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Garagiste Returns to Its Roots in Paso Robles

And not a minute too soon! In the last few months we’ve managed to break two of our Garagiste glasses. That made attending the Paso Robles event an imperative. So we did. This is our overview. We will post reviews of individual wineries over the next few weeks.

Along with several hundred of our best friends, we witnessed Garagiste returns to its roots in Paso Robles. For those who don’t remember, this is a key event to discover new, small wineries. Some will go on to great success. See Pence Ranch and Lazarre Wines. Many are happy producing below the 1,500 case limit for Garagiste participation. Virtually all have online ordering and shipping to states that allow it.

Garagiste crowd Garagiste Returns to Its Roots in Paso Robles

Garagiste crowd. Click for larger image.

Pinot Noir

We tasted eight wineries’ pinot noirs:

Name and Link to Winery Page Review Link
Amrita Cellars
Cayucos Cellars
Demeter Family Cellars
Dusty Nabor
Entnyre Wines
Hayseed & Housdon
Seven Angels Cellars
Volatus Winery

Our favorites were Volatus, Entnyre, and Seven Angels. But you will be happy with pinots from any of these folks.

Best Labels

The award for best labels goes to Innate Wines. Sadly, they do not produce a pinot noir. We made a mistake not tasting their wines because it looks like they distribute exclusively in South Carolina with no direct sales. Luckily, we picked up a business card from Nathan DeCamps, owner, winemaker, and likely chief bottle-washer. We’ll contact him to get his story.

Chardonnay

This was the surprise of the event. We like chardonnays with minimal oak and no butter. (We’ll make an exception for the rare butterscotch.) Every single one of the chardonnays we tasted has nice notes of honeydew melon in the aromas and on the palate. They vary with the amount and type of citrus, with an occasional note of herbs.

Name and Link to Winery Page Review Link
Hayseed & Housdon
MEA Wine
Optio Vineyards
Seven Angels Cellars
Torch Cellars
Volatus Winery

Conclusion

Goodbye to another Garagiste Garagiste Returns to Its Roots in Paso Robles

Goodbye to another Garagiste. Click for larger image.

This was one of the most exciting Garagiste festivals we have attended. We look forward to drinking their wines over the next few years.

 




A Passion 4 Pinot – The Palm Springs Pinot Fest Part 1

Our friends at Maggy Hawk were kind enough to forward an invitation to this event. So on January 7 we checked into the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa in Palm Desert right next to Palm Springs. Our goal: “A Passion 4 Pinot” – The Palm Springs Pinot Fest held the next day.

Marriott Resort A Passion for Pinot - the Palm Springs Pinot Fest Part 1

Yes, we know it’s mid-March. Life stuff happens. And we waited for our order from one winery to be delivered so we could be sure it was as good as we thought. We’re just happy to have attended and get to write about it. This is part 1. There will be several more forthcoming.

Your faithful correspondents A Passion for Pinot - the Palm Springs Pinot Fest Part 1

Your faithful correspondents

We’ll start with the two we rated best in show. One, Beau Marchais, is a joint venture between the late Philippe Cambie and Adam Lee, founder of Siduri and one of the first to develop small-batch single-vineyard techniques. The second, Domaine Della, is a project of David J. Hejl, former CEO of Kosta Brown. A warning: these wines are not cheap. Most Beau Marchais wines are $95 per bottle. Single-vineyard pinots from Domaine Della are a relative bargain at $85. While we would never call that price point a bargain, all the wines we tasted deliver value for the money. Regular readers know this is quite an exception for us. Our taste buds usually give out around $75 a bottle. These wines were eye-openers.

We’ll start with the wines then take a look at the venue. But first, a quick look at some of the tasty bites on the menu.

Tasty bite A Passion for Pinot - the Palm Springs Pinot Fest Part 1

Tasty bite

The Wineries

You may have noticed this article has been revised.  Our coverage of events will henceforth be broken into several parts.  There will be an introduction — what you’re reading now — followed by a list of wineries we plan to review.  Each winery will be linked to its home page and our review.  We hope this will be more convenient for both readers and winery owners.  Click here to see the list of wineries.

The Venue

In January California still required masks for indoor events. The organizers solved this problem by moving onto a patio at the Marriott.

The Venue A Passion for Pinot - the Palm Springs Pinot Fest Part 1

The Venue

The JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa is truly spectacular. A moat runs through the lobby, with boat service available to some of the restaurants and other ground floor amenities. And the place is huge. Our bellman said he walks about fifteen miles a day. We did not match that, but we did walk 3 miles the day we arrived just exploring. The following day we “only” managed 1.6 miles as we spent most of the afternoon at the Pinot Fest.

Marriott Pools A Passion for Pinot - the Palm Springs Pinot Fest Part 1

Marriott Pools

We would be remiss if we did not mention Saturday dinner at the Rockwood Grill. Weather permitting, try to sit outside as the room is noisy even when only a few tables are occupied. The staff could not have been more helpful and accommodating. And the food was terrific. While it’s not cheap, you can spend a lot more at other places with food that is not as good. We paid $100 excluding tip and wine.

Rockwood Grill A Passion for Pinot - the Palm Springs Pinot Fest Part 1

Rockwood Grill

Conclusion

We only hope the organizers do this again next spring. We recommend this even for anyone who wants to taste pinots that are hard to find and/or very high priced.

 




A Passion 4 Pinot — the Wineries

Here’s the list of wineries we plan to write about.  If you’re really curious about a specific entry, e-mail us and we’ll try to move it up our priority list.

Winery Home Page

California Wine Fan Review




Lando Wines

We were greeted by Sam Lando, founder, owner, and winemaker at Lando Wines. These folks only make Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley pinot noirs. Our bliss point!

Sam Lando Lando Wines

Sam Lando

Sam was pouring three pinots: 2019 Sonoma Coast ($69), 2019 Russian River Valley ($57), and the 2018 Truth & Valor Sonoma Coast. (Prices are from wine-searcher.com) Joining a growing crowd of wineries, Lando offers allocations to those on their mailing list twice a year, spring and fall.

Lando bottles Lando Wines

(click for larger image)

The Sonoma Coast blend opens with red raspberry and cherries on the nose. On the palate, blueberry, chocolate, and savory spice. Smooth, long finish. We liked it!

Truth & Valor is more complex as you’d expect. This is lighter, with noticeable tannins. Lay it down for a few years. Features an unusual delicate mouthfeel. The palate is red raspberries, black cherries, leather, land black pepper. Delicious!

The Russian River Valley blend was bigger with more dense flavor than the Sonoma Coast. Bright red and black cherries on the nose continue to the palate. As the flavor develops, minerals, earth and light herb notes emerge. The finish features some tannins, good acidity and good balance. Wait a year or two for the tannins to integrate and this will be even better.

The Lando Story

Sam was working for an unnamed winery where he fell in love with pinot noir. We’ll let him tell the story.

After working for five years with one of the most sought after Russian River Valley Pinot Noir producers, he departed at the end of 2012.

In the middle of the 2012 vintage, Sam and his wife Jennifer decided to take the leap and take the winemaking hobby to the next level. They borrowed against their savings and began building the foundation to develop a small Pinot Noir focused winery. The goal is to make intense, yet elegant and balanced wines from the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations. They push themselves to make great wines they enjoy drinking and take great pride in sharing with their dear friends.

Sam and Jennifer headed to Sebastopol with their kids Henry and Emma. They’ve been producing 1,500 cases a year until 2021 when output fell to 700 cases. Blame COVID.

Jennifer, Henry, and Emma Lando Wines

Jennifer, Henry, and Emma

Lando uses a custom crush facility in Healdsburg, leaving him free to track down good fruit. Sam told us that his biggest problem is that they “can’t make wine fast enough.” He also bemoaned the recent hikes in costs. Despite producing about half the 2020 production in 2021, the total cost of labels increased by 255%. Bottles were hard to find. Apparently supply chain issues even affect high-end wineries.

Get on their mailing list and buy some wine. You will not regret it.

 




A Passion 4 Pinot — Domaine Della

Domaine Della uses the allocation system. There is no wine club per se. Sign up for their e-mail list and they will notify you when wines are available. There is a deadline for ordering. We ordered four bottles and received them last week.

David Hejl and friend A Passion for Pinot - the Palm Springs Pinot Fest Part 1

David Hejl and friend

David J. Hajl is the founder and driving force behind Domaine Della. We are fortunate that during his time with Nabisco he was assigned to the Paris office. Before that he worked his way through college working as a waiter, sommelier, and chef. He left Nabisco to join a private equity firm. In 2010 he bought a ton of grapes and made his first two barrels of wine for personal consumption. That was the beginning of the end of his career in finance. In 2011 he accepted the CEO job at Kosta Brown. Not a bad entry level position! While there he got the idea for Domaine Della and began to explore it. Let him describe what happened next.

In 2015, I left Kosta Browne as she was no longer my project, she became my passion and obsession. I have been crafting distinctive Pinot Noir and Chardonnay ever since.

Della was David’s mother. Her favorite flower was the iris. Hence its presence on the winery’s labels.

Domaine Della Bottles

David was pouring three pinots: a 2018 Sonoma Coast blend ($72), a 2019 Graham Family Vineyard (Russian River Valley, $85), and a 2019 Terra de Promissio (Sonoma Coast, $85). All three are terrific and unique.

The Graham Family Vineyard opens with aromas of violets, black cherry, black raspberry, and licorice. On the palate, more black raspberry with notes of earthiness and cinnamon. A long, complex finish with elements of cinnamon and a perfect acid balance.

By contrast, the Terra de Promissio opens with aromas of blueberry, black cherry, red raspberry and spice. The palate is black cherry and black raspberry with undertones are blueberry and cranberry. The mid-palate features earthiness and black tea. A lingering velvet finish rounds out the experience.

The Sonoma Coast blend features aromas of bing cherry, raspberry, strawberry, and spice. The palate is light, characteristic of the best Sonoma Coast pinots. The palate features more cherries with bright acidity.

David and sons A Passion for Pinot - the Palm Springs Pinot Fest Part 1

David and sons

We are very happy to welcome Mr. Hajl to our list of outstanding pinot noir producers.

 




A Passion 4 Pinot — Beau Marchais

From the website:

Beau Marchais Winery began on a summer evening in July of 2018 in the town of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. I was fortunate enough to be invited to Philippe Cambie’s home for dinner and during that meal, Philippe said, “I’ve always dreamed of making Pinot Noir.” I must confess, I adored his words. Here is one of the most successful winemakers in the world, saying what he dreamed of doing. It easily could have been, “I think I can make really good Pinot Noir” or, “I can be successful making Pinot Noir,” but, instead, it was about his dream of making Pinot Noir.

Sadly, M. Cambie passed away on December 18, 2021. Adam was still mourning the loss when we talked briefly with him at the event.  And he recently announced that this year would be the last vintage for Beau Marchais.  Adam doesn’t feel that he can continue without M. Cambie’s collaboration.

Adam Lee

Adam Lee A Passion for Pinot - the Palm Springs Pinot Fest Part 1

Adam Lee

Adam was pouring their 2019 Soberanes Vineyard (Santa Lucia Highlands, $95). This wine is delicious and will reward those with the patience to age it for a few years. Aromas of orange combine with blackberry in a unique combination. On the palate, fig, chocolate and light roast coffee beans. There is a nice spice finish with fine tannins and great acid balance.

 




Garagiste Sonoma 2022 Overview

On April 30, we made the trek to the town of Sonoma for the Garagiste Sonoma 2022.  It had been a few years since we covered this marvelous event.  And we were not disappointed.  Here’s a sample of the scene:

We made some new friends and found some terrific new wineries.  Thanks to the organizers, especially Melanie Webber, for putting this together and helping us with our production.

Crowd 1 Garagiste Sonoma 2022 Overview

This is the overview.  By our count, there were 42 wineries.  We managed to visit about 12. We’ll post a list of wineries with a link soon.




Dinner at the Siduri Warehouse

Overview

Music, mood and mirth with plenty of wine at Siduri’s warehouse winery again! This year CaliforniaWineFan.com staff imbibed a Lemoravo single-vineyard pinot noir that was new to us. It’s been around for a couple of years, but with a couple score of wines in the Siduri line-up, it can be hard to keep up. Lemoravo 2017 – from the Santa Lucia highland area – is full-bodied and smooth with the recognizable characteristic flavors of pinots from the region. We took some home from the event to Silicon Valley and plan on acquiring more. This year the new winemaker – Matt Revelette – hosted the proceedings. Founder Adam Lee is now the “pinot noir ambassador” for the Jackson Family Collection global wineries.

Before getting into the details, here’s an overview video for your enjoyment.

The Event

Lemoravo Dinner at the Siduri Warehouse

(click for larger image)

On December 14, 2019 we made the trek to Santa Rosa for the annual Siduri holiday dinner. Great food, friendly crowd, terrific wine and – bonus – an excellent duo creating music. We’ll review this event in more or less chronological order. Tasting notes will be interspersed with a description of the goings-on.

The first wine was the 2016 Van der Kamp Sonoma Mountain. Aromas of bright bing cherries with a hint of red raspberry. The palate is somewhat astringent with nice acid balance. Hold on to this one for another year. (Confession: in March we bought out the last of the 2015 vintage. Absolutely terrific.)

Moving right along, the 2016 Soberanes Santa Lucia Highlands is the real deal. Aromas of spice, cranberries, and not-quite-ripe strawberries lead to sage and dark fruit on the palate. The finish is extraordinary with flavors of baking spices and oak.

An Elf Pays a Visit

The tasting was delightfully interrupted by one of Santa’s elves. Nora Linville does a bit of everything at Siduri. Kathy and Mark Williams helped with the lively ensuing conversation. Nora was (and likely is) a real character!

 Dinner at the Siduri Warehouse

(click for larger image)

The previously mentioned 2016 Lemoravo Santa Lucia Highlands opens with earthy, leathery, complex aromas. On the palate bing cherries with cranberry undertones. This one is great with steak.

Conversations From Wildfires to Kentucky Bourbon

We ran into some local residents and spent quite a bit of time talking about the wildfires that have plagued Sonoma and Napa counties for the past few years. We agreed that the situation needs to be improved, hopefully with the help of the U.S. Forest Service and various California agencies. As things stand now there have been decades of virtually no forest management. That means dead trees and lots of dry brush, creating a tinderbox. (If you’re not familiar with California there is virtually no rain from April through October. Late in the dry season moisture levels in the vegetation are very low. Which is why September through November is fire season.)

One surprising topic of agreement was Williamson Wines. We all agreed that the Williamson business model was terrific. Don’t bother with retail, just use a wine club and create a terrific tasting room experience.

The Sierra del Mar 2016 was earthier with aromas of dark fruit. More dark fruit on the palate with a nice spice overlay.

At dinner we were fortunate to be seated next to Sherrie, the wine club coordinator. She and her husband Chris are immigrants from Georgia (the state, not the country). Their daughter Sara attended the University of Kentucky on a full scholarship. When she graduated, the family did the full bourbon trail. “Oh my God we had so much fun.”

Which seems an apt summary of our evening at Siduri.

 




Belden Barns Hosting Virtual Wine Tasting

Belden Barns is hosting a series of virtual wine tastings starting at the end of March.  Here’s the idea.  You order wine from them.  Then you participate in the virtual tasting via Zoom.  But you have to move fast if you want the 11 bottle package with one bottle of each wine.  Orders must be placed by MARCH 19 (tomorrow as I type this). Added bonus: a 35 percent discount on those 11 bottle near-cases. Click here for the order page.  Also a pdf version of the complete e-mail is at the end of this article.

Here’s what Nate and Lauren say:

In other, more exciting news, beginning on Sunday, March 29th, Nate and I will be hosting free virtual wine tastings every Sunday evening at 5 to 6pm PST.  Each week, we’ll explore a new varietal/bottling from our portfolio, inviting participants to weigh in on attributes like taste, appearance, and perfect pairing ideas.  On the agenda will be fun experiments to explore how the taste of wine changes when paired with different random items from your stockpile (think: beans, marshmallows, rice, peanut butter, popcorn, mac & cheese, etc).  We’ll also include fun questions like “Which song would go best with this wine?” and “If this wine were to come to life as a celebrity, who might it be?”

And here’s the schedule.
Sunday, March 29th      Sauvignon Blanc
Sunday, April 5th           Pinot Noir (a comparison between our Estate and Serendipity bottlings)
Sunday, April 12th         Gruner Veltliner
Sunday, April 19th         Rosé
Sunday, April 26th         Grenache
Sunday, May 3rd           Blanc de Noirs (sparkling!)
Sunday, May 10th         Syrah (a comparison between our Estate and Cadabra bottlings)
Sunday, May 17th         Chardonnay
Sunday, May 24th         Late-Harvest Viognier

Here’s the pdf of the e-mail.

Belden Barns virtual tasting




Dinner at Siduri Preview

On December 14, 2019 we made the trek to Santa Rosa for the annual Siduri holiday dinner.  Great food, friendly crowd, terrific wine and – bonus – an excellent duo creating music.

We’ll get into the details in a future post. For now, here’s an overview video for your enjoyment.




Piper-Heidsieck Visits Chef Chu’s With Artisan

Our friends at Artisan Wine Depot invited us to a special food and champagne pairing on September 19. The champagne was from Piper-Heidsieck with their local expert and evangelist Kyle Kaplan.  Food pairings were from the legendary Larry Chu who also put in several appearances.  Chef Chu’s has been a fixture in Los Altos (CA) for 48 years.  It was the first restaurant I visited that fused California cuisine with traditional Chinese recipes.  If you’re ever in the neighborhood, this landmark is worth a special trip. We put together a video montage of this event.

There were nine champagnes on the menu.  Five were vintages, including four with the coveted “Cuvee Rare” designation. Those included the 2007 Brut Rose, the 1988 Brut, the 1998 Brut (magnums only), and the 2002 Brut.  A fifth vintage, the 2008 Brut was actually our favorite.  We bought half a case.

Cuvee Rare is a special designation for vintages that are exceptional.  There is a special label, affixed by hand, for these vintages.

Cuvee Rare

(click for larger image)

Kyle got to (literally) show off his chops by demonstrating how to open a champagne bottle with a sabre.  The image below doesn’t do the event justice.  Watch the video above to get the full impact.

Sabre Bottle Opening

(click for larger image)

 




Garagiste Northern Exposure in Sonoma Preview Part 2

This is part 2 of our preview of Garagiste Northern Exposure.  We advise reading Part 1 first if you haven’t already.

As an overview note, many wineries were pouring 2013 and/or 2014 vintages.  We preferred the 2013’s by and large.

Gregory James Wines is, like several others, named after owner Jim Demuth and winemaker Greg Adams. Their pal Jenny greeted us and gave us the rundown on the wines and the winery.  She was pouring two 2014 pinots.  The Hawk Hill Vineyard ($48) and the Patchy Fog Vineyard ($31) are both on the western edge of the Sonoma Coast AVA just outside Freestone, a town south of Occidental and west of Sebastopol.  In other words, terrific terroir.  And the wines are excellent.

 

Fallon Place Wines was represented by winemaker Cory Michal.  The winery is named after Fallon Place on Russian Hill in San Francisco, one of the famous staircase walkways in the city.  Cory used to make a barrel of wine on the landing outside his apartment when he lived there.  Luckily for us, he turned professional.  His 2016 Herbitage Vineyard ($38) is an excellent representative of the Carneros AVA.  It will improve over the next few years, so be patient.

 

Betwixt Wines featured owner-winemaker Tim Tello.  They, too, are located in San Francisco.  Their 2015 pinot noir ($40) is from Anderson Valley’s Helluva Vineyard (say it out loud).  Tim makes about 450 cases per year including grenache, grenache rosé, and chardonnay.  The pinot is all of 85 cases so get it while you can.

 

La Pitchoune Winery was our last stop of the day.  Owner Tracy Nielsen greeted us with enough enthusiasm to bolster our flagging energy.  They featured two pinots, both 2014.  One is a Sonoma Coast blend ($48).  The other is from the Holder Vineyard in the Russian River Valley ($68).  Tracy offered us their 2017 Sonoma Coast vin gris of pinot noir ($28), a heavier style of rosé.  That process preserves more of the pinot character while still retaining rosé quaffability.  All three wines were as charming as Tracy herself.  Incidentally, La Pitchoune is a Provençal expression for “the little one”, deriving from the Occitan word pichon.  It’s also the name Julia and Paul Child gave to their cottage in Provence.  Which, by the way, you can now rent on AirBnB. (For our regular readers, Tracy is quite familiar with Picayune Cellars. We’ve written about them several times.)




Garagiste Northern Exposure in Sonoma Preview Part 1

On May 12 we traveled north to the town of Sonoma for the first Garagiste event north of Paso Robles: Garagiste Northern Exposure.  And we were not disappointed.  We found eight new wineries, each producing at least one pinot noir.  Quality varied from very good to outstanding.  This is part 1 of our summary in roughly the order we tasted the wines.  We’ll publish part 2 followed by more in-depth articles about individual wineries in the future.

As an overview note, many wineries were pouring 2013 and/or 2014 vintages.  We preferred the 2013’s by and large.

Burning Bench Cellars owner, grapegrower, winemaker, and bottle washer David Mease greeted us.  These folks only make pinot noir.  And it’s really good.  All 175 cases per year are from their Moon Hill Vineyard in the North Coast, Marin County AVA.  The 2013 and 2014 vintages are $45 each.

 

Camlow Cellars offers their Magna Porcum Estate Pinot Noir. Yes, that’s a wild boar in their logo.  The winery name is a hybrid of the names of owner Alan Campbell and winemaker Craig Strehlow.  They make all of 400 cases per year, including a pinot noir rosé featuring the winery mascot, Pigasus.

 

Von Holt Wines featured two 2014 pinots, both Sonoma Coast.  The Sonoma Coast blend is $35, while the Suacci Vineyard is $45.  Both are excellent.  Co-owner Chris Von Holt probably has no problem collecting his accounts receivable.  The winery is his second career.  He retired after 20 years as a Secret Service agent.  (The other co-owner is his wife Pam.)

 

Charlie Chenoweth greeted us with an amazing story about Chenoweth Wines.  Charlie grew up in agriculture.  In 1980 they ripped out their vegetables and planted grapes. And we sure are happy they did.  Their pinots are a blend of three vineyards: Treehouse, Bootlegger’s, and the estate Home Ranch.  The 2013 is $55 and the 2014 is $65.

 

More coming, hopefully next week.




Cabana Winery and Bistro at Family Winemakers 2017

Cabana is the first of two central valley wineries we visited at Family Winemakers 2017. (Dancing Coyote is the second.) Located in East Sacramento, the official name is Cabana Winery and Bistro. According to several reviews (here and here), the bistro operation is worthy of a standalone restaurant. But, naturally, we’ll focus on their wine.

Cabana is the product of Bob Smerling. After founding and running Renwood Winery (Amador County) for17 years, his daughters Sarah and Kelly convinced him to strike out on his own. With his wife Irene, he opened Cabana in 2013.

Sarah and Kelly Smerling

Sarah and Kelly Smerling

Bob likes the East Sacramento location for several reasons. First, there is easy access to grapes from Napa, Sonoma, Lodi, and the Sierra foothills region. Second, he likes the idea of urban wineries. He discovered that after a visit to Santa Barbara. Current production is 6,000 cases aiming for 9,000.

Cabana makes 14 different wines. But we’ll only review one, their California pinot noir. Sadly, our review is too late for you to take advantage of their August pinot madness sale.  This terrific wine was offered at $100 per case.  But I predict there will be more available next August.

Cabana’s 2014 California pinot noir does not raise expectations on the nose. The aromas are flat. But the palate is dense chocolate with notes of coffee. The wine is 100% pinot noir, 30% Carneros and 70% Lodi grapes. As Bob described it, “You get the barnyard from Lodi, you get the body and aroma from Napa.”

If you’re in the Sacramento area, these folks are worth a visit. Heck, they’re worth a visit even if you’re not nearby.




Family Winemakers 2017 Stay True To Your Terroir

This is our overview article about the Family Winemakers Tasting 2017 event. We’ve attended and reviewed these event organizers a few times in the past (most notably in Pomona). On August 20 we tasted pinots from 18 wineries. And there are two great messages. Out of those 18 wineries, only one produced a flawed wine. After about two hours, Norma figured out what was happening: Family Winemakers 2017 stay true to your terroir.  Terroir matters, especially for pinot noir.  If you have Santa Lucia Highlands grapes, make Santa Lucia Highlands wine.  If the fruit is from Santa Rita Hills, the wine should have the dry, desert characteristics of that AVA.

Pinot noir once was a grape that was difficult to vinify. No more. Between chemistry, technology, and accumulated knowledge, producing a competent pinot noir has become the new standard. Stay true to your terroir means when you are confronted with a load of pinot noir grapes from the Santa Rita Hills, do not try to turn it into Russian River Valley wine.

On August 20 we made our way to San Francisco for the Family Winemakers 2017 tasting. We’ve avoided this event in recent years because it had been held at Ft. Mason, a location virtually inaccessible from anywhere on the peninsula. For 2017 the event moved to Pier 27 on the Embarcadero. We decided to take a chance.

The Wineries at Family Winemakers 2017

Coit Tower from Pier 27 Family Winemakers 2017 Stay On Message

Coit Tower from Pier 27 (click for larger image)

And we were not disappointed. We visited fourteen wineries pouring pinot noir. These were the wineries new to us. Four old favorites continue their excellent work. We’ll say a bit more about the pluses and minuses of the venue at the end of this summary.

[pullquote]Between the folks at U.C. Davis, Fresno State, and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, pinot noir grapes have been tamed.[/pullquote]

Of the 14 wineries, 13 had wine that ranged from excellent to pretty good. Only one pinot we tasted had serious flaws. More important, we tasted a total of 17 pinots from those wineries. One single bottle was bad. Ten years ago this would have been remarkable. Between the folks at U.C. Davis, Fresno State, and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, pinot noir grapes have been tamed.

The Wineries

A complete list of the new wineries at Family Winemakers 2017 follows along with links to their websites. But we have to note some, um, unusual outfits.

Murder Ridge story

Murder Ridge story (click for larger image)

Most original name: Murder Ridge, located on a ridge where there was actually a murder in 1911.

Hyampom, California

Hyampom, California (click for larger image)

Most off the beaten track: Merlo Family Vineyards located in Hyampom, Trinity County. According to Ray Merlo, this is “the northernmost AVA in California.”

Region rising, Lodi: Dancing Coyote (Clarksburg) and Cabana (East Sacramento) in a tie. By the way, several wines used Lodi pinot grapes. As you might guess they are dense, rich, and add notes of chocolate and cola to the finished product.

Migrated furthest to make wine: Close call. Parmeson’s Tom Parmeson is from Houston. But by about 400 miles the winner is Patrick Krutz of Krutz Family Cellars who hails from Mississippi. We suspect the eventual winner might be Michael Wettle of Owl Ridge Wine Services, but we’re waiting for confirmation of his origins.

Biggest disappointment: Mantra Wines sells out their pinot every year and had none available for tasting. It must be yummy!

[pullquote]Dave Meniketti is the lead singer, lead guitarist, principal songwriter, and founder of the globetrotting rock band, Y&T.[/pullquote]Most intriguing day jobs: Pech Merle co-owner Bruce Lawton digs wine caves in his day job. But Pech Merle’s cave is still in the permitting stage. Meniketti Wines … well, here’s the description by the co-owner→

 

Denise Selyem and Kirk Hubbard

Denise Selyem and Kirk Hubbard (click for larger image)

Best pedigree: WesMar Winery co-owner Denise Selyem is from the justifiably famous Williams & Selyem Winery.

WesMar Winery is a result of the combined efforts of Kirk Wesley Hubbard and wife Denise Mary Selyem. We learned about wine making and the wine business from working with Ed Selyem, Denise’s father at Williams & Selyem Winery,

Here’s the complete list in roughly the order we tasted them.

Blue Farm Merlo Family Vineyards
Cabana Winery Murder Ridge Winery 
Dancing Coyote Wines Owl Ridge Wine Services
Stonehedge Winer Parmeson Wines 
Krutz Family Cellars Pech Merle Winery
Mantra Wines Victor Vineyards 
Meniketti Wines WesMar Winery

Parking at Family Winemakers 2017

The Pier 27 venue is on The Embarcadero about halfway between the Bay Bridge and Pier 39. (I know that doesn’t seem to make sense, but the pier numbering is idiosyncratic even by San Francisco standards.) This is a brand new modern building with great 180° views from the Bay Bridge to Coit Tower.  Our only complaint is parking. The “official” Pier 27 parking lot has space for maybe 100 cars. Howeer, there is a huge concrete plaza that could have easily doubled the available space. That lot was full when we arrived at 11:30 am. We found a garage almost next door at Pier 31½ where we paid $30 to park indoors. Better all around.

Pier 27 is 2.8 miles north of AT&T Park where the Giants play. Much to our amazement, some fans parked on the street way north of the Bay Bridge and hiked down to the game. Street parking has a price of zero on Sundays. The game’s first pitch was scheduled for 1:05. Luckily the number of fans dwindled as we neared our destination.

Map to Pier 27

Map to Pier 27 (click for larger image)

Conclusion

A day well spent. We’ll post in-depth reviews of the fourteen pinot producing wineries new to us at Family Winemakers 2017 as time and energy permit.