California Fire Donation Resources

Woolsey Fire

Woolsey Fire (click for larger image)

It was just over a year ago that fires swept through northern California wine country.  We posted a link to various resources.  Now the fires are back.  The two largest are the Camp Fire in Butte County and the Woolsey Fire in Malibu.  There are many others.  Normally the winter rains would have started by now.  Not this year, our bad luck.  This is our very unofficial guide to California fire donation resources.

Camp Fire

Camp Fire (click for larger image)

If you’re not familiar with California geography, CALFIRE has an excellent interactive map.

People have been asking how they can help.  As of 6 pm Sunday November 11, many locations have run out of space for donations of food, blankets, and other goods.  We advise giving money, the most fungible of all products.

The list below is actually a meta-list.  These are four articles that are from reputable sources that list ways you can help.  Assistance in any form is appreciated.

Refinery 29 has the most comprehensive list.

The Sacramento Bee has a good list, focus on the Camp fire.

KTLA in Los Angeles is a good source for the Woolsey fire.

The Orange County Register is also very good.

France Visits Artisan

Martine Saunier France Visits Artisan

Martine Saunier (click for larger image)

Artisan Wine Depot was kind enough to invite us to their tasting of French wines imported by Martine Saunier. Several were impressive. None were flawed. Here’s what the company website has to say about Ms. Saunier:

Martine Saunier was born in Paris. Although she lived and attended school there, she spent every summer vacation at her aunt’s home in Prissé, near Mâcon. Her aunt owned a winery with approximately 10 acres of vineyards planted with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

The winemaker lived in the farm next door with his wife and children. The pinnacle of the summer vacation was the harvest time. By the age of 10, Martine was fascinated with the preparation of the cellar, the wine press, the fermenting vats and, of course, being part of the harvesting team. The crushing of the grapes, malolactic fermentation, bottling, etc. were all part of her childhood.

When Martine moved to the United States in 1964, she started to look for some local California wines. In 1965, she drove to Beaulieu Vineyards, knocked on the door and was lucky enough to meet the great André Tchelistcheff. He told her in his good French that if she wanted good Pinot Noir, she had to go to Burgundy to get it! The seed was planted in her mind.

Our personal favorite was the Bastide de la Ciselette 2016 Bandol Rose (Provence, $24). Floral aromas with notes of strawberries greet your nose. The palate is more strawberries with a hint of melon. We enjoyed a bottle with dinner last night.

Bastide de la Ciselette France Visits Artisan

Bastide de la Ciselette

Also rated highly was the Domaine Garnier et Fils 2015 Chablis (Burgundy, $22). This is a classic French Chablis with wet slate and flint on the palate. The nose is fragile with floral notes.

The Domaine Laporte “Le Bouquet” 2016 Rosé of Pinot Noir {Sancerre, $20) is about as good as a pinot noir rosé can be. In the past we have tasted a few rosés with the name “eye of the partridge.” This wine deserves that title. The nose is red berries, tangerine, and white pepper. Light raspberry and strawberry palate. This wine confirms the fact that we are just not very fond of pinot noir rosé.

We also are not fond of sweet wine. The Domaine de la Bergerie “Le Clos de la Bergerie “2015 Coteaux du Layon (Loire, $20) is a late-harvest chenin blanc. The nose is fabulous featuring white peaches and pears. The palate, however, is overpowered by sweetness.

Among the reds, our favorite was the Domaine Gilles Robin “Cuvee Papillon” 2015 Crozes Hermitage (Northern Rhone, $23). Unusually, this wine was tank-aged. Plums, blackberry and hints of strawberries all give way to a mouthful of flavor featuring the usual French minerality and tannins.

Ms. Saunier knows her stuff.  Thanks to Artisan for inviting us to this event.

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival

Update November 16: This article evolved into a four-part series.  Here are the links to parts 2, 3, and 4:
Part 2:
Part 3:
Part 4:

The third weekend in May we headed north for our first visit to the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival. We had reservations at The Madrones, right next door to the event. More on this unusual and fun place to stay later. First, we wanted to give our overall impression of Anderson Valley pinots.

We’re late getting this onto the blog. We have both had very busy summers, including paying customers. But now we’re back to the important stuff. In an effort to expedite posting, this will be the first of three or four reviews of this event. Never fear, we have plenty to say.

The valley is part of the main route from US highway 101 to Mendocino and the north coast. It is ideal for pinot noir and chardonnay with mountains, proximity to the ocean, and a northern latitude (39 degrees to be precise). Anderson Valley pinots tend to be somewhat lighter than most, probably due to the shorter, cooler growing season.

The Event

We highly recommend this event. It’s not just a Saturday afternoon grand tasting (although that was pretty nice despite the rain). This is a long weekend event with wineries offering special tastings and food on Sunday. We planned carefully and recommend that you do likewise. Reserve the Saturday event for wineries that don’t have tasting rooms or that are located outside the Anderson Valley. (The requirement for inclusion is a wine made from Anderson Valley grapes, not a physical presence in the region.) Spend Sunday exploring the local wineries. We promise this will be a delightful experience. If you’re of a certain age you’ll remember the Napa Valley in the 1970s and Sonoma in the 1980s. These wineries are generally informal, interesting, and owned by true individuals with unique personalities and winemaking philosophies. We’ll have a few recommendations in part 2 of this review.

The Venue

The venue was the Goldeneye Winery, conveniently located right next to our room at The Madrones. (The Indian Creek Inn is also very close, but we haven’t stayed there, so we won’t comment one way or the other.) Goldeneye is a project of the legendary Duckhorn family. Goleneye is devoted to Anderson Valley pinot. We’ll review them in part three of this article.

The Band (with Wine Bottle Player) Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival

The Band (with Wine Bottle Player)

The actual event was behind the winery in a tent that was a square tunnel. This would have allowed circulation across the center – but it was raining, sometimes heavily. Nevertheless, we persisted, wading through the crowds.

The Wines

We’ll discuss the wineries in roughly the order of our preferences. The usual disclaimers apply. We write about what we like. Tasting at an event is not the same as tasting in a more relaxed environment. And please remember we’re not getting paid for this. It’s a labor of love.

Maggy Hawk

We’ve written about this fabulous winery several times before. We started here to calibrate our taste buds. And, once again, our judgment proved correct. (Prices are not listed. Maggy Hawk wines are available only to members of the winery’s e-mail list.)

The Original Maggy Hawk Maggy Hawk Offers Money, Story, Marketing and Great Wine

The Original Maggy Hawk

The 2013 Jolie opens with aromas of black raspberry and pomegranate. On the palate this wine is light, with smoke, tobacco, and red currants.

Another 2013, Stormin’ featured excellent acid balance. Darker and more brooding than the Jolie, the nose features brambleberry and dark coffee. Flavors of chocolate with earthy undertones.

The 2012 Hawkster is the usual big fruit bomb. Scents of spice and black cherry are followed by brambleberry and anise. If you don’t like Hawkster you just plain don’t like pinot noir.


By a slim margin, Waits-Mast rates as best in show that’s new to us. In a note of serious irony, the winery is headquartered on Minnesota St. … in San Francisco (Dogpatch neighborhood). Brian Mast and Jennifer Waits specialize in single-vineyard pinots. And they do a great job. Waits-Mast Family Cellars started production in 2007.

Jennifer Mast Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival

Jennifer Mast

Their 2013 Nash Mill Vineyard ($40, 67 cases produced) features lots of spice and a hint of vanilla on the finish. A very light nose, with elements of red raspberries and cranberries.

The Wentzel Vineyard is in the hills above the Goldeneye winery. The 2013 edition ($47, 42 cases) opens with black cherry aromas leading to a spicy palate with good acid balance.

Deer Meadows Vineyard is just off Deer Meadows Road (of course). The 2013 ($58, 115 cases) is juicy, loaded with blackberry and black cherry.

You will not go wrong with any of these wines.


Co-owner Moira Conzelman greeted us with a big smile and incredible enthusiasm. And why not? Their pinots are very, very good.

Moira Conzelman Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival

Moira Conzelman

Moira and her husband Bruce started the winery in 2002. In 2007 they bought what is now Conzelman Vineyards. They sell some of the grapes to their winery and the rest to the highest bidder.

Harmonique follows the increasingly popular virtual winery business model. They use a custom crush facility for their winemaking needs. Apparently that worked as they could afford to buy the vineyard.

Their 2009 Elegancé ($48) opens with fruit forward aromas of cherries and red raspberries with a hint of spice. On the palate, the fruit darkens to by blackberry and black cherry. A long finish ends with a touch of mocha.

The 2009 “The Noble One” ($39) opens with aromas of tobacco and leather followed by a rich, full mouth feel. Flavors of dark fruit with a hint of molasses on the finish.

Grapes were sourced from vineyards in the cooler, “deep end” of Anderson Valley. Two notables are the Klindt Vineyard Pommard and 115 clones, and Conzelman Vineyard Pommard, 115, and 667 clones.

The 2009 Delicacé ($46) was our favorite of the three. Featuring a nice body, the wine is a mouth full of chocolate and black cherry with nice mineral balance.

Ardzrooni Family Wines

These folks currently are in first place for the least pronounceable winery name in California. Tip: don’t try to say it, just enjoy their terrific wine. The Ardzrooni Family farms about 600 acres in the Anderson Valley. They’ve been growing grapes in California since the late 1880s. Around 1990 they moved to Anderson Valley. But their first vintage was 2012. Current production: all of 150 cases per year. Get it while you can.

Andrea (L) and Genevieve Ardzrooni Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival

Andrea (L) and Genevieve Ardzrooni

This is truly a family operation. Paul grows the grapes and his daughter Genevieve is the winemaker. In 2009 they planted the Wendling vineyard, 20 acres of various clones of pinot noir. They also farm the Farrington vineyard, giving them sources for terrific grapes.

The 2013 “Genevieve’s Blend” ($32, 120 cases) combines grapes from the Farrington and Wendling vineyards. Aromas of black cherry and licorice lead to black cherries and more licorice on the palate. A long, spicy finish makes this our first BARGAIN of the event.

The 2014 Wendling Vineyard (not on web site) features lots of spice with a good balance, “I like that” says Norma.


Founders Matt Licklider and Kevin O’Connor combined their last names to create LIOCO. From the website:

We met in 2001, when Kevin was wine director at Spago-Beverly Hills, and Matt was the national sales director for North Berkeley Imports. The alley behind the restaurant served as a makeshift tasting area and the rain gutter as a spit bucket. Our friendship was immediate and easy, and it didn’t take long for conversations about Burgundy, Piedmont, and Rhone to evolve into ideas about winemaking here at home.

OK, these two guys have serious credibility. And they get more kudos for their extensive coverage of their vineyard sources.

Emily Virgil Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival

Emily Virgil

Emily Virgil was behind the table, pouring tastes and giving background. Here’s what we thought.

The 2014 La Selva Pinot Noir is a blend of Anderson Valley grapes:

From a selection of premier Anderson Valley sites including Cozelman & Cerise. Pinot Noir clones Pommard, 115, 667 and 777 planted in varied soils of decomposed sandstone, clay, and fractured rock in elevations ranging from 400-1100 feet. Along with an omnipresent marine influence, this valley is defined by the presence of old growth redwood trees. La Selva means ‘the forest’ in Spanish.

Aromas of anise, mulberry, dried oregano followed by red currant, and dried strawberry on the palate. Not for the faint of heart!

We’ll review wines from Knez in part three  of this review. It happens that Knez owns the Cerise vineyard. And LIOCO’s 2013 Cerise Vineyard is a good representation of these grapes. (We also tasted and bought a few bottles of the Knez Winery Cerise. Be patient.) The LIOCO version features bing cherries and strawberries with a good acid balance. This vineyard is above Boonville where it gets more sun than the Klindt Vineyard.

Speaking of which, the 2012 Klindt vineyard is the best of the three. Located at the deep end of the valley, this is a tough place to grow anything, much less pinot noir grapes. But the Klindts persisted, helped by Matt and Kevin. More cranberries with bing cherries and some earthy elements on the nose, followed by pickled plum, chinese five spice, and fresh chanterelle palate. Unusual and tasty. But get it while you can. The Klindt vineyard has been sold and their grapes will not be available to LIOCO in the foreseeable future.

Matt Licklider and Kevin O'Connor Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival

Matt Licklider and Kevin O’Connor


We’ve reviewed five wineries from the Saturday event. We have at least five more to go; that will be part two. After that, we’ll look at the local wineries we discovered Sunday. By then it will probably be 2017.

The Best Single Malt Whisky in the World Is Made In Waco, Texas

The best single malt whisky in the world is made in Waco, Texas.  Specifically in a former welding shop under a bridge.  Today, CaliforniaWineFan departs from our exclusive focus to honor the single-malt whisky market.  From, here’s a description of the location:

A quarter mile from downtown Waco, Texas, in a neighborhood of long abandoned storefronts, is a small, rusted-metal shed hidden beneath the 17th Street Bridge. The one-time welding shop sits in between the overpass’ enormous support pillars, next to a white trailer. It’s a safe bet none of the drivers know they’re speeding over the worldwide headquarters of Balcones Distilling, the maker of the finest new whiskey in America.

Owner Chip Tate is part of the growing artisanal spirits industry in the U.S.  More from Forbes:

Balcones’ arrival was first heralded by its distiller-of-the-year awards in 2012 (from Whisky Magazine and the Craft Distillers’ Association) and then by the single malt’s first-place finish in the 2012 Best in Glass competition, a British contest that names the best whisky released each year. Balcones was the first American distiller to capture the highest honor, defeating such venerable brands as Johnnie Walker, Macallan and Balvenie. The underdog victory was reminiscent of the so-called “Judgment of Paris,” a 1976 blind taste test in which California Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay for the first time defeated a slew of French wineries. Moreover, the win showed that the finest new whiskey in the world doesn’t come from Scotland or Japan or Bourbon County, but from under a bridge in Waco.

Congratulations to Mr. Tate for competing in a very exclusive field.  A few decades back I was a big fan of single-malts.  I may just have to break down and try Balcones’s product.  And, a note to Forbes writer Abram Brown about this:

It is the unmatured form of his Texas Single Malt Whisky—Tate prefers the Scottish spelling, without the “e”—the drink that put Balcones on the map.

Ahem.  Whisky is the word used to describe what many countries call Scotch.  Whiskey refers to all other spirits distilled from a grain mash.  Bourbon, rye, and similar products are whiskey.  Mr. Tate is making whisky.

Rhine and Mosel Visit Artisan

Saturday, March 1, we seized the opportunity to visit Artisan Wine Depot’s new store in Los Gatos

The event was a tasting of German wines from the southwestern Rhine and Mosel regions.  We arrived with great anticipation.  We were not disappointed. The Rhine and Mosel visit Artisan with great success.

Artisan Los Gatos

Artisan Los Gatos

Our History With This Region

We have fond memories of travelling through this area in conjunction with our presentations at the American Association of Wine Economists‘ inaugural meeting in Trier.

Trier Roman Thermes set up for Reisling and Gerwurtztraminer

AAWE tastes German wines in the Trier ancient Roman Thermes


[pullquote]Trocken is German for dry, … On a wine label, it indicates a wine that is dry rather than off-dry (halbtrocken), sweeter (lieblich) or sweet (süß). Technically, trocken wines are not devoid of residual sugar, but have, at most, a few grams per liter, which can be perceptible but is not overtly sweet.[/pullquote]

From Wikipedia→

The first pair of wines were 2012 Riesling Trocken (dry Riesling) from Dr. Loosen and Weingut Robert Weil.

Dr. Loosen’s “Red Slate” (Mosel, $16,  BARGAIN) opened with citrus aromas veering toward white peaches.  On the palate there are flavors of blood orange with just a hint of pear.  The wine is produced exclusively from estate-owned vineyards in Ürzig and Erden that have the iron-rich red slate soil, then fermented naturally in 3,000-liter casks.  According to our host, this wine is made with “a lot of technology, stainless steel, highly managed fermentation, giving a clean, fruity style.”

The Robert Weil (Rhinegau, $26) was less to our taste with more acid and less fruit. Our host freely admitted the presence of petroleum distillates in the aroma, easily detectable by both of us, and not a feature we enjoy. Lots of minerality here for those that enjoy slate. In contrast to the Dr. Loosen, the Weil is made in a more traditional manner, fermented in giant oak barrels and using natural yeast. Those petroleum aromas make us wonder about the provenance of those barrels.  Did, perhaps, some fir trees go into their manufacture?  Retsina, anyone? Not surprisingly we liked the high-tech wine better.

The First Six

The First Six

 Halb Trocken

Moving slightly up the sweetness scale, Weingut Fritz Haag offered a 2012 Riesling Estate (Mosel, $27).  This wine is a “Feinherb,” the word that describes the balance between sugar and acidity, usually indicating the wine is Halb Trocken, or “semi-dry.” This wine meets that description precisely with excellent sugar-acid balance. Aromas and flavors of green apple, white peach and pineapple are followed by a spicy, slightly smoky finish.


[pullquote]Kabinett (literal meaning: cabinet) … [are] … wine[s] … made from fully ripened grapes of the main harvest, typically picked in September, and are usually made in a light style. In the German wine classification system, Kabinett is the lowest level of Prädikatswein, lower in ripeness than Spätlese.[1] A German Kabinett is semi-sweet (lieblich) by default, but may be dry (trocken) or off-dry (halbtrocken) if designated so.[/pullquote]

The next wines were Kabinett.  This is a broad category, as explained by Wikipedia

First up was another from Fritz Haag, a 2012 Riesling Kabinett Brauneberger (Mosel, $27). Smoke on the nose is followed by flavors of yellow peaches, honeydew melon and oranges, with hints of caramel. The finish shows honey and anise.

Dr. Loosen also offered a 2012 Riesling Kabinett “Bernkasteler Lay” (Mosel, $24). Juicy and racy, with bright, engaging flavors of green apple, key lime and pear.

Maximin Grunhauser finally broke the string of 2012s with a 2011 Riesling Kabinett Herrenberg (Mosel, $29). We were not fond of this one.


[pullquote]Spätlese (literal meaning: “late harvest”…) is a … wine from fully ripe grapes, the lightest of the late harvest wines. Spätlese is a riper category than Kabinett in the Prädikatswein category of the German wine classification … Spätlese is below Auslese in terms of ripeness. The grapes are picked at least 7 days after normal harvest, so they are riper and have a higher must weight. Because of the weather, waiting to pick the grapes later carries a risk of the crop being ruined by rain. However, in warm years and from good sites much of the harvest will reach Spätlese level.[/pullquote]

From Wikipedia

Dr. Loosen was back again with a 2012 Riesling Spatlese “Urziger Wurzgarten” (Mosel, $26). Aromas of ginger followed by flavors of pineapple, dried apricot and pear, accented by gooseberry hints. Ripe melon and spice round out a very pleasant experience.

Weingut Robert WeiI offered a 2012 Riesling Spatlese “Tradition” (Rheingau, $39).  If you like citrus and minerality, this is the wine for you. Add the touch of lavender on the finish and you have another very nice wine..

The third Spatlese was from Weingut Fritz Haag 2012 Riesling Spatlese BraunebergerJuffer (Mosel, $30). Aromas of bing cherry, almond blossom and hazelnut. The flavor is tinged with herbs, nuts and vanilla with undertones of slate.

Overall, this was our favorite category.  We would happily drink any of these three wines!

 ... and the Last Four

… and the Last Four


From Wikipedia:

Auslese (literal meaning: “selected harvest”…) is a late harvest wine, … riper … than Spätlese in the Prädikatswein category of the Austrian and German wine classification. The grapes are picked from selected very ripe bunches in the autumn (late November-early December), and have to be hand picked. Generally Auslese wine can be made in only the best harvest years that have been sufficiently warm. A small proportion of the grapes may be affected by noble rot [botrytis fungal infection] in some regions although this never dominates the character of the wine.

Our old pal Dr. Loosen is back with a 2011 Riesling Auslese “Erdener Treppchen” (Mosel, $55). Very rich and honeyed, this is loaded with a gorgeous array of mango and pineapple flavors, as well as peach and apricot.  A great dessert wine but you’ll need to visit your dentist the next day.


Treats Await Through That Door!

Treats Await Through That Door!

The Los Gatos branch of Artisan is more open with light and air.  In the Mountain View store, we always tread carefully in fear of knocking bottles off the racks.  The Los Gatos location is a welcome addition to south peninsula shopping!

RN Estate Vertical “Cuvee des Trois Cepages”

Sunday night we opened two of Roger Nicolas’s blends, the “Cuvee des Trois Cepages” 2010 and 2011 vintages.  The two could not be more different, each excellent in its own way.  This was our RN Estate vertical “Cuvee des Trois Cepages.”

The two vintages are nearly identical blends.  The 2010 is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot and 13% Cabernet Franc. The 2011 is ever so slightly different with 70% cabernet sauvignon, 16% merlot, and 14% cabernet franc.

The 2010 ($55) features aromas of black cherries, plums and black licorice with a palate of anise, crushed sage, but overwhelmingly dark fruit. Soft tannins on the finish make for a wonderful experience.

The 2011 is more austere, needing some time to breathe. The aroma is lighter with elements of leather and brambleberries.  On the palate the tannins are noticeable but not overpowering with good acid balance.  The finish is long and enjoyable.  As we were tasting it, Norma pointed out that I had written “2019” on the bottle.  Have to check the cellar to see if we have more.  (This wine is not currently listed on the RN Estate website.)


Luli Wines Are Welcome Additions

After a tasting at Artisan Wine Depot, we were shopping the pinot noir aisle.  On a whim we picked up a bottle of Luli 2012 pinot noir.  We were very lucky. Luli wines are welcome additions to the fine pinot noir category.

Luli Pinot Noir 2012 (Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County, California). Bought at Artisan February 12, 2014. Aromas of sweet cherries, rose petals and leather.  Black cherry palate with a hint of licorice.  Long finish with silky tannins.  A bargain at $20. The winemaker is Jeff Pisoni.

So who are the geniuses behind Luli?  Well, the winemaker is Jeff Pisoni.  That last name should tell you a lot about Luli’s credentials.

From the company’s website:

We live wine. We are a master sommelier, grapegrowers and winemakers. Our partnership—Sara Floyd and the Pisoni Family—came together from different aspects of the wine business. Sara is a Master Sommelier, the owner of Swirl Wine Brokers and has a long history in wine and restaurants. The Pisoni Family is known for its eponymous vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands and for Pisoni Estate and Lucia wines. Deciding that we would make a great team and noting the shortage of handcrafted wines at reasonable prices, we set out to create a new line of wines that you would love, at prices you can afford. We seek high quality fruit and craft exceptional wines.

The Luli wines are made from vineyards in or near the Santa Lucia Highlands. Our goal is to showcase the beauty of our region with wines of consistent quality. We source and purchase grapes from lifelong friends in the area, and are therefore able to maintain a close eye on the farming. The wine production, aging and bottling are done entirely at our own winery.

Highly recommended.