Festival

We traveled south for the Paso Roble Garagiste Festival 2014.  Full reviews will be forthcoming in the next few months.  But for today we’re posting an Excel workbook with the names of the wineries and other information for both the Friday night and Saturday afternoon events.  Click here to download a copy.

Laird Family Estate

It’s been a while since our last article about the August 17 Family Winemakers Tasting in San Mateo. But there are more good wineries to be reviewed. Our excuse for the delay is that there are only 168 hours in a week!

Laird Phantom Ranch Laird Family Estate

Laird Phantom Ranch

Laird Family Estate was another new winery — at least, new to us. Which shows how much we still need to learn. Before we get into who they are and what they do, let’s look at their 2012 Phantom Ranch Carneros pinot noir ($55 from the winery, don’t expect much of a discount in retail stores). The wine opens with aromas of black cherries and undertones of leather and chocolate. The palate is black raspberries, more cherries, and a hint of spice. Smooth tannins create a long, marvelous finish. The wine is an excellent representative of Carneros pinots, with bigger and bolder fruit expressions than the various Sonoma and Mendocino County appellations. With just 875 cases produced, you’ll need to move fast to acquire some of this one.

Phantom Ranch is a new vineyard. In fact, this is only the second vintage. Winemakers Paul Hobbs and Julian Gonzalez have done an outstanding job with the fruit from these relatively young vines!

Laird Family

Laird Family Estate is a subsidiary of Laird Family. Rather than give a detailed history here, we’ll refer you to The Napa Wine Project’s excellent, detailed recounting (thanks, David Thompson!).

The Laird Family is mainly wine grape growers. In 1970 Ken Laird set his sights on 70 acres of ancient prune trees near Tubbs Lane in Calistoga (north end of the Napa Valley). Knowing nothing about grapegrowing, but with a long history in agriculture, Ken was smart enough to call a consultant. Plus he was about $150,000 short of cash. He picked up a phone book, found eight listed wineries, and called the only one he had heard of: Robert Mondavi.

Oh. Well, that’s not so bad! Mr. Mondavi agreed to walk the property. After discussing soils, vines, yields, irrigation, and pruning, he agreed to finance the deal with Ken as long as the vineyard was planted 50% gamay and 50% cabernet sauvignon. That was the beginning of Laird Family’s history in the Napa Valley.

In the early 1980s, Ken made another smart move. He bought the first land in Carneros. At that time, property in that region was believed to be only useful for grazing sheep. Wrong. Today, of course, Carneros produces its own distinctive style of pinot noir and a few other varietals.

Lairs Holdings Laird Family Estate

Laird Holdings

Today Laird Family owns 2,000 acres scattered throughout the Napa Valley. They are mainly growers, using about two percent of their grapes for Laird Family Estate production. Annual Laird Family production is about 12,000 cases spread out over 13 SKUs.

Laird also offers custom crush, with about 60 wineries using these services. And they offer Laird Wine Services, a storage facility that can accommodate 2.5 million gallons of bulk storage and up to 50,000 cases of in-bottle wine.

Laird History

From the Laird Family Estate website:

Our story begins nearly sixty-four years ago outside of South Boston Virginia as twelve-year-old Ken Laird drove his mule wagon through tight rows of sticky, fit-to-be-harvested tobacco leaves. As the gooey bundles were thrown up onto the wagon, little Ken led his mule team to the curing barn. It was there, with his grandmother, great uncles and cousins, they would stoke smoky curing fires for their prized tobacco. Ken would be the third generation Laird to carry on the farming tradition.

While growing up to be a big city mechanical engineer in New York City, Ken held on to family tradition by buying his first Napa Valley parcel in 1970. This neglected piece of land, adjacent to Tubbs Lane in Calistoga, held 70 acres of worn-down prune trees. With Prohibition forty years gone and Napa Valley positioned to re-emerge as viticulturally significant, Ken decided to develop the orchard into a grape vineyard.

Ken Laird Family Estate

Ken Laird

Owner Ken Laird is still the CEO. Rebecca Laird is the General Manager. They are very private. I won’t steal from David Thompson, but if you want more details you should read his article at The Napa Wine Project.

Rebecca Laird Family Estate

Rebecca Laird


A few years ago we spent several weeks in the Santa Ynez Valley. We discovered Terravant in Buellton. Laird Family’s enterprises look like a smaller scale version of Terravant. Except, of course, that Terravant doesn’t grow grapes.

On our next trip to the Napa Valley we’ll make it a point to make appointments with the Laird Family.


[Updated January 14, 2015.  Our original article alleged that Brooke Gadke owned Maggy Hawk.  In fact, the owner is Barbara Banke.  Ms. Gadke is the estate manager.  Our apologies for this error — and for not making this correction sooner.]

[pullquote]We often say that we don’t choose when to make the Hawkster, rather it chooses – or demands – the years in which it wants to be made. This is only the second time since the winery’s founding that we have released a Hawkster Pinot Noir. With 177 cases made, we hope you are as thrilled with this special allocation offering as we are.[/pullquote]

A few weeks ago we reviewed Maggy Hawk. We discovered them at the Family Winemakers tasting in August. We were therefore prepared when we got the e-mail: the 2011 Hawkster was available. Here’s what estate manager Brooke Gadke said →

Aromas of black cherries, spice and rose petals with undertones of dust, similar to the “desert” style of the Santa Rita Hills. More spice on the palate accompanies bing cherries and tannins. A long finish that can only be described as a major surprise. Words fail me.

Hawkster Blurb

Click the image to read the content.

But you better get it while you can. The label says 195 cases produced, but Brooke e-mailed me that the actual number is 177. Standard allocation is six bottles — you can request more. I always hesitate to recommend a pinot noir at $66/bottle, but this one is, if anything, a bargain. A cult wine that tastes like a cult wine but is in the Hartford – Lynmar price range. What’s not to like?