Dusty Nabor is a character, completely appropriate for the Garagiste festival. Working with Karin Langer, his eponymous winery produces mainly syrah, grenache, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, and the occasional pinot noir. They source grapes mainly from nine vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley. He was kind enough to share a pinot with us.
The 2020 Radian Vineyard Santa Rita Hills AVA pinot noir is pretty terrific. We were greeted with aromas of black cherries, blackberries, and blueberries with a hint of mineralogy. The palate is rich, almost a filet mignon. Flavors of forest floor, more black fruit, with assertive tannins and acid. If you have this in your cellar, give it a few more years. If you don’t, I hate to bring bad news, but the winery is out of stock. In fact, they have no pinots currently available.
Dusty’s first vintage was 2015. He is the owner, winemaker, and chief chemist. Current production is 1,000 cases. He got started at a local custom crush facility where he “figured it out.” The custom crush went out of business, Dusty acquired their equipment and went into business. Today, he works with Karin Langer to produce excellent wines. From the website:
Dusty Nabor Wines is a project born out of passion for producing site specific, terroir driven California wines. Our singular focus is crafting wines of distinction. Sourcing fruit from premier vineyards in Santa Barbara County including the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, Ballard Canyon AVA, and Los Olivos District AVA, we strive to create wines that express their place and vintage.
Dusty and Karin
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 RanchandLazarre 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.
Our favorites were Volatus, Entnyre, and Seven Angels. But you will be happy with pinots from any of these folks.
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.
(click for larger image)
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.
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.
Torch Cellars is Best Chardonnay by a Hair
All the chardonnays we tasted were very good. We thought Torch Cellars was the best, but the decision was awfully close.
Mark Welch, Torch Cellars winemaker and Alya
We were greeted by winemaker Mark Welch and his pal Alya. Along with owner Greg Jelstrom, they produced their first vintage in 2013. Their annual production is 800 cases. This fits their stated goal:
… [producing] annual releases … from renowned vineyards in the Willow Creek, El Pomar and Templeton Gap regions of Paso Robles.
Mark Welch and Greg Jelstrom
The Torch 2021 San Luis Obispo County – Paso Robles chardonnay ($36) is a winner. Opening with butter on the nose, followed by crisp flavors of green apples, with subtle notes of Meyer lemon and baking spice. Get it quick – only 50 cases were made.
Why Torch Cellars?
This story is too good to rewrite.
The inspiration behind the Torch brand is two-fold. Mark’s nickname at Wild Horse Winery, where he worked in the nineties, was Torch, thanks to his blazing-blond and unruly hair. The Torch Cellars’ logo visual design, featuring the amber hues of California sunlight, (and not Mark’s golden locks), honors Mark’s grandmother, Doris Schultz, a talented artist from Santa Cruz. Decades ago, she crafted a beautiful, sun-shaped mosaic serving tray, made from shells, coral and coins. For years, Doris used this tray for special occasions and when entertaining guests. In tribute, her grandson’s wines now grace the tables of Torch customers, each bottle showcasing Doris’ sun design, radiating her warmth every time friends and families gather to celebrate life’s joys and bounty.
An homage to the present and past. Here’s the logo you’ve been waiting for.
Torch Cellars Logo. Click for larger image.
Etnyre Wines is a close second for best pinot at Garagiste 2022 Paso Robles. They make pinot noir and syrah. We were greeted by Ethan and Karen Etnyre. Both were charming. Ethan’s knowledge of every detail of the grapegrowing and winemaking process was impressive (to say the least). You can learn a lot about grapegrowing and winemaking from their “Our Story” page. We really appreciate the time they took with us.
Ethan and Karen Etnyre. Click for larger image.
Their wines are San Luis Obispo County AVA, Quin’s Vineyard. Quin is their son, now 22 years young. Sadly, he wasn’t there. In fact, he has never worked behind the table at a wine event. Come on, Quin! You get to meet interesting people like us!
The Etnyres were pouring their Quin’s Vineyard 2017 and 2018 pinot noirs. Both are $40. The 2017 opens with aromas of forest floor and Bing cherries. The palate is very earthy with more forest floor and a nice acid balance. This one could use a few more years in the bottle. Jeb Dunnuck gave it 91 points.
The 2018 reveals the difference between vintages. Aromas of strawberries and spice with more forest floor notes. The palate has notes of earth and raspberry, with less earth than the 2017.Mr. Dunnuck rated it 90 points, probably because this vintage is unlikely to develop as much over time as the 2017.
The Etnyres planted the first vines in Quin’s Vineyard in 1998. They’ve been making wine since 2005. Originally, they planted only the 2A clone. Later they added clones 114, 667, and 777. John Alban of Alban Wines to plant their first vines. Also props to them for taking UC Davis viticulture and enology classes. They learned very well.
In a recent experiment, they planted … well, let them describe it.
A single row of own-rooted Torrontés, an Argentinian white varietal, was planted within the original Syrah block. These grapes are harvested and co-fermented with the Syrah, producing our own spin on one of the finest regions of the Rhône – the Côte Rôtie.
Torrontés is the most popular white wine in Argentina, sometimes called the chardonnay of Argentina. Unlike chardonnay, this grape has floral quality similar to vioignier. We look forward to trying their first bottling of their new blend.
Ethan has a non-traditional family history. Let him describe it:
Enjoying wines with friends and family are some of my best memories growing up in the Chicago suburbs. These wines were often accompanied by very tasty foods. When my wife and I moved to the Central Coast of California in 1992, we found ourselves living in an extremely high quality viticultural area of California. Twelve days after arriving on the Central Coast, we were fermenting grapes in a 32 gallon food grade plastic barrel in the basement. We were hooked. After 13 years of home winemaking and UC Davis Viticulture and Enology classes, we released our first vintage of Etnyre Wines in 2005. We remain a micro winery with clear focus on our 2 acre estate vineyard producing the finest small volume lots on the Central Coast of California.
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
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.
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.
In January California still required masks for indoor events. The organizers solved this problem by moving onto a patio at the Marriott.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
(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 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
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
We are very happy to welcome Mr. Hajl to our list of outstanding pinot noir producers.
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 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.
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
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.
(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!
(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
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.
(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.
(click for larger image)
Garagiste Northern Exposure in Sonoma Preview Part 2
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.)