Tuesday, May 16, 2017

2016 Ridge Monte Bello Assemblage

Library wines in large formats
A visit to Ridge is always fun, particularly when it's for the Monte Bello tasting. Ridge hosts three tastings in March, April and May where we get the chance to try barrel sample of the latest vintage of Monte Bello; if you've never been to one of these events, you've definitely missed out.

Alongside the official tastings many collectors bring gems from their cellars to enjoy with friends or to share with other enthusiasts, and there are occasionally older library wines available to taste and even purchase.

Ridge Winemaker Eric Baugher
2016 looks to be another stunning vintage for Ridge. At the March event, where they pour samples from each of the four components, the Merlot was outstanding; fragrant and floral on the nose, with beautiful berry fruit and already some cocoa from the oak. The 2016 Monte Bello first assemblage shows all the signs of being another long-lived vintage, and the 2014 that's just been released is a fine example of what the Santa Cruz Mountains has to offer; powerful fruit, with eucalyptus, minerals and great structure. Buy it for your kids.
Two stunning new releases

Alongside the 2014 Monte Bello, Ridge were pouring the Estate Cabernet and their 2014 'Historic Vineyard' series. From this vintage they have released a Klein Cabernet Sauvignon and a Perrone Merlot. The Klein was taut and chewy, showing harsh tannins and hiding its fruit; no doubt it'll come around with time but on the day I didn't care for it, whereas the 2014 Perrone Merlot was luscious and rich, with velvety tannins. It's a beautiful wine, and I just wish that it wasn't $75 a bottle. The Estate Cabernet is as good and consistent as ever; it's normally the wine to buy and enjoy while your Monte Bello have a ten year nap.

I say normally, because Ridge were also pouring the 2015 Geyserville, and it's a stunning wine. Quite possibly the best young Geyserville I've ever tasted. At $40 it's a great value for a wine that, while delicious now, will only improve with time. Highly recommended.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Ridge expanding on Monte Bello Road

Ridge finally announces expansion plans in association with the Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District. 32 more acres of Monte Bello land to be planted over the next two decades. Details on 4488, the official Ridge blog.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

MJA Vineyards

Can America's best coffee grower also be a top winemaker? Marin Artukovich thinks so. He established the Koa Plantation on Hawai'i over 20 years ago and soon established a reputation for quality; so much so that Forbes selected them as the coffee grower in an article on 50 of America's Best.

Around 2007 he sold a majority stake in the plantation and relocated to California, buying an 18 acre parcel just north of Lake Hennessy and established the label Serene Cellars. Early releases were from purchased Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc; the first estate release was from 2008.

However having lived in Hawai'i for so long, he found that Napa's ambiance didn't quite suit him, so he purchased a new property high in the Santa Cruz Mountains, not far from Burrell School. The tasting room in Napa was closed, and two new ones were opened; the one on Highland Road is part of the Summit Wineries group while the other in Santa Cruz is part of the Surf City Vintners on Ingalls Street.

The winery still uses the Serene Cellars brand for its Napa wines; all others are sold under the name DaVine cellars. There is an extensive range of varieties from all over, including several sourced from the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Clara Valley.

The tasting room in Santa Cruz is open daily and is a light-hearted affair. Most of the wines have nicknames such as Classy, Macho and Happy Ending. The staff offer you chocolate-covered coffee beans to taste alongside the wines, and the tasting room even has it's regular visitor, with her name affixed to her place at the bar. There are several flights available; each comprises 6 wines and costs $10 except for the reserve tasting which costs $20, and the fee is comped with purchase.

Since I was driving I concentrated on the local wines, which are all in the DaVine Cellars range.

2012 Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains
A first sample seemed somewhat oxidized, so a fresh bottle was opened. The nose showed lots of butterscotch and vanilla, and flavors of sweet apple pie with not much acidity. It seemed rather too sweet for my taste, and quite mature for a 2012. $32

2013Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains 
Again quite sweet. Showed less of the butterscotch than the 2012; instead had some crisp stone fruit on the nose and peach flavors. $32

2012 'Sweet Thang' Merlot, Regan Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains The nose is ripe and hot - almost port-like (it was a little warm, and the ABV is almost 15%). On the palate there's lots of sweet, jammy fruit and a tannic finish. $54

2013 Pinot Noir, Fog's Edge Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains  Possessing the funky barnyard nose that you often get from Pinot. On the palate it's rich with flavors of soy and cooked cherry and lots of tannin.

2013 Sangiovese, Solis Vineyard, Santa Clara County
Interesting nose, reminiscent of a highland malt whisky; notes of heather among the oak.  Ripe and fruity, with flavors of preserved cherry and again plenty of tannin. $36

My companions tried some of the Serene Cellars wines, including a 2013 Sauvignon Blanc called "Hot Flash" that was sweet and citrus, and slightly effervescent due to the injection of a small amount of CO2 gas ($24), and a silky soft, sweet 2009 Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon called "Dos Hombres" that was in barrel for over 4 years. ($85)

Overall MJA Vineyards' style emphasizes sweet fruit over structure; approachability over ageability. And while there's nothing wrong with that - I can think of plenty of successful wineries that have taken that approach - I found the prices to be significantly higher than I would be prepared to pay.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard/Vino Cruz

2013 Grenache Blanc, Bokisch Vineyard
An unoaked white wine, made entirely in stainless steel. The nose is floral and creamy with a hint of vanilla; it's balanced and rich with a tannic prickle on finish. 

2012 Verdelho, Silvaspoons Vineyard
Smoky nose; flavors of candied Ginger and mineral notes, but the finish is quite quick.

2011 Pinot Noir, Branciforte Creek, Santa Cruz Mountains
SCMV has always been known for its excellent Pinot Noirs, and this is no exception. Lots of Umami, fruit and pencil shavings; Good structure, nice acidity. There's a long finish with flavours of sour cherry. Very good indeed. Recommended.

2012 Grenache
There;'s plenty going on here - the nose shows white pepper and leather; lots of tart cranberry flavors backed by good structure. At the price this is a wine you should buy by the case. Highly recommended.

2010 Tempranillo Reserve
Ripe (but not overripe) fruits, backed by flavors of licorice and coffee. Spicy, with good acidity

2011 Graciano
Barnyard nose; palate is earthy with liquorice and black fruits.

2010 Touriga
I liked this wine so much that I barely made any notes, beyond the nose of fresh cut grass and flowers. A blend of two grapes - I think it was Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca - and a great price. I bought some and plan to give it the review that it deserves soon. Highly recommended.

2010 Souzão
Blind I'd have guessed Cabernet Sauvignon; it's got that blackcurrant/blackberry character and eucalyptus notes. But it after a good start it tails off toward the end.

2011 Petite Sirah
I've said many times that Petite Sirah is a difficult grape to do well; this is one of those cases where it works. The dark fruits shine through the tannins; but even so it needs a couple of years at least.

2007 Rabelo
If anyone outside Portugal is making a better port-style wine then I'd like to know it. Intense plum, pepper and spice - like a Christmas pudding in a glass.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Former Bargetto winemaker Michael Sones has been crafting interesting wines under his own label for around 10 years, initially focusing primarily on good value Zinfandel and Petite Sirah - two varieties that Bargetto isn't well known for.
Production is around the 1300 case mark.

2012 Cancion Del Mar
A lone white wine in a sea of reds, this is a blend of
Viognier, Pinot Gris, Torrontés and Sauvignon Blanc. The nose is floral, with mineral notes; it's a rich, smooth creamy wine; less crisp than I remember previous vintages being, but still a good wine to have with seafood.

2010 Zinfandel, Zayante Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains
An intense, rich wine whose raspberry nose follows on through the palate into the finish. Good structure. Recommended.

2009 Syrah Zayante Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains
This is a wine that calls out for a slow cooked pot roast or stew. From the gamey, meaty nose to the tart, raspberry finish it continues to evolve and change, revealing notes of eucalyptus, cocoa and pepper on the way. Recommended.

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Wiedeman Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley
Sporting a label by local artist Ben Davis Jr,  this archetypal valley floor Cabernet shows blackcurrant, brambles and coffee. Nice acidity and a good finish. Recommended.

2011 Fashionably Late Zinfandel 
I was a little surprised to see any kind of late harvest red wine from 2011; a cooler vintage where mildew, odium and botrytis were a constant issue and rains at harvest forced many to pick early - yet here we have a Zinfandel with 5% residual sugar.
As you'd expect it's intense with plenty of raspberry flavors, but little else; it cries out for something to give it more backbone (a hint of Petite Sirah maybe?)

2012 Sack
Caileen with the 2010 Wiedeman Vineyard
Cabernet Sauvignon
Sack was an old English term for fortified wines from Spain. It grew in popularity in the Elizabethan age despite - or because of - the ongoing war between Elizabeth and Philip II. In Henry IV part 2 the character Falstaff performs a monologue in praise of “sherris sack”, concluding “If I had a thousand sons, the first humane principle I would teach them should be, to forswear thin potations and to addict themselves to sack.”

This wine was produced in association with Shakespeare Santa Cruz, and some of the profits go to support that group. It began as a base white wine made from Torrontés  which was then fortified with brandy and sweetened with grape must. It comes in at 18% ABV.

Hard to know what to compare it to. It doesn’t have the same oxidation or maturity of a modern Sherry; neither does it have the freshness of a Pineau or Mistelle or the sweetness of a Tokaj. Instead the Torrontés gives it a very appealing floral nose, with notes of peach or apricot, but unfortunately on the palate it’s rather flat; there’s either too much heat from the brandy or not enough sweetness from the must. A curiosity that will appeal to some but doesn't really work for me.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


Stefani at Savannah-Chanelle
The history of Savannah-Chanelle goes back to the early days of the California wine boom. Pierre Pourroy emigrated to California from France in 1887 and was joined by his brother Eloi six years later. Together they bought land - including a vineyard - in Saratoga from the Bonjetti family and planted Zinfandel, Carignane and Cabernet Franc, among other varieties. They also planted fruit trees and produced prunes. By the 1920s the family owned over 400 acres.

The winery was established in 1917. The Pourroy wines were sold in jugs or small barrels - there was no commercial bottling - and Eloi Pourroy did not even own a truck, preferring to use horse drawn sleds and wagons. They continued producing wines and selling grapes even during prohibition, finally stopping in the mid-1950s. Many of the Pourroy family were buried in the Madronia cemetery in Saratoga.

By the late 1960s the vineyards were largely derelict. A group of Lockheed employees got together intending to purchase a parcel of land to establish a Christian camp ground. However they ran out of resources and asked a local businessman, Victor Erickson, for help. He eventually purchased 53 acres of land and raised vegetables.

A neighbor tended to the old vines and took the crop, and through him Daniel and Robin Gehrs learned about the property and persuaded Erickson to re-open the winery. In 1976 Congress Springs was established, with Gehrs as winemaker and Erickson as owner. Together they refurbished the old vineyards and planted some Chardonnay. In the mid 1980s Erickson sold the company (but not the land) to Anglo-American, a world-wide agricultural business who also owned vineyards in the San Ysidro District. However the company lost millions when a venture in Australia failed, and were bought out by some east coast bankers, who had no idea how to run a winery, and so it went bankrupt. Daniel Gehrs left to become winemaker for Zaca Mesa and eventually established his own label in Santa Barbara.

In the early 1990s the property was leased and then bought by John Del Mare, with the intention of resurrecting the Congress Springs winery. In 1996 he then then sold it to Kellie and Mike Ballard, who renamed it after their two young daughters - Savannah and Chanel. Today The winery produces Pinot Noir from a variety of sources, and a tiny amount of estate wines from the original Pourroy plantings, which are among the oldest of their kind in the country.

2013 Pinot Noir rose 
A bone-dry rose showing strawberries on the nose and palate.

2013 Chardonnay, Tondre's Grapefield, Santa Lucia Highlands
An unoaked Chardonnay; notes of asian pear on the nose. 
In the mouth there is crisp acidity and minerality with a chalky, lemony finish.

2010 Pinot Noir, Regan Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains
Savory nose with some black cherry. The palate has rich, dark fruit and some soy or nori notes. 

2011 Pinot Noir, Tondre's Grapefield, Santa Lucia Highlands
Despite its youth the nose shows notes of leather and earth. My friend said it reminded him of "a wet dog running in the countryside". Good red cherry fruit, with a longish finish.

2008 Syrah Coast View Vineyard Herbal nose; there's a good core of fruit, but it's under a mass of tannin. Definitely needs cellar time.

2011 Estate Zinfandel, Santa Cruz Mountains Good as the other wines are, the stars of Savannah-Chanelle are the estate bottlings.
 This Zinfandel comes from century old vines, producing around 1.25 tons per acre.
Nose is minty and herbal, with a slightly metallic note. In the mouth there's stacks of concentrated ripe raspberry fruit.  The finish is long, rich and peppery. Wonderful stuff; highly recommended.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Santa Clara Valley Wine Trail

Gene Guglielmo
The Santa Clara Valley may well be the state's most under-recognized AVA - Wikipedia's entry on the History of California Wine doesn't even mention it by name, in spite of over 160 years of continuous commercial grape growing and wine production. Visitors to the area would scarcely know that so many quality wineries were so close by since, unlike many other AVAs around the state, there's almost no visual indicators to advise them.

The Official Unveiling
So a group of local wineries banded together and enlisted the help of representatives from the cities of Morgan Hill and Gilroy to lobby the county for greater recognition. This has borne fruit, as it were, in the form of the Santa Clara Valley Wine Trail. The county has invested around $25,000 in new signage to direct visitors in a loop connecting around 16 wineries located around the Gilroy, San Martin and Morgan Hill areas. The trail runs roughly parallel to 101 on the east side of the valley from Morgan Hill down to Leavesley Road, then along Hecker Pass and back up Watsonville Road. While the signs have been in place for a few weeks, the official launch of the trail took place on Friday, at Guglielmo Winery.

Guglielmo was an ideal choice to showcase the potential of the Santa Clara Valley AVA. The oldest  family-owned winery in the area, the Guglielmos have transformed their business from producing 'jug' wine to a range of high quality estate vintages, as well as being the driving force behind the establishment of the Santa Clara Valley AVA in 1989.

Thomas Kruse disgorges his Chardonnay
The launch saw speeches by several civil dignitaries, followed by a tour along part of the trail and lunch in Gilroy. On the way we tasted quite a number of local wines, including a quite good 2009 Syrah at Morgan Hill Cellars, a freshly disgorged, hand-riddled sparkling Chardonnay at Thomas Kruse, the final vintage of Fratelli vineyard Fiano from Solis, a brand new 2012 Zinfandel from Medeiros Family and a rather fine Port style wine called Eredita from Guglielmo.

The celebrations will continue over the weekend with a special promotion.  Tickets cost $40 at participating wineries.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

In defense of Two Buck Chuck

(Note: Please be sure to read the comments to this post - there's more interesting information there, some of which contradicts what I wrote. Dave)

There's an article doing the rounds at the moment that's trashing Trader Joe's Charles Shaw wines. Personally I didn't think there was a need to; I find they vary from poor to undrinkable myself, and won't have them in the house. But some people will drink anything - look at how much Budweiser gets sold every day. I'm not going to link to the publishers; that just encourages them.

However the article contains a good deal of misinformation which really deserves to be addressed. I should point out that I haven't visited the factory winery myself, but there are some things that are common to just about all facilities, from the smallest to the most industrial.

Are there rats, birds and insect bits in the wine? Well, rodents don't tend to live in vines 3 feet off the ground, and if they did they'd certainly get out of the way as soon as a tractor came close. Gophers tend to be the biggest pest in vineyards; they live in the ground and attack the roots, not the fruit. Similarly with birds; in fact most winemakers net their vines to prevent birds from getting access. The odds of wildlife getting caught by the harvester is very small indeed - but not zero.

No winemaker that I know of, even at the highest level, will search through the grapes to ensure that there are no insects or frass present. It's just not going to happen. Some wineries have what's called a shaker table - it's effectively a long tilted metal table that vibrates. The vibration moves the grapes from one end to the other. Insects and other detritus will typically fall off in the process; the whole clusters will move through to the crusher-destemmer. Top wineries will have human sorters who will remove any leaves and clusters that don't look healthy or ripe.
Wineries that need to process large amounts will still need some kind of conveyer system. Bugs will have plenty of time to get away, but obviously some won't.

Having travelled along the conveyer the clusters enter the destemmer. This is a rotating drum with holes in it; the grapes fall off the stems and go through the holes. Very unripe grapes will remain attached to the stems and come out of the other side. If a bird or rodent did make it this far it will be ejected too. The grapes then fall through into a crusher that breaks the skins, and from there are transferred into the fermentors.

So it's possible that a trace of animal material can make it into the bins. And as I said, that's true of just about every winery I know. It's also true of just about every food production method I know; that's why there are legal limits on the amount of foreign matter allowable in just about every food there is; it doesn't mean it's necessarily there, but it does mean that the food isn't considered to be contaminated by it. In the case of wine however that matter will get removed when the wine is pressed - and if for any reason it didn't, then it would be removed by the racking and filtering. that goes on when the wine is finished.

The article also states that the wine is sweetened with grape juice and sugar. Well there is nothing illegal about adding grape juice to wine - if there was then Tokaj, one of the world's greatest sweet wines would not exist. Adding sugar is illegal in California - as is adding water except under certain circumstances - but why would you sweeten with sugar when you can use grape juice? (The adding of sugar is called chaptalization, and is permitted in some countries when the wines don't have enough fermentable sugar to start with. )

There are plenty of legal additives such as Mega Purple that wineries can use to improve the perceived quality of their cheap wines. They don't have to disclose them, though some wineries have started to and I greatly encourage that.

So while I don't encourage anyone to drink Two Buck Chuck if they can possibly avoid it, there's no reason to believe the false claims being made against it. If you really want to avoid something nasty in your diet then look out for partially hydrogenated oils - that stuff is seriously bad for you.