Tuesday, April 29, 2008

2002 Trout Gulch Chardonnay "La Pecherie"

Bernie Turgeon was one of the founders of Turgeon and Lohr winery in San Jose. When he sold his share, his partner Jerry Lohr renamed the company J.Lohr and the rest as they say is history.

Bernie then ran a brewpub in Santa Cruz for a few years before purchasing a 25 acre ranch above Aptos. He planted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and Trout Gulch Vineyards was formed with his son Gerry. The label reads "Turgeon, Pere et Fils".

Unfortunately Bernie has now retired and Gerry has a full time job. He continues to run the label but the vineyard has been sold and is now known as "Pinto Valley", with fruit being sold to various local winemakers including Burrell School. Trout Gulch now sources most of their fruit from Bargetto's Regan Vineyard, and from what I've tasted the difference is evident.

2002 was the last vintage made from the Trout Gulch vineyard. Recently Gerry cleared out much of the remaining library stocks through Whole Foods and I was fortunate enough to snag a few.

The last bottle I had was in early February, and was slightly oxidised. Not unpleasantly so, but it certainly seemed much more mature than I expected from a 2002. This one is not oxidised at all, and is delicious. The colour is very pale. The nose is faint and slightly floral, possibly honeysuckle. There's also a kind of salty, seaside note. On the palate there's honey, lemon and baked apples, which I noticed last time. But there's a bit more acidity than I remember and an ever so slightly salty/chalky taste on the finish. It still has a slightly mature Chardonnay nte to the finish, though not so pronounced as before. A very good deal at $17.

Edit A couple of hours later and I'm on the last sips. It's now less honey and baked apples, and more lemon, vanilla and cream soda. Very enjoyable.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Third party review of The Battle for Wine and Love by Alice Feiring

Interesting review of Alice Feiring's new book, The Battle for Wine and Love in the Canadian Globe And Mail. The book has already generated some notoriety on the boards, partly due to the subtitle, "Or how I saved the world from Parkerization".

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

2008 Harvest: Significant Frost Damage


I'm hearing reports from around the state from growers who have lost 50% to 75% of their crops to frost damage. It's being covered in the media; articles in Business Journal, Napa Valley Register, Sonoma's Press Democrat and on KTVU

These pictures were posted to Flickr by a grower in the Sierra Foothills; they show the primary shoots killed by the frost.

Locally I've heard very few reports of damage. The biggest casualty appears to be Rhys, who are estimating to have lost at least half of the Chardonnay in their Horseshoe Ranch vineyard. Another vineyard that's badly affected is Eagle Point Ranch in Mendocino, which provides the fruit for the Stefania Syrah I was talking about last week. But so far most of the local growers that I've contacted are reporting little to no ill effects.

In a posting on the Wine Spectator board Paul Romero explained the unusual microclimate that protects the AVA from frost.

Photo: Budbreak


Here's another picture I took last month. It shows the young shoots on one of the Pinot Noir vines at Burrell School.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

1990 Cronin "Joe's Cuvee"

If somebody handed you a glass of wine and told you it was 18 years old and they'd picked it up for under $15 you'd probably be thinking "where can I dump this politely". You'd be well within your rights too, because when you look at the amount of wine that's made, the number that can age gracefully for nearly two decades is actually remarkably small in percentage terms, and as a rule they cost a damn sight more than $15. But as we've previously established, the wines that Duane Cronin made fall very much into that small percentage, and this one is no exception.

Now 1990 was a very unusual vintage, in that it was good everywhere. That's very unusual; typically each vintage will be good somewhere, but not others. California did well in 1997, but in much of France and Australia it was a poor vintage. The following year it was the other way round, as El Nino brought stormy weather that played merry hell with the local crops. Even in Bordeaux 2000 was a great year for reds, but 2001 was a much better year for Sauternes. And yet somehow in 1990 it was a good vintage pretty much everywhere.

Anyway, enough with the history lesson. What's the wine like?

I had my concerns when I peeled off the foil and saw signs of seepage. The cork was soaked half way through too. But I needn't have worried as the wine was still perfectly sound. The colour is fairly light with just a hint of bricking around the rim, certainly less than I'd expect. The nose is interesting; it's like candied fruit and flowers in an old wardrobe. I know that sounds like the sort of pretentious bull$#!t you'd expect from a wine critic, but that's the way it is; there's a sort of cedar and mustiness to it, but in a good way.

Taste it and the first thing that hits you (or at least what hits me) is the acidity. As your mouth gets used to it the fruit starts to show; raspberry, cranberry, redcurrant - that sort of fruit. The finish is a little quick but clean, helped by the acidity. Although it's a Cabernet blend, this is clearly a Pinot lover's wine. It would probably go nicely with pork or chicken; nothing too heavy. There's no alcohol content listed, it just says "California Red Table Wine" (which means anything from 11% to 14%).

If you're interested, K&L still have plenty in stock; according to their web site they have over 10 cases, but at that price it's a terrific value that isn't going to last long.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Updated Weather Report

Growers around the state are talking about the "crazy spring of 08". From Mendocino to Santa Barbara temperatures have been fluctuating wildly. Frost has been seen in areas that typically don't suffer from it, and some areas are even predicting that it may yet snow.

Although here in the valley the weather has been quite warm - I turned the AC on for the first time this week - up in the hills the overall mean temperature has been low. Some growers are predicting that the season is running up to a month behind schedule.

Meanwhile there's been hardly any rain in the mountains since late February; some light showers are predicted over the next couple of weeks, but nothing significant, so it seems increasingly likely that the mountains will see less than 50" of rain this season. That plus a long growing season could mean exceptional quality fruit. Fingers crossed.

2004 Testarossa Sanford and Benedict Vineyard Chardonnay

Testarossa is based in the historic Novitiate Winery in downtown Los Gatos. However they source the vast majority of their fruit from outside the AVA, notably Santa Barbara County, as with this Sanford and Benedict Vineyard Chardonnay.

As you might expect, it's made in a riper style than your average Santa Cruz Mountains chardonnay. It has the typical California oak and butter components but there's a good core of fruit too. Plenty of complexity. A very nice wine; think I paid $38 at the winery.

Pickup Day at Stefania

If it wasn't for Paul Romero, you wouldn't be reading this. A few years ago I began following Paul's postings on the Wine Spectator forums; his enthusiasm for the Santa Cruz Mountains made me realise that it was foolish to spend so much of my time and money in Napa when there was a world-class AVA on my doorstep. Thanks to him I was introduced to several local enthusiasts, read the few available books on the area and started my two Web projects. So when Paul announced that he was officially launching a commercial winery I was one of the first to sign up.

Stefania is named after his wife, business partner and "muse". The first vintage was 2005; they released a Syrah from Eagle Point Ranch in Mendocino and a Cabernet from Uvas Creek in Santa Clara Valley. Through hard work and good fortune (it seems that the harder they work, the luckier they get) Paul and Stefania now manage several small vineyards around the SCM/SCV AVAs, including the former Matteson (now Woodruff) vineyard and recently took over operations at Chaine d'Or, following the retirement of the owner, Jerry Anderson.

You won't see Stefania's wines reviewed by the professional critics. It's not that they doubt the quality of their product, they simply don't want to draw the attention of the "points chasers". They would rather build a client base that comes back each year because they like the wines, which makes a lot of sense. Their mailing list already has a waiting list.

This spring they have released their second vintage of the Syrah as well as a red blend named "Haut Tubbe". The Syrah is amazing; it has an amazingly floral nose backed by dense, spicy fruit. A light touch with the oak and softer tannins mean that although I'm sure this will age nicely I very much doubt that it's going to have the chance. Well priced at $35

The "Haut Tubbe" is a blend of small lots from various vineyards. Although the main component is Cabernet Sauvignon that was footstomped by partygoers (including yours truly) there is also around 20% of Rhone varietals (Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre) mostly from their (housing) estate vineyard, and it's those that really show the most. The wine has plenty of tannin, so I probably won't be popping mine any time soon, though I think it would be interesting to try it in a blind tasting alongside other local "California" designates, such as Cinnabar Mercury Rising, Fogarty Skyline, Roudon-Smith Claret, Silver Mountain "Oscar's Wild" etc. $20.

Small quantities of the wines are available from local restaurants and at Unwined in San Jose, but the bulk is sold to the mailing list. If you're not already signed up, you should certainly look into it.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Varner tasting at K&L

In 1980, twin brothers Jim and Bob Varner began planting the Spring Ridge Vineyard in Portola Valley. They began with Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer (the latter fruit being sold mainly to Bargetto), both planted on their own rootstock. Further blocks were added over the years with cuttings taken from the original vineyard; some grafted, others own-rooted, as well as some Pinot Noir. In 2006 the Gewurztraminer was grafted over to Pinot Noir clone 777, effectively giving 25 year old vines. The anachronism of a recently isolated clone on older stock seems to please the Varners. They don't believe in using pesticides other than sulphur to control mildew; they control bunch rot by canopy management and careful sorting.

Varner doesn't have a tasting room and they are not members of the SCMWA, so opportunities to taste the wines before purchase are rare and not to be missed.

2007 Foxglove Chardonnay. Foxglove is the second label of Varner and is made with purchased fruit. Previous vintages were sourced from Edna Valley; for 2007 they have added a second source, the "Blind Faith" vineyard in Paso Robles. Consequently the wine now carries the San Luis Obispo County designation, with the vineyard percentages listed on the rear. The wine is fermented in stainless steel and sees no oak, giving a lovely fruity wine with a crisp finish, probably the best vintage of this wine so far. Highly recommended at $11-$13

Varner harvest, vinify and bottle the various Chardonnay blocks separately, but the grapes are all treated pretty much the same. Because of this the subtle differences between the microclimates are magnified and the three wines show distinct differences.

2006 Ampitheater Block Chardonnay is very lemony and dry. $35

2006 Home Block Chardonnay is richer, with good minerality. $37

2006 Bee Block Chardonnay is smooth and creamy, with the oak a little more evident. $37 Of the three I preferred the Bee block. Overall they seem to lack some of the intensity of the previous two vintages, but are still very good wines.

2005 Neely "Holly's Cuvee" Chardonnay The Varners also make a wine that's a blend of the three blocks and is named in honour of the owner of the property, Dr. Kirk Neely and his wife Holly. I was a big fan of the 2004 vintage and am finding it difficult to keep my hands off my remaining bottles to see how well it ages. The 2005 seems lighter than the 2004; still showing the same lemon and minerality that I expected. Also the oak was less pronounced. $35

2005 Neely "Holly's Cuvee" Pinot Noir The first Neely labelled Pinot Noir, and the first time I've tried any of the Varner pinots. The colour is rather pale and the nose faint, not giving much up. On the palate the wine is at first chalky; the fruit slowly builds showing rich cherry notes. On the finish there's a slight bitterness that I hope will fade in time. $39

Friday, April 18, 2008

1997 Cronin Central Coast Pinot Noir


"Retired computer consultant Duane Cronin may just be the most talented small winemaker in America. His wines have Old World balance and proportion coupled with beautiful Santa Cruz Mountain fruit." -- Richard Nalley, Food & Wine Magazine, 2004

Duane Cronin was one of the early Silicon Valley techies who retired to pursue a second career in winemaking. From 1980 to 2000 Cronin Vineyards made Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet (plus a smattering of other wines) from a variety of sources, from Monterey to Sonoma. He gaines a reputation for excellent, long lived wines. Sadly Duane retired from winemaking in 2000 and died in 2007. Prior to his death he came to an arrangement that K&L Wines would sell off the contents of his library, and as a result us Cronin fans have had the opportunity to grab some amazing values.

While the 1997 Central Coast Pinot Noir may not be the finest wine that Duane ever made it's certainly a good example of his style. Light in colour with a nose that while unmistakably Pinot Noir also has other elements that I couldn't identify, and just a hint of volatile acidity. On the palate there's good fruit as well as a strong note of asian spice - star anise and clove - backed by good acidity. Showing well for a ten year old wine; unlikely to improve but not showing any signs of falling apart. Great value at $10.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tasting at Vino Locale this week

Having posted about K&L I receive an email from Wes about some upcoming tastings at Vino Locale. They have three interesting tastings coming up: On Thursday it's Cooper Garrod, on Friday it's Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard and the Friday after (25th) it's Martin Alfaro. Vino Locale is at 431 Kipling Street in Palo Alto, so it should be possible to do Friday's Varner tasting at K&L as well. If you're driving, please spit.

Tastings at K&L this week

Two interesting tastings at K&L wines for SCM fans. On Thursday evening the San Francisco branch is tasting the wines of Clos LaChance. And on Friday evening the Redwood City branch is tasting the 2006 vintages from Varner.

Finally don't forget that it's a Passport weekend. This is a great opportunity to visit some of the smaller wineries that aren't normally open to the public.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Two Photos

Here are a couple of photos I took recently. The first shows budbreak on a Quad Cordon vine at Silver Mountain. In the Quad Cordon, or Lyre system, two branches are trained out perpendicular to the rows, and each branch then forks and is trained in parallel. There's quite a few vineyards in the area that are trained in this way; for a while it was popular because it's one of the cheapest methods to install, per ton. Unfortunately vines trained in this way can be prone to powdery mildew, also known as oidium, since it's difficult to get the spray into the canopy. These days some vineyard managers in the mountains are converting established vineyards off this system and onto a dual cordon system.

The other photo shows an old rusty basket press. I've tinkered with the image because originally the colours were somewhat washed out. Behind the press you can see the remains of an old crusher too.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Tasting at Cinnabar

Cinnabar was founded in the early 1980s by Tom Mudd, a former research engineer at SRI in Palo Alto. He'd started growing grapes and making wine at his single acre vineyard in Woodside in the 1970s. Following a failed attempt to purchase Mount Eden in 1982 he scouted out the surrounding hillsides and finally chose a nearby plot of land close to Congress Springs (now Savannah-Chanelle). Clearing and planting began in 1983, with the first commercial vintage in 1986. Tom eventually retired from winemaking and handed over the main duties to George Troquato. Sadly he died last year from complications arising from a lung transplant, aged just 65. In an odd twist of fate the family has since sold the estate vineyards to Mount Eden.

I will admit that until now I haven't been a huge fan of Cinnabar. I was put off by some badly-stored Mercury Rising and an over-the-top Paso Robles Merlot. But I was impressed by what I tasted at the trade event and happened to be in Saratoga so I called in their new tasting room for a more leisurely sampling.

The room is at the end of the main street in Saratoga. It's a fairly nondescript looking building, but inside it's pretty nice. There's the usual winery shop tat around the place and one long curved tasting bar. Tasting fee is $5 (refunded with any wine purchase) which will get you at least four tastes, possibly more depending on what's already open and how busy it is. It's been open almost a year now but still looks brand new; the benches outside look freshly assembled and there's a vinyl banner type sign on the grass outside.

Server Aaron is a big, friendly chap who does know his stuff much better than your average tasting room staffer; he has an interest in wines and isn't just reciting a script. There's also a proper spittoon, not just a dump bucket, for those of us who are driving.

Cinnabar has three distinct ranges. They produce 15,000-20,000 cases annually, the vast majority of which is the "tapestry" range; it's what you see in supermarkets and on restaurant wine lists. The flagship label carries the Santa Cruz Mountains designation; around 250 cases each are made of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Fruit for these was sourced from various small vineyards around Saratoga as well as the estate vineyard. (Although the latter has since been sold it seems unlikely that the label will be discontinued.) The third label is intended primarily for wine club members and visitors to the tasting rooms, and comprises small lots of a range of varietals purchased from many different AVAs.

2006 Mercury Rising Blanc A blend of three varietals. Sauvignon Blanc is the most prominent, with Semillon and Viognier in there too. Fruit is sourced from vineyards as far afield as Monterey, Sonoma and Clarksburg, near Sacramento. If you find Sancerre and New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs to be too acidic or grassy then you might like this - the Semillon rounds off the palate. Good. $14.

2006 Monterey Chardonnay A pleasantly crisp wine, light on the oak and with flavours of apples and minerals. Good clean finish. $19

2006 Central Coast Pinot Noir Nice nose of roses and cherries, with a pleasantly spicy flavour. The only thing I didn't like about this was the $26 price, though it should be easy to find under $20.

2005 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir A lovely wine with a nose of violets and on the palate spicy cherry flavours and a nice dash of oak. $42 at the winery, but around $35 elsewhere.

2005 Mercury Rising This is the wine that Cinnabar is best known for. It's a bordeaux blend; the sources are even more diverse than for the white, with fruit coming from Mendocino, Lodi and Paso Robles, as well as locally. It's a smooth, easy drinking red; not one for the cellar, but ideal to buy and drink tonight, which is one of the reasons it's popular in restaurants. $19.50

2005 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley When it comes to Zinfandel, not counting the Santa Cruz Mountains, where there's way too little of it grown, Dry Creek is my favourite appellation. I've mentioned before that Robert Parker doesn't rate the 2005 Zinfandel vintage and I've yet to find any logical reason for this. Here's another great example of a Dry Creek Zinfandel - it's not over the top, it's balanced with ripe berry fruits and soft tannins. Would be interesting to throw this in a blind tasting along some of the better known names. Not cheap though at $35.

Late Harvest Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains (38 Brix, 12.9% abv, 179 g/l residual sugar)

I must admit to being a big fan of the stickies, particularly Sauternes and Tokaji, but not so keen on the domestic ones, largely because they simply can't compete in terms of value-for-money. This wine is made by a Cryoextraction process - freezing ripe Chardonnay grapes and pressing them while still frozen so that the juice gets concentrated. It's similar to the process by which eiswein is made, except that the freezing is done artificially. I tasted it at the trade event and again today; the difference was marked. At the trade event the bottle was freshly opened and the wine tasted of honey and lemon curd. Here it had clearly been open a little longer and showed notes of mandarin oranges instead of lemon. The down side to the wine is that it doesn't have the bracing acidity of an ice wine or the botrytis spice of a Sauternes. The price isn't that unreasonable at $34, but there wasn't enough going on to excite me.

Late Harvest Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains (40 Brix, 12.6% abv, 263 g/l residual sugar)

This was made in the same way as the Chardonnay, and this time I really have to question the wisdom of the approach. A slightly brown-tinged rose in colour, it smells and tastes like liquid strawberry jam. As with the Chardonnay there's not enough acidity to really pass for eiswein and there's way too much residual sugar - we're talking pancake syrup. (To put it into perspective, 263g/l is about the level at which most wine grapes are usually picked - 24 Brix - to produce a wine of around 14% alcohol). The only accompaniment that I can think of would be bitter chocolate truffles. Having said that, there are going to be some people who will just adore it, but for my money Van Der Heyden makes a much more interesting Late Harvest Cabernet. $32.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

New names to watch

In my previous post I mentioned that I'd attended a SCMWA trade tasting on Monday. Being trade only it wasn't anywhere near as busy as Pinot Paradise, but with over 30 wineries participating (some pouring 5 or more wines) and constantly switching between varietals it was way harder. If anything my notes are worse than last time, and I doubt that I visited more than maybe half of the participants. So what I have are more impressions than anything else.

New names that stood out for me at Pinot Paradise were Heart o' the Mountain and Black Ridge. Both were at this event too; Heart o' the Mountain are exclusively Pinot producers and were pouring the same vintage as last time, so nothing new to report there. It's good stuff. Check it out.

Black Ridge has the potential to be a much larger outfit. They have something like 20 acres planted with at least as many different clones, from Cabernet Sauvignon to Pinot Gris. The Pinot Noir is only the second vintage from those vines (the first was not commercially available) but is excellent - good rich fruit and plenty of complexity; not badly priced at $39. They were also pouring an Estate Viognier ($25) - not a common varietal in these parts. I fully expected to find a hint of residual sugar, and on the palate it was extremely fruity, but the finish was bone dry. A very nice wine indeed. It turns out that the winemaker is in fact Testarossa's Bill Brosseau, who knows a thing or two about Pinot Noir in particular.

Another little winery that I've been banging the drum for recently is Vidovich Vineyards. They are based up on Monte Bello Road, close to Ridge and Naumann. They produce a single Cabernet Sauvignon called "Montebello Road" that's a terrific value at $20. I swear that if it said Napa on the label they would be charging 3 times as much. Picchetti has been making a Cabernet with fruit from the same vineyard that retails for $45.

They were pouring the just released 2003 vintage, which seemed just as good as the 2002 that I've been quaffing by the case. Until now it was only available at certain restaurants and from Unwined in San Jose, but it appears that they have finally lined up a distributor, so I would expect it to be more readily available, and for the price to rise as more people discover it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Focus on Santa Clara Valley

I've said many times that Santa Clara Valley AVA doesn't get the respect that it deserves. It suffers from the twin curses of obscurity and notoriety; most wine drinkers don't know about it and many that do are only familiar with the low-end wines and almond champagne that used to be the majority of production.

But Santa Clara Valley is undergoing a renaissance. New wineries are emerging that are serious about quality and are producing wines that easily as good as those coming out of some of the better known appellations. I recently attended a trade-only tasting in Los Gatos organised by the SCMWA and got to try three of Santa Clara Valley's best wineries.

The winery that is doing most right now to set the benchmark on what can be done with Santa Clara Valley fruit is probably Martin Ranch. Located in the foothills at the southern tip of the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation, husband and wife team Dan and Thérèse Martin have two distinct labels; Thérèse Vineyards and JD Hurley.

The JD Hurley wines are made by Dan. I tasted an interesting rose - a fine summer sipper made from Cabernet Franc - the 2007 Rosa Seca ($13); a big, rich, chocolatey 2005 Merlot ($20); a dry but fruity 2006 Zinfandel ($23) and a very nice 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon with a nose of violets that's drinking just great.

The Thérèse Vineyards 2005 Syrah ($25) is very good indeed; a level above the 2004, though sadly still in those annoying oversized bottles. The 2004 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($50) is a huge, chewy monster that deserves at least 3-5 years in the cellar.

Established in 1992, Clos LaChance is one of the area's larger wineries, with annual production in the 60,000 to 80,000 case range and distribution in about 15 states. Most of the fruit is sourced from the estate vineyard, with some coming from small private vineyards that are installed and maintained by the winery.

The "entry level" wines are known as the "Hummingbird" series - each wine is named after a different kind of bird. The aim seems to be on a wine that shows the typicity of the varietal and is ready to drink straight away without need for cellaring. Although the estate is in the Santa Clara Valley these wines carry the Central Coast appellation presumably because that name is more familiar to buyers outside the area - the curse of obscurity I mentioned earlier.

The 2004 "Violet-Crowned" Merlot showed the typical Merlot characteristic of plums; the 2005 "Buff-Bellied" Zinfandel had the usual spice with a white-pepper finish and the 2005 "Black-Chinned" Syrah had smoky spice and currants. What they may lack in complexity they make up for in value; although the RRP is around $18 they can often be found in stores like Safeway for less than half that figure.

Depending on how you measure, Sarah's Vineyard on Hecker Pass Highway is either the youngest or the oldest of the three wineries.
Originally established by Marilyn Sarah Clark in 1978, it gained a small but loyal following with a reputation for ageable, austere Chardonnays. She retired in 2001 and the winery was purchased by Tim Slater.

The 2006 Estate Chardonnay ($25) continues that tradition, showing good minerality and lemon. The 2005 Merlot ($25) had a nose of cooked plums and a surprisingly mineral finish, like a mouthful of river stones. The 2005 Pinot Noir ($27) showed cherry and spice, while the earthy 2004 Syrah ($25) cried out for a gamey accompanient.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Kudos to Clos LaChance

The May edition of Food And Wine magazine includes a piece on the 30 best Pinot Noirs in the world. Now in typical magazine hyperbole it turns out that they only tried 150 wines in total, which is roughly twice as many as I tasted last weekend. Be that as it may, the Santa Cruz Mountains are represented on the list by (drum roll) Clos LaChance. Way to go, guys!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

2008: Another drought year.

It's looking like 2008 will be another drought year. According to Don Mussell's rainfall gauge rainfall to date is a little over 48", roughly 8" more than at this point last year, and just 4" more than last year's total, which was the lowest for many years. We've had a few showers recently, but nothing significant; there's only been about 1" of rain sice late February. We can probably expect some April showers, but unless there's some major storm activity it will be the second driest since 2000/01 (66" is the annual average). And though that's tough for growers it's probably good for consumers since drought years tend to produce the best wines.

Budbreak - the moment when the vine's buds put out their first green leaves - started about three weeks ago. Growers up and down the coast have been reporting occasional frost; in some areas they've been using frost prevention techniques such as spraying water or air circulation - that's what those big fans are for that you often see in valley vineyards. While driving around Pleasant Valley last week I noticed that several of the vineyards still hadn't been pruned, presumably as insurance against frost.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Tasting Notes: Grand Cruz Tasting, Sunday 30th

You really have to hand it to professional tasters. It's not easy tasting 50+ wines and making meaningful notes on each one. I am not a professional taster, so these impressions are minimal at best.

Ahlgren Vineyards
2004 Santa Cruz Mountains: Lots of bright fruit, good acidity. $35
2007 Veranda Vineyard (Barrel Sample): Slightly sweeter, less acidity.

Alfaro Family Vineyards
Tasted on Saturday.
2007 Alfaro Family Estate Rose: A light, dry summer sipper with flavours of strawberries. $15
2006 Alfaro Family A: Good value - rich and easy drinking. $25
2006 Martin Alfaro Deer Park: Good flavours of cherry and strawberry. $33
2006 Martin Alfaro Schultze Family: Best of the line-up. $36
2005 Alfaro Family Lindsay Paige: Tight. Tannic. Needs time. $40

Bargetto Winery
2006 Santa Cruz Mountains:
2006 Deverey Vineyard:
Both were decent, well made wines but they didn't particularly stand out from the crowd.

Beauregard Vineyards
Did not taste.

Black Ridge Vineyards
2006 Estate: Quite an atypical Pinot; much more black fruits than cherries. My note says "Blackcurrant wine gums". First release from this winery - definitely one to watch. Well priced at $31

Burrell School Vineyards
Tasted Saturday
2005 Veranda Vineyard: Bright nose, with some of that "Pinot funk". Good acidity on the palate, with pleasant cherry flavours. $38
2005 Estate: On the nose I got oak and raspberries. On the palate it was richer and more intense than the Veranda vineyard.
2006 Barrel Samples - Four samples of different clones; 115, 667, 777 and 05, each remarkably different. An impromptu blend of the four showed great promise; this could well turn out to be better than the 2005.

Byington Winery & Vineyards
2005 Estate: Tasted, but no note.

Cinnabar Vineyards & Winery
2006 Santa Cruz Mountains: A strong aroma of smoked meats that carried over to the palate.

Clos LaChance Wines
Did not taste

Clos Tita
2005 Cuvee:
2005 Estate:
Both wines showed good, bright cherry/raspberry fruit. The Cuvee also had a slight hint of brettanomyces; not overpowering or unpleasant, but certainly present. Unfined and unfiltered.

Domenico Wines
2006 Santa Cruz Mountains: Tasted, but no note.

Hallcrest Vineyards
2004 Vista Del Mare Vineyard: A rich, full bodied wine.
2004 Barrel Select: Ironically the barrel select showed a hint of oxidation that I didn't care for.

Heart o' the Mountain
2005 Estate: Very impressed by this debut release. Definitely a winery to watch. $48

Hunter Hill Vineyard & Winery
2006 Estate: Lots of tannin. Some good fruit, but it was hidden behind the tannins.

Kings Mountain Winery
1999 Santa Cruz Mountains:
2003 Santa Cruz Mountains:
My notes simply read "Good nose, good acidity, a little thin on the finish".

Loma Prieta Winery
2006 Santa Cruz Mountains: $50. My notes just say "Pleasant Valley Road".

McHenry Winery
2004 Estate: Made in a more elegant, restrained style. Very good value indeed at under $22
2004 Swan Clones: $28

Mount Eden Vineyards
2004 Estate:
2005 Estate:
What can you say about Mount Eden that's not already been said? Arguably the best Pinot maker in the region, both wines were beautiful with rich fruit and a long finish. Definitely ones for the cellar.

Muccigrosso Vineyards
2004 Estate: Big, spicy wine, but with some green tannins giving rise to a bitterness on the finish.
2005 Estate: Similar, but without the bitter tinge.

Nicholson Vineyards
Tasted on Saturday.
2006 Estate Chardonnay: High levels of ethyl acetate giving rise to a "pear drops" nose which carried over to the palate. Lots of acidity. Not to my liking.
2006 Rose: Again, not to my liking. Lots of green tannins.
2005 Estate Pinot Noir: Hint of pear drops again, but not as strong as on the chardonnay. Bright cherry flavours and a hint of sweetness.
2006 Estate Pinot Noir (unreleased): Showed more oak than the 05. No pear drops here, but lots of tannins. Needs at least a couple of years in the cellar.
2007 Estate Pinot Noir (barrel sample): Very tannic indeed. There seemed to be some good fruit under the tannins. Definitely has potential.

Pelican Ranch Winery
2006 Deer Park: High levels of volatile acidity.
2005 Green Valley Road: I got the strangest impression from this. If you've ever done any electrical work you'll know that acrid smell that solder flux gives off - I got that on the palate and couldn't get past it.

Pleasant Valley Vineyards
Tasted on Saturday
2004 Brittany Morgan Chardonnay: A lighter style of chardonnay, creamy and lemony with good minerality. $35
2005 Brittany Morgan Chardonnay: Higher in acidity than the 04, with more lemon $35
2005 Dylan David Pinot: A very elegant Pinot. Cherry flavours nicely integrated with the oak. A nice wine but hard to justify the price at $85
2006 Dylan David Pinot (Barrel Sample): Following on from the 05, with brighter cherry and less oak at this stage.
2007 Viognier (Barrel sample): I only got the last drops of this, not enough for a real taste, however it seemed to have some residual sugar.

Roudon-Smith Winery
2006 Santa Cruz Mountains: Tasted, no note

Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard
2004 "Bailey's" Branciforte Ridge:
2003 Vine Hill Reserve: Blend of last of the Jarvis vineyard and first crop of "Bailey's"
SCMV makes wines that need to be cellared for a few years. Both showed good, bright fruit with an earthy component.

Sarah's Vineyard
2007 Santa Cruz Mountains (Barrel Sample): Very primary at this stage. Needs to spend a while longer in the barrel. However it certainly shows promise.

Silver Mountain Vineyards
Tasted on Saturday:

2004 Estate Pinot:
2005 Estate Pinot:
2004 Muns Vineyard (SCM):
2004 Tondre's Grapefiled (SLH)
2005 Tondre's Grapefiled (SLH)

Sonnet Wine Cellars
Tasted on Saturday:
2004 Kruse Vineyard:

Tasted on Sunday:
2005 Muns Vineyard: Very good. Rich cherry flavours and a long finish. Better than the 2004 Silver Mountain Muns Vineyard.

Soquel Vineyards
2005 Muns Vineyard: Another good expression of Pinot from the Muns vineyard. Interesting to taste this immediately after the Sonnet; it seemed much more tannic and young. Definitely needs cellar time. Good, but not cheap at $50.

Storrs Winery
2005 Santa Cruz Mountains: From Pleasant Valley. Tannic and young, but rich - needs time to show its full potential.

Testarossa Vineyards
2005 Schultze Vineyard: Yet another winner from the Schultze vineyard, but at $55 Windy Oaks is better and cheaper.

Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards
2005 Santa Cruz Mountains:
2006 Santa Cruz Mountains:
My notes simply say "Excellent".

Trout Gulch Vineyards
2006 La Source: Two samples. First was slightly corked, the second oxidised.
2001 Estate: A knockout. Really very good. No longer available, which is a shame as I'd have definitely bought some.

Windy Oaks Estate Vineyards & Winery
Tasted on Saturday
2006 Diane's Block: Great bright fruit. Diane's Block is a seperate 3 acre vineyard in nearby Aptos.
2006 Estate Cuvee: More complexity than the Diane's Block. Should repay ageing.
2006 Wild Yeast: Quite superb. Rich, complex spicy flavours.

Wines of Vine Hill
2006 Gatos Locos: Very tight and tannic. Needs time.
2005 Cumbre: I got an overpowering impression of tar and asphalt from this wine. Couldn't get any fruit at all.

Woodside VineyardsDid not taste - they apparently ran out of wine very quickly. I heard very good things from a few people who did get to taste it.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Updates from the Grand Cruz tasting

A few odds and ends picked up in conversation.

Ahlgren: The winery is still up for sale, but no buyers are in sight. The big problem is that people with the kind of money that the property/business is worth ($2-$3 million) want something that's shiny and new.

Trout Gulch: Bernie Turgeon is now in his 80s and has retired. Son Gerry is continuing the winery, but it's not his day job and has been scaled back significantly. The recent appearance of the 2002 vintage at Whole Foods was as a result of clearing out the back inventory to make space. The old estate vineyard was sold some time ago and is now the Pinto Valley Vineyard, managed by Beauregard.

Several wineries are about to move into new tasting rooms in the industrial complex on Ingalls Street in Santa Cruz, previously occupied by Bonny Doon. New tenants include Sones and Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard. There's an article about it on winesandvines.com

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Grand Cruz Tasting, Sunday 30th

The Pinot Paradise "Grand Cruz" tasting was held on Sunday at Villa Ragusa in Campbell. The venue was a large roughly square hall, up a flight of stairs. I was a bit late in arriving so there was only a short line for entry. Proper pinot glasses and programmes were provided, along with opaque plastic spit cups.

Inside things were a little crowded, but it wasn't too bad. The wineries were arranged alphabetically around three sides of the room and in two rows down the centre. Interspersed among the wineries were local restaurants offering samples of food. There was also a roast beef carvery and a seafood buffet. The food was all delicious, though I didn't really feel that many of the providers had thought too much about the fact that their sample was being paired with Pinot Noir.

Some of the wineries had a "silent auction" going on where you could bid on large format bottles of their wines. There was also some kind of raffle with about 30 prizes whereby you bought tickets and wrote your name on the back, then dropped tickets in the boxes for each prize that you were interested in.

Even without the distractions of the auctions and raffles, and avoiding the wineries that I had visited on Saturday, I still didn't manage to hit all of the tasting tables. Very few of the wineries ran out of wine, and of those that did, most of them seemed to last until about the final half hour, which is pretty good going. Overall a very good event; highly recommended for Pinot fans. Next time I'll be sure to get there early.