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” http://digital.copcomm.com/i/86618-october-2012/42

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

Hahn Harvest Pinot Shootout at the Artisan Corral

Hahn Harvest

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

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

Cherry Pie Pinot Shootout at the ARtisan Corral

Cherry Pie


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


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


LIOCO Does Wine Marketing Right

We have been negligent in our review of the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir festival Despite being semi-retired, there are consulting contracts and many other distractions.  But one winery we did like (and will review) is LIOCO.  Today we’re writing about them because we received a promotional e-mail.  LIOCO is having a sale on magnums.  Here’s the photo:

LIOCO Magnums LIOCO shows how to do marketing

(click for larger image)

The full LIOCO promo is here (link will probably expire, be patient).  If you want to see a reasonable pdf version of the e-mail, click here.

Best Wines With BBQ?

[Images courtesy of Fix.com]

The folks over at Fix.com have published a guide to wines that pair with various summer dishes.  The guide is pretty generic — California zinfandels with BBQ ribs, for example — but it’s entertaining with some good suggestions that may not have occurred to you.

Wine Suggestions for BBS Ribs Best Wines With BBQ?

Wine Suggestions for BBS Ribs (click for larger image)

Ankida Ridge Picked for IPNC

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

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

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

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

Gary Farrell Visits Artisan. Plus Christine’s Chardonnay Challenge

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

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

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

Gary Farrell Wines

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

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

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

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

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

Winemaker Theresa Heredia

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

Theresa Heredia and Tony

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

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

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

Christine’s Chardonnay Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chang Vineyards Sangiovese

Norma and I dropped into the Los Altos Community Foundation’s annual spring Solstice garden party. Held at the Moore Family Home (look up Gordon Moore), the event featured food, conversation, entertainment, and … WINE!

Simon Chang

Simon Chang

Our vote for the winery of the evening is Chang Vineyards 2012 Los Altos Hills Sangiovese. This wine retains the basic character of the sangiovese grape without the excessive tannins, oak, and other “features” some winemakers include to make the wine more “Italian.” Excellent, full-bodied, and extremely quaffable. Most likely unavailable unless you know Simon Chang. We’d like to encourage him to move to a more commercial model. He has the right winemaking chops.


Memorial Day 2016 Ribs


Honoring our active and retired military personnel is not inconsistent with enjoying the first ribs of the season.

Jackson Family Wines at Artisan

Stonestreet Chardonnay Jackson Family Wines at ArtisanA few months ago, Siduri was bought by Jackson Family Wines. This group, home of the Kendall-Jackson brand, was a project of the late Jess Jackson. His partner, Brooke Gadke, has continued in his tradition while acquiring interesting wine properties. Of those we tasted, the Silver Palm and Stonestreet wines were new to us. Silver Palm wines are simpler and lower-priced, around $15. Stonestreet’s offerings are in the $35 range, a bargain if you like their style.

We are, of course, long-time members of the Hartford wine club. So when we saw that Jackson Family was pouring at Artisan Wine Depot, we eagerly accepted their invitation to attend.

It was a little surprising to discover that we actually liked the Siduri wines more than those offered by Hartford. We would like to think that Hartford is saving their best for club members. But we have no way of Silver Palm Chardonnay Stonestreet Chardonnayverifying that guess.

But First, Two Chardonnays

Silver Palm 2013 “North Coast” chardonnay ($15 through Artisan, not available on the winery website) is a bargain. Norma described this as “well-behaved.” Hints of citrus aromas followed by blood orange and pear on the palate. We bought four bottles. Possibly a better bargain, the 2014 vintage is on the winery website with a price of $15. Please let us know if you have tried it.

Stonestreet's Lisa Valtenbergs

Stonestreet’s Lisa Valtenbergs

The Stonestreet 2013 Estate Alexander Valley chardonnay ($34 through Artisan, not yet available on the winery website) is not a bargain, but is still good enough to rate a review. Light citrus aromas lead to tropical fruit with a touch of tangerine, pineapple and white peach on the palate. A little overwhelming. We enjoyed it, but would have liked it even more at $25.

Stonestreet’s winemaker Lisa Valtenbergs is a kid. She graduated from Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo in 2001. Watch out for her in the future. She knows her way around grapes.

And Four Pinots

There were two pinots each from Siduri and Hartford. We liked them in about the order we tasted them.

Siduri’s 2013 Russian River Valley pinot noir ($27 through Artisan, see note below) is “all too pleasant.” Butterscotch and caramel, leather and tobacco, and the essential Russian River Valley floor mingle marvelously in this one. Another bargain.

Adam and Dianna were among the first to discover the John Sebastiano vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills AVA. The 2012 edition ($40) is very nice. Intense red cherry and orange zest aromas followed by the classic “desert” flavors of dust and leather. Once again, an excellent rendition of the grapes from this newcomer.

While doing background research for this article, we noticed that Siduri is no longer selling their wines through their website. You need to sign up for their e-mail list or join one of their (two) wine clubs. I’m pretty sure we’re still on the e-mail list but will check to make sure.

Hartford Court offered their 2014 Russian River Valley blend ($35 through Artisan, not on the winery website). We found this a lighter interpretation of RRV wines. All the right elements are there, including Bing cherries, raspberries, and blueberries. But there didn’t seem to be enough “there” there. Interestingly, the Hartford website does not list this wine.

The second Hartford was the 2013 Land’s Edge Vineyard Sonoma Coast ($50 from the winery website, $35 at Artisan). Like all pinots from the original Sonoma Coast AVA, this is on the lighter side with earthy tones. Currants are the dominant theme, both red and black. Cherries and spring flowers round out a pleasant experience. But for whatever reason, the Siduris were more to our taste.



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.


Picayune 2014 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

[pullquote]In daily contact with exceptional wines and incredible winemakers, we rescue small lots from prestigious wineries and make our own blend following the French négociant tradition.[/pullquote]

We met Picayune Vineyards co-owner Jennifer Roberts at the Family Winemakers tasting in Pomona almost exactly a year ago. We loved their pinot noir and their story is great. Jennifer and her partner in wine, Claire Weinkauf, both have a long history in the California wine industry. A few years ago, after “a few too many glasses of sauvignon blanc,” they decided to open a winery. And we are all better off because of that sauvignon blanc.

The Picayune 2014 Sonoma Coast pinot noir ($29) is the bright, fresh pinots we expect from Sonoma Coast. Opening with aromas of bing cherries and rose petals, the wine develops spice, cacao, and black cherries on the palate. Luscious tannins with a great acid balance make for a terrific experience.

Picayune label

Major bargain. $15 shipping for up to six bottles in California. Jennifer and Claire are doing something interesting with shipping charges. They seem to be charging roughly actual cost. Which means those in California pay less than the rest of the country. We advise taking advantage of this price discrimination since it favors us!

Schloss Biebrich Sekt

Schloss Biebrich SektBargain of the decade.  Trader Joe’s is offering Schloss Biebrich Sekt for $5.49 a bottle.  This is a sparkler from Germany’s Henkell & Co. Gruppe. Trust us, this will not compete with any reasonable quality sparkler — from the US, France, Italy, or — yes — Germany.  But it is light, unpretentious, and very quaffable.  It’s also about 11% alcohol so you don’t have to destroy your liver.

We occasionally review serious bargains.  At this price you can afford to buy a few bottles to see if you like it.

Pinotfest 2015 Offered Four Newcomers

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

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

LaRue Wines

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

Katy Wilson Pinotfest 2015 Offered Four Newcomers

Katy Wilson

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

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

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

Lutum Wines

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

Bill Price and Gavin Chanin Pinotfest 2015 Offered Four Newcomers

Bill Price and Gavin Chanin

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

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

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

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

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

Charles Heintz

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

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

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

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

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

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

En Route Winery

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

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

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

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


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

Solvang Garagiste Festival 2016 Preview and Winery List

We’ve been looking forward to the Solvang Garagiste Festival for quite a few months.  The party will be in Solvang, about 40 miles north of Santa Barbara on the west edge of the Santa Ynez Valley.  We may even get in a return visit to Los Olivos.  As a public service we have put together a list of wineries that will be pouring (or, at least, are on the official list).  The format is Excel 2007.  We’ve included urls and bits of other information.  If you add to this data, please e-mail me your revised workbook.  Click here to download the Excel file.

We are particularly looking forward to visiting the ten wineries we’ve never heard of. In alphabetical order they are Brophy Clark, Clos des Amis, Crawford Family, el Lugar, Iter, Mollie, Ryan Cochrane, Seagrape, Weatherborne, and West of Temperance.  By our count there are 46 winemakers at this event, many from Solvang, Buellton, the Santa Ynez Valley, the Santa Maria Valley, the Santa Rita Hills, and Santa Barbara County.

Garagiste Banner Logo

(click for larger image)

Paso Garagiste 2015: Is California Running Out of Pinot Noir Grapes?

Is California running out of pinot noir grapes? That’s the question that came to mind after finally getting around to reviewing the November 7, 2015 Paso Robles Garagiste Festival. We found two new wineries offering pinot noir: Pagter Brothers Winery and Chêne Vineyards. Vinemark Cellars, RN Estate, Vino Vargas, Cutruzzola Vineyards, and Aaron Wines (the Aequorea label) are old friends that have maintained their excellent quality. We’ll discuss a few of these near the end. But first, let’s look at the newcomers.

Reminder: Norma put together an entertaining video summary of this event:

Pagter Brothers Winery

[pullquote]It takes a lot of wine to be creative, so Scott took this job seriously and “researched” a lot of wine over the years.[/pullquote]

Winemaker Scott Page Pagter was pouring their 2013 pinot noir ($40). Bing cherry aromas, hints of spice and acid on the finish, and a light cranberry palate in between. What’s not to like?

Scott Pagter at Paso Garagiste Paso Garagiste 2015: Are We Running Out of Pinot Noir Grapes?

Scott Pagter at Paso Garagiste

Scott’s background is in music. As the website puts it ↑

He began fooling around with winemaking in 2007.

His partner in the business is Ralph Gibson “Gib” Pagter, Jr. Gib is a lawyer. In his profession,

It takes a lot of wine to preserve the law of the land apparently, and he takes this job seriously as well.

This year is the winery’s first vintage release. Support the new guys!

Chêne Vineyards

David Platt and friend Paso Garagiste 2015: Are We Running Out of Pinot Noir Grapes?

David Platt and friend

David Platt, the Chêne winemaker, was behind the table with a few friends. They were offering their 2013 and 2014 pinot noirs (both $48). Tip: If you want something to drink now, go for the 2013. The 2014 needs at least another year of bottle time to develop. There’s some potential there.

The 2013 features raspberries and blackberries on the palate with a touch of spice and brambleberries on the finish. Aromas of cherries and rose petals.

And the Rest

For these, we will link to our previous, more detailed reviews.

Vinemark Cellars has released their first reserve pinot noir. Carrying the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation, Mark Wassberg claimed the grapes were clone 777 from Garys’ Vineyard. At a price of $38 this is a steal.

RN Estate poured two 2013 pinot noirs: Fiddlestix Vineyard ($55) and Solomon Hills ($49). Roger Nicolas continues to work magic, getting excellent fruit and treating it very well.

Cutruzzola Vineyards offered their 2013 “Gloria” estate pinot noir ($42). Francis Cutruzzola and Lisa Miller continue to make some of the best pinots in the state.

We’ve praised Vino Vargas’s Rio Ruso Reserve pinot noir in the past. The 2012 vintage ($45) continues Pedro and Vicky Vargas’s history of great work.

Aaron Wines uses their Aequorea label for viognier, riesling and pinot noir. Their 2014 Seafarer ($40) opens with aromas of cranberry, red apple, and tea. The palate features boysenberries with hints of spice and baking chocolate.


We got this review out just in time. In February we have a date with Garagiste Southern Exposure in Solvang.


Hall and Walt at Artisan

Our friends at Artisan Wine Depot invited us over for a tasting of Hall and Walt wines. We’ve written about Walt before (and consumed several bottles of their pinot noir) so we immediately accepted. Prices quoted are from the winery websites. Artisan’s prices are considerably lower, but those may be day-of-tasting specials. Check their website for current pricing.

Pouring at Artisan Hall and Walt at Artisan

Pouring at Artisan

It turns out that these two wineries are both projects of Kathryn Walt Hall. Walt is in Sonoma County and features chardonnay and pinot noir. Hall is in St. Helena (Napa Valley) focusing on sauvignon blanc, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon. The tasting featured sauvignon blanc, merlot and cabernet sauvignon from Hall. Walt offered a chardonnay and two pinot noirs. In an interesting side note, Hall’s Twitter hashtag is #crazygoodcabernet.

The 2014 Hall Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($24) opens with pronounced aromas of grapefruit. The palate is creamy with more grapefruit and a hint of apricot. We liked this, but would have liked it better at half the price.

Walt’s “La Brisa” 2013 Sonoma County Chardonnay ($40, not listed on the winery website) was next. High levels of butter on the nose followed by more butter flavors with a hint of honeysuckle. We felt like we needed a shot of Lipitor™ after tasting this one. We never thought we’d say this, but a bit of oak and/or more acid would have given this wine some balance.

“Blue Jay” 2013 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($40) was Walt’s next offering. Aromas of huckleberry and lavender give a clear signal of what’s coming next. With more berries and toffee on the palate, this pinot exhibits the lighter characteristics of many Anderson Valley grapes. Very nice.

“La Brisa” 2013 Sonoma County Pinot Noir ($40) was Walt’s second pinot. This wine is dark and brooding. Aromas of blackberry jam and spice are followed by a lush, mouth-filling mid-palate. Maraschino cherries with a hint of spice round out a very nice wine.

The Hall 2013 Napa Valley Merlot ($33) is about as good as a merlot can get. Cherry and raspberry aromas with a hint of pepper on the nose. Flavors of cherries and blackberries on the palate. If the price had been around $20 we would have bought a couple of bottles. If you’re a merlot lover, you won’t go wrong with this one.

Hall’s 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($55) had a hint of our favorite off-putting chemical, methoxypyrazine. But if you can handle that, this is a pretty good cab. Plum, coffee, and licorice are the featured flavors. (Artisan’s tasting notes quote Antonio Galloni describing one of the flavors as “menthol.” We think Mr. Galloni got this wrong.)

Kathryn Walt Hall

Kathryn, Craig, and Mike Hall and Walt at Artisan

Ms. Hall has been involved with the California wine industry since her family first purchased a vineyard in the 1970’s. We should all be happy that she returned to California after her time in Texas. She has had a distinguished and varied career as a successful businesswoman, attorney, and as the U.S. Ambassador to Austria. From the Hall Wines website:

Kathryn and her brother managed the family vineyard from 1982 to 1992, selling grapes to other wineries, as well as producing Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon under the label WALT Vineyards. Kathryn began her public career as assistant city attorney in Berkeley, California. Later, she joined Safeway Stores, where she was responsible for developing and administering one of the nation’s first and largest affirmative action programs. Subsequently, she worked as an attorney and businesswoman in Dallas, Texas, where she was president of an inner city development company and partner of Hall Financial Group, Inc.

From 1997 to 2001, Kathryn served as the United States Ambassador to Austria. Since her return to America, she has resumed her role as proprietor of HALL Wines along with her husband Craig. Continuing upon her experience promoting American agriculture in Austria, in September 2001 she was appointed to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Technical Advisory Committee (ATAC) for international trade and to Texas One, promoting international investment in Texas.

Kathryn serves on the Napa Legal Aid Board of Directors and is fluent in French and German, earned a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Berkeley, a joint MBA from UC California, Berkeley & Columbia University and a J.D. from the University of California, Hastings College of Law. Together with her husband Craig, they have four children.


Support local winemakers with long family traditions.  These folks are making pretty darn good wines.